It is late Friday afternoon, and the wife, as usual, is the first one home from work. As she hurries up the walk of the couple's Northwest Washington home, something strikes her as odd.
"Strange," she thinks, "the living room shades are drawn." As soon as she unlocks the front door, she knows something is wrong.
Tumbled out onto the front hallway floor are the contents of the coat closet. Fearing an intruder may still be lurking inside, she slams the door and runs to a neighbor's house to call the police.
As it turns out, the house has been struck by a burglar who has long since departed with several hundred dollars in cash and jewelry, leaving behind ransacked bureau drawers and closets.
The burglar also has left behind two demolished basement doors -- one kicked in so hard it came off its hinges -- and a puzzling, but practical question that faces the distraught couple:
Who do you call on Friday night to replace broken doors?
It is a question far from uncommon in the Washington area. D.C. police handled 317 break-ins in October alone, compared to 162 in October 1979.
Securing the house is one of the first things you think about when someone has invaded it. After all, the burglar knows you don't have a door. He -- or she, or they -- may come back while you're sleeping.
The couple's first step, a logical one, is to ask the police -- who are taking their report and fingerprinting doorways -- for a suggestion. That kind of advice, they are told, is against police policy.
So, hands still trembling from the fright that will linger for days, the wife turns to the Yellow Pages under "Doors."
One ad seems a beacon to safety: "Immediate Repairs On Doors After Break-In -- 24-Hour Emergency Service."
When they phone, the couple learns that they are one of eight homeowners burgled that day who have turned for help to Doormasters, a 13-year-old Washington firm specializing in emergency door and lock repairs.
Heading the firm is founder John Anderson, 53, a former general contractor whose office is in his home so he can answer the late-night calls.
He "stumbled" into his current specialty, he says, "after a couple of my friends' homes were robbed."
Since then, he says, with the upward surge in break-ins, "We grew and grew." Now he and assistant Oscar Thompson, 23, handle about 30 break-in repair jobs a week. They also will point out home-security problems to neighborhood groups.
Recently, says Anderson, he was called to the Capitol Hill home of a southern congressman, where burglars had broken in both the front and back doors. "They cleaned him out," says Anderson. All he had were the jeans he was wearing."
For $25, the firm will temporarily secure a door that has been so damaged it cannot be closed or locked.
The cost of repairing a door and lock will be higher, depending on the damage. Replacement doors and locks can run to several hundred dollars.
Anderson charged the Washington couple $465 to install a solid-core, 1 3/8-inch-thick door with two locks -- including a burglar-resistant deadbolt lock -- and to replace and secure the door jamb that had been destroyed.
Doors, he says, can be vulnerable in a variety of ways:
If a door is old, the hinges may have come loose. If there is a crack between the hinged side of the door and its jamb, a burglar can insert a crowbar and pry the door off.
Door jambs may weaken with age. Even if a lock holds, the jamb may give. It can be made more secure by embedding 2 1/2-inch screws.
Doors with decorative panels that reduce their thickness are more easily kicked in. "If you want decoration, you can put that on top of a solid door." k
If the door is glass, a panel may be quietly and quickly cut. He suggests a metal grill for the door, or at least a burglar-resistant inside-outside lock.
The door will give quicker if the locks are too close.
Many people rely on standard locks. One women, Anderson says, kept a kitchen knife on her porch to pry open the lock if she shut herself out. "If she could do that, anybody could."