A Good Day’s Work

Just the contents of my tool-bag could earn me a prison sentence. ‘Going equipped’ the police call it – and what an apt description it is. I’m equipped to force windows, pick locks, and snip wires. I even have a little electro-magnetic gizmo to neutralize some of the latest digital alarms. Not that I expect to need that this afternoon.
This is my favourite sort of property, a big, detached house at the end of the village, high hedge surrounding the garden and no alarm system. Both adults work and the kids are at school. Easy. Virtually risk-free.
I reverse my battered white van with the recycled number plates through the gate and park just inside. Nobody from the street can see past the van; it’s as good as being invisible.
Just in case, I ring the doorbell. I’m dressed as a workman, white overalls, white gloves, even a fake identity badge. No answer. Let’s get cracking then. I score along the edges of the glass pane nearest the lock, cover the glass with sticky paper and give it a sharp knock. It falls out, sweet as a nut, and leaves no jagged edges on which I could cut myself. I put my hand through, turn the handle of the Yale and the door swings open. I don’t know – some people just invite crime; no deadlock, no security bolt, nothing.
I’m not malicious in the way that I search a property, but I am thorough. Drawers out and upturned and not just to inspect the contents quickly – you’d be amazed at what people tape underneath drawers. Most of what I find is in desks and dressing tables, but every so often there’s a waterproof package in the cistern or a neat little envelope of cash in the drawer under the bed. I don’t bother to lift creaky floorboards; if you go to that much trouble you can keep your money as far as I’m concerned. Cash, jewellery, cameras, watches – small, high value items, that’s all I take
The last place that I look is always the kitchen. I check the biscuit tins and the tea caddy even though I’ve never found anything there. You can call it sentiment or superstition if you like, but my Gran in South Wales used to keep her savings in the caddy, and it would feel wrong, almost impolite, to leave without checking.
The kitchen here is at the back, and it‘s while I’m looking through the cupboards that I hear footsteps crunch across the gravel towards the front door. Crucial question number one; is it the family or neighbours? Family will come in, neighbours may not. Crucial question number two; can I get out of the back door, sprint to the van and get out of the drive without being seen clearly? I congratulate myself on my cautious habit of always parking the van facing outwards.
The footsteps have stopped. Whoever it is, they’re examining the door, realising that a burglary has taken place and wondering whether the burglar is still inside. “Indeed I am, madam,” I think to myself. The humour galvanises me, and I slide noiselessly across the kitchen towards the back door.
Hell! Two big bolts and a mortice lock. I strain up to the top bolt and try to slide it silently back. Silently! The only reason it makes no noise is because it doesn’t move. I put my full force behind it, heedless of any disturbance. It won’t budge, and I can’t get any leverage because it’s too high.
I hear somebody clear their throat. It is a young male cough, the sort that means “I’m scared stiff but I’m coming for you anyway”. Hell!
I don’t do violence, I do flight. As the footsteps stride up the hall to the kitchen, I’m on the work surface opening the catch of the window, pushing it and – it doesn’t open. It’s security bolted. I sprint for the door to the dining room, just as the kitchen door bursts open.
As I dodge through, I hear my pursuer’s steps slither as he changes direction abruptly to follow me. I sidestep through into the lounge and head across the room towards the hallway, the front door and freedom. I get as far as the middle of the room when fourteen stone of muscle takes me round the legs and I crash down, luckily falling onto a heavily padded sofa rather than the highly polished wooden floor. Even so, the impact and the fact that I stunned myself on the arm of the sofa leaves me feeling groggy and in no condition to run. I give myself a few seconds breather.
A forceful arm grabs my shoulder, and a triumphant voice snarls, “Right, let’s have a look at you then.” There’s no way I can resist and I’m turned over.
My captor’s grin of satisfaction fades rapidly.
“Ruth?” he enquires hoarsely. Oh my God, he’s a student on the same course as me. What are the odds against that?
“Alan! I didn’t know you lived in this part of the country.”
“What the hell are you doing in the house?”
“Burgling it, of course. You really ought to get your parents to upgrade their security. It was laughably easy to get in. Now, would you mind letting me sit up? This is hardly decorous. I won’t try running away, I promise.”
Alan moves away – a shame really, he’s quite cosy close to, and he smells very nice. His eyes are warm and brown. I gingerly sit up and straighten my overalls and try to tidy my hair.
“Well, you’ve put me in a tricky position haven’t you?” he grumbles.
“Oh, I don’t know. You call the police, hand me over and receive the applause I would have thought. What’s tricky about that?”
“You know perfectly well that I’m not going to do that, Ruth. How am I going to explain the busted glass in the door to my parents if I’m covering up for you?”
Alan’s such a sweetie. Six foot one, broad, athletic and tender-hearted. Pity he’s so stupid.
“Yellow pages. Glazier. They’ll do an instant job probably. Listen, if you’re letting me go, I’ll pay for the glass to be replaced.”
“Damn right you will. Hey, you didn’t – well, pinch anything before I got here did you?”
I point to the rifled drawers of the desk.
“You’ll have to give it back.”
With a show of reluctance I open my bag and take out two cameras, an iPod, a handful of jewellery and a rather nice Rolex. A pity; it would have been a good haul, at least a couple of grand even from the villain with whom I deal.
“Right, go and put it back and tidy up, while I arrange for the door to be mended. Then, would you like a cup of tea?” Tender-hearted? Daft as a brush, more like.
I’m almost as quick and neat in putting things back as I am in searching them in the first place, and it’s not long before I’ve finished. Alan solemnly hands me a cup of tea.
“Why do you do it, Ruth?” Now that the excitement of the chase is over he looks pained.
“I’ve got to pay my way through college somehow, Alan, and it beats hell out of bar work.”
“Yeah, but there’s student loans and things”. He sounds peevish.
“Start my career with a great big debt of twenty grand? Do me a favour. I bet that’s not how you’re doing it!”
“No, you’re right. My parents are being very generous. Are you really hard up, then?”
“Pretty short.”
“Look, don’t worry about the glass; I’ll sort that.” Taking candy from a kid.
“Alan, you’re a real sweetie,” I assure him earnestly, gazing into his eyes. I let my lips barely brush against his, feel the sparks fly, and pull away slowly, gently, with seeming reluctance.
“I must go now. Thank you. Thank you for being so understanding, Alan. See you next term!”
I leave him standing in a haze of endorphins, walk through the front door – still swinging open – and drive away.
I park the van in the yard – the scrapyard from which I recycle my number plates – and pull out the water-proof package. Nobody who hides things in a cistern is likely to report them missing…..
I open it neatly, and turn the contents over and over in my hands. A stack of fifty pound notes, no fewer than one hundred of them. Not such a bad day’s work after all!

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