Highly Commended Entry
Cat and Mouse by Neil Boom
She pulled on her track shoes and checked her watch. House keys zipped in her pocket, front door locked and ready to run, she paused briefly to reach up and stroke her cat Cyril, a friendly big black tom who was sitting in his regular spot on her front garden pillar, eyes peeled on his territory. As she stroked him, Cyril arched his back, purred, then settled back to his look out duties.
Turning left out of her house, she ran her regular route. First left, first left, first left and the long straight home – a good sized block because the roads were long in Lexden, a leafy part of Colchester. On a good day she could knock this off in 20 minutes.
She took the same route every week day, longer ones were for weekends and days off. The first left took her past a house on the corner with a tall brick wall hiding what she imagined to be a beautiful garden. The second left took her past the grandest detached houses, each set well back from the road, an expensive car in every drive. In an hour or so most of these BMWs and Audis would be gone.
She liked running. Answers to knotty questions came to her without effort and her mind became clear of daily life’s usual detritus. At the third left it was time to step it up. She liked to be sprinting close to flat out towards the end.
On the home straight, easing down, her mind now on the day ahead. She looked at her watch (22 minutes, a shade disappointing) as she walked up to her front door, her chest rising and falling rapidly. Jumping down from his pillar, Cyril abandoned his lookout and scooted past her as she let herself in to get ready for work.
A brighter day but colder after an overnight frost. She jogged lightly on the spot to warm up, her breath steaming. Cyril, impervious to cold weather, looked on benignly from his garden perch. She turned out onto the pavement and started to jog, gradually picking up speed on the first leg of the block.
As she approached her first left turn, on the tall garden wall, in huge white letters, she came across an ominous message:
We’re Watching You Goddard
She pulled up sharply, crossing the road to inspect it close up. She dabbed lightly at the white paint, trying not to attract attention to herself. The paint was dry. She glanced around, her senses heightened, a feeling of being watched. Was someone spying on her from inside a nearby house?
Two months earlier she had been leading a happy, rewarding life as a Detective Sergeant at Holborn CID in London. Helen Goddard loved the job, London, her colleagues – everything really.
For eight months she had worked on a case of suspected manslaughter against Kyle Warren, the eldest son of a powerful family of local villains rumoured to have judges and politicians in their pockets.
Goddard had enough evidence to bring a case to the Crime Prosecution Service, but the Warrens had fought back hard. Experts in intimidation, they could grind out long, insidious campaigns against witnesses until, nerves stretched to breaking point, most retracted. Even the police could crumble under the strain.
Her threats started with handwritten notes posted through her home letterbox. It wasn’t long before her car tyres were punctured and her front garden vandalized. By six months, they’d taken to stalking her outside her house.
It was shortly after that she decided she’d had enough and quit London for Colchester, a promotion and a clean start.
Despite their best efforts, Holborn CID hadn’t been able to link the threats on Goddard to the Warrens. The Warrens were simply experts at hiding their tracks, wise to CCTV, hidden webcams and officers wearing wires. They could spot at a hundred metres plain clothes officers trying to catch them in the act.
DI Goddard had hoped it was all behind her. She had begun to relax at Colchester CID and had settled in well. And now this.
Goddard recrossed the road, walking past nearby houses to see if any security cameras or CCTV were trained on the wall. She was out of luck.
Shaking her head, she looked at her watch and began to run again, lost in thought about what to do. The last thing she wanted was another protracted campaign against her like the one she’d suffered in London. This must be nipped in the bud right now, on her own terms. She mustn’t sully her new job by importing trouble. It would be her versus the Warrens, if this was by the Warrens.
As she walked back up her path, Goddard’s senses tingled unpleasantly, something felt out of place, wrong. It was a someone stepping on your grave feeling.
She turned to look behind her – nobody was there. She walked a few metres back to the end of her front path to cast her eye around her road. Cyril had left his lookout spot on her garden wall, but this wasn’t unusual, he often disappeared.
By now more cars were whizzing past as traffic built towards rush hour. She scoured the pavements on both sides of the road but there was no one there. Goddard spun on her heels and walked up to her front door, slid her key into the lock and eased the front door open.
On the doormat lay a white envelope with her name printed on it in blue biro. Picking it up, she opened it carefully, revealing a sheet of blue paper bearing the words:
We Know Where You Live D.I. Goddard
They’re watching my home. They saw me go out and knew it was safe to post this note, she reflected as she got ready for work. I need this all to disappear.
Cyril had raced ahead of her as she locked the front door behind her, reclaiming his usual spot on his pillar as Goddard checked her watch.
First left, she could see from the corner of her eye that the writing on the wall was still there for all to see. Every parked car seemed to be hiding a potential spy, every shadowy corner of a garden, a possible assailant. She told herself to calm down, desperate for some peace. After the third left and before the home straight, an idea came to her.
Sitting with her laptop at her kitchen table, it took only a few clicks on Google to find the website she needed. In a few more she had ordered her item and paid for next day delivery.
A small package was waiting on her doormat on Goddard’s return from work. She opened it carefully, the item as light and delicate as a bird. Rooting around in her odds and ends drawer she found some twine and a cat collar.
In the garden Cyril was on his pillar. Goddard seized him quickly, hauling him inside where she could fit the collar away from prying eyes.
Unused to wearing one, Cyril he struggled and complained but Goddard managed to get it on him with only a few scratches to show for her troubles. He was such a large cat the collar and tiny video camera were barely visible. Goddard opened the front door to set Cyril free. He tore back up the garden path, his dignity affronted.
After her morning run, still panting heavily, Goddard plucked Cyril off his pillar, only removing his collar once safely indoors. Her hands trembling a little with excitement, she uploaded the overnight video footage to her laptop and pressed play. The images were dark but clearly visible: cats mostly, legs of people, trees, bushes and a mouse Cyril had caught and probably eaten. She was in with a chance. This could work!
Another white envelope awaited Goddard when she came home that evening and her heart sank. It bore the same handwriting and the same colour ink. Instead of opening it, she dashed back into the garden to wrestle the collar off Cyril.
On her laptop she began to watch the footage. At first it was only cars. Then, in full startingly close up, she saw a hand as it reached out to stroke Cyril. In daylight the images were bright and sharp. Then she saw images of a man walking past her gate towards her front door, his back to Cyril’s camera. He was nearly half way up her path when suddenly he turned round to look back towards the road, something had attracted his attention. Goddard shouted out in delight. Gotcha! His face couldn’t be clearer: it was Kyle Warren.
The next morning, she knocked on Chief Inspector Peter Ruxton’s door, laptop and threatening letters in hand.
“I’ve something I need to show you, boss,” she said.