The Cat Was Cool
There’s Della and the dealer and a dog named Jake,
And a cat named Kalamazoo.
Left the city in a pick-up truck,
Going to make some dreams come true.
It’s funny, isn’t it, how when old songs come on the radio they bring back memories of times that have past. I often sit here when there are no customers, listening to the radio and wondering what memories it will bring back.
Take that song, for example. It brings to mind three places I have been in the past where, well, not unusual things but things happened during my visit there to make it worth remembering.
Tell you what, sit down for a while and I’ll tell you about them. After all, it’s quiet here at the moment and I could do with the company.
Well if that cat could talk, what tales he’d tell,
About Della and the dealer and the dog as well
First, there was Della.
Tell me, do your parents go on about how good comedy was on television “in the old days?” Yeah, I thought they might. Well, in the seventies there was a very popular comedy show called “George and Mildred.”
Oh, your parent shave mentioned that one? Mildred was played by an actress called Yootha Joyce – all blonde hair and sexually suggestive but “nice” clothing. I am told in real life she was a very sweet and charming woman, but on that show she was an absolute vamp in all but the look.
Well, Della was almost the exact opposite. In the late 60’s and 70’s, she was a famous stage actress, known for playing the slightly older “Plain Jane” parts in comedies and farces. If you’ve ever seen film of those Whitehall Farces, she was the one who would play the harassed civil servant’s wife or something similar. I saw her on stage once with Brian Rix, and she was very funny indeed in those parts.
There is an old saying, however, that if you are associated with a type of part you’re often a very different person in real life. I found that out when I visited her flat in Knightsbridge in the early 70’s.
It was an evening in the autumn, and I knew that particular night she was starting in a new play in the West End, so the chances of her being back early were slim. I climbed up the fire escape of a nearby building. Made my way over the roofs and let myself in through a skylight that led to the bathroom of her flat.
It was dark by this time, but I do my best work with no light, so with the help of my small torch I began to search through her desk and drawers for her jewellery and valuables.
I had located her safe, and was in the process of trying to open it when a sound caught my ear. Closing the false bookcase door and ducking behind a chair, I crouched and listened as the front door to the flat opened and closed, and I could hear the sound of high hells clacking across the floor.
That’s when I realised my mistake. At this time, there was a miner’s strike going on, and to preserve stocks the then coal-fired electricity stations a series of rolling electricity blackouts were in place. I, of course, did not need such lighting, but obviously this would lead to theatres being unable to host performances – and it looked like Della’s opening night had been hit by a power cut.
Peeking round, I saw her walking towards her bedroom. She was dressed in a long dark coat, but her legs and high heels were palely visible. Entering her bedroom, I heard a match striking and saw the dim light of a candle through the doorway.
Cautiously, I moved slowly across the floor, staying flat to the ground all the time, to get a better view, but to my astonishment this prim, proper actress came back in with a very different look. Gone was the long coat and heels. Instead, she was wearing a very low cut sleeveless top, black leather trousers and high heels. You need to remember that at this time, women wearing leather clothing was not the normal thing it is now, but rather it was limited to those who wore it for jobs (such as Diana Rigg in The Avengers), or the more private end of the fantasy market.
Della tottered on her heels to a drinks cabinet, and pored herself a very large scotch in a glass. Sitting down, she drank it in one, and then realised in the dim candlelight that some things were not where they should have been. As she stood up to take a closer look, I sprang up and pulled her back into the chair, clamping my gloved hand over her mouth to silence her.
My god, did she fight me that night. I’m a reasonably strongman, but her slight build obviously hid a very strong woman physically, and it took some time for me to get her to stop struggling. Eventually, however, she collapsed back into the chair and I removed my hand. Moving round, I asked her if she was all right, and she nodded in a resigned manner.
I complimented her both on her clothing, and on the way she had kept this part of her life very private. Finding her voice, she in turn pleaded that I keep this very quiet indeed – apparently only her publicist knew about this. This did present a dilemma for me however – I wanted to respect her privacy, but how could we do this without getting the police involved when I had to stop her from raising the alarm?
Della also understood the situation, and she asked if I was intending to tie her up. When I nodded, she picked up a piece of paper and pen from the floor and wrote a name and telephone number down, Handing me the paper, she told me this was her publicist, and if I called her after a suitable length of time she would take care of things.
Putting the paper in my pocket, I invited her to place herself where she would be most comfortable. Taking my hand, she stood up and asked if I would “do what had to be done” in her bedroom and walked with me there. Opening a drawer in her wardrobe, she pulled out a number of long scarves and handed them to me before lying down on her four poster bed.
Well, you can guess what I did next. Ten minutes later, she was bound in a spread-eagled fashion, her wrists and ankles connected to the four posters, and a final scarf had been tied around her mouth as a gag. I could have sworn her eyes were laughing as I gathered up my things and headed out of the door, but it may have been the candlelight playing tricks on my eyes.
An hour or so later, I made a discreet call to the number I had been given, telling her that Della was in need of assistance and to go round immediately. When I read the papers a day or two later, there was an article on how Della had been attacked when she returned home, stripped and left bound and gagged on her bed. Her publicist had found her like this the next morning, and the police were looking for two men who wore balaclava masks. Well, as you know, I never wore a mask, so I knew that I was in the clear.
Della’s been dead now for some years, so I think I can trust you not to pass on the full details of the story.
Now, as to the dealer…..
There is only one other person someone in my profession trusts implicitly, unless we have an apprentice we are training, and that is our fence – the person who takes the goods we acquire and deals with obtaining cash for them. When I was in the business, I only ever dealt with two people – a father and son team, with the son taking over when the father retired. It was just before the father retired that he asked me if I’d join him for a drink – he had a favour to ask of me.
We met in a pub that was local to me at the time, and after we exchanged the usual pleasantries he got down to business. At that time, his son was dating a young lady who the father had discovered was not doing the right thing by him. In particular, he had found out that she was taking some of the goods the son was trying to sell on, and pocketing the money for her own use. The son was far too much in love with this girl to believe she was capable of such a thing, but the father needed her to be taught a lesson.
We had been friends for years, so he asked me if I could pay a visit to this young lady in my professional capacity and arrange for the son to see what was happening. Well, how could I refuse to help him out? I asked him if he would make sure his son was delayed in going round to her house the next day, and after getting her address and a rough idea of when she got home in the evening we parted company.
The next day, around the middle of the afternoon, I paid a visit to the area this girl lived in. It was a busy street, but paradoxically if you’re planning on breaking into a house or flat the busier the area the less likely you are to be noticed. Her flat was one of a block which had open access through a shared lobby, and no control on the front door, so posing as a market researcher it was easy for me to get into the lobby and make my way up to her door.
That door didn’t take long to open, so I closed it behind me and started to search her rooms. I consider myself something of an expert now on how to search without leaving things round, and also on where most people would hide things, so it didn’t take me long to find the things that I had passed to the lad’s father, and so ended up in her possession.
This hurt my professional pride somewhat, so I took a roll of duct tape that she had under her sink and waited for her to come in.
It was after six o’clock when I finally heard the key turn in the lock, and the woman of the hour walked in. She was about five foot eight, with short auburn hair and a pair of glasses over her blue eyes. This was the summertime, so she was wearing a short sleeved summer print dress of chiffon, a white cardigan and red stiletto heeled shoes. She looked every bit the secretary she worked as during the day.
So you can imagine her surprise when she saw me sitting there in her living room, dressed as always in black. In fact, she was about to start screaming when she saw the items I had found on the table, and the slight shake of the head I was giving, and she realised that she had been caught out. Her second instinct then cut in, and she turned and started to run to the door.
I was quicker however, and grabbing her by the arm I sat her down in one of the chairs next to her table. Explaining that I knew what she had done, and that I was the one who had stolen some of the items in the first place, I told her to sit very, very still while I made sure she wasn’t able to raise the alarm.
Taking the roll of duct tape, I placed her wrists against the back of the chair and taped them firmly to it. Wrapping tape around her upper body, I ignored her squeals of protest and made sure she was well secured. I then knelt down in front of her and taped her legs to the legs of the chair.
Standing in front of her, I quietly explained that she had done wrong by me and others professionally, and it was important her boyfriend saw that. Pulling a clean handkerchief out of my pocket, I rolled it into a ball and held her nose until she was forced to open her mouth. Quickly stuffing the cloth in, I tore three strips off the roll and placed them firmly over her mouth before sitting down to wait for the lad to call round.
I don’t need to dwell on what happened when the poor lad rang the bell and I answered the door. It was painful enough for him to think I was robbing his girlfriend, but to discover she had been robbing him behind his back? The evening ended the same way their relationship did – quickly and with no looking back.
So, you’re wondering, what the dog named Jake brings to mind?
There is one thing a cat burglar fears more than discovery and having to restrain someone – and that’s dogs. Some people seem to have a natural knack for these sort of things, but personally I’m scared stiff of them. Goes back to my childhood – I was once attacked by one, and ended up with a broken arm and mangled ear.
So, when I sized up an opportunity one of the things I always looked out for was whether or not there were signs of a guard dog. The occasion this brings to mind, I was looking at visiting a small terraced house in the outskirts of a small city, and there were no obvious signs of a dog or any other animal.
Letting myself in through the kitchen window, I made straight for the upstairs bedrooms and began to look for any valuables and other things I could take. It looked like only one person lived there, and whoever that person was loved things that they could touch. Even then, I should have realised what was about to happen, but I failed to see the signs.
Until, that is, I saw the dog basket in the main bedroom. Now, there was no sign of the dog anywhere, so I figured the owner must have taken it for a walk. I was so intent on finding things that I failed to hear said owner returning through the front door and going into her front room.
I heard the radio playing in the bedroom, and realised I had to get out as quickly as possible. Heading down the stairs, however, I was confronted by a large Alsatian dog, barking at me as I tried to get past.
I heard a voice call out “Jake, what is it?” and a moment later a woman of about 40 came out into the hallway. She was wearing a white jumper with a red scarf tied around the neck, red leather skirt and black mid length leather boots, but that wasn’t what caught my attention. What caught my attention were the dark glasses she was wearing, despite the fact it was a gloomy day, and the way she held her hand against the wall as she walked.
“Forgive me,” I asked, “but would you please call your dog off?”
The lady called “Jake, Heel!”, and the dog quietly went and sat by the woman. She then asked the only question that must have popped into her mind – “Who are you?”
Obviously, she was blind, which meant that I was at least partially in the clear. Professional courtesy, however, stopped me from just turning tail and running, so I told her that I was a cat burglar and I was robbing her.
A look of fear passed over her face, and she said “Are you going to hurt me?”
I quickly reassured her that I had no intention of doing so, but I did need to make a getaway, so the real question was would she try to stop me? Swallowing, she said that she would not, but she could not guarantee that her dog would not try unless she was able to stop him.
I paused for a moment, and then asked her if I could help her back into her living room. Taking her by the arm, she walked with me in and I helped her to sit down in an armchair, the dog following us in and settling down at her feet.
“So, what are you going to do to me?” She asked looking in my direction.
I thought for a moment, and then said that if she was not afraid, I would simply tie her hands and feet and prevent her from calling out before I left. In order to do that, however, she would need to guarantee that the dog would not get in my way.
“Jake? He’ll be all right, so long as he can see that I’m all right, so do what you have to do.”
Taking a couple of lengths of cord that I had in my jacket pocket, I asked the woman to put her hands in front of her, and I quickly tied her wrists together in her lap. When I finished, I asked her if she was hurting in any way, and she confirmed that she was all right. Using the other length of cord, I crossed and tied her ankles together, and then placed her bound ankles on a footstool so that she was more comfortable.
Again, I asked her if she was fine, and explained that I was going to sue her scarf to gag her in a way that meant she would still be able to breathe normally. She nodded, and I took the scarf off from around her neck and rolled it into a thin band. Before I tied it in her mouth, I thanked her for not raising the alarm. She, in turn, thanked me for being honest and gentle with her. She then said “Jake, Stay!” and the dog stayed lying down as I tied the band into her mouth. Kissing her on the cheek, I left her with the dog sat by her chair and made my escape.
So you see, old songs can bring strong memories back sometimes. The last line of the song, however, is still true unless someone like you asks.
But the Cat was cool,
And he never said a mumbling word.