© C Walker 2012

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Unfinished Business


C Walker

Robert ran down the stairs; now he would catch them. He ran round the front of the house to the garage. His hands were shaking, as he tried to get the key in the lock. He flung open the door and switched on the light. The fluorescent tube hummed into action and a blaze of light flooded the gloomy interior. It was empty.

Robert sighed. He had been sure somebody was in there. For the past week he had been woken in the middle of the night by strange noises that seemed to be coming from his garage.

Every morning when he went inside, he noticed changes. His tools had been in the wrong place; although at first he had put that down to his bad memory. Then he had noticed some wood he bought to make a display cabinet had disappeared. That convinced him someone had been in there.

As he was turning to leave, his next-door neighbour, Beryl Croft, appeared, almost giving him a heart attack.

"Robert, are you all right?" she asked, nervously. "Only I heard a noise and thought you might have burglars."

"Yes, I thought the same," he replied. "But, there's no sign of a break in. Anyway, you shouldn’t have come down, you might have got hurt."

"I was more worried about you. No harm done, nobody’s here, so we’re both all right," she said. Robert wasn’t so sure, he had wanted to catch someone. He walked Beryl to her front door and then went home to bed.

He didn’t sleep very well. Every noise had him leaping out of bed until finally he was too exhausted to stay awake.

The next morning he went to the garage determined to do something; even if he couldn’t work on his display cabinet. He stood inside the door and looked round. Everything was in its place but he couldn’t summon up any enthusiasm for working in there; even though he had several jobs to finish. His ex-wife would have said that was par for the course.

He decided to do some gardening. The lawn needed cutting; it wasn’t a job he enjoyed but he had already put it off for a week.

Beryl was sitting in her garden, reading; she was seldom seen without a book. Robert had been going to the library for her since her husband, Jim, had died a few months before. She had a large collection of books; most of them scattered about the house but she was always eager to read new ones.

He looked over the fence. "Morning, Beryl."

"Good morning, Robert," she answered, not looking up from her book. He smiled; an earthquake wouldn't stop her reading.

Pushing the lawnmower backwards and forwards over the grass, he thought about the strange events of the past week. Even if the noises were in his imagination; the disappearance of the wood certainly wasn't. What troubled him most was there was no sign of a break in.

The only person who might have a key was his ex-wife. She had always moaned about how much time he spent in the garage without achieving anything. But they had been separated for a year and he couldn’t see her coming back now to have her revenge.

She had never taken an interest in his do-it-yourself activities. She didn’t have a hobby of her own so she couldn’t understand his, unlike Beryl, who hadn’t minded how much time her husband spent working in his shed. Robert thought that was probably because it gave her more reading time.

The only way to find out what was going on, he decided, would be to sleep in the garage. He shuddered; not a pleasant thought.

"Robert," called Beryl, interrupting his thoughts. "Could I trouble you to cut back my laurel, only it's getting far too tall. I can’t manage it myself."

"No problem," he replied. "I'll be over in a minute." He finished the grass and went next door.

She made some lemonade while he pruned the laurel. Stepping back to check his handiwork, he trod on something in the grass. It was his hammer. He picked it up and stared at it.

"What’s wrong?" asked Beryl. "You look worried."

"This is my hammer," said Robert, his forehead creasing into a deep frown. "I’ve just found it in your garden."

"I don’t understand." She looked equally puzzled. "What’s it doing there?"

"I’ve no idea. I didn’t even know it was missing," he said.

"Do you think whoever was in your garage last night took it?" she asked, echoing his own thoughts.

"Probably, but why take a hammer? It’s not valuable," said Robert, more confused than ever.

"Maybe it's children playing a joke on you," she said. "They can have a strange sense of humour."

"Possibly, but I don't know how they got in," he said. "Anyway, I've decided to sleep in the garage to see if I can catch the culprit."

Beryl looked concerned. "You take care, it might be someone dangerous."

"I’ll be fine," said Robert, with more confidence than he felt. "You’re probably right about it being children. I’ll frighten them more than they’ll frighten me"

He finished pruning the laurel. They sat down and had the lemonade. Robert couldn’t work out what was going on, unless of course Beryl had leapt over the fence, picked the lock on the garage door and stole the hammer. He smiled; there must be a better explanation.

"I’ve got another favour to ask," said Beryl. "The shed door is stuck and I can’t get it open."

"No problem, I’ll take a look at it," said Robert. He finished his lemonade and walked down to the shed. He tried the door; Beryl was right, it wouldn’t move. Nobody had been in there since he cleared it out after Jim died.

"I’ll get some tools and see if I can get it open," he said.

"There’s no rush," she said. "Why don’t you come over for dinner tonight and try then."

"Okay, that would be nice," said Robert and made his way back to his own house.

She invited him to dinner a couple of times a month. She said she missed cooking for her husband and Robert enjoyed having a homemade meal instead of one out of the microwave.

He decided to check whether anything else was missing from his garage. He examined both doors; the locks hadn’t been touched. He went through his toolbox. Everything was where it should be.

Robert looked round for the best place to sleep that night. There was a space under the workbench where he hadn't finished putting in shelves; that would hide him quite well.

He smiled as he remembered discussing the shelves with Jim. They had often talked about their do-it-yourself projects. They had both had lots of ideas although not many of them became a finished article.

When Robert had cleared out the shed, Beryl had told him to help himself to anything he wanted. She was sure Jim would have wanted him to have his tools.

He finished sorting out where he was going to sleep, collected some tools and made his way over to Beryl’s. They chatted over dinner about everyday matters; both avoiding the subject of the intruder. She was always interested in his latest projects; even though she had probably heard it all before from her husband. They talked about some of her husband’s ideas, which Robert was keen to work on.

"Try and finish one job before starting another," said Beryl, with a knowing smile.

"Yes, you’re right," he said. "I get carried away."

She laughed. "You sound just like Jim; he was always starting something new."

"Well, I won’t start another job until I’ve finished the one I’m working on," replied Robert, forcefully. They both laughed.

After dinner, he got his tools and went down to the shed. No matter what he tried, he couldn’t get the door open. Tomorrow, he would have to take the lock off.

He made his way back to the house. He explained the situation to Beryl, while she was making coffee. They sat down, drank the coffee and watched television.

"Are you still going to sleep in the garage?" asked Beryl, clearing up the cups.

"Yes, it’s the only way I’ll be able to get any peace of mind," he answered, getting up. "In fact, I’d better make a move, so I can get settled in." He went home to get his sleeping bag and made his way into the garage. I must be mad, he thought to himself as he tried to get comfortable.

He stayed awake for about an hour but then started to doze. He was disturbed by a noise coming from outside. Robert leapt up. He ran out into the garden. It was coming from Beryl’s side of the fence. The light was on in her shed.

He leapt over the fence and met her coming out of her house.

"I couldn’t sleep, I was worried about you," she explained. "Then I heard a noise and came to see if you were all right."

Robert patted her arm. "I’m fine," he said. "The noise seems to be coming from your shed, although I don’t know how anyone could have got in."

"Be careful," she said as she followed him down the garden. He walked quickly down to the shed and pushed the door. It opened easily. There wasn’t anybody there.

In the middle of the shed was something Robert had never seen before. He smiled; now he knew who had been in his garage and taken the wood. He opened the door so Beryl could see inside.

"It looks like your husband managed to finish at least one job," he said, as they both looked at a mahogany bookcase. It was easily big enough to hold her entire collection of books.