It happened like this.
Well, no. It didn’t; it happened like I’m about to tell you, but the telling of it happened like this…so we’re getting all un-meta here. Following me? I’m talking about the chicken, not the egg, but the chicken is pregnant.
All clear? Good. Let’s begin.
The phone rings. Well, not so much the “phone” phone, since the phone service is disconnected and I don’t get any calls on that anymore. No, it’s the object known as the phone, but not the phone service ie it’s not a phone call, although the phone is ringing, but not the phone I use for phone calls although that, also, is a phone but not the one that is ringing. Actually, neither of them are ringing per se, more like one of them is bleeping in an electronical manner and the other isn’t doing anything but sitting quietly and recharging after a long evening of Texas Hold ‘Em.
Got that? Excellent.
So when the phone which is still a phone but not the one that I use for phone calls is ringing or blinging or bleeping or whatever it is that you call that annoying verb, well not technically the name of the verb but rather the name of the activity that it is activating, for yo, it is very active, particularly for this late at night; so when it is doing that it means there’s someone at the door of the apartment building, someone who wants in.
It is, as I may have mentioned, the Downtown EastSide. Average life expectancy in 1996 was 32; highest North American concentration of TB, HIV, and the entire alphabet of hepatitis.
It is nearly midnight.
Now, when my phone bleeps at midnight, it means only one thing: Carinthia has a story to tell me.
So I buzz her in.
“Well,” she says in her soft, well-bred voice. “I haven’t been over in so long because it’s been so long since I had anything for your…what-do-you-call-it…blog. That’s it: blog. I have something for your blog.”
And I turn the heater around so it’s warming her, and I wait while she stows her umbrella and peels off her woollen jacket and beret and continue to wait patiently while she fiddles endlessly and selfconsciously with her Hermes scarf, for I know this will be good.
And it will be.
“Well,” she says again, “As you know, I’ve installed safety film over all of my sliding glass doors,” and at this point I know it’s going to be about someone trying to break into her house. Living alone in this neighborhood, with a son in Venezuela when he isn’t in Antarctica, and a guardian cat with the heart of a neurasthenic fawn, she has had to take some precautions. And take them she has, not to mention the offensive potential of some of the things that go into her father’s old .44.
So, yeah, security film.
“Well,” she says, “It makes a horrible noise when the glass shatters, as I think you can imagine. The guy [she knows that I already know it was a story about a junkie break-in attempt, for what else could it be, eh? I ask you that] apparently got the surprise of his life when he found out he still couldn’t get inside. Of course I had my CD player sitting there, right where he could see it. So there I am, sound asleep in the other room, and suddenly I’m floundering around for my glasses, completely disoriented. And this continues for some time…”
“No, the floundering.”
“Oh, okay. Continue.”
“… for some time and then I hear, ‘Police, open up!‘”
Now, this is where it takes a sharp turn, for if there is one thing Carinthia likes even less than junkie burglars, it is police officers.
“and then I hear SMASH!…Police! Open up!… SMASH!… Police! Open up!… SMASH!… and so on, as I’m floundering around you know, getting my glasses on, looking for my slippers, tying my ratty old dressing gown. And I’m saying Just a minute but they can’t hear me for all the SMASH!…Police! Open up! that they’re doing, and I’m lumbering slowly down the hallway, for as you know I don’t move very quickly in the mornings at all, piping up with my little Just a minute! I’m coming, but of course they can’t hear me and all I can hear is SMASH! Police, and I see the front door shaking and I’m wondering if the pictures are going to fall off the wall.”
I think to myself I hope nothing happened to the Walker Evans but I say nothing.
“…and the poor cat…oh, the poor cat. She was just terrified! They don’t think of these things when they’re trying to break down your door, do they?”
“No, they do not.”
“No, they don’t. So there I was, still saying Just a minute and they’re trying to knock my door in but I waited and at just the right moment I opened the door.”
Which is good, otherwise she could have had a pileup of cops in her hall, which would be about her least-favorite thing to have, but I digress.
It turns out that several neighbors had heard the smash as well, and one had called the police, who were on the scene with remarkable speed. Another neighbor phoned Carinthia‘s house, but as she does not wish to be disturbed a-morning, she had turned the ringer off. Carinthia, I should explain, has a phone phone, the kind that takes phone calls and door buzzes. Cuz that’s how she rolls, yo.
Thus, the police thought they were walking into a possible hostage-taking situation, hence all the door-smashing action. Apparently Carinthia’s precautions extend to having a steel door reinforced with three inch screws in the frame all around, etc, etc, in any case, those cops were some embarassed that they could not, although there were five of them, get into that damn house. But that they could not do, any more than the now long-vanished junkie.
Yet another neighbor had brought over his superlong ladder and yet more cops had climbed up to the roof, from whence the junkie had made his approach; that was where they saw the broken pane, on the second-floor balcony. Now, just how the junkie got up there I’m not sure, but when the cops left, they left the ladder in place.
Thanks, guys. Helpful.
Once the cops had untangled themselves they resolved into four uniformed individuals and one apparently-undercover fellow in a turban, shirt and jeans. Plus, by this time, about five of the friendly neighbors brandishing ladders, tool boxes, cellphones and, for all I know, first aid kits and collar-kegs of brandy. We all could use neighbors like that sometimes.
As the cops regrouped to the sidewalk to discuss the case, one of these neighborly saints-in-training offered to fix the window, the Co-op being typically non-responsive (the manager, it seems, is on holiday, so nothing is supposed to happen till he gets back; Carinthia phoned the President of the Co-op, who gave her the number for their glass door person, a number which was out of service). Another neighbor offered the name of a handy glass person. Eventually the president showed up with someone, but it’s the meantime with which we are concerned, for something very interesting happened there.
As the cops were discussing the case out on the sidewalk and various neighbors were making various offers of help, one particularly sharp-eyed fellow looked at Carinthia’s front porch and said “So what is that?”
It was a memory box: a memory box that belonged to the thief.
In it was: a probation order, newspaper clippings, postcards from home, and several love letters asking why he didn’t give up his city ways and come home when he had a good woman who loved him and you can be sure, dear reader, that I will publish more details when I get a good look at this collection of documents, for which I can hardly wait.
The Crown has decided not to press charges; not enough evidence to make an arrest, they say.
What shows this memory box as being the thief’s rather than something predated (acquired by predation) from someone else?
Possible, but an incredible longshot as it has no cash value. People around here are very bottom-line oriented. If it has no sentimental attachment to the person and it’s worth nothing on the street, it’s just ballast.
I was thinking more like the memory box might have been something this guy grabbed from his last victim and hadn’t had time to suss out.
Great post, and very well-written. I feel for you living in that area; I’ve been there a few times and man…it just makes me so sad.
Thanks, Coyote. It’s very sad to see what some people are reduced to. Is it merciful that they don’t live very long in that state? I don’t think so, but then we haven’t got an effective way to get them out of it yet either.
Metro: again, I suppose it’s possible, but if I were going on a burglary job, I wouldn’t take shit from other jobs with me. And I can assure you that he didn’t get that from anyone in this Co-op: Carinthia has been here 28 years and knows everyone in the place. If it had been a Co-op member, that’s the information she’d have led with.