It was not until I was going back to my room and saw that the mountain bikes had gone, that I realised the house had been burgled. Someone with a stripey shirt and a bag marked 'Swag' had come in, picked up our stuff, and had gone away with it. Never mind. After all, it's an insurance job, burglary, isn't it? Opportunity to get a better stereo. New video.
Upstairs, where John's stereo and his video had once been, were empty spaces and a mess. He was away for the weekend. Simon, the third member of the household, had, like me, slept through the visit of the Santa Claus-in-reverse.
I tapped on his door. 'We've been burgled,' I said. 'They've taken the bikes, the video and John's stereo. I'm going to call the police.' Unperturbed, the voice grunted in agreement.
The scene-of-crimes officer was very efficient, taking fingerprints and poking his nose in where it was wanted. He took statements. I had slept through the whole night, but Simon had heard voices and decided not to investigate. Not prepared to risk a bump on the head for a video, he had stayed in bed. 'Very sensible,' said the police officer.
Interestingly, someone who had helped to redecorate the house recently had come to the door on a flimsy excuse the previous night. He had had a 'look for his keys' and gone, asking only whether the house would be occupied that evening. Simon thought he had been wearing a jumper similar to the fibres caught in the window-catch. His eyes were too close together, that sort of thing. Could the police pay him a visit? 'No, that is all hearsay evidence. We need facts.'
After the police had left we called John. None of my stuff was stolen, Frank's bike was insured, but John lost all his consumer durables and was not insured. No new bike. No new stereo. We left John to be angry 80 miles away, and because the house had no proper locks, we went to see the landlord.
Our landlord is at best dodgy, and at worst a criminal. Once we saw him being hustled into his house by four burly CID men looking for stolen property. Next day, he was out and about, flouting planning regulations as usual.
We asked our landlord for good locks. On a side table in his house was a radio monitoring the police frequency. Whenever it made a noise, everyone in the room raised their voices and looked shifty.
When we explained the situation, we found our landlord's shop had been burgled a few days before as well. We described the stolen items and someone asked: 'An Akai video? Black? Big remote control?'
We looked at him. 'Yes,' I said, 'and two bikes. One yellow, one red.'
'Someone tried to flog them to me this morning.' Uproar. Landlord and sons then worked out that this character had not only been to our house, he had also done over a couple of other houses as well as the landlord's shop. Unluckily for the burglar, they knew his phone number.
There was a lot of shouting. 'Where's his . . .kin' flat? Where's he live?' Simon and I realised they were shouting about the decorator who had 'looked for his keys'. We told them about his visit. This clinched it. One son said: 'We'll get your stuff back. We'll bring it round tonight.' They also said: 'We're gonna break his legs. We're gonna havta break his legs.'
The next day we went back to see the landlord. He proudly showed us his bruised wrist: 'I gave that ------ a smack in the eye. He'll be in bed a few days at least.' He showed us how he'd invited the burglar to his house, sat him down, made him feel at home and then hit him really hard in the face. He described how his sons had kicked the burglar hard.
He told us they'd driven this terrified, weeping man back to our house to see if we wanted to kick him while they held him, or maybe watch while they kicked him. We weren't in.
What would we have said? Perhaps something magnanimous: 'Free him, for pity's sake,' but more than likely something scared and embarrassed. The bikes, the video and the stereo were all in his garage. 'Pick them up when you like, lads.'
A day later we had a letter from the local group that counsels victims of crime: 'People can often be very distressed after a crime has been committed.'
The burglar can't go to the police or he'd probably end up in prison. All he can do is lie in bed hurting. No matter how we feel about what happened, we can't report it to the police because we have no facts.
Recently, the police followed up our burglary. A constable came round and asked why John had never made it to the police station to give a description of his stolen property. 'Our landlord recovered our goods,' we told him. 'Nice one,' he said.
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