I submit that burglary is the by-product of home ownership that most dims the joy of possession. I’ve had three such misadventures in adult life. Each was a miserable affair, free of any entertainment value or criminals caught, and so very unlike my childhood exposure to the excitement of a housebreak successfully solved right before my eyes.
As a child I lived in a two-story semi-detached house that stood near the end of a short row of prewar dwellings along the uphill side of an unpaved road running at the base of a hill that overlooked a verdant valley, across which the most built-up part of our little country town was just visible. Behind each house in our row was a lockable gated yard into which the kitchen opened and above which a long garden rose steeply up the hillside behind. In the British fashion each garden was separated by a stout fence from its neighbour.
One still and moonless summer Saturday evening, as I lay in bed in the room that I shared with my younger brother, I was having trouble falling asleep because of the humidity left over from a hot and sticky day. Our bedroom was at the back of the house directly above its kitchen and, as the windows were open, I could hear the familiar noises of a summer dusk in a quiet setting rarely imposed upon by the sounds of traffic. There came an occasional owl hoot, and at one point the sharp fierce yowls of two neighbourhood cats scrapping on our coal shed roof. A while deeper into the darkening evening, after the cats had quietened, I thought I could even hear the faint scuttling of the rats inside our coal shed. Much later, in the small hours of the night, I was awakened by a faint new sound a bit like someone scratching. I sat up to listen but, as after ten minutes or so the sound didn’t repeat, I sank back onto my pillow. The next thing I knew was the bright morning sunlight of another warm summer day as our mother pulled back the drapes.
As the family began tucking into our traditional Sunday full English breakfast, there came an unexpected knock at the front door. A man in a suit and tie, after announcing he was from the CID, wanted to know if we had been robbed that past night? The thief would have come in by the back door. With we two boys trooping after, Mom and Dad took him through to our kitchen where he pointed out to them how the outside door showed subtle signs of having been forced. It was a professional job, he said. A burglar had broken into our whole row of homes, presumably climbing over each back fence or gate as he worked methodically along the row and staying out of street view by restricting forced entry to the doors at the back. Every other house in our row appeared to have lost something valuable. Had we?
A preliminary search of the house uncovered nothing obvious. As for the probable cause of this good fortune, our dad remarked unabashedly to the officer that, before retiring, he or our mother always went around the house each night to turn the key in the door of every single room on the ground floor. We boys were already old enough to regard this ritual as unduly eccentric, but here was their justification in spades – the detective felt that the robber likely hadn’t felt it prudent to go beyond our kitchen because of the risk of waking us inherent in trying to force an inside door. Ours was later proved to be the only home in our neighbourhood that night not to lose a single item to theft!
The CID man was replaced by a uniformed officer coming round to our backyard. This second policeman royally distracted us from finishing our eggs, bacon and toast by introducing us to the most peculiar animated object in captivity that I had ever set eyes on outside a zoo. With him was a strange clumsy-looking dog almost equal in size to its handler. I could not recall ever seeing this extraordinary breed before, but, thanks to my schoolboy fascination with stories about literary sleuths like Father Brown and Sherlock Holmes, I realized with a sudden joy that we must be admiring a bloodhound.
Told to keep out of the yard, the four of us crowded into an inside window bay to watch entranced as this legendary droopy-eared sad-faced hound pushed his big wet snout into what seemed like every nook and cranny in our back yard and garden, checking for fresh human scent.
To my disappointment this entertaining spectacle soon disappeared next door, but to my delight it reappeared out on the gravel road in front when the great beast came snuffling along past our house with its nose to the dirt. All of a sudden this creature straight out of Storytime picked up its head to let out a loud wailing howl. Seemingly satisfied, it took off at a fast canter through a cloud of dust toward the cattle pastures below, with its by now red-faced handler hanging on tight behind. The chase was on, and after only a dozen or so minutes the pair were far across the valley and no bigger than a couple of dark dots. Excited howls were still echoing off the hillside behind us.
The morning already had been quite magical so you can imagine my added pleasure in a phone call not long after the show had passed beyond sight and sound, informing us that their marvellous bloodhound lead the police straight to the door of a petty criminal who hadn’t yet taken the time to sort through his haul. It was still stashed in a big jumble just inside his front door!
No joy for our felon but plenty for me, for whom even a Saturday movie matinée couldn’t have been half as much fun. Wonderfully, childhood often bestows a magical veneer on adult misadventures.
by Ian Keith Anderson