When it first started, Lucy decided it would be best to ignore it.  She just carried on reading her book before turning off the light and curling up under the duvet with a pillow over her head.  It was always the same: gentle tapping on the window accompanied by tuneless whistling, always after dark and only when her husband, Tom, was away. 

But Lucy remained calm.  Confident she’d locked the front and back doors and closed all the downstairs windows.  She hoped that the prankster, whoever he was (she assumed it must be a he), would soon give up.

‘Bloody hell, it happened again?’ Tom, home from a business trip, shook his head in disbelief.  ‘We could install a camera and catch the bugger red-handed.’

Lucy pursed her lips, a mannerism Tom loved.  ‘Thanks for the thought, but it’s not worth the expense.  He’s harmless.  If I don’t react he’ll soon get bored.’

‘If you’re sure.  I hate to think of you alone in the house and not feeling secure.’ 

But, often after an absence of a few weeks, the tapping and whistling always resumed.

Lucy, in her early thirties, still with the trim figure of a sixth former, was an optician at the local branch of Specsavers.  Customers appreciated her professionalism as she subjected their eyes to a various tests, her quiet voice guiding them through the process and explaining the results.  After work, she sometimes joined a couple of the receptionists, Lyla and Mel, for a quick drink in the pub a few doors away from the opticians.  They were younger that her, both sporting false nails and eyelashes, and Lucy was amused by their exploits on Bumble and short lived-romances.  By comparison Lucy, married for three years to Tom, felt unadventurous and dowdy. 

One day, unable to compete with Lyla and Mel’s hilarious stories of disastrous blind dates, Lucy told them about her prowler. 

‘You mean that after you’ve gone to bed, he taps on the window?’  Lyla’s eyes opened wide as if she was bracing herself for a puff test.

‘Yes, it’s always the same, whistling and tapping on the sitting room window immediately beneath the bedroom.’   

‘Gosh!  I wouldn’t sleep a wink,’ Mel exclaimed.  ‘What does Tom do?  Go after him with a baseball bat?’

Lucy shook her head.  ‘It only happens when he is away.  He says we should instal security lights or a camera.’

‘And you’ve no idea who it is?’

‘Not a clue, except that it must be someone who knows when Tom is away.’

‘Ah, a work colleague or a neighbour perhaps?’

‘Maybe.  Anyway, I’m sure it’s best to ignore it and not give him the satisfaction of thinking I’m getting the jitters.’

‘I’m amazed you can do that,’ said Lyla. ‘I’d definitely have the screaming heebie-jeebies if it happened to me.’

Despite Lucy’s stoicism, the tapping and whistling continued, always when Tom was away on one of his business trips.  It was puzzling.  Why would anyone want to do it?  What kicks could they possibly be getting out of it?   She’d examined the small flower bed immediately outside the sitting room window looking for tell-tale signs: footprints perhaps or a dropped handkerchief.  But there was no indication that anyone had loitered there.  She’d even checked the windowpane to see if she could spot any fingerprints.  Nothing.

One day, during their weekly phone call, Lucy told her mother about the prowler.

‘My dear, why haven’t you told me before?  That’s really scary.  You must report it to the police.’

‘I didn’t want to worry you and anyway it’s harmless, just a nuisance.  I don’t think the police would be interested.  They’ve better things to do.’

‘Nonsense!   You must report it.  What does Tom say?   Surely he’s worried knowing he’s leaving you alone in the house with someone spooky outside.’

‘But nothing ever happens.  I just ignore it and eventually he gives up and goes away.’

‘Well, I definitely think you should report it.’

So, Lucy did.

Two police officers came.  They sat in the kitchen and Lucy made them cups of tea: green tea for the female inspector and builder’s tea, with a dash of milk and a spoonful of sugar, for her male companion.

‘Sorry, but I have to ask, you’re quite sure you aren’t imagining it?

‘No, there’s definitely someone there tapping on the window and whistling.’

‘Not a tree branch blowing in the wind?’

‘No, there’s nothing that could tap the front window except a person.’

‘Have you any idea who’d want to do this?  Have you fallen out with a neighbour or anything like that?’

‘No, our immediate neighbours on both sides are elderly and other people in the road are just ordinary, friendly acquaintances.  None of them seem in the least bit creepy’

‘I’m afraid you can never tell,’ the inspector said, pushing her spectacles up her nose.  Lucy had already noticed they needed adjusting and wondered if she should offer. ‘You say it only happens when your husband is away for the night.  How would anyone know he was away?’

‘I suppose they’d notice his car wasn’t there.’

‘But you say it doesn’t always happen when your husband is away?’

‘That’s correct.  Sometimes it doesn’t happen for weeks and I begin to think he must have given up and found something better to do.’

‘Hmm.  Does your husband always take the car when he goes away?’  

‘Usually yes, but not always.  When he goes abroad he leaves it parked in its usual place and takes a taxi to the airport.’

‘And can you recall any occasions when your husband’s car has been parked outside and the prowler has come?’

‘Sorry, but I’m really not sure.  He just comes and goes.  It’s intermittent, there doesn’t seem to be a definite pattern.’

‘Well, the presence or absence of your husband’s car seems to be a key factor.  I suggest you try an experiment.  Park the car somewhere else so that the prowler thinks your husband is away.  My guess is that the prowler, if there is one, will assume the coast is clear.  Try that and let me know the outcome.’

Tom was a bit reluctant, grumbling that parking the car in another street would be inconvenient, but Lucy persuaded him to try it.  ‘Don’t you see, it means that if the prowler comes, you’ll be here and you can go down and confront him.’

‘Yeah, I guess so,’ said Tom, sounding far from convinced.

Tom parked the car two streets away.  A man protested that Tom was taking up his usual parking place but Tom said he was within his rights and showed him his residents’ parking permit.

Then they waited to see what would happen.  But it was a bit of an anti-climax: nothing happened, no prowler, no tapping, no whistling.  Nothing untoward. 

Lucy became pregnant (they had been trying for a baby for some time) and memories of the prowler slowly faded as Lucy succumbed to bouts of early morning sickness.  Tom moved his car back to its usual parking place. 

Some weeks passed.  Then one night, when Tom’s car was away having its annual service, and they were tucked up in bed, Lucy reading and Tom already asleep, the tapping began.  It was gentle at first, so gentle that Lucy wasn’t sure she’d heard it.  Then it gathered momentum and became louder and Lucy was in no doubt.  She nudged Tom.  ‘Listen, can you hear that?  It’s the prowler.  He’s back.’

Tom put on his dressing gown and, without switching on any lights, crept downstairs.  He paused in the hallway, listening hard, but could hear no tapping.  As stealthily as he could, he released the security chain on the front door, turned the yale lock, pulled the door open and stepped outside.  There was nothing there, just the usual line of parked cars glistening under the streetlights. 

Tom locked up again and went back upstairs.  ‘Are you quite sure you heard something?   If so, by the time I’d got down there he’d scarpered.’

‘It was definitely him tapping.  No doubt about it.  Perhaps he heard you coming?’

‘Impossible, I didn’t make a sound.’

‘I’ll report it in the morning.  The police asked me to tell them if it happened again.’

‘No, don’t bother.  I tell you what, tomorrow night you go to bed at the usual time and I’ll hide outside by the backdoor and see if I can catch the bugger.’

So, the next night that’s what happened.  Lucy went to bed with her book and Tom settled himself down on a canvas chair behind the dustbins with a rug over his lap.  

Just as Lucy turned off her bedside light and snuggled down to sleep, the tapping started.  Lucy rang Tom’s mobile.  No answer.  She left a message.  No response.  The tapping continued, now accompanied by tuneless whistling.  Lucy started to feel panicky.  Where was Tom?  Why wasn’t he answering?  Why wasn’t he doing anything?   Perhaps the prowler had attacked him?   Should she go downstairs and investigate?

She rang 999 and asked for the police.  She tried to stay calm as she gave her name and address and told them her predicament.  A reassuring voice told her that a patrol car was in the area and would be with her soon.  She was not, repeat not, to go outside and must keep all the doors and windows locked. 

Lucy sat on the edge of her bed and waited.  The tapping had stopped by now and it was eerily silent.  Might her baby be distressed by her pounding heart?   Where was Tom?  Why didn’t he answer?

She jumped when the doorbell rang.  The police?  She hadn’t heard the patrol car arrive or any slamming doors.  Just total silence.  The bell rang again and a voice shouted through the letter box, ‘Police here, don’t be alarmed.  Please open the front door.  We have apprehended your prowler.’

Lucy went downstairs gingerly, wondering if it might be a trap.  She stood behind the front door, hesitating to open it. ‘How do I know you’re the police?’ she shouted. ‘I didn’t hear you arrive.’

‘Don’t worry, love.  We did a swoop, killed the engine and turned off the lights.  We’ve got your man.  Look here’s my badge.’  The letterbox opened and the policeman shone a torch on his ID.  

Lucy, leaving the chain on to door as a precaution, opened the door a few inches.  She was confronted by two burly policemen and, wedged between them, Tom looking sheepish.

‘Tell them it’s me,’ said Tom.  ‘They won’t believe me.’

‘Is this your husband, mam?’

Lucy took the chain off the door and opened it wide.  ‘Yes, that’s Tom.  What’s happened?’

‘We found him hiding behind the dustbins.  He says he fell asleep.’

‘Yes,’ said Tom, ‘sorry, I was sound asleep.’

‘Well,’ said the policeman who seemed to be in charge, Lucy couldn’t help noticing he had a lazy eye, ‘let’s hope this is the end of the matter.’  He gave Lucy a wink as if to say ‘we all know what’s been going on here’.

A few weeks later Lucy, her pregnancy proceeding according to plan, saw a report in the local newspaper about a man who’d been charged with stalking lone women and following them home.  A couple of the victims were quoted in the article, one of them recounting how, after she’d gone to bed, he used to tap on her window.

Lucy showed the paper to Tom as soon as he returned from a business trip to Hartlepool.

‘Bloody hell, I know that guy!’ he exclaimed.  ‘He’s the bloke who complained when I parked my car outside his house.’

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