A week passed. We did not see that much of Julie; her bus driving schedule either started early or finished late.
“James, I think we’d better talk to Julie about this, whether she did it or not. If she did, then she’ll probably stop when she knows that we know.” I reasoned with James, after my purse went missing the night before. After searching the whole house, James eventually found it stuffed under the sofa, with £50 cash gone but otherwise intact.
“Julie,” James raised the matter with her that evening. “We’re not sure who took the money, and we’re not saying that it’s you. But it’s happened, and we’re very concerned.”
“I certainly didn’t take it, but I’m not sure of Hugh though. All I can say is that I’ll keep an eye on him when he’s around next.” She looked calm, no sign of a guilty party.
That afternoon, James went to town and bought a safe.
Our wedding anniversary came. James and I flew to Barcelona for a weekend to celebrate. My brother-in-law Joe agreed to ‘baby-sit’ our son, even though Tom, at 15, would be perfectly happy to look after himself.
On landing at Luton Airport on Monday morning, I drove back alone – James flew to Belfast for a job interview. When I arrived home, our lodger was sitting in the kitchen with her tea.
“Tom had his mates over and made a lot of noise in the house.” She began, no polite enquiry about my holiday. Instead, she showed me her two new mobile phones. “I can use the other one to call my parents. They live in Spain.”
Yes, she had mentioned before that she had no family left in the UK.
Two hours later, Tom returned from school.
“Uncle Joe could not find his mobile phone this morning. He left it in the lounge last night. We have looked everywhere.” He reported.
Julie immediately came to my mind, and the Chinese cover story of “There is no gold here”, when she proudly showed me ‘her’ two phones.
When James returned that evening, he was outraged: “She can’t stay here any longer.”
“Let’s talk to her first.” I went to knock on her door, still hoping that she hadn’t stolen from us.
No answer. I knocked again, louder.
“What do you want?” She opened the door and barked, loud and aggressive. I took a step back, her face furious and only inches to mine; her big frame appeared ready to jump on me and tear me to pieces. Until that moment, we had been civil towards each other.
She continued to throw abuse at me, until James came upstairs and intervened. “If you weren’t here, we wouldn’t have to suspect you, would we?”
Guard dog James slept downstairs that night. Julie ‘the lodger from hell’ moved out the next morning. She left without paying her last week’s rent and took our keys with her. Some of our CDs and other items disappeared with her too. She left without Big Hugh to hump her stuff this time, her clothes still intact in the polythene bags.
A letter from her previous address arrived. It turned out that she had lived only a few streets away, on the other side of the A6. Her previous landlord called us back, after James’s note through his door. Mr. King was a young teacher who had suffered Julie as a lodger for three weeks, like us.
“I found my wallet gone within days, then my mobile phone and other stuff. I became so worried that I started to move valuable things to my mother’s house. I eventually plucked up courage to ask her to leave.” Mr. King said to James.
We contacted the police and reported what happened.
“You have not caught her stealing in the act. We cannot do anything. That’s the law.”
“Do you mean that people like Julie will be allowed to carry on, going to people’s houses and stealing from them?” I asked, incredulous.
“I’m afraid so. Our hands are tied.” The Policeman shrugged his shoulders.
The last thing we received from Julie was a threatening letter.
I know you have contacted Mr. O’Neill, my referee, and I have your letter as evidence. I’m going to seek legal advice, and sue you for blackening my name. Unless you pay me compensation, I shall withhold your keys.
The letter bore exactly the same handwriting as on the reference, supposedly written by a Mr O’Neill.