The teenagers liked to hang out in the entrance to the supermarket and he had often seen them there. Today, though was the first time he had approached them. His old wrist watch said it was half past eleven, but there was a steady stream of people still because it was a Saturday night and this supermarket had twenty-four seven opening hours. Coming out with a light plastic shopping bag dangling from his left hand and his other hand in his deep coat pocket fingering the edges of the business cards inside there, he went up to the group of ten mixed girls and boys.
‘Any of you need a place to stay?’ he asked in his croaky, old man voice, interrupting their boisterous conversations, ‘I’ve a boarding house, not far from here. Got nice bedrooms, hot water, food, drink, whatever you want,’ he said and handed the business cards out.
The chatter died down as a few hands reached out to take them and then whispering broke out, as they studied the cards and questioned what to do.
‘Come whenever you want,’ he added before turning away and leaving.
He went home, taking the fastest route and hurrying against the howling wind and stinging rain. Arriving, he unlocked the door and left it that way. He put the light on in the hallway and the one in the living room, before taking off his coat and boots. He took the bag into the kitchen and spilled out the contents on to the old butcher’s kitchen table. There was a packet of biscuits, a small carton of milk and a loaf of bread. He put these away and went to sit in the living room, watching TV and getting warm again.
The doorbell ring an hour or so later, starting him out of a doze. Getting up, he answered it and found two teenage girls and a boy on his doorsteps, each clutching his cards, looking wet and frozen.
‘Come in, come in,’ he said brightly and stepped aside from them, ‘take your coats and shoes off there, please,’ he asked and they did so, ‘come into the living room and get warm.’
He headed back in and sat on the sofa. Nervously, they come into the room and glanced around with worried, darting eyes.
‘Please, make yourself at home. Perhaps, I should go and make some tea?’
Without waiting, he got up and went into the kitchen. He left the doors open so he could hear them talking, but if they ever said a word he didn’t hear it. When the tea was made, he came back in with it and a plate of biscuits. He had to encourage them to eat and drink. After they had done so, they seemed a bit more relaxed and he suggested showing them around his house.
The tour didn’t take long and he invited them to choose their own bedrooms and get some rest. He went back downstairs, watched some more TV and listened for their movements to become still. Then he went into his own bedroom, which was next to the living room, due to his bad knees and back he claimed, and from a locked bottom draw took out a rag and a bottle half-full of clear liquid.
Slowly, he went up the stairs with these items and gently opened the door to all the bedrooms of which there was six. He found that the girls had decided to share a double bed in room one and the boy had taken the other double bed in room six. It couldn’t have worked out better for him!
Going into the girls’ room, he unscrewed the cap on the bottle, held the rag to it and so wet it. Then he pressed it to each girl’s sleeping face for a good few minutes. Screwing the lid back on, he left the bottle and rag on the bedside table and throwing back the duvet, slapped the first girl in the face. She didn’t even stir. Smiling, he scooped her up out the bed, no longer the frail old man he was pretending to be, and carried her out of the room. He took her downstairs, along the hallway, into the kitchen and then in the cellar.
He placed her inside one of the special holding cages he had made and went back for the other girl. She turned out to be heavier, but he still managed to carry her and put her in the other cell next to her friend. A part of him wished he didn’t have to take them both, but things had been so slow lately. He went back into the kitchen, collected a bin back and carefully placed all the things they had left in the bedroom and hallway inside, also he remembered to pick up the bottle and rag. He placed them inside the cellar too, before turning off the light and locking the door.
He went to bed and in the morning, lied to the young man about the girls and showed him the front door. Laughing, he went down into the cellar and found the girls staring up at him with tear stained faces.