Deborah Lacy runs Mystery Playground, a blog about mystery and Fun.
Nick loved Christmas. He couldn’t care less about the presents, the trees, the hot cocoa, the caroling, and almost everything else about the holiday. What he loved most were the lights outside the houses. Swags of glowing icicles, blinking nets of light, big trees swathed in strands of bulbs, well-lit reindeer, crèches and the occasional inflatable Mickey Mouse dressed in a Christmas sweater.
He didn’t love the lights because they were pretty or festive, or even because they made the street brighter. He loved the lights because it made his new job so much easier. Because Christmas lights could tell you what was in a house that was worth stealing. Sometimes the lights could even give you a clue if the house’s owners were home or not. All burglars knew you never robbed a house with a car out in front, but few realized the wealth of information outdoor holiday décor could provide.
This year, LED icicle lights in large quantities with a lit up Snoopy and Woodstock complete with Santa hat meant these people loved the latest of everything. They would have expensive electronic gadgets and a home filled with other expensive toys. But electronics could be easily traced, so Nick never stole them. And any family that went to so much trouble to decorate was probably home for the holidays. Nick skipped houses with large quantities of LED lights.
Large inflatable figures, like reindeer or Mickey Mouse or Snowman, signaled that busy parents, most likely with young kids lived inside. These parents wanted to decorate but needed the most amount of décor for the smallest time investment. Place the inflatable figures on the lawn and turn on the enclosed motor to pump air inside. These motors stopped pumping when the figures were full, making them fool proof. Nick skipped houses with blow up figures for two reasons. The first was if they had little kids they were probably home. His second reason was that Christmas was for children, and he didn’t want to spoil it, which was how he got into this business in the first place.
Nick began his burglary career last Christmas when his boss learned how much cheaper it would be to move his entire programming department to India. Mr. Quigley made the announcement the day before Thanksgiving, right after he handed his employees a coupon for a free six-pound turkey. Two weeks later Nick learned his son Ron needed a bone marrow transplant. He and his wife drained their life savings for medical treatments and the Christmas burglar was born.
Last year after they made it through Christmas, he told himself he’d stop. He wasn’t a thief. If he ever got caught, he wouldn’t last long in jail.
Once he secured another programming job, he would be able to get the family on its feet again. But with the economy the way it was, and the low cost of labor in India and China, Nick hadn’t been able to get a full-time job. He was able to get project work, now and then, while his wife went back to substitute teaching while Ron was in school. They had to pay for their own health insurance, and received no benefits. They eked out a living, but most of their disposable income went to continued medical treatments for Ron. He told himself he would just do one more job so he could pay down their credit card bills and buy a few presents for his family.
Using lessons learned from his time as a programmer, Nick approached his thievery by following a strict code of twenty rules, carefully developed. The first rules were the easiest to follow: Rule #1 was always wear gloves and a stocking cap. That way he wouldn’t leave any fingerprints or drop a hair that could be traced by DNA. Another reason why Christmas was a great time for burglary. No one thought it odd if you were wearing a knit cap and gloves. Rule #2—Only rob in the very early hours of the morning between 2:30 – 4:00. It was dark, all but the most dedicated of partiers had gotten themselves home and those who were asleep were in the deepest of deep sleeps. So if you made a mistake and someone was home, you could get out before they woke up.
Nick continued to apply to full-time jobs as a programmer and he hoped he could find a permanent job before his luck ran out. As he knew some day it would.