Intuition is a strange, subtle faculty of the human mind that we often dismiss, sometimes to our subsequent regret. The following story concerns the tale of a woman who heeded the hunch of an old woman.
One blue-skied summer morning on Saturday, 9 July 1994, the postman plodded his way to a beautiful house near Earlston Gardens, Wallasey. He walked up the steps to an eggshell white portico overhung with blood-red roses. The small manila envelope was posted through the gleaming brass letterbox, and, almost immediately, on the other side of the door, 56-year-old Mrs June Higgins walked across the impressive encaustic tiles of the hall and picked the letter up. It contained two 'complimentary tickets' to see a play about the life of John Lennon called Imagine at the Liverpool Playhouse on Monday, 11 July. The performance would begin at 7.30 p.m. The typewritten letter explained that the tickets had been sent to Mr and Mrs Higgins randomly by the theatre as part of a publicity exercise.
June's husband David was delighted with the free tickets as he had been a Beatles fan in his youth. He had heard that the widely-acclaimed Liverpool actor Andrew Schofield was already getting rave reviews from the drama critics of the local newspapers because of his stunning portrayal of John Lennon. David therefore cancelled a dinner engagement that was to have taken place in two days so he could take his wife to the play instead. David decided he would make a night of it and take his wife over to Liverpool in his prized Bentley Continental. He would then take her to dinner after the play. It would be the perfect end of a fortnight's holiday David had taken from running his highly successful catering supply business.
Later that day, June Higgins was sitting in the garden of an elderly neighbour named Gloria Silver. When June mentioned the free tickets she had received from the theatre, Gloria said she had a strange feeling about the letter.
'What do you mean Glo?' June inquired.
'Have you called the theatre to see if they have sent those tickets?' said Glo.
'No, I haven't.' June respected her old neighbour, and had always valued her advice. June believed the elderly woman was psychic, as she had mentioned many premonitions that had come to pass.
'Well you should June. It could be a gimmick. Someone could burgle the place while you and David are watching the play.' Said Gloria sombrely.
'But the place is alarmed Glo,' June told her.
'That wouldn't stop them dear,' said Glo, 'How many times do we simply complain among ourselves when we hear car alarms going off around here? No one gives two hoots about alarms and sirens any more. People just turn their television sets up because the noise is a nuisance. We're glad when the alarm goes off. I called the police once to complain about a burglar alarm that had been driving us potty for hours and they took over an hour to come out.'
'That's it, I'm not going.' June announced.
'June, I might be wrong. Check with the theatre first; see if they did send those tickets out.'
So June phoned the box office at Liverpool Playhouse. A woman said that as far as she knew, the theatre was not sending out free tickets to anyone besides official critics and reviewers. June checked the envelope's postal franking mark to see where it had been posted but the marking was too smudged to be legible.
June told David about old Gloria's suspicions and he shook his head. 'That is so paranoid,' he told his wife. 'Tell her she can mind the house then, until we get back.'
'Don't be ridiculous David, she's an old woman,' June said. She looked up at her tall husband with a pensive, worried expression. 'What if she's right?'
'June, this house has a sophisticated alarm system. No one can get in here without that alarm going off. Now, listen to me. We are going to enjoy a play with the best seats in the house, and then we are going to dinner, and no one, especially old Gloria, is going to spoil it. Okay?'
June shrugged. 'Look David, I have a feeling about this.'
David sighed. 'For Christ's sake, June, look if you really think some expert cat burglar is going to attempt to break in here, I'll ask the police to patrol the area on Monday evening.'
'David you're being unrealistic; the police don't have the resources to drive in circles round our home while we go out for the night.' June shook her head as her husband turned to look through the window in one of his typical sulks.
'Well you know I can't go if you want to stay here so I may as well rip the tickets up,' he lamented.
'No David, you can go with your friend - George.' June suggested.
David turned to face his wife. 'I'd rather take you,' he said, with a fretful look.
'I know that love, but I'd feel better staying at home, just in case - you know…'
'Well if you are going to stay here, you can bring a friend round to keep you company.' David said. He walked to his wife and hugged her.
'Yes, I will. So, that's sorted then?' June asked, muffled as her husband kissed her.
David nodded, then he said, 'Are you sure about this?'
'Yes,' June said.
'You've got me worried about you now,' David released his embrace.
'Don't be, it's probably all in my mind.' June said, squeezing his hand.
At 6.15 pm, on the Monday evening, David and George left the house in the Bentley. June and Gloria sat in the house watching television with the volume turned down to a whisper lever. The blinds were drawn, the windows were closed and locked, and the doors were bolted. June carefully set the dimmer light control in the lounge until the extravagant crystal chandelier glimmered with a faint orange radiance.
Gloria picked up the handset of the telephone and listened to the purring tone. If anyone attempted a break in she'd dial the police immediately. She replaced the handset and then sipped a cup of tea. Then the old woman reached into a plastic carrier bag she'd brought and took out a packet of digestive biscuits. Then she took out an old World War One bayonet. She held it and smiled at June.
Gloria leaned towards her and handed the steel military blade to her. 'If anyone does break in here, don't hesitate to use it.'
'Gloria - where on earth did you get that from?' June was astonished, and she took hold of the bayonet and felt the blade - which was still fairly sharp.
'It belonged to my Uncle Jim. He was in the first lot in France,' said Gloria.
'Wonder how many lives it took?' mused June, morosely.
'None,' Gloria cackled. 'Uncle Jim said he only used it for making toast, opening cans and scraping the mud off his uniform. At least he was honest.'
June put the bayonet down on the coffee table and tried to make pleasant conversation, but Gloria cut through the small talk. 'Have you put all your valuables away?' the old woman asked her.
'Yes Glo, I have.' June had put all of her jewellery, cash, credit cards and various expensive items away in a small safe that had been installed in the basement floor.
Around ten minutes after seven June heard a sound in the hall. She hurried from the lounge after telling Gloria to stay put. The silhouette of a small figure was visible through the array of stained glass panes of the front door. Someone was standing on the front door step. June could hear her heart palpitating. She backed away, then bumped into Gloria with a yelp. 'The line's dead,' said the old woman.
'There's someone at the door,' June whispered; her throat dried up. She felt so weak with fear, she couldn't scream, even though she had the urge to.
The two women stood back in the lounge doorway, peering through the darkness of the lounge, watching the silhouette moving slightly.
One of the window pains was smashed. A black leather-gloved hand removed the pieces of shattered glass from the frame. Then the hand reached in and felt for the knob of the door lock. It turned the knob and tried to open the door, but the door was bolted. The burglar kept trying to force the door. Gloria fetched the bayonet, and June tried to persuade her old friend not to use it, but the old woman waddled across the hall and stabbed away. The first thrust of the bayonet missed, but the next two attempts were successful, and the blade was plunged through the gloved hand. The terror-stricken Gloria stabbed the hand with such ferocity, the point of the bayonet went straight through the palm and into the wooden doorframe. The person on the doorstep let out a high-pitched scream that gave June and Gloria the impression that the burglar was a woman.
The hand was rapidly withdrawn through the six-inch-square smashed pane, and the burglar dashed off.
June turned on all the lights and tried the telephone again. It was disconnected as Gloria had said. When David arrived home shortly before 10 o'clock, he saw the smashed pane in the front door and bloodstains on the doorstep. June opened the door and hugged her husband. She told him what had happened. He took June next door to Gloria's house and called the police on a neighbour's telephone. He then called his brother-in-law Martin who lived locally in Liscard, and told him if he could come around with his wife Angela to sit with June because she was in a terrible state after the attempted break-in. Martin said a strange thing: 'I've just returned from the hospital. Angela was returning from her mother's house tonight when a mugger stabbed her with a knife.'
'Oh my God!' David Higgins exclaimed, but then became a little intrigued.
'Yes, they stabbed her in the hand as she tried to grab the knife off him,' Martin explained. She'd had her wounds stitched because they had been so serious, and she'd also received a tetanus jab.
David called George and told him to sit with June while he paid his sister Angela a visit. He later told his sister about the burglar who had tried to break into his home earlier that evening, and how the person had been stabbed in the hand twice with a bayonet. Angela began to stutter and avoided eye contact. Then David related how Gloria and June had heard the burglar let out agonised screams in a distinctly effeminate voice.
'What are you trying to suggest?' Angela reacted with what seemed to be a poorly acted mock recoil.
'Yes, what are you getting at David?' said Angela's husband, Martin.
'I'll call my mother shall I Angela, and see if you paid her a visit this evening?' David suggested, reaching for the telephone. Angela sat down and started to cry. 'I did it,' she said, and her words were almost unintelligible through the sobs.
'Why?' David asked.
'Angela, what's going on?' Martin asked his wife, and knelt before her, awaiting an explanation.
The truth gradually emerged, and the motive behind the attempted burglary. Angela's husband had recently lost his job, so she had decided to burgle her rich brother's home. It would provide a ready means of paying the bills and keeping up the mortgage payments. David's own sister had sent the theatre tickets in an attempt to get the couple out of the house. Angela had minded the house of her brother and sister-in-law in the past when they were on holiday and knew the numeric code to disable the burglar alarm. Fortunately, for Angela, her brother sympathised with her situation, and he ended up employing her husband in his catering supply firm. No charges were brought against Angela, and never again did David doubt the intuition of old Gloria Silver.
©Tom Slemen 2003.