The literary life of EDWARD JAMES, author,reviewer, occasional poet and former pension adviser to the government of Kyrgyzstan
Tracy tiptoed through the house. Mrs Webber would not be back for four hours, but this was the first time Tracy had been into a house to steal and was more nervous than she had expected.
Mrs Webber would be back at six. Tracy knew her routine for her mother was Mrs Webber’s cleaner. Mum’s too old to clean, thought Tracy. Mrs Webber was a selfish old bag. Of course Mum needed the money, but Mrs Webber paid peanuts and was nasty if anything got broken.
Not that she would give Mum anything she nicked. She would give it to Kevin to sell to that man he knew. Kevin nicked lots of things.
It had been easy to get in. Tracy had taken the key Mum kept in the kitchen. Mum was away visiting Gran and would never know it had been taken. It was a long time since Tracey had been in the house; not since she was a girl playing with Mrs Webber’s daughter, Susie, in the holidays. She half expected to meet Susie. But that had been before Susie disappeared and nobody had ever found her abductor, if that’s what had happened.
Very tragic, thought Tracey, but it didn’t make Mrs Webber a saint. She made for the master bedroom.
There was a cheap-looking necklace on the dressing table, but Tracey knew Mrs Webber had better things. She felt through the drawers, not wanting her to know that she had been raided. No luck; the cunning sod had hidden her best stuff.
She moved into the second bedroom and opened the chest-of-drawers by the window. There was a scrunch of tyres on gravel as a car drew up in the courtyard below. She cautiously peeped round the curtain. It was a blue car, not Mrs Webber’s. She glimpsed a man coming to the door. He rang the bell, waited and rang again and again.
Can’t the bugger take no for an answer? thought Tracey. The man stepped back and looked up. Tracey shrank back into the room. She heard his footsteps on the gravel. He wasn’t getting into his car, he was coming to the side door. She heard it open. My God, she’d left it unlocked!
Perhaps it was Mrs Webber’s son. Perhaps he was leaving a note. What would he think when he found the door unlocked?
She listened to him moving downstairs. Had he decided to wait until his mother came home? Then Tracey would have to hide until it was dark. How would she explain it to Mum? Perhaps he was staying the week-end. Perhaps he wasn’t Mrs Webber’s son but a secret lover and they would spend the night in this very room. Suppose he found her and attacked her.
The man started to climb the stairs. Tracey darted into the wardrobe. She couldn’t fasten the door but it opened away from the bedroom door so perhaps he wouldn’t notice it was ajar even if he glanced into the bedroom. He went into the master bedroom and made a lot of noise. What the Hell was he doing?
He came out and moved into the second bedroom. Tracey hardly dared breathe, but he made so much noise he would never have heard her, pulling out drawers and emptying them onto the bed. Some other mean sod had decided to do over Mrs Webber’s house on the same day as Tracey! She was alone with a criminal!
More tyres crunched on gravel. The man ran to the window, glanced out and then turned, wrenched open the wardrobe door and hurled himself inside. The wardrobe rail collapsed and Tracey fell onto a tangle of dresses and coat-hangers with the intruder on top of her. She let out a stifled scream.
‘Trace, what are you doing here?’
‘Same as you, Kev. What the ‘ell’s going on? What’s that car?’
‘Just one I nicked.’
‘Not that one. The one just now?’
‘You mean the police? Somebody must have phoned them.’
‘Well if you must park outside in broad daylight, what do you expect? It was probably Mrs Simpson in the cottage.’
‘I rang the door there and there was no answer.’
‘She never answers the door when her daughter’s away, I c’d have told you that. But we can’t chat here. I know a place we can hide, if we move smartish.’
She hurried him up a narrow staircase to a small attic room, laid out like a child’s bedroom. It had clearly not been used for years.
‘There, through that trap-door into the loft. I went in there once with Susie.’
Kevin pulled a chair under the trap-door.
‘Don’t be an idiot!. If they see that they’ll know we’re in the loft. Bunk me up and I’ll pull you up.’
They closed the trap-door behind them and crawled further into the loft, crouching behind a dusty wooden box. After a while they heard voices below.
‘Doesn’t look like he’s been here.’
‘Doesn’t look like anybody’s been here since VE Day, Sarge. He probably scarpered through the conservatory. Let’s check the car.’
They waited until they heard the police car leave and then waited some more.
‘We’ve gotta move now, before Mrs Webber gets back. Chance it, Kev.’
Kevin crawled over to the trap-door. ‘I can’t open it, Trace. There’s nothing to get hold of.’
‘D’you mean were trapped? That we’ll starve and our bones will found in years to come.’
‘You think some really cheerful things, Trace. If we both shout, would Mrs Webber would hear us when she gets back?
‘I wouldn’t bank on it. The only room right below was Susie’s room and it hasn’t been used since she vanished. They seem to keep it as a sort of shrine.’
‘What can we do then?’
‘Can’t you break down the door?’
‘What with? I can’t even stand up here to jump on it.’
Tracey thought. ‘I know, the box! We can use it as a battering ram, like in the Middle Ages.’
They dragged the box onto the lid of the trap-door. Kneeling at either side they lifted it as high as they could and smashed it down. There was a sound of splintering wood, although whether from door or box was uncertain.
‘We’er winning, Kev. Again!’
In the end the door-frame gave way, sending door and box plunging into the room below. The box split, tipping out a small shrivelled bundle.
‘My God’, breathed Tracey, staring down, ‘get the police. IT’S SUSIE.’