by Alan Grant
It was almost midnight on Christmas Eve.
A pale moon cast its wan glow on the hills and glens, frozen into stillness by a week of sub-zero weather. The lights of Moniaive twinkled, a welcoming oasis in a hoary desert of frost and ice.
He glided across the roofs in Ayr Street like a wraith, a ghost that left barely a footprint behind on the snow-covered slates. His long, black cloak billowed in the chill night breeze, and he paused for a moment in a pool of inky shadows cast by a chimney stack.
It has to be tonight! the costumed figure thought grimly, as if merely wishing it would make it come true. For seven nights in a row, he’d kept up this lonely, ice-cold vigil. Seven nights on the rooftops, hidden in darkness, keeping still as a statue, waiting.
Waiting for crime to rear its ugly head.
Waiting in vain, for the only thing he’d caught so far was a stinking cold.
He heard voices on the street below, and risked a glance down. A young couple, arms entwined around each other, were heading for the pub.
“So…where did Rab and L.T. go?” he heard the girl say, as he drew silently deeper into the shadows.
He shivered, and pulled the heavy cloak closer around him.
I’m getting too old for this. I’m bloody freezing!
His nose was running again, a stream of thin mucous that dribbled out beneath his facemask. It gathered on his top lip, threatening to freeze solid. He rubbed it away with the back of one gloved hand, and started to move again.
He’d reached the end of the roofs. Carefully, he lowered himself to the frost-rimed street and crouched low behind the cover of some parked cars.
His limbs felt like they were icing up as he vaulted over a fence into a garden.
Above him, the Clock House tower pointed like a rocket at the velvet, star-studded sky.
He crossed his arms, nestling his hands under his armpits, sighing with relief at the slight warmth he felt there. He wanted to go home, to lie down in front of a roaring log fire wrapped in an electric blanket set to maximum, with a glass of brandy in his hand.
But his village needed him.
There was a housebreaker on the loose. The villain had struck a dozen times in the space of the past fortnight, leaving his victims stressed and violated. And also lacking many of their most prized possessions.
Tonight, the Batman of Moniaive intended to catch him red-handed.
Frozen fingers fumbled with the rope looped at his belt. Once, twice, he cast it upwards, only for it to fall back to the snowy grass. But on the third try, the grapple caught on something, and held fast.
Glancing around to ensure he was still unobserved, he swarmed up the rope. Well, he meant to swarm. But his extremities were so cold now, it was all he could do to inch himself up it.
Long, cold minutes later, he was clinging to the outside of the Clock Tower, twenty-five feet above the frozen street. This was the perfect vantage point, giving him clear views of Ayr Street, North Street, and the High Street.
If&emdash;when!&emdash;crime struck, he would be ready.
The sound of muffled voices drifted from the Craigdarroch Arms. He heard a snatch of song, and the haunting sound of Scotty’s pipes. He imagined he could smell mince pies, and hot toddy.
The cops had done their best, of course. Rolf, the local constable, had doubled and redoubled his patrols, until people began to suspect he’d actually moved to Moniaive, and was living in his car.
But even Rolf couldn’t be there every night.
The Batman could.
He jerked out of his reverie of mince pies and bagpipes. There was a man skulking down the shadows in North Street. Not a local.
The man sneaked into the Clock House garden. The Christmas lights glinted on something he pulled out from under his coat. A jemmy!
Batman tried to call out, but his voice seemed frozen in his throat. He tried to grasp his rope, intending to swing down and overpower the miscreant. But his fingers were icicles that refused to perform his bidding.
I’ve b-b-been here too l-long! I’m frozen s-s-stiff!
That was the Batman’s last thought. He overbalanced, too cold to stop himself, and went plunging down through the air.
To land directly on top of the burglar.
“Where am I?” He sat up straight in his hospital bed as consciousness returned. “What happened?”
Ward sister Janet Yule stood by the bedside, glancing at a clipboard. “You fell off a roof on top of a burglar,” she told him. “Luckily, Fraser Dykes had left the pub on his way home. He sat on the man till the polis got there.”
“So I caught him? Praise be!” He hesitated for a moment, looking shyly at Janet. “Am I a hero?” he asked. “What are they saying in the village?”
“Well, I can tell you what Fraser said,” Janet replied. “And I quote: ‘I always knew that bugger up at Glenluiart was off his heid!'”