|Willow's Magpie no. 29|
All was quiet in the lane. Large gardens enclosed the pretty cottages, none of great size, but all of them well-kept and attractive. Cottages bought by commuters to the nearby city, retired couples or even second-homers, who only came during the holidays.
A green van, neither shabby nor shining new drove along the lane, at a steady but slow speed; neither slow nor fast enough to be noticeable, had anybody been looking. What was unusual was that the same van returned fifteen minutes later, driving in the other direction, a little slower this time.
Two men could be seen in the cab, apparently very interested in a pink cottage nestling in its garden, which very effectively hid three sides of it from the lane; the windows that were visible were shut. As it was a warm day, this in itself was unusual, the wrought iron gate was also firmly shut, a sign that nobody had driven through it recently.
The van drove on. This time it turned off the lane not far from the cottage, where a track leading to a picnic spot could just be seen. It can't have been a very busy spot, perhaps it was a little late in the summer; in any case, the van was the only car there. The driver came to a halt a little deeper in the trees than was absolutely necessary, the dark green of the van blended into the background and it became almost invisible.
The men got out, one of them carrying a small holdall. They strolled up the track and into the lane, in the direction of the pink cottage. Once abreast of it, one of the men found that he had a stone in his shoe, he leant on the wrought-iron gate, banged the shoe hard against it, making quite a noise. His friend casually opened the gate; it creaked, like wrought-iron gates that haven't been oiled for a while often do.
No answering sound from anywhere, no barking dog, no scrap of music, no laughter, just the peaceful silence of a late summer afternoon. Soon, people would come home from the city, the retired couple would wake from its nap, car doors would slam, radios and TVs be switched on, ordinary life would recommence.
But for now all was silent.
It took the men two minutes to get into the house.
The older man said:
"Remember what I told you. Don't get greedy; a quick once-over for small valuables, maybe a laptop if you see one without searching, but nothing big. Ten minutes max and we're out of here. Touch nothing, disturb nothing. In and out, ok."
The younger man nodded.