Andy made an exaggerated mime of turning out his already empty pockets. “Nope, not so much as a 10p piece. So you know what that means, Jonno. You’ll be going down the pub by yourself tonight.”
Jonno pulled a face and spat on the pavement, incurring raised eyebrows and a tut from an elderly passer-by.
“What you done with your dole money, mate?” said Jonno, ignoring the passer-by’s displeasure.
“Spent it on wild women and drunken nights out, whaddaya think?” replied Andy with a wry grin.
“Seems to me like it’s time you got up to some of your old tricks, mate,” said Jonno, lowering his voice.
Andy adopted a puzzled expression, pretending not to know what his friend was on about. However the same thing had occurred to him in recent weeks.
“Aye, they say old habits die hard,” replied Andy with a sigh.
The two young men headed up the steep hill on foot, back in the direction of Andy’s scruffy one bedroom flat. Ahead of them, an elderly lady was pushing a heavily laden shopping trolley. She was a sprightly little woman, fitter than many half her years, and the heavy trolley gave her little trouble. She stopped outside her house, opened her gate, pushed the trolley a little way along the path and turned back to secure the gate behind her.
Elsie Roberts lived alone in quite a large house. She had been widowed for several years, and kept herself to herself. As the two lads passed her gate, Andy turned to Jonno, tapped the side of his nose and raised his eyebrows knowingly.
Once behind closed doors the two felt able to speak freely without fear of being overheard.
“Aye, they say Elsie Roberts is good for a few quid,” said Andy, pulling two cans of lager out of his otherwise empty fridge. “And she’s deaf as a post, she wouldn’t hear a thing. Think I’d better get meself down there after she’s taken herself off to bed, see what sort of stuff she’s got in that house that’s worth pinching.”
It was getting on for midnight by the time Andy scaled the back fence of Elsie’s garden. Any stragglers after pub closing time had taken themselves home, and the streets were empty of anyone who might see him.
Not for Andy Jenkins the crude approach of smashing a window. He was a master of lock-picking, and soon had Elsie’s back door open. He made his way through her kitchen into the dining room, pausing first at the bottom of the stairs to listen for movement. But no, all was silent and in darkness.
Once in the dining room he drew the curtains, switched on his torch and started rifling through the bureau. He soon found some war medals. As they were not engraved with the recipient’s name he knew he would have no difficulty passing them off as his grandfather’s to a dealer he knew who didn’t ask questions. He also pocketed a few small items of silver: a gravy boat, some commemorative teaspoons, cake forks and suchlike. Then he hit pay dirt: in the drawer with Elsie’s table cloths he found a tin stuffed to the brim with money. He filled his pockets, enjoying the crisp feel of banknotes which was better than anything else he could steal. Ah, old people could always be relied upon to keep a good stock of cash on hand. Was it that they didn’t trust the banks, or did they like to have money on hand in case the weather was too bad to get to the post office on pension day?
Andy was about to leave, but thought he might as well look a bit further, see if there was anything else worth having. Across the hall was the sitting room. Plenty of ornaments and stuff, a bit too bulky to pocket. Plenty of pictures on the walls, but he was no art connoisseur and didn’t want to bother with something that might only fetch a couple of quid. And besides, what to say if he was stopped in the street in the wee hours of the morning with an armload of frames. “Yes, officer. Just thought I’d take my paintings for a walk.” Not likely.
Although the old girl was very deaf and there was still no sign of movement upstairs, Andy didn’t have the nerve to nose around upstairs. Regretfully, he decided to call it a night.
He was just making his way back across the hall, having switched off his torch, when all hell broke loose. The lights came on and the house was suddenly full of police, who grabbed hold of him and hoisted his arms up behind his back.
It was like a bad dream. They went through his pockets methodically and extracted the money and Elsie’s possessions. Next thing he knew, he was locked up in a cell at the police station. Worst of all, he had no idea how the police had been tipped off. Had Jonno done the dirty?
Several days later, with Andy still safely under lock and key awaiting trial, the police returned Elsie’s possessions.
“Here you are, Mrs Roberts,” said the smart young woman in uniform. “Just check that everything’s there, and sign at the bottom of the inventory, please.” WpC June Watkins pointed to the dotted line, having been warned that Mrs Roberts was profoundly deaf.
Elsie Roberts signed with a flourish at the bottom of the page. It was satisfying to get Arthur’s medals back, not to mention her mother’s collection of teaspoons and the contents of her cash tin.
“It’s not a good idea to keep so much money in the house, Mrs Roberts,” admonished the young officer. “Unfortunately young men like your burglar know that a lot of elderly people keep money in the house. I hope you’ll be sensible and keep it in the bank from now on.”
Elsie was deaf, but she was able to lip read and understand most of what the young lass was saying. Yes, she knew she’d been a bit silly to keep so much money in the house, and this experience had taught her a lesson.
“Tell me, how did you know the intruder had broken in?” asked WpC Watkins.
Elsie Roberts showed WpC Watkins the alarm system she’d had installed on all the windows and doors.
WpC Watkins still looked puzzled. “But wasn’t your burglar alerted by the alarm going off?”
Elsie Roberts smiled. “No, my dear. It’s a silent alarm. Come upstairs and I’ll show you.”
Elsie showed WpC Watkins how she had been alerted to the presence of the intruder by the flashing light on her bedside table.
“There’s no point in me having an audible alarm because I wouldn’t hear it. The alarm also goes off at the police station, but I rang them on my mobile phone just to make sure they knew. And within minutes the police arrived and caught that young man red handed. I hope they put him away for long enough to teach him a lesson.”
WpC Watkins smiled sadly, for she knew that the punishment rarely fitted the crime. Never mind that an elderly and vulnerable lady had had an upsetting experience, the rights of the perpetrator seemed to count for far too much in this day and age.
By Karenne Griffin
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015