Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste

Prologue

Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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Burglars

August 19, 2013

Last night our niece returned to her Seattle home with her four month old baby in her arms. She confronted a burglar in her living room. The burglar fled and no one was harmed, but this incident reminded me of my one and only confrontation with a burglar.

    

It was 2005 and Mrs. C. and I had just purchased a big old house in downtown Portland. We’d moved in less than forty-eight hours earlier. The house had a security system and we’d called the alarm company to have the system activated. It was Halloween and Mrs. C. and I had walked around the corner to one of the area’s many restaurants. We returned home by eight o’clock. In spite of the fact that it was Halloween we turned in early and were upstairs in our bedroom at 9:00 p.m. when pounding sounds erupted outside and our house began shaking.

    

We were so unfamiliar with the neighborhood that my initial reaction was to blame neighbors for the ruckus. Maybe a neighbor was having a loud Halloween party. Wearing nothing but my underwear I descended the stairs and walked to the dark kitchen facing the back of the house. Moonlight shone through the kitchen’s French doors and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing—a man in the backyard striking the French doors with a metal object in an effort to gain entry into our house. I tried without success to convince myself it was a lost trick-or-treater even though the silhouette before me belonged to an adult.

    

Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. The glass on the double doors must have been reflective; I doubt the burglar saw me because he kept pounding as I approached and flipped on the porch light. I felt numb standing there in my underwear, staring into the eyes of a person trying to break into my home. I reached for the telephone on the kitchen counter. The man was gone by the time I picked up the receiver and dialed the police, who arrived five minutes later.

    

Three officers searched our house from top to bottom and almost shot our vacuum cleaner lurking behind the curtains in the living room. Guns were also drawn and aimed when our Corgi burst out from beneath our bed. So much for Corgis being good guard dogs.

    

In our basement garage a window was found jimmied. Someone had tried breaking into our house through the garage. They’d failed, but had grabbed some of my tools and used them in an attempt to break through the French doors. The police found the tools abandoned alongside our house.

    

In spite of the fact that the burglar and I had been separated by only a sheet of glass— our noses less than twelve inches apart—I was startled to realize I couldn’t describe the man. Like I said, I was probably in a state of shock. I remember looking at him beyond the glass and doubting what I was seeing with my own eyes.

    

I think I frustrated the policeman trying to squeeze a description from me. He finally gave up saying, “Few people are good with descriptions. Not everyone studies people with the precision of a portrait artist.”

    

I kept to myself the fact that I’d once been a portrait artist.

 

 

 

Have you ever encountered a burglar or a thief attempting to rip you off?

 

 

 

 



Comments

31 Comments
How utterly horrifying. I'm so glad your niece and both of you were OK. Although our home has been broken into twice when we weren't home (chopped through the back door), we still have family and friends who do not lock their doors at all.
By: Shelly on August 19, 2013
No, I have not. I've had stuff stolen from my garage, or from a site at work, but I never saw it happening. If I had I hope I would have been brave enough to run them down and beat them unmercifully. "Take your time cops....I've got this." ;)
By: Scott Park on August 19, 2013
That's a wild story. I don't know what I'd do, exactly. I've had stuff stolen from around my old house, and I seem to get more upset by it than I'd expect, though. So maybe it's good that this has never happened to me. I'd hate to get mad and hurt someone!
By: Katy Anders on August 19, 2013
woops! That was my d. I've never encountered a burglar, but I have broken into my home a couple of times, lost my keys. The movies make it look so much easier than it is. Glad your niece is alright.
By: David Walston on August 19, 2013
Yikes.. that had to be scary. For you and for your niece. I'm glad nobody was harmed.
By: Hilary Quint on August 19, 2013
That would be pretty scary. I'd probably wet my pants.
By: PT Dilloway on August 19, 2013
How terrifying! But I have to wonder - did you put some clothes on before the police arrived? :)
By: The Bug on August 19, 2013
First, how scary for your niece, especially with a new baby. Second, the fact that a portrait artist could not offer any description is very funny. The only burglar in the house I encountered turned out to be a broken shelf in the pantry which gave way in the middle of the night. I felt a little silly tracking it down with a baseball bat and loudly telling Mrs. Cranky to call 911. Mrs. Cranky thought I was very brave. I was later rewarded for my valor!
By: Cranky on August 19, 2013
Luckily, I've never had a confrontation with a burglar. The closest I came was when someone broke into our car the first night we spent in Maine (so, if someone ever says there's little crime in Maine...).
By: Al Penwasser on August 19, 2013
When I was a kid we came home shortly after an attempt. They had the TV and Stereo and other things all moved into the living room ready to go, but something had scared them off--maybe even us. All they got away with was this huge zirconia ring my dad had given my mom as a joke. Probably thought they got away with the most expensive thing in the house--LOL! Not too bright. Why would anyone keep a zillion carat diamond ring in their jewelry box filled with worthless costume jewelry? We lived in a suburb of Minneapolis where people never locked their doors--car or house. My folks sure did after that. I'm glad we didn't find them in the house and I hope I never confront a burglar--ever. That had to be really scary!
By: Rita McGregor on August 19, 2013
Wow. Interesting story.
By: Michael Offutt on August 19, 2013
holy smokes! How horrifying for your niece...and scary for you. So glad no one got hurt in either event. One evening I came home from a late night meeting while my sweetie was out of town and discovered the house had been ransacked-at first I thought the cats had done something- but then realized we had been robbed. Called the police and they were great- I was so mad the policeman said good thing the perps weren't there!
By: Kathe W. on August 19, 2013
other than the fact that both stories are terrifying and leaves one feeling very vulnerable, i laughed at the portrait artist blurb!!!
By: TexWisGirl on August 19, 2013
We were robbed once, but thank heavens we weren't there. It was in the early 80's & we had both Beta's & VCR's. The thieves were selective--they took the VCR's & left the Beta's!! Loved the portrait artist line & I'm glad everyone was OK!!
By: fishducky on August 19, 2013
I'm happy to say I've never had such an encounter. I'm amazed the police arrived so quickly. The Hurricane, who lives in a nice neighborhood in Oakland, had trouble with a drunk pounding on her door and rattling the knob, trying to get in. She called the police twice. They never showed. It finally occurred to her to call her landlord. He was there in a New York minute. He took the drunk-out-of-his mind college student to the BART station and left him sitting on a bench. I've always been a little worried that the drunk was a student who didn't like a grade granted by The Hurricane. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on August 19, 2013
When i was a college student, living in a house with several house mates, our home was targeted by a convicted rapist who was on parole. His MO was to find a girl he liked at a work place or other public place, follow her home and show himself at the window several times before breaking in. He followed one of my room mates home, and was starting to look in the windows when we alerted police, even got his license tag number as he tried to drive away one night, and he was put back behind bars for violating parole. It's terrifying.
By: mimi on August 19, 2013
How awful. Three of our homes have been broken into. (Two had alarms that we forgot to set!!!) But, we were never inside at the time. It's chilling enough coming home to it. I can't imagine being in the house when someone tries to (or actually does) break in.
By: Mitchell is Moving on August 19, 2013
I know a woman who was taking a nap when the burglar broke in. Her dog hid, but her cat pounded on her chest until she woke up and confronted the man, after which he left with seeming reluctance.
By: Snowbrush on August 19, 2013
Just two different incidents of pick-pocketers when I lived in Europe. I stopped them both in action and kept a tighter grip on my bag.
By: Nancy Felt on August 19, 2013
I've had my purse stolen and was surprised at the feelings of anger that I experienced ("How dare you steel MY stuff!"). I've never had such a close encounter in my own house. Not sure how I would react in such a case...
By: Pixel Peeper on August 19, 2013
A burglar broke into my apartment back when I was in nuclear power school. He made the mistake of going into my roommate's room (Vito) first. Vito woke up and chased the thief out the back door. No prowler likes being pursued by a large, naked Italian.
By: Joe on August 19, 2013
That last part about the portrait artist was hilarious ... the rest was scary and I'm glad no one was harmed in either of these break-ins. We had stuff stolen from our cottage when we weren't there. I never understood when people said they felt violated by robbery until it happened to us. Fortunately we kept nothing of great value there, but it was still crazy-making to know that people had no concept of ownership and would just help themselves to whatever they wanted.
By: jenny_o on August 19, 2013
What awful experiences! I hope your niece is okay. When my elderly parents had their house broken into they were frightened afterwards of it happening again when they were home alone. I should imagine the last thing on your mind, Stephen, would have been a full description of the burglar. I'm not surprised you couldn't describe him, again it must have been an awful experience and one we all dread.
By: Sharon Bradshaw on August 19, 2013
Wow. I am SO glad your niece and here baby were okay after that. Well, they probably won't be completely okay for a while. It would take time to feel at ease after something like that. That would completely freak me out to be standing on the other side of the door to a burglar. I haven't had that kind of thing happen directly. Once, some vandals broke into the school where I taught and my room was one they 'hit'. They turned everything over and strew the contents all over the room. They didn't take anything (who has the extra energy to do such a thing?) but I still felt violated in some way that someone had come in there without my consent or knowledge. Yikes.
By: Carrie on August 20, 2013
That is really scarey, Chatterbox. I am glad your niece wasn't harmed and that the creep never got into your house. We also, came home once to burglars in the house. We came home from visiting friends when we lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. After pulling into the garage and helping our little kids out of the car I noticed the door going into the house was kicked in. Wayne went in and turned on the foyer lights and someone or someones ran out the sliding glass doors off the living room. We realized they had been there awhile as the whole house had been tossed and quite a few things were gone. Jewelry, coins, even the kids piggy banks. We could hardly sleep in our house for weeks. Even after putting everything back into place we felt violated. Nothing was ever recovered.
By: Cheryl P. on August 20, 2013
Very scary! Yes 3 times. When I lived with my parents. It's a horrible feeling, but I never actually confronted the burglar, they legged as soon as we returned to the house.
By: LL Cool Joe on August 20, 2013
On a serious note, I'm pleased to read that your family was spared any physical harm. The experience though can leave a scar. I've never had that experience but I was once swarmed by 5 younger persons while exiting a bank.
By: Daniel LaFrance on August 20, 2013
I was confronted late one night many years ago by a guy who apparently was drunk and had the wrong street. He kept pounding on first my front door and then my back door wanting to get in. I kept shouting at him that he was at the wrong house but it had no effect. Finally the police arrived and took the poor soul away. Never found out what happened to him.
By: Catalyst/Bruce on August 20, 2013
Thankfully, I've never experienced a face-to-face encounter with a burglar. Our house has been burgled while we were on holiday about 20 years ago, which was bad enough. There is something disturbing about a stranger getting inside your home - it feels like a very personal invasion.
By: Bryan Jones on August 21, 2013
Your poor niece, gald all was well though. I am sure if your burglar saw you in your undies he might have thought twice? :) What a terrible thing to happen though, so scary. At least the police were quick./
By: John on August 22, 2013
I'm just glad the burglar didn't have a gun.
By: Madeleine McLaughlin on August 24, 2013

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