This must be the place. There was the stone on top of the gate; the prearranged signal that told Bert the property was empty. It was not unusual in that area for houses to be unoccupied for up to six months at a time, with the high percentage of homes owned by out-of-towners, who only came down for the summer – some of them only for a fortnight. Meanwhile, locals were being priced out of the market. It’s not right, was Bert’s view. Bloody city folk.
And so he assuaged what little conscience he had by indulging in a spot of burglary every once in a while. Never too often and never too much. He didn’t want to get into the habit and he didn’t want folk to detect a pattern to the break-ins.
Denny was a good lad. He delivered newspapers around the cliff top estate and he knew exactly when people were coming and going, because he was told when papers were being ordered or cancelled on a daily basis. It was Denny who placed the pebbles on the gates. If there was no gate, the front doorstep would do. The trick was not to pick too big a stone to be noticed by anyone not looking for it, or too small that a gust of wind would dislodge it. Denny was an expert pebble picker. Bert considered increasing the boy’s cut of the profits but soon quashed the idea. Denny’s mother, Bert’s good lady, would wonder why the boy was suddenly flush with more pocket money and then he, Bert, would come under scrutiny for spoiling the lad.
Bert pocketed the pebble and went through the gate. The house was dark and the light from the nearest lamppost didn’t quite extend into the front garden. Good boy, Denny; you’ve found me another corker!
He slid around to the rear of the building. You might think that people would be wise to the perils of leaving a key under a convenient flowerpot but no; not everyone. Bert, keeping the beam low, checked the path that led to the back door. There were no flowerpots or anything that looked a likely hiding place for a house key. The owners were not the usual idiots, then.
Good, thought Bert, relishing the challenge. He put his elbow through a pane of glass in the back door then reached in to unfasten the bolts. The key was in the lock! Not so clever after all, Mr Out-of-Townie. Bert snickered with contempt and entered the kitchen.
His torch played around the room. Bert was startled to find the kitchen was bare. There was not even a cooker. How odd! He moved through to the lounge – or what would be a lounge if it had any furniture in it. A quick inspection of the upper storey too told him the house was completely empty. There was not even a piece of junk mail on the hall floor.
What are you playing at, Denny boy? Is this some kind of trick, a joke on your old man? Just you wait until I get home; you’ll be feeling the back of my hand, young fella-me-lad.
He was about to storm out and march all the way home to administer his own brand of rough justice, when a door under the stairs caught his eye. He paused. Well, it wouldn’t hurt to check the cellar. Perhaps this was why Denny picked out this place…
He opened the door and followed the torchlight down the slatted stairs. The air in the cellar was musty and stale. There was an underlying whiff of rotting meat. Bert pressed the cuff of his jacket against his mouth as the torch surveyed the room. There were three long boxes on the cellar floor, each the size of a person. Bert watched transfixed as the lids slid from the boxes. He barely had time to think of the word ‘coffin’ before the door slammed shut behind him.
Bert spun around and his torch found the face of his son. He gasped to see the boy’s pale skin and the red rims around his eyes, and there, just visible above the collar of his T-shirt, two sore puncture marks.
“You have done well,” hissed a voice from the foot of the stairs, “To bring your new family such a bounteous meal. Good boy, Denny.”