Southerly by David Haywood


The Burglar Files

It's five months into the working year, and already I'm three months behind schedule on my work.

In my defence, I've had a few unavoidable interruptions. At the moment, for example, I'm lecturing on thermodynamics at the University of Canterbury. This was unavoidable because they offered me actual money, which is something I find very hard to refuse these days.

Before that I spent a month helping my grandfather put the finishing touches to his book (more on this another day) -- and prior to my grandfather's book was our burglary.

In terms of loss of property, our burglary wasn't really so bad. The days and weeks wasted in dealing with our insurance company were, to be honest, far more of a loss than the items stolen. But the ransacking that accompanied the burglary was really very inconvenient. Jennifer and I both possess a lot of books and a lot of files. When they are all removed from their shelves and filing cabinets, and then spread upon the floor, and then trod upon by burglars -- well, it takes a good many days to sort them all out again.

The worst bit of the re-organizing (at least in my case) was sorting through dozens of short stories and half-completed novels, and wondering what possessed me to write them -- and feeling depressed by how little I've achieved, and how I've frittered my life away doing nothing. It was a bit of a downer, to be perfectly honest.

But amongst all the depressing dross -- and, quite possibly, because they were amongst such dross -- there were a few pieces of writing that didn't seem quite so awful. One of them was a semi-finished novel set in West Auckland, involving half-a-dozen characters whose exploits are described in a series of interconnected short stories.

It was written when I was sixteen, having just finished my bursary exams, and mostly while I was supposed to be working in a warehouse -- organizing a filing system for thousands of faulty electric heaters.

I found the stories in the novel (mildly) interesting to re-read for two reasons: firstly because, at some primitive level, they did manage to describe the type of people I'd met at school and worked with in West Auckland. And secondly, because I'd unwittingly recycled two of the plot-lines in these pieces for Alan Bollard's adventures in the 'New Zealand Reserve Bank Annual 2010'.

It has to be said that the plot-lines work much better when translated into a humorous context -- where, as one insightful reviewer put it, there is the possibility of a "transgressive chortle". On the other hand, if you want to see what four years of incarceration in a rugby-worshipping high school in West Auckland will do to a teenager, then these stories will certainly give you plenty of data.

At any rate, I thought I might as well post one of them -- a story that, somewhat ironically, involves a burglary. But a couple of warnings beforehand: (a) don't expect to find anything humorous in this piece (or, if you do, you should seek help from a psychologist); and (b) this story contains violent imagery and the type of language they use in West Auckland. Don't read it if you are upset by such things.

* * *

It was a Beautiful Day

Hog and Shitter were a right pair. Everyone said so. They'd met on PD, and hit it off so well that when Shitter completed his sentence (six weeks 'cos he'd only been done for shoplifting) he reckoned they should become business partners.

Shitter was like that. He'd talk about 'business partners' or a 'business strategy'. He didn't just go off pinching like Hog did. And the way Shitter explained it, Hog could see that a business partner and a strategy was actually a good idea. He could also see that Shitter was a bit of a pussy, but that was okay 'cos Hog saw himself as a hard man who was ready to go out and do the hard yards.

Hog had left school as early as he could, which was fourteen-and-a-half. You weren't officially allowed to leave until you were fifteen, but everyone knew it took the truant officer six months to catch up with you. Hog just couldn't figure out how anyone could be so dumb as to stay at school -- doing what the shit-for-brains teachers told you -- for any longer than that.

He wanted to be out doing what he felt like doing. Hog was still living with his mum, of course, but he could look after himself no problem. If he needed some money he just went out and pinched something and then sold it.

Admittedly, this hadn't always worked out as Hog planned. He'd pinched a car and put an advert in the Trade & Exchange. And a bloke had come to look at it, and said okay he'd buy it, he just needed to get cash from his bank. But then next thing he came back with the fuckin' cops, and it turned out he was the guy

that Hog had pinched the car off in the first place. And next thing after that Hog was doing PD, and working his arse off just like the dumb fucks who'd stayed in school.

He'd felt a bit down after that, picking up litter all day, thinking: "Why fuckin' bother trying when they just arrest you and put you on PD?" But after a few weeks he met Shitter and then everything began to look okay again. Hog had been doing it all backwards, Shitter reckoned, "First you gotta find your customer and ask him exactly what he wants -- then you go and pinch it for him."

So now they were driving to the Westward Ho! in Shitter's mum's Honda Scamp. What a crappy car; Hog had almost refused to ride in it. But then Shitter pointed out that nobody takes any notice of a Honda, not like the Torana or Capri that Hog would've chosen. And Hog had to admit, after he'd cooled down and lit-up, that this was another instance of Shitter's cleverness.

They parked at the back of the Westward Ho! and went in through the toilets. Hog trailed behind while Shitter worked the pub. Sometimes they got told to "fuck off" or "go back to school"; mostly a plain "no". A bunch of older-looking guys had their beers sitting on the pool table; one of them beckoned Shitter over, asked what he was selling.

"TVs, walkmans, stereos -- anything like that. Tell me what you want and I'll get it for you. Cash on delivery."

"How about videos?"

"I can do you a real nice video player for a hundred."

It was that easy.

Hog and Shitter rolled through the streets of Glen Eden looking for a suitable house. The day was turning out to

be a scorcher, and the heat shimmered above the concrete. Shitter would wait in the car with the engine running; Hog would get out and stroll along the sweltering footpaths, checking out the properties. In one street, he found a place with an open window but no video player. Then he found another house with what looked like a video player -- and turned out to be a fuckin' tape-deck.

In revenge, Hog did a shit on the floor in the main bedroom, and wiped his arse on a pillowcase. Then he took the pillowcase and wrote 'SHIT' in big brown letters on the wall, which was kind of funny 'cos it was the word 'SHIT' and it was also written in shit.

After he'd been into another couple of houses, and still no video, Hog began to feel fucked off with the whole situation. It was as if no-one in Glen Eden had any fuckin' money. He wouldn't even have bothered with the house on Osman Street if he hadn't already spent so much time going nowhere.

The house was at the end of a long right-of-way, and Hog just about scarpered when he looked into a window and saw a girl sleeping in one of the bedrooms. But the downstairs ranch-slider was ajar, and he spotted a video player beneath the telly in the lounge. He was real quiet going inside: sneaking open the ranch-slider without a sound, padding across the carpet, unplugging the video, putting the cables into his pocket.

Now he was all ready to leave, but he started thinking about the sleeping girl -- why the fuck was he shitting his pants over some chick? Hog drifted along the hallway to her bedroom. A high-school uniform was draped over the dresser; the room smelt vaguely

of snot. He guessed the girl was ill. She lay with her back towards him and a cute little arse sticking out from under the sheets. Hog could see her white panties, a shadow that might have been her pubic hair. He stood in the doorway watching her.

The floor upstairs gave a creak. Hog picked up the video and crept quickly out of the house. Halfway down the drive, he paused, and thought hard. Had that really been someone moving -- or was it just his imagination? For a moment Hog was on the verge of going back inside. Then he heard a slight sound behind him, and he turned to see this fuckin' huge guy coming along the driveway, and then the guy was shouting: "That's my fuckin' video, you cunt!"

Hog was off. Pelting down the drive at full sprint -- video player hammering into his side. He hit the road and turned right, running back to where he'd been dropped off. Then he saw that Shitter had moved the car to other side of the right-of-way. Hog had to double-back, almost into the arms of the huge guy stumbling after him, now only metres behind him. Thank fuck that Shitter saw him, Shitter flung open the door, Shitter hit the accelerator as soon as Hog's arse touched the passenger seat.

Turned out the Honda Scamp was nippier than it looked. "Do you think he got my licence plate?" Shitter sounded worried. Hog fumbled with a packet of smokes, stuck one in his mouth, lit it with a single movement, took a huge long drag.

"Don't be such a pussy," he said. He looked at his hands. They weren't even shaking.

The guy was just where he said he'd be -- still at the pool table. The

Westward Ho! was getting busy now, Hog and Shitter elbowing their way between the crowds of afternoon drinkers.

"We've got your video outside, mate."


"That video player you wanted -- got it out in the car."

"Dunno what you kids are talking about."

"Just this morning, mate! You ordered a video for a hundred bucks."

"Oh yeah, that's right, now I remember. Yeah, I changed my mind. Don't want it no more."

The guy's mates are cracking up with laughter now, downing a few more gulps of beer, enjoying the show.

"Hey, we had a business deal!" said Shitter. He sounded shrill. Hog knew that he was wasting his breath.

Back outside, Hog didn't realize anything was wrong until he opened the car door. There were bits of glass on his seat. On the driver's side, Shitter was staring open-mouthed at two broken windows, a kicked-in panel. The video player was gone, of course.

All the way home, Shitter whined at Hog, just like a little girl: "What am I gonna tell my fuckin' mum about her car?" Hog was sick to death of the sound of him. What about Hog wasting a whole fuckin' day, maybe even risking prison, and nearly getting beaten up by some cunt who wanted his video back. And what did Hog have to show for all that hard work? Absolutely fuck all.

They stopped for the lights at the intersection of West Coast and Parrs Cross Road. A boy on a racing bike pulled up beside the car. He was wearing his school uniform, and sent them a brief glance. Hog felt he could read the kid's mind -- two scruffy losers in a beat-up Honda Scamp. Shitter must have thought the same thing, he shouted at the kid: "What do you think

you're fuckin' looking at?"

The boy didn't say anything, and Shitter stuck his head out the window and yelled: "Hey, cunt on a bike, I'm talking to you!"

The light was still red. The kid pedalled across the intersection, his bike-chain rattling as he turned into Parrs Cross Road.

"Fuckin' cunt," said Shitter with feeling. The light changed and he accelerated smoothly through the gears, steering carefully onto the grass verge, hitting the bike dead centre of the car's grill.

They got out. Hog was amazed at how much damage the bike had done going over the car. Front and rear windscreens cracked, boot and bonnet both dented, a long gouge in the roof. He wondered what Shitter's mum would say now.

"Fuckin' cunt!" Shitter strode over to where the boy lay crumpled on the grass, kicking him two, three times in the stomach -- stamping hard on the kid's head: "Look at my fuckin' car!"

Then he was swinging back into the driver's seat, dropping it into reverse, accelerating hard along the verge, straight over the kid's neck, dragging him four or five metres under the car. Then into first gear, back to where Hog was waiting.

Hog climbed in. The street was empty. They pulled out onto the road, rounded a corner, and suddenly it was like nothing had happened. Except for the cracked windscreen, and Shitter still fuming: "Fuckin' little shit staring at us -- like we're scum or something."

Hog wasn't listening. He gazed out of the window, watching the power poles flicker past the car, bright sunlight on the trees, ash from a rubbish fire as it fluttered into the hot blue sky. He took a long drag on his smoke.

It was a beautiful day.

© David Haywood, 1986.

David Haywood is the author of the book 'The New Zealand Reserve Bank Annual 2010'.

(Click here to find out more)

His previous book 'My First Stabbing' is available here.

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