‘Hello? Mr. Mason?’ a man’s voice called through the letterbox, ‘I’m Malcolm. I’m here to check your gas meter. Mr. Mason?’
Sam dared not move, laid flat on the living room floor, arm-deep in the bowels of Mr. Mason’s three piece suite.
The doorbell rang twice more, then silence.
He retrieved his arm from the slit in the settee, along with an engraved money clip pinning a wad of notes together.
Happy 80th, Dad, from all of us.
Sam tossed it in his bag.
He crept upstairs and peered through the bedroom window. He could see the top of the gas man’s head, still standing there. Gas man... on a Sunday? Since when? Spying the keys in the window handle, he turned the lock and, with a tinkle of metal, pocketed them.
He knew Mr. Mason wouldn’t be back for hours: he’d been following him home from chapel, every Sunday, for weeks.
The room was a shrine to a woman whose photographs took her no further past the age of fifty. The shoulder pads and frizzy bouffant rendered her long dead. Wedding rings and jewellery nibbled at the edges of a pocket bible in the bedside drawer. All went in the bag, alongside their wedding photo, faded and fragile in its antique frame.
I’m doing him a favour. Now he can’t mope around every time he sees her face. That’s why I got rid of all my photos: Mum, the kids, everyone. Gone. Now I don’t feel anything when I think about them.
He set Mr. Mason’s alarm clock for 2am, smirking at his ingenuity, and checked under the mattress for more money: nothing.
Creeping downstairs, he heard the floorboards creak in the front hall.
‘Mr. Mason? Are you there?’ The voice was thin; suspicious; inside the house. It was Malcolm the gas man. Sam tiptoed back upstairs, heart thudding in his chest.
Sam heard the man prowl around Mr. Mason’s living room, the floor whining with each illicit step, double checking: ‘Is anybody there?’
Sam, slow and mute, inched towards the upstairs bathroom and slipped inside, gently locking the door. The window was stiff as he pulled it up, but he swung his leg over the windowsill and slithered out, graceless, bag strap lassoed around his neck.
He was grateful for the close proximity of the water pipe, and hooked his leg around it. Tentative, he slid down the pipe, praying the man wasn’t facing his direction. He wasn’t; Sam had a full view of the skull tattoo plastered on the back of his neck.
His gut lurched. Sam hadn’t felt like this since they’d both been inside.
He crawled round the side of the house then broke into a run, head down, eyes darting, unsure where to go. What did it matter? He couldn’t escape Malky Ballantine. How the hell did he manage to get out of prison?
He put three blocks between them before stopping for breath. Hands shaking, he searched his pockets for his mobile phone, flipped it open and dialled.
‘Hello? I need to report a robbery.’
published 19 June 2013