This town is going to hell in a handcart. The idiom refers to the Great Plague, when the dead were left in the street to be collected by an unlucky soul wheeling a handcart. Horses were precious back then, so people didn’t risk using them to pull such dreadful loads. Whatever, the expression describes life around here because it’s certainly going that way and there seems no lawful method of arresting the descent to purgatory. I’m standing by the window in the lounge, and pull the curtain back a little to see if it’s quiet outside. I’m careful though, because I don’t want to be seen to be looking. The road’s quiet now, the pub across the way having closed a good hour ago. Watching the last drinkers leave, I noted that the tall one with the tattoos could barely make it back to his van. He was so drunk! In no state to drive, he was revving his engine as he drove off, probably thinking he was Lewis Hamilton. I’ve put him on the list, although he doesn’t yet know it.
Time to go. Slipping my coat on, I pull the collar up. A black cashmere scarf covers my face. My boots are rubber soled so they don’t make a sound as I walk. My gloves are soft leather, fit tight to my fingers. I love the feel of them on my hands–somehow they make me feel more powerful. They’re black, like everything else I’m wearing. Sometimes I think I must look a little like the Batman. You would probably be surprised to know that I have quite an extensive collection of old Batman comics, with some of them worth a pretty penny by now. My favourites are the Frank Miller penned ones–he could capture the essence of the vigilante, and the violence that always accompanied him as he went about his business. Thinking on it, I have my own version of Batman’s utility belt-a rucksack slung over my right shoulder. It doesn’t contain bat-ropes and bat-arangs but includes a cosh and a flick-knife, together with some more unusual items which may come in handy later tonight.
Time to go. Leaving the kitchen, I close the back door behind me. I remove the padlock from the bike leaning against the side passage wall and head towards the gate. I look through the door’s spyhole to check there’s no-one around. A car’s headlights flash as it crests the top of the hill at the corner of the road, and I wait until it has passed. Once it has, I open the gate, push the bike through, then shut it behind me. Using my mobile phone, I set the house alarm systems on.
I mount my bicycle. It’s a Cannondale Trail Five model, not too expensive, but still worth a few hundred pounds. It’s a mountain bike, pretty robust, with a light aluminium frame, Schwalbe tyres and a Shimano drive train - fancy enough to attract the attention of anyone on the lookout for such things. As I set off, I get a little adrenalin rush and a rash of goosebumps along my arms. Hopefully, it’s going to be a fruitful night. Ten minutes later, I arrive at Didcot train station. The street lighting here is pretty good, but I know where the shadows are. I head for the bike stands which line the car park next to the station entrance. There is one particular spot which isn’t that well illuminated by the overhead street lighting, and that’s where I go. There’s only a few other bikes there, a lot of them looking like their locks are worth more than they are-unsurprising given the amount of thievery around here lately. Reaching into my rucksack, I pull out a hefty bike lock and fasten the bike to the stand. It won’t stop a determined thief, but it will slow them up, and slow up is all I need. Checking its secure, I walk a few steps away into the shadows, prepare myself, and wait.
An hour passes and only the occasional car drives by. It’s one in the morning and pitch dark, away from the street lighting. A full moon is hidden by the sky, blanketed by thick cloud cover. This suits me because when it’s this time of the month, people become more impetuous, more careless, more irrational. The moon does more than light up the night - it pulls at people’s emotions as strongly as it does the tides. At one-fifteen, a couple of men walk close by. They’re drinking cans of lager and singing some tuneless song. They pass by within a metre of me, but are oblivious to my presence. Seconds later, they disappear into the dark. I hear one of them belch, followed by the unmistakable sound of an empty can being thrown to the ground. On another night, I might have been tempted to follow them, but I have other fish to fry. At one-thirty, I get a bite. Three figures approach. They are all wearing hoodies and trainers, the uniform of youth these days, it seems. They walk up and down the rows of bike racks, trying to look as nonchalant as possible. One of them spots the Cannondale, walks over to it and emits a low whistle. The other two position themselves five metres on either side of the whistler. I ready myself. They haven’t noticed me in the blind spot behind a stanchion that supports the roof. The one by the bike unzips his parka and pulls out an impressive set of bolt cutters. I reach into my rucksack as he positions the cutters around the bike lock frame. I pull out a taser. This handy little device is about to cause significant suffering to Mr. Bolt Cutter. It has two spiked electrodes attached to the end of the thin copper wire so that when it’s discharged, it’s going to pierce most types of clothing. I will not fire until he starts cutting–then he’s fair game. And when he does, I step out from the shadows, point the taser and pull the trigger. The electrodes hit him squarely in the back and he drops to the floor, as if a cricket bat has struck him on the head. He’ll lie there twitching for a good twenty seconds before he’s capable of doing anything, which gives me plenty of time to deal with the other two. They are trying to digest what’s happened as I move once more. Pocketing the taser, I run towards the one on the left, pulling a glass vial from my coat pocket, then throwing it at his face. It shatters as it hits his nose and covers him in a red liquid, some of which splashes into his eyes, and a little of which splashes back onto my hand. It’s a diluted mixture of dye and caustic soda which won’t blind him unless he‘s very unlucky, and the dye will remain visible on his skin for weeks. There will be no hiding for him later, unless he stays off the streets. He panics, careers into a lamppost, and crashes to the ground, stunned. The third one reacts unexpectedly. Instead of freezing or fleeing, as most of these idiots do, he runs towards me. I sidestep, duck under his flailing fist and trip him, his forward momentum causing him to fall heavily. Before he can get up, I walk over and stamp on the back of his head with my boot, his nose shattering on the pavement with a combined crack and squelch. He lies there, bleeding and squealing in equal measure. Next, I walk to Mr. Bolt Cutter and remove the taser electrodes from his back. I can smell the burning from his flesh where it has fried his skin, and it makes me think of the quote from the film Apocalypse Now-I think it’s Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore who says “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Well, it smells a lot like victory to me as well. He’s starting to come round, so I beat a retreat, quickly unlocking my bike and cycling off into the darkness. Taking a route where I know there’s no CCTV coverage, I make for home. Twenty minutes later, I open my back gate, enter the house and walk into my lounge to flop onto the couch, satisfied with another successful fishing expedition. Hell’s handcart has been filled a little more, and it feels great.
Next morning, the postman rings the doorbell of number fifteen Oakhampton Close. He is greeted by the sight of seventy-something Flavia O’Hare, all four foot ten of her, wearing a pastel coloured dressing gown. “Good morning Miss O’Hare, and how are you this fine morning?” She smiles as he hands her a thin square brown parcel. “Ah- this will be my LP. Ravel’s Rhapsody Espanol. I am SO looking forward to listening to it. I used to be a ballet dancer you know, and this was one of my favourite pieces to perform to.”
The postman hands the package over and replies, “I wondered what it was. I’m a big fan of vinyl too, although to be fair, I’m more of a Black Sabbath man myself!”
“Ooh yes - I’m partial to a bit of heavy metal too,” she says. The postman notices that her left hand, tiny and wrinkled as old parchment, is speckled with red dots. “Been painting the town red, Miss O’Hare?” he asks.
“Of a fashion,” she replies. “Of a fashion.”
“Well, you take care anyway, there’s some right troublemakers round here these days, and lovely ladies like you need to take extra care.”
“Oh, I’m sure they wouldn’t bother a daft old bird like me.”
He notices a big smile on her face as she closes the door.