The jemmy engaged with the lock mechanism, lifting it away from the door frame. It always amazed Torrance that people installed expensive security for the front of their houses but economised with the locks on their back doors. No alarm beeped menacingly, so Torrance stepped softly into the kitchen and began checking for any late-night insomniacs.
Crayon drawings adorned the refrigerator, revealing a typical modern family: mum, dad, boy, girl, cat. He assumed it was a cat – the doodle looked more like an alligator, but Torrance thought that unlikely. A family schedule was posted on one wall, a reminder that Dad would arrive at the airport the next day. Decided good fortune for a burglar; tough luck for the hysterical housewife who would have to patch up a ransacked home the following morning.
A parade of photographs decorated the walls of the lounge: ubiquitous baby photos giving way to formal school portraits and hastily snapped birthday parties. The girl reminded Torrance of his own daughter. The boy was a couple of years older; clearly the apple of his father’s eye. A pile of comic books lay on a nearby coffee table, heralding the adventures of a troupe of Marvel superheroes, but they were of no interest to Torrance. He was there to hunt for treasure.
An elegant handbag was the first item thrown into the backpack. The credit cards would be cancelled the next morning, but Torrance knew an internet site that wouldn’t look twice at where the numbers came from. A search of the cloakroom turned up two cell phones and a palmtop. A nearly full chequebook lay hidden inside a drawer. A wad of bank notes, wrapped in a rubber band, was tucked behind the engraved tin plate of some bowling competition. Torrance didn’t bother with the television or satellite decoder. Instead he took a screwdriver to the computer in the den, ripping out its hard-drive and dropping it in his backpack. Chances were he would find account numbers and passwords that would allow him to plunder this family a second time. No one ever said that life was fair.
Torrance saw the girl out of the corner of his eye and a momentary panic seized him. But all she did was stand there, confused by the debris that littered the floor. A glass of milk hung nervously from tiny fingers.
“May I help you?” he asked, seizing the initiative.
“I… I was thirsty. I came down for a drink.”
“That’s okay.” Gently, Torrance placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder and led her to a sofa. “You come and sit down. Now what’s your name?”
“That’s a nice name. How old are you, Hannah?”
“I’m six.” Hannah’s eyes took in the mess on the floor, the contents of upturned drawers. “What are you doing in our house?”
“Your mommy asked me to tidy up. Would you like to help?”
Hannah started chewing her bottom lip and playing with a lock of her long brown hair. “Uh huh,” she said at last. “I don’t mind.”
Torrance crouched down beside the sofa and covered her hand with his. “It’s a big job and I could really do with your help. Your mommy asked me to put away all of the valuable things first. Let me show you what I’ve found so far.”
Hannah glanced inside the proffered backpack but didn’t comment.
“I need you to think really hard. Is there anything that I have missed?”
The girl nodded once, then pointed to a book on the shelf. “There.”
He snatched the book and began leafing through its pages. Nothing fell out. Neither could he see anything written inside. It seemed an ordinary Bible. “Are you sure?”
Hannah nodded even more vigorously. “My daddy says so. He says that book’s the greatest treasure our family owns. And Mrs. Bannister thinks so too.”
Torrance could feel his patience starting to fray. “Who exactly is Mrs Bannister?”
“She’s my Sunday School teacher. She knows everything about God’s Word. She says it’s more valuable than gold.”
The click echoed round the still room. Torrance didn’t need to turn round to know what the woman was holding. “Move away from her or I swear I’ll use this, so help me God.”
Torrance raised his arms in the air and turned slowly to face his captor. In the distance he could hear the faint howl of approaching sirens. He had let his guard down - and all because of a stupid good-for-nothing Bible.
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