With the rats being the ostensible reason for breaking our lease, we gave notice, took our flowing white sheers down which were now encrusted with bugs and dirt after hanging for a month, and happily moved into the fish-bowl house. We knew we were trading a private, secluded, albeit rat-infested place for an unfenced property sitting at the intersection of the main road through Esterillos Este and a beach access road, both dirt. We also knew the killer dogs would no longer be ours. Remember, the dogs stay with the house. The fish-bowl came with the two wiener-dogs, Rudy and Shorty Johnson aka Baby who were good barkers during the day, but quiet at night, being exhausted from all that day barking.
The two sisters who own the house spend their days sitting at a disintegrating white plastic table with shredded white plastic chairs held together with twine. They are famous for keeping an endless coffee pot and reporting on the neighborhood happenings; In other words, they are yentas. Yentas know everything about everybody. At least that’s what us Jewish girls from Brooklyn call them. To mid-westerners they are known as busy-bodies. In Italian, what are they? The sisters are that!
Anyway, they gave us the instructions for the safe-keeping of the house. The windows have no glass, just bars about four inches apart covered by screens. As we toured the house, it was mentioned that guests should be warned to not put valuables such as wallets, cameras, and cell phones on the night stands where they are visible and reachable from the window. It was mentioned. Not emphasized, just mentioned.
We are all aware that there is petty theft in Costa Rica, especially in the beach areas. Mostly, they are kids, okay, kids on crack, who will steal an iPhone knowing it can be delivered to the “fence” in exchange for a hit of whatever. We are not tourists. We are the gringos that employ the people in the village that support the children and elders. We are the friendly locals that pay into the economy, the education system, the charities. We speak the language, wave to passers-by, offer fresh-baked cookies to anybody who happens by when they come out of the oven. They know us. They wouldn’t rob us, would they?
I was happily decorating the house which was a blank slate. The two Italian ladies lived sparsely; the counter-tops were empty, the walls were mostly bare, the coffee table had nothing on it, end tables barren. I bought table lamps, hung decorative chachkes such as the darling metal palm-tree hooks I bought at Bed, Bath and Beyond. I was hanging family photos with the heavy-duty adhesive hooks boasting a thirty pound capacity. Don warned me the cement walls would have to be cleaned with alcohol before sticking the hooks to the wall, and even then chances were slim that they would hold any weight at all. The salt air from the sea deposits a film over everything. Everything. It leaves a sticky, gummy coating with salt crystals that solidifies if not wiped down regularly.
Six days after moving in, I felt pretty good about how cute the house looked. I set up the tea cart as a bar with the Waterford decanters and glasses lined up on the shelf under the bottles of vodka, gin, rum and whiskey. I was looking forward to our first dinner party so I could use all the fancy-ware I carefully carried down in my carry-on and back-pack from California over the months of moving. Don was home from Guatemala, we had set up the new flat screen TV in the living room together. He had placed it to the far right side of the table that was doubling as a TV stand. I asked him to center it as it looked off balance where he had it at the right end of the long skinny sofa table. He didn’t verbalize his instinctive reason for his placement – until after.
That night I slept lightly. The faulty motion detector light just outside the window kept going on and off for no reason. After several previous nights of this light situation I had taken to propping up the machete next to my side of the bed as Don was traveling the first few days of the move. The previous afternoon one of the ceiling fan blades crashed to the floor while we were unpacking boxes in the guest room. Luckily the fan was not turning at the time. The metal bracket had simply rotted out and let go of the blade. We then checked all the fans in the house of which there were several and discovered they were all rotting and sloping downward hanging on by a thread. A few good whirls and blades could be spinning off like the James Bond guy’s hat with the metal brim. Visions of the blade edge protruding from a skull flooded my brain.
When I heard the first thump in the middle of the night my eyes flew open. I grabbed a flashlight and pointed in the direction of the sound which was in the bathroom of the master bedroom where we were sleeping. Darn, the palm tree hook holding my towel just let loose. Don had warned me about the cement walls not holding the adhesive hooks. A little while later, I heard a similar sound coming from the kitchen. I took the flashlight and checked it out. Sure enough, the hook I stuck above the stove holding the hot pink and neon green pot holders just gave out. Hooks were dropping like … well, like dead rats.
When the louder sound came and one of the little dogs barked in the night, I figured it was just another hook dropping. No wonder the old ladies didn’t have much on the walls. The only way anything would hold is to drill a screw into the cement wall. It was 2:30 A.M. Whatever fell this time could wait. After tossing and turning for half an hour, I decided to get up, maybe have a snack, check email, crawl back into bed for another crack at sleep. It wasn’t until I turned on the kitchen light that I got the weird feeling. I didn’t see anything alarming in the kitchen, but something didn’t feel right. I didn’t want to flip on the living room light because Don and the two wiener dogs were sawing logs just on the other side of the open door. I walked around with the flashlight, stopped in the living room, cocked my head, and then it hit me. There were cables sitting on the long skinny table. Just cables. In slow motion, my eyes scanned the area and bam! There it was! The slashed window screen. The TV was gone. The brand new flat-screen with Wi-Fi that Don’s friend, Bill, carried down from the U.S. It was ripped from the cables and pulled through the opening of the window bars. I flipped on all the lights, ran into the bedroom waving my arms above my head like the kid in “Home Alone”, and shook Don awake; “We’ve been robbed, we’ve been robbed! They took the TV! Through the window. Get up!!” Of course, the horse was out of the barn by then. I walked around in circles hyperventilating. Don took the flashlight and checked outside. He could see the muddy footprints leading away from the window. Rats! I mean, Damn! The rats were at the other house. Or?
The creepy part is that we were sleeping only a few feet away while the ladrones (thieves) were slitting screens and reaching their grubby paws into our private space. We turned all the lights on looking for other points of entry. We later heard about the grabber technique these creeps use. They use a long wand like the kind used at Disneyland to pick up trash, reach in, squeeze the pinscher lever and pick up the small valuable items left on night-stands such as watches, earrings, etc. As we made the rounds in the house, my eyes stopped at the tea-cart/bar sitting near a window. “You don’t think they would slit the screen for a bottle of booze, do you?” Don didn’t get a chance to answer before I was snatching up the bottles to put in the cupboard. I managed to snag a swig of tequila on my way to the kitchen (It’s 5:00 somewhere). It was either that or yoga to calm my frayed nerves and my yoga mat was nowhere in sight.
As my wonderful hubby and I watched the sunrise, we counted our blessings and decided it could have been much worse. That didn’t happen until later.
Tune in for part 3…