Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay
Hi, I’m Tom and I’m a burglar.
But wait. Before you go, don’t you want to hear how I’ve ended up in the papers as a proper hero? On the front page, I’m not kidding.
Just picture this. Rewind to last month.
I’m sitting with my mates in my mum’s car. We’re smoking a joint because it’s Friday. There might have been a bottle of whisky going around too. We’re parked up behind the only nightclub in town and we’re loading up, thinking about whether to go in.
The radio’s on so we don’t hear him walk up, not until he hammers on the driver’s side.
“What the fuck?” I say, and wind down the window. “Oh, it’s you. Want one?” I point at the grass and Rizlas in my lap.
Baz is about fifty, pretty old for a drug dealer. He sticks his head in and locks in on Jim, my oldest mate. We go back to kinder, that’s how long we’ve known each other. “You still owe me, Jim Smith.” His voice is raspy from smoking. He’s not shouting but his eyes look wild.
I hear Jim’s voice behind me. “Er, how much was it again, Baz?”
My heart sinks. Jim isn’t the sharpest tool in the box at times.
“Six. Hundred. Due last week.” Baz’s voice was beginning to rise.
“Six hundred was it?”
“Six Jolly Green Giants. Six avocados. Coming back to you yet?”
I try to interject before Jim gets himself into deeper trouble. “Baz, I -”
Baz glares at me. As he speaks, spittle flies. “Shut up, Tyler. Just make sure your friend here gets me the money by tomorrow. Or else.”
“Or else what?” pipes up Jim.
“Or else this.” Baz recedes but before I can take a breath, I see a glint in his hand and he’s running a switchblade along the length of the car. The sound is like a rusty scream through my skull.
“Fark!” I shout. “Okay, okay, we’ll get it for you. Just stop, my mum’ll kill me.”
“Make sure you do. Give her my regards.” Baz keys the other side as he walks off, whistling.
My head’s pounding fit to burst. I turn around in my seat and now I’m shouting. “What’ve you done? Are you a freaking idiot?”
“Hey, no need to shout,” said Jim, holding his hands up. “It’ll be grouse.”
“How will it be grouse? Look at what he’s just done. He’s mad. He could do anything.”
“He’s right,” said Bob. He got out of the car and without looking back, walked off home.
For a few seconds we watch him go. I want to disappear too but there’s no way I’m going to leave Jim in this mess. Which means I’m involved.
“Are you ready?” I’m wearing a plain grey hoodie and jeans, a small backpack slung over a shoulder. Jim is going to be my lookout, lurking in Mr Chirnside’s front yard between the bins and the bougainvillea. I hope he gets scratched to bits, the little shit. I check my mobile is on vibrate. “Remember what to do?”
“Yeah. I’ll ring you if someone’s coming.”
“Make sure you do.” My voice is shaking and I wipe damp palms along my jeans.
“It’ll be fine. He goes out to play bridge with my uncle every Friday night, I told you.”
There are no twitching curtains or neighbours out on an evening stroll. No obvious burglar alarm. I leave Jim and jog down the side of our ex-teacher’s home. Rover is long-dead but the dog-flap becomes useful again tonight. I crouch down, breathe out till my lungs are empty. Then I shimmy like a lumpy snake through to the laundry. I retrieve my backpack from outside the door.
All of a sudden, I’m hyperventilating while my whole body trembles. I’m in someone’s house. I’m a thief. I’m as much an idiot as my mate, probably more. Calm down, calm down. Think logically. Jim says he has some kind of coin collection. And he’s always flash with cash, drives a Lexus. He’s got to have something worth nicking.
I tiptoe into the lounge. Just an outdated laptop and some loose notes in a jar. I take the money, stuff it in my jeans pocket. I find my way to the bedroom. Panic gives way to something dark. I need money for Jim and money to fix up my mum’s car. I’m not here for fun. I reach out towards a drawer.
My phone vibrates and I nearly jump out of my skin.
Are you in? - I read. Relief.
All good - I reply, and tuck the phone back in my pocket.
Heart palpitating, I take a good look around the room. Other than the chest of drawers and wardrobe, there aren’t any obvious storage places for precious items. For the next twenty minutes I open every drawer. At first, I’m methodical and and return things to their original position. But soon sweat starts trickling into my eyes and a tight band forms around my chest. A few jewellery boxes – his mother’s maybe – turn up a ring and a necklace. I haven’t a clue if they’re worth anything, but they go in the backpack. Then a watch, looks like a fake Rolex. I go through the room, even crawling under the bed in case I missed something.
Leaving the bedroom looking like the aftermath of a tornado, I rifle through the cupboards in the lounge, DVDs strewn around me. Nothing of value.
Hurry up. Mum says she’ll be back home soon - Jim.
“Oh God,” I say out loud. Baz will go off his head when he sees hot property instead of cash.
I hasten through the laundry towards the stupid dog-flap again, in a seriously bad mood, when I spot a cutout in the lino. It looks to be about a metre square, maybe more. A mixture of curiosity and Baz-fear urges me on. I kneel down to prise it away. A floorboard creaks beneath me. Then a rhythmic jangling sound… from below? Don’t be daft, it’s your imagination. Lift the floorboards, might be the coins.
But instead I’m hoisting up a heavy wooden trapdoor, and nearly overbalance into the blackness.
“Help! Help!” Clear as day, a girl’s voice erupts out of nowhere.
“Who’s there?” I’m not sure who’s more scared. I shine my phone torch in and see a ladder.
“I’m Alison Reid and I’ve been kidnapped. Please help me. Come down the steps. I’m tied up.”
I vaguely remember an Alison Reid in the papers a couple of years ago. But this was no time to wonder at the turn of events. Holding the phone in one hand, I descend at speed. It takes a short while for my eyes to adjust, and then I see a bare mattress, just a candle for light. My skin crawls. A teenage girl wearing a grubby grey T-shirt and leggings, bare feet on a bare concrete floor. A stinking bucket full of excrement. Her cuffed wrists are chained to a thick metal ring on the wall. Her hair looks gross.
“Get the key, quick. It’s on the wall by the ladder.” She was speaking so quickly I could hardly keep up.
It was simple to unhook the key dangling on the wall and with clammy hands I unlock her cuffs. I can’t imagine the frustration and despondency she must have felt all that time, looking at her only means of escape, so tantalisingly close. I send her up first, and then we are out of the house and running.
“Never mind who she is,” I bark at Jim as he rises, gaping at the girl who’s shielding her eyes from the daylight. “Get the car open for us now. We’re going to the police station.”