Stacks of vandalized newspapers were haphazardly strewn around the room in stark contrast to the neatly clipped articles laid out chronologically across the dining room table. Each item reported on a rash of neighborhood thefts.
Dubbed the Porch Pirate by the press, Martin Becks was stealing postal packages left on door steps. Random addresses, random delivery services, no clear connection between victims, no pattern to the robberies,
Becks read each article over and over, chuckling over the ineptitude of the police to find clues to his crimes. There were a few inaccuracies in the stories, but in time, he would leak information to correct those.
In his guest room were the unopened boxes he stole. Becks never cared what was in the packages. Most of the contents were easy to guess from the branding on the boxes. A pairs of shoes from a company that sounded like it was founded by a long-lost Marx brother, electronics from the fruit store, books from the jungle, perhaps home decor from the carnival.
He didn’t care. It wasn’t the value of the items that compelled him, it was the planning and execution of the perfect, yet mundane, crime. Becks prided himself on never being caught, never even coming close to capture.
His latest acquisition sat on the table along with the news clippings. He took the box off the stoop of a townhouse in the middle of Strand Street at 3:07 that afternoon.
Across town in the foyer of 455 Strand, the townhouse’s owner dropped his keys into an antique, Japanese kintsugi bowl sitting on a mahogany console table. He sorted through his mail in between removing his coat and scarf. Holding up an ivory envelope with the curvaceous script of his married mistress, he inhaled the scent of her perfume wafting from the paper, then went about his routine without knowing that he was missing one, small nondescript package wrapped in brown butcher paper.
At 5:58 that evening, at the corner of Strand and Canal streets, Vincent Rossi sat at a table outside Union Cafe letting his coffee grow cold. His chair was facing north down Strand where he could see the eastern row of townhouses, among them the residence of his wife’s lover. He checked his watch for the ninth time. Crossing and recrossing his legs, he nervously picked at lint on his slacks as the minutes ticked by.
When the blast came, Rossi jumped up so quickly he knocked over his chair. First turning towards the rumbling sound, Rossi kept looking back at the undisturbed townhouse on Strand then behind him where a plume of smoke rose from the remains of Martin Becks’ home some 5 miles away.
In a matter of seconds Becks’ house, reduced to rubble, was totally engulfed in fire. The news clippings, the stacks of newspaper, the room full of stolen goods, Becks himself, were burnt to unrecognizable ash. Across town, the resident of 455 Strand was unaware of his near-death experience, and that the crime spree of his unintended guardian angel had come to an abrupt end.