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Saturday has mercifully arrived. Before leaving my apartment to catch the train up to the ‘burbs, I call Murph’s home number. Three rings, then his distinctive baritone — Hello. We can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave a message. The automated reply of a man who routinely screens calls; I hang up the phone, chiding myself for wasting time.

All manner of alibis come to me as the train crawls out of the city. He left a report at home, and I need to review it over the weekend. I heard he was going out of town, and wasn’t sure he’d arranged for a house sitter. (Angelina had told me yesterday she would be at the outlet mall today; it’s an hour away, and I’ve been on enough shopping trips with her to know she’d be gone most of the day.) A few others as well, all plausible enough to keep me out of trouble with the neighbors or police. Of course once Murph got back along with Steph, if there was a Steph, I’d have some explaining to do, but I’ve come down this road too far to turn away.

It’s late afternoon when the train arrives, and the sun’s all but disappeared into the late fall horizon. Murph’s home is about a mile away from the station. I see bus route signs, and there’s even a couple of taxis waiting. One of the drivers calls to me, asks if I’m sure I want to walk the streets alone in the dark. He’s patronizing but sincere, so I thank him and promise to be careful.

In the twenty minutes of walking it takes to reach my destination, I don’t meet anyone on the sidewalks. I pause a couple times for cars pulling into driveways, and every once in a while I pass a good citizen sweeping leaves out the garage. It occurs to me that I probably do look suspicious, the sole pedestrian in this sedentary community. Maybe somebody will call the cops; if they do, I’ll just pretend to be calling on Murph. And his wife, of course. I’ll act surprised when I find he’s not home.

One last left, and I’m on Murph’s street. Three houses down, on the right, a two-story structure that looks just like every other house in the subdivision, lined and spaced evenly like cookies on a baking sheet. I approach the garage, locate the key pad on the right, and as I flip it open I realize my ethical transgression is about to become a legal mattter. Lifting the combination from Angelina’s pad could be dismissed as silly and impetuous, but using that knowledge to enter someone’s private residence, without their knowledge and certainly not their consent …

I press the four buttons in sequence, and the up/down arrow at the bottom of the pad stares back at me. I can almost see it smile, hear its taunt — you’re not gonna chicken out now, are you?

No way. I punch the button with my thumb, smile with satisfaction as the garage door lifts.

The two-car garage is empty, and the half to my left is occupied with lawn equipment; I see oil spots in the expected location on the right. Seriously, how many people in this ‘burb have only one car? I check the driveway behind me, and yes, there are oil spots on the side in front of the lawn equipment. Their other car, the one that’s left outside the garage, could be in the shop.

I’m not going to find any definitive answers here, so I walk into the driveway, enter the house through the service door. The kitchen’s dark; in the distance, I can see a light from what must be the living room, probably on a timer.

And I hear a noise. A steady beeping, coming from a hallway to the right. I walk over, see a large flat electronic device — I don’t recognize the model, but it’s function is unmistakable. A house alarm, detecting an entry, and waiting to be disarmed. And primed to notify the police, should the disarm sequence not be entered on time.

I don’t have much time, probably no more than a minute. I flip on a nearby ceiling light, scan the device. It’s fairly intiuitve, all I need is the disarming sequence. Shit, Angelina only wrote down one set of numbers, and I didn’t hear her say anything to Murph about the house alarm. Maybe he called her later — hey there’s an alarm as well, you’ll need to know that number too. Or, he’d planned to disable the alarm, but forgot — sorry, I forgot to tell Steph not to set it.

Shaking my head, I realize I have only one play. Walking away’s not an option, because the arm will certainly report an aborted break-in, and should the cops find me my actions will seem highly suspicious. And there’s no time to figure out what combination Murph could have programmed, other than the same sequence used for the garage door. A fairly reasonable assumption, and it’s all I’ve got with no time to spare. I punch in the combination, reach over to the right of the keypad, press Off — and hold my breath.

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