Tales of an Old Cat
Please allow me to introduce myself,
I am a man of wealth and taste!
Heh – loved that song when Mick first sang it all these years ago, and still love it now. I know they keep saying that the old songs are the best, but they often are. When you hear that modern pap that recycles badly all the classic tunes, it makes me want to cry. You see, I like the older days, the music, the girls, the times…..
Yes, I guess that makes me a bit old fashioned, but you see I am in all my ways – including my profession. I’m a cat burglar, you see – well, mostly retired these days, although I do still keep my hand in from time to time. You see, it’s not quite as easy to shin up those drainpipes now, and I’m not quite as fast on my feet as I used to be.
Not that I’m complaining – old age catches up with us all eventually, and I managed to earn enough in my time to fund my retirement. It’s just that I feel that the art I and my colleagues practised is being lost. Kids these days seem to think that barging in and terrifying people is the only way to get what they want. There’s no finesse, no style – heck, no intelligence behind that.
When I started in the trade, I had to serve my apprenticeship like any other lad my age who wanted to learn a trade. I started as a lookout for one of the local burglars, who taught me how to pick locks, force windows and gain entry without leaving too much mess. Eventually, he let me accompany him on a few blags, making sure I learned the correct way to dress and act. You see, the look was all important in those days – it had to be black, and it had to be reasonably well fitting. From there, I eventually graduated to going solo, and my career was underway.
The other thing that was different then from now was what you carried with you. It’s bloody difficult to contemplate doing a rooftop run carrying a bag full of gear, for example. You took what you could carry about your person, and that was it. If you needed more, you used what you could find. Simple as that.
You also learnt to be discreet and quiet. After all, you could not be a cat burglar without being quiet – make a lot of noise, and you’re just an ordinary run of the mill hoodlum. The ideal was to get in, steal and get out without disturbing anyone or anything – and 95% of the time, if you were careful, you could do that.
Of course, that left the 5% where you were disturbed while about your work. I still remember the first time that happened to me………
It must have been about 30 years ago, when I was just starting to go solo. I’d picked a little studio flat that was being used by a model whenever she was in London – my thinking was that she was bound to have some stuff there that I could get rid of quickly. On this particular evening, I managed to get into her flat by picking the lock on the front door and closing it behind me.
The flat was decorated in what’s now known as the Habitat look – all open plan, modern furniture, tables and desks, and hanging from the ceiling was a large white chair. I was looking at the chair when I heard a noise, and realised that the person I had intended to relieve of her jewellery was returning! Quickly, I slipped behind the couch in the room, and watched as she entered.
A real beauty she was too – dark skinned, about 6 foot tall with an extra three inches of afro hairstyle, wearing a brown floral print blouse, a tan fringed suede waistcoat and mini-skirt, and knee length brown leather boots. She threw her keys down on her table, went to the couch I was hiding behind, and sat crying.
What was I going to do? Well, my mentor had told me that in situations like this the bold approach was best. So I swallowed hard, stood up and said “Good evening” to her.
The young lady spun round on the couch, a look of shock on her face. That momentary surprise was all I needed to put my gloved hand over her mouth, and tell her to be quiet and she wouldn’t get hurt. If nothing else, the shock stopped her crying, and she nodded when I asked if she would be quiet when I took away my hand.
I asked her why she was crying, and she told me about a particularly obnoxious young lady at her agency who had said some quite distasteful things about the colour of her skin. I never understood why people could be so cruel because someone looks different – and I told her that. I also asked what this girl’s name was – in case I decided to pay her a visit at some time.
The girl dried her eyes, and then remembered to ask “what the hell are you doing in my flat”. Well, as my mentor said, always be honest – so I told her I had come to steal her jewellery and that if she cooperated I wouldn’t need to hurt her. She looked a bit surprised at this, and then said something very strange. She said “I guess you’ll have to tie me up then – do you have any rope with you?”
Well, I’m standing there with nothing but the clothes and gloves I’m wearing, so I say no. She then takes my hand, and leads me to the kitchen where she shows me a length of washing line and a roll of Elastoplast – that brown sticking plaster you used to get.
I asked why she was doing this, and she said she was thankful for the distraction. Besides, I had been kind to her, and she didn’t want to cause trouble. Dashed decent of her, all things considered, so I said that and asked her to put her hands behind her back.
Long story short – five minutes later, the girl is sitting in that hanging seat, wrists crossed and tied behind her back, ankles tied, and rope tied above her knees as her legs are ticked under her bottom. I placed a little kiss on her lips, slapped a length of Elastoplast on her mouth, and proceeded to rob her as she watched. When I read the story of the break-in in the papers, the description she gave of the man who threatened her with a knife was nothing like me.
That taught me two things – don’t be surprised at what you may find when you enter a house, and always, always be sympathetic and polite. After all, you’re inconveniencing them!
Now, it’s worth saying that there is a good reason to be quiet and discreet. Like the cat, you’re trying to go about your business without being caught. That’s why I never wore a stocking or balaclava mask – well, that and the fact it obscures your vision something chronic. If you’re scaling a wall, you damn well need 360 vision!
When you first start out on your own, you tend to stick to the nighttime. A torch and your tools for gaining entry are your friends, and they go everywhere with you. Over time, you learn more of the skills and how to case- sorry, check out a possible hit, but the dark provides that extra cover you need to grow in confidence. There are times, however, when doing nights does mean you disturb someone, and then you have to get out as quickly as you can. The last thing you really want to do is to spend time restraining someone if you can help it, although there were occasions when it was necessary. Strange things some people wear in bed too – t-shirts and shorts, nightdresses, I’ve seen them all – and some things that make even an old timer like me blush.
Brings to mind one time I did have to make sure someone could not raise the alarm. Not the poor young woman’s fault, either, but she had a reason to cooperate – and these things do happen……
It was a ground floor flat in the swankier area of town, as I recall. Twilight when I decided to pay a visit – the couple who lived there had gone off for the evening. I’d watched them as they left – the man in formal evening dress, the woman in a long sheer gown and a dark fur coat. They just reeked of money – and the superior look they gave everyone as they got into the waiting taxi just made my blood boil. Yup, there’s a bit of the old Trotskyite in me – I like to see those with more than they deserve share out to the poor and deserving. I’m the most deserving, of course.
The flats they lived in still had the old basement access doors, so I slipped down the stairs and quietly opened the door. Moving up to the flat, I moved quickly to the main bedroom, and began to avail myself of their belongings. All good stuff as well – no rubbish here. It didn’t take long for me to fill my little sack, and I left the room in a bit of a mess. Normally, professional pride means I would have put everything back, but on this occasion I just didn’t think it was worth it.
So, I closed the bedroom door behind me, and started down the corridor towards the main room. I knew they had to have a safe somewhere, and it wasn’t in their room, so the main room was the obvious next place to check. As I passed a door, however, I could hear someone crying behind the heavy oak panelling. I tried the door handle, but it was locked. The crying stopped, and a female voice started calling for help while there was pounding on the other side of the door.
Well, what else could I do? I picked the lock, and the door was opened by a young girl of about 18. She was wearing a light blue sports jacket and wraparound skirt, with dark blue stripes down the side of the skirt and the arms of the jacket, black over the knee socks and black flat shoes, and she had obviously been crying for some time. She stared at me silently for a moment, and then threw herself into my arms.
I took her into the kitchen (once she showed me where it was), and made her a cup of coffee. As she drank it, she told me that she was from Australia, and the couple’s Au Pair (a word I tend to think means the same as slave to far too many people.) She had tried to give her resignation earlier that day, and the wife had responded by locking her in her room so that “she could reconsider her decision”. See what I mean about slavery? She’d already realised what I was – the small sack of jewels that fell to the floor when she grabbed me had given that away – but again the act of kindness I’d performed had convinced her that I wouldn’t harm her.
In fact, she offered to show me where the safe was, mentioning the large amount of money the husband stored there. The only fly in the ointment came when I asked her what they would think if they came back to find the place ransacked and her gone. I had to gently point out to her that she would end up the wrong side of a police van, charged with the robbery, and it would not be possible for me to come forward – I wasn’t giving up my freedom for that. There was, however, a way out – if she was amenable to having to suffer a little discomfort.
A little while later, I completed emptying the relevant contents of the safe into my sack, and pulled the cord around the top tight shut. I then went to the kitchen; made sure the coffee cups had been washed, dried and put back, and closed the kitchen door. Finally, I checked on the young girl. I had left her in her room, with her wrists bound by two of her long scarves to the headboard of the bed. Two more scarves had been used to tie her ankles and legs together. Her head was resting on two pillows as she looked up at me. I asked her if she was alright, and she assured me that it was not too uncomfortable. I’d also been through the drawers of her room, scattering the contents in the same way I had in the other bedroom, but her jewellery and money were in a separate packet.
I reminded her that it would be necessary to keep her quiet, and she nodded. Opening her mouth, I put a balled up scarf in, then placed a strip of duct tape from a roll I found in the kitchen over her lips. Kissing her lightly on the forehead, I then picked up my sack and gently closed the door behind me.
A couple of weeks later, I met her in a discreet little pub I know of, and gave her back her belongings. She was on her way home, after being cleared of any suspicion in the break-in. Her employers were too concerned about the material they had lost to argue over her staying.
You may have noticed how co-operative the women in my stories were. Let me assure you they were the exception rather than the rule in the peak of my career. I usually managed to avoid meeting anyone when I entered a hose or flat, but the occasions I did do so were usually brief and much more animated than I would like. It was for that reason I eventually moved on from the full cat burglar routine to the more sedate, but safer daylight robbery shift, breaking and entering when most people were out to work or at school. Even then, however, I prided myself on being like the cat, getting in and out without been seen. Most of the time, anyway…..
The house was in a quiet suburb, and no-one noticed the extra postman going around and delivering the leaflets. Since they started doing that job, it’s been a great way for me to find ways into the houses. On this occasion, I delivered one last pizza leaflet before going to the last house in the road, and discreetly placing my satchel in a bush on the driveway.
The side door was old, and the lock was easy to force. I slipped into the house, and moved along the corridor to start searching the upstairs rooms. I would have carried on up, had I not heard music coming from the rear of the house. I looked carefully around the corner, and saw a young woman lying on a recliner in the conservatory. Her eyes were closed, and she was wearing a very small white bikini.
Retreating safely, I went about my business in the bedrooms and found her jewellery. On my way down, however, I went to check if she was still asleep in the back. It was just my luck that, as I peeked around the door of the conservatory, she decided to sit up and reach for her drink – catching a look at me in the process.
There wasn’t a lot I could do – I grabbed the first thing that came to hand, rushed forward and pushed her back into that sun longer. It turned out I’d grabbed a roll of clear packing tape, so I tore a strip off and pressed it over her mouth. I then strapped her wrists down to the arms of the chair, and quickly taped he rankles and legs together. Saluting her, I then ran out the side door, grabbed the hidden satchel and high-tailed it out of there.
I think it was then I realised I was getting a little too old for the cat burglar game. I then did what a lot of crooks of my generation had done – went into the antiques business. After all, all those years of handling jewellery and the like do give you an interest in the area, and a little bit of expertise can go a long way. I still do get the occasional job in, however, just to keep my hand in practice. In fact, the most recent was a month or so back…….
I’d been to an antiques fair in Suffolk, and was driving back when I saw this little cottage in the middle of nowhere, with a light on in an upstairs room. As I watched, the light went out, and there appeared to be no sign of life about the place. Well, the old urge got ahold of me, and I thought I would pay the house a little special visit.
There was a bar about a mile down the road, so I parked there and had a pint of beer to pass the time. Slipping quietly out of the side door, I made my way back down the road and approached the house. It was a lovely little thatched cottage, and had been maintained as close as possible to the original style. That meant the door had a simple latch as opposed to a lock, so I very gently opened the door and let myself in.
The walls of the house were covered with small paintings – whoever lived here had good taste, and liked local artists by the look of things. I stood for a little while, admiring the work, when a low female voice behind me asked if I was enjoying the view.
I turned around, and there stood a woman in her mid-50’s. She had greying hair tied in a bob, and was dressed as you would expect an elderly lady painter to be. Her olive coloured smock was lying slightly askew around the neck, her corduroy green skirt lay down below her knees, and she was wearing those long slipper-like moccasin socks. It would have been rude not to reply, so I admitted that I was admiring the fine craftsmanship in the paintings on her wall. On enquiring who the artist was, she told me that they were all her own work, and were for sale – when her cottage was open for sales.
At that point, I merely remarked that it had not been my intention to pay for the painting, or indeed anything else I may find there that night. I must have looked funny saying that to her – after all, I’m a man in his 50’s as well, dressed in a pair of light trousers, jumper and a light coat. She merely looked at me from one side, with a slight smile on her lips, and asked if I really was planning to rob her. When I nodded to indicate that she was thinking correctly, she laughed and asked if I would like a glass of wine.
She opened a bottle of Chardonnay, and we sat at a table and talked about our lives. She told me she had been a good housewife for many years until her husband died unexpectedly, and then she had retired to this cottage, where her painting and her friend sin the nearby village kept her occupied. I, in return, told her some of the tales of my past exploits. We spent a pleasant hour or two chatting, until I remarked that I really had to go – even if I didn’t take anything that night, I had had a good time.
The woman stood up, went to the wall and took down a couple of paintings. Wrapping them in paper, she placed them in a large paper bag and handed them to me. She commented that the evening had been a little unexpected excitement for her, and it had brightened up a dull day. In addition, she asked me to carry on as if I really had robbed her.
I asked what she had in the house that could be used to bind her, and she handed me a long length of rope. Inviting her to make herself comfortable, she sat down on a long settee and waited for me. I made a lasso with one end of the rope, placed it over her arms and upper body and pulled it tight, passing it around a few times. I offered her a pillow, and she lay on the settee resting her head on the pillow at one end. In a few moments, I had used the rope to tie her wrists together on her lap, her legs over her skirt and finally her crossed ankles. She gave me the number of a friend to tell of her predicament, and then I stuffed a clean cloth into her mouth and left her with the radio playing.
Don’t worry - I called the friend after I collected my car from the pub, and I heard the woman was fine later. I’m looking at the paintings on my wall now – couldn’t bear to sell them on.
Anyway, I need to be getting along. It was nice of you to drop in and say hello – please do so again some other time.