It was brilliant. In fact, it was genius. He surprised himself at just how great his idea actually was, and it led him to ponder whether or not all great ideas came from the murky depths of a mind fuelled by alcohol. He was fast on the way to becoming drunk, as he certainly wasn’t sober. Did all great philosophers and inventors get their ideas from the shadowy realms of the subconscious? he wondered, presented to them in exchange for giving their brain cells heightened senses of pleasure by whichever drug they had ingested. This was not on the same level as any great scientific breakthrough.
It was a money-making scheme. The idea was sparked by what he was looking at in a newsagent’s window. His alcoholic mind gave him the rest of the pieces, and fitted them together perfectly. There was no way he was going to tell anyone. This was his, and his alone.
In the window, there was an A4 sheet of paper, the top half of which featured a photograph of a kitten. Below which, in bold black lettering, the word: MISSING. Twinkle. Have you seen this cat? Reward £200. £200, he thought, for a kitten. Easy money. All he had to do was kidnap a few animals that looked like they were well looked after by their owners. Then wait for a reward sign to go up in a window, then return the animal and collect the cash. The idea was so great to him, that he forgot the fact that he was going into the newsagents to pick up twenty cigarettes. He turned and headed straight for home.
Ian Marlow was a 23-year-old miscreant. He was well known to the police, mainly for his dabbling in petty crime. Minor theft and bouts of aggression had seen him inside a police cell more than he would care to remember. Ill thought through scams and dodgy dealings had led to him gaining a reputation as a repeat offender. Someone who may one day be seeing the inside of a prison cell for a very long time if he wasn’t careful. He was quite an affliction on the town’s residents, and an embarrassment on their reputation and name.
The place where he lived was in a suburb of a main city, an area that could easily be described as settled between upper and middle class. So why Ian stayed here, where there were not many like him, he had never pondered. He could be described as quite a loner, and outsider. He had half an hour’s bus ride into the city centre to be amongst his like-minded friends. Perhaps the reason he stayed was because of where he lived, a semi-detached house with an unkempt garden and lawn, with grimy windows, virtually out of sight from the road behind a high privet hedge.
When his mother had died eight years ago, he had stayed on. She had left it in her will to him. His father was down in London, serving 18 years for a double murder. He had been an only child, and barely managed to look after himself, surviving mostly on state handouts, and various other benefits he found himself entitled to. Some he wasn’t entitled to, but obviously he said nothing. He knew how things like that worked, and how to ‘screw the system’ as it were.
That was the extent of his intelligence. Whenever any bills came through the door, he simply put them straight in the bin. No-one ever came knocking. Still, though, benefits and other questionable income was never enough. He always found himself without much money, or skint as it were, and always tried to make money through unconventional methods. A legitimate job had never appealed to him. The fact that he had to answer to somebody had turned him off. He was somebody who often said: ‘Nobody tells me what to do’. He always wanted to be his own boss. Answerable only to himself.
At his house, on the kitchen table, on a piece of paper, Ian wrote down a list of possible targets. He came up with four. Surely there must be more than that, he thought. He decided that he could probably come up with more during the next few weeks. These were simply starters. He knew he also had to think about where to keep the animal, and that he had to feed it until he heard about a possible reward. He’d forgotten that he would have to buy food. Nevertheless, he mused, it should be worth it.
The reward money should easily cover any costs. There was Mrs Abbott, who lived two minutes walk away whom he had often seen out walking her Labrador. If that disappeared, he guessed, she might put up quite a substantial reward. How to go about it though, that was a problem.
Sometimes when he passed by her house, the dog would be in the garden, looking out from behind the closed gate, or looking over the wall at the world passing by. He thought that that was probably the best time to take it. All he had to do was open the gate and put a lead on the collar and lead it away. He finished the last of his lager, and set about obtaining the necessary items.
The following day, Ian was looking at Brewster the Labrador, upstairs in the back bedroom. He wondered about never giving it back as punishment for giving it such a daft name, but that was not important. The only important thing about the whole venture was the money, and until he saw a sign in a shop window with Brewster’s picture on it and a reward, then the dog stayed put, in a stuffy bedroom, with sunlight beaming in through dust ingrained windows, on a carpet of old newspapers, and some of his mother’s old pillows which were used as bedding.
That was where the dog sat, looking at Ian with sad, fearful eyes, eyes that asked questions as to why, and what was going on. He’d put it in there in case it barked. He was fearful that the owner would be walking by his house and hear a bark that would easily identify it as Brewster. He provided it with a bowl of water, and food which he had bought from a supermarket. The store’s own brand, of course.
After two days, with Ian fretting and worrying that he’d wasted his money on pet paraphernalia, he saw what he had been looking for in the window of a bakers: 'MISSING. Labrador. Answers to the name Brewster. £50 reward', was what the leaflet said. There was no picture. Fifty quid? Ian thought. Is that it? He stood there for a while, staring at the notice, not really knowing why, perhaps hoping that an extra zero would appear on the number. He would return the dog soon, obviously before choosing his next victim.
The following day, he was sat at his kitchen table, upon which were several cans of lager, some empty. They had been bought with the reward money he’d received for Brewster’s return. Found him wandering around the park, Ian had said, and Mrs Abbott had wagged her finger at the dog in the way that some owners do when they pretend to be cross with them. ‘Now now, whose been a bad boy? Who won’t be going for walkies tonight?’. I understand there was also a reward, Ian had also said. The second animal on Ian’s list was a German shepherd dog, owned by a widow who lived a five-minute walk away in a close. Getting that dog would be harder, but he was sure that the reward would be bigger, therefore, he guessed, the risk was worth it.
It took two days for him to formulate a plan to dognap the widow’s pet. He had found a way around to the back of the house, which was beyond around ten metres of bushes, trees, and undergrowth from a narrow road which curved behind the estate, and ended up in the suburb’s main shopping area. He had discovered a door in the fence bordering the garden. It was obviously never used, but he thought that if he opened it, and created a makeshift path through the undergrowth, he could easily lead it out. He could take it through his own back garden and into the house. He thought that that was probably the easiest way with less of a chance of being seen.
A German shepherd though, might not take too kindly to being taken by a stranger, so perhaps a poisoned piece of meat, laced with a sedative might do the trick, he thought. Yet, he didn’t know enough about that in order to carry it through. What sedative would he use? How much of it? Perhaps a normal piece of meat, or a toy, would be enough to get it to follow him. He decided that that was probably his best plan of action, and set about buying a plastic piece of meat from the pet shop.
Two hours after sunset, with darkness gradually veiling the city, Ian stood at the fence, near the back door, peering through a large crack at the well kept garden. He’d been there for three hours, waiting for the dog. He kept telling himself that if he left, then the dog would come out. So he kept his vigil, convincing himself that the reward money would be worth it. Another five minutes past, and the dog emerged from the side of the house to his right. It was quite clear that it was heading for the back door, so Ian knew that this was his best chance.
He pulled open the door and stepped into the garden. The dog stopped and looked in his direction. With the lead in one hand, and a plastic piece of meat in the other, Ian approached and was surprised when the dog started approaching him. Maybe the meat was a good lure.
He turned and threw the object through the door, into the undergrowth. The dog ran after it. Soon, Ian had closed the door behind them, and had secured the lead on its collar. The dog looked disappointed on discovering the fact that the meat was plastic, and held back as Ian tried to lead it through the undergrowth and out onto the road. Eventually, he managed it, and it seemed to concede defeat, so let itself be led. A few cars passed by as he walked with the dog, and Ian hoped that the drivers didn’t recognise the dog and tell the owner.
He came to his own back door, and opened it to lead the dog into the garden. Closing it behind them, he was satisfied now that they were out of sight, and out of earshot.
“I wonder how much I’ll get for you,” he said, approaching the dog and squatting down to its level.
“I reckon over two hundred they’ll pay me for your return,” he said and gripped the tag around its collar. Above an etched telephone number, there was a name: REX.
He was about to stand up, to lead the dog inside, when Rex started to shake his head from side to side in a ‘no’ gesture. Ian saw that his eyes seemed to register a kind of understanding. He didn’t have time to work out if it had any significance, as those eyes turned to hate, to vehemence, and Rex leapt forward, his jaws clamping around Ian’s throat. He couldn’t shout or scream or breathe, as his brain slowly became starved of oxygen.
After a few more seconds, Rex let go, blood dripping from his mouth. He left the garden, and was soon back home, in the living room of the house where he lived.
“And where have you been?” asked Mrs Freeman, his owner. Rex had vigorously cleaned his mouth of blood in the generous bowl of water in the garden before he went inside. He hoped she wouldn’t pick up on its red tint, even though there was nothing she could do if she did. Rex could not answer, but understood everything she said, and had done for the past eight years, ever since he was a pup.
The fact that his vocal cords could not form words understood by humans was the only thing preventing him from talking. He wondered if he should, if he could, because that might induce some form of seizure in Mrs Freeman, and indeed, other individuals who would be amazed at a dog that could talk. Perhaps things were better this way, protecting his owner from danger, and being fussed over by someone whom he knew would look after him. As a pup, he had found his way to Mrs Freeman and had never looked back since.
On a sideboard, having received its daily clean, a picture of Mrs Freeman’s deceased husband, who died eight years ago of a stroke, looked out at the world, dressed immaculately in his policeman’s uniform. If Rex could have smiled. He would.
Ian had managed to crawl onto his garden patio, his neck hastily pumping out blood. He could not crawl any further, his face slowly whitening.
As he lay there, able only to move his eyes, he saw movement on the patio and saw that it was a kitten. It sat about a metre in front of his face and looked at him curiously. Ian noticed that it had a twinkle in its eye, and seconds later, the twinkle in his, went out.