by Janet Howson
coffee and sourdough toast
It must have been about a week since the burglary. Jason’s IT equipment had only been returned to him yesterday. He had missed his phone and laptop the most. He had always been a techy and his job was completely reliant on him having all the backup details of his sales on his own equipment.
He had tried not to think too much about his neighbour, Nat. He had reported to the police that he had inadvertently found his stolen gear in a broom cupboard in Nat’s flat and he knew his neighbour had been taken down to the police station as he had seen him go from his window that looked over the car park. Such a shame; he had seemed such a great guy and Jason had to admit he fancied him. Oh well, that was not to be.
It was Saturday his food shop day, a job he particularly disliked. He had toyed with the idea of having a food delivery but had never quite got round to organising it, so until he did it was back to pushing a trolley round Sainsbury’s.
A knock at the door startled him. Who could this be so early on a Saturday? Most of his friends didn’t put a foot out of bed until 10am at the weekend. He was glad he had showered and dressed early. He hadn’t slept well since the burglary, tossing and turning, going over the events in his mind until he would get up and read or go on Twitter or Facebook. He opened the door as far as his new safety chain would let him. What he could see through the gap shocked him. It was Nat, standing there, as bold as brass, smiling at him.
“Hi,” Nat leaned forward to make sure Jason could hear him without disturbing any of the other tenants. “I know I am not your favourite person at the moment, but could I explain what happened that night. Then you can never speak to me again if you so choose?”
Jason was speechless for a moment, then, pulled himself together enough to reply. “You’ve got a nerve haven’t you? First of all you invite me in for coffee in the knowledge you had just stolen from me and now you want to explain your behaviour!”
“I didn’t do it, Jason, I am perfectly innocent.”
“How can that be? The stolen goods were in your cupboard,” Jason felt himself getting angry and raising his voice.
“We really shouldn’t be discussing police affairs in the corridor. Can I come in for five minutes to put you in the picture?”
Reluctantly, Jason took off the safety chain and let Nat into the corridor of his flat. He was taller and more athletically built than Jason and for a horrible moment he wondered if he would turn on him for informing the police that he had his stolen goods. He stepped backwards putting distance between them.
“Well, what is your version of the events?”
“This is going to sound ridiculous but it’s true. I can hardly believe it myself.” Nat took a deep breath, ready to reveal all. He was obviously nervous.
“That night I had met a man at a club. We seemed to get on with each other really well so I invited him back to my flat for a drink and a chat; nothing else. He seemed very keen. We sat on the balcony until it got dark and he asked if he could stay the night as he had missed his last train home and anyway his work place was nearer my place than his. I thought no more of it and I had drunk a lot of wine, so I wasn’t thinking straight. I said he could use the sofa bed and I got him a pillow, duvet etc. I sparked out in my bedroom and slept like a log.
The next morning I went to wake him and offer him some breakfast when, to my surprise, the room was empty and the sofa bed not slept in. I wasn’t really upset as I had only known him for a few hours, so I just put it down to experience, then the doorbell went and I thought it was him coming back for something he’d left or even to say sorry for disappearing. However, it was you and in you came with your story of woe and I felt so sorry for you not realising the stolen goods were in my broom cupboard. You must have thought me so presumptuous to invite you in under the circumstances,” he paused looking weary.
“You might as well come into the lounge and take the weight of your feet. You look a bit pale.”
“Thank you. I haven’t been able to sleep or eat properly since it all happened.”
Once they were both sitting down in Jason’s front room, Nat continued with his story. “When the police came round and asked to search the broom cupboard I thought the world had gone mad. What would they find in there? I even made them a cup of tea. However, they had soon found your equipment and arrived back in my sitting room holding it. They asked me what it was doing there. I was so taken aback I could hardly answer. I knew I hadn’t put it there so that only left my evening guest. I told them I hadn’t touched it at all so the thief’s DNA would be all over the goods. I had to accompany them down to the police station where they took my DNA and used it to compare with the DNA on the speakers. Even though I knew I was innocent, I felt I was treated like a criminal. It was not a very good experience. I told them about my guest that night but because I didn’t have a name for him or a number they couldn’t follow it up. They are hoping he will call round or, more likely, break in to reclaim his booty. He obviously didn’t take the equipment that evening because he would need transport to get it home. I can’t sleep in case he arrives in the middle of the night. However, up to now, I have heard nothing from him.”
Jason took a moment to take all this information in. Was Nat telling the truth? The police wouldn’t have let him go if they suspected him. If Nat’s guest did take his IT equipment, he was bound to try and get it back at some time?
“Hey, that is bad news. You must be on edge all the time. Do you have time for a coffee? I can’t offer any croissants but I do a good slice of sourdough toast,” Jason smiled for the first time, at his guest.
Nat let out a sigh of relief, “I didn’t think you’d believe me, I can hardly believe it myself. Yes, I would love a very strong cup of coffee and your toast sounds wonderful.”
Jason busied himself in the kitchen, wondering if this awful mess could, perhaps, have an happy ending? He had always believed in fate. That your life was planned out for you and the path you take is inevitable. Well, this could be a good example of this. If it hadn’t been for the burglary they may never have met up, remaining passing strangers on the stairs.
He returned to the lounge carrying a tray with the drinks and plates of toast. He suddenly felt hungry as he hadn’t felt eaten much since the burglary. “Help yourself, Nat, plenty where that came from.”
“I feel I can relax a bit out of my flat. I feel nervous all the time, with every creek or noise in the corridor making me think he is back. I tried to describe him to the police, but I had drunk so much I could hardly remember a thing. I wonder now if he put sleeping tablets in my wine because I slept like the dead.”
“If he is a seasoned criminal with a record then they will be able to match his D&A to that found on the stolen goods,” Jason added, “there is a very good chance they will catch him and your worries will be over.”
“I hope so. Anyway, how about you? It must all have been a shock to you as well. What are you up to at the moment?”
“Oh, not a lot; work and more work. Oh, I am rehearsing for a Murder Mystery Evening my drama group is performing at a golf club. I’m John the murder victim’s, old boss who has a grudge against Joseph, for usurping him from his former position. I haven’t got a lot to learn but I’ve had difficulties concentrating on anything. I was going to get down to it today. This chat has helped me relax though, so you never know I might have it all done and dusted by tonight.”
“Yes, same here. I have loads of writing to catch up on but my concentration is on the floor. I keep thinking I can hear something and it turns out to be perfectly innocent, like letters coming through the mail box.”
Jason felt sorry for him and then on the spur of the moment he suggested, “Why don’t you bring your stuff over and work from my flat? That way you won’t be worrying all the time.” He couldn’t believe he was saying it, “I have my lines to learn and some shopping to do, so I won’t be in your hair. You can help yourself to tea and coffee and just make yourself at home.” He paused then added, “of course, don’t feel you are obliged, I can understand if you would prefer to stay in your own flat.” He leant forward to take a piece of toast feeling warmth spread over his face, and waited for the response from Nat.
“That sounds a very generous offer and I would love to take it up, I will pop over and get my laptop,” he leant over and squeezed Jason’s free hand. “Thank you.”
Jason waited for Nat’s return, still amazed he had been so bold. He normally waited for others to initiate, he was more of a follower. He had a good feeling about this though. He tidied up the coffee cups and plates, smiling to himself for the first time since the burglary. He found his script of The Murder Mystery feeling motivated at last to start learning his lines. Settling down in a chair, he waited for Nat to return and somehow he knew this was the start of something good.
About the auhtor
Janet Howson was born in Rochdale but moved to the South of England when she was seventeen. She loved writing and reading from an early age and wrote poetry and plays. Shejoined an amateur Drama group when she was eighteen and her love of the theatre began. She trained to be a teacher and her two subjects were English and Drama. She then went on to teach for thirty five years in Comprehensive schools in Redbridge, Havering and Essex. During this time she wrote and directed plays for the pupils and continued to be involved in Amateur Drama both as a performer and a director. Now she is retired, Janet has joined two writing groups and with the help and advice she has received here, started to write short stories and has had stories published in anthologies and her first novel, Charitable Thoughts can be found on Amazon Books. She intends to continue writing both novels and stories, adapting some of them into theatre scripts and radio plays.
The Best of CafeLit 8 an anthology published by Chapletown Books 2019
Stories included: Marking Time & Induction Day.
Nativity an anthology published by Bridge House 2019
Story included: Solution.
Charitable Thoughts a novella published by Austin Macauley
Can be found on Amazon Books
It happened in Essex: tall tales from the Basildon Writers’ Group
Can be found on Amazon books