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The case of the benevolent burglar

‘I’m going to lose my job and my wife is going to leave me’, thought Detective Inspector Banks with no small amount of sadness and concern. He was walking through the hallways of the Hertfordshire County Police station, towards the office of the Chief Inspector. It was not often these days that he got a summons from his superior officer and he hastened his steps to cut down the distance he had yet to cover. He was keen not to be late, but at the same time knew he should not be in a hurry to arrive at what he foresaw to be his imminent sacking. Times had not recently been overly kind to Banks; he had not managed to associate himself with a case that had been both solved and high profile, and he could practically feel the younger inspectors snapping at his heels. He knew they thought of him as a dinosaur, only existing in the force on past glories and a spurious reputation for having once been the sharpest pursuer of criminals in the Home Counties. Now, he was well aware, it had been far too long since he had been able to work on, and successfully conclude, a major operation. He had, of course, kept himself busy with small cases involving thefts, muggings and suchlike, but the force could easily pay a far more junior officer to handle these things. He had known his days were numbered for some time and was certain that the day had finally come when his boss had sent word that he wanted to speak with Banks in his office at 8am sharp.

As Banks watch ticked past 7.54, the old analogue arms trundling wearily along much like Banks’ own limbs, his mind wandered away from his job and returned once again to his wife. Banks had been married for over twenty years and had never so much as looked at another woman with any intent. His wife had always been so proud of him and still stood by him now. She always listened patiently and calmly while he sat in their living room talking about how he was surely about to lose his job. It didn’t seem to worry her that he had been going on about it for months now, she just said he was being melodramatic and that things wouldn’t come to that. He was grateful for her support and had always been blissfully happy with her but recently things had begun to change. Ever so slightly at first, and then more noticeably. She had begun to receive phone calls on the mobile phone she had suddenly bought herself and never liked to tell him who they were from. She had started to go out during the day at times that he didn’t understand. He had always popped in to the house if he had been working in the area and Rhona Banks was always there, working in the house or chatting to a neighbour. Recently though he had been coming home to find she was not there. Nothing particularly wrong with this, of course, but when he had inquired with her in the evenings as to what she had done that day she had begun to avoid his questioning. He had not been in the force, interviewing hardened criminals, for thirty years without gaining an insight into when someone was evading questions. Over the past few weeks, he had come to the sad conclusion that his darling wife had to be having an affair. He could see no other explanation, and it cut him to his soul. Why she would do such a thing was not something that puzzled him. He knew he was not as dynamic as he used to be.

His watch’s minute hand rolled towards the twelve and he knocked on the door of Chief Inspector Rice’s office.

“Banks? That you? Get yourself in here”, came the thin, reedy voice from inside the office. Banks walked in and sat himself down. Chief Inspector Rice smiled weakly,

“I suppose you know why I’ve called you here, don’t you?” Banks nodded sadly, and was then surprised as Rice continued,

“I want you to head up the team to investigate the burglaries that have swept the area. Seems our perp only wants you involved”. Banks frowned, he had no idea what Rice was talking about.

“Oh, you really need to pay more attention to the crime reports, Banks. Seven houses have suffered break in’s in the past week, same MO, obviously a pro”

“So why me then? Why don’t you put Lyndsey or Carter on the case?”

“Believe me, with your recent record, I’d like to put someone else on it. But I got no choice; the perp obviously wants you. He’s leaving notes asking for you. Seems he’s a fan of you and wants to pit his wits against you”

Banks didn’t know what to say, he could not believe that there was a villain out there who had even heard of him anymore let alone want to engage him in any kind of mindgame. His surprise was obvious, Rice continued,

“Just deal with it. Sgt Devises has the files and is ready to fill you in. Get this one solved Banks. You’re dismissed.” Banks stood up and turned to go.

“Oh, and Banks?”


“If you don’t crack this one, you are so out of a job. I’ve lined up Inspector Taylor to replace you. Good luck”. With that the door was closed behind him, it was ten past eight and Banks was left standing stunned in the deserted hallway.

9.17 am and Banks was just starting to get his head around what had been going on. Sgt Devises was not being very friendly to his superior officer by any stretch of the imagination. The younger officer had patiently told Banks about the seven separate cases of burglary, all of which had the telltale signs of having been committed by the same person. The point of entry was always through the downstairs toilet window, which had always been left open. The perpetrator always took the VCR and DVD but never the television. No personal items were ever taken and the only sign that someone had been in the house at all, except the missing electrical goods, was the simple typewritten note found at all the homes. Banks had a copy of one of the notes in a sealed evidence bag on his desk. He could see the message clearly enough through the translucent bag. It read “Put Banks on the case. He has foiled my schemes too many times and must pay.”

Banks could not for the life of him remember when he had foiled someone’s schemes, but he was nevertheless pleased to be involved. He knew he would be on the dole if the villain hadn’t been leaving notes with his name on them.

“So what do we do now, Inspector?” asked Devises in a voice that made it clear he didn’t expect an answer. That made it more surprising when he got one.

“We go and see these victims and see what we can find out. It’s called police work”. Devises rolled his eyes as Banks strode out of the room, almost his old self,

“Right, like that’s gonna tell us anything”

Much to his surprise, the visit to the victims’ homes did bring up an interesting coincidence that had not come up during the initial police interviews. A coincidence that led to Banks and Devises being sat in the offices of Williams & Ahmed estate agents high street offices waiting for the owner to return from his appointment. The secretary, a pretty blonde woman, eyed them distastefully as she filed her nails, patently ignoring a chorus of ringing phones. A young estate agent sat at the front desk, close to the two officers, and chatted into the phone to a friend. Yes, he would be coming out tonight. No, he didn’t need a lift.

Banks turned his head towards the door as the man he had been waiting for came through it. A tall man, bald and solidly built, smiled at Banks,

“Is some one helping you, Sir?” Banks smiled back,

“I think you can help me Mr Williams,” he showed the Estate agent his badge and ID, “Do you have somewhere we can talk?”

Twenty minutes later and Banks felt he had him on the ropes.

“So you admit you have been into all these seven homes in the past month?” Williams nodded patiently,

“Of course, I have been called out to value them by the owners. Nothing wrong with that is there. Not a crime is it”.

“Perhaps you can explain how, after they had a visit from you, all these homes received a visit from someone the same night who broke in and robbed them. A bit of a coincidence don’t you think?” Banks was enjoying this; he had never liked estate agents and was pleased to be able to make this one sweat a little. On the other side of the table, Williams rolled his eyes in his head and shrugged his shoulders,

“What can I say? I don’t know anything about that”

“Do you have any way of substantiating your whereabouts for the times these crimes were committed, Mr Williams?” asked Devises, knowing full well he hadn’t.

“As I’ve told you, I’ve not been going out in the evenings recently. Been very busy at work and haven’t had the energy. I live alone, so no; I can’t prove my whereabouts. This is all circumstantial; you can’t prove a thing. Now I would like to get back to work if you officers don’t mind. Some of us have proper jobs to do”. With that Williams stood and strode out of the upstairs office they had been speaking in. Banks turned to Devises,

“Well, what do you think?”

“He visits all seven of the homes, the only link between them we can find, and they get burgled the same day he goes there. Of course it’s him. Looks a right shady character as well. Probably not charging enough on his fees and has decided to try and make a little on the side”

“I agree. We’ll have to try and prove it though”, finished Banks with a frown. “My brother was thinking of getting his house valued. Let’s see if our Mr Williams can resist pulling the same stunt again”.

As Devises went downstairs to take statements from the rest of the employees of Williams & Ahmed estate agents, Banks decided to call his wife. The phone was answered on the third ring, but it wasn’t Mrs Banks who answered it. It was his neighbour Mrs Wiltshire. He asked to speak to Mrs Banks and was horrified to hear Mrs Wiltshire ask him if he was Scott. His wife denied all knowledge of anyone called Scott when she came to the phone, and he could get no more out of her. When he had finished speaking to her he sat back in the chair and sighed. It was clear the marriage was nearly over, but who was this Scott? He decided to try and concentrate on the job in hand and headed back to the station, leaving Devises to tidy up the last few statements.

“Good afternoon, Williams & Ahmed, how can I help?” said the secretary into the mouthpiece. Her usual unhappy visage brightened slightly as she spoke to the man on the other end of the line.

“Yes, our valuation service is free and no obligation. We’d be delighted to come and visit your home. Yes the gentleman who will be coming will be our Branch Manager, Mr Williams. Yes, Yes, Yes. Number forty two Acacia Avenue. We’ll see you at four o’clock, sir. Thank you for calling”. As she put the phone down she was already calling her manager over, it was rare to see property on Acacia Avenue and the guy on the phone seemed very keen to sell.

Inside forty two Acacia Avenue, a confused man was ringing the police station.

“Yes, put me through to Inspector Banks. I’m his brother. OK, well just tell him I’ve done as he asked.”

It was 4.45pm and Banks had just received a call from his brother telling him that Williams had just left. The valuation had been very helpful in fact. Banks asked his brother if Williams had paid any special attention to the downstairs toilet and was gratified to hear that he had. All the seven houses that had been broken into had the downstairs toilet as the point of entry. If Williams was the culprit, and Banks was sure that he was, then it made sense he would check this part of the house. All Banks needed to do now was to place some officers outside his brothers house for the night, then sit back and wait.

Banks had just arrived home. It was just after 8.30pm. He had barely entered his home when he heard his wife slam the phone down and turn the television on.

“Who was on the phone, dear?” he asked as casually as he could. She did not look up from the TV,

“Oh, just a wrong number. Your dinner’s in the oven. I’ve got to go out in a minute”

“Really, where to?” he asked, not expecting an answer. “Just round to my Aunt Hilda’s. She’s not been well today and I said I’d sit with her.”

Banks didn’t need to be a detective to deduce that Aunt Hilda would not be visited by her niece that evening, but wanted to wait until he had proof before confronting her. Besides, he reasoned, if he put her into a corner she may leave him entirely. He wasn’t ready for that yet, and didn’t know if he ever would be. He had other things to worry about.

While his wife was out at Aunt Hilda’s the phone rang. It was the station; sure enough Banks’ brother’s house had been robbed. Same point of entry, same things missing. Banks smiled as he put down the receiver.


By 9.30 Banks was back at the station and sat in front of the criminal record database. He had received a call from the office that the file from central records on Williams had finally been found. Banks felt it made interesting reading. With convictions for armed robbery and handling stolen goods it seemed to Banks that Williams was a very unlikely person to be running a business. A thought occurred to Banks and he made a call to the National Association of Estate Agents. It turned out that there were no restrictions as to who could set up an estate agency business. Even a man with a criminal record such as Williams.

Banks rose from his seat and grabbed his coat. He had heard from the officers at the scene of the break in at Acacia Avenue that the crime was definitely the work of the same crook as the others. Banks had all the information he needed in order to act. Pushing aside thoughts of his wife and the fact that she was almost certainly with her lover, he called Sgt Devises on his mobile phone.

“Devises here”

“Devises, it’s Banks. Bring Williams in. He’s our man”, he said.

“What you got, boss?” Devises asked. Banks smiled,

“He took the bait and hit my brother’s place this evening. Also he’s got previous”. There was a pause before Devises’ voice came back,

“Er…… boss. I don’t think he hit your brother’s place. I’m outside Williams’ house, keeping an eye on him. He hasn’t left his living room all night”.

Banks blinked hard and it was several seconds before he could find a reply,


Banks was not a happy man. He had been so sure that Williams had been responsible for the spate of burglaries in the town, but Devises had been adamant the estate agent hadn’t left his home all evening. It was always possible that Williams was behind the crimes but not committing them himself, mused Banks as he paced. He could easily be using his position as a valuer to get into people’s homes and then be passing this information on to someone that actually did all the dirty work and splitting the proceeds, the Inspector thought. The more Banks thought about it, the more sense it made to him. Of course Williams never left his house that evening, he didn’t need to. But how could he track down the third party. The officers that Banks had left outside his brother’s house to try and apprehend the burglar had succeeded in seeing absolutely no one approach the property. That could be because the villain had a particularly cunning way of getting by the officers, but Banks felt it far more likely that the officers concerned were just not very good. He had spoken to the officers and they had reported seeing no one suspicious at all.

Banks knew he had to make progress on this case, he had seen the light flashing on his answer phone to tell him he had several messages. He didn’t need to check them to know that somewhere on the system would be a message from his boss threatening him with the sack. Possibly a message from his wife saying she was leaving him for another man. He shook his head vigorously, as if trying to shake the thoughts of unemployment and divorce away. He knew he had to find another angle, another way of finding the person responsible. A thought occurred to him and he picked up the internal phone,

“Justine? It’s Banks. No, the other one. Could you get onto the Phone Company in the morning and tell them we want them to pull the recent records for outgoing calls from Williams & Ahmed”. He paused,

“I know it takes time, but as quick as they can”. Banks slumped back into his chair, weary and contemplative. He thought it would help if he rested his eyes for a moment and tried to clear his mind.

When he awoke, he was aware that his head was lying in a puddle of his own drool on the top of his desk. Wiping his mouth as he lifted his head he could see the daylight streaming through the window. Cursing himself for falling asleep, he rapidly dialled the mobile number for Sgt Devises.

“Devises, It’s Banks. Meet me at Williams & Ahmed in an hour. Actually, change of plan, I’m going home to shower, pick me up there please”

Walking into his house, he was surprised to see his wife sat at the bottom of the stairs in her dressing gown. Her face lit up as he walked through the door.

“Where have you been? I’ve been so worried about you” She leapt to her feet and grabbed him, hugging him hard. Banks pushed her far enough away from him to be able to see her face,

“I slept at the office. That’s all. Surprised you even noticed.” Banks wife looked hurt at this and stomped off to the kitchen to make coffee. Banks decided to put her behaviour down to guilt and get himself changed, ready for his left into town.

As he was straightening his tie in the upstairs bedroom, Banks heard the phone ring, then stop as his wife answered it almost immediately. He tip toed to the bedroom door and pulled it open a fraction, trying to hear whatever he could. Downstairs in the hallway, Banks’ wife was speaking into the handset as quietly as she could,

“Yes, I know. Of course I’m interested. I’ll come and see you later. I have to go, Scott”

Banks felt the blood drain from his face as he heard his wife mutter the other man’s name as she arranged to see him later.

Banks sat in the passenger seat of the police car, driven at speed towards the centre of town by Devises. The sergeant had already asked if he could put the siren on and jump a few traffic lights, but Banks wasn’t really in the mood. The Inspector was deep in thought, but not particularly about the case. He couldn’t shake a feeling of dread that had been softly stalking him all the previous day and now had him in its cold, death-like grip. Dread that he couldn’t solve the case and would lose his job, or that he would solve it and still end up unemployed. Dread that he would get home that night to find his wife was not there anymore.

He snapped back to the present as Devises neared the centre of town. The offices of Williams & Ahmed were in a pedestrianised precinct and it took a couple of minutes before they were walking in through the doors of the Estate Agency. At the front desk, Mr Ahmed looked up from his files and his face betrayed his annoyance at seeing them again.

“you two again, this is becoming intolerable. We’ve got a business to run”, he said. Devises stepped up to Ahmed as Banks walked straight past him to where he could see Williams placing documents on the photocopier at the rear of the office.

“Listen, Mr Ahmed”, hissed Devises, “we’ll come and go as we please. We are investigating a serious crime”. Ahmed obviously thought better of replying to an officer who just seemed to want to fight with him. At the back of the office, Williams looked round as Banks approached,

“Inspector, I think I’ve answered enough of your questions. Any chance I could be left alone to run my office?” Banks invited Williams to sit down on a nearby chair, watched as he did, and then replied,

“Mr Williams, I asked my brother to call your office for a valuation. You went round and valued the home and then, lo and behold, the home gets robbed in exactly the same way as the ones we’ve already questioned you about. Which, I should remind you, you freely admit you’ve also recently visited” Banks could see Williams about to protest and cut him off,

“Now I know you never left your flat last night, but I am certain this is not just a coincidence. I think you are calling someone after you check these homes out. I think you should tell me who, before the phone company give me your records and I find out anyway”. Williams blinked in confusion before answering,

“Of course I rang people. I’m an Estate Agent. I have lots of people waiting to hear about possible new properties they might like. That doesn’t make me a criminal does it?”

It hadn’t occurred to Banks that Williams could have been supplying property information to someone for innocent purposes. Not wanting to back down and admit he hadn’t considered that eventuality Banks persisted,

“I think it’s time you showed me who these people are”.

Williams had pulled out his files for people looking for property of a certain value. Banks was standing over him,

“So, you would have called all these people about the houses concerned?”

“Not really. Only if they had’ve come onto the market. I would only have called people who were specifically looking for a downstairs toilet. Just to prepare them if it were to become available”, replied Williams. Banks nodded,

“So, show me. Call these people and tell them you’ve just got a new property on the market that they’ll love. Tell them to come in and get more details from you”.

Williams nodded his head wearily,

“If it’ll make you leave me alone then I’ll gladly do it”, and with that he began to search out the details. From the other side of the office Devises called,

“Inspector, it’s Superintendent Rice for you”, he held out his mobile phone, his hand covering the mouthpiece. Banks took the phone and spoke to his boss nervously. After several seconds of trying to get a reply in edgeways, Banks passed the phone back to Devises, his face reflecting the content of the conversation. “No pressure then”, thought Banks as Williams began to dial, “either I find the culprit today or I can clear my desk”

“Mr Taylor?…… Yes, it’s Scott Williams at Williams & Ahmed”, said Williams as his call was answered, “Are you still looking for a property? You are, great. I’ve just taken a lovely, three bedroom semi with the downstairs toilet you are looking for. If you’re in town, perhaps you can pop in and I can tell you a little more………Oh, I see. Sorry to hear that, Sir. Not to worry, maybe when you’re back. Ok, Mr Taylor, speak to you soon. Bye”. Williams put the phone down. Banks had a sense that he had just heard something important but couldn’t put his finger on what it was.

“Well?” he asked. Williams shook his head,

“I don’t think he’s your man. He’s on his way back from Scotland where he’s been at his father’s funeral. Wasn’t anywhere near here yesterday evening. Besides which, he’s severely arthritic, that’s why he wants a house with a downstairs toilet. He finds climbing stirs too difficult sometimes”

“Doubtful he could have climbed through the window then, Sir”, observed Devises wryly.

“Yes, thank you sergeant. I realise that”, snapped Banks.

Williams continued his calls and found the second house hunter had purchased the previous day. Banks and Devises agreed it was unlikely that a burglar would go to the length of buying a house to cover his tracks.

“That only leaves this lady”, said Williams as he dialled the last person on his small list. Banks began to be very nervous, if this person wasn’t right, he had no leads to work with at all. That would mean the sack and almost certainly speed up his wife leaving him. He thought about his wife and was returned to the here and now by Devises nudging his arm. Williams had made the call, replaced the handset and was looking at Banks.

“Well, I’ve done as you asked. She’s popping in to ask me for more details and get the address. If you think she’s the one you’re after then arrest her and leave me alone”.

As it happened it was only ten minutes before the lady in question walked into the office, she had already been in town. Williams jumped up as she came in,

“Hello, madam, good to see you again”

“Hello Scott”, she replied and Banks’ jaw dropped as his wife looked over and saw him standing at the back of the office.

It all made perfect sense to Banks now. He could see whom the calls to his wife had been from. He could see where she had been disappearing off to. He cursed himself for not spotting that Williams’ first name was Scott, after he had seen the agents criminal record. Devises took Mrs Banks by the arm,

“Come along Mrs Banks, we need to ask you a few questions down at the station”.

Banks gazed at her blankly as she shouted,

“I did it! I robbed those homes. But don’t you see? My husband caught me. He’s a great detective, you need him!” She turned to her shocked husband,

“Don’t worry, darling, I’ve fixed it all. You’ll never lose your job now”

Somehow the fact that he had solved the case and had found out his wife hadn’t been having an affair after all, did not comfort Inspector Banks as he watched his wife being arrested and taken away.


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