The competition was for members of the Rotorua Writers Group, with the brief of a 1500 word mystery. I did Not expect to get past the first cull!
Peeping Tom or Worse
Written under pseudonym Bridie Stewart *
In bed by half-past-six, both girls were surprised to hear conversation from the footpath outside their bedroom. Susan peeked out between the slats of the blinds, and only caught a glimpse of who was out there when their Mum, who was on the terrace just outside, rapped on the window.
“There’s men outside talking,” Susan whispered. With Mum just out there, all they could do was wonder what was going on. They heard Mum and Dad talking very quietly, coming inside again into the lounge…more quiet talking.
Dad came into their room.
“Shut your windows, please?”
“It’s too hot, Dad.”
“Never mind. Just close them and keep them closed. Every night.” He left only when Susan had closed them. They whispered in the gloom, wondering why they had to have the windows shut, as the summer night’s temperature rose.
“Maybe there’s a swarm of bees outside,” Susan guessed.
“Maybe there’s fireworks tonight?” Sally guessed. No other ideas of any sense came, and they eventually fell asleep despite the muggy air.
At school the next day they learned what the neighbourhood mystery was.
“Have you heard about the prowler?” demanded Stephen from Sally’s class.
“Nah, my Dad says it’s only a Peeping Tom!” corrected Richard. None of the girls had heard about anything at all, not even Lilian, whose Dad had been outside with the men. She only lived two doors up from Sally and Susan.
When they got home from school, Susan asked Mum about it. “What’s a prowler, Mum? And what’s a peeping Tom?” Mum didn’t answer but continued busily buttering scones.
“We’ll talk about it when Dad gets home.”
Of course the two girls were waiting in the carport as he pulled in. Susan carried some of the groceries he’d bought, Sally carried his jacket.
“They know something’s up?” He guessed while putting more groceries on the bench.
“Not enough to keep them safe, Willie.”
Ooh, the thrill that ran through Sally hearing that! Dad asked them to sit at the table while he had his cup of tea, and he told them what he knew.
“Mr Bloxham’s told us his two girls had a man in their bedroom two nights ago. And Mr Thompson heard his dog barking three nights ago, and when he went outside to shut him up, there was a man standing on the back porch looking through Rose’s bedroom window. No one knows who he is, but we do know he’s up to no–-“
“Ooh, is he a burglar?” Sally interrupted.
“Well, he could be. But Sergeant Delft says there’ve been no robberies in the neighbourhood. And the man Mr Thompson saw isn’t tall enough to be the man the Police think has been burgling in Lansdowne, and the burglaries up there happen in day time. This man peeping through windows only comes at night.”
“Is he called Tom?”
“Peeping Tom is a name for any man who peeps at things he shouldn’t. And peeping Toms don’t come inside the house. We think it’s too dangerous to have your windows open at night. All the Dads around here have told their kids about closing the windows.” Willie took a sip of his tea, and the girls waited while he bit out a chunk from his scone, chewed it then swallowed it with another gulp. The phone in the kitchen rang.
“Joss, can you answer that?”
Mum answered it, then called back. “Willie, it’s for you.”
He rose and passed the girls a half-scone each as he left. The family rule of ‘No walking around while you’re eating’ would keep them out of earshot. His words couldn’t carry across the lounge into the dining room, so the girls didn’t make out a single distinct word. Except…
“Thanks for calling, Dave. I’ll get the word around. Good night.” He hung up with a clatter. Mum and he went to their room, leaving the girls to whisper and wonder what the call had been about. They soon knew. Mum and Dad reappeared and joined them. They guessed it was serious when Mum took a plate, a scone, began to butter it and then ate it. After they’d had a sip of tea, Dad cleared his throat.
“That was Dave, one of the sergeants at the Police Station. He told me…one of your friends… Rosemary Birkett…had to scream out for her father last night…late… There was a man in her room…lying…lying on top…on top of her.” He hung his head.
“But–but Rosemary’s a good girl. She’s my friend! She’s my best Friend!” Sally’s eyes were ready to flood with tears. Susan put her arm around Sally’s shoulders, gave her a wee hug.
Joss stood up, rushing her chair back so hard it hit the wall behind her.
“I said they didn’t need to know all the details!” She started gathering plates, knives, dishes and cups, and walked in her ‘busy walk’ back to the kitchen. Willie caught sight of the tears welling up in her eyes. She called back.
“I want the girls to stay with their Nanny.”
Dad looked at the girls, and made a decision, getting up briskly and joining her. Whatever he said, they stayed at home.
But their windows–all windows–were closed that night, and checked every hour or two. Willie even went outside twice with his torch when a neighbour’s dog barked. And so it went for another week. At school the girls heard other children’s tales of the mystery man.
Someone had broken into Mrs Voyce’s house at two in the morning, but she’d thrown her iron at his head. The iron made his head bleed, ‘cause the police saw smudges of blood on the iron when they arrived.
Peter heard someone out in their garden one night, early. The dry leaves under the trees were scuffing as someone moved around. His Dad “ran out with a big torch, ready to catch the bastard”.
* * * *
A large group of men met in the local Dairy after it closed, as the prowler was wandering further. They kept the lights low.
“I reckon it’s one of those poofters in number 23.”
“More likely to be one of that gang in Middle Street.”
“What about that old guy–lives alone a block over.”
Wild guesses, why this man, why not that man…
Dave arrived, in uniform, to give them ‘official advice’.
“The Police cannot allow to you form a posse. We cannot allow you to try to catch this man. Keep things legal, lads, and leave it to us.” But he paused at the door before stepping out. “I didn’t say…we can’t prosecute you, did I. Unless someone’s daft enough to carry a firearm. Best be on your way, lads…you might feel like taking the long way home?”
Silence for a few seconds. The men drew breath.
Sahti, the owner of the dairy, spoke up.
“Mr Bloxham, leave your rifle on my back room bench. Don’t trip over the baseball bat out there. Oh, there’s a really thick broom handle somewhere there too. The head falls off. Don’t fall over that.” He found torch batteries ‘near expiry’–he couldn’t sell them. His wife brought a box of plastic whistles they were ‘going to discard’.
Without any formal plan, the men left the dairy, wondering, muttering, in small groups to wander home, the long way around–to ‘cool off’.
* * * *
From opposite South Park, a high-pitched whistle carried for blocks. Every group of men thought they’d go home that way. As it was getting a bit late, they’d better hurry so the wife wouldn’t get worried. Some ran along the street where the park was, two groups cut through the park. They converged on one house, outside which Mrs. Davies stood, waving her arms to them.
“Quick! Quick! They’ve got him! They’ve got the swine!”
Around the back they ran, to find Mr Bloxham holding a baseball bat across the throat of a medium height man, of slender build, while he pushed the bat hard towards the trunk of the forty-year-old oak trunk. Sahti and Willie stood silently, close-by, ready to move.
“Shut! Look who it is!”
“Well, begger me! Young Samuel, the vicar’s lad!”
“Why, Sam? Dad keep you on too short a leash?”
Mr Bloxham eased off on the bat. Samuel sagged to his knees, sobbing. One man grabbed each of his shoulders–not that he was struggling.
They heard a siren, from a few blocks away but coming quickly closer. Most of the men faded away, leaving Mrs Davies on the back porch clutching her rolling pin, her two open-mouthed girls beside her. They knew Samuel from Bible Classes. Mr Bloxham, Willie and Sahti encircled Samuel.
Dave trotted onto the back lawn. Without a word to Mr Bloxham, Sahti or Willie–just a quick nod–he handcuffed Samuel and led him to his patrol car.
“Why, Samuel? Why?”
“All I wanted was a girlfriend. You know, to see what…”
The patrol car door slammed shut on his last words.
* The pseudonym? Well, I originally tried a draft of a real solid crime mystery, then realise I could not accomplish that theme in 1500 words. So I began anew with a domestic, neighbourhood mystery, as you’ve just read. One of my absolute favorite crime suthors is Stuart MacBride, hence Bridie Stewart