March 16th, 2011

Tim Gunn

Because you asked for it: RETURN OF THE NEIGHBORS!

Allow me to introduce you to my neighborhood. It's a nice neighborhood. It's in Seattle's suburbs, in an area dominated by Microsoft, Google, and Boeing employees. It's a place where people raise families and take care of their lawns. Our neighborhood is like many built in the last 15 years of Seattle's tech boom, where land was cleared and modern, identical houses were installed in soothing neutral colors. When my neighborhood has meetings, we discuss things like ornamental trees and if satellite dishes are being positioned in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Oh, and we also talk about my neighbors.

If you don't know about my neighbors, let me direct you to their blog recaps here. The short story is that the house next door to us was owned by a Russian man who has never lived there since we moved in. He did, however, rent it to some friends who threw loud midnight hot tub parties and did pyrotechnics with their grill. Because (by day) these renters were silent, intimidating men who often stood out front glaring and smoking, we made the logical deduction that they must be ex-KGB agents. Said renters were eventually evicted when police and neighbor complaints reached the owner. The charge against the KGB was led by Bob, a retired gentleman who has taken it upon himself to defend our neighborhood from bad lawn care, solicitors, and--apparently--former Russian military.

That went down almost a year and a half ago, and until recently, the most exciting thing to happen was that our neighbor's deer statue kept inexplicably moving into our yard. Recent rumors suggested the house has a new owner, but we know no details.

Fast forward to last night. After some late writing, I settled into bed at 2:30am, only to be startled out of sleep an hour later by some thumps. Those could've been explained by our cats, but the subsequent sound of breaking glass could not. My husband bravely went to check things out, and I admit, those were some terrifying moments. Let's be honest. Night is scary, and when you're in the dark, with your house as a potential unknown, adrenaline and heart rate go off the charts. I expected him to grumpily return in a minute and report some mess "my" cats had made, but he didn't. A long time went by, and I panicked, wondering if there had been some altercation with an intruder.

Here's what he uncovered. A survey of our house found everything safe and intact. A glance outside, to the front, showed two cars in the KGB's driveway--surprising at 3:30 for a vacant home. A glance to the back revealed a broken window in their house, and that was when my husband called 911. Giving details was a little tricky. ("What's the house look like, sir?" "Um, like all the rest of the houses on the street."). That was also about the time I emerged from the bedroom to see what had taken so long. A police officer showed up promptly and listened to our report. He left, and we watched a bona fide police drama soon unfold. Although, I must note, our house isn't built for optimal spying. We have more Roman blinds than Venetian, which doesn't help either.

More and more police cars silently arrived in our neighborhood, and cops set up positions around the KGB house. Even a police dog came. Then, all at once, all the cars' flashing lights came on, and a police officer shouted that the house was surrounded and that whoever was inside needed to come out with their hands up--and that if they resisted, they would be dead. No joke. It was at that point that we moved to the opposite side of the house, having no idea if bullets would fly or fleeing criminals would leap into our yard. Silence followed for a long time until we heard the police breaking out the rest of the glass in the window and using it for entry.

More silence and not knowing. My husband and I began to use our amateur deduction skills to try to figure out what had happened. It hadn't been the most covert break-in, especially since the culprits had parked their cars out front. We wondered if they were really there to rob the place (which I don't even think has anything in it) or were possibly ne'er-do-wells looking for a vacant house to hole up in. It seemed unlikely they had anything to do with the previous occupants, particularly if the house has a new owner now. And of course, we also used this downtime to update Facebook and Twitter.

Around 4:30, another police officer came to our door to record my husband's official statement. That's when we learned four burglars had been arrested. That was kind of staggering. And frightening. That much criminal activity had been going on next door? Our houses are built very close. You really don't expect that in "a place like this." Wondering which of our theories had been correct, I asked the officer if he could tell us if the suspects had been actively robbing or just hiding.

"Well," he said, "that's kind of the weird thing. They told us a bunch of stories, one of which was that the owner was some Russian guy they knew who wouldn't mind if they broke his window and partied inside."

My husband and I looked at each other. The KGB!

We told the officer there might be more truth there than he realized, though even if they did know the (previous) owner, it seemed unlikely he'd be cool with the broken window. The officer didn't seem worried about that. He told us the intruders were drunk (explaining the loud break-in) and had criminal records. Regardless of their connection to the owner, they were in trouble. He then thanked us for our civic duty and told us to get some sleep. This proved impossible because two tow trucks soon arrived to impound the cars. Then, the fire department arrived and very noisily sealed up the broken window.

By 5:30, things were settling down, and we finally went back to bed. Morning dawned bright and sunny, with only one patched up window to tell the story of what had gone down. Here's what I've taken away. One thing is that I'm impressed with our police department. They were fast, effective, professional, and nice. In a scary time, they made me feel safe. I'm jaded about most of our government's activities, but in this case, I feel my tax dollars were well-spent.

Now, as for the alleged ex-KGB, who knows? I admit, many of the assumptions I've made about them in my blog posts have been exactly that--assumptions, mostly for entertainment value. To learn that there might very well have been a nefarious element to them this whole time was really unexpected. Admittedly, I have no idea of the intruders' exact connection. They could have been friends or enemies of the previous owner or maybe even the former renters themselves. Regardless, with them being hauled off, it brings a nice sense of closure to the KGB adventures. This may truly be the end of their story, and now a new chapter will unfold with whomever owns the house now. I know the previous residents have provided a lot of entertainment (I'm asked about them at every signing), but I won't lie. I'm really hoping for a quiet family with teens who do cheap babysitting.