Last night was one of those occasional nights when I had trouble getting to sleep. My brain was too active and thoughts were rushing through it like people with tight timetables at Grand Central Station. Disjointed memories darted here and there, but one pulled together and stuck with me.
In the early seventies I was living a few miles west of Clovis, New Mexico, where tumbleweeds and roadrunners ruled the land. As usual, I was reading before turning in for the night. The window was open a little, letting in a cool breeze off the desert and I could hear the distant, haunting wail of a freight train. I imagined if I took a moment to look out the window, I could see it way off, a tiny thread in the full moonlight. But my book had me captivated inside.
My husband was asleep next to me and my dog, four paws in the air, was wedged between us; both were gently snoring. After turning a page, I reached for my iced soda on the night stand, took a sip and snuggled into the pillows supporting me against the headboard. I heard what sounded like a faint cough. Figuring the sound came from my husband while I was turned to get my drink, I ignored it.
In the book I was reading, the protagonist had to use his senses and deductive abilities to try to solve the looming mystery. I figured, in sympathy with him, I was being more sensitive, too. That is, until I heard a sniff. I wasn’t absolutely sure I was actually hearing something, or if I had imagined it, so I continued reading, with one ear alerted. I didn’t have to wait long. Another cough, very faint, but definitely a cough.
I sat there pretending to read while I thought about what I should do and remembered a few days ago one of my neighbors mentioned she thought our neighborhood had a Peeping Tom. I’d forgotten about that, but gosh, maybe we did. If I tried waking my husband, “Tom” would overhear, and since he was obviously sitting up on our six-foot-high concrete wall that surrounded the back yard and was scrunched up close to our bedroom window so he could see in, he’d be gone before I even finished uttering my husband’s name. Not a good plan.
I peeked over the top of the book at my dog. How come she hadn’t alerted us to the intruder? Did she know him? Or did she not hear him? She just continued to snore with an occasional twitch of her paws as she galloped along in doggie dreamland.
My brain beat a path through my “little grey cells”, trying to come up with some sort of effective course of action. Then, through the fog, it came to me, and after much deliberation I decided it was the best plan I could think of that might also help capture the guy. I was feeling really good about it and went over it several times to work out the order of steps.
Boosting my courage, I got up and casually walked across the bedroom to the bathroom in the hall carrying my soda glass. A couple of minutes later, I flushed and ran the sink water for a few seconds. Then I came back into the hall, but instead of returning to the bedroom, I turned the opposite direction as though I was going to refill my soda glass in the kitchen on the other side of the house. But, instead of going to the kitchen, I continued down the hall two doors from our bedroom to my husband’s study and gunroom. In the dark room I snuck up to the window and peeked out, careful not to be seen, and had a really good view of the guy sitting on the wall outside my bedroom. Between the full moon and the light from my bedroom he was pretty much spotlighted. I figured he was somewhere in his late teens or early twenties. It made me angry that he would invade our privacy like that so blatantly. Thank goodness I was dressed modestly.
My heart was hammering in my chest as I proceeded to the next step of my plan. I got my camera, turned it on and carefully placed the lens against the window glass, looking through the viewfinder until “Tom” came into view. In my other hand I held my husband’s Colt revolver. Hopefully, the combination of the camera flash, the moonlight and bedroom window light would also light up the gun. After taking a deep breath, I tapped on the window with the gun barrel to get “Tom’s” attention. When he jerked around and looked toward me, I snapped the picture. He practically took flight, leaping off the wall trying to get away.
I was so happy my plan worked. “Tom’s” photo turned out well, he was arrested, went to jail and we had peace in the neighborhood again. A neighboring family, however, was not so happy with their son.
Perhaps my experience may be helpful to you.
Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.
Join her here each 11th of the month.