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A Camberwell Tale By: Rick Heller
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 23, 2002


You might not have heard of Camberwell, but we like to think of our town as New England's most progressive community. Even our cops are pacifists. They don't carry guns. Certainly not. Nor nightsticks — those hurt. And they use an organic potpourri alternative to pepper spray.

Which is not to say that crime isn't a problem. We're very pro-peace here, and the peace was disturbed Wednesday night. Someone broke into a house on Allen Street and made a thud that woke up Debra Vasquez. She elbowed awake her husband, Gary Walker. Debra and Gary have an egalitarian relationship except when confronting spiders and burglars.

Armed with a portable phone, Gary descended the stairs. Peeking into the den, he spotted someone unplugging the TV. Gary retreated to the living room and dialed 911.

Gary whispered, "Burglary in progress," and gave his address.

The reply came quickly. "We'll send a bike cop right away."

"A bike cop?"

"The batteries ran down on the two electric patrol cars. We had to plug them in."

Gary became aware of a dark figure standing not more than three feet away.

"You got a wallet?"

"I'm talking to the police."

"I'm supposed to be afraid of a bike cop?" From his mocking tone, Gary could tell he was a teenage boy.

"I'm not wearing pants," Gary explained. He was wearing an extra-large "Free Tibet" T-shirt, and boxers. "My wallet's in my Levis upstairs."

The boy turned his back on Gary and marched up the stairs. Gary shouted, "Hey, where are you going?" He pursued the boy, but when he stubbed his toe on the fifth step, screamed in pain, and dropped the phone on his other foot, he barely has the presence of mind to holler "Debra, he's coming upstairs."

The boy flipped on the light in their bedroom. Gary, limping up to the landing, was relieved to see the corner of Debra's robe disappear into the walk-in closet.

The boy picked up Toni Morrison's latest hardcover, and used it to smash open the catch on Debra's jewelry box. Gary became so enraged that he found himself raising his fist.

The boy spun around. "Don't you hit me. I'll press charges."

Gary lowered his hand. "You can't do that. You're the criminal."

"I'm a non-violent offender," he said, stuffing Debra's engagement ring into his front pocket. "And a minor. You're gonna wind up in real trouble if you hit me."

Gary apologized. "I wasn't going to. I'm not that kind of person."

Debra peeked out of the closet. "Gary. Come here," she said.

The walk-in closet looked mighty appealing, and Gary made a dash for it. He and Debra held each other tight as the boy ransacked the room. They exhaled only when the boy bounded down the stairs, snatched the TV, and bolted out the door.

The bike cop pedaled up ten minutes later. As Gary brewed her a cup of decaf, he said, "The kid had a tattoo on his forearm. Looked like a two-headed chipmunk."

"That would be Lincoln Betz, Jr.," the bike cop said. "It's actually a double- headed lion. He's done this before." She went on to list the addresses of eight homes that had been graced by night visits from the young man.

"Can't you do anything about him?"

"We're trying to deliver social services to his family. But as far as your property? No, not really."

It turned out that in view of the disparity between Walker's net worth and that of Lincoln's parents, and the Camberwell City Council's guidelines for reducing inequality, Lincoln Betz Jr. had the right to keep the Walker-Vasquez property.

Gary understood the reason for the policy, but it bothered him. He decided to do something about it. When Gary was 23, he'd been a community organizer for environmental justice. Those skills came in handy as Gary dropped by each of the homes that had been hit by the young man.

Late one evening, Gary and his newfound comrades staked out the Betz home. After Lincoln Junior left on one of his nightly excursions, they formed a picket line, and began to chant:

Hey, hey, Lincoln Betz
Give us back our TV sets
One, two, three, and four
Get them from a discount store

Lincoln Senior came to the door and told them to go home. But Gary was unyielding. Through a bullhorn, he began reading the first page of James Joyce's "Ulysses." When Gary's voice gave out, he turned over the flashlight and the book to a fellow activist. After two and a half hours, Lincoln Senior invited them in. They found all their property, minus the cash, in the basement of the Betz homestead.

That's how we deal with crime in Camberwell, America's most progressive community.


Rick Heller is a comedy writer who lives in New England near the fictional town of Camberwell. He also produces the Smart Genes weblog.


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