The incremental improvement in home security that Pat had learned about the hard way was the introduction of remotely monitored, miniature cameras. These little gadgets, discretely tucked away in out of the way places, allowed a security firm to respond to a break-in without the intruders being aware they had triggered an alarm. Shortly after his thirtieth birthday, Pat had discovered that being caught on the premises, booty in hand, by a police patrol alerted to his presence by the firm monitoring the system, was a difficult charge to deny.
His reward had been a five-year, all expenses covered, holiday in one of her majesty’s hostels, despite our offer to plea bargain with an admission to an undisclosed number of other break-ins. The prosecutor, with a watertight case and a determination to put Pat away for as long as possible, had shown no interest. As far as the prosecutor had been concerned it was called the justice system for a reason, and little shits like Pat Owens deserved what the system called justice.
To Pat, it had been like being enrolled in a master’s program. He’d received a boost to his limited knowledge of security systems from a fellow inmate, who had used what he had learned from installing the systems to work out how to make them look like they were working when he had deactivated the sensors. Unfortunately, according to the teller of the tale, on his last job he had been so preoccupied with tampering with a particularly complicated system, protecting a large mansion in the leafy eastern suburbs, where the rich preferred to reside, that he had failed to notice that the homeowner had returned. Both he and Pat had put that down to bad luck when they had discussed how they could deploy their compatible skills in the not too distant future when they had both returned to the street.
Five years is a long time when you have little to do and nowhere to go. After the initial euphoria of being inside acquiring new skills and making new contacts had worn off, Pat had enrolled in some of the vocational training courses available to inmates, simply for something to do while the number of days until his release steadily diminished. He hadn’t been all that interested in rehabilitation but learning about stuff and doing things was more entertaining than boredom.
By the time he had been released, Pat had acquired licences to drive a forklift and a truck, had mastered bookkeeping, and knew quite a lot about bee-keeping.
At thirty-five, even though he had a list of useful skills, Pat had discovered that having a criminal record did not make it easy to get employment. It was largely thanks to the persistence of his parole officer that Pat found himself employed, as a butcher and delivery driver for a small company manufacturing salami and Italian sausages.
Two years into his employment with that company, he met Francesca. She was the manager of a continental deli that had been added to his regular delivery route. Francesca was nothing to look at. Then again, Pat was no prize catch either. Francesca was short and a little overweight, like Pat. She had no fashion sense, which was a huge disappointment to her mother, but she had a personality that Pat couldn’t resist.
The first time he had serviced her deli she had engaged him in conversation and set him back half an hour for the rest of that day. It hadn’t been long before Pat had started dropping into her shop on the way home from work, to replenish his larder. Then they had started dating and one thing had led to another.
After a couple of months, Pat had taken Francesca home to meet his long-suffering mother. The two women hit it off. That should have been a warning sign but Pat, blindsided by love or lust or the combination of both charged desires, had failed to notice that particular red flag. Before he had realised that he had been entrapped by two conniving women, acting in what they had believed to be his best interest, Pat had married Francesca and they had set up house in the residence behind the shop she managed for her father.
When reality finally made an appearance in Pat’s awareness, he realised they’d transformed him into a respectable member of society with responsibilities. For the first time in his life, he got an appreciation of what might have driven his father to the drink.
Perhaps Pat would have lived up to their expectations if things hadn’t changed.
Five months after the wedding, and two months after discovering he was to become a father, some kid had eaten salami at a back-yard barbecue and died of salmonella poisoning. The salami hadn’t been made by the firm that employed Pat but a public gripped by fear does not behave in a rational manner. The sale of salami and other cured meat products abruptly entered a hiatus that lasted for months.
Pat was stood down along with everybody else who worked in the industry. Sure, he had a promise that he’d have a job to go back to when people returned to normal behaviour, and started consuming a product that has been safely eaten for centuries, but he’d have to survive until that happened.
Then Francesca had miscarried and fallen into a black depression, and Pat had found himself managing a continental deli under the tutelage of his elderly Italian father-in-law. Pat wished he had taken the Italian course instead of opting to learn about bee-keeping. At least he could do the books, but with the sale of cured meat products making up a significant part of the business of the deli, that skill provided him with little comfort as he dutifully tracked their diminishing returns.
You’d think a man that had spent years inside would know something about patience, but Pat Owens was haunted by his impoverished childhood, and a man haunted by those sort of memories is prone to listening to his fears. Pat had taken his fears to the pub, and there they had escaped into the ether and attracted attention.
To be continued….