The Burglar

Daniel McCoy
Tell Your Story
Published in
9 min readJun 11, 2024
Photo by Rafael Classen

I woke up with a start, eyes blinking. The noise that woke me might’ve been someone slamming their apartment door or something, because it was all quiet now. And it was broad daylight. I looked at the clock on the nightstand and it said a quarter to two. I had been up very late the night before, so this seemed like a good time to get up anyway.

I didn’t always work Saturday nights at The Bodega, but on nights when there was a popular band playing and the place was packed, I would work from 10 until midnight giving each of the four evening bartenders a half-hour break. My usual shift was days from Tuesday through Friday. The place did a decent lunch business and had a happy hour in the afternoon, but no more than one bartender could handle alone, along with the waitresses and kitchen folk. I also worked solo on Sunday evenings, when the place featured quieter music acts after the rock and roll weekends. The busy nights, Thursdays when the place would often book big name acts that came through on their way to playing up in San Francisco on the weekend, and Fridays and Saturdays, when they’d have either a name act or a local band with a good following. The night before had featured Elvis Duck, a local band that could draw a good crowd in the greater San Francisco Bay Area back in 1974.

The place had really been hopping that Saturday night, with more than double the number of people than allowed for on the fire department approved maximum occupancy sign out front. I sometimes thought that was probably the main purpose of the lunch shift that I worked. Being right in downtown Campbell, California, The Bodega was just a couple of blocks from City Hall as well as the main police and fire stations. The movers and shakers of the city were all regular lunch customers, so they tended to look the other way when The Bodega packed the people in on the evenings for the rock music.

Rather than cut through the crowd out front, I would come in the back door, an old loading dock that faced the railroad tracks and opened into the kitchen. Just about 10 o’clock I would go down to the end of the bar that was the hot spot, the main serving station where most of the cocktail waitresses placed orders, along with a good lineup of customers at the gap between the waitress station and the first bar stools. I would pour non-stop like a madman for two hours to the loud rock music. Draft beer, glasses of wine, and cocktails, mostly tequila sunrises, it being 1974. Everything was in easy reach, I hardly had to move my feet. The hot spot faced away from the rest of the long bar, so I didn’t see a lot of what the other bartenders were doing, I would just be “in the zone.”

Around midnight, someone would tap me on the shoulder from behind and I would come to out of my zone, realizing that I was done for the night. After I ceded the hot spot to one of the other bartenders, I would often pour myself a beer, and walk around to a not-so-crowded place where I could listen to the music for a while. Last night I had ended up staying until closing time and then went out to breakfast with the other employees at the 24-hour coffee shop nearby. I had probably hadn’t gotten to bed before 3:30.

Now, in the early Sunday afternoon, I got myself up out of bed, still blinking, cleaned up and dressed, then grabbed a bite to eat. I didn’t have to be at the bar until 5. I was in charge on Sunday nights, so I had the key and was responsible for opening up. But I decided I would go early and stop in at Khartoum, the fern bar that was across the street from The Bodega. Fern bars were big up in San Francisco at the time, and this was the first one to open in the South Bay. Ferns, Tiffany lamps, antique furniture, Irish coffees with freshly whipped cream. It was a popular formula and Khartoum greatly benefited from being across the street from the busiest music venue in the South Bay. Sunday afternoon would be quiet and Nancy might be working. Nancy was the daughter of the owner of Khartoum. I’d had a couple of conversations with her and was working my way up toward asking her out, so I figured I’d see if she was there and chat for a bit before crossing the street to work at 5.

I figured I’d park at The Bodega then walk over to Khartoum, but there were half a dozen police cars around the Bodega when I pulled up, mostly around that old loading dock back door. I came up and introduced myself and asked what was up. The burglar alarm had gone off, which had automatically called the cops, but nobody could get in touch with the owner. It was good that I had come early because the cops were happy to have someone connected to the place to talk to.

The back door was an old wooden thing about five feet wide and made from the same wood as the rest of the old building. It was a nearly 100-year-old warehouse building that had been part of a complex that had housed the largest fruit dehydrator in the world back when Santa Clara Valley was known for orchards, prunes, and dried apricots before its transformation into Silicon Valley, a transformation which was well underway in 1974. Someone had pried a couple of boards off of the back door and crawled in through the hole, but the alarm system had tripped when he walked through one of its light beams. The cops had gotten there quickly, since they were so close and it was a silent alarm, they were pretty sure the burglar was still inside. A couple of policemen had crawled in and searched the place with flashlights, but found nothing.

“I have a key.” I told the cop in charge and he brightened up. They had called for assistance from the San Jose Police who were sending over a K-9 unit to try to sniff the guy out. I unlocked and opened the back door, with its missing boards down at the bottom. I walked in with a couple of the cops. There was a cigarette machine not far from the back door, and it was apparent that someone had been trying to get that open but hadn’t succeeded. The San Jose K-9 unit showed up, so I withdrew back outside and let them sniff the place with their dog. The cop with the dog went in and had been in there a good half an hour when he came out the back door and gave a shrug. Nothing. Too many scents, they didn’t have anything to give the dog to identify a scent to go after and he just couldn’t find anything.

“What now?” I asked the guy in charge.

“Nail the boards back in, set the alarm, and lock it back up. We’re pretty sure he’s still in there and we’ll come right back when the alarm goes off again.”

I went in and got a hammer from a utility drawer in the kitchen to nail the boards with. It was amazing how quickly the cops cleared out once I got to work. I got pretty nervous finishing up. I was thinking to myself, there’s probably a guy in there who doesn’t want to get caught, and here I am, all alone with a hammer, nailing him in. It felt a bit like nailing a coffin closed when the occupant isn’t dead. But nothing stirred, so I reset the alarm and locked the door. I still had a couple of hours before I was supposed to open the bar for the night. It would be weird trying to open when there might still be a burglar inside. I was hoping that the cop was right and they could catch him before that.

I walked over to Khartoum. Nancy was there and she had plenty of questions about the swarm of cop activity across the street. I didn’t have to make up some chit-chat to get a conversation going with her, there was a whole story to tell. It was a quiet afternoon at Khartoum, so she even sat down at a table with me by the window so we could watch for the cops to return together, which they did in less than fifteen minutes. I got up and rushed back over to open up for them.

“Alarm went off again, so he’s in there,” said the same cop who had been in charge before. After I opened the back door, with my nailing job still intact, three of them went in with guns drawn. They swept through the front of the house and the kitchen pretty quickly without finding anything. Then one of them stayed near the back door and the other two went over to the doorway that led to the back hallway where there was the locked booze storage room, the employee break room, and the owner’s office. At the end of that hall there was a little storage and a big honking safe that had the real money from the weekend in it, but no two-bit burglar was going to get that open. One of the cops popped his head back out from the hallway and asked me about the locked door along the hall.

“That’s the liquor storage room.”

“Can you open it?”

“Sure.” I said and got out my keys. I stayed in the hallway while he assured himself that nobody was hiding in with the liquor. That’s where the cash drawer for the register I would be using this evening was stashed, and that hadn’t been touched, so we were pretty sure nobody had gotten in there. The cops had a quick look in the employee break room and passed on to the office. I was a little leery of following around cops with drawn weapons when a burglar was on the loose, but I was also curious about how this guy was evading the Campbell Police department and the San Jose K-9 unit. I peeked into the break room. There was a time-clock on the wall beside a rack of employee time-cards. The only furniture was some really huge homemade pillows arranged on the floor around a sort of coffee table that was about eight inches high. The pillows probably smelled like a dozen or more sweaty bartenders and cocktail waitresses, so who knows what a police dog would make of them.

Then I noticed a small piece of foam stuffing on the carpet by one of the pillows. That made me suspicious. The pillow farthest from the door was covered in a patchwork of some green velvety-looking fabric, and it looked a bit lumpier than usual. I quietly walked into the room over to the green pillow. I tapped the tallest lump with my shoe. It was hard, like maybe an elbow or something. I backed out of the break room into the hallway. One of the cops was coming out of the office and I motioned to him to come and pointed into the break room. Both cops came over and I quietly said: “In the green pillow.”

They went into the break room with guns out. One of them poked at the green pillow with his foot and said, “Come out, keep your hands where I can see them.”

I stayed just outside the doorway and watched as hands poked up behind the green pillow, and, gradually, a young man about five-ten stood up with his hands in the air, covered in the pieces of that torn foam that made up the pillow stuffing. Over behind the green pillow a big knife was lying on the floor. He had apparently slit up the pillow and crawled inside to hide from the cops when they first arrived, which was a pretty impressive resourceful move on his part, but the stray piece of foam I had seen on the carpet had probably gotten left outside when he had to crawl back in when the cops arrived the second time.

The cops cuffed the burglar and then they led him out, still covered head to toe in the foam stuffing. The cop cars all cleared out with their culprit, and it was just about time for me to start getting ready to open the bar for the evening. But I decided to go across the street and fill Nancy in on what happened. How often do you get an opportunity to brag about catching a burglar who evaded the cops and and the K-9?



Daniel McCoy
Tell Your Story

I took a tech job at a place that turned into a movie studio.