Tag Archives: robbery

THE COLLECTOR

Mr Henry James Franklin and Miss Martha Emma Sparrow were married in the summer of 1946, in the small town of Ashton-over-Hill in the county of Suffolk. During the next forty years of marriage they were almost inseparable.

+++++When they first met, Martha was the only daughter of a local Stipendiary Magistrate, and Henry had been a junior administrator with the FCO; later, as he grew in seniority, Henry became an Attaché and was sent on temporary diplomatic missions to developing countries; assisting the Ambassador with areas of finance or intervention. This work naturally required frequent overseas travel. Even when Henry was asked by his government to go to work in a hot, dusty region in some far-flung Asian country, Martha would accompany him. If the mission was short term and unaccompanied, and the government was only paying for Henry to go, then Martha would pay all her own expenses to accompany him. The only time he went alone was if it was a very short visit of three days or less, where Martha would not have time to enjoy and explore the place, indulging in her passion for collecting old or valuable artefacts. India, Africa, Eastern Europe, Pacific Islands, The Far East, and The Middle East… their travels were diverse and seemingly endless.

+++++Martha came from “old money” and her passion did not impact on Henry’s relatively low salary. It was a passion in which Henry shared, but of which had little knowledge. Martha was the one who before the trip would research a country’s history and heritage and decide on the type of items for which that the country was renowned. Martha was the one who would then search the bazaars, markets and curio shops for such items… things that were beyond the pocket and shrewdness of the usual tourists and bargain hunters. In some Pacific Island she would seek out fine examples of scrimshaw carvings; she would cast an amateur but expert eye over the bases of delicate statuettes in Hong Kong or Taiwan; in Kinshasa or Nairobi her fingers would run gently over the grain and texture of ebony masks; her eyes could pick out fake from real; and she had the grit to beat down traders who were treating her as an ignorant tourist looking for souvenirs.

+++++Over the years, her collections grew; fine paintings and tapestries filled the walls of their big old country house; inherited from Martha’s father, when the ageing Magistrate passed away from a heart attack; while, somewhat fittingly, seated on the Bench and just moments after sentencing a criminal to ten years in prison.

+++++The house was large and rambling, set in its own grounds. Wonderful carpets from Tabriz and Istanbul covered the floors; oak bookcases held, among leather-bound first editions, various gold and bronze artefacts; knick-knack shelves and mantelpieces displayed delicate porcelain figurines and pieces of ancient jewellery, silver and gold; carved tribal masks hung on the curving walls of the staircase; Zanzibar trunks made for exotic coffee and bedside tables upon which stood old brass lamps and silver candlesticks; intricately worked samovars stood on occasional tables in the library and lounge. The place was a virtual museum of travels around the world. The total monetary value of these collections was either unknown or forgotten; the value was aesthetic and sentimental and no price could be put upon that.

+++++Henry loved his work and travel, and Martha loved to be with him and build on her collections. The only thing missing from their lives was a child. Martha was forever unable to bear children.

+++++In 1986, while working in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Henry died from a bad and late-diagnosed case of malaria. 60-year-old Martha returned to England, to Ashton-over-Hill and to the Manor, and after a respectable period of grieving became very active in The Woman’s Institute and various other community or local charitable ventures. However, her lessening agility and failing eyesight gradually restricted her activities and she became more and more confined to home; relying on a daily help to do the housekeeping and cooking.

***

+++++“Bobby, it is four thirty.” His mother called from the kitchen, where she was peeling potatoes. “Get yourself over to the Manor to read for Missus Martha, there’s a good lad!”

+++++Twelve-year-old Bobby Garfield begrudgingly put aside his toy Corgi cars and stood up from where he had been playing on the living room carpet; his shoulders hunched in reluctance. “Okay, mum.” he sighed, walking slowly to the front door.

+++++“Be back by six thirty, love” his mum continued. “I am making sausage and mash for supper.”

+++++The boy left the two-bedroom rented council house where he and his single mum lived, walked across the empty field at the back of the scruffy council estate, passed through the ancient village of Ashton-over-Hill and walked down Upper Dyke Lane to Ashton Manor; one of two big old country houses that stood within the town’s boundaries.

+++++Bobby had to go to the Manor three times a week to read newspapers to the blind and wheelchair-bound Mrs Martha Franklin. It was a chore he did not enjoy; the old woman was nice enough to him, but he didn’t like being hugged and kissed by her every visit. She smelled of soap, lavender and old age, and her horny, arthritic old hands dug into his back like claws when she squeezed him in a hug.

+++++Bobby would let himself in the back door with spare key that the daily help, Edna Johnson always placed under a planter after she left work each day. He would make his way to the library, where Mrs Martha would be sitting in her usual place in a large, high-backed wheelchair; her white cane resting against the arm.

+++++“Hello Missus Martha.” He would call out from the doorway, announcing his arrival.

+++++“Hello, Bobby!” The old woman would say, turning her unseeing eyes towards the doorway. From very early on she had learned to recognise his voice, and her acute hearing compensated for her blindness. “How are you today?”

+++++“Fine, Missus Martha,” He would answer, sounding as cheerful as possible.

+++++From a side table where Edna had left them, he would take the two folded and pressed newspapers – the previous day’s and that day’s – and, sitting in an ancient leather armchair opposite the old woman, would read them in date order from front page to back, If there was something that did not interest her, Martha would tut, tut, wave a wrinkled, blue-veined hand and say simply, “Skip that!” This was not a frequent event, as she liked to know what was going on in the wide world and loved news from the places to which she and Henry had travelled. In any case, she had little else to occupy her time in the long, lonely evenings. She even let Bobby read the sports pages in an effort to extend his visits.

+++++The reading usually took about forty minutes to an hour, after which Bobby would stand, reluctantly go to the old lady for a hug and a kiss, and to say goodbye.

+++++“You are a good boy, Bobby!” She would say the same thing each visit. “Thank you for reading so well.  Help yourself to a chocolate from the box over there.” She waved vaguely in the direction of a side table. “See you on Wednesday.”

+++++“Bye, Missus Martha.” Bobby would reply. After taking his treat and leaving the library, he would wander secretly around the house. His eyes cast about in wonder. The place was packed with ornaments and antiques; statues and carvings; gold candlesticks and bronze lamp-stands; brass telescopes and ships’ compasses; jewelled boxes and polished trunks, and hung with paintings and tapestries. It was a virtual museum. Sometimes he would even sneak upstairs; creeping up the carpeted stairway alongside the electronic chair lift that ran up one wall. He opened the door of the first upstairs room. It was used as a storeroom for many of Martha’s collections that were not displayed around the mansion Bobby gazed into the storeroom and was amazed at the amount of stuff in it. He found Martha’s bedroom along the corridor. It was fairly small and delicate, very lacy and feminine.

+++++Downstairs, Martha, her acute hearing tracking Bobby’s secretive movements, smiled contentedly. She was happy that the young boy showed such interest in her collections. She never mentioned to Bobby that she knew of his explorations, but sometimes after reading she would ask him to fetch an item from somewhere in the library or lounge, and tell him of the history and about the country from where it came.

+++++He never once thought of taking anything from the house.

+++++Bobby had no idea why his mum had made this arrangement with Martha Franklin. He also did not know that Mrs Martha paid his mum five pounds for each visit. It was a welcome addition to her income; she worked every day in the local garden centre, including Saturdays, but even so, the money was hardly enough for a single parent to survive.

+++++Martha had met Mrs Garfield several times when shopping in the garden centre; gardening was another of Martha’s passions, and ‘Roots ‘n’ Shoots’ was a favourite venue to shop for bulbs, potted shrubs and gardening paraphernalia. On a few occasions, on Saturdays, Bobby had been there with his mum and Martha had always made a fuss of the young boy. This, of course, was before her failing eyesight had diminished into legal blindness and her general frailness prevented her going out as often as she would have liked.  One day, several weeks after Martha’s blindness and disability had taken their final toll and she had become virtually housebound, she asked Edna to go find Mrs Garfield at the garden centre and invite her to come to the Manor to discuss a little proposal.

+++++Her curiosity aroused, Joan accepted the invitation, and over cups of Earl Grey tea and wafer biscuits, she and Martha made the arrangement for Bobby to come and read to her several times a week.

***

+++++The readings continued for three years. Martha Franklin became even more frail and dependent on home help. She refused, however, to go to a care home. Bobby was now a teenager of 15 years, with teenage needs that could hardly be satisfied in the poor council estate of Ashton Vale where he lived and where there was nothing for a young boy to do once he had outgrown his childhood toys. Immigrants fleeing war zones and humanitarian abuses had slowly moved into some of the houses over the past couple of years… families from Eastern Europe with teenage children the same age as Bobby; low income families, many unemployed and relying on government payouts from the Department of Work and Pensions. With little to occupy their free time and with little money in their pockets, the teenagers began to hang around the street at night, forming little cliques or gangs and dominating certain “corners” as their own turf. Harmless enough at first, with only the occasional complaints from residents about excessive noise, littering or small cases of criminal damage. But, later, drugs slowly entered the council estate; weed and acid tabs to begin with; then  came cocaine… much of it smuggled in from Europe. Petty crime increased in the village and surrounding areas; shoplifting; stolen cars; criminal damage; muggings and other assaults. A scourge of criminality and abusive behaviour that plagued many similar areas of Britain. Bobby became friends with several of the new youths, and although being in the same boat as them, he respected his mother’s wishes and continued to visit Mrs Martha three evenings a week. However, there was one other thing that persuaded him more than his mother to continue the arrangement; Mrs Martha had, commencing on Bobby’s fifteenth birthday, begun to pay the boy some pocket money. Five pounds per week was a lot of cash to a teenage schoolboy from a single parent family with little spare money. But, the money was no longer spent on Corgi toys or Star Wars figures… the emerging teenager Bobby had been led by his new friends into the world of illegal substances and was attracted by the profits that could be made from reselling drugs. Unfortunately, he also became a ‘user’.

***

+++++“Are you sure about this, Bobby?” Janeck asked. “How do you know about it all?”

+++++“When I was a kid,” Bobby replied, “my mum made me go to the house to read the newspaper to the old girl. She is blind, you see? The old woman, I mean… not my mum. I had to do that crap three times a week after school until last year when I reached eighteen. I told my mum and Martha that I was no longer a little kid and had better things to do with my time. Martha was unhappy but understanding, and my mum was really pissed off for some reason. But I stuck to my guns.”

+++++“Well, at eighteen we can do what the fuck we like, right?” Janeck asked.

+++++“That’s what I told my mum… but I didn’t swear!” Bobby said, laughing “Anyway,” he continued, “I had loads of chances to look around the place. Of course, I didn’t know what any of the stuff was worth, but I remember the place was packed. There was loads of ornaments everywhere, china figurines on the mantelpiece, little statues and carvings in every corner; some a gold colour, others a sort of white, like bone. I guess those were probably ivory. There was all sorts of expensive looking stuff.”

+++++“But, are you sure they are valuable?” his pal asked

+++++“Yeah, Janeck. Everyone in town knows the old girl is rich, so I don’t reckon she would fill her house with cheap shit! She and her late husband travelled a lot when they were younger. He was some sort of diplomat; always working in exotic places around the world, before he popped his clogs in Africa. It’s how they collected all the antiques and stuff. I saw things that looked made of gold and silver, some things encrusted in jewels or gems, old swords and sabres on the walls, oil paintings, you know, that sort of thing.”

+++++Janeck frowned, “Any cash there, you reckon?” He asked. Cash and drugs were the only currencies Janeck and Bobby normally dealt with.

+++++“I dunno. Maybe, but I never saw any laying around,” Bobby replied. “I guess she didn’t need cash. She had food delivered from the grocery shop in town almost daily. I was there once in the daytime and saw her housekeeper just sign for it at the back door. I imagine she had an account or something.”

+++++“Look, Bobby,” Janeck said. “It’s a bit fucking risky, especially if there is no cash.” Janeck was already known to the police for shoplifting and petty theft. He didn’t want to get involved in stolen property that could be traceable.

+++++“But the place is packed with valuables, I tell ya!” Bobby protested. “Small stuff, easy to shift and sell somewhere far away from here where no-one will know us. Fuck me! It’s a treasure trove. We will make a real killing! Loads of cash to buy more coke!”

+++++“Okay, okay! I get it, alright?” Janeck threw up his hands in defeat. “So when are we gonna do it?”

***

+++++Martha Franklin’s health had deteriorated even more since the days when Bobby read to her. She now had a full-time registered carer named Rosemary Perkins living in the house, but the daily help continued to come to clean the vast place and help prepare meals. Edna’s long habit of leaving the spare key under the planter at the back door had not altered one bit.

+++++Martha, now spending more and more time in bed, had asked Rosemary to move her into the larger storeroom where there was more room for the nursing equipment, oxygen bottles and medical trolley containing medications, etc. The many trunks, boxes and valuable items from the storeroom, with the combined help of Edna and Rosemary, now changed places with Martha.

+++++At the end of each day, after dinner and after Rosemary had bathed Martha, medicated her and and put her to bed, she would retire exhausted to her own room and watch TV for an hour or so before going to sleep herself.

***

+++++Bobby and Janeck, their bravery fuelled by the lines of cocaine they had just snorted, entered the grounds of the Manor, walked carefully and quietly up the garden path that ran along the left side the house and around to the back door. Bobby tilted the planter and slid out a key that was so familiar to him. The two youths entered the house and immediately pulled ski masks over their heads. Both switched on small penlight torches and then crept through to the lounge; unfolding large zip-up nylon bags that had been concealed under their jackets. Bobby swept his torchlight around the familiar surroundings.

+++++As they wandered around, the youths indiscriminately picked up various small, valuable-looking objects and placed them carefully in their swag bags, but there was not enough portable stuff to satisfy the two thieves.

+++++“Let’s go upstairs,” whispered Bobby. “There is a large storeroom up there.”

+++++The two followed Bobby’s torch beam into the hallway and up the carpeted staircase. Janeck tried to lift a couple of tribal masks from the walls, but they seemed to be screwed into place rather than hung. He swore angrily under his breath. Reaching the landing, Bobby walked up to the door almost opposite that he knew to be the storeroom. He turned the handle and slowly pushed open the door, shining the torch around; under the ski mask a frown appeared upon his face. Suddenly, the torch beam lit upon an occupied bed.

+++++Martha Franklin sat up, holding the duvet under her chin with both hands. “Rosemary?” she asked, “Whatever’s the matter?”

+++++“Oh shit, Janeck!” Bobby exclaimed. “She must’ve changed rooms!”

+++++“Bobby? Bobby Franklin?” Martha asked, panic entering into her voice. “What on earth are you doing here in the middle of the night?” Her voice raised into a weak squeal. “What’s going on?”

+++++“For fuck’s sake, Bobby!” Janeck hissed. “The blind old bitch has recognised your voice!”

+++++“He-lp!” Martha screamed, her voice cracking. Before she could scream again, Bobby ran to the bed and clamped a hand over Martha’s mouth and pushed her head back onto the pillow. Martha was too frail to struggle, but Bobby could feel her mouth moving as she tried to mumble something. He turned to face his fellow thief; “What the fuck are we gonna do, Janeck?” He asked in a loud voice, beginning to panic. “She knows who I am!”

+++++Bobby glanced down at the struggling old woman. He could see her spittle oozing through his gloved fingers. Martha tried to speak, but he clamped his hand down firmer. “Stay quiet, Missus Martha, please!” Bobby hissed.

+++++“Martha?” A new voice came from the open door, followed by a short scream. Janeck spun around in time to see Rosemary Perkins heading for the stairs.

+++++Janeck dropped his torch, leapt out of the doorway and tried to grab Rosemary’s flapping nightgown from behind. He fumbled the grab and his lunge pushed her forward; she stumbled, hit the chair lift, spun around and fell backwards, cartwheeling down the stairs.

+++++Back in the bedroom, Martha had gone limp under Bobby’s firm restraint. He let go of Martha’s head and she lay lifeless on the pillow.

+++++“Oh shit!” Bobby whispered, staring down at the dead woman’s face, as he backed away. “Janeck! We’ve gotta get the fuck out of here!”

+++++Janeck came back into the room and picked up his dropped torch; shining it onto the scene at the bed. “Oh Christ, Bobby! Is she dead?”

+++++“Yeah, let’s get out of here now!”

+++++The two thieves hurried from the room and down the stairs, stepping over the unmoving form of Rosemary Perkins laying sprawled on the hallway floor.

***

+++++“Look, Bobby” Janeck said, grabbing Bobby’s lapels in both fists to get his attention. They were sitting on a bench in a small park on the outskirts of the village. “I don’t know if that other bitch is dead or not, but if she’s not, she don’t know who we are. We was wearing ski masks. She can’t identify us… and there’s no fingerprints ‘cos we was wearing gloves.”

+++++“But fuck me, Janeck. I killed Missus Martha!” Bobby was almost in tears.

+++++“The old bitch is dead. We can’t change that.” Janeck released his friend’s jacket and sat back. “No-one to tell tales. We’re clear.”

+++++Rosemary Perkins was not dead, however; she had been knocked unconscious in the fall. A broken arm and several huge bruises, plus a mild concussion, were the only injuries she sustained. When she came around, she crawled first to the hallway phone and dialled 999 to call the police. Then, dragging herself to her feet, she limped painfully upstairs to discover the dead body of Martha Franklin.

***

+++++Rosemary, being a professional carer, had from day one at the Manor installed a baby alarm system between her bedroom and Martha’s. It was one of those devices whereby, if a baby in its crib cried or called out, the sound would be transmitted from the nursery to speakers positioned in the parent’s bedroom or other rooms in the house. Rosemary had installed the same system for a similar purpose; if Martha awoke in the night and felt ill or needed something, she could call out to Rosemary, who had a receiver speaker on the bedside table of her adjoining room, turned up to full volume. Rosemary had been sleeping lightly the night of the murder and the voices from Martha’s bedroom had immediately roused her. She had clearly heard the name “Bobby Garfield” being spoken by Martha through the medium of the baby alarm.

+++++Bobby Garfield and Janeck Kalenov were both arrested the next day. After a month held in remand while the case against them was formulated, they were tried in Ipswich Crown Court. Being over eighteen years old, they were tried as adults. The baby alarm evidence given by Rosemary Perkins, Edna’s testimony as to the hidden spare key being used to enter the house, and Martha’s DNA from the saliva found on Bobby’s glove… it was all concrete and conclusive. Both of the boys were found guilty of murder, aggravated assault and attempted robbery. Each was sentenced to a total of 40 years in prison, with no possibility of parole.

***

+++++Mrs Martha Franklin’s lawyer, Mr Crispin Longfellow, who was also the appointed Trustee of her Estate, was tasked with managing and disposing of the property according to Martha’s Last Will and Testament, drawn up by him only the previous year.

+++++Two months after Martha Franklin’s death, the lawyer sent out letters to all the named beneficiaries, inviting them to attend Ashton Manor for the reading of Martha’s Will,

+++++On the day of the reading, almost all those invited assembled, with a mixture of curiosity and excitement, in the library of the Manor. Mr Crispin Longfellow was seated behind the late Henry Franklin’s antique desk. Martha’s Will; a formidable document, many pages long, was on the desk in front of him. It contained many beneficiaries; but there were no living relatives named.

+++++After an explanation of the proceedings and a formal introduction to the Will, Mr Longfellow began reading from the document; relating Martha’s wishes in the first person, as written.

+++++“To the Ashton-over-Hill Women’s Institute, I bequeath one thousand pounds; to the RSPCA, I bequeath one thousand pounds, to the local Hee-Haw Donkey Sanctuary, I bequeath one thousand pounds, to the RNLI, I bequeath three thousand pounds”…The lawyer continued in this vein for several minutes, listing beneficiary after beneficiary and the amount to be bequeathed… before he looked up from the desk and cleared his throat.  There was a pregnant pause in the room.

+++++“To Mrs Joan Garfield of Ashton Vale, I bequeath two hundred and fifty thousand pounds.” There was a collective gasp from those present in the Library. Joan’s jaw dropped in shock. The lawyer peered around the audience over the top of his half-moon glasses, commanding silence. His gaze settled upon Joan. “This money shall be used, under my trustee’s management,” He continued,” to build a Youth Club and Community Centre on the field to the rear of the Ashton Vale council estate. The field has long formed part of my Estate and the Land Title Deed is in possession of my lawyer, Mr Crispin Longfellow. I further request that Mrs Joan Garfield, if she is willing, be appointed Manager of the Club, once built, with a salary of two thousand pounds per month, paid from my Estate, for the first two years of operation.” Joan was, fortunately, speechless. All eyes in the room were upon her, as she wiped away her tears.

+++++The lawyer continued. “As to my property and possessions, I bequeath to the Help the Aged charity shop in Ashton town all my personal clothing, linen, kitchenware, and other such usable and saleable items as listed in Addendum One to this Will.” The manager of the charity shop, present in the Library, was overjoyed. She smiled until her grin reached her ears.

+++++“I bequeath the house and gardens known as Ashton Manor and its entire contents and collections, as listed in Addendum Two, to the care and management of the National Trust.” The NT representative, already forewarned and standing at the rear of the room, nodded his approval.

+++++“And finally,” said Mr Longfellow, looking up once more and, with a very solemn look upon his face, gazing around the room at all those there present, “I bequeath one hundred pieces of fine, portable property – as listed in Addendum Three, and valued in total for insurance purposes by the auctioneering house of Thurman and Levi of Ipswich at five hundred and seventy five thousand pounds – to my good young friend and sometime reading companion, Bobby Garfield.”

THE END

Eye Contact

I turned the handle, but the door was locked; searching the surface for a latch, or a bolt, I found nothing.  Apart from the stainless steel knob, the facade was as smooth as marble.  Peering in the semi-light, afforded by the small window on the opposite wall, I could see no means of unlocking this door.  There was no keyhole, no visible mechanism, nothing.

+++++My attention was drawn back to the bulge in the middle of the bed; did she hold the key to my escape?  Had I been too hasty in my actions?  She wouldn’t be much use to me now.

+++++“Stupid bastard,” I muttered.  “You should have thought this through properly.

+++++Fuck! What you gonna do now?”

+++++Feeling the sticky, wet slime beginning to seep through my clothes, I realised I needed to get a bath, wash all this blood and snot off me.

+++++I kicked the bed in passing, the heap wobbled; “Fat bitch!”

+++++Sitting down on the lavatory seat to take off my shoes and socks, as I turned the bath taps on, I racked my brain; how did the silly cow get in and out of the flat? There must be some way of opening the door?

+++++I was about to remove my pants when I suddenly realised that the bath was still empty. Turning both taps fully, I waited for the sound of running water.  When nothing happened I reverted to the old remedy of bashing the hardware with my shoe to force it to work; no joy.

+++++No fucking water, this was great. Then I had a thought, maybe it’s just in here? Could be just the bathroom not working.

+++++Striding into the kitchen, I gave the sink taps a good twist.  Same thing; dry as a redundant crotch. Temper rising, I drummed my fingers on my lips, things not boding well so far.

+++++My stomach growled and I suddenly felt ravenous; it had been hours since I’d downed that greasy burger while waiting for her to emerge from the bank.

+++++I flicked the cooker switch on and pulled open the fridge door, a white vacuum greeted me. Not even so much as an old dried up carrot or mouldy piece of cheese.  I darted a look back at the cooker. “Fuck.” There was no electricity either.

+++++What the crap was going on?  Why was nothing working?

+++++I searched her desk for a telephone book, she must have numbers for emergencies; I could pretend to be a relative and tell them there was a fault.

+++++Going through the telephone numbers, I almost yelled in glee when I came across what I was looking for.  I snatched up the phone, then immediately lashed it across the room; it was as dead as a fucking dodo.

+++++Stomping about the room, throwing things as I went, there must be something here to explain why all this was happening.  I searched her desk again, picking up letters that I had previously flung about.

+++++Ah! Southern Electricity; I quickly scanned the page.

+++++‘Thank you for your instruction to disconnect your supply.

+++++We can now confirm that this request has been actioned

+++++with immediate effect.  Please contact us on your return

+++++so we can re-connect you.’

+++++“Bastards!” I scrambled on the floor, rummaging through the discarded papers.

+++++Again, disconnection notices; the water, the telephone.

+++++Shit! Everything had been turned off.

+++++From the conversation I’d had with her earlier, I should have guessed.

+++++I banged my fists on my temples, “Think, come on you stupid prick, think!”

+++++I was in the penthouse, top floor, out of sight.  I tried hammering on the windows.  The triple glazing was doing its job in preventing the sound to break through; even if I could be heard no one could see me anyway.

+++++I should have been more thorough when I read up on her.

*

+++++Belinda Black, rich, famous author and one time socialite, now a virtual recluse.

+++++I had been searching through the list of ‘Who’s Who’ and came across this rich bitch that lived on her own.  She was a bit of an eccentric and had moved into the penthouse at the top of the tallest building in the city where I lived.  The builders had been given instructions to make the place entirely soundproof; the renovation had also included reconstructing the windows to replace the panoramic view with small triple glazed ones.  Apparently, she didn’t like any distractions when working.

+++++I had been watching her movements for some time now; for the last month the recluse had been very active.  Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, she had arrived at her bank with a briefcase; it always seemed heavier when she left than when she arrived.  I had put two and two together and come up with thousands.

+++++As she left that Tuesday, I snuck into the building wearing one of the electricians overalls.  There was a continuous stream of workmen in and out doing alterations all the time, so I was able to slip in undetected.  Once inside, I quickly made my way up to the top level where her lift was situated.  After a slight tampering, I managed to immobilize it.

+++++When she emerged from the bank, I’d slipped back ahead of her, and just happened to be on hand when she found herself unable to get the lift to work.  As it was the only means of accessing her apartment, she had allowed me to help.

+++++As soon as the lift doors opened, I had pushed her inside and held a knife to her side.  Once we were in the lobby to her apartment, while she let herself in through the door, I scanned the area.  The door had clicked shut behind us.

+++++She took quite a beating before showing me where the safe was.  Oh how I laughed and danced as I threw bundles of notes into the air. I couldn’t believe it, there was far more than I ever could have imagined.  Stuffing it all into a large holdall I’d left it by the front door.

+++++“What the fuck were you gonna do with all that dough?” I asked her.

+++++She had become so scared of me by now that she blabbed everything.

+++++“I’m going back to France, I have a secluded place in the south; I just wanted to disappear. My ideas dried up and I can’t meet the commitments that I’ve already been paid for; the tax man wants his share too. I’ve told my publishers that I’m going away to a retreat for a few months to get some writing done. I thought it would give me time to vanish for good and still keep the cash. I’ll share it with.” She had that pleading ‘don’t hurt me’ look in her eyes.

+++++“You crafty old bitch,” I said.  “I’m not good at sharing, but I’ll help you to vanish alright.”

+++++She screamed as I plunged the knife into her chest.  It was a pity about her insistence on soundproofing the penthouse, as no one could hear her screams and pleas for help, and because she was a very large lady, it took a quite while for me to finish her off.

+++++Now here I was, trapped inside this hell hole with her.

+++++There must be something that operates the lock? I thought.

+++++I hadn’t noticed any keys when we came in, and I’d been too busy checking that all was clear to notice how she opened the door.

+++++I went back over to it and, inch by inch, examined the surrounding surface.

+++++It was so small, it took me a while to find it, but there it was!  It looked like a peephole, a tiny circle fixed into the wall; it had been camouflaged by the busy wallpaper, but it was there alright.  I guessed it was an eye recognition device.  I’d heard about this type of lock; was it something to do with the retina?  Oh, fuck, I didn’t know, but I knew it was like a fingerprint and only worked for one person.

+++++Could it still work? I’d have to get her over to the door.  I dashed to the bed and threw back the cover.  Holy shit! What was that stink?

+++++As I tried to pull her off the bed I realised that she must have emptied her bowels and bladder during the attack.

+++++Grabbing her scarf, I wrapped it around my face; I then attempted to move her mighty bulk.  She was probably twice as heavy now; a dead weight as they say.  I was never going to shift her on my own.

+++++“Think, think, what now?” I screamed, banging my temples again.

+++++Right, I don’t need all of her to make the lock work, just her eye.

+++++Racing into the kitchen, I grabbed a soup spoon out of the drawer.  Hurrying back, I thought, this better work or I’m going to be stuck with this fat fucker forever.  So anything that had to be done, I was up for it.

+++++The eye wobbled in the spoon as I ferried it over to the door, and it wasn’t easy to handle as it slipped between my fingers, but after a couple of tries I managed to position it in front of the scanner and waited to hear the click of the door unlocking.  Fuck all happened!

+++++After a couple more attempts, without success, I lashed the eye across the room and watched it bounce off the headboard and roll down the bed coming to rest by her hand.  It seemed to follow me as I walked around the room. Oh God, I had to get out of there!

+++++I tried to lift the typewriter but it was too awkward, so I picked up a big, round, glass paperweight from her desk and heaved it at the window. Unfortunately, I was standing too close and felt the full impact as it bounced off the toughened glass and smashed into my chest breaking a couple of ribs; it then dropped onto my foot, smashing my foot in the process.

*

+++++As days rolled into weeks, I became more emaciated.  I had drunk the water from the lavatory, rationing myself to a few sips a day; I was now sorry that I had pissed in there first.

+++++My stomach had stopped growling, but apart from a packet of mints I’d found in her handbag, the flat was devoid of food.  This was it; I’d just have to wait for the end.

+++++Night followed day without any sound.  Even that tapping noise in my head had stopped.

*

+++++Then today, I hear the click of the door and voices as someone enters the room.

+++++“Whoa! What a stench” he shouts. “Oh Jesus there’s no windows to open either. Hey Joe, two body bags up here, and quick,” he calls into his radio.

+++++Something screams in my brain; two body bags?  No, not me, I’m not dead.

+++++I feel someone lifting me up and placing me on a plastic sheet.  As the zip rolls up over my face, I try to scream. Nooo!

+++++I can hear muffled voices through the plastic.

+++++“Hey, look at this, Joe; it looks like this guy has typed up a confession.  The last paragraph says he only had lavatory water and mints to live on, I wonder how long the poor sucker lasted after that?”

+++++“Wonder why he didn’t leave?” Joe asks.

+++++“He couldn’t mate,” the other guy answers, “she held the key? One of those new eye recognition jobs; we had to get them to override it for us to get in here today.”

+++++I hear the swish of a curtain and a sudden rush of cold air surrounds me.

+++++“What’s that mate?”  One of the guys shouts.

+++++“It’s the fire escape, don’t know why he didn’t use it; it’s a bit obscure, but you just pull this lever here, see.”