Friday, November 07, 2003

Crime Hits Home

Thanks to all for your prayers and best wishes. Mom's resting well at home, though she had some heart palpitations today that made us a little nervous. Dad says she's not feeling real "perky", but apart from that and a bruised up body, she's not doing badly. Bruised? I asked. What's that all about? Well, he said, from the medical treatment - sticking her here and there with needles, moving her from one place to another, inflicting upon her two kinds of invasive procedures, etc. I said he ought to slug the doctor. He thought that was funny.

Meanwhile, on top of sickness in the family, we had a little excitement here at the homestead on Thursday and now I'm really pissed.

I was awakened that morning by the need to go to the bathroom about an hour before the alarm was set to go off. Bernadette and her Mom were already gone. So I did my thing in the bathroom and then headed to the kitchen for a drink of water. Out the window I saw a strange car sitting in the driveway, backed in, nose to the street. Odd. A friend of Bernadette's? But she's not here. Did someone break down and think I wouldn't mind if he used my driveway to get the car off the street? None of this sat well. I had a bad feeling about it, almost prophetic in its certainty. I unlocked the back door and went out. As I approached the building - a combination workshop, garage, and guest house, I saw that the door to the guesthouse, Bernadette's room, was ajar. I pushed it all the way open and stepped inside. The room had been ransacked, utterly. Drawers tossed about, clothes, books, letters, pencils, pictures, golf balls, you name it, everywhere. I couldn't move without stepping on my daughter's things. A swimsuit top lay on the door sill. The back of my neck began to burn, suddenly. A black man stood in the middle of it all, a can of coke in hand, casually surveying.

"What're you doing?" I asked stupidly. When he saw me he didn't seem surprised.

"Dude's in the bathroom," he said, moving toward me. I glanced toward it and saw the wreckage there too. Her radio was on the floor, the glass smashed out of the window.

"But what the f_ _k are you doing?" I repeated, louder this time.

"Dude's in the bathroom," he said again, and as he tried to move around me that thing that always happens to me happened. The burning moved from my neck to the top of my head, to my face, to the rest of my body and as he looked at me for the only time I can remember he must have seen the glaze of rage come into my eyes, for even I felt it fall like a curtain between me and the world. I grabbed for him and the struggle began. He was short, wiry, surprisingly strong and slippery as an eel. I couldn't gain purchase on some part of his body. His loose-fitting red shirt was made of something silky that kept slip-sliding out of my grasp. It was an awkward affair, made moreso by the fact that I was trying, if you can believe it, to avoid stepping on my child's personal things. I let go with one hand, drew it back in a fist aimed at his head, and that's when he got away. He was out the door and into the driver's side of the car in a moment, but I was right behind him coming in on the passenger side. No keys in the ignition. I grabbed him again with one hand, ready to take the keys with the other when he put them in, but he did something with his hand beneath the steering column and the car fired up with a roar. He floored the accelerator and I leapt out so as not to get dragged down the street. I memorized the license plate number and then ran inside to get the phone. When I got back outside I had 911 on the line.

I gave a description of the car - light blue, Honda, I think - the direction it was heading, and a description of the suspect - black male, bright red shirt, something blue down below, shorts or jeans, I think - and when I tried to give the license number I'd forgotten two of the digits: "D something, h or l, JAX."

"Okay, stay on the line with me, Mr. Luse." Just like on TV. I heard her talking to someone in the background. I paced and paced up and down the sidewalk, adrenaline-driven. "I need you to stay on the line with me until the police get there." She pumped me for information. I mentioned the coke can, anything I could think of. I told her my daughter's computer was missing, but in the mess that's all I could single out. Long minutes passed and no police.

"You say it was a Honda?"

"I think so. That kind of car."

"Could it be a Toyota?"

"Yes, it could." She was talking to someone else again. Then a police car showed up and she let me go. Officer J.D. Ray, a tall black man in his late thirties, maybe early forties, and somewhat portly, got out. I tried giving him a rundown but he seemed more interested in what was coming over his shoulder radio. Every now and then he'd ask me a question, really trying to get specific with the suspect's description. The red shirt was the only thing I could be certain about. Could I identify him? I had stared him in the face. Put him in front of me and I'll know him.
"They've got somebody, don't they?" I asked. He nodded.

"You said a computer's missing?" Another police car showed up; another officer got out. It was decided the second officer would stay with the scene while J.D. took me to do an I.D. Before we left a shiny, sleek green sedan pulled up and some guy in a white shirt and tie leaned out the window, smiling, and made inquiries of the officers. They cooperated with the fellow, who I assumed was a detective. He had a big, outgoing smile. I wondered why. It wasn't a detective's smile.

Then Officer Ray and I got into his cruiser and took off at high speed to take care of business, negotiating residential streets at 50 miles per hour and up, his siren going woop-woop-woop with lights blipping as we slowed somewhat for the intersections. Cops have computers in their cars now, elevated atop a fixture where you and I would have a drink holder. I noticed this as we sped along.

They'd found my intruder over on Robinson Street, in that large black section of the city stretching east to west from Parramore to the Orange Blossom Trail, and north to south from Colonial Drive to God knew where. Parramore's a mere block from the Arena where the Orlando Magic play, and from the Bob Carr auditorium, where ballets and operas are performed. As we drove through this neighborhood, I saw a lot of young black men hanging out in front yards and in front of stores. They seemed an age at which they ought to be in school or at work. Maybe they work the night shift.
I said "my" intruder because I felt like that's what he was. He belonged to me. He had come into my home. They ought to turn him over to me. I thought this even as I knew the impossibility of it.

After making a wrong turn somewhere, Officer Ray finally got us to the right place. We parked out front of a modest wooden house with a bad paint job and walked up a long driveway with tall weeds growing in the cracks to where another cruiser was parked. In the back seat, handcuffed, was my guy. I found out later he'd tried to break into the house to take refuge. I walked up to the open door and stood over him, recognizing the red shirt at once. I leaned over to get a good look at his face. He grimaced, eyes squinting, as though he were in some kind of distress, looking around at nothing in particular. He seemed not to know I was there. But he knew. He was truly pathetic. But I still wanted him. Just for being so pathetic. Someone needed to punish him for it. Why not me?

"That's him," I said. "Where's the car?" I wanted that computer back. An officer pointed over a fence and across to the next block. There it was, in someone's front yard. Officer Ray and I left. As we approached his cruiser, that sleek green sedan showed up again and the guy with the big smile and the white shirt and tie and neatly pressed pants got out, followed shortly by two very attractive young women. He flashed the smile, shook hands with one of the officers, and started asking questions, not like one in authority, but like one who knew he would be answered. He struck me as a shmooze artist. I knew now he wasn't a detective. Detectives don't say, "What's up guys? How's everything going?" when they show up at a crime scene.
Officer Ray and I got in his car and started to pull away. We had to drive over a curb because the shirt and tie had parked his car in the middle of the road, blocking our way. "Who was that?" I asked.

"He's the mayor's guy," he said, and then mentioned some title but I don't remember exactly what it was. I got the impression of an aide-de-camp, a liason, a salaried gofer, a parasite on the public dime, useful to mayors and Machiavellis, but not to me, the kind of fellow who'd flatter and finesse his way through the corridors of life.

"What's his job description?" I asked. "Ride around in a real nice car with pretty young girls?"

Officer Ray laughed, finally loosening up. He'd been rather stiff and formal up to now, or perhaps I should say focused. Now that they'd caught someone he was feeling better.

"No," he said, "he just keeps the mayor informed. You know the mayor lives right up the street from you."

I knew it well. Maybe four houses away. A big house. He and some other recent additions were driving up property taxes by destroying older, more modest homes and building mansions on the ruins, changing the neighborhood's character in the process. Our area has become fashionable for some reason.

"Who are the girls?" I asked.

"Oh, they're probably interns I think."

"I wonder who gets to pick the interns," I said. "Can ugly people apply?"

He chuckled some more. I had fun asking the questions because I knew he was not free to answer candidly. The police have to answer to the mayor. The shmooze artist had not once acknowledged my existence, extended his sympathies, or bothered to ask how me and mine were. I guess his mission in life was to tell the mayor that this criminal incident a few doors down from his own had been expeditiously resolved.

Officer Ray circled the block and took me to the car. It was parked in some poor old black lady's driveway. She stood in her open front door looking about, less in wonder than worry, for I doubt this was the first time she'd seen things, and far worse you can be sure. On the street a police officer, sweating profusely, leaned against his cruiser and told us how it had gone down. Our suspect had dumped the car (reported stolen two days earlier) here and then taken off on foot. The officer chased him down and shot him with a taser. It took two to bring him down. I shook the officer's hand and told him he'd done great work. He indeed seemed somewhat proud of himself, and, God help me, I can't remember his name. And now that I had leisure to examine the getaway car, I was disappointed to learn that eyewitness testimony, even my own, isn't all it's cracked up to be. The car was less light blue than a slate grey. And I had gotten the second two digits on the license plate wrong. But it turned out that the last three - JAX, the ones I couldn't forget because they reminded me of Jacksonville - were the ones the cops needed. I walked over to the car with Officer Ray, and there in the trunk was my daughter's computer. And her Ole Miss tote bag with her name on it, into which the hard drive had been stuffed. And the speakers and subwoofer given to her by her boyfriend as a gift, and at quite some cost to him.

Officer Ray and a couple others finally decided he could take me home. Another cop would return my daughter's property later. But there was a lady cop on hand who soothingly placed her hand on one of the male cop's arms and said, "I think what I need is for..." and then things were undecided again. This happened about three times. I couldn't tell who was coordinating what or what her role was. I've never told you what I think of lady cops on the front lines. Another time. Eventually Officer Ray took me home.

When we got there, the crime scene investigative unit had arrived, the van parked in the driveway. A friendly young man was going about his business, taking pictures of the ransacked room, of the point of entry outside the bathroom window where the thieving scumbag had stood on a white plastic bucket he'd had to retrieve from the bushes beneath our kitchen window, of the scrape on my arm and the cut on my finger where the skin had been torn away (I didn't know how either had been inflicted), and of my face, left side, right side. I said I felt like a criminal. The young man laughed. He wanted to know about the coke can. No one could find it. It was later found in the getaway car. All through our tussle, he'd hung on to it. He'd stolen it from the little refrigerator in Bern's room, because nothing is sacred. He'd needed refreshment during his exertions. There was blood on the fragments of broken window glass. It's a very small window and he'd had to squeeze through.

At some point during all this I called my wife, who insisted on coming home from work. We put off calling Bernadette, but finally did to lessen the shock of what she was going to see. Officer Ray suggested we let her have a good cry and then go through everything herself, for she was the only one who could say for sure if any smaller but valuable items were missing. On the phone - after I assured her that the perpetrator had been caught and her computer recovered - she wanted to know only two things: first, was I okay, and second, was a certain piece of jewelry, a silver and topaz necklace, still in its glass dish in the bathroom? We found it on the floor. It had been given to her by an old lady, a member of the country club where she works, whom she has not seen in a while and whose name she cannot remember. She fears the old woman might have passed away unbeknownst to her, and so feels a duty in memory to the necklace.

She never did cry. She was stunned by what she saw, by the abject indifference of the scene's chaos, as though a tornado had blown through, but also by that typical and very personal sense of "violation" that every crime victim experiences. But the first thing she did when she got out of the car was give me a hug; she was glad I was safe. She hung on for a long time, and so did I, because even though she had not been there, my daughter had been attacked. That's how I felt about it. Don't try to reason with me. Her personal things - the clothes in her drawers and closets, letters from her boyfriend, pictures of her most treasured friendships - had all been tossed about and scattered as though she were nothing, of no importance, as though she hardly existed - or as if she were hated. You could do this only to someone you hated. Have you ever held close to your skin a piece of clothing that belonged to someone you love, and it immediately brought them closer in memory and touch, though they might be a thousand miles away? As though something of them really lingers in the things that are theirs? Well, that's how it is for me. All her things are, to me, next to sacred, and now they've been contaminated by the touch of evil. You know what she's in the process of doing right now? Washing every item of clothing in that room. She won't wear any of them until she's done.

And as to our perpetrator? Officer Ray at some point pulled up his name on the computer and found a list of drug and robbery offenses as long as your leg. The brazenness of the act had puzzled me, but now I knew. My daughter was nothing to him. People are nothing to him. People lead him to objects, the objects bring him money, the money brings him drugs. To him you are your possessions. He had shown no fear when I confronted him, but no aggression either. His every effort had been to escape. In his whole bearing, and in that one instant when he looked me in the eye, I saw no normal sign of human sensitivity, no glimpse of a soul. It had been sucked out of him by the demon drug. He was a compulsion in human form, an automaton. He was going to try this and see what happened. His weakness made him. It never occurred to me to wonder if he was armed, or to take trouble to arm myself. This is not admirable. I should have taken the trouble. But none of this was new to him. He'd done it before many times and knew not to come armed, because he knew the penalty. In the end what he did was not a killing offense, but you can't know that at the time, and if I'd shot him my only concern would have been for the trouble it might cause me. I don't care if somebody shoots him some day, because my daughter, my family, is nothing to him. I'm a little short on charity right now. The cops say he's going away for a good while, but I'll believe it when I see it. I hope some big fat bubba in prison makes him a mistress. I hope he bangs his own brains out on the jailhouse bars in the throes of withdrawal. I wish I could do it for him.

Before he left I gave Officer J.D. Ray a macadamia nut cookie and some tangelos off the tree in my yard. The tree's been there since my childhood, and there's no finer fruit on the planet. You feel like you owe these guys something when they help you so well, but there's no gift to measure up.

That night there was a lot of hugging. If Bernadette and I passed by chance in the kitchen, we'd embrace, no words necessary. This happened several times and it's good stuff, because it's harder to come by these days. Her affections are in the process of being transferred to that boyfriend whom, it appears, she will one day marry. He calls her in the morning when she wakes up, and at night when she goes to bed. If I'm in the room I have to leave. The vibes are palpable. This is all inevitable, right, and natural, I suppose, but I'll hang on as long as I can. She likes having her own room outside. It gives her some sense of independence, of not having to be inside under Daddy's protective wing. "I can take care of myself," she's often said, knowing so little of the world, and of why I worry. But this night she was glad to be inside, and when she went to bed she allowed me to plant kisses up and down the back of her nightshirt and all over her hair and face, just as if she were a little girl again. She had learned a little something more about the world this day, and I could see it in her eyes. Her arms were about my neck again, but not briefly. There was no hurry.

Go ahead, send me another thief, a home invader. For this kind of reward I figure I can handle about one a week.

Reader Comments:
Good heavens, that is scary. Glad you all are OK. I think you take the prize for exciting week-end.
(I was hoping for a while that the mystery car was a crew from COPS - just so I might get a chance to 'meet' you via TV.... :) )
Posted by Ellyn von Huben email at November 17, 2003 07:46 AM

Thank God, thank God that Bernadette was gone. And I understand testosterone and all but thank God he didn't have a gun or was hopped up on some aggresive-making drug. We cannot do without our Mr. Luse.
Oh, heavens. I'll pray for Bernadette, and your whole family. It takes a while to get over the feeling of someone else being in your stuff.
Posted by Terry email at November 17, 2003 08:19 AM

Man, that was some story. I know what you mean about gratitude to the police. It's one of the last noble professions. And that mayor's "liason" sounds like a real gem.
Give thanks to God, things could have been much worse.
Posted by Jeff Culbreath email at November 17, 2003 10:13 AM

Wow, riveting story. Pretty bold of you not to worry about whether he had a gun.
The brazenness of some criminals is amazing - he robs you after people are awake (i.e. not 3 a.m.) and carries no gun. Glad God was watching out for you.
Posted by tso email at November 17, 2003 11:28 AM

Bill, are you bold or crazy? No, just a man who loves his family. Thank God for His protection of you! I'll go dry my tears now.
Posted by Lee Anne Millinger email at November 17, 2003 01:06 PM

Thank God that all of you are safe, and are now able to leech some of the shock and pain from your brush with viciousness by renewed marks of the family's mutual love. Rest there a bit.
Usually I can give unreserved thanks that you write so well, Bill, but your words here bring immediacy to the event and shock to the reading. My racing blood can sympathize with Lee Anne's tears, mute offerings of fellowship with you and your family.
And there's a world in that detail of your grappling with the thug: trying still to avoid treading on your daughter's things, the extension of her person. A world. And all of it speaking well of you as man and father.
Peace be with all of you.
Posted by Francis email at November 17, 2003 03:14 PM

Your are all great people and I thank God for you.Ellyn, you crack me up.And Francis, you are special.
Posted by William Luse email at November 17, 2003 03:39 PM

"And there's a world in that detail of your grappling with the thug: trying still to avoid treading on your daughter's things, the extension of her person. A world. And all of it speaking well of you as man and father."
I just wanted to repeat Francis' words here, about a man who is a father at the very core of his being.
Posted by Jeff Culbreath email at November 17, 2003 04:15 PM

so I am sitting in the Nashua Border's logged on because I have a few hours to kill before my NFP provider's meeting and I bop over to re-read the Sunday thought and I see WHAT? I don't want to take the Lord's name in vain but my brain keeps subvocalizing "ohmigod ohmigod" over and over again. And I get a flashback to the night when my son was carjacked at gunpoint, to the phone call from my best friend from nursing school about the murder of her son and nephew, and I can't read your post fast enough to get to the end and make sure that no one (who matters) is physically hurt. and I'm sitting here in a quasi-public space trying not to scream or cry about the s**t that has happened to some one I've not met in person but who I consider to be a good friend and definitely one of my brethren in Christ. Thank God that you have a rapid response to 911 calls - in Los Angeles (where my son was carjacked, where my friends' sons were murdered) we half the time didn't even bother to try for any but the most critical stuff - and even then it took way too long. Thank god you were able to remember the license, and the coke can, and there is also good DNA evidence (the blood on the broken window).I will pray for you now as you wend your way through our criminal justice chaos. My son's carjacker was never apprehended, my friends'sons murderer has managed to delay the court date for two years so far. You have a great case - I hope that justice will prevail. Now, you have the hard task of forgiveness - which is not the same as being a doormat.
Posted by alicia email at November 17, 2003 04:20 PM

I love you dad!
Posted by Bernadette Luse email at November 17, 2003 04:53 PM

Oh, oh, I must hurry and post. I'm next to Bernadette.
Posted by smockmomma email at November 17, 2003 05:11 PM

How insane was that? Sorry. I was wondering how to resond. Not wanting to repeat anyone else, I decided to read back through the responses. And, pow! There she was. So beautiful and simple and, well, beautiful. Thank You, Lord, for keeping the Luse family under Your wing.
Posted by smockmomma email at November 17, 2003 05:16 PM

Wow! God bless you and everybody in your scope!
Posted by KTC email at November 17, 2003 05:45 PM

Quite a story and I am certainly glad that nothing serious came to pass and you were able to tell it with such a heart felt ending. Also glad that JAX for Jacksonville served as a good mnemonic.
Posted by Jeff Miller email at November 17, 2003 06:57 PM

I'd like to respond to all of you individually, but I'm tired right now. Just thanks.Micki, I'll try to get Berno to look at your comment. She'll be tickled.Alicia, did you ever read my "Aborted Lives" on the left? It deals to some degree with what outrages you.
Posted by William Luse email at November 18, 2003 01:25 AM

Thank God you are safe.
But please say something about that indecisive female police officer who should be home with her children and let men like you protect her.
Poor Bernadette. May God keep her.
Posted by LeXuan email at November 18, 2003 03:21 AM

Props to your Guardian Angel and Benadette's, too, for directing you (Bill) to the intruder and keeping you and Bernadette safe.
What a story. So glad you're okay. What a great dad you are.
Posted by PeonyMoss email at November 18, 2003 07:54 AM

Ohmygosh! Deo Gratias you are OK! Peony is right about your Guardian Angel. I am so sorry it took so long for me to read about this. I don't think I ever heard a story like that in real life that turned out so well...
Posted by Pansy Moss email at November 18, 2003 09:04 AM

Thanks be to God for our beleaguered police forces, and for the simple fatherly courage of men like Bill Luse.
What the hell was he talking about with that "Dude's in the bathroom" stuff?
Posted by Paul Cella email at November 18, 2003 03:04 PM

Trying to distract me. Probably a mantra he's used before. It didn't work. A bird in the hand is worth...
Posted by William Luse email at November 18, 2003 04:42 PM

All's I can say is THANK GOD that you're safe. What a riveting account . . . Bernadette's blessed to have such a father! -- I'll keep you in my prayers,
Posted by Christopher email at November 19, 2003 04:24 AM

I appreciate it, Christopher.
Posted by William Luse email at November 19, 2003 04:28 AM

By the way, I don't have to tell you that I think "Bernadette" was a wonderful choice for your daughter's name, given the obvious Catholic overtones!
Posted by tso email at November 19, 2003 09:34 AM

Good from bad. Always good to see, Luse.
"but what the F--K are 'you' doing?"...
Posted by ragamuffin minister email at November 19, 2003 02:45 PM

Damn you, Bill, for keep my rapt attention like that for so long. I'm supposed to be studying, but your blog continues to keep me from it! ;)
You truly have an amazing ability to write, and I'd like you to promise me that you'll pen a novel before you die. I'll be the first to buy.
Posted by Joshua Claybourn email at November 19, 2003 07:12 PM

T.S. - she sometimes complains that it's too long. Doesn't fit conveniently on the forms we have to fill out in life. But secretly she loves it.Josh - thanks for dropping by, and for the compliment. I've already penned one. It's sitting in a drawer. I'll revise it one of these days, but when I do, I'll have to disappear from blogging for a while.
Posted by William Luse email at November 19, 2003 08:38 PM

Wow, what a frightening ordeal! Thank God you and your family are safe!
Posted by susan b. email at November 20, 2003 11:15 AM

Cripes! Also so thankful that you're safe & so is the rest of your family.
Posted by Sparki email at November 20, 2003 11:49 AM
Thanks, ladies.
Posted by William Luse email at November 20, 2003 01:26 PM

You and your family have my prayers. Things can be replaced, but the sense of violation isn't something that goes away. I'm just glad everyone's ok and they got the perp.
Posted by Dale Price email at November 21, 2003 07:04 AM

God bless you, Fiskmaster.
Posted by William Luse email at November 21, 2003 05:36 PM

Holy mackerel, I definitely need to stop by more.
This isn't the first time you've left me misty-eyed, I'll be raising my glass to you at dinner tonight.
Posted by Chris email at December 1, 2003 07:35 PM

Thanks, Chris.
Posted by William Luse email at December 2, 2003 01:21 AM
"I hope some big fat bubba in prison makes him a mistress. I hope he bangs his own brains out on the jailhouse bars in the throes of withdrawal. I wish I could do it for him."
Good to see so much Christian love and forgiveness on a Christian blog. Matthew 18:35 anyone?
Posted by josquin email at April 4, 2004 01:36 PM

Ah, more sympathy for the devil. I hear Duke's a good place for it.
Posted by William Luse email at April 5, 2004 02:23 AM

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