Sometimes, burglars really do mess with the Wrong Guy
At 4.20 a.m. last Friday, my friend and neighbour was awoken by the sound of breaking glass. It was one of the panels in his front door and when the noise had died away he could make out the voices
of two young men intent on entering his house. Lying next to him was his wife and, in adjacent bedrooms, their three young daughters.
As he lay in bed wondering what to do, it occurred to him that the two men trying to break into his house had no reason to think it wasn’t occupied. On the contrary, his car was in the
driveway and his bull terrier was in its basket in the hall. Whatever these men intended to do, they had clearly taken into account that the house was occupied by a young family. For the purposes
of this story, let’s call my friend Bill.
Such incidents are increasingly common in west London. Another neighbour of mine awoke recently to discover a group of three men in his bedroom, one holding a knife to his wife’s throat. He
and his wife were then held hostage by two of the men while the third was dispatched to the nearest cashpoint with his Visa Debit card. Even though he’d been given the correct pin, the
third man proved incapable of withdrawing any money because, like the other two, he was high on crack. My neighbour, whose baby daughter was sleeping in a cot nearby, had to dissuade the
two men from cutting his family’s throats.
Bill isn’t a particularly unusual man, at least not on the face of it. He’s about 5ft 10, mid-40s, stocky. He doesn’t work out and isn’t trained in any of the martial arts.
He’s never been in the army and doesn’t own any weapons. No different from me, in fact. He’s just an ordinary man who suddenly found himself in an extraordinary situation. He was
faced with a choice: he could either surrender to his fate or he could do something about it.
Quentin Tarantino has this party piece he does called ‘The Wrong Guy’. The gist of it is that in a life or death situation he hopes he’d turn out to be the wrong guy. That is, the
man referred to in action movies as ‘the wrong guy’ — the regular Joe who becomes a superhero when his family is threatened by a bunch of intruders in the middle of the night.
He’s usually played by Bruce Willis or Harrison Ford and he nearly always ends up saying, ‘You messed with the wrong guy.’
It’s a funny riff because Tarantino clearly isn’t the wrong guy. Like most of us, he wouldn’t have the physical courage to take on a couple of housebreakers. He’d probably
lock his bedroom door, call the police and then dive under the duvet. But Bill — Bill who was lying there, wondering what to do, as two young men were creeping up the stairs towards the floor
where his family were sleeping — Bill was the wrong guy.
He leapt out of bed and grabbed the nearest weapon to hand — a hammer, as it happened — and burst through the bedroom door. ‘I don’t care if I end up going to jail,’
he told the two men standing in his hallway. ‘I’m going to f***ing hurt you.’ He then ran down the stairs, two at a time, letting out a blood-curdling cry.
The two men couldn’t get out of there fast enough. They ran out of the front door and legged it down the street. Bill ran after them, waving the hammer above his head, telling them precisely
what he intended to do when he caught up with them. It was only when he got level with my front door that he realised he was completely naked.
He returned to his house, pulled on some shorts, got in his car and set off in pursuit. He caught up with them about 500 yards down the road, mounting the pavement with his car to cut them off. As
they doubled back, he flew out of the door and ran after them, still clutching the hammer. It was only when they clambered over the fence of the local sports club and disappeared into the darkness
that Bill finally gave up.
I’m glad it wasn’t my house those two men broke into last Friday night. I don’t know what sort of man I’d turn out to be and I hope I never find out.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated August 6, 2011