January 28, 2020

Crime and Punishment

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

Crime.  We’re all victims.

Last year my wife startled two men with a red Ford pickup in our orchard.  They were loading a pair of track frames for my bulldozer into their truck.  They dropped the frames and fled at her arrival.  The strange thing about this particular incident is that I waved to those men as they drove by.  I was mowing a field some distance from our house.

They waved back.

Confident of my location, they stopped into our orchard for those track frames only to be surprised by my wife’s arrival.  Thank goodness.  1940s vintage tractor parts aren’t easily found or inexpensive once located.

The incident points out a sad fact.  Scrap metal theft exploded in Maine when the economy went to hell and steel, aluminum, copper and brass prices rocketed for the heavens.  That merely explains, it doesn’t excuse it.  Worse, farmers are more likely to be victims simply because of the materials and equipment kept, of necessity, on every farm.

Further proof of this was the theft of copper grounding wire for our lightning rods.  Whoever took it must have had a stepladder.  The wire was cut 12 feet above the ground.  (I had to measure for its replacement.)  With our house, barn and garage atop a hill surrounded by field, I didn’t dare leave the structures ungrounded.  I repaired the connections.

I wish that these were the sole incidents.  Unfortunately, they’re not.  Late one night somebody stole a tractor right out of our barn.  Hearing it start woke me.  I dressed and rushed out in the wee hours of the morning.  I managed to catch up with the machine, racing after it in my Dodge.  The thieves escaped in the car they arrived in.

We’ve kept our barn locked ever since.

Like all of us, I could go on.  The point here is that are consequences.

The most recent episode occurred yesterday morning at 3:18 a.m.  I awoke to headlights pulling in our driveway.  Given my previous experiences, I didn’t wait.  I lept from bed, yanked on my trousers and rushed down the backstairs.  I didn’t turn on any lights.  (I have the stubbed toes to prove it.)  Peering from our mudroom window, I watched the drive, mystified.  “What’s he doing?”

The car sat idling, its headlights on.  Ground mists rose from the lawn.  Finally the driver opened his door and got out.  I saw him briefly in the interior light.  I contemplated letting the dogs out, too.  But they were all sleeping quite comfortably.  Not one of our big, fierce Chesapeake Bay retrievers had so much as yawned, never mind woofed, while this nocturnal intruder trespassed on their yard.

But the driver didn’t head for our house or barn.  He moved back toward the road instead.

“This is nuts,” I whispered.  “What’s going on?”

I watched while our paperboy stuck the Bangor Daily News into the box and returned to his vehicle.  In reverse, his headlights swept the house.  I backed up quickly, not wanting to be seen.  I tripped over a pair of rubber boots and sat down hard in the mud room.  My head slammed into the shelves behind me.  I rubbed my neck, swearing.  When I could speak rationally, I added, “That’s the first time he’s pulled into our driveway.”  It’s true.  Normally he simply drives right up to the box.

Struggling to my feet, I looked around.  What can you do but laugh?  I was up.  I unlocked the front door and went out to get the paper.

Back in the kitchen, I turned on the light.  Lola sat up and barked.  I scratched her ears.  “Some watchdog you are,” I told her and read the headline:

Overall rate up 5.4%

Yeah.  Like they had to tell me.

My dog barked at me after that marauding paperboy startled me awake.  Still, as I laid the paper down, turned out the light and went back to bed I realized something.  We’re all victims of crime, even if the only thing stolen is sleep.