Sunday, October 13, 2002

The Story of Mary, Part 2

The Story of Mary, Part 2 So now you have a sketch of Mary from our experience with her. This is how the story proceeds from here. Things that I forgot to mention in the first part was that Mary told us repeatedly that once she was asleep, she was dead to the world and noise did not bother her. She had the bedroom on the street side and there is a jazz club across the street that can get noisy on weekends. She always said once asleep, she was not bothered by the noise. The other thing is that Thursday when I got home, my computer screen was black with giant icons. There were icons in the bottom tray that were not mine and I had no idea where they came from. Ron said Mary had been on AOL and doing things on the computer. It took me an hour to figure out that somehow it had been converted to the disability screen for the visually impaired. Friday morning, my virus protection software died and I could not figure out why. I told Mary to stay off of the computer since I was not protected from Viruses. When I got back from Veszprém, I would figure it out. In the meanwhile, she would have to use the Internet café to check her e-mail. I password locked the computer, so she could not sneak on. We left Budapest on the train for Veszpém on Friday afternoon and arrived two hours later. We were booked at an adorable little B and B that looked like a Swiss chalet, for $20.00 a night with breakfast. The pillows were the most comfortable I had ever used. Oh, I am getting off of the subject. Back to the story, the first night of the conference was fun being with so many teachers, mostly Hungarians, but others from Croatia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, England, and the States. Saturday morning, we were at the plenary session and my mobile rang. I forgot to switch it to silent and immediately did not without answering it. I was to present that afternoon and Ron was to present Sunday afternoon. After the session, I checked my messages on the phone. One was a call from Fernando, hysterical telling me that Mary called him and the apt. was robbed. The other was from Mary with the same message. I called Mary back and the line was busy. I called Fernando back and only got his voice mail. Then I found Ron and told him that I did not have any details yet. When I reached Mary, she said: “We have been robbed. My bag is gone. (She kept her bag on a chair in the entry hallway) Kristen (her new friend from my writers group) was over and I saw her to the door when she left. To be honest, I am not sure whether or not I locked it with the key (the door will lock automatically when closed, but the deadbolt needs the key). I went to bed and fell asleep. Later, I heard noises and thought I you guys had come home early. At first I did not think about it, but then I got up to investigate. (Why would we return the same night we left when we intended to be gone until Monday?). When I went to investigate, the door was locked (no mention of the deadbolt) and I did not see anything unusual. I stayed up and watched television and did crossword puzzles (my printer ink again) for an hour or so, then I took a sleeping pill and went back to bed. (You think someone is trying to break in and you take a sleeping pill?) The next morning, I discovered that my shoulder bag was not on the chair where I thought I left it and looked all over the apartment. After a checking everywhere, I could not find it and realized the front door was open (open-open or just not locked with the key?) I hope you have your laptop with you. It is not on the desk any longer. (Three days ago, I made a point of saying that I was putting it away since I no longer needed it daily.) I do not see anything else that looks disturbed. Imagine, my diamond ring is worth $8,000 and was sitting right by my head, but thankfully, they did not take that.” Her shoulder bag had: her makeup case, a brush, her transportation pass, keys to this apartment, keys to her new apartment, a survival book I made for her with all the addresses in it, passport, wallet with little cash, but all of her credit cards, ATM card, driver’s license, and probably other things I am forgetting. She tried calling the police, which is a waste of time. They don’t run out for residents let alone for foreigners. She called her friend Kristen who came over to translate when needed. Supposedly, apts on the second, fifth, and first floors have also been robbed in the past, time uncertain. The phone calls started flowing between Mary, Fernando, our friend Shuli, our property owner, and us. First we needed a locksmith to change the lock and to put a safety bar on the door. Fernando and Shuli started making calls, but locksmiths do not do 24 hour service here and they each called ten with no luck. Fernando finally found an ad for one who would come out on short notice. He put a safety bar in. Until then Mary was stuck in the apt. since out keys were loose in the world. When I spoke with her, she told me she had things to do and needed to leave. If I had been here, I would have slapped her. I could not see any reason for us to return early since the damage had been done already and there was nothing we could do, not speaking the language. Fernando took control and organized the locksmith, so it was Mary’s responsibility to wait for him. In the meanwhile, she called the credit card companies and stopped her cards. Her international calling card had run out of time, so I told her where mine was and that I had not used it at all, so it was full. She called her kids to wire her money since she could not access the ATM. The calls flew around all day long and we continued to call and check on her. After the bar was in, she left the apt. and went to her new apt. where the locks needed changing also since her keys were also stolen. She stayed at Kristen’s apt. that night and her own the next. On Sunday, she and Kristen went shopping at Ikea after getting the wired money since she needed basic supplies for her new apt. (All apts. come with basic supplies, but she wanted to supplement them). Sunday, Fernando called to say some old woman came to our apt. and gave Mary a plastic bag of things that were in her bag. This woman supposedly found them in a trash can on a street out of town and on the way to the airport. He said it was strange that someone could identify all of these things and return them such a long way away. We arrived home Monday afternoon and she had to meet us at the apt. since she had the new key to the bar. Mary recounted the story of Saturday morning, but significant pieces were different… “Kristen was over and I saw her to the door when she left. I locked the door with the key immediately after she was gone. I would never leave it unlocked, especially when I am home alone. I went to bed and fell asleep. Later, I heard noises and thought I you guys had come home early. At first I did not think about it, but then I got up to investigate. When I went to investigate, the door was locked. I looked out the kitchen windows and then went into your bedroom and looked out those windows and I did not see anything unusual. (Note: our bedroom windows are double windows with a mini blind between the two windows. One would need to open the first window to open the blinds to see out. Neither the blinds nor the curtain looked disturbed in either the kitchen or the bedroom.) I stayed up and watched television and did crossword puzzles for an hour or so, then I went back to bed. (No mention of the sleeping pill and I did not confront her on it) The next morning, I did things around here, vacuumed, and by the way, I vacuumed your bedroom, then I cleaned up a bit (vacuum cleaner is in the pantry, which is directly across from the front door) and about an hour or so later, I went looking for my bag. It was gone. Then I realized the front door was wide open. Thankfully, they did not take my diamond ring, which was right by my head in the bedroom. It is worth $9,000.” (It went up $1,000. overnight. Forget stocks, buy diamonds for a good investment). When I confronted her about what she had said about not being sure whether or not she locked the door with the key, she denied ever saying it and claimed that is not a thing she would ever forget to do. Then comes the story about the returned goods. The story changes again. “An old drunk buzzed the intercom and when he spoke Hungarian, I gave it to Kristen to answer (how to you tell it is an old drunk over the intercom?). He wanted to come in, but she would not let him in. He later appeared at the door and was let in by the building manager after telling her he had something for me. (Notice the gender changed from what she told Fernando). He handed me a plastic bag and it had some of my things in it that he said he found in a trash can (location was much closer to the apt that before). She then showed us a ripped up wallet and shredded make-up case, her transportation pass, and a hairbrush. She went on to say how many robberies have occurred in this building according to the building manager, etc. I asked her how someone knew that these items belonged to her? Mary said that she always kept a little slip of paper in her wallet that had this address on it. I did and still not know why she would have that since she also had our business cards with the address as well as it was in her notebook that I made for her. But with the benefit of the doubt, if she did have this slip of paper, how could it have survived the shredded wallet when there was absolutely nothing else in this scrap of leather? She could not answer that question. My next question was that if these items were tossed into a trashcan, how did some ‘bum’ know that all of these isolated items should be returned to this address? What was the connecting factor to return these things together and what if there were other things in the trash that belonged to her, but the ‘bum’ did not realize they were also connected. This too went unanswered. What incentive would some ‘bum’ have in returning these items? The hope of getting an reward? Slim chance under any circumstances, but even slimmer when the important items like the wallet and makeup case were obviously emptied and destroyed beyond repair. Why would anyone think they were important enough to return to someone? The real mystery came when she produced two keys that were supposedly returned. One was my mailbox key, which she had on her key ring and the other was a key to the apartment front door. BUT, the apt. key was not the key we had given her. This key, though it worked, was a different shape at the top, handle part and was painted black. If someone had a copy of our key, why would they throw it away and not save it for a future burglary? Why did they keep the key to the building and not these also? Mary showed us this little hole on the outside of the door and some scraped paint marks where they tried to break in the window on the door. She was sure they popped the lock through this little hole. If the bolt were on, there is no way the bolt could have been popped through this little hole. The scraped paint was no where near the edge of the window, but away from it. The windows have iron decorative grates on them and even if they were opened, they would need a key to open the bolt if it were on. Then Mary had the audacity to tell us that we needed to tell our property owner that she needed to reimburse her for her losses. Keeping my temper, a first, I said “Mary, you are a guest. Your name is not on the lease and she has no responsibility toward you at all. She owes you nothing. Mentally, I was thinking what Mary owed us for food, supplies, aggravation, and stress. Every Hungarian that I have told this story to, thinks it is too weird for words and none of them believe it. The U.S. Embassy people that were at the conference with us were given minute-by-minute updates in hopes that they could be of assistance. They thought this was a fishy story and there was more to it than we were being told. Our property owner found it very suspicious. She spoke with the building manager who also thought it was strange. The other robberies were ancient history and not current at all. When we showed the property owner the door and the hole with paint scraped off, she said that was done by a locksmith a long time ago. She was living here at the time and she lost her key. She had to have a locksmith come and let her in. When he replaced the lock with the current lock, he drilled too far and created the little gap that is there now. We could not remember if it had been there or not. The scraped paint was old too, which we thought was the case, but she confirmed it. The other thing that she thought was strange was that if the lock were jimmied in any way, the way Mary claims it was, why was the lock intact? There was no damage to it at all. The questions that are still in my mind are:

  1. If you thought someone were coming into the apartment and went to investigate, wouldn’t you realize the front door was wide open?
  2. If someone did try to break in and then realized someone were home, would they return to the same apartment after they thought they went to sleep?
  3. There were other things on the table in the hallway next to the chair where Mary’s bag was. Why weren’t they taken too?
  4. Why return destroyed items?
  5. How does some stranger make the association of what belongs together in order to gather the items and return them?
  6. If the slip of paper with our address on it happened to be in the trash also, how does someone associate that paper with these items?
  7. From the looks of the wallet, the slip of paper could not have stayed in the wallet. There was nothing intact to hold the paper in it. So, how did this happen?
  8. Why bother returning a transportation pass to someone?
  9. Where did this mystery key come from? Why was it painted black?
  10. Did Mary really have a “moment” and forget her back somewhere and forgot that she did it?
  11. Did she forget her back and was too embarrassed to admit it and made up the whole story hoping for compensation from the property owner?
  12. Will Kristen stick to this story to maintain their new friendship or will she have a different version?
With all of this, Mary moved forward to shop for her apt. and to stay on schedule for her trip to Germany at the end of this month. She moved out the Monday we returned. Afterward, she called to say “Thanks” for all that we did for her, but never once mentioned the money she was going to give us for her share of expenses or the aggravation over this incident. She continues to complain over the expenses that this has caused her. When she pays her rent and utilities, she will finally realize just how good she had it. We like her better now…from a distance. Lessons we have learned from this experience:
  1. All guests not known to us, need to have three letters of reference, a security check and a lie detector test before an invitation is extended.
  2. We will collect a security deposit upon arrival.
  3. We need to see a return plane ticket with “NOT CHANGEABLE” stamped on it.
  4. They need to assure us that they understand the meaning of “You are welcome to stay with us for a week or two.”
  5. They need to understand that their possessions with be put in a plastic bag and placed in a trashcan on the way to the airport, if they overstay their welcome.
  6. The locks will be changed on the 15th day of their stay.
  7. Their names will be given to the Russian mafia who will be told that they are impinging on their territory.
  8. We will report them to the U.S. Embassy saying they are making threats toward the Ambassador in their sleep.

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