S09. THE RIVAL ROBBERS*

 

Hi. My name’s James Rodger, but everyone – except my parents and Sherlock Holmes – calls me Jam. A few weeks ago, I kind-of accidentally got an incorporator. It looks like a small e-book reader, and it can take me into any (old) story. I’m actually in the places, meeting the people.

Unfortunately, crooks use incorporators, and that can spoil the stories. So there’s a team of Guardians, who try to stop those crooks. Sherlock Holmes is the Chief Guardian, and I wangled a job as a Guardian, mainly for children’s books.

This job took me to an adult book – A Thief in the Night. Sherlock Holmes thought that a hoodlum might attack a gentleman burglar called Raffles on one of his job.. I was sent to watch him. Huh! He caught me, and took my incorporator, then wanted to use it to steal jewels from other stories – The Moonstone, and The Three Musketeers. That would’ve caused more than enough trouble, but then the hoodlum arrived.

 

1

I was standing in a small open space, surrounded by high bushes. Above them, trees were silhouetted against a starry sky. A cold wind made me shiver. From the distance came the sounds of shouting and laughing, like a drunken party.

What should I do? I’d come here on a job. I couldn’t do it by hanging around in these bushes. As I pushed gently through them, the scraping leaves seemed horribly loud. The party people wouldn’t hear them, but others might. I stopped, holding my breath, but the only sounds were the rustling of the leaves in the wind, and a burst of laughter in the distance.

After a few steps, I reached a wide gap in the bushes and trees, probably the drive of a big house to my right. The happy noises were coming from that direction.

What now? I decided to lurk for a while. My job was to guard a man called Raffles. Everybody knew he played cricket – sometimes for the MCC – but nobody knew he was also a burglar. I could guess he was planning to burgle this house, and I’d been warned that somebody might attack him.

I’d stood for two hours in a draughty London alley, watching for Raffles to come out of the posh mansion where he lived, so that I’d know him if I saw him. Huh! That wouldn’t do much good in this darkness. He could be a metre away from me, and I wouldn’t even see him.

The thought made me look around nervously. My eyes were used to the dark, but, under the trees, the drive was black. As far as I could see, it was empty.

I couldn’t hang around there for ever. I sneaked out of the bushes, onto something soft, a grass verge on the edge of the drive.

Keeping on the grass in the shadow of the bushes, I crept up the side of the drive. It curved round, until I could see the silhouette of the house – three storeys, plus chimneys and a tower. Only one window was lit, the middle one of three to the right of the front door. It was brightly lit, but Venetian blinds stopped me seeing inside, although the party noises came from there.

If I wanted to learn anything, I should peep through those Venetian blinds, but I didn’t fancy the idea. If anyone was around, he might see me crossing the top of the drive, and he’d certainly see my shadow against the window. Maybe I should….

“Got you!” Somebody grabbed me from behind.

 

2

I couldn’t escape, because his left arm was round my chest, pinning my arms to my sides, and I couldn’t call out, because his right hand was over my mouth.

He breathed into my ear, “Do you want hurt?”

I shook my head – as much as I could – and mumbled, “No,” into his hand.

“Then, if I release your mouth, will you maintain a discreet silence?”

I nodded, and mumbled, “Yes.”

“Thank you.” The hand left my mouth. “Then let’s see what we can find out about you.” As he spoke, the hand went into my pocket.

“No!” I couldn’t help squeaking it, and wriggling frantically as he took out the incorporator.

“What is this?” he whispered. “I shall examine it later, when I have more light.” His hand explored my other pockets, but left the hankies.

Should I beg for the incorporator back? No: if I pretended it wasn’t important, maybe I’d have a better chance of getting it – by asking for it, or by stealing it.

The whisper came in my ear. “I wish to speak to you. If I release you, will you promise not to run away?”

I breathed, “I… I promise.”

“The question arises – should I believe you?” Before I could answer, he went on, “I think I shall believe you – up to a point.” He slid his hand down, to grip my right wrist, then swung me round to face him. “What’s your name?”

“James. James… er, Binks.”

“That was not said with great conviction. However, we shall let it pass. How old are you, James?”

“Nearly thirteen.”

“That sounded more positive. Now that you have started on the path of truth, please try to continue. Why are you lurking in these grounds on this cold April evening?”

“I… I… was just looking.”

“Why were you just looking?”

“I… I was curious about the party.”

“I fear that you have strayed from the path of truth again, my boy.” His grip tightened on my wrist, and he jerked me towards him. “Tell me now: what are you doing here?”

“I… I… I told you. I was just looking.” In the dark, I couldn’t see him properly, but I thought he was the man I’d seen in London – Raffles.

“When you don’t give me clear answers, I must suspect that you are here for no honest purpose.”

I didn’t speak.

“If I release you, what will you do?”

“I… I don’t know.” I was almost certain he was Raffles, but I had to stay with him because he had my incorporator.

“Then let us find out.” He let go of my wrist. When I didn’t move, he asked, “Why are you waiting?”

I had to take the risk. “I think you’ve come here to burgle that house. I’m coming with you.”

He gave a low laugh. “Are you indeed? I don’t concede that I intend to burgle that house, but pray tell me what you will do if I refuse to accept your company?”

I took two steps back, onto the drive, out of his reach. “I’ll shout and scream – so loud that they’ll hear me, even over the noise of their party.”

“Come here, you little fool! Do you want to spoil everything?”

“I’ll come back if you swear not to hurt me, and to let me come with you when you burgle that house.”

I held my breath for a few seconds, while I sensed him staring at me, before he laughed again. “You young hound! I promise. Now come back into the shadows before they spot you.”

“Thanks.” I had to trust him, but I was nervous as I went back among the bushes beside him.

He said, “If we are to be partners in crime, I must introduce myself. My name is Glasspool, but you may call me ‘sir’.”

Glasspool! I had a horrible moment before I realised he’d never give me his proper name. I grinned and said, “Yes, sir.”

“Would you care to introduce yourself again?”

“My first name is James, but my friends call me Jam. And, if your name is Glasspool, my second name is still Binks. Sir.”

He laughed again. “You young scamp! Let us leave it at that. Do you know the lie of the land here?”

“Not really.”

“I have inside information. A friend, who is familiar with the house, has drawn me a plan of it. I intend – we intend – to enter while the occupants are enjoying their merry meal. The lady of the house will be wearing some of her jewels, but most of them will be in her bedroom, on the first floor. That is our goal. Is that clear?”

“Yeah.”

“They are celebrating the end of the hunting season. I hope they are all in that lighted room, making merry. If you would care to lurk here, and call the alarm at the first hint of anything suspicious, I shall creep across to confirm it.”

As he began to sneak along the edge of the drive, I said, “No! I’m coming with you. That’s what we agreed.”

He sighed. “Yes. That’s what we agreed. I swear I had no intention of deserting you. Accompany me if you must. Preferably with less noise than you made coming up that drive.” He vanished into the darkness.

I started after him – for long enough to realise I couldn’t see him. He was gone.