FRED'S FIFTH FAVOUR
He was tall, by some inches past the six foot mark. Muscular in a relatively slender way, the sleeves of his immaculate shirt were rolled back from powerful and hairy forearms. Upper and lower body alike were clothed in white, the washed brightness accentuated by the bright summer sun, now high in the sky. Shirt and trousers were immaculately flat and creased, the matching white shoes spotless. He might have been a cricketer, but for his footwear's formality.
The man's long chin tapered to a point below a large thick moustache that joined the nearby sideburns to become one entity, in the style of Victorians. The thick carpeting on his head was smartly combed back. The blackness of his hair was flecked here and there by a little silver, and by fine droplets of sweat. Mirrored sunglasses screened his eyes, lenses gleaming bright from the sun outside the window he stood before.
Drawing lighter and cigarettes from his pocket, the figure by the window stared out into the street ahead. Soon, he was surrounded by smoke. He inhaled sharply, drawing the dull orange and black tip of his cigarette into a momentary brightness. A hand came up, absent-mindedly scratching a scar running lengthways down his face side. As he felt the old wound, he momentarily relived the pain of blade cutting flesh...
Gazing out from his front room, he looked out onto a well-kept suburban street of large, detached houses. Just opposite, a white-fronted bungalow adjoined a red-brick double-storied house, where small lady with grey curly hair and dress, wearing a white brimmed floppy hat as shield against the fierceness of the summer day's son, stood, trimming the hedge in front of her house with shears
As the watcher continued to look, he saw a man with a plastic carrier bag walking towards the lady along the path. The woman looked round and smiled with recognition. The approaching man did the same. Their talk reached the watching figure through a window half-open before him.
'Hi, Sally,' said the new arrival. A stocky man in his early-to-mid sixties, his head was square, the hair atop it greying and just long enough to be untidy when uncombed, as at present
'Hi Fred,' answered Sally. 'Lovely day ain't it? Just been shopping?'
'Bought some bread at Mahmoud's.'
'Lovely fellow, isn't he?'
'Yep. His brother's had his shed broken into, had his toolbox stolen.'. As Sally tutted and 'oh-deared', the square man used the pause to wipe his brow, sweaty from the heat, then spoke again.
'So just let me get this straight, you're getting the train at four, are you?'
'That's right. Looking forward to a Sunday with sis in the old town-oh!'. The concluding exclamation came as a butterfly hovered momentarily between them at face level before flying off.
'What a beautiful creature! Such colourful wings!' exclaimed Fred.
Away from four this afternoon, then all Sunday. The smoking spectator digested the information, reflecting on the expensive antique furniture and old painting he knew to be in the house. Living alone as she did since her husband's death, that meant these valuable things would be left unattended for over twenty-four hours,....
'I know my Tom will be in safe hands, with you staying at the house tonight,' continued Sally. 'You're the only person I've known him take to right away. Remember it well. Straight on your lap and purring, he was. He's quite wary of strangers, usually.'
'And your daughter's relieving me of sentry duty what time...?'
'About eleven, Sunday morning. As I said, she's been booked for her friend's wedding for ages-otherwise she could have stayed tonight as well.'
'Okay then,' said Fred. 'Well, I'll let you get on with tidying your shrubbery.'. He turned and passing through the bungalow gate and down the front path, let himself in the front door.
The large man closed the window, muting the clip-clip-clipping of Sally's shears and the sound of a passing car. a minute later, he emerged, no longer smoking, from the front door of the house, to ring the doorbell of the neighbouring, navy-blue-doored house. The door opened and he was admitted.
Within ten minutes, inside the blue-portalled residence, a very tall figure in white had made himself comfortable on a large expensive settee. Opposite him, in a matching armchair, a lean, long, thin female figure with long white hair was pouring from a large teapot on a tray on a small table between them.
'There you are, Mr Black.'. The lady handed over a white china cup and saucer, brimming with brown liquid.
'Oh, just Don, please. We know each other so well I'm quite happy with first names.'. Black's deep voice was laconic, full and rich. 'Of course, though, you were brought up in different times, more mannered times, Mrs Beaufort'
'Do tell me if you want more milk,' said Miss Beaufort, anxiously watching as Black tasted his drink.
'No thank you. That's just lovely,' assured Black, graciously. As he sipped his tea, his eyes strayed to the mantelpiece.
'We were engaged,' said Miss Beaufort, seeing where his gaze was directed, and indicating the black-and-white photo on the mantelpiece. It showed a young man in army uniform.
'He lost his life in Malaysia. All young men did National Service in those days, of course. Only twenty years old, he was....I could never forget him. There could never be anyone else, after him...'. Mrs Beaufort tailed off and stared into space, wistfully. Black nodded in seeming sympathy.
In truth, he had not been looking at the photo, but at some of the jewellery on display beside it and the two large vases with the exquisite patternings. Must be worth quite a bit, taken all together. Black's eyes strayed round the room, taking in the large, expensive three-piece suite; the big flat-screen television...
As in most of the homes round here, fine fodder existed for criminals, should any be so minded to try their luck; or so placed to...
A movement from the street outside the window opposite Black caught his eye. Walking past, he observed the square-headed man called Fred who he had watched a little earlier.
Fred, unconscious of any scrutiny, approached a bus stop further down. As he did so, a bus approached it. Fred signalled, the bus slowed and Fred got aboard, depositing a large, zip-up bag with bulging sides by his feet as he sat.
Still three hours before he was due to take the fort at Sally's, reflected Fred, glancing at his watch. Plenty of time for his other mission of the day....