So, I'm sitting on my screened-in patio Friday night, just before midnight, working on my laptop computer and thinking that I ought to go to bed.
The front doorbell rings.
Maybe your doorbell rings at midnight all the time. Mine does not. So I figure it's a neighbor with a problem.
Despite what some people might think, I am not a complete idiot. So I do not just throw the door open.
I peek through the peephole and see a young guy standing at a respectful distance, like his body language is saying, Look, I'm safe. I guess he is about 20, maybe younger.
So I crack the door and ask what he wants, and he apologizes and says he is lost. This is credible, since my neighborhood is not on the way to anyplace else and if you're not there on purpose, you're lost.
My attention is entirely focused on making sure he is not Mr. Home Invader. Go that way, take the second right and you're back on the main drag, I say, and he thanks me politely and walks away.
This was just enough time for the second guy out back.
When I returned to the patio I could see three things:
(1) My laptop was gone.
(2) They left its power cord just dangling there.
(3) The outer screen door was wide open.
My first reaction, no kidding, was to laugh at myself for being a moron. Ten seconds earlier I had been congratulating myself for being wary at the front door.
So I grab the phone and call 911. While I'm still on the phone I run back out the front door and guess what? I can see Mr. Doorbell Ringer, walking casually down the street. I am yelling at the dispatcher: "I can still see him!"
I briefly think about chasing the guy, but I do not for a variety of reasons, including (1) I am a slow middle-aged guy, (2) the score is at least two against one, and (3) a scary new thought suddenly popped into my head: What if the other one is still in the house?
After all, I had left the sliding patio door open. My wife was sleeping in the room next to it. Maybe Mr. Doorbell Ringer's slow "escape" was yet another ruse to draw me away. So I ran inside and did a quick room-by-room search, finding nothing.
Once the police and neighbors gathered, I jauntily wrote it off as "just a laptop," and not much of a prize at that —it belonged to the company, there was nothing good on it, and it was only going to last a couple of hours on the battery anyway. They probably stole it just to bust it up.
And yet it was more serious than just a snatching. It took a little bit of doing. First, they had to have sized me up beforehand. Second, the stealer must have been there in the darkness, in my bushes right outside the screen, watching and waiting. Third, he actually opened my outer door, entered the grounds of my home and committed a felony a few feet away from my bedroom door. Not so nice.
Later we found out that two other homes within a couple of blocks had been burglarized that same night, and one of my neighbors had his tires stabbed. The next morning, we found a 21-speed mountain bike that someone had ditched in our front yard. (If it's yours, don't call me; I gave it to the police.)
"Just kids," I kept saying, "kids looking for trouble." And yet "kids" are shooting each other in St. Petersburg these days, so maybe there is no "just" about it. You never know. I am more mindful now of the darkness just beyond the screen.