She wanted her house painted, so Gisela Marcuse of Northwest obtained estimates from three contractors. While mulling their offer sheets, she was approached by a man who had been doing odd jobs in the neighborhood. He had heard she was looking for a painter, he said, and he wanted to bid on the job, too.

Gisela let him, but his price was "exorbitant," she writes. So she chose one of the original bidders -- a recent immigrant to this country who had started a painting business with his brother. They were delighted to get the job, and they began at 8 a.m. sharp the next Saturday.

"At 2 p.m., they came to me, terrified and in hysterics," Gisela writes. "A person purporting to be a D.C. inspector had approached them, asking to see their D.C. license. When they told him that it had expired, he ordered them to leave the premises within two hours or else they would be fined."

The underlying fear of the brothers was far more substantial, however -- and far more understandable. "They were mortally afraid of getting into trouble with the authorities because they want to become citizens as soon as possible. I promised to check out the license requirements, and they agreed to come back once they had a valid D.C. license."

However, Gisela soon learned two very upsetting facts. You don't need a license in the District to perform the kind of work she had hired the immigrant brothers to do. And the D.C. government does not have the time or the money to send inspectors roaming the streets to check up on house painters.

The long and the short of it: the brothers had been intimidated by an impostor. Unfortunately, in their confusion and fright, they didn't ask the "inspector" for his name. Do you think he could have been a friend of a disgruntled neighborhood handyman? Perhaps the handyman himself? I'd bet the rent on it.

Sad ending to the story: the brothers were so frightened by the episode that they refused to return and complete the work, despite Gisela's assurances that they weren't violating any laws. They told her that, rather than blow their chances at citizenship, they'd never work in the District again -- a tough position to take when you're living from hand to mouth, as these two men were, and in an economy where painting work doesn't grow on trees.

The men implored Gisela not to reveal their names or their nationality, and she has not. I can only wonder whether people are as vengeful in the country of their birth as a certain American was on a certain Saturday afternoon.