The first raid came at five o’clock in the morning last May 17. Carlos Montes awoke to a thud. It was the sound, he soon discovered, of his front door splintering open. The sun had not yet risen, and Montes’s bedroom was dark, but in retrospect, he says, he’s glad he didn’t reach for a flashlight—or for a gun. Montes, a retired Xerox salesman, had kept a loaded shotgun behind the headboard and a 9mm pistol beneath a pile of towels on a chair beside the bed since the day he had walked in on an armed burglar a year and a half before. That time a cool head had kept him alive: He persuaded the thief to drive him to a 7-Eleven, where he withdrew as much cash as he could from the ATM and refused to take another step. This time, fortunately, he was half-asleep: He stumbled toward the hallway empty-handed.
Montes, 64, is a tall man, but his shoulders are rounded and slightly stooped, which along with his long, thin legs and the short fuzz of his gray hair, gives him something of the appearance of a bird. Maybe it’s that he always seems to be in motion, as if there’s a motor in him that keeps humming even when he’s sitting still. He often seems to be on the verge of cracking a joke, or as if he’s already laughing at the joke he could be telling. Once I showed up early for an interview and found him on the phone, reserving a space in a yoga class. “Gotta take my yoga, man,” he said, laughing at himself, “or else I’ll blow it!”
Standing in the bedroom of his Alhambra home, Montes saw ...