Lisa had meetings at eight a.m. I planned to walk to Venice Beach and spend the morning watching people. She awakened, showered, dressed, and woke me, saying that she couldn’t find her jewelry.
“It’s on the writing table,” I said, and rolled over in bed.
“It’s not here,” she said.
“It’s by my wallet and keys,” I said.
“Your wallet’s not here either. Your keys and pocketknife are here, but not your wallet.”
A sick feeling washed over me. I remembered cleaning the pockets of my dress pants the night before, placing everything on the desk, because I knew I would be switching back to my jeans first thing in the morning.
At first I doubted my memory. We opened drawers, lifted clothing off the floor, searched suitcases, looked under the bed, checked behind each other, and then repeated the search again. I kept thinking this must be a practical joke. Someone will jump out from behind a door and yell surprise in a couple of minutes. That feeling was better than the alternative, admitting that someone came into our room, watched us as we slept, and pocketed our things.
“My engagement ring is gone,” Lisa said, and began to cry. I put my hand on her shoulder, not really knowing what to say. “It’s the nicest thing I’ve ever owned.”
The ring was distinctive, an emerald cut emerald flanked by two quarter carat diamonds, one that came from her mother’s sweet sixteen ring. We’d had it specially made. Her briefcase–a two week old Christmas present that held the latest Amy Tan novel, also a Christmas present–was missing from the foot of the table where she had placed it.
Lisa called the desk to report a burglary, then ran downstairs to the meeting to explain to her boss why she couldn’t come. She told me that she began to cry again as she told him and he reassured her over and over not to worry about money. Lisa picked up two cartons of yogurt from downstairs and we sat on the bed, eating with silver spoons and waiting for the sheriff to come.
Within thirty minutes the hotel representative, Anne, a woman in a business suit, came to the room offering help. We reconstructed the scene for her, assuming that someone had entered by way of the balcony and only took what was on the table, three steps away. The door to the hallway had been chained and we discovered the latch on the balcony door didn’t work, so that we couldn’t have locked the door if we’d wanted to.
“I guess you guys have this sort of thing happen pretty often,” I said to Anne.
“Oh no,” she said. “This has never happened in the three years I’ve worked here. I don’t understand how this could happen.”
The desk called a few minutes later. The girl on the phone told me that the sheriff was downstairs with the hotel security agent, and they would be up to our room as soon as they finished with a customer on the first floor, another burglary victim.
“Is the room beside us occupied?” I asked Anne. The balconies were connected by a thin walkway and it would be no problem to use an empty room to get to ours. Anne called the desk and asked about the room. She told me it was occupied and no one had reported anything suspicious, but I didn’t really believe her.
Lisa canceled credit cards over the phone and called our insurance agent—by some fluke he was in the office on a Saturday morning. He told Lisa that our renter’s policy covered personal articles stolen from a motel room. The guy asked to speak to me and we talked for a few minutes about credit cards. He told me our policy covered a thousand dollars on stolen credit card charges and I told him we probably didn’t have that much available credit on all four of them. He sounded distant over the phone, not as supportive as Anne, and I began to feel a little like the accused. I still felt groggy and violated and acutely in need of a shower, a toothbrush, and coffee.
An hour after we’d reported the burglary, after Anne and Lisa and I had pawed over the desk and balcony door, Cesare with hotel security called to tell us not to disturb the crime scene.
Lisa hadn’t been able to cancel my Texaco card because she took the wrong digital path through the automated system and got disconnected. A while later Anne reported that her assistant had managed to cancel both of our Texaco cards. She asked if we needed any cash. “Can I get you a hundred dollars? Two hundred? How much do you need?”
Most of our cash, eighty dollars, had been stolen along with my wallet. I put her off a couple of times, afraid that any money would be added to our hotel bill. But after finding out Lisa only had twelve dollars in her purse, I told Anne, “Can you give us fifty or sixty?”
“I’ll get you a hundred,” she said. “Now, would you like to be moved to a room on a higher floor?”
“What’s the point?” I said. “I don’t think they’ll hit us again.”
“I’d feel much safer,” Lisa said.
“Of course you would,” Anne said. She got on the phone and arranged for a room on the ninth floor. She left and came back with a hundred dollar bill. There was nothing to sign, no receipt. I wished I’d told her two hundred.
When the sheriff’s deputy finally arrived with Cesare tagging along, he said, “Welcome to LA.” He spread out paper work at the writing desk and began to fill out his report, with Cesare looking over his shoulder, filling out his own report. After asking our names and addresses, the sheriff got down to the business of the theft. We told him everything valuable had been stolen from the desk he was leaning on. He moved the blotter back and forth, looking at the surface of the table, and said, “Well, lucky for us, we couldn’t fingerprint this anyway.”
The deputy made a list of everything that had been stolen–credit cards, drivers license, briefcase, and Lisa’s jewelry. After Lisa described her watch he asked if my watch had been stolen. My watch was an old, beaten up Pulsar that I kept in my pocket because I don’t like to wear jewelry.
“My watch is on the table,” I said, explaining that it didn’t have a band.
“No it isn’t,” said Lisa, who was standing beside the table.
I was sitting on the bed because all the other chairs in the room were taken. I stood up and went to the table, and sorted through my keys and pocket knife and change that I had left there in order to preserve the crime scene. I couldn’t believe it.
“Some jackass stole a broken watch, and there was a brand new pair of Nikon binoculars laying on the table beside it. What an idiot.”
“Nikons?” the deputy said. “Those are better binoculars than the ones I use.”
After everyone left, the desk called to say they’d sent someone up to move us to our new room. Lisa went down to catch the last two hours of her meeting. When the bellhop came to take our bags to the new room I told him, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any cash.”
“That’s perfectly understandable, Mr. Engel,” he said. “I wouldn’t think of taking it from you.”
I took a long shower, changed clothes, and finally went out for lunch, having missed breakfast and coffee. I stopped at the desk to break the hundred dollar bill into twenties, and asked one of the bellhops at the curb which direction I should walk to find fast food.
“There’s Reuben’s just down the block,” he said, “and Edie’s Diner, a sort of retro fifties place.”
“How about McDonald’s?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Edie’s is your best bet walking, Sir.”
I started down the street in the direction he pointed, heading for the Pacific Ocean. I felt naked walking down an LA street with no identification other than my fingerprints and a hundred dollars cash.
Scouting over a couple of blocks I finally found a Subway Shop, where I got a sandwich and chips. I waved my Subway bag at the bell boy, suddenly feeling conspicuous. In the room, I propped my feet on the ottoman and watched the Packers and Forty-niners.
That afternoon Lisa and I went on a whale watching cruise chartered by the drug company hosting the meeting, and on Sunday we walked all over Santa Monica. The smog that had shrouded the mountains on Friday had disappeared, and the day was clear and cool and beautiful. But every so often I would imagine someone looking through my wallet, thumbing through the business cards of my friends, looking at the phone numbers that I kept there, and after pocketing the cash and credit cards, dumping the rest in a trash can. I thought of the stranger who’d watched me as I lay asleep, helpless. It wasn’t anger that I felt, but more a powerful confusion. Lisa told me that she pictured another person trying on her engagement ring. She could see the hand, the way they turned it, trying to catch it from all angles.
To fast forward, a couple of weeks later we would get a package from the Sherriff’s department, containing my wallet—without the cash but with all the credit cards intact—the briefcase, and the Amy Tan novel, which had been found discarded in some shrubbery within a block or two of the motel. They never found Lisa’s ring. But on that Sunday, while we were waiting to take a cab back to the airport, Lisa said, “It always seems to make more sense on TV.”
“What?” I asked.
“Crime,” she said.
I knew she was right. We had slept through the whole thing and were lucky to be alive. And to everyone involved, the person who pulled it off, the deputy sheriff who investigated it, and even Anne, who offered us a complimentary weekend at the Ritz-Carlton, the burglary was the logical result of not putting our valuables in a safe and not checking the latch on our fourth story sliding glass door. But for Lisa and me, it was all aftermath and chaos, a poorly written mystery where the motive for the murder is never articulated and the killer isn’t revealed on the last page.