The Felonious Kleptosquater: Part 1
Names can be misleading, like Honesty for the little girl who tells lies and Titus for the scared little bookworm who lives in the library, on shelf 37, marked Steam Trains of England. Sometimes, names are so short that your tongue sort of trips over them and they crash into your teeth, like Ty and Bea and Max. Other times, they are long and weighed down with gravitas (… which – in case you are curious – has nothing to do with gravy). Horace Horatio Heggarty the 23rd is weighed down with ‘aitches and quite tipped-over by the 23rd, which he acquired because there were 22 Felonious Kleptosquaters living in my house before him. I have quite an old house. You could say ancient but you’d have to block its ears because, what with all the creaks and broken plaster and loose floorboards, it doesn’t like to be reminded that it’s stacking up the years into an increasingly rickety heap and could really do with a bit of a home makeover. Horace would probably dislike, intensely, any attempts at renovation. It would disrupt his system of tunnels and hiding places.
Horace has lots of hiding places and is exceptionally good at hiding. Which may explain why I can’t describe his face, or hair, or general Horace-defining features. If you look carefully, you might spot his shadow sliding behind a piece of furniture, or the tip of a pointed, red shoe poking out from beneath a cushion, or if he is fleeing the scene of one of his crimes, perhaps catch a glimpse of the frayed tail of his fluttering, striped, purple and yellow scarf.
Horace is shy. He’s also cunning and extremely naughty. I guess the shyness could be guilt – the sort that makes you slink into corners and hang your head and hope no-one notices or asks you any awkward questions.
In short – he is very short – Horace is a thief; a mischievous felon. Who lives in my house.
Before I tell you about the day I nearly caught him, let me make one thing quite clear – I did not invite him to live in my home. Nor did my mother whose house this was before it became mine. Nor did my grandfather. Horace chose to live here – like his 22 ancestors before him and like them, he barged in without asking – in his case, dew-early, on one sunny morning in May, seven years ago. In other words, Horace squats. Somewhere in my house. And, being a squatter, he doesn’t pay rent.
These combined attributes of thievery and home invasion plus being called Horace are what make him the 23rd Felonious Kleptosquater to live beneath my sagging, thatched roof.
Part 2 is a terribly boring name for this next chapter in the life of Horace. I could call it ‘The time before Horace Horatio Heggarty the 23rd was nearly caught’ but that would be too long and you’d roll your eyes and say, quite understandably, ‘Get on with it!’ A better name might be ‘Before the flour exploded.’ Yes, just hold a picture of an explosion of flour in your head, while I tell you what happened before it happened.
Lots of people live in my house.
There’s me. Obviously.
Then there’s Littlest. She is the Littlest. And Four-legged-friend is the only one with four legs. As far as I know Horace has two; I’ve only ever seen two red shoes.
Littlest likes to bake cakes.
When Littlest is baking, Four-legged-friend likes to help; catching things – he puts his nose between Littlest’s tummy and the side of the mixing bowl and waits for something to fall into his mouth. He is also an expert at cleaning the floor, particularly the floor beneath Littlest’s chair.
Horace likes baking too. He is very good at observing and sniffing. He mostly likes the finished cake especially when the finished cake isn’t one cake but lots of small, easy-to-run-away-with fairy cakes. His favourites are the ones that Littlest calls ‘ decorated prettily.’
One Tuesday morning, when it was raining stair-rods outside, Littlest and Four-legged-friend had just finished pushing mini-marshmallows, chocolate chips, chopped glace cherries, jellied oranges, hundreds and thousands and silver sugar balls into thick chocolate, butter icing on twelve, small, Victoria sponge cup-cakes. They abandoned their bowls, spoons, butter dish, palette knife, plates, sugar sifter, baking tray and hot chocolate cups next to the sink; for the house fairy to wash-up.
“Come on!” said Littlest to Four-legged-friend. “We must wash our … paws!”
You need to wash more than your paws thought Four-legged-friend, looking at Littlest’s face and shorts and knees. And hair – how did she get cake mix in her hair? Of course he said nothing as he licked his paws clean and waited for her to retire from soap-bubble-magician-ship and graduate to preparations for their afternoon picnic.
Now, if anyone had stayed behind in the kitchen, they might have heard a cupboard door slam, seen a flurry of flour float upwards beneath Littlest’s chair and a tail of snowy footprints run off beneath the old oak dresser.
Littlest wasn’t in the kitchen and didn’t see any of this. So, when she returned with thirty seven teddy bears and assorted dolls, wrapped up in a blanket like knobbly, knotted rags in a sac … and after she had arranged them in a circle with a tea cup in front of each soft friend … and after she had instructed Four-legged-friend five times not to knock over the big grey rabbit called Flopsy again … then, she yelled at Four-legged-friend and banished him to his cage because one of the cakes was missing.
While all the yelling, howling and stamping of angry feet was going on, Horace was at home, sitting on a half-full honey jar, enjoying his cake.
The home of a Felonious Kleptosquater is never easy to find but you would know it if you stumbled upon it. It is the place in your home filled with all the missing odd socks, pencil sharpeners, pairs of scissors, sellotape dispensers, books of stamps, gloves (only ever a right or left hand, never both), the playing card missing from your pack of cards, tea spoons, felt pen lids, jigsaw pieces, earring backs, spare car keys, and teeth. Everything, in fact, that goes missing from the human part of the house.
The part during which the flour box does explode
The only thing that is stronger than Horace’s compulsion to collect things is his love of cakes.
Unfortunately for Horace, on this particular Tuesday, he made the greedy mistake of coming back for more.
Four-legged-friend had been forgiven. Littlest had stopped stomping and had shared her cakes stickily with her friends. The crumbs that had been generously shared with the floor were now in Four-legged-friend’s tummy. He was ‘sleeping’ on his cushion, with one eye open, watching the remaining cakes. Littlest had gone to watch a film.
Horace peeped out from one of the bookshelves. He almost shoved a TV chef off the shelf but caught the book just as it reached tipping-point and man-handled it back into place, between a book on Great British Garden Birds and another listing 101 things to do with herbs. He surveyed the kitchen closely. If he jumped, he would land on the table, next to the covered hillock of cakes. To the right of his target, the victoria sponge recipe card was propped up on a cookbook stand, partially blocking Horace’s view of the opposite side of the kitchen; completely blocking his view of the floor and of the dog cushion.
Felonious Kleptosquaters are fairly good jumpers. But they can’t fly. To be a great jumper you need longer legs than Horace’s. And you need to be better than him at judging distances.
Horace leapt. Mid-way between bookshelf and table he realised he’d mis-calculated and started to panic. He appeared to think that wheeling his arms round, making big circles in the air would take him a little further. It didn’t. And that making a running motion with his legs might do the same. That didn’t either. He started to fall. Unluckily for him, Four-legged-friend still had one eye open. Luckily for him, a wheeling hand caught the back of a kitchen chair, soon followed by the other hand and then his feet which plunged through the rungs of the ladder-back and got entangled into a clinging, panting mess of Horace, pointed shoes, striped scarf and coat tails.
Four-legged-friend nearly jumped out of his skin.
Horace quickly disentangled himself and climbed to the top of the chair. He stood straight, balancing on the narrow edge of the back and started to swing the chair, timing – with the precision of someone who had done it many times before – the moment of stepping – nonchalantly – onto the table before the chair swung back and crashed to the floor. He shook himself down, smoothed his coat tails, adjusted his hat and grinned. Briefly. As Four-legged-friend’s muzzle suddenly appeared at his knees.
For the next few minutes, Horace ran round and round the hillock of cakes as Four-legged-friend ran round and round the table.
By the time I came in from the garden, Littlest was in the kitchen shouting at Four-legged-friend who had stopped running and was now barking at the table. Chairs and stools were strewn across the floor. The kitchen bin had been knocked over and a box of fresh eggs was slowly sinking into the rug next to the cooker. I could see that Four-legged-friend was torn between continuing to bark at the table and turning to feast on the unexpected supper that had somehow appeared all over the floor.
At first Horace was nowhere to be seen. That was before the flour box exploded. And I saw briefly exactly what height a white-coated, white-haired, white-trousered, white-hatted-and-booted Felonious Kleptosquater is. Then a floury, flurry of snow obliterated everything.
I lunged towards the table, tripped over a chair, crashed into a pile of plates and pushed the hillock of cakes onto the floor. Horace escaped. Later, a white-dusted Four-legged-friend had a very full tummy and belched contentedly – if rather niffily – all night.