Cat On The Top
Long time no see – why don’t you sit down and take a load off your feet? I’m sorry I haven’t been around recently to have a chat. If truth be told, I’ve been taking care of some personal and private business, and it means I haven’t had much time to myself recently. Never mind that, however – let me fix you a cup of tea.
Oh, you noticed them? These are some of my most private possessions – ones that have a specific significance to me in terms of the people I – well, I obtained them from. Oh, don’t look so shocked – you know full well the line of work that I followed for so long. As it is, even if I was to meet some of those women again I doubt if it would make any difference.
For example, take this pearl necklace. The story behind this actually involves no tone, but two women, but is their own way they were the heights of fashionable society in their time.
I had just turned professional, so was still a bit young and naive in the late sixties when I prised open the window of the Wimbledon flat. Slipping in, I barely had time to close the window before I could hear the sounds of someone else in the building, despite the fact I had not seen a single light on in the rooms. Well, it was surprising, but I was young and confident, and I thought there was nothing that could surprise me.
So, when I opened the door and crept down the corridor, the last thing I expected to get was a karate chop to the back of the neck. Not a brilliantly executed one, or else I don’t think I would have got up, but enough to give me a shock. As I say, I was young and probably not as mannered as I am now, so when I stepped to the side and grabbed the arm that hat hit me I rather roughly pushed the other person against the wall.
That was a move I regretted when I managed to turn a light on and saw that my assailant was a young girl, barely out of her teens, dressed like Emma Peel in the Avengers. She was wearing a tight black sweater and pants, a black waistcoat and short leather boots, with black leather gloves on her hands, but the blue eyes that looked out at me were filled with fear.
“Well now, you like to play games,” I said in as light a tone of voice as I could, “So do I. Would you like to play Cops and Robbers?”
She looked up at me and said “Which are you, the robber?”
“Correct as charged,” I said. “So, I seem to have caught a cop. What do you think I should do with her?”
She just kept looking at me, too scared to speak I suppose, when I heard a second voice behind me saying “I think you need to make sure you can get away.”
Keeping the young girl tightly in my grip, I turned and saw who had spoken, recognising her instantly as Lesley Burton, one of the more acclaimed actresses of the time. Looking back at the young girl, I realised why her face had looked familiar, and said “Would this be your daughter?” Lesley nodded, removing the mink stole that covered her shoulders and laying it over the hat stand that stood in the corridor. “She does like to play the heroine, even though she has a lot to learn. May I enquire as to who you are?”
I looked at her as she eyed me up. She had obviously been at some sort of event, given she was wearing a sleeveless silk dress that went from the thin straps over her shoulders to the floor, the material above her chest a rich purple and turning to a more muted shade as the material fell from her waist. A pair of light grey opera gloves covered her hands, and around her neck was a double string of fine pearls.
“Forgive me if I do not answer,” I said, “after all, I do not particularly wish to end my career so early. Just call me – call me a visitor who is looking for gifts, and I hope you will feel that you can oblige.”
“Well, if nothing else you are a very polite young man,” she said as she sat down in a chair. “Audrey, darling, I believe this young man does intend to rob us. What do you think we should do?”
The young girl looked at her mother, then back to me before saying “I think we should do as he says mother. After all, he did hold us at gunpoint when he burst in on us.”
Now remember, this was early in my career, so this was the first time I’d ever come across the willing participant. Lesley smiled and said “Forgive my daughter, she is eager to learn the tricks of the trade. So, what do you say, my visitor, will you complete the play for us?”
Of course I was willing to oblige, so I let Audrey go and asked her to find something that I could use to “ensure I got away in one piece.” Before she went out of the room, her mother told her not to call anyone while I removed the heavy telephone set from the wall. She soon returned with a few lengths of cotton washing line, and two headscarves, before sitting down next to her mother.
I started by tying Audrey’s wrist together, palm to palm, behind her back and then securing her ankles together, making sure I pulled the cord tightly over her boots. As she checked the limits of her movement, I asked Lesley to put her hands together in front of her. I was aware, you see, that some years ago she had injured herself on a film set and was unable to move her arms too far behind her back. As I looped the cords around her gloved wrists, tying them together, I made sure they were further secured by passing the rope around her waist and securing it in the small of her back.
“Very considerate,” she said with a smile as I knelt down and secured her ankles together, lifting the hem of her skirt up to make sure they were tied tightly together. “I seek to make you comfortable if secure,” I said as I stood up and looked at the two scarves. “Now then, forgive me if I silence you.”
“Before you do,” Lesley said, “Please know that my jewellery is in the bureau in the bedroom, and Audrey keeps hers in the top drawer. There is one other thing you can do.”
“And that would be,” I asked politely.
“You may take this necklace – consider it a trophy, and remember as you go on that manners doth maketh man.”
I smiled as I knelt over, gently kissed Lesley and unclasped the pearl necklace, placing it in my pocket before taking one of the scarves and rolling it into a tight band.
Thirty minutes later, I returned to see Lesley lying on the couch, looking down at Audrey as she lay on her side on the floor. The scarves had been pulled into each of their mouths, Lesley’s red lips encircling the patterned silk, as she turned and looked up at me. Blowing them both a kiss, I turned and left the room, extinguishing the light as I did so.
So, a memory of an early case, and some of these come from later years. Some of them are valuable in their own right, but some have mainly sentimental value. For example, have a look at this bracelet. It’s just an ordinary charm bracelet, but that’s not the point here. The point here is that this reminds me of one of the most brave and charming women I have ever met.
It was a quiet Saturday afternoon, and I had spent the day in the Essex countryside when I stopped off for a bite to eat at a local pub. As I sat there, enjoying a pint of bitter and a pie, I saw two women talking in a corner booth. They were in their early thirties, nicely dressed and talking quietly, and I could see that one of them, slightly older with light brown hair and wearing a red dress with white polka dots, was crying. After about ten minutes, they stood up and walked out, and I realised where I had seen the other woman before.
She had been an athlete at the Munich games – won a bronze medal in the relay – called Wilma Caulder. I watched as she walked past with her friend, admiring her slim body as all men should, and decided that it may be worth paying a visit to her house – seeing as I was in the area and at a bit of a loose end, if you like.
Draining my glass, I left the bar and followed from a distance, as the two women walked to a small cottage about a mile away. There they embraced, and as the blonde haired woman walked off Wilma made her way towards her door, taking a large key out of her handbag as she did so. She was wearing a low cut short sleeved black blouse, with a black choker around her neck that had a small cameo hanging from it, a flared patchwork skirt with French advertising pictures printed on some of the patches and a wide black belt around her waist, and cork sandals. Over her shoulders was a large red shawl with a black and white polka dot trim, tied over her chest.
She opened the door and went in, so I made my way around to the back of the house and let myself into the back garden. I wasn’t dressed in my usual black garb – after all, I had not expected to pay a visit that day, so I took my driving gloves out of my pocket and slipped them on before gently opening the back door.
It was your typical cottage kitchen of the time – all wood and floral patterns, but my attention was focused on getting in and out of the house as quickly as possible, preferably without being spotted if I could. I prided myself on not disturbing the residents if at all possible at the time, but as I silently went up the stairs I could hear Wilma talking on the phone, so I was sure I would not get into trouble.
I spent a pleasant twenty minutes finding some items of interest, but as I made my way downstairs I found to my regret that Wilma was standing in the hallway, looking in the mirror, and that she was focused solely on looking at herself. Regretfully, there was no way of getting past hr without her seeing me, so I steeled myself and walked slowly up behind her.
The look in her eyes was priceless when she finally saw me standing behind her in the reflection from the mirror. As she opened her mouth to scream, I placed my gloved hand gently over it and asked her not to call out – I wasn’t going to harm her. She looked at me, eyes wide, but the fear quickly subsided as she relaxed under my grip. I told her I was going to take my hand away and she should not scream, but as I did so what she said was “Do what you want – it doesn’t matter anymore.”
Well, that was not the response I usually had or anticipated, but as I looked closer I could see the faint tear tracks that ran down her cheeks.
“Just take whatever you want, “ she repeated as she started to sob. “I really don’t care – it’s not worth keeping for nobody to collect.”
Taking her by the arm, I guided her back into the front room of the cottage, the floor of which was covered with legal and other papers. Something was seriously wrong here, especially as I had nothing to do with the mess in here. At the same time, Wilma was starting to sob, great heaving sobs of grief and panic.
I asked her to sit down and held her in my arms as she continued to cry great quantities of tears, gasping for breath but saying nothing else. Eventually she calmed down, and I handed my handkerchief as she dried her eyes.
“I only came here to rob you, but there’s something else wrong, isn’t there?” I said quietly as I took my handkerchief back. She nodded as she sat there, and then told me the whole story, starting with her visit to her doctor yesterday.
As the tale unfolded, I realised that this poor woman had fallen victim to breast cancer – and in those days, there was no real cure beyond radical surgery and prayer. This was a woman who knew how her story was going to end, and she freely admitted she had thought of ending it herself then and now – hence the papers scattered on the floor.
I stayed there for an hour or two, talking with her and explaining I had some idea of how she felt – sadly, my own mother had died far too young from a similar condition – as well as encouraging her to fight and help others through her example. As she slowly came round to the idea, she finally realised the most important thing at that exact moment – she had no idea who I was or why I was there.
“Well, if I may be frank,” I said, “I was robbing you, but I could not ignore you or your presence. Here.” With that, I took the things I had pocketed out of my jacket and left them on the table. “You can find a better use for them than I ever could.”
“I suppose I should thank you, but how do I explain this mess?” I nodded and made a suggestion that may save both of us. She agreed, and went to fetch her sports bag while I cleared some room.
A few minutes later, I left her there, having taped her wrist and ankles with sport tape and left a piece sticking over her mouth. She gave me a present – the charm bracelet she had worn at the Olympics – and I left her there.
She lived for another four years, inspiring millions with her example and fund raising before passing away.
A sad yet inspiring tale of womanhood cut down in her prime.
Ah now – that’s a very interesting little item you have in your hands there. A diamond ring, and the diamond is pure, I guarantee you. That came from a young lady that really should have known a lot better than to flaunt her wealth on the television.
It was the height of the Thatcher years, and the goal of everyone who wanted to be anyone was to make money – lots of it, and damn the effect on anyone who got in their way. London at that time was the domain of the Yuppies and the Sloan Rangers – to me, they were the moral equivalent of the Victorian workhouse owners and slum lords, living and feeding on the misery of others in the main.
I was watching the news one night when they showed a picture of one of the worst of the bunch – a young couple who had made a killing on the stock market, and were pontificating on how they were right and anyone who could not help themselves had better stand aside or be trampled. To an old fashioned liberal like me, their attitude made my blood boil – so, as I liked to do under such circumstances, I decided to track them down and pay them a visit, making a note of their names – Hamilton, Neil and Christine.
No, not the same ones who were to have such a spectacular role to play in the downfall of the Conservatives some years later, although by the lord Harry they seemed to share some of the same attitudes. I got their address from the local electoral roll – a smart little detached house in Pinner – and watched them for the next couple of weeks as they commuted into the city and made a killing.
Eventually, a night came when I saw them both arrive home, in their expensive car and walk into the house in their power suits. An hour or so later, Neil walked out and headed down the street, dressed casually and whistling as he went. I decided that this would be the best time to make my move, and left my car a few streets down before walking back, the collar of my jacket turned up against the night chill.
The sun was setting, which afforded me enough gloom to slip into the garden and through a gate at the side of the house, sneaking round the side as I slipped a small penknife out of my pocket. A set of ladders had been left out in the garden, which I quietly extended and placed against the wall so that I could reach a bedroom window which was open on the upper floor.
This led to a small bedroom, which they obviously were using as a box room for storage. Trying hard not to make any noise, I opened the door onto a hallway, and from downstairs I could see and hear that young Christine was in the front room. It only took me a moment to find the main bedroom and start to search through the drawers.
IT was obvious to me they liked to flaunt their wealth – gold chains and bracelets, jewelled brooches and rings, and even more. I slowly filled a velvet sack that I carried for just such occasions, intent on getting as much as I could. It therefore took me a few minutes to realise that the noise had ended downstairs, and that someone else was in the room. Looking in the mirror, I saw Christine standing there looking at me.
She was wearing a baggy jumper dress, with blue and green stripes around the middle, electric blue leggings and socks that matched the jumper. A chiffon scarf was tied into her bobbed blonde hair to keep it out of her eyes, and in her hand was one of those early portable phones – the size of a brick, and on which she was desperately trying to dial a number.
The problem with those phones, however, was the battery only lasted about ten minutes and it was useless unless you were near a transmitter, which were few and far between in those days. She therefore was panicking as I walked over, grabbed her by the arm with one hand and took the phone away from her with the other. Her breath smelt of cheese and wine as she looked at me.
“Are you expecting your husband home soon?” I said, and as she shook her head I saw a glint of fear in her grey eyes. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to do that,” I said to reassure her, “but I am going to rob you, so I need you to do exactly what I say and not scream. All right?”
She nodded and whispered “yes,” relaxing a little as I smiled. “All right then, let’s get you nice and comfy before I continue,” I said as I guided her over to her bed. “Where does your husband keep his ties?”
Now, the bed was one of those with an old fashioned ornate iron headboard, so I think she had an inkling of why I asked about ties, because she said “He hangs them in the wardrobe, but what do you want them for?”
“I think you know,” I said as I walked over, keeping an eye on her the whole time. “Why don’t you lie down and make yourself comfortable, but keep your hands on top of your head. I don’t want you to do anything stupid that may result in you getting hurt.”
“Do you always treat the people you rob this way?” she asked as she settled down on the gold coloured bedspread and laid her head on a pair of pillows. “I always thought you bandits treated your victims with disdain.”
“Well, that would not do me any good,” IO said as I pulled a selection of silk ties from their hanger. “After all, however you may treat people I do not have the right to treat you in the same way. Even if you are an even worse robber than I am.”
“You can’t say that – I haven’t hurt anyone in my work at the bank.”
“No, I suppose you are too remote,” I said as I walked to stand beside her and took hold of her wrist, “but that does not mean you have not hurt ordinary people, however indirectly. Now, lie still.”
It only took me a few minutes to tie her wrist to the headboard, repeating the process on the other side, but as I tied her left wrist in place I noticed the ring on her third finger. The diamond dazzled in the light from the bedside lamp, but as I removed it she called out “That’s my engagement ring – you can’t have that!”
“Where’s your wedding ring then?” I asked as I looked at her, but she fell silent. “We... we’re not married yet. Work keeps getting in the way, and besides...”
“Well then, let this be a lesson to you. Take time to enjoy life and do important things, realising that the acquisition of wealth is not the be all and end all. This ring can be replaced,” I continued as I out it in my sack, “but your life cannot. Now, I need you to be quiet.”
She looked at me as I opened a drawer and took out a couple of her husband – sorry, her partner’s handkerchiefs before forcing her to open her mouth and stuffing them in. Securing her legs and ankles together with more of Neil’s ties, I continued to fill my sack before leaving her on the bed to contemplate her own future.
No, I kept the ring, as a reminder to myself that I also need to have some moral scruples about what I did in my career. Never hurt those who cannot afford it, never do something that you know you will regret later – simple things like that.
Ah, you noticed the scarf they were lying on – an unusual item to have in this collection, you might think. But it reminds me of one of the last visits I played, and how I realised that I needed to change my way of life.
You may remember the apprentice I mentioned in the past? Well, he had graduated to use a form of words, and struck out on his own, and I was starting to set myself up in the antiques business with a view to retiring. I’d just opened my first store, and was slowly starting to gain my reputation when she walked in.
She was about fifty years old, her brown hair greying slightly at the temples, and dressed in a black leather skirt and jacket over a Led Zeppelin t-shirt. Obviously an aging rocker, as she walked round in her knee length boots looking at the items that I had on display. I watched as she slowly turned and saw me standing there, admiring her.
“I see I still have the power to hold men’s attention,” she said in a Southern USA drawl, and as I stood up I acknowledged she had indeed bewitched me for a moment. Shaking my head, I offered my hand and asked how I could be of service.
“I understand that you carry out evaluations,” she said as she smiled at me, “Is that correct?”
“That’s right, I can do visits to check and value items if they cannot be brought here. Is this what you want?”
“It is, yes,” she said as she handed me a slip of paper. “I would be grateful if you would call here, say at ten tomorrow morning. There are some items of furniture I feel need a professional eye cast over them.”
“Of course – until ten tomorrow morning, Mrs...”
“Miss DeRue – Catherine DeRue,” she said as she smiled on the way out. The next morning, I made my way to a small cottage on the outskirts of town and walked up the garden path to the front door. I barely had time to knock on the door before it was opened by Miss DeRue, attired in a red leather skirt and jacket with black fabric boots.
“Thank you for coming, Mister Jacobs,” she said as she held the door open to allow me in. “If you will follow me, I will show you the pieces of furniture that I need a valuation on.”
She led me into the front room, where there were indeed a number of large pieces of wooden furniture and some bronze statuettes for me to look at. As I examined one particular chest of drawers, I noticed that some items of jewellery had been laid out on soft cloths on the table. I glanced over them as I moved round the room, noticing the condition and wondering what I would have done had I been more active in my old work.
“Nice, aren’t they” I heard Catherine say from the doorway. “Forgive me,” I said as I turned round, “I have a certain knowledge of the history of jewellery, and some of these items are very valuable. If you like, I could...”
“That won’t be necessary,” she said with a smile. “Can I get you a cup of coffee – I just started the filter machine.”
I looked at her for a moment, then said “Thank you – that would be nice.” She smiled and turned, the leather creaking as she walked away. There was something starting to bother me about this situation, so as she reached the kitchen door I stopped her and said “May I use the bathroom?”
“Certainly,” she said, “Top of the stairs.”
I made my way up and opened the door at the top of the staircase, noting for a moment the contents of the airing cupboard neatly stacked on the shelves. “Is everything all right,” I heard her call up, and I replied in the affirmative. Standing for a moment, I heard a faint noise coming from behind a door at the end of the corridor and made my way along.
Opening the door, I looked down and placed my finger to my lips as the woman inside looked up at me. She nodded at me as I closed the door and made my way back downstairs. Catherine was waiting at the base of the stairs, a mug of coffee in each hand.
“Do you mind if we drink these out here,” I said as she handed me a steaming cup. “It would be criminal to have those in there at the moment.”
“I agree – I don’t want them damaged,” Catherine said as we both took a drink. “So, Mister Jacobs, what do you think?”
“Very nice pieces you have, Miss DeRue, and certainly valuable. I can give you a verbal evaluation now, but I normally ask for a few days to research and confirm my thoughts.”
“Verbal will be sufficient for now,” she said with a smile as she continued to drink her coffee. I laid my mug down on a lace doily that was sitting on a small table, and picked my briefcase up from the floor.
“If you don’t mind,” I said as I opened the case and selected a few items from inside, “I need to just do some quick calculations. I do have one question, however, which I hope you can answer.”
Catherine looked at me and smiled again as she said “Shoot – what do you want to know?”
“How on earth did you overpower the woman you have bound and gagged upstairs in the bedroom?”
She stared at me for a moment, before carefully placing her mug next to mien and saying “I’m sorry, what did you just say?”
“I said, how did you overpower the woman upstairs, and please don’t lie – I’ll know.” As I said this, I closed the lid of my briefcase and pointed the small pistol I had straight at her.
Catherine looked at her, then the gun, then back to me before saying “How did you know?” As she slowly raised her hands, I waved it in the direction of the staircase and marched her back up to the bedroom I had looked into earlier.
As I opened the door, the real owner of the house screamed out, calming down as she saw me behind her captor. “Untie her and take that scarf out of her mouth,” I said, helping the captive to stand up and hop over to the bed.
She was in her late thirties, with long reddish-brown hair and green eyes, dressed in a light brown short sleeved tunic and jeans. As Catherine untied the scarf that was placed over the woman’s mouth, she spat out a wad of cotton wool and said “Thank you” as the sodden mass hit the floor.
“To answer your question,” I said as Catherine released the house owner’s wrists, “I knew something was wrong when I looked at the jewellery. All very nice pieces, but pieces that obviously matched were not placed together. It all smacked of someone who had dumped them and just put them into the quickest order possible. When I asked where the toilet was, however, you directed me to an airing cupboard for linen – which confirmed you did not live here.”
“She doesn’t” the other woman said as she rubbed her wrists. “She overpowered me as I went to leave for work this morning, dragged me up here, bound and gagged me and then left me to struggle. I’m glad you were not taken in by her.”
“My pleasure – but something about this does not seem right still.” I turned to Catherine the gun still trained on her. “What was going to happen – I leave and you call some ‘friends’ to come and collect the items?”
“Got it in one,” she said with a smirk. “So you’ve heard of me?”
“I’ve heard of similar cases elsewhere in the country,” I said as I picked up the phone, “but this time you fail. Call your friends, tell them this one is a dud and not to bother, and you will contact them shortly. Make it sound convincing, or I will make sure they get an even nastier surprise.”
She looked at me, before reaching for the mobile phone I handed to her and dialling a number. As she talked, I asked the house owner “What’s your name?”
“Well, Debbie, I’m going to deal with this now. I don’t think anything has been taken, but please go downstairs and make sure there genuinely is nothing missing. Can I trust you to do that for me?”
“Who are you?” she asked as she slowly stood up. In reply, I took an identity card and flashed it at her. “CI6 – we had a sting operation set up for another case, and this stupid woman blundered into the middle of it. I cannot say more, and I regret I cannot allow you to call the police, but please trust me when I say you will come to no further harm.”
“CI6?” Catherine said as Debbie left us alone in the room. “Just who the hell are you anyway?”
“Tell me,” I said as I looked at her, “Have you heard of The Cat?”
She looked at me for a moment, before bursting out laughing. “Oh crud – I really did walk into it didn’t I? I heard you had retired, but I never thought...”
“No, you did not think, so you will do exactly what I say or I will make sure she calls the police.” I picked up a deep green scarf that was lying on the bed. “Stand up, turn round and put your hands behind your back.”
Ten minutes later, Debbie watched as I marched Catherine down the staircase. I had pinioned her wrists behind her back with the scarf, and used my own tie to hold a pair of panties in her mouth.
“That’s a bit extreme, isn’t it,” she said as I stopped Catherine at the bottom of the stairs. Looking at the young woman, I smiled and said “Is it any worse than what she did to you? Allow me to take her away and deal with her – I didn’t have my handcuffs with me, hence the scarf. I will, of course, return it when...”
“No – just get her out of my sight,” she said as I picked up my case. “Of course – I will arrange for someone to come round and take your statement,” I said as I escorted Catherine out of the door.
A phone call to a contact in the police ensured that Debbie felt she had been properly dealt with, and Catherine – well, Catherine was on the next plane back to her home country, with my blessing.
As you can see, I kept the scarf – that was when I realised helping people to maintain their wealth could be as satisfying as my old way of life. I was getting too old for that malarkey anyway.