‘It’s sweet, Tommy. Easy money.’
Mickey’s words had a hollow ring to them now. Tommy pulled his knees in tighter to his chest, wrapped his arms around his legs. It was pitch black in the small space, warm, airless, and claustrophobic. He was having trouble breathing, panic making him take shallow sips of air. Tommy wondered if he would suffocate, wondered what would happen then. Would the old fella get done?
He could hear movement; a drawer opened and closed, then another.
‘Where are you, you little bastard! I know you’re up there. You’d better come down, now.’ The old man’s voice was high and frail, but showed no trace of fear. ‘I’ve got your mate.’
The plan was simple enough: there’s an old fella in March Avenue, lives alone. Bound to have money in the house, the oldies always do. Mickey hides round the corner. Tommy knocks, draws the old bloke out. Mickey nips in and goes through the place, lifts what he can. Tommy keeps the old bloke busy in the meantime. Sweet. Easy money. Even if he twigs, what’s he going to do? There’s two of them, young and fit, against one old coffin dodger.
Tommy hears Mickey thudding down the stairs, his footsteps amplified in the dark place. The only thing louder than Mickey’s feet is Tommy’s heartbeat drumming in his ears. Mickey crashes into the front room, full of bluff and bravado, no idea what’s gone down.
‘Fuck do you think you are, shouting the odds,’ he starts, bold and loud. Then Tommy hears him say: ‘Fucking hell, man! What you doing with that?’ Less confident. Surprised and scared is Tommy’s guess.
It had started out fine. Tommy knocked and spun a line about an injured cat in the bushes at the front. The old bloke went with him to look, and lo and behold, the cat’s nowhere to be seen, so they search for it. Meanwhile Mickey’s inside and is turning the place over. Then the old bloke asks a favour. Can Tommy come in and read his leccy meter? Even with the torch and his glasses, he can’t make out the numbers any more.
‘Stay where you are or I’ll shoot you, you little bastard. You wouldn’t be the first. I was in the war, you know. I shot a lot of little bastards in the war.’
‘Okay, gramps, what do you want to do?’ Mickey’s recovered well, trying to take control. ‘I haven’t got nothing. Didn’t find owt. Look.’ Tommy imagined Mickey turning out his pockets.
‘Thieving little bastard.’
‘He’s where I want him. Now you get over there. Move.’
They went inside, into the sitting room. No worries: Mickey’s still got a clear run down the stairs to the front door. The old bloke gets Tommy to move the armchair away from the wall. There’s a little door behind, just half height, leads into the cupboard under the stairs. The meter’s in there. Tommy opens the door and gets down on his hands and knees, crawls part way in. Next thing he knows there’s a boot up his arse, he pitches forward into the small space and the door’s locked behind him. He hears the old bloke grunting as he pushes the chair back in front of the door.
Tommy heard what he presumed was Mickey doing as he’d been told, followed by a series of electronic beeps.
‘Hello? Police? I’m being burgled.’
Tommy felt sick. Bad enough to be caught, but to be caught robbing a war veteran…. They’d get the shit kicked out of them for that, and not just by the coppers.
‘Stay where you are! Stay where you are!’ There was panic in the old man’s voice. Mickey had evidently decided he wasn’t hanging around waiting to be arrested so he’d taken matters into his own hands. Tommy heard the clatter of the phone hitting the floor, then a noise like an explosion ripped through the house. Fear rose in his chest. He fought for breath then found his voice.
‘Mickey!’ he shouted, banging on the small door. ‘Mickey, what the fuck…?’
‘Where are you?’
‘Cupboard under the stairs. Move the armchair, there’s a door.’
Tommy heard furniture scraping, then the door opened, light blinding him temporarily. He crawled out of his prison, tried to get the circulation going in his legs.
The old man was sprawled on the floor, a big, raw, bloody mess where his chest had been.
‘Gun backfired,’ said Mickey. ‘Otherwise that would have been me.’ He gave Tommy a shaky smile.
A siren blared in the distance. The two boys headed for the door as one, sprinted round the corner and flung themselves into the Ford. As Tommy drove off, he swore to himself he would never do that, or anything like that, ever again. Nearly killed and not a penny to show for it. That was it, he was finished.
Mickey stuck his hand down his jeans and rummaged about. ‘Look!’ he exclaimed when he pulled his fist out. Tommy looked. He was clutching several bundles of notes, all banded up by the bank. ‘Four grand,’ he said. ‘Told you: easy money!’ He flipped through the fifties. ‘There’s an old wife lives down Southwick, goes to the bingo with me nan. Won a bundle the other week. You in?’
Tommy grinned. There was nothing like the allure of easy money. ‘Aye,’ he said, his decision to go straight melting like frost in the sun. ‘I’m in.’
Bio: Julie Wright has had stories published in Bullet, Flash Pan Alley, and Out of the Gutter. She lives by the seaside in the north east of England and hangs out on Crimespace http://crimespace.ning.com/profile/Julielew when she's supposed to be writing.