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Friday, 27 December 2013

Deep and crisp and even

Photo by Dug Blane
Three o' clock on a chilly Christmas morning. A woman laden with parcels strides along empty avenues, their wet pavements silver and gold in the streetlights. Occasionally she darts an apprehensive glance behind, before strolling swiftly on. 

Fifty yards back, two dark figures freeze in mid-step, like cartoon characters, every time she does so, before resuming their pursuit. "Slow down, man," the taller one says, wheezing loudly. "You'll give me a heart attack."

"You should lay off the cigarettes," the other replies. "At least you're warm in that big coat. I can't feel my legs. Whose daft notion was this anyway?"

Minutes before it had seemed a great idea, after Anne had set off into the night, refusing to let any of us big, strong men accompany her. She had a point. Chuck was lounging on the sofa at an angle of forty-five degrees, drinking beer and looking fuzzy. I was in an armchair opposite, trying to remember my middle name.

"I'll be fine," she said. "You'll only hold me back and we'll likely all get mugged. I'll be home before the two of you can stand up straight."

The sound of the front door closing behind her seemed to galvanise Chuck. "I'm going after her," he says, leaping to his feet like a young gazelle, then toppling slowly sideways, like a young gazelle that's had ten pints of Guinness, and saving himself by grabbing the standard lamp.

"I don't like women wombling around at night on their own," he says, screwing up his face and trying harder. "Wandering," he says. "It's not wight."

"I'm with you, Elmer," I say, hauling myself vertical and heading for the door.

"Oh my God," Susan says. "Batman and Robin. At least take your jacket," she says, handing it to me. "Don't frighten her and get back here before the New Year."

"Which one am I?" Chuck says, as we head into the deserted streets. 

"You're Robin," I say.

"Why do I have to be Robin?" he says.

"Because you're a follower," I say. "I'm a natural leader - fearless and decisive with a powerful personality."

"And a Batmobile," he says, nodding to my Vauxhall Corsa parked on the road.

"Sarcasm doesn't suit Robin," I say. "There's no sign of her. We're going to have to run." 

Around two corners we catch sight of Anne not far ahead and go into our freezing and wheezing routine, since she's going to be really annoyed if she sees us.

"This is daft," Chuck says, when we've let her put some distance between us. "I can't breathe. If someone jumped her, I could only shout 'Stop that or I'll come and get you in five minutes!'"

"It's more than I could do," I say. "We've lost her again."

"Oh bugger," he says and sets off, before I can stop him, in a long slow lope like that used by his ancient ancestors on the African savannah, to eat up the miles and hunt down their prey.

Unfortunately Chuck's prey has heard him coming and is waiting behind a privet hedge, with a parcel of mince pies in a Tesco plastic bag. 

"Is he dead?" I say, when I round the corner and find Anne leaning over his supine body, spreadeagled on the pavement.

"Don't be stupid," she says. "Mild concussion at worst. What did you idiots think you were playing at? You scared the life out of me."

"We were providing you with manly protection from nameless dangers of the night," I say.

"The only dangers around here tonight are you and him," she says.

"Just a small piece of chocolate cake, madam," Chuck says, sitting up and looking around. "Your lights are a little bright this evening."

"That's more sense than he usually makes," I say. "He'll be fine. We'll see you inside your house, then be on our way. Unless you'd like to repay us by inviting us in for a nightcap."

A gust of wind blows her reply away, catching her front door at the same time and slamming it firmly in our faces. We turn and head for Susan's house. 

"I think that went well," Chuck says. "We don't need to give them all the details. Anne home, job done about covers it."

"I think so," I say. "While the world sleeps we walk the streets, keeping the town safe for the civilised."

"Gratitude is a gift," Chuck says. "Thanks are a bonus. The work itself is its own reward." 

"Have you any idea where we are?" I say, coming to a halt and recognising nothing.

"I'm afraid not, Batman," he says. "I was following you."

Fearless and decisive, I pull my phone from my pocket and call us a cab.

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Elmer Fudd sings Bruce Springsteen.

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