Who Walked a Crooked Mile

Thieves in Drogheda, County Louth have been warned that a toolbox that they stole from a parked van contains radioactive material. The item, a Troxler Nuclear Moisture Density Gauge, was stored in a bright yellow case with the trefoil symbol for radiation warning on it (Irish Times 05/03/22)….


Once home in their kitchen, they tried it out.

They opened the box with the Radiation Warning symbol on it (Michael said it was a sticker of a Ku Klux Klan ghost, though didn’t explain why such a sticker might exist), took out the bright yellow device, and tried to get it to work.

Tom thought it might be a walkie-talkie. Joe reckoned it might be a lottery-numbers generator. Michael believed it might contain missile launch codes and – here’s the thing – tried it anyway.

Everyone knows the phrase ‘thick as thieves’, but few reflect upon its true meaning.

So the brothers pressed the keypad, tugged at the aerial, even shook the box. Very little happened, though just once numbers suddenly flashed on the digital display screen, when Tom flushed the toilet upstairs.

Eventually they got bored. Joe turned on the radio, the news came on, and they learned what they had stolen. The three stared at each other.

“We should give it back,” said Joe, “like they ask.”

“Yeah,” said Tom. “They say just leave it outside the cop shop.”

Michael snorted. “While they watch us out the window?” he said. “I’m not falling for that.”

“Then what will we do?” asked Joe.

Michael took a hammer out of the toolbox. “We’ll break it up,” he said, “and leave bits in all the litter bins around the town.”

He hit the device with the hammer. The force drove the box, still intact, through the table and onto the kitchen lino.

“What the – ?” gasped Michael.

“The hammer must have picked up the radioactivity,” said Joe excitedly. “It’s got superpowers.”

They quickly tried other items from the toolbox. One twist from the spanner released an old rusted nut off the radiator and onto the floor, where it continued to spin for five minutes. A turn of the screwdriver caused a screw to fly out of the door hinge, smoking as it did so. The torch lit the kitchen like a thousand suns.

The brothers had no idea what the little line of steel L-shapes did, but they seemed to be doing it more impressively.

Joe picked up the tape measure. “No, wait,” said Michael suddenly. “We’ll try it outside.”

They went into the street. Tom took the end of the tape and started to walk. He got six hundred yards before he stopped, waved and let go. The tape retracted in a blur, whipping the tape measure from Joe’s hand and into Mrs Malone’s garden next door, where it destroyed a gnome.

The brothers raced into their house and hid, while Mrs Malone came out and glared at the damage, yelling “I know it was you!”. Memories of long lost boyhood days, of footballs, hurleys and catapults came to each of them, surprising them with regret for how their lives had worked out. Then Joe looked at Michael.

“The tape,” he said. “How did you know?”

“I’m not sure,” said Michael, then shivered.  “I.., I think it might have been…Spidey-sense?”

There is no such thing as Spidey-sense, or spiders would know not to go near plug-holes, but once he said it the idea took root in the shallow soil of their minds. Over the next few days brains of the outfit Michael – a walking definition of the term ‘faint praise’ – felt more clever, while Tom, the brawn, felt stronger.

Joe was the getaway driver. Since the streets of Drogheda are narrow and the one-way system is confusing they usually left the car at home, but the two older brothers had felt it was important that he have a designated role too. He also now felt like a better him, and was sure that he would be able to run home to the getaway car more quickly.

The trio were the pettiest of petty criminals. Their tried and trusted method was ‘grab and gallop’ – dashing into a shop or breaking into a car and snatching the first thing they saw. It was a technique that yielded paltry returns, and indeed their biggest haul to date was when they had run into the Drogheda United club shop and had come away with two hundred programmes for that evening’s match against Sligo Rovers, which had just ten minutes left to play.

Now though, emboldened by their new-found abilities, they decided to rob the town bank.

They set off at midnight. At the bank a quick viper-tongue flick from the tape measure took out the camera. The screwdriver whirred its way through the hinges on a window. The torch lit their way to the safe, which was shattered by a blow from the hammer. They stuffed their pockets with as much money as they could (they had forgotten to bring a bag) and climbed out of the window.

There were two police cars waiting outside. Sergeant O’Brien was leaning against one of them.

“Hello lads,” he said cheerfully.

Joe glared at Michael. “Spidey-sense my arse,” he muttered.

Michal stared in astonishment at the policeman. “How are you here so fast?” he said. “We were in and out in four minutes.”

“Yes,” said O’Brien, “but we knew you were coming half an hour ago.”

“How?” said Tom. “We kept to the shadows, like, like-”

“Like thieves in the night,” said Joe.

“Indeed you did,” agreed Sergeant O’Brien, “but you glow in the dark.”


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