One afternoon, I noticed sunlight sniggering at me through the pried-off boards of one of the windows. Someone had entered and skulked about my paint cans and glazing putty. Nothing was missing, but I was still angry. I felt desecrated—the ghost of Tutankhamen could not have felt more desecrated, than I. He had a curse protecting his property, though. Being not as well versed in the supernatural as he, I had to make do with available materials.
I figured it was just one of the delinquent kids my neighborhood was teeming with. Since he didn’t take anything, he probably did it for a thrill and was a beginner. He would come back and take something next time. I determined to be ready for him.
I nailed the boards back over the window, but loosely. If he came back I wanted him to choose the same window. I put a scrap of plywood with insulation under it, just inside the window on the floor. It was kind of like a spongy welcome mat. Baling wires attached to the plywood ran up along the sides of the window to two one-quart paint cans balanced on shelves overhead.
Stepping through the window onto the trigger-board would compress the pink insulation. The board would sink, the wires would pull, and the paint cans would tip. I wired the cans to stop part way to insure a good spill, and also to prevent them from falling off the shelf and hitting the intruder.
As I cleaned up the mess and nailed the boards back on, it came to me who the culprit was. After the first break-in, a little girl from next door was chattering away at me from across the fence. I was doing something in the back yard and only half listening to her. She told me about her cousin from Eugene, who was visiting her family and how he was eleven years old and how she was almost six. (“Uh huh. Yeah. Yeah. That’s great, kid.”) She also told me that I should keep my grass cut shorter so people wouldn’t get their feet wet—as if it was any of her business--and she also asked me why I had all those paint cans in my garage. At the time it didn’t register.
Only someone who’d traipsed about my back yard would have a complaint about the grass. Only someone who’d been in my garage would know it was stocked with paint. Someone who then mentioned it to the little neighbor girl. Someone with a size ten foot. Someone like the little girl’s visiting cousin.
I almost felt sorry for the kid. The weather was warm and summery and he would have been wearing just a tee-shirt and jeans, and this wasn’t latex paint, the kind that cleans up with warm water and soap. Paint thinner might not even have helped. As I recall, that metal primer could only be cut with acetone. And the walnut stain probably tinted half of his head and face for a week, until it wore off.
A few questions occurred to me.
Where did he go to clean up? He didn’t go further into my garage to wipe himself off. There was only the one footprint. He didn’t have a friend’s house to go to, being from out of town. Did he sneak back to his house to clean up, and wouldn’t that have left tracks in the hall and a horrendous bathtub ring?
How had he explained his ruined clothes to his aunt? Maybe he stripped outside and threw them away, but what possible story would he have told her if he was caught sneaking in the back door in his socks and underwear, reeking of turpentine and nail polish remover and painted up like some crazy football fan?
Like most kids, he probably had not considered the possible messy consequences of his actions. He was just being daring and adventuresome, and riding an illicit thrill when the curse of Noone’s garage caught up with him.
I hope my little surprise steered him from the path of hoodlumism. Maybe not. Maybe next time he broke into a garage he wore a plastic raincoat with hood.
I've been criticised for setting this trap and snaring a pre-pubescent child in it. But in my defense, I didn't know a fifth grade Alexander Mundy would be doing the creeping, and I don't feel the least bit guilty for Maaco-ing this particular tomb raider. If he were nine years old, instead of eleven he still got what he deserved.
I do have regrets. I should have kept the footprint and framed it, and I wish I’d rigged a flash camera. The footprint and photograph would even now be hanging over my mantelpiece.