I once talked a burglar out of burgling my apartment. I wasn't a lawyer yet, but it remains my best closing argument of my life. Back in law school, one summer I lived in a one bedroom apartment in a marginal part of town. Although my front door faced toward the gated courtyard, the window faced outward toward an open field. I frequently heard gunshots on the other side of the field. It was just target practice, I told myself as I watched the Tonight show alone every night. Just target practice, right?
One night I went to sleep early, or tried to. The guest on the show wasn't very funny. After turning off the TV, I heard female giggling and then some kind of a chase. Maybe late night runners or a scavenger hunt for broken beer bottles perhaps. Moments later, I heard someone attempt to jimmy open my bedroom window, just a few feet from my bed I didn't have a gun at that time, but I yelled.
There was silence, but the person was still there, breathing. I walked over to my window and found a skinny young man in a white t-shirt. Burglars don't wear white, do they? Well, this one did. He could have been fifteen, he could have been forty, too dark to make out his face. He was clearly shaking, possibly on drugs, or coming down off of them. I couldn't tell if he was armed. He didn't touch my window, but then again, he didn't run away. He hadn't made up his mind yet . . .it was hard to tell if he had much of a mind to make up.
I asked him what he was doing. pretending to be calm. He saw I had no gun.
His story made no sense at all. On the one hand he appeared to be running from someone out on the other side of the mesa, on the other hand he said he was looking for someone. Then again, he was doing something for someone. Or perhaps it was all three.
He kept talking about his sister or girlfriend or both. This might have been a gang initiation or some weird labor of love. I don't think his original intent was to burgle anyone, however when he looked inside and saw my little TV it would have been a bonus point in the game of Grand Theft Apartment.
There were more sounds of people off in the distance on the other side of the field. He still didn't move, but was clearly nervous about something.
I told him that anyone who was trying to help out a woman's honor was a good person. I had no idea what I was talking about, and exactly how he was trying to save someone's honor by breaking into an apartment and taking a TV set was helping a woman's honor. "You've a good person," I kept saying.
"Am I?" "You really really really think so, man?"
"You are. You've doing the wrong thing for the right reasons."
Perhaps he was confused that a potential victim was praising him, but I bought him a little time. The laughter off in the distance ended. We heard a car drive away. He instantly relaxed, he stopped shaking.
"What should I do?" he asked as if I was somehow part of his plan.
"I think you'd better go," I said. "I'm not going to say anything to anyone."
He nodded. He ran back into the darkness across the field.
Did I hear the words "Thank you" from across the darkness?
It was probably just the wind. I switched channels on my TV until I found an old lawyer show.