The Mystery of the Postman, the Detective and the Unrelenting Sewer Flies

NOTE from the Management: If you have always been a Speakeasy reader and not a listener, you might want to consider listening this time, as this is a story, not an article, and we had entirely too much fun recording it! But suit yourself!

Wednesday: Today a detective knocked on my door. What a thrill – a first for me. I had just finished reading Michael Connelly’s newest detective novel, The Late Show, so I was well prepared. When the man (dressed in shorts and tee shirt and wearing a baseball cap) introduced himself as Detective Someone from the Redmond Police, he immediately showed me first his wallet badge and then the badge clipped to his belt. I knew that was the right protocol, because, in The Late Show, Detective Renee Ballard always makes sure to show both of them right away. (See how my reading of contemporary fiction gives me context for real life challenges?)

Now, when the man said he was a Redmond cop, I should have immediately gasped and said, “Oh my God! Did something happen to my son?” (because he lives in Redmond). But my mind, steel trap that it is, could think of only one response: “Sir, you’re in Bellevue.” He patiently explained that he works Narcotics and Theft, so he can go all over. Huh? I was confused but tantalized: “Narcotics and Theft.” At my door!

Anyway, badges shown, he asked if I were Lynn Gerlach and quickly announced he was investigating a case of mail theft, and I was a victim. Of course! It made perfect sense. I said, “Oh, sure. I know what you’re talking about.” (It would soon become apparent that I had no idea what he was talking about.)

“So, you’ve been missing some mail, huh?” I assured him we had all been missing a lot of mail – none of us had had a mail delivery in eight-to-ten days. (“Us” refers to me and my 1000 neighbors, mostly East Indians here on visa to work at Microsoft.) I assumed the detective had solved the mystery of where our mail was.

Let me back up a little. Our community management announced at the end of July that we’d be getting new mailboxes. Therefore our mail would be held at the post office for about a week until the work was complete and we were given keys to our new mailboxes. Meanwhile we’d have to go to the post office, each of us, and retrieve our held mail.

What a pain in the butt! Drive to the Post Office each day to pick up my mail? A good friend kindly suggested that I could just wait until it was all over and then go pick up my week’s worth of mail. And, indeed, that’s what I did. Two days prior to the detective’s arrival, I had driven to the post office, stood in line, and requested mail being held over the past week for my address. The lady was gone for a worrisome long time, and she returned empty handed. “No, there is no mail here for all the people at that address. It has gone out on the truck. The mail carrier will deliver it to you.”

All right! I could live with that – my mail was on its way. I drove home and, instead of turning right to go to my parking space, I turned left to those new mailboxes. True, I hadn’t received a key, but it had been over a week, and I wanted to at least see my new mailbox. Well, for heaven’s sake, the construction crew was still on site, installing the mailboxes!

I stopped in at the office and asked young Liz (the most recent occupant of that desk) what the story was. “They told me all the mail has gone out and will be delivered today,” I said. “They have nothing for me at the post office.” She said, “Oh, you’re the second person who’s said that.” Was that supposed to make me feel better? It didn’t. Well, supposedly the solution was that someone in the office would call that darned post office and get it all straightened out. On Tuesday I called Liz for an update: “No, we haven’t talked to the post office yet.” Silly me, expecting confusion about 8-10 days’ mail for 500 addressees to be a priority!

Well, today my schedule allowed me time to drive to the post office again, so I called Liz and asked her whether they’d gotten it all straightened out with the post office. “Not really,” she said. “They’re not working with us.” What the heck did that mean? Isn’t mail just held upon request? Do you have to get the postmaster to “work with” you? She assured me that the Post Office does, indeed, have all our mail on its premises. However, they have not sorted it by apartment. It’s all thrown together. She went on to say a few disparaging things about that darned post office and then informed me that, in fact, the mail man would be bringing all our back mail on Thursday!

“Tomorrow is Thursday,” I said gleefully into the phone.

“Tomorrow is your birthday?” she asked with feigned enthusiasm.

“No, tomorrow is Thursday. Our mail will come tomorrow. We don’t have to go to the post office to pick it up.”

“Well, yes, we hope the mailboxes will be all secured and ready by tomorrow, but…” I had heard enough. I would just wait until someone else sorted it all out.

And then the detective arrived. “So you’ve got it all sorted out? The mail was actually stolen? It’s not at the post office after all?” I was flabbergasted. Ten days’ worth of mail for 500 apartments had been stolen? It really wasn’t in a great big messy pile at the post office? He assured me that, indeed, they’d caught the crooks and the jig was up. “We found a great big U-Haul truck full of mail. About 500 pieces.” (The old steel trap went right to work on that math problem and quickly estimated… that was about one piece of mail… for each apartment… in ten days. But I don’t get much mail that’s even worth retrieving, so what did I care?)

“Stolen, you say!”

“Yes, it was stolen between July 1 and July 10.”

Wait a minute. What is he talking about? Our mail stopped coming on Saturday, July 29. That’s when they started constructing the new mail box station. Until then, I had been receiving mail – all of it, I assumed.

“Now, we have a complaint for you to fill out,” he said. “If you’d just fill in the blanks and sign it for me, then I’ll be out of here and you can go to the gym.” (I was in my Jazzercise clothes, you see.)

Is this guy really a cop, I wondered? Is this a scam? What’s he trying to get from me? I asked whether management knew he was knocking on doors. “Oh, yes, they do.” And how many people in this community are affected? “Lots.” (Raised eyebrows to confirm.) Thinking I’d like to close the door and call Liz to check this guy out, I asked if I might fill this out later. “Sure. You can just bring it down to the Redmond police station. Do you know where that is? Here, let me draw you a map.”

Oh, for Pete’s sake! This was getting way too complicated. He explained, “We need people whose mail was stolen to file a complaint so we can prosecute. You’re a victim, even if you didn’t know any mail was stolen.” He went on to tell me that the police did, indeed, possess mail addressed to me by name. “Even if it was just a flyer from Costco,” he said, “it was your property, and it was theft. They stole things directly out of mailboxes.”

The old steel trap was racing now! How did he know I had just joined Costco? And does this explain why I’ve always found the lock on my mail box so temperamental – and have twice reported it? I glanced at the two-page form and saw my name and address printed on it. The questions were pretty simple. No privileged information was requested other than my birthdate. I said, “Oh, let me just fill this out right now and hand it to you.”

I cleverly did not invite him in, still not 100% sure he was a detective, that those badges were real and he had my Costco flyer. I left the door open, and he turned to his phone and didn’t try to enter. I quickly filled out my complaint (which named the two suspects, neither of which I had ever heard of) and handed it to him. He thanked me and left.

Tomorrow is Thursday. I am going to be over in Seattle all day. I have no idea what, if anything, shall be delivered to my new mailbox – or whether the mailboxes are even ready for use. I won’t be around to find out, and I don’t have a key anyway. I’m kind of excited now to get all my back mail – even my stolen mail - and not have to go to the post office to fetch it. I’m even sort of excited to see that Costco flyer. (Or do you think maybe he was just using that as a hypothetical example, and I’m really not getting a Costco flyer at all?)


Epilogue (now it’s Friday, two days post-detective-visit)

So, I arrived home from Seattle last evening just in time to catch Liz before she closed the office. It was an interesting conversation:

“Are the new mailboxes ready?”

“Uh, yes, but the Post Office is not delivering the mail until tomorrow, Friday.”

“Oh, that’s fine. Thanks.”

“I can give you your key though. Just sign for it right here; I’ll go get it.”

I signed. She went into a closet and seemed to be searching for something. In that I have had mostly negative interactions with management to date (the toilet that didn’t work correctly for five months, the outlets that wouldn’t hold plugs, the leaky faucet, the broken cabinet shelf, the sewer flies I’ve reported three times… you know - stuff), I thought I’d try to say something positive. “Well, you’ve got a nicely organized system to hand out these keys,” I said inanely. “By the way, did you know about the detective that was here the other day investigating a mail theft? Did you know he was knocking on our doors?”

“Uh, yes, he was here in the office. But he came to your door? When was that?”

I told her it was late Wednesday afternoon. “I was confused at first,” I admitted. “I thought he was saying our mail was stolen from the Post Office while the new mailboxes were being installed.” (Uncomfortable grin from me)

“Oh, no. It was safe at the Post Office all this time.” (Uncomfortable grin from her)

“Yes, so now I understand mail was being stolen from our mailboxes in early July – more than a month ago.”

Long pause.

“Exactly! That’s why our manager decided to get you all new mailboxes,” she beamed

A perfect segue for the steel trap to spring into action: So, they knew our mail had been stolen. Instead of telling us that, they cheerfully announced we would be getting new mailboxes! No explanation. A gift from them to us. They had no intention of telling us we were victims of a crime, that we might be missing a Costco flyer or something quite a bit more important. They did not know the detective was going to visit us and spill the beans. Kind of reminds me of the time they announced a new online system for paying rent – but failed to mention the 3% surcharge that would now automatically be added.

Now do you understand why I move so often? It’s hard to be a complacent, head-in-the-sand renter at my age, when I was a homeowner for all those years, in all those states. It’s where I was introduced to sewer flies – and how to get rid of them immediately – how I learned to conserve water and electricity to guarantee manageable utility bills, to fix things as soon as they broke, to make a house a home.

Now consider this: Eighty-five percent of my neighbors here in this rental community of 1000 people are not American citizens or nationals. They are lovely, intelligent, educated couples, most with advanced degrees. Their gorgeous, dark-eyed children are as playful and silly as any American children, and they love to pet my little grand-puppies. In each case, one of the adults works at Microsoft and the other stays home, often in culture shock and with limited English skills (but educated and very bright and approachable). They stay for a year and then return to India.

Is it possible the rental community management figures it’s not necessary to tell them these things? They come and go, their English is broken, they don’t know the law. So why bother to tell them their U.S. mail was stolen, right? Or that a 3% surcharge has now been added to their rent? Perhaps I am simply collateral damage, part of a population that is assumed to be gullible and uninformed and easily manipulated.

Yeah, I might have to move again.