Ladies Who Lunch
He has to be careful on the autumn leaves. They are alternately crisp and dry, crunching horribly under his trainers as though to give the game away, and wet and slimy, making him slip and slide. Looking back, it was as though they had been trying to warn him off.
The house is dark. Just as it should be. A fence panel at the bottom of the garden has come away, that’s how he got through – up the garden path, easy does it, finding his way in the dark across the treacherous leaves, up to the back door with its single-glazed panels of glass.
He takes a chisel from his bag, props it against the glass and gives a swift tap with a hammer. The small pane of glass shatters obligingly, and allows him to reach his hand through to the key left in the lock – bingo! – and give it a twist.
Although the house is empty – he has been keeping an eye on it for days – he is virtually silent as he moves swiftly through the ground floor. This is how he does it, a quick inventory of the ground floor, just in case there is something small and valuable he can carry off, but it is jewellery and secret stashes of cash he is after and they are generally kept upstairs.
A quick look confirms he is wasting his time in the dining room, but he is not disheartened – this is a large, grand house, there is money here. He pushes open the door to the lounge, a long, cruel knife in his left hand which he carries always, just in case. To his dismay, sitting there only in the feeble light through the uncloaked window, is a group of ladies. He grips the knife behind his back. One of them stands. “About bloody time – you’re late.”
He stands open-mouthed as another woman bustles down the hallway behind him and snaps on the light. “You’re late,” she tells him and steers him by the elbow to an armchair, while one of her companions pulls the enormous curtains to a close.
He is confused; they have mistaken him for someone else, have no idea he is here to rob them. His mind works quickly; there are about a dozen of them, ladies in long, formal dresses looking as though they have gathered for a coffee morning… in the dark. Best to go along with the misunderstanding, bluff it out and escape as soon as possible. He pushes the knife up his coat sleeve; he has no respect for other people’s property, but no wish to spill blood. Besides, burglary carries a light sentence, harming middle-aged ladies does not.
The woman who hustled him into the chair stands over him now, looking down fiercely like a headmistress. “Well? What have you got to say for yourself?”
“Um, I’m sorry I’m late?”
They all start to laugh, catching each others’ eyes and laughing harder and harder. He smiles, nervously at first, then begins to laugh with them, partly out of relief. It is ok, it is going to be fine. No harm done. But the laughter gets wilder and some of the ladies begin to rock with it. Others clutch their stomachs as though in pain, their mouths stretched so wide the laughter begins to come through as shouts.
His smile falters and he begins to stand. “No you don’t, you sneaky little shit,” says the headmistress, and strikes him a sharp blow to the side of the head which leaves him reeling. “We’ve been watching you watching us for days.” The others begin to gather. “There are worse things in the dark than the likes of you, you know.”