This tale really began ten days ago, two weeks before Christmas…
“Well we got her everything she asked Santa for, thank the Lord she has simple wishes.” This was my wife, Karen,talking and breathing a sigh of relief as we began the drive home from the mall with the last of the presents for our four year old daughter, Faith. Fortunately, she had fallen asleep in her car seat after half a day of walking the length of a mall about three times.
It had been a tough year. Karen and I both worked at an auto parts manufacturer, the town’s biggest employer that had closed just after Christmas last year. We hadn’t found anything but a few temporary jobs for the past twelve months and with those, we were doing better than most of the rest of the town.
I’m Brendan,Karen’s husband and Faith’s father and these two girls are the center of my universe.
We managed to hang onto the house and keep warm and fed for the last twelve months. But, there was no work in sight and we were down to our last four-hundred bucks this morning when we started discussing Faith’s Christmas and Santa.
My daughter, God bless her four year old heart, had with her mother’s help,written a Christmas wish list to Santa that looked like a child’s letter to Santa fifty years ago.
Faith wanted a doll, doll’s clothes, a doll carriage, a child’s tea set and picture books. Not a single electronic toy. This was good news from two perspectives;Karen was really excited about shopping for good, old fashion, little girl’s toys and since our Faith was probably the only four year old with these items on her Santa list they would be still in stores and probably on sale.
We counted our four hundred dollar cash reserve three times when Karen said,“Let’s split it down the middle, two hundred for Faith’s Christmas and two hundred for an emergency. How’s that Honey?”
I laughed to myself thinking, an emergency like eating, but with a smile on my face I said, “Sounds good to me”.
So, off we went and spent the next four hours shopping for the best prices on every item on Faith’s list. First, I would take Faith to various places far from where her mother was tracking down an item then we would reverse roles and Karen would occupy Faith while I shopped. I have to admit it was a fun outing. The final stop was for hamburgers and fries at McDonald’s, a big treat for Faith in and of itself. We left the mall a happy trio for the half-hour ride home.
As we turned into our block Karen said, “Honey, it’s only three o’clock, let’s put up the tree and decorations. We’ll do the outside first while we have daylight, and then do the tree.”
The turn must have woken Faith up because she began gleefully shouting, “Can we Daddy,can we?” She was soon joined by her mother chiming in, “Can we Brendan, can we?”
At this,Faith joined her mother and started chanting “Can we Brendan, can we?” Karen and I couldn’t believe our ears and suddenly all three of us burst out laughing.
Needless to say, the decorations went up and the whole house looked warm and festive and Karen went up to the attic to get the final decoration that was a must each of the seven Christmases since our marriage.
When she came down the stairs, Faith screeched with excitement. Karen was carrying Faith’s favorite decoration, a very old Swiss Cuckoo clock that only came out once a year at Christmas. Each year it was placed on the mantle with sprigs of evergreen on either side.
The cuckoo clock had been bequeathed Karen by her Grandfather. It was the only item in his brief will that was specifically left to someone. Her Grandfather had been a clock maker whose business, once providing a comfortable living, had deteriorated to almost zero by the time he passed away. Another victim of technological advancement!
All through her childhood, Karen had loved to watch the workings of the clock which were in all honesty a marvel. In the image of a four floor Swiss chalet the clock was fitted with a music box with eight melodies. Not only did the cuckoo emerge through the little doors above the clock face and announce the hour, but each half hour a music box contained in the clock would play one of eight tunes and pirouetting Swiss maids would emerge through doors at the base and revolve until the song ended.
Anyway,up on the mantle it went where Karen wound it and after hearing both the cuckoo and the music box and watching the dancers, off went Faith to dream the dreams only a four year old girl can dream.
On the Saturday evening three days before Christmas we had all gone to an early pre-Christmas ‘bring-a-dish dinner’ at our church. Since we were expected to bring a large enough dish to be shared among many of the parishioners in attendance, we had to dig into that two-hundred dollar emergency fund to buy the makings of a three pound string-bean casserole, including the dish.
It was worth it though. There was caroling,skits by the teenagers and a general good and uplifting time. Pastor and his wife had even gotten little gifts for all the young children explaining that Santa had dropped them off when he came by to see Jesus in the manger on the altar.
Since almost the entire congregation was in the same financial boat we were in, the whole celebration was a very bright spot in what for most of us was a stressful period. We had no idea how stressful it was to be.
As I went to put the key in the lock on our arrival home, I realized the front door was ajar and the frame near the lock was smashed.
Trying to look calm, I picked up Faith and grabbed Karen by the hand signaling silence and ran quickly across the lawn to our next door neighbors where we called the police.
Two squad cars arrived in less than five minutes (one of the benefits of living in a small town) and two police officers entered through the broken door while the other two went to the back of the house, guns drawn.
A half hour later Karen and I were standing in the center of our living room shocked at what had been done to our home. We had left Faith at the neighbors fearing the effect of what the Police officers told us to expect.
Our tree had been flung into the fireplace and smashed with the poker destroying decorations that dated back three generations.
Garland had been ripped off the entrance to the living room and torn apart. Suddenly Karen went running upstairs where there was one of the officers making notes on a pad. The thieves/vandals had broken lamps, mirrors and pictures and then I heard the scream.
I went running up the stairs followed by the three officers only to find Karen at the head of the stairs, the fourth police officer staring at her. She was alternating between anger and tears.
“They took them, every last one. They took them all,” she was shouting.
“They took what?” I asked.
“Faith’s presents, every one of them”.
I didn’t know what to say, she was so distraught, I just wanted to make things better so I stupidly said, “Don’t worry Honey, we’ll go back to the mall tomorrow and replace them all and get some new decorations. By Christmas Eve, we’ll have everything back to the way it was and Faith will have her Christmas.”
“With what, Brendan? We don’t have enough money to replace the presents much less get Christmas decorations and a new tree.
“Whoever did this deserves to burn in hell, Brendan, and I’d like to light the fire.” She turned and started back down the stairs.
She reached the landing and screamed again, “They took Grandpa’s clock. The little pieces of pig dung took my baby’s Christmas and Grandpa’s clock. Burning in hell is too good for them they should start burning here and now.”
I agreed with her, but one of us had to be calm and since it was pretty obvious it wasn’t going to be her I figured it had better be me.
“Honey,it’s divine intervention, if we had not been at Church, God’s house, with Pastor and our friends we may have been here when they broke in and what could have happened then is anyone’s guess or nightmare.
“We are all safe and all we have lost is material things that can in time be replaced.” Except maybe Grandpa’s clock, I thought to myself.
Karen looked at me and began to smile as tears came streaming down her face, “Always positive, Honey, I guess the next thing you’re going to say is, ‘This too shall pass’.
“Let’s start to list what’s missing for the police report and clean up as much as we can before we get Faith. I love you my unbearable optimist.”
Two of the officers stayed to help clean up (another benefit of small town living) and to make the formal police report and list of stolen property.
We were about an hour into the process when the older of the two officers, that had stayed, came upstairs where I was with Karen sorting all the contents of our closet and dresser that the creeps had thrown around the room.
“Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, it seems as if the two other officers that were here have nabbed the three vandals that broke into your house. All three of them are high on something and apparently were trying to break into a home on the next block when they triggered a silent alarm. The officers think they found all of your belongings in the trunk of their car. As soon as the van comes to take the three down to headquarters and lock them up,they’ll head over here with the stolen property for you to identify.”
“What do you mean, ‘take them to headquarters and lock them up’? Bring them here; I want to see them… I want…”
At this point I interrupted, “Karen, it will not make things any better if the officers bring the crooks here so you can accelerate their burning in or out of hell. Let’s look on the bright side. If we actually get back all of Faith’s presents we can afford to get a new tree with the money we have so we will have a merry Christmas.”
At this point we were interrupted by the younger of the two officers. “Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, the guys are here with the suspects’ car and your belongings. If you come down, we’ll confirm it’s your belongings then we can proceed from there.”
We went down and they unloaded all our stolen belongings onto the driveway. There were all Faith’s presents, (I was glad she was next door, no need to create more complications around Santa delivering presents), some miscellaneous items and Grandpa’s cuckoo clock.
“Can we take these in the house now,” I asked?
“I’m afraid not, Mr. Anderson,” answered one of the two officers that brought back the car and the loot, “they’ll be needed as evidence of the crime and the more items we have the stronger the case the DA can make against the suspects.”
“I think we can let the Andersons take their daughter’s gifts from Santa into the house. After all, since they’re from Santa technically they weren’t stolen from the Andersons.”
I noticed for the first time that this older officer was a sergeant and the other three younger guys were not.
The three younger guys looked at the Sergeant like he’d lost his mind and all at once they began to smile.
“And,” continued the Sergeant, “I don’t think you’ll need anything but Grandpa’s clock, to make a pretty heavy case against the suspects.
“Mrs. Anderson,” he said, turning towards Karen, “what do you know about this clock?”
“It was my Grandfather’s and his Grandfather’s before him. My Grandfather’s family were Swiss clock makers going back many generations and my Grandfather brought this with him when he came to this country as a boy. Why do you ask?”
“Well,I’m no expert,” said the Sergeant, “but I spent three years on the Arts and Antiques unit of the Chicago Police Department’s Fraud Division and I think this piece may change the crime from low-level misdemeanor vandalism to felony burglary. We of course don’t have there sources in our department, but the State Police does and I’ll get their experts to look at it tomorrow and get back to you.”
We finished listing all the stolen and damaged goods and the vandalism, signed the report and the officers left… leaving a stack of wrapped Christmas presents in the upstairs closet where they had been that afternoon.
We put the living room back together as best we could, picked up Faith and went to bed.
The next day at about three in the afternoon the Sergeant showed up after calling to make sure we were home. He brought some papers for us to sign and told us that the State Police Art and Antique experts came immediately to view Grandpa’s clock after he e-mailed them a picture.
Sure enough the value of the cuckoo clock is great enough to make sure the DA will prosecute for felony burglary and the three creeps will go away for anywhere from three to seven years.
“How much does it have to be worth for the DA to prosecute for felony burglary,” asked Karen?
“Usually the stolen property has to be worth more than twenty-five thousand dollars before the DA will take on that charge.”
“Wow,” I piped up, “Grandpa’s cuckoo clock is worth twenty-five grand?”
“Oh no,Mr. Anderson, I’m sorry I didn’t make that clear. The State guys identified the clock as … let me check my notes, yeah here it is, ‘A Swiss Brienz chalet mantel cuckoo clock,fitted with a music box with eight melodies, hand made in Switzerland around 1860’. They said that they would have a more specific identification before the arraignment.
“I’m sorry but we have to keep the clock and the lesser items until after the trial but you’ll get them back as soon as the case is closed.”
“How much is a Brienz… whatever you called it, worth,” asked Karen?
With this Faith strolled in from the kitchen and stood next to her mother.
“Oh what’s the matter with me,” said the Sergeant, “I should have told you that first off. They figure at auction it would draw between one and one and half million dollars.”
At this my eyes rolled back in my head and I collapsed… fortunately onto the sofa.
Faith looked with her eyes wide and said to her mother, “What happened to Daddy?”
Laughing that beautiful laugh of hers she picked up Faith and said, “Honey, do you remember what Santa says to all at the end of the Christmas Carol”?
“Yes Mommy,Santa says ‘…and to all A Good Night’.”
©Copyright G. Hugh Bodell – 2018