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Life of crime didn't work out for suburban couple

(ran LT NT CT, PT, HT, CI)

This story is called The Volkswagen Caper.

I guess it's safe to confess at last. After all, it happened in 1978, and I doubt there's anyone around who would remember our thwarted attempt at out-and-out thievery.

We lived in Valley Stream, Long Island, and Husband Dear loved to work on our car, fixing, improving, and tinkering for hours. That was okay with me _ until he dragged the Volkswagen home.

Bill said it was a steal at $200, and when he finished working on it, the Volks would be a sleek beauty, a humming tribute to his mechanical genius, and the envy of all the neighborhood. I thought it was a wreck, a heap I would have paid someone $200 to cart away.

I didn't have the heart to dampen Bill's enthusiasm, and in no time the hammering and swearing began in the yard. That wasn't unusual. Mechanics always called for plenty of hammering and swearing on the part of Husband Dear.

Everything came to a halt one weekend. Bill needed some kind of skinny little axle for the back wheels and, after a slew of phone calls to junk dealers _ all to no avail _ the mechanical triumph came to a halt.

One evening, he came home from work talking about an abandoned Volkswagen parked on a side street in Long Island City. It was being stripped to a shell by vandals, and Bill was very indignant about the whole thing. He acted as though the Volks belonged to him. "I'll bet they walk off with the axle I need," he fumed.

I should have known what was coming. Bill decided to drive over to Long Island City on Sunday morning and get the axle off the abandoned Volkswagen.

"I have to get it before the whole car is towed away," he said, and I sat there trying to absorb the fact that my husband was actually planning to commit a crime. He ignored the look on my face and went on to describe the master plan.

Eight a.m. would be a good time, because that's when the cops change shifts, and they would all be on their way back to the station house. I couldn't believe my ears! The next part of the caper floored me altogether.

Me! His wife! The mother of his children! I was to drive our car and sit in it while he unscrewed the axle from the abandoned VW. Since this part of the city is nothing but factories and offices, he was sure there wouldn't be a soul around on Sunday to blow the whistle on us.

Why I went along with this wild idea escapes me entirely after all these years. People in shock often do crazy things.

Anyway, off we went on Sunday morning with burglar tools in the trunk and panic in my heart. Bill wore his baggy old jeans, and I wore sunglasses in a feeble effort to hide who I was.

With sleeping suburbia behind us we finally arrived in Long Island City. There was the Volkswagen, looking like a leftover from World War II. According to plan, I parked our car directly in front of the Volks and quickly glanced around. Not a police car in sight; nothing but dreary factory buildings.

Bill spread his tools on the sidewalk and made such a racket I was terrified. What if some diligent watchman happened to look out one of the factory windows and decide this was his day to be a good citizen? I slid down in the car seat and wished the sunglasses covered more than my eyes.

About that time, I realized an awful lot of cars were going down this street; they must be people who worked on weekends and were heading home when the 8 o'clock shift ended.

"If even one of these cars slows down, I'm taking off, leaving Husband Dear behind, and making believe I never heard of him," I decided. Loyalty to my partner in crime, even wifely duty, went by the board.

Bill was taking forever, and I didn't know which was louder, the hammering and swearing or my heart pounding. "We could be here for hours," I thought.

Two police cars passed a few blocks away, and I wondered how long it would take to get this car up to 90 mph. I thought about lawyers, telephones and bail money. When the cops came, how would we convince them we hadn't stashed away the engine, wheels, and tires? What if the real owner was some important out-of-towner who wanted to call for a nationwide crackdown on New York type criminals?

Despite it all, I sat staunchly behind the wheel of our getaway car. I glanced in the side mirror and noticed Bill's face getting redder and redder. Things were not going according to plan. Like every well-thought-out crime story, the unexpected ruined the Volkswagen caper.

His undoing was a metric wrench. There he was, with all his tools, furious at Europeans for dreaming up this damnable metric system that made it impossible for him to free the axle he needed.

I began hoping he wouldn't decide to cart the entire Volkswagen home. Before that happened, a moment of sanity returned. I got out of the getaway car and walked back to the crime scene. "Honey, do you really think you can pull this off?" I said. I must have caught him at just the right moment because he was ready to throw in the sponge.

We quickly tore out of there, and when we arrived in Valley Stream, we behaved like any respectable couple and bought fresh rolls and cake at the best bakery in town.

The sleek beauty emerged a few months later when Bill found an axle and a metric wrench. He gave it to one of our sons who rattled all the way to Idaho in the tiny car. It was our very last attempt at crime. I was certain our grandchildren would have been embarrassed about visiting us in Sing Sing.

You can write to Louise Andryusky c/o Seniority, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, 33731.