Precinct, Danish, Squirrel

I came home last Friday to find a policeman sitting at the top of the stairs. But first I should tell you about how my neighbor had been trying to give me a danish.

“I bought two of them,” he said, “and I don't want to eat this one. Take it.”

“No way,” I said. “What is it, like nine million calories?”

“Take the danish,” he said.

He put it on the stool that serves for both sitting and as a dining room table. It was alluring--yellow starch draped with frosting and in the center a sweet bump of candied cheese. But poison, Entenmann's poison. He tried to give me the danish at least three more times that week.

The Policeman

First I heard the sound of a walkie-talkie as I came up the stairs. I turned and there was an officer, an Egyptian, sitting outside my neighbor's open door. You hardly ever see Egyptian policemen.

“Is he all right?” I asked, desperate. Maybe someone had killed my neighbor.

The officer smiled. “He's fine,” he said. “Someone broke in. They got the guy. I saw them bring him into the station and they sent me here to watch the door. I have to wait for him to come home.”

“Do you want me to call him?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “That would be great.”


“Man,” I said, “I have really bad news but it's also good news. Someone broke into your apartment but they got him and I don't think you lost anything. They kicked in the air conditioner and came in. Your computer and TV are still there.”

(The TV is one I found on the corner and gave to my neighbor. It is 30 inches and heavy as a battleship. It took me fifteen minutes to walk it one block. I knew he needed a new TV because we'd tried to dig a videocassette out of his old TV/VCR, and after we were done the sound didn't work. When I found this TV I thought of him immediately and called him at home, hoping he would come help me carry it. But he didn't answer his phone. So I lugged it. “Motherfucker better want this TV,” I said out loud, “because if he doesn't I'll kill him for the fact that I carried it up the stairs. Sonofabitch TV not-having fucker.” I could only get it to the second floor and then I gave up. I knocked on his door and he answered. “You are a total cocksucker,” I gasped. “You asshole. Answer your phone. Go get your new TV downstairs.”)

“Oh, shit,” said my neighbor. “Oh for God's sake. Did they take anything? I guess I should come home.”

“I think the police got everything they took,” I said. “There's a policeman [I almost called him a cop but he was standing right there] outside your door. He's keeping the place safe.”


I went to the store and bought the policeman some cokes while he waited. I tried to give them to him but he insisted on paying me for them. Then I went into my room, checked email, and thought of myself. My apartment faces the street so it is hard to enter it unnoticed. But still if someone could break into my neighbor's apartment they could break in here. Someone had stolen several bikes from me over the years. Also, I was in the middle of a complicated apartment-switching operation. A couple my girlfriend and I know are breaking up and they want us to take their place so that one of them can move into my apartment. This way we can avoid realtors and save thousands of dollars that no one can spare. I wondered if the man who wanted to take my apartment would be bothered by the fact that my neighbor had been burglarized. Would that complicate the deal?


My neighbor came home and we looked at his place. He was asked to touch nothing so that fingerprints would be preserved. The burglar had climbed over the tall back fence, jumped onto the fire escape, climbed to the third floor, and then in an amazing acrobatic move had somehow swung from the edge of the fire escape and kicked out my neighbor's air conditioner, then jumped into my neighbor's apartment with 30 feet of empty air below him. Once inside he had rummaged through everything and turned over boxes.

A police car came; I offered to come along. The driver saw me and said, it is a tight fit back there. I did not tell them that I had been in the back of a police car before, years ago, in a similar situation--keeping a friend company on the way to the precinct. In that case we were walking in the park when she saw the people who had attacked her husband and herself one night and we then went to arrest them.

There was very little leg room in the back of the police car, but it was clean. The police officer in the front rolled down the windows because it was hot in there.


The precinct was pure ugly utilitarian architecture. Linoleum and yellow wooden desks. They had a large plasma television screen that showed the faces of wanted local criminals. On a long desk was my neighbor's digital camera and his leather jacket. Also a roll of toilet paper, a cordless drill, a cell phone, a hat, some jewelry, and a crowbar. A police officer shook our hands and showed us the objects. “Is this your toilet paper?” she asked.

“It might be,” said my neighbor.

She shook her head. “People do strange things,” she said. “Anyway, he said he did it. We got him. He ran out of your apartment and over a roof and someone called us. He dropped all of the stuff and pretended to be knocking on someone's door.”

My neighbor put on his jacket and picked up his digital camera. “You'll get a call from the D.A.,” said the officer. We shook hands and left, and walked him. My neighbor offered to buy me a meal.

“I'm glad I didn't have to do that alone,” he said.

“No one wants to go to the precinct alone.”

“I feel kind of violated.”

“You can sleep at my place tonight if you want.”

“No thanks,” he said. “I've had all the violation I can take. I've got to wash the bedspread,” he said. “Asshole jumped all over it.”

“Super crackhead strength is really something,” I said. “Also, be glad you don't do drugs.”

“Oh, shit,” he said. “Thank God.”

“I know.”

“Because they would have cause to arrest me without a warrant,” he said. “They had cause to be in the apartment because it was burglarized.”

“That happened to a friend of a friend,” I said. “They investigated a burglary and found her pot plants. So she went to jail.”

“That sounds like a really bad day,” said my neighbor.


At 11 my neighbor called me and said, “he took the danish.”

The next day the friend who wants my apartment came over. He was stressed out from the death of his relationship. “You should know,” I said, “someone broke into the next-door apartment last night.”

“Awesome,” he said. “Perfect.” I turned the key and he looked into the small, shabby room where I've lived for eight years. “Does the plumbing work?” he asked.

I said the plumbing worked. My neighbor came over to say hello. We talked about the journey of the danish. “There's no trace of it on the roof. The guy,” said my neighbor, “must have eaten it while he ran across the roof, then thrown away the plastic. Maybe he ate the plastic too. That squirrel has deteriorated.”

This is a squirrel that is famous in our lives because 1) it died there on the roof next door; and 2) roofers tarred over it. They could have kicked it off the roof but instead they just rolled hot tar over its body and let its sad furry head stick out. I explained about the squirrel to my visiting friend, and told him that hte landlord would probably raise the rent to $800.

“All right,” said my friend, looking at the stove. “I can live here.”




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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


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