Wednesday, 21 December 2011


Two o'clock in the morning. Dressed in black from head to toe, he moves through the foliage like a leopard. His prey: the rich residents of Belgium Hill and Luxembourg Crescent. His conscience is clear; Standard Union and Allied Mercia will pick up the bill. These people have insurance coming out of their ears. 
He slides open a side window, and clambers inside the property known as 'The Beeches'.  The layout is familiar; he moves around quickly picking up items of value and placing them noiselessly in his black briefcase. Sometimes, it’s just too easy.

No more than four minutes later, he’s outside in the night air again, his luggage bulging with duty–free; a good night’s work. A fine athlete in his youth, he vaults the surrounding wall with ease, and is back on the deserted pavement.  In the distance, a dog barks. He never pays a visit to a home with canine protection; too risky. As he brushes himself down, a narrow beam of yellow illuminates his face.

‘Police’, says the young voice holding the torch. ’Step out of the shadows.’

He does as instructed, quickly evaluating his options. Fight or flight? Fight or flight?

‘Is that you … Father O'Rourke?

‘Tommy? Tommy Harrison?’

‘Yes, Father.’

‘I heard you’d graduated Hendon.  Your mother was telling me after Mass a few weeks back.’

'I didn’t expect to see you at this hour, Father,' apologises the young constable. ‘You see there’s been a string of burglaries on the area.’

'One of my parishioners had a stroke. His wife called me; distraught, the poor dear.'

‘I really am sorry, Father.’

‘Nonsense - you were just doing your job, Tommy! If it wasn’t for this,’ the priest goes on, pointing at his dog collar, ‘I could easily be your burglar, all dressed in black like Johnny Cash.’

‘Johnny who?’

Rain is beginning to fall, and the priest has phone calls to make, goods to move.

‘Johnny Cash – the Man in Black. Ring of Fire?’

The youngster shrugs his shoulders

‘I’ll walk you back to the parish house, Father,’ says Tommy. ‘It’s not safe to be out this late, especially with that briefcase.’

Father O’Rourke sees it is hopeless to refuse. As they walk the silent streets, Father O’Rourke regales Tommy with tales of his time as a young missionary in Uganda, of the time he met Idi Amin, but Tommy hasn’t heard of him either.

Soon it is time to part, and the clergyman has his keys in the wooden door of the presbytery.

‘Good night, Father.’

‘See you on Sunday, Tommy?

Pc Harrison looks down at his shiny boots, and from somewhere in his throat finds a guilty cough.

‘Sure,’ he replies. ‘I’ll be there.’

Inside the door, Father O’Rourke hears Tommy’s footsteps recede into the distance.  At last he relinquishes his iron grip on the briefcase, and relaxes the muscles in his shoulders. His lodgings are simple and austere. He flops down on the fold-up bed and flicks on the transistor radio. He hopes the orphans in Kampala will be pleased with the proceeds of his latest collection on their behalf, and his friends, the Collinses, not too upset about their material loss.


Andy pulled the duvet over his head, but for once this did nothing to muffle the sound of power tools as the drill was whirring inside the cavity of his skull - nothing to do with Mr Black and Decker next door. His mouth was as dry as the driest part of the Atacama Desert, and then some; if it had ever known moisture, there was no evidence now.  His tongue felt like it was wearing a miniature boxing glove as it felt its way around his cracked mouth. The tell-tale signs of another drunken night were all in place: he was still wearing his shirt which was smattered in chilli sauce, the television had been left on, and the air was heavy with the odour of stale tequila, kebab and vomit.  His heavy curtains were drawn but a triangle of sunlight had found its way through the gap, and taunted him above the fireplace.  Suddenly he was aware of the unbearable weight of his bladder, but this was as nothing compared to the weight of his sweaty head which could not or would not be moved from the greasy pillow.

Oh my god, it’s my weekend for the kids – she’ll go apeshit , he thought.  Frantically he tried to sort out the calendar in his head, but the month, the week and even the day were beyond him.  He tried to rewind – he was at work, intending to go home for once, but had been swept by the tide of Christmas cheer into the Anchor for just one, then another.  The train timetable had been brought out his pocket at various times purely as a hypothetical exercise.  He remembered Jeff going for a piss and not returning, Brian and Clive jumping in a taxi outside the Grapes, a brunette staring at him in Harry Lime’s and dancing with a group of Japanese girls with a tie around his head – nothing else. God knows where he’d picked up the kebab or the bruise on his arm or torn the knee of his trousers.  It wasn’t his weekend for the children anyway – last weekend, he’d treated them big style – McDonalds, the zoo and McDonald’s again.  What a relief – he was too fragile to have her screaming at him down the phone today. His phone – where was it? He remembered showing Brian a picture of the kids in their nativity costumes – one an angel, one a sheep.
Then it rang from inside the bed.  ‘Private Number’  it said, when he eventually brought it to the surface. He pressed to accept the call, unsure whether his larynx would be capable of speech.

‘Andy?’ It was a woman’s voice, but not one he recognised.


‘They’re coming for you – I couldn’t stop them. Get out of there now.’

‘Who are they? Who are you?’

‘Last night! The journey home, we …’

The line went dead.