Grubbs Closes In

Judith opened the screen door and found an envelope Scotch taped over the main door lock. She pulled it off, disarmed the alarm, and opened the door.

Tom carried their suitcases into the house. As usual, his first move was to load his gun.

He then went back to the mailbox and picked up the mail. Judith handed him the envelope she had taken from the door.

“Here. This was taped to the door. It might be something important.”

He flipped it over to look at both sides. “It's addressed to me, but there’s no return address.” He opened it.

The letter inside was on the letterhead of the police department, and addressed to him.

MR. TOM BORDEN: PLEASE CALL THE POLICE DISPATCHER AT . . .

He sat down in dismay and held his head.

“Oh, my God! They know! They know! Somehow they know!”

Judith took the letter and read it. “No, Tom. If they knew they'd be waiting here for you. They wouldn't be asking you to call them.”

Okay, what would an honest man do? One who knew he hadn't done anything wrong? He'd be puzzled, but he'd call the dispatcher.

He punched in the number.

“This is Tom Borden.” He gave his address. “I'm replying to a message left on my door.”

“Yes, Mr. Borden. Just a moment. I'll have to check the log book.” There was a pause. “Here it is. Your burglar alarm went off last night. The responding officer found the back door ajar and jimmy marks around the lock. He entered the house but found no one. He was able to relock the door. This morning we obtained the alarm key you left with your neighbor, Mrs. Tompkins, and reset the alarm. Please check to see if anything is missing.”

Judith's voice came on the line. Tom realized she must be using the upstairs phone. “This is Mrs. Borden. What time did this happen?”

“According to the record, just past two AM. That's why we didn't try to obtain the key from Mrs. Tompkins at that time.”

“Is Detective Callahan on duty tonight?” she asked.

“Yes, he is.”

“Please tell him we're going to inspect the house, then we're coming to see him.”

“Very well.”

“Good-bye.”

Tom hung up without saying anything. He turned to Judith as she came down the stairs.

“What's this about seeing Callahan?”

“This might not have been an attempted burglary, Tom. This might have been Grubbs. Get your gun. We're going to inspect every room and every closet in this house, then we're going down to the police station to talk to Lt. Callahan.”

They started at their bedroom at the end of the upstairs hall. One of them covered a door as the other opened it. They found no one. Nothing seemed to be missing. They worked their way through the rooms down the hall, went down the stairs, then inspected the first floor.

Judith said, “If there's anyone still hiding in the house, they have to be in the basement.”

“Okay, I guess I'll have to go down there.”

He opened the basement door, switched on the light, and started to step down.

Wait a minute. If I go down there slowly, anybody down there can see me before I can see them. I'd better run down those steps, head for the near corner, turn around, and scan the basement.

He took the steps in three bounds, had his back into the corner in two long strides, and scanned the basement over the sights of his gun.

“Nobody in sight”

“Okay, I'm coming down.”

“Take it slowly. No point in breaking a leg.”

Shortly she stood beside him. Then they prowled the basement. They found nothing.

“Okay, Judy, that's it. The house is secure. I couldn't see anything missing. Now let's go see Callahan.”

#

Lt. Callahan seemed unconcerned about their report. “What's the problem, folks? A burglar tried to break in. He set off your burglar alarm. That scared him off. According to the records, the responding officer reached your house within three minutes. He happened to be patrolling your neighborhood when the dispatcher called him, and did even better than our standard response time. He found nothing, and you found no one hiding in the house and nothing missing.

“Seems to me everything worked just like it was supposed to. That burglar won't be back. He'll try to hit a place that isn't so well protected. I wish every householder would take the precautions you folks have.”

Judith spoke in a sharp voice. “That’s if it was a burglar, Lieutenant.”

“What else could it have been.”

“I think it was Harry Grubbs.”

“That doesn't fit. Even if Grubbs were trying to get you, you weren't home. He'd be wasting his time. Since the house was empty, it's more likely it was a burglar. With over half the homes in America having guns, burglars would much rather hit an empty house than one with somebody home. I've talked to lots of burglars. They tell me that they're afraid to hit a house with somebody home, because they might get shot. They’re more afraid of meeting an armed householder than they are of the police.”

Tom thought, If burglars are really that scared of people with guns, why are you cops so eager to take away our guns? But he kept that thought to himself. Instead, he followed Judith's lead.

“Maybe he didn't know the house was empty. Part of our burglar alarm system switches lights and the TV on and off when there's nobody home in the evening, just to make it look like there are people around. The house wouldn't have looked empty.”

“Besides,” Judith added, “my car was still in the garage. Only Tom's car was gone. Unless he had seen both of us drive off together, he'd logically expect that I was home alone. The lights would make it look like I was moving from room to room, and watching the TV, until I went to bed. Since we both have to get to work in the morning, we usually get to bed around eleven. That's when the automatic lights are set to go out. He could reasonably expect that I'd be asleep by two AM. Then he could surprise me.”

“But as soon as he opened the door, the alarm would alert you. He'd have known he couldn't get away with it.”

“Only if he knew we had a burglar alarm. He might not have known we have one. He may have thought that once he poisoned our dog, we had no protection.”

“Please, Mrs. Borden. You have no proof he was the one who poisoned your dog. All of this is pure speculation.”

“It may be speculation, but it fits all the facts. Including the fact that he made a threat to get us, and the fact that he's been stalking us. I think my speculation is pretty solidly grounded.”

“Even if it is, we have no evidence we can use to arrest him. Without that evidence, I can't do anything.”

“Can't you find out whether he has an alibi for last night?” Tom asked.

“It doesn't matter whether he has one or not. He doesn't have to prove he wasn't there. You have to prove he was there. In the absence of any evidence he was there, his lack of an alibi would be irrelevant.

“I still think it was an ordinary burglar,” Callahan continued. “That theory fits the immediate facts. However, if it was Mr. Grubbs, he'll be back. A burglar would be discouraged; Grubbs would not. I strongly suggest you take precautions. If it was Mr. Grubbs and he does come back, we'll respond as promptly as we can.

“Finally, Mrs. Borden, I don't want to sound insensitive about this, but your preoccupation with Mr. Grubbs could be interpreted by someone less charitable than I am as paranoia. I strongly suggest you refrain from saying anything more about him until you have some evidence. Otherwise you're likely to turn off the very people whose help you'll need if it does turn out to be Mr. Grubbs.”

He stood up, dismissing them.

They slowly walked to their car. Once inside, Tom exploded.

“Paranoid! What the Hell does he think this is, anyway. We know that sonuvabitch Grubbs has been after us. We're not imagining things. Dammit, even paranoids have enemies, and Grubbs is sure our enemy.”

“Easy, Tom. You're right, but blowing your stack isn't going to help. We need to stay calm and think.”

“Okay. Maybe the Justice Cooperative will solve the problem for us. I've carried out my end of the bargain.”

“Yes, and you've paid a terrible emotional price for it last night and today.”

“Okay, it's their turn to carry out their end of the bargain.”

Just as they entered the house, they heard the phone ring. Tom grabbed it. Judith heard him say, “Sorry, you must have a wrong number.”

He hung up, then turned to her.

“That was the Justice Cooperative, with another wrong number. I've got to get to the pay phone on Willow. It's three blocks away. I'd better hurry.”

“That means leaving me in the house alone.”

“And it means my going to the phone alone.”

“Then we'd better both go. That way there's two of us to his one.”

“And we'd both better have our guns. I'll take the car instead of walking.”

He drove to the phone, parked next to it, and waited. When it rang, he was out of the car and had the phone off the hook before the second ring.

“Hello.”

A voice said, “I'm calling for Mr. Collins.

“This is his brother. I'll take a message.”

“Be able to account for every minute of the coming week. This is the last message you will receive. You will have no further contact with us. Good-bye.” Click!

“But . . . But . . . Hey, wait a minute!”

But the phone was dead. Tom finally hung it up.

He related the message to Judith, then added, “It sounds like they're going to make their move this week. I hope they make it before Grubbs makes his next move.”


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Copyright © 2004, Joseph P. Martino
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