A dark form paused momentarily atop the wooden fence, then dropped silently into the garden. The man lay still for several minutes in the cover of a thick rhododendron bush; listening, eyes piercing the darkness that separated him from the detached house 30 yards in front.
He caught a movement, and held his breath, narrowing his eyes so that they wouldn’t reflect any light. The view changed as a healthy-looking ginger cat loped slowly towards him along the neatly-trimmed grass. It stopped a few feet away, surveying him with a quizzical look, then gave an obligatory ‘yow’ before disappearing through the hedge into the adjoining garden.
He waited. A sudden flash of lightning illuminated the scene, and he was glad that he had concealed himself well. A deafening explosion of thunder, immediately after, filled his head with the strobing images and cacophony of a jungle monsoon skirmish in a minor far-eastern state. Awful screams, faces distorted with the terror of the conflict, and the battering of the tropical rain. The heavens opened as he lay there, quivering. He shook himself together, cursing his momentary lapse.
Julian Stickington’s mission would soon be complete. He thought about the things he had done, the things he had seen. Fifteen years in ‘special forces’ had taken him to some of the world’s most dangerous ‘hotspots’: he had fought alongside some of the bravest men he had ever met. And killed some of the worst. He had been wounded several times, but they had patched him up, and he had gone back.
But his biggest relief was that he had got out of it mentally unscathed.
Now he ‘flew a desk’, but he still had what it takes, and the urge to do it. He was nearly there, and would soon be reaping the rewards of his difficult journey.
The focus on his struggle against those dark forces brought to mind his useless brother Tarquin, a despicable, skiving bullshitter, who had never done a day’s work in his entire life, and had a forged degree certificate to prove it. Eco warrior. He imagined that ‘eek!’ and ‘oh!’ would be his reaction if he ever had to face any of the terrors that he himself had encountered. If he weren’t his brother, he felt he could easily disembowel him with this eight inches of cold steel.
Maybe when their parents had passed on.
Apart from the hammering rain, everything seemed quiet, so he fluently rose to a squat, and scanned all around before planning his route up the garden. He identified his cover points, and was soon standing behind a large chestnut tree, close to the house. It had been less obvious from the bottom of the garden, but he could make out a dim glow through the heavy drapes of the downstairs windows. He looked up at the first floor, and observed that everything was dark. The drainpipe was an old cast iron one, and appeared to be well-maintained, and securely fixed to the wall. The window right next to it was, conveniently, open.
Within a couple of minutes he was in a bedroom, letting his eyes accustom to the darkness. A chink of light along the bottom edge allowed him to locate the door to the landing, and he was soon standing behind it, his ear pressed to the cold wood, left hand gripping the handle. It was quiet. Quickly and silently, he opened the door, his eyes aiming for the light switch, and his hand following close behind to extinguish the light.
He stood silent, listening. The stairs were now dark, but he could discern a dim glow, and the sound of a television game show from below. He began slowly to descend the stairs, carefully placing his feet, ready to hold their weight should one of the treads creak. He made it to the bottom without a noise, and listened at the door whence the light and sound were coming. The tv was lower now, and he could hear a woman talking on the phone.
Stickington composed himself, slowly turned the door handle, and swung into the room. The woman looked up, surprised.
“Hello darling, did you have a good day at the office? I do wish you’d use the front door, like everybody else!”