Four exciting short stories from top thriller book author, Stephen Leather. And, to whet your appetite for more great writing by the author, enjoy the first chapters from six of his best-selling thriller novels, including Birthday Girl, The Chinaman and The Vets.
The four stories in Short Fuses are:
Breaking In - when he breaks into a house, a burglar gets more than he bargained for
Strangers On A Train - nothing goes to plan during a mugging on a train
Inspector Zhang and the Hotel Guest - another mystery solved by the detective from Singapore
Cat's Eyes - the background story behind 'Bangkok go-go dancer'
Excerpt from BREAKING IN:
House-breaking was a victimless crime, pretty much. That was what Richie Grout thought about his chosen profession. For a start he almost never did any actual breaking when he did the entering. There were more than enough unlocked doors and open windows around, even in South London. Nine times out of ten his method of choice was to shin up a drainpipe and into a bathroom window. Most people seemed to think that windows above ground floor were somehow unreachable. Big mistake.
And when he was in the house, he never - repeat never - hurt anyone. That was an absolute rule. If there was someone moving around, he left. Like a bat out of hell. He'd never had a confrontation, and he never would. But he knew that if he was ever confronted then he'd either run or he'd raise his hands and surrender. Grout was a thief, not a mugger. He didn't carry a weapon of any kind, not even a knife.
Not that he'd even come close to being caught in the act. Grout was too clever for that. Too clever and too prepared. He'd ended up in court, that was true. But that was always because he'd been shafted when he was trying to unload the stolen goods. And a couple of times he'd been caught by CCTV. But he'd never been caught red-handed and he planned for it to continue that way.
The things he stole were insured most of the time. And if they weren't insured then that wasn't his fault, was it? Insurance wasn't expensive and if you couldn't be bothered taking out insurance then you shouldn't start whining when someone takes your stuff.
So all in all, there were no victims. Just the insurance companies. And they were worth billions so screw them. He looked up at the drainpipe and took a couple of deep breaths to steady himself. He was wearing his usual house-breaking gear - black jeans, black Nikes and a grey hoodie. He had on tight-fitting leather gloves and a small black Adidas backpack in which he had a small Magnalite torch, a set of night vision goggles, a mobile phone jammer and a nylon bag that when unrolled was big enough to hold a 32-inch flat screen television. That was one of Grout's favourite items. Televisions, BluRay players, laptops, anything like that was an easy sale. But he knew a fair bit about antiques and paintings so he always had a good look to see what was on the walls and in display cases.
He tended not to get jewellery because people kept stuff like that in their bedrooms and Grout broke into houses when people were asleep. That was when they left windows open. When they went away on holiday they locked everything and set their alarms. When they were asleep in their bedrooms they felt secure and they let their guard down. That was when Grout would move in.
His technique rarely varied. Up the drainpipe and through the window. A quick check of the upper floor to make sure no one was awake. Then downstairs, keeping close to the wall to minimise squeaks. He'd unlock the back door, then do the same with the front door. That way he had his escape routes ready. If anyone came downstairs he'd be on his toes and away, no fumbling with keys or bolts or chains.
The next step was to check for car keys. His van was parked close by but if he could find the keys then he was more than happy to relieve the owners of their vehicles. Some people took their car keys up to the bedroom but most left them in the kitchen or the hallway. The people in the house he was about to burgle had two cars. The guy drove a BMW 3 Series and his wife had a red Mini Cooper. The BMW was in the driveway and the Mini was parked in the road. Grout would be happy with either. Stealing cars was another victimless crime, he reckoned. Anyone who didn't have their car insured for theft was just asking for trouble.
Then it was time for a quick look around for valuables, then off into the night. Simple. And nobody got hurt. He'd arrived at the house at just after two o'clock in the morning and all the lights were off. The couple were always in bed by midnight, regular as clockwork. He took another deep breath, rolled his shoulders, and grabbed the drainpipe. He climbed easily, letting his legs do most of the work, and within seconds he was alongside the bathroom window. He reached for the latch, unhooked it, and slipped inside.
He stood by the shower for a while, his head cocked on one side as he listened intently for any sound that the occupants were awake. If he did hear anything he would be back out of the window and down the drainpipe. But there was nothing. He smiled to himself. It was always during the first few minutes of entering a house that he had to fight the urge to burst into the bedroom and shout "Surprise!" at the top of his voice.
He knelt down, took off his backpack and opened it. He slipped on the night vision goggles and switched them on. Soon everything was bathed in a greenish light. He took out his mobile phone jammer, a cigarette-sized stainless steel box with three aerials of varying lengths, and switched it on. It would neutralise any mobile phones within fifty feet. He put his backpack on, stood up and listened carefully again and then eased open the bathroom door and stepped out into the hall. His heart was racing so he forced himself to breathe slowly and evenly, in through his nose and out through his mouth. He kept his back to the wall as he tiptoed down the stairs.
He stopped when he was half way down. There were three doors leading off the ground floor hall. One led to the kitchen, one to a dining room and the third to the sitting room. The sitting door room was open. Grout stiffened as he realised there was a man standing by a large sofa. He was wearing a pair of night vision goggles similar to Grout's.
Grout froze, wondering what the hell was going on. The man with the night vision goggles was holding something. A knife.
Grout took a step back up the stairs and a board creaked. The man in the goggles turned to look in his direction. He was a big man, wide shouldered and with bulging forearms. He was wearing a black nylon bomber jacket and tracksuit bottoms. And on his feet, the sort of paper shoes that forensic scientists wore on the cop shows that Grout loved to watch.
The man with the knife straightened up. Grout turned to run back up the stairs. That was when the man standing behind Grout slammed something hard against the back of his head and everything went black.
WHEN GROUT opened his eyes his head was throbbing. He started to lift his right hand but realised that it was taped to the arm of a wooden chair. So was his left hand. He blinked his eyes, wondering what had happened. The lights were on and the curtains were drawn. His night vision goggles were on the coffee table. There was a flatscreen TV on one wall and a Bang and Olufsen stereo on a shelf but Grout was no longer thinking about what he could steal.
The Big Man stood next to the table. He had taken off his own goggles but was still holding the knife. It was almost a foot long with a wooden handle. A carving knife maybe. Something that belonged in the kitchen. There was blood along the length of the blade. Grout realised that the man was wearing pale blue surgical gloves. He frowned. All the thieves he knew wore gloves, but he'd never heard of anyone wearing latex ones.
"He's awake," said the Big Man. His head was shaved but there was enough hair growing back to suggest that even if he didn't shave he'd be pretty much bald. He had pale blue eyes, thin bloodless lips and large, slab-like teeth. He moved to the side and Grout saw someone else sitting on the sofa. It was guy who lived in the house, the driver of the BMW. His head was slumped on his chest and there were flecks of blood on his shirt.
A second man walked in front of Grout. He was short, just over five six, and wearing a brown leather jacket that looked as if it was a couple of sizes too big for him. Like the Big Man he had paper covers over his shoes and was wearing blue surgical gloves. He peered at Grout and nodded. "Told you he'd wake up sooner rather than later."
Grout tried to move his legs but realised that they were also taped to the chair.
"You could have killed him, knocking him down the stairs like that."
"I didn't have time to do anything fancy," said the Little Man. He was holding sheets of kitchen roll. He had a pinched, rat-like face and some sort of growth on the side of his nose.
"Done and dusted," said the Little Man. He gestured at the knife in his colleague's hand. "Are you planning on taking that with you?"