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Saturday, 19 September 2015

Saturday fiction – ‘Tidy burglars’

This excerpt is from Chapter 5 of Sudden Vengeance, published in paperback and e-book format by Crooked Cat Publishing, available at the usual outlets. [I could have used the first chapter or two from the book, but they're available to read for free on Amazon anyway.]

                          Youth Let Off
                          Judge Wallside dismissed the case against Steven Campion, 17,
                          charged with sexually assaulting his neighbour’s six-year-old girl.
                          “I understand that while you babysat, the girl was provocative in
                          her nightdress,” the judge said.
                          The parents of the child intend to appeal.
                          A Child Protection Agency spokeswoman said, “This sends out
                          entirely the wrong signals. The judge’s comments were
                          wholly inappropriate.”
                          – The Alverbank Chronicle

Hunched over the Formica table, his small bony frame angular and dejected like some wilting flower, Ben Morrison sat in the kitchen, staring at the mail that had floated to the doormat minutes after his wife, Mary, popped out to catch the bus to Pompey. She was visiting her old friend, Jane. She’d said that on her way back she’d drop in on the corner shop to get a carton of milk – “cheaper than from the milkman”. Unspoken was the fact that they needed to watch the pennies because they had no pounds to look after themselves.

Fingers trembling, he slit open the envelope and, though expecting it, he still could not believe the building society intended to repossess their house.

He must have read the formal letter about ten times but it was still the same, though the words began to swirl in front of his eyes.

A terrible gnawing emptiness settled in his stomach. He removed his spectacles and nervously rubbed his eyes and creased brow. A stray lock of greying brown hair fell across his vision. At least I’ve got all my hair, he thought sanguinely. I’ve got little else!

Wasn’t it enough that he’d lost his job, after all these years? No, the society’s managers weren’t running a charity but a business. They didn’t care about people, not really, only their shareholders and dividends... Market forces, that was it. Just like warfare, he thought, and I’m one of the casualties in the bloody infantry!

Last night’s Alverbank Chronicle lay open on the table. To save money he only got the Thursday edition now, for the job vacancies. Face-up, a quarter-page building society advertisement exhorted first-time buyers to take their special offers, to be sucked into the lender’s unfeeling maw, while houses were taken away from existing customers at an unprecedented rate. The small print exonerated them from responsibility or compassion: “your house might be at risk if you cannot keep up payments”.
The redundancy money – all £10,000 of it! – had paid off a couple of credit cards and they needed the rest to survive until another job – he laughed – came along. Though it wasn’t likely, ageism was so rife and he was all of fifty-two.
Perhaps the building society was right in their assessment. Maybe he was a lost cause, a risk they’d prefer to jettison. He might never get another job, even if the economy perked up. He might never earn enough to repay the loan, at their usurious rates. And, to think, his taxes helped them get out of the mess they had got themselves into!
Whatever Mary and I scraped together over fifteen years to pay off the interest will be lost.

He’d worked for a home over their heads, a future for their retirement, but even that had been a house built on sand: the government destroyed his private pension, made it virtually worthless. In fact, all those pension funds had been used to bolster up the top-heavy creaking government machinery of state. All he’d accomplished was to pay out interest to faceless financiers who squirreled away obscene bonuses. Now they had nothing.
Ben crumpled the damned standard apology letter into a ball and flung it across the kitchen. It landed on the draining board, amidst the breakfast cereal bowls and mugs. Absently buttoning his fawn cardigan, he walked over and brushed the offending paper on the floor. He used too much washing-up liquid, bubbles overflowing, and when he immersed the dishes he scalded his hands, forgetting to let cold into the bowl. He thrust his fingers under the cold tap then, in violent agitated movements, he washed the dishes.
His mind seemed full of cotton wool, like that morning when he drove back from his job in Havant for the last time. He still marvelled how he had managed to arrive home without being in an accident on the M27, because the entire journey was a blank.
To be fair, he’d been warned of the possibility of redundancy. And Steve, his shop-floor manager, had been sympathetic about it. The personnel chap, Dave, he’d been understanding, offering to pass on any vacancy details he got wind of, and they would cover the cost of his postage and phone calls that related to his job search. Never did, though, did he?
Yet the humane approach still couldn’t lighten the dull dead weight in his chest and, worse, his mind.

Then, he’d wondered how they would manage. Now, he realised, they couldn’t.
Ben stared out the kitchen window. Mary’s rockery was looking unkempt. Some of the heather had died. The miniature firs were scorched with frost. Winter was not the best time of year for gardening, he supposed. Not the best time to be left homeless, either. With no family to fall back on, he felt lost, useless. No job, and now no bloody home! He’d failed Mary and most of all himself!
God, he thought, I can’t put her through this!
He kicked the pedal bin.
When he finished stacking the dishes on the worktop, he opened the cutlery drawer and, about to dry the spoons with a tea towel, he noticed his screwdriver and chisel in the side-compartment. “Handy for any quickie jobs,” he constantly explained when Mary Spring-cleaned.

His mouth went dry.
Ben picked up the chisel and glanced at the garage access door.
Gulls screeched and fought over food scraps and pecked at a clutter of cardboard boxes on the pebble-covered shoreline.

From the police station’s office window Paul Knight watched them, his thoughts momentarily transported to the graveside.

In complete contrast to the scavenging birds, the station was relatively quiet. He’d had a busy day and didn’t want to meet too many officers. Most had handed over their duties and left. Paul was grateful for that. The first day back after a death or a funeral was awkward for all concerned. The constant expressions of sympathy, while well meaning, wore you down.

Earlier, Detective Inspector Traynor had called Paul into his office. After offering his condolences, he explained that the case officers, DS Rafferty and DC Brookes, might have a lead. Traynor’s long drawn features were lined, the eyes puffy with lack of sleep. Some years back he must have been a handsome man, yet now he seemed haggard. “A bit too soon to commit ourselves, Knight, but we’ll keep you informed of any progress.”

Detective Sergeant Muir had come in to commiserate, too.

“Thanks for attending the funeral,” Paul said.

Muir was portly, his paunch the result of too many bar lunches perhaps, his lips thick and wet, eyes small, bright blue and evasive. He said in a gravel voice, “Oh, yes, think nothing of it, Paul. Now give my regards to your mother, will you?”

“Do you know her, Sergeant?”

“Oh yes, indeed. Met a few times, at the Adult Education Centre. Nice lady.”

“I see. Yes, I will. And thanks.” Paul wondered what Muir had studied but was not inclined to raise the subject. Mum had done art, life-drawing, but couldn’t master the foreshortening perspective, she said, so she gave up, which was unusual – she never gave up on anything else, she wasn’t the sort. As it was while Dad was unemployed, maybe she didn’t want to pay out for any more term-fees.

Paul pulled his attention from the window and the seagulls, and watched Sue White, one of the civilian staff, as she inserted a blank Incident Log form – quadruple carbon-impregnated paper – into the computer.
Three of his reports down, one to go, he mused ruefully.
The day had been typical: four burglaries, taking down statements, completing the Property Taken form (in duplicate), feeling anger at the sight of the wanton destruction left in the wake of the culprits. Prized possessions trampled underfoot, carpets fouled, drawers and cupboards damaged; the list was endless. And insurance was little compensation. At each crime scene, he kept getting flashes of Gran, of her flat...
Of the four reported break-ins he attended, only one seemed to be professional. They took the DVD player, two televisions, and a hallmarked silver cutlery set, but left everything else untouched.

While inwardly he boiled to think these people believed they had the right to steal, he found himself agreeing with the aggrieved pensioners that “at least they didn’t do any damage”!

What have we come to, he wondered, when we feel grateful for being robbed by tidy burglars?

I am doing the right thing, Ben Morrison thought. From time to time, he took his eyes off the road to glance at the chisel on the passenger seat. It seemed to offer reassurance.

He drove his old blue Ford Fiesta into town and passed a string of boarded-up commercial premises. There was the empty block once owned by Woolworths, its windows now covered by wooden boards plastered over with tattered old election posters. The only places doing any kind of trade were the fast food outlets and charity shops. The town’s heart had been plucked out of it. He knew how the town felt.

Everywhere were yellow lines – and the car parks charged, which simply dissuaded shoppers from visiting the town. By chance, Ben found a parking spot at the curb opposite the building society. He switched off the engine and waited.

It was dark when he pulled out from the kerb and followed the black BMW driven by Mr. Dilwyn bloody Upperton, the building society manager. A company car, of course, Ben thought. His own car repayments were already a month outstanding. It was only a matter of time before he’d lose that as well.

The car radio played Classic FM, but he didn’t hear; Mendelssohn’s music had no calming effect on him this evening.

He steered the vehicle almost in a dream, keeping the BMW just within sight as they negotiated the evening traffic and headed out of town.

After about thirty minutes, they turned into the new Barrett development on the outskirts, ‘Cormorant Nest’. Five bedroom homes, two en suite bedrooms, double garages, study, games room. Only Two Remaining, proclaimed the billboard.

He drove slowly past as Upperton turned into the wide brick-laid drive of a Georgian-style detached house.

Pulling in a little further down the narrow road, Ben glanced guiltily at the chisel. His heart pounded and his fingers trembled. He felt out of place here, amidst so much executive wealth. It was intimidating. Then he checked the gently curving road. Nobody about. A few porch lights shone with a buttery glow, but the street lamps offered poor illumination.

He carefully put the tool in the pocket of his green anorak and got out of the car. His outer garment rustled at every movement. Eyeing the street, he unzipped it, removed the chisel, put it in his back pocket and flung the anorak on the passenger seat. He didn’t feel the cold; too intent on what he felt compelled to do. No point in locking the door, he thought.

He made his way along the path towards the Upperton house, hurried across the open lawn and quickly slunk into the shadows afforded by a row of evergreen bushes leading up to the back entrance. His heart pounded as he climbed the wrought iron gate, and fleetingly remembered the last time he’d scaled a garden gate, when courting Mary! Then, they’d been young, with the prospects of a good happy future. A gust of cold air caught the area over his kidneys as the pullover rode up at the back. He shivered as he landed on the other side.
Within a few seconds, he was out of breath after running over soft soil to the shadows of a small wooden garden shed.

By the time he reached the back of the house, his shoes were quite heavy, caked in mud.

The lights were on in the kitchen, the downstairs lounge and also one upstairs room. Upperton’s probably changing out of his day clothes, he thought.
He peered through a gap in the curtain of the French window.
Upperton’s blonde wife was in a long lounge, playing with two boys whose ages couldn’t be more than six or seven. A loving domestic scene, which he cast from his thoughts and turned away.

His legs felt like jelly. It wasn’t too late to back off, to get away. Ben reached for the chisel’s firm smooth wooden handle. He moved towards the kitchen’s back door, momentarily warmed by the exhaust fumes from the central heating flue. The kitchen door was closed but unlocked, so he wouldn’t need the chisel after all.
He opened the door, stepped inside and, guiltily recalling the recent image of Upperton’s wife, he slipped off his muddy shoes.
Heart hammering, he crossed the cushion-floor of the fitted teak kitchen and tensely waited at the ajar door. Squinting through the opening, he confirmed the hallway was clear.
Soundless in his stocking-feet, Ben dashed through the hall and up the stairs, sweat pouring in fear as he expected someone to come out and accost him at any minute.
He was halfway up when he realised he should have stopped a second to yank out the hall telephone jack. Too late now, though. He continued on up the stairs.
Light only showed in the gap underneath one door, at the back of the house. His mouth was very dry as he walked across the landing and opened the bedroom door. The decor was predominantly peach-coloured.
Upperton was singing under a shower in the bathroom adjoining the bedroom.

Ben remembered Upperton’s cold, heartless letter of intent he’d received in the mail. Was it only this morning? Heart suddenly hardened, he stepped through the doorway and crossed the thick-pile carpet to the bathroom.
On the bed was Upperton’s business suit, discarded like an unwanted shell. Ben wanted to rend the material, cut open the bed’s mattress, but that would be mindless and Mary would never forgive him. No, he would deal solely with Upperton, show the bastard for good and all!

Gripping the chisel in his right hand, Ben pushed the bathroom door wide.
Ben Morrison wailed in despair and rushed straight at Upperton as the manager stepped out of the shower cubicle.
Overweight, his pink flesh wet and glistening, Upperton was transfixed. His eyes dropped to the weapon in Ben’s hand. He squeaked, “Who the blazes!”
Ben hurled the chisel away from him and it clattered noisily into the bath. Upperton flinched as Ben took a step closer, trembling with anger. “You people in your fancy posh houses!” he sobbed. “You have no idea the pain and worry you cause!” He took another step and shoved shaking hands at Upperton’s flabby chest. He pushed, the contact of his palms against cold clammy flesh unnerving.

Upperton exclaimed and overbalanced against a set of weighing-scales. His outstretched hand grabbed the shower curtain, tearing it and the rail down. Upperton fell heavily on the carpet floor, his belly and flaccid sex wobbling.
His heart hammering, Ben wiped his hands on his shirt, his throat dry. He turned on his heel and dashed onto the landing and down the stairs.
In a final act of frustration, he lashed out with his hand at a Chinese-style vase at the foot of the stairs in the hall. As it smashed on the floor, he wrenched open the front door.

“Dilwyn, what on earth is–?” Mrs. Upperton came out of the lounge and gasped. “Oh, my God!”

Leaving the door swinging open, Ben raced over the grass, the soft moist surface uncomfortable on the soles of his stocking feet. My shoes! But he kept on running.
He jerked open his car door and pushed the key in the ignition. He drove away, steering erratically, hands tight-clenched, eyes streaming.
He couldn’t do it.
Failed even in his attempt at retribution.
A complete failure!

Chapter headings carry news items based on real events.
Alverbank is a fictional town on the south coast of Hampshire, England.
The funeral was Paul's gran, her death as a result of a robbery.
The reference to Paul’s mother has dramatic repercussions later in the story.
Ben’s ordeal is not over yet, either…

Sudden Vengeance – paperback and e-book

 Amazon COM here

 Amazon UK here





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