CAUGHT IN THE ACT
I see him every weekday morning at seven sharp, going up the front path then out along the street. I’m always washing up my breakfast things about that time. The kitchens on this side of the street are at the front of the house, living rooms at the back.
I know nothing about the man who has lived next door to me for the past three or four months. We’ve never spoken, even on the odd occasion when we’ve both been out in the back garden, or out front putting out the rubbish and recycling stuff the night before collection. I have always acknowledged him with a nod, and sometimes a polite ‘hello’. But it is never reciprocated and now I don’t bother. Some people like to be left alone.
After seeing nobody other than him come and go in all the time he has lived next door, I think it’s fairly safe to assume that he lives alone, no wife or partner, no family, no pets.
He always seems to wear the same things – black pinstripe suit, black shoes, and black bowler hat and always carries a black briefcase and folded black umbrella, even on days when there hasn’t been a cloud in the sky, like today. That’s why I’ve had nicknamed him ‘Mr Black’... Mr Black, Man of Mystery.
Today, for some unfathomable reason, my curiosity just gets the better of me and when I’m pretty sure he isn’t going to return for something he’s forgotten, I go out into the back garden, hop over the hedge and have a peep through his living room window.
The blinds are partly drawn and through the gap I can see enough to realise it isn’t decked out like any living room I’ve ever seen before.
What I’m looking at is a kind of waiting room. Sitting around on hardback chairs, either reading newspapers or a magazines, are around half-a-dozen more ‘Mr Blacks’, absolutely identical to each other and faithful to the original.
At first I’m startled and I take two steps back in case they have seen me. But they appear not to notice. I stand my ground because there’s something really odd about them, and not just the fact that they are perfect clones of my neighbour.
I peep through again and see that they never seem to blink, and neither do they appear to breathe. They are completely motionless. They don’t look up, but carry on ‘reading’ whatever is in front of them.
From somewhere in the room I hear a faint whirring sound. A small camera mounted in the far corner of the room swivels towards me and focuses. A red light blinks on and off a couple of times, and then stays on.
I decide to make myself scarce. I turn to go, but guess who I bump into?