Romeo, Romeo, where for art thou?
He cursed after reading the text. When would his mates stop doing this? Why had his mother called him Romeo? Richard would have been better. Being called Dick had to be a step up from the constant references to Romeo and Juliet he’d suffered all his life.
It was hard graft trying to establish himself as a top rate thief without all his mates asking every damn time he proposed a residence to steal from: “is there a balcony?”
One day soon he was going to put his knuckles right through the front teeth of Jimmy Drip Nose.
It could be worse. He might have had a moniker like Diprose and ended up being called drip nose. Holding on to that thought he continued his stroll through the posh streets of Verona. Old trees lined the side-walk, their roots breaking the pavement making the footpaths dangerous. Twice he’d tripped. The residents didn’t want the ambience ruined or the tree roots attacked. Only the wealthy could afford these old mansions with big gardens. Sadly some had been replaced by modern edifices with glass fronted facades and the latest in high tech alarm systems, making them damn hard to burgle.
He walked past several of those, preferring to linger outside the multi-storied Grande Dames, with their wooden fire escapes, sashed windows and scrolled fretwork decorating their wide verandahs. These fine examples of craftsmanship were so much easier to break into. Often they were sheltered by established trees, which sometimes gave access to the top floor. In and out, up the tree. What more can a burglar ask for?
He stopped and studied the house. A tall mulberry tree reached toward the wrap-around verandah. Could he jump the gap? The drainpipe on the corner looked sturdy enough for a fast exit. Skirting along the boundary, keeping in the shade of the hedge, he waited, listening for voices. A woman and a young man could be heard, then the lilt of a young female, all downstairs. Taking the chance he climbed the tree’s broad branches, following the limbs, getting closer to the house. Almost at the branch he needed his shoe jammed in the fork of the trunk. Damn. No amount of tugging would shift it. He’d need to undo the laces to get his foot out. As he bent his shirt caught on a twig behind him. The tree was determined to hold him in its embrace. He began to unbutton his shirt to slip out of it when a young girl appeared on the verandah and stared at him.
Damn, now what?
“Juliet” someone called from downstairs, “Are you coming down again.”
‘In a minute, just looking at something,” she said and then pointed at him. “Just what are you doing climbing our tree? Damn cheek. You’d better have a good explanation or I’ll ring the police.”
“I’d be gone before they got here,” he said. “Besides I’m up here for a dare. You wouldn’t want to spoil my chances of winning a hundred dollars, would you?”
“A likely story. What dare would that be?”
Thankful for the first time in his life for his given name, he tossed a silent prayer to his late mother and continued. “My name is Romeo and because your name is Juliet, my friends dared me to climb this tree and sing to you.”
She raised her eyebrows and shook her head. “Don’t believe you. No one calls their son Romeo and there’s lots of Juliet’s about. Why me?”
“Because very few have a balcony.” He wriggled out of his shirt, pleased to display and use his abs in the field of romance, other than lifting weights and stolen goods. He pulled his driver’s licence out of his trouser pocket and opened it up, holding it out at arm’s length. “See, my name is Romeo.”
“I can’t see that far. It looks more like Robert from here.” She sat on the swing seat, the sun catching her long blond hair; tied back by plaited sides it fell over her shoulders like a pale waterfall.
Deep inside him something thumped. His heart? ‘Romeo the Iceman’ couldn’t believe the emotion she triggered. He wanted to hold her, kiss her and carry her off down the tree. Impossible at present - his foot remained stuck.
“Perhaps you could climb out onto the limb and look?” he said.
“You could toss it to me.”
“Not likely, I may never get it back.”
She stood and walked to the balcony rail. “It’s either that or I’ll scream.”
Bloody women. All the same. If they don’t want to do it - they scream. “All right, catch.” He threw the small card to her. It spun and landed at her feet.
“Unbelievable,” she muttered, looking at it. “You really are called Romeo.”
She smiled; the sun came out, bells rang in his ears and his heart thumped against his ribs.
”What’s the rest of your dare?”
His mind skittered thinking of all the things he’d like to do with her and discarding most of them as being the desires of an uncouth youth. This girl needed refinement. “I’m to woo you and get you to accompany me to a string quartet recital in the Aotea Centre.” He thanked his late mother for teaching him something about music. “Do you have a phone with you? You could record me doing this, as proof. The one hundred dollars will buy our tickets.”
“Interesting,” she said and drew a phone from her pocket, aiming it in his direction. He posed, wishing he’d oiled his chest. “Now sing,” she said.
Dredging memories from his private school education he decided on “O Sole Mio” and began. By the time he’d finished he had a larger audience. He beamed his best.
“Gregory,” the woman ordered, “Ring the police. We have an interloper.”
“Please don’t, Gregory. Mother - you and father have always wanted me to marry a social climber. I think he’s ideal.”