By day I am David Smith, an ordinary man in every way – office-worker, dutiful refuse-recycler and runner-up in the 2004 Mr Universe Contest.
But by night I am The Black Shadow – jewel-thief, art “collector” and cat-burglar.
I am a traditionalist. I wear a black-and-white striped jumper and a little eye-mask. I walk on tip-toe, not beginning a step until I have completed the one before, even when I am just walking from my front door to my car. I leave a calling-card at each crime scene, with a picture of a black shadow on it. To be honest this is not an easy image to capture, and the card simply looks as if somebody has sneezed hot tarmac onto it.
And I carry a bag on a pole – a bag with “swag” written on it in which I keep a banana, a flask of coffee and an iPhone with Google Maps on it, so that I don’t break into the wrong house.
Being a cat-burglar is a difficult and dangerous profession. Cats don’t like to be stolen, and have claws which they are happy to use to reinforce this opinion.
Dogs would be a doodle – just shout “here, Fido” and they practically steal themselves. It’s like robbing a bank where all of the money jumps out of the safe into your bag.
On the other hand cats won’t even come for their own owners, so they’re hardly going to trot obediently after me.
In smaller houses you have to wrestle the cat into the bag while it claws furiously at you. I usually end up with more scratches than if I’d tried to stuff a duvet-cover with a hedgehog.
In the larger houses, the ones big enough to swing a cat in, it should theoretically be possible to grab one by the tail and, after spinning round like a hammer-thrower, hurl it out the window into your swag-bag beneath. Cats, though, have the ability to swerve in mid-air, and at the last second will veer onto the wall beside the window, clinging there for a few seconds by all four paws. They could then simply jump to the ground and run away, but they prefer, because they are evil like that, to slide down the plasterwork, their claws screeching like a banshee during mating season. This causes you to clench your jaws so tight that your diet for the following week is soup, drunk through a straw.
The best way to steal one, I’ve discovered, is to pretend that you don’t want to. Play hard to get, in other words. I used to employ this technique with girls when I was a teenager. I had my first kiss at the age of twenty-seven, so perhaps the technique wasn‘t perfect.
It works better on cats. Walk away with the same haughty air that they would normally reserve for you and they will follow you quicker than a rat leaving Hamelin. They will then jump up and down in front of you, determined to attract your attention so that they can then prove that they can ignore you better than you can ignore them.
There is no market for them, of course. Since they would they simply run, or rather stroll, away from their new owners, it would make as much sense as them buying the receding tide. I should simply stop stealing them, but the Black Shadow is an institution by now, a daring darling of the media, a Robin Hood with a bed that doesn‘t get rained on. I feel that I have to keep the legend alive.
This means that I an stuck with a house full of cats all pointedly ignoring each other, like furry versions of the commuters on a London Underground train.
Sometimes the punishment really does fit the crime.