white on orange graphic reading 'the thief in the night' Francesca Burke

The Thief in the Night by Francesca Burke

This is a commission for my friend Robyn. Her prompt:

What is the least convenient personal habit for a detective? Write about that detective.

Quigley Thompson had only been Junior Security Guard at Meadowlark Conservation Park and Society for three weeks, so he really wasn’t sure what to do with the woman in the staffroom. His commanding officer, if you could call him that, hadn’t arrived yet, so it was Quigley’s job to keep an eye on the person of interest.

‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ he asked tentatively. The woman smiled at him.

‘I’m a suspect in an attempted crime, so you should probably just offer me water.’

‘Oh, okay. Would you like any water?’

‘Thank you, no.’

Mr Richards, Quigley’s boss, stomped into the room. He had his official jacket on over a pair of striped pyjamas. ‘Thompson! Outside, now. What the hell is going on?’ he hissed when Quigley had closed the door.

Quigley explained why they had both been summoned from their beds in the dead of night.

‘So then I phoned you, sir.’ Quigley finished. Mr Richards blinked at his apprentice several times.

‘Say that again.’

‘The rangers found her by the otters… It rather appears that she was trying to steal one.’

‘Steal an otter?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Quigley, I know you’re a bright lad, but you were roused from your bed at two o’clock in the morning and you don’t pay that much attention at the best of times, so is it possible you misheard the rangers?’

‘No, sir, it is not. She repeated the story to me while we were waiting for you. Her exact words were: I am here to steal an otter.’

‘It’s true,’ a voice called from the staffroom.

The woman seated was prim proper and, in Mr Richards’ opinion, far too beautiful to be wearing the black leggings and ski jacket she had on. Her hair was tied up in a neat bun, and she still held the balaclava she was wearing when the rangers found her. Mr Richards wondered if he should bag it up. They didn’t have any evidence bags, as such, but there were a few freezer bags in the kitchenette from the time Janet brought in cupcakes.

‘So Ms—’

‘Delacorte. Detective Gabrielle Delacorte.’

Mr Richards almost choked on his tongue. ‘Detective? So, Ms Delacorte—Detective—what precisely were you doing in the otter enclosure?’

‘I was trying to steal an otter.’

‘By yourself?’


‘And you were just going to… Fit it on a lead and walk it down the road?’

‘Absolutely.’ Mr Richards was starting to feel slightly irritated. This woman might officially outrank him, but he had been working as a security guard at Meadowlark Conservation Park and Society for thirty years. He knew crazed animal ladies when he saw them. They were usually batty about cats, though, not semiaquatic mammals. He’d never met one who was also a ranking police officer, either.

‘May I ask, ma’am… why?’

‘Well, my garden is fairly large and I’ve recently installed quite a sizable pond—one could call it a small lake—so I thought I would fill it with wildlife.’

‘You’d need two otters,’ Quigley piped up, ‘as they are inherently social creatures.’

‘Thank you, Quigley. Although he’s right, ma’am, they are. One alone wouldn’t do. Besides, for a pond, you only need put in the right plants, ma’am, and the wildlife will come to you.’ Mr Richards remembered who he was talking to. ‘But what I mean is… why steal an otter at two o’clock on a Thursday morning? Don’t you have work tomorrow?’

‘Well, yes, of course I do. But I haven’t been on a night out for months and I really fancied one.’

Mr Richards rather felt God was playing a cosmic joke on him. That or God was playing a cosmic joke on Gabrielle Delacorte.

‘You mean… you mean you do this often? Break into conservation parks and attempt to steal animals?’

‘Well, no, not conservation parks specifically.’

‘Oh, God. You’re a kleptomaniac, aren’t you?’

‘That’s one word for it. I prefer to think of myself as an adrenaline junkie, a collector of fine objects and an imaginative individual.’

‘Right…’ Mr Richards was vaguely aware that this was his time to step up. In thirty years on the job, he’d never had to make an actual arrest. The majority of troublemakers just wanted to wave a few handmade banners and complain about caged animals or wave a few sticky receipts and complain about the food in the visitor’s area. Should Mr Richards ring the police? Of course he should. But… why on earth was a police officer going around committing crime? Maybe it was a boredom thing. Maybe she was lonely. God knew, Mr Richards found himself bored out of his mind of an evening with only the telly and a microwave meal for company. He’d considered joining a choir for something to do, or possibly the local historical association. Seven nights a week were a lot of nights to fill, especially when the football wasn’t on. Or maybe he was sitting across from a Jekyll and Hyde-esque mass-robber whose house stored stolen goods from across the continents.

She was very attractive, though.

‘Well… I can’t… you aren’t… you haven’t actually managed to steal the otter, have you? Dave and Patricia found you when they were doing the rounds.’

‘Technically true, sir.’ Quigley confirmed with a glance at his notebook.

‘In that case… I will issue with a lifetime ban from the Meadowlark Conservation Park and Society. Quigley, be a lad and make a note that we’ll be making some improvements to our security as well.’

‘Very well, then, Mr Richards… It was a pleasure meeting you.’ Detective Delacorte stood up briskly, put her balaclava back on and was out the door before Mr Richards had the chance to ask if she was currently attached.

‘Did we dream this?’ Quigley asked Mr Richards as they walked back to their vehicles.

‘I think we might have done, son. But I’ll count the otters tomorrow, just to be on the safe side. Say, lad, put your bike in the boot of my car and I’ll give you a lift. It’s dark as pitch out here tonight. No wonder she just wandered in.’

‘Thank you, sir, I appreciate it. I’ll get onto the improved security first thing tomorrow. I’m thinking, remove all the blind spots, add infared cameras…’

‘Excellent idea. We’ll do the once over on the enclosures too. They’re mostly designed to stop the animals getting out, not people getting in.’

‘Good idea, sir. Wait—where’s your car?’

Did you know you can read my short stories before they’re public by joining my Patreon? When you join, I’ll name a character after you. Alternately, consider buying me a coffee – you’ll still be helping me to build a sustainable career, but with fewer direct debits.

Learn about where you can get my book, The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes here.

Copyright © 2020 by Francesca Burke
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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