Excerpt from A Stirring in the Blood
INSOMNIACS do sleep, they just don’t get much of it, and Harry Paget was no exception. So, when he found himself awake in the middle of the night, he didn’t immediately look for a reason for his sudden wakefulness. It was just how it was and had been for the past 730 sleepless nights. Nor did he open his eyes straight away, preferring to keep them shut in the vain hope that he might, just might, against all the odds, drift off again.
When a floorboard creaked, he wasn’t alarmed. Harry had grown used to lying in bed just listening to the sounds his old house made in the depths of the night; the ticking of a cooling radiator or the creak of the woodwork as it contracted. Some nights he imagined himself alone at the wheel of a sailing ship in the middle of a dark ocean, with only the groan of the ship’s timbers and the crack of the wind in the sails for company.
As the seconds ticked by, he became conscious of the wider world beyond his bedroom; the sighing of the wind in the trees that lined the avenue, and the distant barking of a dog. A car pulled up to the junction and waited for the lights to change. Its idling engine and the muted sounds of the car’s radio carried up to him on the still night air – ‘You’ve got a friend,’ sang James Taylor – one of Annie’s favourites. The music took Harry’s mind shooting straight back to the 70’s when he and Annie were courting. That song had been their song, but he was abruptly dragged back to the present by the familiar sound of a dressing table drawer being slowly withdrawn.
Harry froze. That drawer couldn’t have moved by itself…
His mind racing almost as fast as his heart, he cautiously opened one eye to find a dark figure peering at him, the face a ghastly red, caught in the glow from the bedside clock radio’s digital display. In his gloved hands he held Annie’s jewellery box. Before Harry could say or do anything, the intruder brought the box smashing down on his face and made for the door. But he had to run round the bed to get to it and, with an agility that surprised both men, Harry rolled out on the opposite side of the bed and hurled himself at the fleeing burglar. The impetus of Harry’s dive sent the man crashing against the wall, dislodging one of Annie’s framed watercolours. All three tumbled to the floor. As the man attempted to get to his feet, Harry jumped on his back, wrapped both arms around his neck, and clung on like a limpet as the man sought to shrug him off.
‘Get off me, you dirty old bastard!’ growled the man, and Harry caught the whiff of stale cigarette smoke on his breath.
Harry hadn’t worn pyjamas for years and his pale limbs showed up ghostly white in the darkness. In any other circumstances, he would have found the situation amusing. His intruder was clearly more alarmed at the prospect of being buggered by a naked, middle-aged man, than he was of being arrested. The impression Harry had was of a young man and a strong one, and he wondered how much longer he could hold onto him.
‘I just want my wife’s jewellery box,’ he said, through gritted teeth.
‘I dropped it when you jumped me, didn’t I.’
Harry cast around. His eyes had grown more accustomed to the darkness, but his night-time vision wasn’t good.
‘I can’t see it.’
‘Fuck sake! I’m lying on it,’ snarled the intruder. ‘If you want it, you’ll have to get off me.’
Harry was quite prepared to let the thief go if that meant he got Annie’s jewellery back. But, and it was a big but, could he rely on this vicious criminal to keep his word?
‘Hurry up, this thing’s digging in me.’ whined his assailant.
It was risky but he would have to go with it. ‘All right, but you keep one knee on the floor. You hand me the jewellery box, and then you leave. OK?’ His captive grunted. ‘OK?’ Harry repeated, this time louder.
‘Yeah, yeah. Just get off me.’
Harry slowly withdrew his arms from around the man’s neck. He was half expecting a trick of some kind, but was still caught off balance, when the young burglar brought his head whipping back into Harry’s face, smashing his nose. He felt the warm gush of blood and his hands shot up to stem it. At that same moment an elbow was driven with great force into his abdomen. Harry rolled off onto his side where he lay doubled up, and gasping for air.
Bleeding and winded, Harry was defenceless as his assailant jumped to his feet and, accompanied by a stream of expletives, delivered a series of kicks to his body. The last thing Harry saw was a large boot coming towards his head, and then blissful unconsciousness; sleep of a kind, a rare event since losing his beloved Annie.