The Man in the Van

It was the barking of the next door neighbours' dogs that woke her. They normally irritated her, yapping at all and sundry, squirrels or pedestrians. But tonight they more frenzied than usual. She got out of bed. Her husband was still out, playing pool with his buddies. She checked on the kids. They were okay, sound asleep.

She went downstairs. The cat was moving about strangely, slinking away under a table. There was a muted sound of crackling, like a two-way radio, from the street behind their house, and vague voices. She found her cellphone in the kitchen and called her husband. She walked around the house as she waited for him to answer. "Hello?" she heard him say. In the background was the din of a Saturday night in town. "The dogs are going crazy next door," she said, "I'm going to just check around the house." "Ok. Are you alright?", he shouted.  "Yes, yes, fine." She walked into the room beyond the kitchen, looking out the window. "Everything looks alri…aaaaaaagghh" she screamed. There was a figure looking back at her from the darkness.

She ran back to the room she had come from, pressing the panic button. The alarm boomed. She had made sure she knew where the switches were when they had moved in  recently. But she had not expected trouble so soon.

Meanwhile, her husband had dropped the cue stick and ran with his buddy to the car. It took them seven minutes to reach home, a journey that would normally have taken twice that amount of time. There was only one close shave, when he turned off into a petrol station to avoid the traiffic lights. Someone was trying to park, and he swerved in front them. He parked at the entrance to the house. There was a police van parked on the pavement, and an armed response company vehicle. One of the men came over to the car. "We've got one of the guys in the van. They are still looking for the other one. Your wife is inside." He drove the car into the grounds. The woman came out of the house, sobbing. He held her close. His friend had meanwhile walked outside to the police van. There was some shouting. The husband sent his wife inside the house, and walked out to the street. His friend was pushing the man whom he had dragged from the police van. He smacked the man a couple of times, and gave him a kick in the behind that sent him sprawling. The husband came over and took a swing, connecting with a right to the head. One of the policemen said "Hey! stop it. That's not right."

The husband looked at the policeman, and then dragged the man by the collar, saying: "You want to see what's in my house, huh? Come, come! I'll show you what's in my house." It did not sound like a pleasant invitation. The man held on tightly to the pallisade fence, as though his life depended on it. The other policeman intervened, pulling the man back to the van.

The husband let him go, giving a last kick to the groin. His friend finished off with a smart open hander to the head. The police drove off with the man in the van. The two friends went inside, and had a final check around the house.

The wife was still in hysterics. "What were you doing?" she asked. "Oh, just giving the guy a few smacks."  "What?! How?" she wanted to know. "You know. We took him out of the van and told him not to try his luck here again. I invited him inside for a chat in the garage, but the policeman stopped me." She did not say anything, so he went upstairs.

Later she said that the man in the van might not have been one of the people that the police were looking for. He had been picked up walking up an adjoining street. She could not have identified him. Her husband thought for a minute. He said: "That's too bad. I guess it's just one of the basic laws of the universe: if you get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, you're going to get trouble. Besides, what was he doing lurking around here at this time of night?" "What if he comes back because of what you did?" she reproached. "So it was him then?" he replied. They fell silent and made ready for bed.

They slept fitfully, their dream house filling with nightmares.


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