By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
With what dignity she could, Lois ignored her husband's shouts and made her way past Luther's, Harry's Barbecue and the Allen Center. Finally a squad car appeared and picked her up. When the policeman deposited her at Helena Street, Allen was there to greet her affectionately at the door. "Hello sweetheart, where have you been?" he asked. Lois told him, "Darling, to the opera, of course."
The worse Allen got, the more Lois and Pat Gross wondered whether the course of his deterioration was linked to something from his past. At times, his activities clearly just caricatured the things he had once loved. Allen still took great joy in scavenging, though his discrimination had by now vanished. Lois would keep him company as he perused Montrose and River Oaks trash heaps, Lois silently praying that no one she knew would glimpse her among the refuse. With Lois' help, he filled his study nearly to the ceiling with termite-riddled lumber, empty paint cans and broken glass. What didn't fit in the study found its way to the side yard, which Pat dubbed "Allen's Alley." Lois found herself plotting out routes for her daily errands in order to avoid junk piles that might catch Allen's eye.
But if Allen's scavenging instinct was at least familiar, Lois was at a loss to explain two other manias: shoplifting and booby traps. Starting around 1985, he began to come up with tricks that were so cunning, and so potentially dangerous, that both Lois and Pat wondered if they were some distorted vestige of Allen's past training in the CIA. Standing in front of the armoire that housed some of Allen's most sophisticated traps, Lois laughs ruefully and says, "I have no idea ... how would I know?" A spokesman for the Alzheimer's Association, though, says the ailment's manifestations are usually random. Colleen Webb, a former CIA colleague of Allen's, also discounts the notion. "He didn't get those things from his job," she says. "There were some sensitive operations that required some special skills. But not," she adds with a tiny smile, "any [skills] that were outlined in [Lois'] book."
Yet Lois found Allen's increasing craftiness otherwise hard to fathom. Who knew, before this, that he possessed such light hands? After he became ill, Allen became a dedicated thief. Lois rarely saw him in action; it was only later, when she began going through his collections, that she realized the extent of his shoplifting.
"There was a Breitling stopwatch ... three stainless steel dental tools, a small American flag, 47 trolls, 30 pieces of flatware, three silk ties from Neiman Marcus, an assortment of salt and pepper shakers and 35 ashtrays," she says. There was also an assortment of tools, hardware and other items. They all still carried price tags. Only once, after a meal at Butera's, did Pat catch Allen at work. The waiter did, too, and politely asked Allen at the door for the ashtray he'd taken. Allen relinquished it graciously. "I'm Allen Rische, and I used to be Texas field chief for the CIA," he said pleasantly. "My hands aren't as quick as they used to be."
Meanwhile, during his last three years at home, whenever the house got too quiet, Lois and Pat knew Allen was building something. His creations usually took about an hour's work, and he favored the guest-room, the pantry and the Venetian red study as his stages.
Quietly and meticulously, Allen would arrange 50 or so bottles of nails, pots and pans, boards and string so that the tug on a cupboard door would send all the contents crashing. The traps were always devised with a special attention to sound effects, producing spectacular showers of objects whenever Lois unsuspectingly opened a door. In the pantry, the avalanches always included canned goods and utensils. "What happened?" Allen used to ask, stone-faced, after each episode.
"Pat used to call it a war on my nerves," Lois says. "It was to startle me. I don't think his intention was to hurt me. We'd sit for hours and try to figure it out. His mind was gone -- we couldn't figure out how he had the mind to engineer these booby traps."
"Pat and I used to laugh like crazy," she adds. "A lot of times I'd be crying, too."
In the last year Allen Rische lived at Helena Street, though, humor became harder to find. He had become homicidal. Lois still remembers the day the front door slammed and she glimpsed Allen crossing the street carrying a big can of Varsol, a flammable liquid, and a matchbox.
"Where are you going?" she demanded.
Allen explained that he was on his way to torch their Mexican neighbors' house. There was no danger involved, he assured Lois; he had specifically chosen the hour so that the adults would be at work and the children at school.
"He felt it was an eyesore," Lois says, shaking her head.
Sternly, she told Allen the plan was impossible: he'd get arrested. It took some convincing, but Allen finally gave in and followed her home. But he didn't completely abandon his plan; Lois caught him slipping out with his Varsol four more times. Finally, she managed to confiscate it and began keeping him indoors under lock and key.
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