I pretended I was asleep, desperate for silence. But after a heartbeat she said ‘tell me a secret.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Something about you that nobody else knows. Then I’ll tell you something about me.’
I stared into the blackness. It was quiet for another short while and I was thinking that I was going to get away with it when she said ‘well?’
I said ‘I broke into a house once. Burgled it.’
When my wife left me, she disappeared from the face of the earth. Took my daughter with her. She had a friend, that much I knew. A friend who might have been able to tell me where they’d gone.
This friend, we’ll call her Lucy, had pitched her tent in the back garden of a house where nobody lived. I didn’t tell her that I was looking for my wife and child. Thought it best to come at the problem obliquely.
I had a bottle in my car. That helped break the ice. She lit a fire and chopped garlic on a board. She said ‘you’ve got a car?’ It was a rhetorical question, but what followed next wasn’t. She said ‘do you want to make some money?’ I looked at her, wondering where this was going as she rubbed her garlicky fingers on the knees of my jeans.
She said she knew of this house. It had been standing empty for a very long time. She’d been there many times and there was never a soul around. If you went around the back you could look through the back door. It was a door with clear windows and there was a fortune hanging in the hallway just waiting to be taken. Pictures. Paintings. But you can’t get far without a car. Was I up for it?
She told me the next full moon would be best. I drove home thinking about this and there was a smell of garlic as the car heater started to do its work.
We parked the car in a quiet lane. I followed her across a field and there were trees in the distance. When we neared the trees I could see a house that looked grey and silver in the moonlight. The lawn was very tall and the air smelled very fresh. I followed her around the back and I kept looking at the dark windows and my heart was beating loud and fast. ‘Take your coat off’ she said. She placed it on the glass and said ‘hold it here.’ She punched hard and there was the sound of breaking glass as it fractured and splintered to the hallway floor.
‘So what happened?’
‘She told me a friend of hers would take the pictures to someone up country. Get them valued. Then she said she knew someone else who’d buy them from her. She said she’d split it with me. But when I went back she was gone.’
There was silence again and I waited for her to keep her side of the deal.