Friday 5 January 2018

Lame Excuses

Richard Hough

a cup of tea with a drop of whisky (for purely medicinal purposes) and a slice of lemon cake.

“Hello, is anyone at home?”

Mike pushed the wooden door which was slightly ajar and shouted in greeting again, poking his head into the gap as he did so.

“Who is it, who’s there?”

Approaching from a room to the left was an elderly looking man with a pronounced stoop. Mike felt a brief pang of jealousy at the man’s rather splendid moustache. The man was also wearing an old fashioned pair of glasses. He peered over the top of these at the couple who were standing on the doorstep, the man already partly in the house.

“What do you want?” he demanded breathlessly.

“Oh hello, I’m sorry to bother you. I’m Mike and this is my wife Dawn. We’re a little lost out here in the sticks and I’m afraid we’ve broken down. I can’t seem to get a signal on my mobile. I guess it’s all the trees. We couldn’t impose on you and use your phone could we?”

Bob looked Mike squarely in the eye as if in judgement.

“I’m in a hurry to get out, you’ll have to go somewhere else” he said gruffly and began to push the door to.

As he did so, his stern gaze moved from Mike to Dawn. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed the crutches and the bulky cast on her left leg though she had been largely obscured by her husband. Gradually he raised his gaze to Dawn’s face. Her beautiful blue eyes seemed to be welling with tears and were pleading with him. Against his better judgement, he felt he had to help.

“You’d better come in but I’ve only got a couple of minutes before I need to be out of the house.”

The couple followed Bob into a dark hallway lined with oak panelling. Bob indicated the room from which he’d apparently exited when meeting the couple at the door.

“The phone’s in there but be quick!”

Despite Bob’s grumpiness, Mike smiled as he entered what turned out to be the lounge.

“Thanks ever so much, you’re an absolute life saver. I’ll just call a garage and we’ll get back to the car to wait. It should only take a minute.”

Bob attempted to stick close behind but instead of following the two men into the room, Dawn loitered a little in the hallway.

“Excuse me. I couldn’t be really cheeky and use your loo while Mike makes the call could I?”

Bob sighed and checked his watch ostentatiously.

“I suppose it will be alright. The bathroom’s up the stairs and first door on the right. There’s a stair lift you can use if you can’t manage the climb.”

“Thanks very much” said Dawn as she hauled herself towards the gloomy staircase.

“I’ll be as quick as I can.”

As soon as she was out of sight of the men, Dawn opened an invisible hinge on the cast and removed it from her leg. She scurried upstairs in total silence, grateful that none of the treads seemed to be loose and creaky. She rested the crutches against the wall on the landing and with a cursory glance down the stairs to ensure she wasn’t being observed, passed through the first doorway on the left. She assumed this was going to be the master bedroom, being at the front of the house.

She was not mistaken. Dawn had indeed entered a large room with a double bed in the middle of the far wall. She was surprised to see the room decorated with such modern taste especially given the age of the man downstairs. Hopefully Mike was keeping him fully occupied. Quickly making her way to the pine bedside cabinets Dawn began her work. She carefully opened each of the drawers so that she wouldn’t be heard.

“Damn!” she thought, “just a load of cheap costume jewellery. Still, we can’t leave empty handed. It’ll raise a few quid somewhere.”

She continued her search, methodically rifling through each drawer gathering what she felt might be saleable and putting it all in her large handbag.

Meanwhile having made a bogus call to a non-existent mechanic, Mike was struggling to engage Bob in conversation. He had to make sure Dawn had enough time to complete her search.

“It’s a nice place you have here. What are the neighbours like?”

“I guess they’re alright.”

“Still, I don’t suppose it matters too much, you’re not exactly living on top of each other.”

“I don’t really know them, I haven’t been here very long myself.”

Dawn continued to ransack the upstairs of the house, having now moved on to other rooms. Experience had taught her to move quickly.

“Dawn and I have been looking around a few houses in the area. When we’ve saved a decent deposit, we’d quite like to move out this way so we can start a family. The area we live in is a bit rough and the schools are really not very good.”

“Look, how long is your wife going to be? I have to go.”

“I’m sure she won’t be long. It’s been a bit difficult for her to do anything since she had her accident. She slipped down a wet fire escape when they were having a drill at her office. The doctor said she won’t really be right for several months. Perhaps I should check on her.”

Going to the foot of the stairs, Mike shouted.

“Are you alright love? It’s just that this gentleman has to go out. We’re holding him up.”

“Yes I’m fine. I’m just on my way.”

Bob, having checked his watch again, picked up the shopping bag which had been sitting by the armchair positioned nearest to the fireplace.

“I have to go, I’ll miss my bus! They don’t come through the village very often and I need to be somewhere else.”

“Normally I’d offer you a lift but I have no idea how long the mechanic will be. You know what these blokes are like. That’s assuming he can get us going again of course.”

“No, no it’s alright but I really have to go. Just shut the door behind you when you leave.”

Before Mike could make any further disingenuous protestations, Bob was scurrying out of the front door at a quicker pace than his appearance would suggest was possible.

Once Bob had gone, Mike sauntered up the stairs to join Dawn. She jumped slightly when he spoke.

“It’s alright you can take your time.”

“Oh my god, what have you done with the old man? You haven’t...?”

“Of course I bloody well haven’t. No, he’s just gone out. He more or less said to help ourselves to anything that takes our fancy and lock up when we leave!”

Dawn flashed her dazzling white teeth in a broad grin and returned to the task in hand.

“There’s not much of any real value. There’s probably not much cash either – I certainly haven’t found any. Still, we can do a thorough search now he’s gone. There might be something downstairs.”

Mike grinned too. Sometimes it was too easy. People in these poxy little villages still didn’t feel the need to lock their doors. Most of them remembered the Blitz when it was safer not to lock up. They were so damned trusting. The pickings weren’t so rich but the risks were much lower.

Bob made his way into the street and walked swiftly away from the house. He slipped off his glasses and put them in the bag. They clinked as they fell onto the collection of jewel encrusted gold and silver – bracelets, necklaces, earrings and a couple of very nice watches. That lot would bring in a tidy sum even after the fence had taken his share. Removing his reversible jacket, he turned it inside out and put it back on again.

He took a deep breath as he heard the distant sirens. It was a bit close for comfort and that couple turning up like that didn’t do much for his nerves. He really was getting a little too old for all this. These new fangled alarms are getting too complicated with their direct links to the police stations. It’s just a good job the house was out of town and the station is not well manned. Perhaps he should retire now he’d secured another nice little nest egg.

The sirens grew louder as they approached the house. He’d left just in time; nothing wrong with his sense of timing at least. Hopefully, that nice couple will be able to explain everything. Bob felt a bit guilty but they would be able to show the police their broken down car and the mechanic should be on his way. They might even get a lift from a helpful policeman.  He reflected hopefully on the inaccuracy of Mike and Dawn’s description of him as he straightened his back and tugged off the final part of his disguise, the moustache. This he tossed into a hedge to line some future bird’s nest and he began to whistle.

About the author

Richard Hough is a writer from nowhere in particular. He has a strange mind and has been published in more than twenty magazines. He is still hoping to make a breakthrough so he can afford to buy a new shed.

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