In the following extract, Joe, Sheila and Brenda have just emerged from a seafront pub in Scarborough, after taking in an Abba tribute show, and they’re making their way slowly back to the bus.
The thirty minutes since leaving the theatre had seen near night descend. They crossed the road to walk along the promenade by the sands, while away to the northwest, above the steep cliffs, the last vestiges of the high summer day were dwindling in an icy blue twilight. The searing heat had diminished, but it was still hot, and the light breeze coming off the sea worked to ease the oppressive air.
Joe lit his cigarette and they ambled back towards the theatre, where the coach waited for them. High up, the monument on Oliver’s Mount, evoking vague reminders of Cleopatra’s Needle, stood out starkly against the fading light and alongside it, a first quarter moon hung in the sky.
A jogger came towards them, dressed all in black, his head covered by a balaclava helmet, and Joe chuckled sarcastically.
Joe laughed. “Just look at this idiot. Wrapped up like he’s heading for the North Pole.”
The two women said nothing but savoured the pleasant walk along the pavement and soft lapping of the sea against the shore.
“Oh look,” said Brenda, “someone’s starting a fire.”
They paused and followed her pointing finger with their eyes. Over towards the Spa Complex, half a mile away, there was the telltale glow of flame.
“Beach bums,” declared Joe. “Dossing overnight on the sands.”
Sheila pointed further out to sea, where the winking lights of a ship could be seen. “Moored for the night. Remember the hymn we used to sing at school? For those in peril on the sea.”
“No peril at this time of year,” muttered Joe. “Seas are flat calm. Come on we’d better get down to the bus.”
“You don’t have to be so grumpy, Joe, just because you got it wrong.”
“I’m used to being wrong,” he riposted. “I work with you two, don’t I?”
Everything happened so quickly, that it seemed almost unreal. The jogger burst through them, snatched at Brenda’s bag. Determined to keep hold of it, she tightened her grip on the handle, the jogger tugged, tore the bag from her and ran on, Brenda fell to the pavement, Sheila cried out, and the jogger ran off. Leaving Sheila to help Brenda, Joe hurried after him.
While he ran, the jogger opened the bag and rummaged through it, casting aside makeup, hairbrush, driver’s licence and her purse, until he finally risked a glance over his shoulder and found Joe bearing down on him, at which point he threw the bag away and put on a spurt.
“Stop him,” Joe cried.
But rather than risk becoming involved, people stood back to let him pass. Up ahead, the fairground beneath the castle headland was still in full swing, its lights casting a cheerful glow across the harbour, crowds of holidaymakers still queuing for the Cyclone, the helter-skelter and Ferris Wheel.
The thief sprinted into the fairground, Joe followed at a slower pace, and scanned the crowds, seeking his quarry. He skirted the queue for the helter-skelter, mainly children, their parents waiting patiently at the exit, scanned the crowds around the few stalls, and children’s rides, then made his way out of the fairground to a nearby café, where the staff of two were closing up.
By the gents’ lavatories, his chest heaving with the unexpected exertion, Joe found a discarded balaclava, picked it up and after studying it for a moment, jammed it into his pocket before making his way back through the crowds to join the women. They had made it to the harbour, where they were picking up the last of Brenda’s possessions and putting them back into her bag.
“He got away,” Joe reported, his breath still coming in large gasps. “I’m too old to chase people like that.”
“Well, he didn’t get away with anything,” Brenda said. “Not even my purse.” Triumphantly, she held up the small, black leather clutch purse.
“Now don’t you think that’s strange?”
Joe’s rhetorical question wiped the smiles from their faces.
“There he is running hell for leather and yet he goes through your bag as he’s running and he doesn’t steal nothing.”
“Anything,” Sheila corrected him.
“We’ve just come through an attempted mugging and she’s still correcting my English. You know what I mean. He could have taken your cash and cards from the purse as he was running, but he didn’t. Why not? Because like the bod who raided my room and could have nicked my computer, he wasn’t after money.”
“Then what was he after, Joe?”
He fished into his pocket and came out again with the key. “This… Again.”