Mrs Prendacast's Handbag
Three weeks prior to the eventful, possibly life-changing day, Jack returned to his family village having completed two years of his latest prison sentence. During the last twenty years of his life fifteen of them have been spent incarcerated at Her Majesty's pleasure: punishment for his regular straying from the 'straight and narrow'.
His parents, Ted and Mary, still live in the ancestral two bedroom terraced cottage. At forty-two years old, he has no option but to live at home. As a result of his extensive criminal record, full-time employment is not an option available to him so he doesn't have a regular wage income, just minimal social benefits. He needs to accept their offer of free accommodation.
Apart from when he has to leave the village for the pointless visit to the job centre, he spends the majority of his days sitting on one of the benches on the village green breathing the free, fresh country air. The claustrophobia he's developed in prison means he needs to be outside rather than spending his time sitting indoors in the small cottage. He has spent too much 'time' in small rooms.
He knows the majority of the villagers consider him bone-idle and not to be trusted. There are some who use him occasionally as a cheap, cash-in-hand, dog’s body for the unpleasant jobs they consider below their status. Mrs Prendacast and the members of her social circle are vociferous in their public condemnation of Jack's life style: his sponging off his parents and society.
During his most recent prison term, Jack decided he needs to change before the cell walls crush him forever. The physical fitness routine and the education programme he undertook had the goal of producing a new Jack.
But could he change? Was he fooling himself?
Last Monday morning started the same as the previous three since his release. Jack was sitting at his usual place watching the villagers going about their normal routines. He noted the older folks going into the combination village shop and post office. He assumed they were cashing some of their pension to buy a few bits and bobs. He saw Mrs Prendacast go in.
He doubted if she really needed the money given the large house she lives in and the expensive car her husband drives. When she came out, he saw her checking her money again in her purse to make sure it was safely tucked away. She then put the purse in her handbag which in turn she hung on her left shoulder. The shoulder nearest to the road as she walked away from the shop.
Jack noticed a cyclist, who he recognised from his prison days, travelling down the road behind, and going in the same direction as the walking Mrs Prendacast. She did not seem aware of the fast moving cyclist, that she was clearly his target, and that the gap between them was rapidly reducing.
Jack knew what he had to do.
He leapt to his feet and started his dash towards Mrs Prendacast. He knew his new level of physical fitness would get him to the right position and at the right time for his plan to be successful.
As Jack's feet left the soft, slippery grass of the village green, still on the opposite side of the road to them, the cyclist drew level with Mrs Prendacast. Jack knew what was going to happen next. As his feet came in contact with the firm, abrasive tarmac he accelerated his sprinting speed to ensure he reached the far side of the road in time. He had to successfully complete his part in the action.
Jack heard Mrs Prendacast scream out: 'Help! Help me someone! He's stolen my bag! Thief! Stop that thief!'
The cyclist had violently grabbed the handbag from Mrs Prendacast's shoulder as he passed her. He pushed hard on the pedals of the bike to get away as fast as he could.
He'd been concentrating on his prey and obviously hadn't noticed Jack coming at speed from his left. He clearly didn't see the flying tackle coming. He would suddenly have felt the full strength and weight of Jack as the body-check crashed into his upper torso. A pair of arms wrapped around his chest as he was forcibly grabbed from his bike and dumped on the pavement.
The crash onto the paving slabs appeared to knock all the air from his lungs, and the weight of Jack's body bearing down on him, meant there was no struggle to escape or movement of any kind by the cyclist Two workmen who had seen and heard the mêlée of the attempted mugging ran to help Jack restrain the failed robber.
Once they had control of the mugger Jack removed Mrs Prendacast's handbag from his grasp and handed it back to her, with the sarcastic comment: 'Best to keep a firmer hold of it in future. You never know if there are thieves and spongers about!'
'Thank you … Thank you … for your help,' she stammered, 'I never expected that of you!'
Mrs Prendacast, the members of her social circle, and other villagers are no doubt now wondering has Jack changed from poacher to gamekeeper? Or is it part of another of his con tricks?
But they’ll have to wait and see – won’t they?
About the Author
Elliot Sampford considers himself a self-taught novice short story writer although he has maintained a weblog for several years. He moved to Spain in 2006 but now lives mainly back in Lincolnshire in the UK, interspersed with periods in Spain in the winter months. His weblog is: http://www.elliotsampford.blogspot.co.uk