I spent a winter at Saltaire, on Fire Island, working for the Village. Winter of 1970-71.Tearing up old boardwalks, and building new ones. From bay to ocean and back again. It was hard, cold work, with the North wind blowing off the Great South Bay every morning.
Al Aherne, Dan Weinlandt, and myself had rented the Bernhardt house up in Rabbittown. It was one of the few houses that were winterized back then. We had to take the ferry back and forth to shop on the mainland for provisions. We also had Dan’s VW bug parked at the lighthouse for the occasional trip into the city and such, but that was a hike.
I started a little business on the side, House Watching.
98% of the homes were vacant in the winter moths. So I would check on people’s houses every few days, for a small monthly fee. I’d walk around the house, checking the windows and doors, making sure everything was safe and secure .
Late that fall I was also asked to dog-sit for Marvin Schwartz’s dog, a trained guard dog named Suzie, while Marvin and his family were away on vacation. Suzie was a beautiful dog, a big strong German Shepard, supposedly trained as a guard dog for protection. She was also a very smart good old dog, she was goofy, loved tennis balls, and at home if I wasn’t looking she would swipe food off the counter. Other than that she was really well behaved and listened well. Apparently there was a command word that she would attack on but I didn’t want to know what it was, it would have been too tempting to play around with it on Dan or Al.
Suzie was a great companion when I walked around the village checking on my houses, always right by my side.
One day as we were walking around I stopped to check a house. I tried the side door. The knob turned in my hand and the door swung open. Sitting on the floor next to the door in the bathroom was a typewriter, a reel to reel tape deck, a small TV and a large radio. All neatly stacked and ready to go. I checked around inside the house. Everything else looked normal.
Apparently someone had broken in, and was planning to come back that night and pick the items up, figuring no one would be around for miles.
I left the door unlocked like I found it, but I moved the items off the floor and stashed them in a closet.
Now, the village is pretty deserted this time of year, there are maybe 10 people living there in winter, and I didn’t think anyone of them could be the culprit. I was about to tell the local police about the break-in but then I got a better idea. We didn’t need no stinkin’ cops for this, Suzie and I would handle this caper all by ourselves.
Later that night (it was a Thursday, as I recall) after it got dark, Suzie and I packed a few beers some joints, and a couple of dog treats and we quietly snuck back into the house. We sat on the floor in the darkness away from any windows, waiting quietly. After a few hours I was getting cold and bored, we were out of beer, pot and dog treats. We were about ready to call it a night when I heard and felt footsteps coming down the boardwalk towards the house. They walked right up to the door, not even trying to be quiet or stealthlike. Suzie immediately sensed trouble and her ears stood up. We eased over to the bathroom where the outside door was located, I was holding Suzie back by her collar. Waiting until I heard the door swing open and someone take a step inside, I yelled ” Go Get ‘em Suzie! ”as loud as I could and I let her go.
Suzie roared into that room, teeth bared, barking up a storm. It was beautiful…what a sight.
I’ve never heard a grown man scream like him that night or since then. It sounded like the Hounds of Hell in all their fury had been released on him! Suzie chased him out the door, up the boardwalk and around the corner onto Lighthouse Promenade barking and nipping at his ass. I could still hear him screaming as it faded into the distance. Suzie came back after awhile, wagging her tail, happy as could be. A job well done. Good dog! We were both pretty proud of ourselves. That night Suzie and I shared a steak dinner.
I never found out who it was that night, don’t really care. In a village full of dark empty houses, I don’t think anybody would have ever expected a giant German Shepard to jump out at them growling and barking. I did keep my eye out to see if anyone suddenly had hair turned white or developed a nervous tic.
A few days later, Suzie went back to Manhattan. I received a nice bonus from the homeowner’s who’s valuables I had saved.
Saltaire didn’t have any more break-ins that winter.
And thus ended a great crime fighting duo’s career.
That would have been either Elmo or Joey Ferrara. They were from Kismet and ran a burglary ring in the early seventies. They were finally caught a couple of years later when the authorities found a shack in the bushes between Kismet and the Lighthouse. In the shack were a few stolen items and a map laying out the whole plan. It depicted how they would bring their swag from Saltaire to the shack, where it would be stored until they had a big haul. The map then depicted how they would transport their loot by boat back to the mainland.
In a multi-jurisdictional raid by Suffolk County Police (including a helicopter), the National Park Service Rangers, Suffolk Marine Bureau and Saltiare's finest (I believe it was Lenny McGahey), the ring was busted. Unfortunaely, being minors, they only received a slap on the wrist. This did not satisfy Saltairians, and one Saturday night during August in front of the Kismet Out, we cornered Elmo. He was stuck on the Kismet Ferry Dock and there was no escape. Deciding discretion was the better part of valor, he turned around and ran off the end of the dock.