Cupid and The Cat
O, my love is like a red, red rose,
that is newly sprung in June.
O, my love is like the melody,
that is sweetly played in tune.
You know, most people think the Bard of Avon is the greatest poet that Britain has ever produced, but I personally think the Bard of Ayrshire has a good claim to that title as well.
So, you want to hear some more of my stories do you? Well, it’s a particularly appropriate time of the year for that, given the talk of roses and love. February, you see, means St Valentine’s Day, and for me that was a very special time of the year, a time that I used to take very special care over.
You see, it was the one time of the year when I would take a bag with items in it with me, and I would leave a little present in the places that I would visit on that particular evening. Yes, I am a romantic at heart, but even when I had the misfortune to have to meet the people who lived in the flats and houses I visited, leaving something behind gave them some hope that as a group we cat burglars are not all bad.
It was my mentor who first gave me the idea when I was apprenticed to him. In the late 60’s, I was fourteen, and on the rare occasions he did take a bag of equipment with him I would carry it as well as act as lookout. On this particular night, we were visiting a flat in the Soho area of London, and he watched as I quickly opened the door with his skeleton keys. I stayed outside to watch for anyone coming while he slipped in.
After about half an hour had passed, I was beginning to wonder what was keeping him. He was a fast worker, and the longest I had ever known him to take on a job was about twenty or twenty-five minutes. I had got to the point where I was beginning to debate if our emergency plan should kick in when he put his head round the door and beckoned for me to join him.
Entering, he took me into the front room of the house, and there on the floor was a young blonde-haired woman. She was wearing one of those “pop art” mini dresses that Mary Quant had just brought out, all swirling pastel colours and shapes, and white knee-length boots. Obviously she had been home when my mentor had come in, and he had tied her with rope he had found into a reasonably strict hogtie which she was rolling around trying to get out of. Her bare wrists were crossed and tied together behind her back, her ankles tied and a rope between the two sets of bindings. Simple, classic, and it does the job. A scarf was tied tightly over her mouth, and another over her eyes, and the place had obviously been thoroughly searched.
“Now,” my mentor whispered into my ear, “Normally we would leave now, but I want you to learn that on this night, you should always leave a little gift for the ladies you visit.” Reaching into the holdall, he removed a box of chocolates and a single red rose wrapped in a box and laid them on a table in the room. Taking me by the arm, for I was transfixed by the sight of the woman, he led me out of the house.
Since you ask, no that was the first time I had seen a real live woman bound and gagged. I had seen pictures in magazines, and on the big screen, but apart from the time I found my mother that way I had never seen a stranger bound in real life. After that, I learned how to do what he had done – essential skills in my line of work. As I graduated, I kept his advice to heart, and every year when I went out on the 14th of February I made sure I had something to leave behind as a thank you.
One year – it was probably about 1977 I think – I paid a visit on St Valentine’s Day to a large house in the Belgravia area to see what I could find. Belgravia has always been a site of rich pickings for those in my profession, families with lots of money and very little idea of how to spend it tastefully. It was also a time when, for some perverse reason, Edwardiana was the fashion of the day. I never quite understood it myself – after all, why would someone want to hide something as beautiful as the female body – but then if I understood these things I would have been in a different profession.
I climbed up a drainpipe at the back of the house, and entered through a bedroom window that had been left open. Going through each of the bedrooms in turn, I took the valuables that I could find and placed them in my bag. I was about to make my final preparations for leaving when I heard a door opening and closing downstairs. That was probably the point I should have got out, but I was still relatively new to the solo business at that point, and I went to the top of the stairs to have a look.
At the bottom of the stairwell was a young woman – I’d guess she was in her late teens – talking on the telephone. She was wearing a cream roll neck sweater and an Edwardian style pinafore dress, with yoke collar, frills around the armholes and a full mid-length skirt. She seemed oblivious to the fact that I was watching her, as she twirled her long auburn hair around in her fingers. I sneaked back to the room that I had been in, and taking chocolates and a rose from my bag I placed them on the bedside table.
It was at that point that the light came on, and I turned round to see the girl standing there staring at me. For the life of me, I don’t know why I did it, but I got down on one knee and said “Fair Maiden, you have caught me in the act of taking your valuables. I fear that I must make sure that you cannot raise the alarm, and for that I crave your most humble forgiveness.”
I looked up, and a smile was spreading across her face. “Did Johnny put you up to this?” she asked.
Well, she opened the door to my response at that point. “Why, fair maiden, if a knight in shining armour is indeed wanting to come to your rescue, than who am I to deny him that right. Will you do as I say so that you are ready for him?” I looked up into her eyes and saw that she had been completely taken in by this.
“Why, you cruel man, what do you want to do with little old me?” she asked with a passable attempt at a Southern drawl. Obviously, she wasn’t the brightest person on the planet, but she had fallen completely for the idea that I was doing this for her boyfriend!
I invited her to sit in a chair by her dressing table, and she did so. As she sat, her petticoat dress rode up slightly to show she was wearing red platform boots, of the type that were fashionable at the time.
I produced some rope from my bag (one of the rare occasions at that time when I took some with me), and proceeded to tie the young girl to the chair she was sat in. The rope was wrapped around her chest several times, and then I used it to tie her wrists together behind her back. I then ran the rope down and used the remaining length to tie her ankles together, so that she was securely held in the chair.
“Your rescuer will be here soon, but please take these tokens from me as a prelude to that time” I said pointing out what I had left on the bedside table. Then, taking a scarf that she had left on the floor, I gagged her so that she was unable to call out. I kissed her on the cheeks, took my bag and got out as fast as I could.
After that, every year if I was going out on Valentine’s Day I went equipped with extra items to leave as a gift. You see, everyone assumes that everyone goes out on that night, but in my experience it’s a 50-50 split of those who would go out. Just as many stay in because they have no one to go with, nowhere to go. Let me explain what I mean.
A few years later I was visiting a detached house in the suburbs – the house was dark, and I figured nobody was home. I went in by breaking a window quietly in the back door, and opening the door from the inside. As I went through, I did my usual search of the upstairs bedrooms and accumulated a fair amount of things to take. Heading back downstairs, I went to search the main room. It was only when I was halfway through that I realised that I was not alone, as the sound of quiet sobbing reached my ears. Peering in the darkness, I saw a woman in her forties sitting in a chair. She was dressed entirely in brown – a roll neck sweater, silk blouse with a long scarf tied around the collar and hanging down to her waist, straight knee length skirt and box-toed leather boots. She obviously sensed I was there as well, for she turned a light on and stared at me.
I quickly moved over and placed my gloved hand over her mouth, asking her not to scream or cry out. She just kept staring at me, and I wasn’t quite sure how to take it. I took my hand away and asked her why she was crying, and she told me that her boyfriend had just called it a day that night. Nice timing on his part, obviously. I sympathised with her, but at the same time she knew who I was and that she was at a slight disadvantage.
Nevertheless, I felt I had to be gentle, so I asked her to take her scarf off and tie it into her own mouth to gag her. As she did this, looking at me all the time, I found a ball of wool that had been left in a knitting basket nearby. Taking the wool, I tied her hands together in front of her, making sure that I tied it over the cuffs of her blouse and jumper to protect her skin. I then wrapped the wool around her skirt to hold her legs in place, and allowed the ball to drop to the floor. Crossing her ankles, I used the wool to bind them together, and then cut a long length off from the ball. I fed that end back up to the wool around her legs, securing it there. I also left her my usual gift of a single rose and a box of chocolates as I left her to make my own escape. Before leaving her, however, I told her her boyfriend had made a mistake, and that she was indeed a beautiful woman.
She smiled at me, despite the fact her scarf was wrapped twice into her mouth, and I took the memory of that smile with me as I left.
You’re asking why you should go to all this extra bother for just one night? It’s obvious to me that you have never experienced that feeling of complete joy that comes from loving someone. Now, I never mixed business with pleasure, and when I was dating women I made sure that I never visited them in my professional capacity. That did not mean, however, that I could not show appreciation, and this one night in the year allows me to express that in a way that would not be possible at any other time.
As I’ve said before, in my line of work you do get to see some very unusual sights, whether its people’s choice of night time attire or some of the things they don’t want others to know about their lives. That’s especially true when it comes to Valentine’s Day, because that’s when fantasies and reality do seem to cross over. That first girl I mentioned was one of the earlier examples, but there are others.
On one particular occasion, I climbed up and entered a flat where all the lights were out, and started to search the rooms for valuables. As I made my way towards the bedroom, however, I could hear slight rustling noises, and I realised that somebody was in the bed. Well, even though I had my bag with gifts, I didn’t have any materials in case I had to secure anyone, so I went quietly into the bathroom and found a roll of medical tape. Having armed myself, I crept back to the bedroom and opened the door very slightly.
From the doorway, I could see by using the mirror that someone was lying on a bed, and it looked to me like – yes, her feet were tied to the foot of the bed. Her legs were apart, and she seemed to be wearing long black leather boots.
Intrigued, I silently entered the room, and there on the bed was a dark-haired woman dressed up as Catwoman from those American comics. She had on a black bodysuit, long opera gloves and the boots I had seen, and a mask over her eyes. She had been bound spread-eagled to the bed, and she was moaning quietly to herself with her eyes closed. From the scattering of rose petals on the floor, I realised this was some sort of game she was playing with her boyfriend, and equally he was nowhere to be seen.
Speed being of the essence, I went up to the bed and said “Excuse me, but you do realise that you are about to be robbed?” Her eyes snapped open, and she looked at me as if she couldn’t quite believe that she was in this situation. She believed it, however, when I tore a strip of tape off the roll and stuck it over her mouth, followed by two more to make sure she was unable to call out. She then had to lie there helpless while I took her valuables.
Before I left, however, I took a red rose and laid it across her chest as a thank you, kissed her lightly on the cheeks and got the heck out of there before her boyfriend got back. As I was walking down the road, I actually saw him coming the other way (I had seen a picture of him on the bedside table) carrying a take away meal. I, in turn, had my own takeaway with me as I walked on.
People, when they learn what I did for a living, sometimes ask if I was ever unlucky enough to meet more than one person in the places I visited. When I was a solo agent, I think that only happened a handful of times, and as I got older I had an apprentice with me to help out, but there was one particular occasion when it did happen and I had to deal with it in an unusual manner.
This would have been in the late 80’s, and I was visiting a house outside my usual patch – the police were particularly active in my home area that year for some reason. I crept through the back garden and entered through the kitchen, seeing all the lights were off downstairs and none were visibly on upstairs.
Stupid assumption on my part, of course – as soon as I had got past the kitchen I could hear music upstairs. Doubling back on myself, I found a skein of cotton clothes line in the kitchen, and cut a couple of lengths off before putting the rest in my back pocket.
I crept up the stairs, and could see that a light was on in an upstairs bedroom. As I reached the top, a door suddenly opened and a blonde haired woman in her early 20’s came out. She was wearing a white denim blouse, a short white pleated skirt with blue inserts in the pleats, and white ankle boots. Under the collar of her blouse she wore a white and blue scarf that matched her skirt. Obviously, to me at least, she was on her way out – or she would have been if she hadn’t run into me at the top of the stairs.
I grabbed her arm, twisted her round and told her in no uncertain terms to be absolutely still, or I would have to hurt her. A little harsh by my usual standards, but I had to deal with this quickly. Taking a length of cord from my pocket, I quickly lashed her wrists together behind her back while she stood there, then I took the scarf off from under the collar of her blouse and used it to gag her. She was struggling a bit, so I told her if she behaved herself I would be out of there quickly. So it seemed a little strange to me that she continued struggling as I pushed her back towards the room she had emerged from.
The reason for her struggling became clear when I went back in with her. There, sat at a dressing table, was her twin sister, exactly like her in looks and dress, except that she had red pleats in her skirt and in her scarf as opposed to blue. She just sat there looking at me as I helped her sister to sit on the bed, then I went behind her back and tied her wrists together before using her scarf to gag her in the same way I’d gagged her sister.
Within a few minutes, the two girls were kneeling on the ground and bound together face to face, with rope holding them together around their chests and arms, and their upper legs. I used the final lengths I had cut earlier to bind their ankles together, and then left them to look at each other in mute panic while I raided their valuables. A gift for each was left on the dressing table before I departed, blowing a kiss to both of them as I left the room.
Here’s a thought for you – maybe what I did to those women on Valentine’s night was a test of true love. If their fiancée or boyfriend or partner really loved them, they would come and see why they had not made their date and release them. In fact, I’d hate to be them if they didn’t do that.
As the years went by, I also took on a couple of apprentices and tried to install the same values in them that I had learned in my time. One in particular took them to heart, and I hear he’s doing rather well at the moment. Others, however, seem to think that we have a right to take what we want and damn the consequences. For my part, I was very aware of the consequences – after all, I ran the risk of imprisonment every time I did something. So, if I was in the position of encountering someone when I was about my work, I always showed the utmost respect for them and tried to treat them with dignity.
That could be difficult at times, but professional pride and courtesy are important to me. When I finally gave up the night work, it wasn’t just because of my own aging body, but also because I realised that, just like fashions, some things can come around again to haunt us. Let me explain what I mean by telling you about the last Valentine’s Night that I did a job on.
My apprentice and I decided to try our luck at a house in one of the suburbs. It was about eight o’clock when we approached the back door, thinking that everyone who lived there was out for the night. We had been there for half an hour or so, making our way through the rooms, when as we searched one of the bedrooms I heard the front door was opening and people coming in.
Well, we had no way out, so I told my apprentice to take one of a number of coils of rope I had with us, and wait there in case someone came up. By this time, he had convinced me that it was important to go prepared for the possibility of people being there, rather than trusting to what I may be able to find on the premises, and besides I was getting too old to spend time looking around. I crept along the landing and only just had time to duck behind a door before someone came past. I waited for a moment, then headed down the stairs, and quickly entered the living room.
The room had been lit by candle light, but staring at me was a woman in her late fifties, wearing a black velvet halter neck evening dress and a matching wrap around her neck. She had greying permed hair, and wore large glasses, but for the life of me I could not shake the feeling that I had seen her somewhere before.
The stare turned into a look of resigned despair, almost as if she had been in this sort of situation before, and I asked her politely not to scream or make any sudden noises. Inviting her to sit down, she took a seat on a long couch in the room, and asked me if I was indeed robbing the place.
I nodded, and apologised for the fact that she had discovered us, particularly as I had to make sure now that I could safely get away. She then asked if she could make herself comfortable if that was the case, and when I said yes she sat back on the couch and just put her hands out in front of her.
A few minutes later, her hands were crossed and tied in front of her, and a length of rope was tied around her chest. As I was crossing and tying her ankles together, I asked if we had ever met, as I just could not shake the feeling that I knew her from somewhere. She shook her head, and actually said that if she had known me, she might have thought this was a Valentine’s prank cooked up by her granddaughter.
She told me that her granddaughter was staying with her, and asked where she was. I, in turn, was forced to admit that I had a partner with me, and he was probably doing the same to her granddaughter as I was doing to her. I asked her if she had ever been robbed before, and she admitted she had many years before. What she was really worried about was the fact that her granddaughter had been at a Sixties party that night, and was wearing one of her old outfits for the occasion. Assuring her that my partner was as careful as I was to ensure a woman’s modesty is protected, I finished binding her legs together, and helped her to lie on her side, straightening her skirt out for her to keep her modesty complete.
As I took a white scarf from my bag to use as a gag, my apprentice put his head around the door and indicated he wanted me to come with him. Apologising to the woman for having to leave, I tied a knot in the scarf and used it to gag her and prevent her raising the alarm. Being Saint Valentine’s Day, I also took a single rose and laid it beside her as a gift, then took my bag and followed my student out of the room.
We both returned upstairs, and my apprentice opened the door to a bedroom. There, on the bed, was the granddaughter, blond haired and writhing around in a hogtie that my apprentice had used. She too was gagged, and blindfolded as well, but it was the outfit that she was wearing that caught my eye. It was a Mary Quant minidress, all pastel and swirling mixed colours, and she was wearing white knee length boots. With a pang of age, I realised that the woman downstairs was the one I had seen all those years previously on the floor, and I realised that like fashion, time was catching up with me. I watched, with regret and pride, as he left a single red rose and a box of chocolates for the young lady, and we both silently crept out.
That night, I told my apprentice that I was quitting the game, and told him to go on his own and make me proud. He still pops in from time to time – he’s teamed up with a fellow thief now and they work together.
Still, mustn’t sit here and chat – I have a date coming round tonight, and I have to make sure everything is ready. You know - good food, fine wine, roses and romance, all that jazz. Do pop by again when you’re in the neighbourhood, won’t you?