Saturday, August 6, 2005

Caught In The Act

On June 16, I relayed a story here about how one man helped to restore my faith in the common man. I mention that only to say that I'm not so sure I wasn't too quick to judge his actions in such a positive light. Here's a little back-story that isn't in my June 16 entry.

This guy named Eric first made contact with my wife in May because I had a car for sale that was parked in my front yard with a For Sale sign on it. He lives a few blocks down the street from us and passes our house several times a day. He asked my wife if he could drive the car. As I was at work, my wife told him he would need to come back to look at the car when I was home.

A couple weeks later, as we were heading out the door, Eric showed up with his rag-tag family in tow. They drove the car and declared that they were very interested, but wouldn't be able to give me any money until he got paid the following Friday. I told him I would hold the car until Monday and took the For Sale signs out of the window.

This is where the June 16 entry picks up. Jump there now, if you aren't already familiar with it, because it's an important part of what I have to say today.

Go ahead. I'll wait.....

That didn't take too long, did it?

If you paid any attention to the dates that I've mentioned here, you know that it is now August, nearly three months after Eric first approached us about buying my old car. Three months after agreeing to a selling price of $600. Three months in which he has given me a grand total of $150 and asked me twice to put a lien on the car and allow them to take it while they continue to pay for it. During that time he has come to me to explain why he didn't have any money to offer me more often than he has brought me money. The excuses included such things as "I lost my job," "I have to pay the rent," and "My other car broke down." I'm not normally one to judge people, but looking at Eric, any one of those excuses is totally believable.

ast night as my wife took my new car to run to the store, leaving her Jimmy and the old Saturn sitting in our driveway -- which is long enough to fully park five to six cars and runs the full length of our house -- there came a knock at the door. It was dark, so I flipped on the porch light to illuminate the trespasser, thinking it was probably just my wife with her hands too full to open the door. Smiling back at me through the window was Eric.

I opened the door to find him standing on my front porch, his bicycle laying in the front yard, and my wife getting out of the car. She later told me (and this could be key information) that she saw him ride by the house once as she was coming down the street before she pulled into the driveway.

I stepped out onto the porch and greeted him: "How ya' doin'?"

Foregoing the traditional greeting, he jumped right in with both feet: "She --" meaning his girlfriend, for whom he was buying the Saturn -- "wanted me to ask you if you'd put a lien on the car."

Here we go again, I thought. "You mean put a lien on it and let you take it now?"

"Yeah," he said, as he proceeded to explain to me that he was promoted and was now the third man in charge of the lawn detail (he works for a mowing and landscaping company), and how he got a raise and his boss offered to sell him a "big boat of a car for $200" that he was considering as his second option. He continued, "I get about 46 hours a week, and the overtime is banked for when I need it. I just have to give them two weeks notice that I need the money and they'll pay it out to me, so I can use it to help pay off this car. Until then, we can give you fifty dollars a week."

As I haven't seen fifty dollars a week since he agreed to buy the car in the first place, I had some serious doubts. "Well, I won't be off work to do anything like that until next Wednesday."

"Okay," he said. "I'll be back tomorrow when I get paid to give you some money."

"I'll tell you what," I said. "Let me think about the lien. I'll be home tomorrow night around seven. Come by then and I'll let you know what I decide." I now wish I hadn't told him when I get home, though he knows where I live and what car I drive and could probably have figured it out.

Fast forward to this morning. If you're a regular reader, you know I'm a Retail Store Manager. I work two hours from home, and calls from home to work are long distance calls. For that reason, my wife always calls me on my cell phone, and I call her back from the store phone. It saves us on long distance and cellular airtime. She very rarely ever calls me direct at the store.

This morning, she did just that. It always means something is wrong when she makes the long distance call to the store to contact me.

"Did you take the portable CD player out of my car?" We had just put a portable CD player and a wireless FM transmitter in her car two days ago. I told my wife then, "You have to start locking your car all the time now." She never locks it in the driveway, and I usually have to remind her to lock it when we go out somewhere. "If someone sees that CD player and your car is unlocked, they'll take it."

"Those are only twenty bucks now," she said. "Who would steal one for twenty bucks?"

I said, "Anybody that wants one and doesn't have twenty bucks to pay for it."

So she asks me this morning, "Did you take the portable CD player out of my car?" I have a factory CD player in my car, so I thought she was playing a joke.

"No, why?" She obviously thought I was the one playing the joke.

"Because it's gone."

If it's not already too late to make a long story short, we've lived in our house for almost three years, we live on a relatively quiet street in town, our neighbors all appear respectable, and we've never had anyone mess with anything yet.

I'm just saying, it seems a little suspicious that this guy who has been out of work, with no car, riding a bicycle wherever he goes, and struggling to pay the rent and buy a new car, rode past my house before stopping on the same night that we had our first case of theft. My car was clearly not in the driveway, and he's familiar with my car. It was dark. The Saturn was pulled all the way into the driveway by the garage, and my wife's car was parked behind it. My wife saw him ride past the house as she was coming home.

I believe it happened something like this.

He may actually have come by to ask me about putting a lien on the car. I believe that because he has asked me to do that twice already, and he's getting desperate for transportation to keep his new job. He sees my car isn't there and thinks that we're not home. He strolls up the driveway to take a look at the car he's trying so desperately to buy. Out of curiosity, he glances in the window of my wife's Jimmy as he walks past and sees the portable CD player sticking out beneath the stereo. At this point, he's still innocent. He may even have walked past the Jimmy and took a look at the Saturn before the curiosity got to be more than he could handle. In either case, I believe he then walked back and checked the door of the Jimmy. Of course it was unlocked because my wife has a horrible habit of never locking her car. He grabs the CD player because it's sitting there loose and easy prey. He opens the ashtray probably looking for money stashed in the car, and leaves it open when he's done. He then rifles through the glove box leaving it more organized than it was when he found it. I think at this point he might have heard a car coming, because he ignored the CDs that were in the car and there's no sign of any other tampering. I believe he then jumped on his bike and started his escape, until he saw that the car he had heard was my car. He then tried to nonchalantly ride past the house, which is what my wife saw when she pulled up. Thinking he was seen and had to create a quick alibi, he dropped his bike in the yard and knocked on the door to ask me about the lien. He didn't make eye contact with my wife at all as she walked up on the porch, probably hoping she wouldn't see anything in his eyes that might betray him.

He probably thinks he is now safe at home with a new portable CD player. He's supposed to return tonight to give me some money and find out about my decision on the lien. I have a surprise for him. Not only do I plan to refuse his request for a lien, but I also plan to tell him that I can't seem to get the car started now and that I feel it wouldn't be fair to hold his money for a car that doesn't start. I will then offer him his $150 back and ask him to sign a receipt for it. He'll certainly hem and haw and I may even have to show him that the car won't start (the battery is disconnected, but it's been sitting there long enough now that it probably wouldn't start even with the battery hooked up).

As he walks away with his $150, hopefully never to return, I plan to spring it on him: "By the way," I'll say, "did you happen to notice anything suspicious when you were here last night? Somebody broke into my wife's car and stole some stuff out of it."

His reaction, I'm sure, will speak volumes.

Stay tuned.


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