Perhaps it was just opportune. Spur of the moment stuff. The door was ajar, the corridor deserted and dimmed. Maybe the ‘Meals on Wheels’ volunteer had been careless when closing the door of apartment 407 after delivering Mrs Mobbs’ meal boxes five minutes earlier. Or had the unlocked door been planned?
He loitered briefly, surveilled the fourth floor hallway and cocked his ears. Fortuitously for Phil Butcher, a radio shock-jock was droning endlessly in the apartment next door, spewing a diatribe of paid outrage. Phil wouldn’t be heard by that neighbour. He looked furtively in both directions of the hallway, then nudged Mrs Mobbs’ door open and stepped inside, closing it behind him.
The slumbering lap tabby lifted his head, leapt to the carpet and slunk into her bedroom. Sensing its startlement, Edith Mobbs lowered her tapestry needle and blinked towards the entry. Her heart rate quickened, scalp tingled and she uttered a low audible gasp.
“Oh. Forget something did you pet?” she quavered towards the indistinguishible figure in the doorway. “Ohh. You’re not the man who just dropped off my meals are you pet? Who are you then?”
Phil Butcher fidgeted with the peak of his cap, hissed for her to be quiet. “I don’t want to hurt you lady, but if you make any noise or raise your voice, then I will hurt you. Just do as I say, you’ll be OK and then I’ll leave,” he intoned in a cold, measured voice.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” Edith asked sweetly. She retained a remnant Geordie accent despite six decades living in Sydney’s burbs since emigrating from Northumberland as a 'ten-pound pom.' “I was just about to put the kettle on. Help me out of my chair would you love.”
“No! No tea!” he snapped. “Just shut up. Don’t speak lady. I’ll do the talking. Got that?”
Edith pursed her lips and nodded.
“So, lady, are you alone? Is there somebody in another room?”
Edith dabbed at her nose with a small handkerchief but remained silent, wrinkled top lip clenching even tighter.
“Oi! Answer me, is anyone else here?” he menaced.
“But you told me not to speak, pet. Didn’t want to upset you. You seem quite anxious. Are you in a fettle, pet?”
“Don’t try rattling my cage, lady. It won’t work. Who’s here?”
“Just my husband. Mr Mobbs. He’s in the bedroom.” Turning her head she called, “We’ve got a visitor, love.”
“Jesus Christ, lady!” Phil swore and stormed through the bedroom door. There were angry mutterings, a futile search, a brief scrabble behind ancient, fusty clothing hanging in the wardrobe. Mrs Mobbs was still seated in her armchair when he returned and encroached into her personal space. Her walking frame stood in front of her, but he leaned low, leant across and jammed his reddening face in front of hers.
“Where’s your husband?” he snarled. Silence. Further tightening of lips.
“Jesus Christ lady, don’t mess with me. Where is he?” he growled through gritted teeth, sweating noticeably, eyes dancing a flamenco. Edith remained silent.
“Okay,” Phil Butcher snapped through his animated goatee, “You can speak now. Where’s your husband?”
“But pet, you didn’t say please,” she winced.
“Bloody hell… you’re really pissing me off now… where’s your husband? Please.”
“That’s better pet. Manners are important to me. Mr Mobbs is in his jar. In the wardrobe. Been there almost 10 years.”
Phil forced a long exhalation of breath through tobacco stained teeth. He shook his head disbelievingly, “You’re clearly batty lady. Now just bloodywell tell me where you keep your money and I’ll go. I promise I won’t hurt you.”
“But I don’t have any money, pet. I’m a pensioner.”
He pushed his face into hers, noses almost touching.
Flecks of spit sprayed her skin as he exploded, ”Course you’ve got money! Pensioners don’t trust banks. Don’t want Social Security knowing about their assets do they? They keep their money in their homes! Now tell me where yours is…. Or I swear I’m really gunna hurt you!”
Edith drew her circular tapestry frame close to her squinting eyes and scanned her morning’s careful work. She lowered it, gave a slight nod of self-approval of her handiwork, then quietly asked, “Do you have a grandmother, pet? Would you assault her? Would you steal her savings, love?”
He rolled his eyes, paced the room with clenched fists and wore a decidedly pained look.
“Yeah. Yeah to all three questions, lady. Look… I’m desperate for a fix. You’d never understand, you’re not dependent. But I know you’ll have cash tucked away, I haven’t. So yeah, I’d roll me own grandmother if I had to. Just don’t try laying the guilts on me. Won’t work. Now just tell me where you keep your fuckin’ cash!” he roared, kicking out violently at her walking frame and sending it spinning across the room. The cat in the bedroom scrambled deeper under Edith’s bed quilt.
“The paramedics might help you, pet. They’ll be here soon,” she smiled sweetly.
He furrowed his brows, blinked, swallowed hard.
“Wait! What the fuck are you talking about?” he snapped, fixing her with a furious look.
“I pressed my personal alarm pendant while you were hunting for Mr Mobbs. That’s probably them downstairs now, love.”
Phil Butcher abruptly ceased pacing. He cocked an ear towards the sound of ambulance doors being opened and closed down at street level. His sphincter tightened, eyes glared daggers at Edith through his sunglasses.
“I seriously can’t believe this… You’ve lost your marbles you silly old bat!” he roared at Mrs Mobbs then turned and fled out her doorway to the external fire escape stairs.
At the top step, his right foot instantly rolled off the tread and, while frantically attempting to regain balance, he cascaded headlong down the steel flight. The paramedics, supposedly responding to Mrs Mobbs’ medi-alert call, were promptly at Phil Butcher’s side. Suspecting a shattered tibia and fibula, they tended to his multiple injuries and sedated his screaming with a generous dose of Penthrox from their green whistle.
Meanwhile, supported by her retrieved zimmer frame, Edith tottered carefully to the top of the fire escape. Peering downwards through thick spectacles to the small glass spheres lying on the first step she chortled to herself, “Ha. Poor pet thinks I’ve lost my marbles but he’s quite mistaken. I haven’t lost them at all. I can see my marble collection right there where I left them to dry after washing them… on the first step. I love aggies and cat’s eyes, but blood alleys are my favourites.”