The Gentleman Caller

The Durham Bulls play at 5:05 on Sundays instead of the normal 7:05 first pitch time they use for the other six days of the week. That’s a good thing:  Otherwise I’d have missed last night’s home invasion.

It was just before 10:00. I was flipping between the VMAs and an old Rams’ preseason game. Former Blue Devils safety Matt Daniels (the sole reason I was watching a Rams preseason game to begin with) had just missed a diving tackle when the front door of my apartment opened.

I was home alone, and not expecting company—plus, most of my potential company tends to knock before just walking in. So this was a troubling development.

I listened for footsteps (which would have been worrisome) or a shout of “maintenance” (which would have been even more worrisome since it would have clearly been a lie. I couldn’t even get maintenance to come when my air conditioning broke down and the temperature in my apartment hit 91.)

My mind raced. Clearly, I’d forgotten to lock my front door. That’s not surprising. I usually have my hands full when I enter my apartment and just assume I’ll remember to check and lock up before bed.

I don’t, always, which is why this wasn’t even the first time this has happened to me.  When I lived in Arlington, Texas, I chose my apartment based on proximity to the ballpark (My real estate tip for the day: Don’t do that.)  One night, a noise woke me up, and when I sat up to investigate, I saw the silhouette of the person who had just entered my apartment, slowly approaching my bed.

I was just out of college, so I thought I was young, rich and invincible. Without thinking, I leapt out of bed and charged at the intruder. It turned out to be a woman who reacted to an argument with her boyfriend by taking a handful of sleeping pills, chasing him into the parking lot, getting disoriented, and returning home to the wrong building.

Needless to say, she’d had a rough night, and when she returned to what she thought was home, she was greeted by a shadowy figure leaping out of bed and charging at her. She returned to the parking lot, screaming, and the police eventually arrived to sort out the entire matter.

This time, like any aging pro, I decided to rely on my off-speed stuff instead of charging forward with the heat. I said, “hello?” in what I hoped was a calm, but slightly annoyed voice, then got up from the couch and crept to the wall bordering the entry hall.

I looked around for a weapon, but I’d just left the lamp, the tile-topped coffee table, and several large books, all of which were near the couch.

After a pause that seemed a little too lengthy for my comfort level, the intruder said, “Oh. I guess I … live next door.”

That should have been followed by the door opening and closing again, but instead, there was no sound at all.

He might have been waiting for me to say, “That’s okay.”  I didn’t. First of all, it really wasn’t. It’s not that hard to remember where you live. There are numbers on the doors. Secondly, I didn’t want him to know where I was. On the off chance that he was a violent criminal, hoping to lull me into a false sense of security, I wanted the jump on him. From my spot on the wall, I would see him first, especially if he was looking at the couch, where he’d heard me speak initially.

“I live next door,” he repeated. “I guess I opened the wrong door.”  Still, he didn’t leave.

I hurriedly decided on a game plan. If he came any further into my apartment, after he was clearly aware that he was trespassing, he would emerge from the entry hall, and I would drop him with a wheel kick.

I waited … and worried. I’d thrown plenty of wheel kicks, usually into a heavy bag, occasionally over the heads of my daughters as they giggled, and, earlier in the day, over the heads of a friend’s daughters. They also giggled—the friend, not so much. This, however, would be my first kick to an actual human skull.

I positioned my feet and took a deep breath. I could do this. If the roundhouse kick wasn’t lethal, I’d be in position to throw a couple left hooks to the liver. If that didn’t stop him, I was probably doomed.

I bounced on the balls of my feet and ran the lyrics to hard rock songs through my head. It was about to be on.

The standoff was broken by Zoe, my pet cat. She stretched, lazily, and trotted past me, tail in the air, to greet our new visitor. Perhaps he had food. She turned the corner and disappeared into the entry hall, meowing.

I was concerned for Zoe’s safety. I wondered how I’d explain to my daughters that I’d let someone break in and steal the cat. I worried that the intruder might tell the landlord I had an animal in the apartment.

Almost immediately, the door opened and closed again, and I heard footsteps outside, retreating from my door.  Zoe returned and gave me a withering look.

“You couldn’t throw a wheel kick to save your life,” she seemed to be saying.

I left my spot on the ambush wall and went to get her a cat treat. Then I decided I should probably lock the door.

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