© Andrew Wrigley
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The Honest Burglar
Based on ideas and characters by rosefitzrobert, with a few all my own.
The American, the Irishman and me. Sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t.
It was deadly serious.
I had a story to tell, a true story. We had agreed to meet in a small pub in Hampshire, near Havant, and sitting in front of me were two assistant editors of Fact Not Fiction magazine. If you haven’t heard of it, then you live in England. It may not be doing too well in Ireland, but in America it is big. Very big.
So there I was, thinking this was my break, but initially the American and the Irishman weren’t interested in my writing. They were interested in my butt. Once I sat down, they focused on my tits.
“Are they real?” you could see them thinking.
As real as my ash blonde hair. No scars tucked away, no dark roots. Or the camel toe in the front of my jeans. No prosthetics, no shortcuts. Fact, not fiction.
That’s what I wanted to say, but I shut it. Saying what I think is bad for business. The American cleared his throat.
“Remember. Just facts, Ma’am. No fiction.”
Right now, a little voice in your ear is telling you that this isn’t how it happens. Meeting two assistant editors in a nice cosy pub after a day at the Havant Literary Festival? Dream on, says the voice. Well, I used to be a Hollywood starlet and I still look the part, so there. You can dream if you want, I get on and do stuff.
“Just remember it’s your story, lass,” said the Irishman. He was big, with a bushy beard that looked like a sheep’s backside: reddish brown, streaked with salt, pepper and pea soup. Oh, and a few crumbs from his bread roll.
I smiled by way of thanks and read them my story, the one that would kick start my new life.
Or so I hoped.
Some years ago, when I lived in Hollywood, the body parts of two women were discovered in a bush behind my house.
A serial killer, said the LAPD spokesperson. He’ll kill again, no doubt about it.
Thanks for calming me down. A serial killer in my back garden. The kind who didn’t just leave bodies lying around. No, sir. The kind who carefully carved his victims up and hung select bits of them on meat hooks. The kind who was into blondes. There was hair on the bits. No, not their heads (nobody knows what he did with those). Other bits with blonde hair on them.
Get it now, do you? Oh, yes. Pussy, to use a wanker’s lexicon. Ash blonde, no dark roots. Just like me.
The press called him The Butcher, but I think he was a man at prayer. Left those bits in my garden as an offering to his goddess, the muse of his waking dream.
No reason to say it, just gut instinct. And if they weren’t offerings, then they were bait, to draw me in and make me part of his sick little world.
Well, that much he achieved. I became obsessed, couldn’t sleep. The guy must’ve been stalking me, I thought. Must’ve looked me over like a side of lamb. It’s not as if I was hiding anything. I wear the tightest jeans I can get into. Hollywood, Havant, same thing. I gotta show what I got, that's my hook. The downside being you sometimes hook the wrong fish.
The Butcher, for example. He wanted a piece of me, just another guy, only slightly more literal. Problem was, which guy? I had no idea. All I knew was he was on my hook, and I was on his.
Tango time, as in it takes two. I hadn’t been so scared since the morning before my op, the one that changed my life. The Butcher, surgeons, same thing: we’re just meat to their grill.
I should’ve left Hollywood, shouldn’t I? But I was in the limelight at last, photos in the newspaper, the works.
“Blonde bimbo finds Butcher’s meat hooks in private bush.”
My agent would kill me if I went into hiding. The Butcher would kill me if I didn’t.
Houston, I thought, I got a problem.
My Daddy always said when you got a problem, you gotta do something. He’s dead, so I called Darryl the gun nut.
“Darryl,” I said, “I need something to defend myself with.”
“What kinda weapon you want?”
“A very visible one.”
“Good thinking,” he said. “Come take a look at what I got, and we’ll discuss your situation.”
No room for cars in Darryl’s garage. It was full of guns. And I mean full.
“Is that an AK-47?” I asked.
“No. It’s an Uzi,” he said. “Forget that. You need a shotgun. Even if it’s pitch dark, and your hands are shaking, just point at the sound and shoot. You’ll hit something.”
He removed a weapon from one of the glass cases.
“This is a Mossberg, what the cops use. Here, I’ll lend you this one. Load it, but don’t chamber a round. That way, you don’t blow your butt off if you drop it.”
I always hated guns, but when Darryl put the Mossberg in my hands, I felt good. Darryl, on the other hand, looked real nervous. Girls with guns do that to blokes. They seem to think that if we got guns we don’t need their dicks. They’re wrong, but don’t tell them.
“Another thing ‘bout keeping the chamber empty: you do things right, you don’t have to shoot nobody.”
He looked at me real hard.
“Deterrence, you hear me?”
Fuck deterrence, I felt safe again for the first time in a week.
“Listen,” said Darryl, “there’s no sound like a round being chambered. Unless the guy is completely fucked up, he’ll start running the moment he hears it.”
My guy WAS completely fucked up so it wasn’t ‘unless’, it was ‘when’. And when The Butcher came to get me, the first sound he was gonna hear was “Kchunk!” followed by:
“Make my day, mothafucka!”
Like I was Clint, only not so cool.
Anyways, so Darryl lends me the gun and I start getting my beauty sleep again. But things didn’t quite go to letter of the Dirty Harry script.
One night I came home late, like I always did. Only this time was different.
I’d been away at a New Year’s party out of town. My agent had set me up with a producer, big time hits, the real deal. I got two promises of an audition, not bad.
Now I was home but not alone.
I heard a noise.
I screamed, ran upstairs.
Movement, sound, it seemed to be all around me, behind me, breathing down my neck, on the landing, in the attic, in my bedroom. Anywhere and everywhere, a Higgs ocean of sound, slowing time down, bringing it to its knees. Blood roaring in my ears like a waterfall.
I kept running. Into the bedroom, down on my belly, hands clawing under the bed, reaching for my saviour.
Only it wasn’t there.
The problem was no longer ‘if’ or ‘when’.
It was ‘where’.
As in where was the fucker?
I hauled myself from under the bed and there he was, the Mossberg pointed at my head.
Kchunk! He chambered a round.
“Nice piece,” he said, cool as Clint.
“It’s a Mossberg.” What else could I say?
“Huh? Niece piece of ass,” he said, drawing out the ‘ass’. I gulped, heart slamming around like it wanted out.
He gave me a look like I was stupid.
A condescending serial killer. Just what I needed.
Pause. Time on hold like a sheet of dead water.
He shook his head.
“Lady,” he said, “What you think you’re doin’? You put a gun under your bed, somebody’s gonna get killed, you hear me? Huh?”
“Please don’t shoot me…”
“Lady, I ain’t gonna shoot you. You think I wanna fry?”
Same emphasis on ‘fry’ as previously on ‘ass’.
He’s going to fry me!
My brain went AWOL. I shut my eyes, wished he wasn’t there. I usually had my head up my pretty ass, now it was in the sand.
He laughed, a sudden guffaw like a penny had dropped.
"Lady, you think I’m The Butcher, don’t you? You’re the chick who found them pussies in the bush, I saw you on the news.”
I opened an eye. That hope thing, never dies does it?
“You saw me on the TV?”
Vanity, like hope, flourishes in the California sunshine.
“Yeah. Hey! I ain’t no psycho. I’m just an honest to God burglar. They caught The Butcher yesterday, haven’t you heard?”
“No, I’ve… been away, left my cell behind. Did they really catch him? You’re a burglar?”
“Sure. But I only steal things folks don’t need, jewellery and stuff. Like I said, an honest burglar.”
“Lady, you’re beautiful, you don’t need no pearl necklace.”
“It’s just that…”
“It’s just that you had THIS under your bed!” He shook the Mossberg in my face, like an angry schoolteacher. “Otherwise, my ass would be half way down the street by now, out of your life. But I reckon you needed talking to.”
“Yeah. Now, you have another of these somewhere?” He gestured with the Mossberg again.
He emptied the cartridges into his pocket, handed the Mossberg back to me.
“Thank you,” I said like Mom had told me to say to nice gentlemen. Without the gun he did seem nice.
“You’re welcome,” he said. “And take that right back where you got it from. You hear me?”
“Tell them it didn’t work.”
I nearly nodded my head off.
He turned to leave, then pulled my pearl necklace out of his pocket. I had bought it in case I got invited to a pre-Oscars party. Nothing so far, but I hadn’t lost hope…
I had no friends, let alone hope. And if I didn’t make it soon, I wouldn’t have an agent either. All I had was the honest burglar. I wanted him to like me.
He looked like he was going to give the necklace back.
“Keep it,” I croaked. “I don’t need it anymore.”
“Gee, thanks,” he said. “I’ll get a hundred bucks for this.”
It had cost me a thousand.
“Thank you, Lady.”
“No, thank you.”
He stopped in the doorway of my bedroom.
“Lady,” he said. “If you want protection, get a dog. The dog knows whose side he is on.”
Well, that was it. My story.
The Irishman was smiling, but he was from Dublin and, like I said, the Irish edition of Fact Not Fiction wasn’t doing great.
It was the big wig from New York who did the talking and he looked peeved.
“No burglar would give the necklace back, let alone the gun. Your story is fiction, not fact. As it stands, we can’t publish it.”
That’s it, I thought, no monthly blog for Fact Not Fiction. I held my hands up, the best way to look meek and show my boobs off at the same time.
“Ok, you’re right, I didn’t even talk to him. He ran straight past me out the house. Took the gun with him.”
I ploughed on. Nothing to lose, was there? I shrugged, up and down action with the shoulders, know what I mean? The American’s eyes were all a-bouncing.
“But what happened in my head IS fact. I changed. I left Hollywood, came over here. I live with my Nan now, in Leeds. No coke, no fucking producers, no auditions. I’m a better person, starting over, trying to do something worthwhile. That burglar was the best friend I ever had.”
The American went a pale shade of grim.
“Of course!” I said. “Things that happen in your head aren’t fact, are they?”
I slapped my forehead.
The American’s lips slackened into a priggish smile. I was… How could he put it? A bimbo, yes; but not beyond salvation. All I needed was a nudge from someone like him, someone who knew what was what.
At least, those were the facts in my head. What he actually said was:
“Just show us the facts,” he said, looking at my chest, nodding in agreement with himself. “Otherwise, our readers get confused. Go over it again, cut anything that isn’t factual, then email it to me and I’ll show it to the commissioning editor.”
He paused. I listened. I could smell a deal.
“Just one other thing,” he said. “A woman would say boobs, not tits. And pussy… Men talk about pussy, not women. Your character sounds too masculine.”
Fuck the deal, no one tells me how I speak.
“You didn’t get it, did you?” I said.
A wary look came over the American.
“Get what?” he said.
“What I said about my operation. The one that changed my life.”
The American glanced at my tits. He wanted to see boobs, but now he saw tits.
“Operation?” he said.
“Yes. Who said I’m a woman?”
The Irishman, having finished his pea soup, was demolishing a bowl of chips. He froze, a ketchup coated chip halfway to his open mouth. Only his eyes moved, from the American to me and back.
“Oh,” said the American. “I see.”
Only he wasn’t looking, not anymore. He was looking anywhere except at my tits. Or my butt. Not to mention the camel toe.
“Do you still want me to send you the edited story?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” said the American glancing at his watch and standing up. “Is it really five thirty? How time flies. Wow, gotta go. Yes, just send it when you are finished.”
And with that he left the pub without looking back. I almost felt sorry for him.
The Irishman was staring at me.
“You’re not a man, are you?” he said.
“Do you think my Nan would let me live with her if I had had a sex change?”
The Irishman smiled.
“I had heart surgery, not a sex change. I collapsed at the gym. I had a congenital defect, not a genital one. Anyway, the butchers fixed it. I’m a new woman now, ticking away like the tin man.”
The Irishman started eating his chips again. I continued.
“So no, I’m not a man. But do editors really think women speak like Marilyn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?”
He ignored that.
“You’re not going to change the story, are you?” said the Irishman.
He saw the indecision in my eyes. Saw me thinking about the deal, about publishing, getting Me PLC back on track.
“Jesus!” he roared, slamming his fist on the table. The pub went silent, people stared.
“Give me that manuscript!” He grabbed it from me.
Tears pricked my eyes. I thought he was going to rip up the pages. Instead, he shoved them into his satchel.
He stood up.
“Don’t you dare, do ya hear me, now?”
He stabbed a finger in my face.
“Don’t you fockin’ dare mess with a good story!”