The smart way to leave a holdup is slow and easy and that’s what Benny Wright and his cousin did. Benny came out the swing door pulling his cousin after him and casually strolled down the street with the sawn-off down by his side partially hidden by his arm thinking “All those dumb people sitting round, sipping coffee, in a crap cafe. Just dumb. Sipping coffee and sitting around just waiting to be robbed.” It was a quiet spot around the back where the cafe was and there was no sign anyone had noticed the commotion. A lady in a white coat with a man in a mac were getting close and oblivious. Then looked surprised being suddenly confronted by two monkeys. Benny swung up the sawn-off and growled a monkey growl and they hurriedly crossed the road, scampering off without looking back, the man pulling out his phone. “Dumb fuckers,” Benny grinned inside the monkey head. On the corner of the side street a young man in a black bomber jacket looking like an opportunist was casually standing waiting, a smoke almost down to the stub hanging on his bottom lip. He looked up, chucked the stub on the pavement and ground it out, shrugged a bit and sauntered off in the other direction without a care in the world. “Smart guy.” And that was it and Benny chuckled, “Dumb fucks this is so easy it makes me laugh. One of those proper crying laughs.”
Frankie followed down the side street to the white van in the first parking bay with a paid up ticket on the dashboard. Even if the wheels are stolen why raise suspicion with illegal parking? “Get a bloody ticket,” he had shouted at Frankie when Frankie had protested. Benny opened the door, turned back and, looking up, sent his monkey smile into the camera perched high above the door of a slick looking office entrance. The bags were thrown in the back and they drove off turning left onto Tower Bridge Road and started weaving through the light traffic.
Frankie took off his monkey head and rubbed his lean face and blinked his dark eyes and ruffled his short black hair, then reached over and pulled off Benny’s and looked at the hard, good looking features with the intelligent eyes with the faint line of white scar skin running across his left eye and onto his nose. They were being swallowed up by the traffic as it got heavier the closer they got to the river. They pulled into a deserted street, one of those narrow back streets close to the old docks where there were no cameras. Where there were those trendy old warehouses, the tall, big windowed buildings converted to apartments where the smart set now lived but were rarely seen. Parking they moved into the back of the van. The monkey suits went into a black plastic bag and, with the money bags, into the boot of a nearly new Ford Focus with false plates. Benny threw in the sawn-off and said, “Where’s the gun? Chuck in the gun.”
“Not got it Benny.” said Frankie knowing there was going to be hell to pay.
“What d’you mean you not got it?”
“Dropped it somewhere in the cafe.”
“How can you just drop a gun you numbskull. What you thinking about when you dropped it? Eh. ‘I know I’ll just drop the shooter on the floor for the cops to find and pin me with my prints all over it.’ Was that it? Or was it just too bleeding heavy to carry any longer.”
“But it wasn’t loaded Benny. No bullets in it. You said it was just for show, to wave in a pretty girl's face, to make her do what I asked.”
“What difference does that make whether it was loaded or not. Were you wearing your gloves when you picked it up? Is it covered in your dabs? Tell me you dimwit, tell me there’s no prints on it.”
“There’s no prints on it Benny.”
“You sure about that Frankie. You better be sure about that.”
“I’m sure, Benny. I know I’m sure.” But he wasn’t sure. He could not remember if he picked it up in the van without his gloves on before he put his gloves on when he had put it on the dashboard. But he was not going to tell his cousin that. He was daft alright but not quite that daft.
Benny filled the van, back and front, with petrol and watched it blow as he looked in the rear view mirror as they drove off east heading towards Mile End fuming that a good day’s work had left a loose end and worse, a loose end he could do nothing about. He was annoyed at himself. Why had he let Frankie take the gun? He’s the dumb one, Frankie is, but that was such a dumb thing to do. ‘Let me take the gun Benny,’ Frankie had said and he had that look on his face, that look that always struck Benny hard and he couldn’t say no. He’d taken the bullets out. He was not going to let him take it loaded, was he? Not after Frankie had shot that petrol station cashier. He felt trapped. Stuck with Frankie because he promised his father and his uncle and one thing Benny Wright would never do was break his promises. After all that’s what got his dad shot. And Frankie? He was his cousin, they grew up together and he would have always looked out for him anyway. And been trapped anyway. It was a funny thing, he thought. He’d always felt responsible for him. Maybe because he was so daft. He was just so vulnerable and they all took the piss. All of them on the estate took the piss. But not when tough Benny was around and Benny always turned up when needed. All those times when they were kids making a score the easy way. That’s why, except for a few minor incidents when they were young, they had never been caught. They did things the easy way. The easy targets. Then Frankie had shot the cashier just because he called him dumb. The stupid loudmouth, all cocky behind his screen, the loose fitting screen with the gaps, thinking he was safe. Benny had seen the screen before, when he was looking the place over and saw the gaps and thought how easy it would be. Should have been easy except for a loudmouth idiot who was not even a hero. Just a smartass. He had kept Frankie out of trouble, pulled him along, kept him close. He had a knack, did Benny, an ability to spot those easy targets. The ones that thought they would never be robbed. The lax places like that cafe. Should have been an easy score. Was an easy score but he was stuck with a very bad loose end and he knew that Frankie’s prints were sure to be all over the gun.
He thought about the cafe. He had done the homework the way his dad had taught him. Meticulously. Pick the best time, check the parking, getaway, all the relevant in the finest detail. Nothing should have gone wrong. He squeezed his eyes shut with a frown and mouthed a curse, bashed the steering wheel, the way you do when you are regretting in a minor panic sort of way. The way you do when you know you have made a stupid, avoidable mistake. Then thought, “What’s done and all that.” Then said, “Sorry Frankie if I had a go. You gotta be more careful. That’s all.” And gave him a friendly punch on the shoulder.
He got off at Mile End Station then up to street level and briskly walked the couple of miles to Jimmy’s place picking up a ginger cake from the store. The one near the Carpenters. Jimmy’s place, a small house but immaculately kept. The same place he had lived in for sixty years. Stanley went to knock but his hand was left suspended when the door opened.
“Caught you. Saw you coming son,” laughed Jimmy, “saw you coming way down the road. Still got that little bounce in your step haven’t you. I taught you that, you remember, when I said to you when you was a nipper, about ten, when we was all round your dad’s, round the pool and you was listening and laughing at our tales of the old days. I’d said, ‘Stop that slouching young’un. Learn to walk upright, with a little bounce. Put a little bounce in your heel. It’ll make you look taller and confident like you can handle yourself. Keep the riff-raff off.’ Then I walked you up and down, with them all laughing and your dad smiling that wide smile of his me showing you the Jimmy bounce. You remember don’t you? Made you do it over and over. Up and down. Back and forth. And you did it, didn't you? Like I showed you. And here you are all grown up and getting old and going grey and still walking with that bounce. Now come in, come in. I’ve got the kettle on.”
Sitting in the small kitchen on sixty year old chairs around the sixty year old table now called retro and worth a fortune. Back door open with distant shouting breaking through the cacophony of urban life, a constant undercurrent of jumbled up sounds. Jimmy smiled a reminiscing smile, one of those daydream smiles that linger and take a time to pull your thoughts together. Then said like he always said when Stanley called, “Thanks for coming over son. Seeing you brings back all the old memories. Me and your dad growing up from nippers in short trousers. We was best of mates, your dad and me. He was smart alright. No one could touch him with his quick wit and all. You know he broke my nose once. See it’s all crooked. He’d done that swinging a chair at this nutter, in the pub, who said I stole his girl. That’s a laugh, everyone stole his girl, just for a night, she was that sort. He’d smashed a glass, the nutter, but I hit the fella first and he went straight down, no messing, as your dad swung and whacked me right on the old hooter. He thought he was saving my bacon. Some chance eh? Save old Jimmy’s bacon, that's a laugh. He could punch his weight though, could your dad and knew all the moves. We had great times at your place, round your dad’s pool, in that posh house of his, in the sun. I still see your dad there sitting on that rickety old chair he loved so much. All that money and he sat on that beat up old chair. You know why? That was his dads and the only thing he had of his dads. He would just sit there getting pissed and laughing the laugh and your mum bringing out the beers and the jellied eels and winkles and all the stuff we liked. She was great, your mum. Knew how to deal with the fellas “
“I remember those days, Jimmy. That and all the other stuff you told me and the thing with the walk. Anyway, so how are you? Bought you a ginger cake. Your favourite if I remember rightly.”
Jimmy was well into his eighties but still stood tall and strong looking. A big man that looked like he’d had a tough life alright. Like one of those old time prizefighters, seen the wrong side of too many fists and iron bars. Spent half his life inside but that had not affected him, “Just part of the job,” he would say.
“Okay son. Holding up nicely in fact,” he said, “What’s this then? Ginger cake eh. That's nice son. Perfect. Tea and ginger cake and a good natter. Can’t beat it. So what’ve you been up to? You look like you need something. I can always tell you know.”
Stanley told him about the cafe and the monkeys and the monkey with one blue eye and a monkey scar. He told him about the little monkey with the spider tattoo and cheap aftershave. He told him about Dave Simmons and Jimmy had said he knew him and to watch out for that one he’s as sharp as a razor and not to let him fool him. Then Stanley told him about the two jobs he was setting up, robbing the courier of the diamonds and the jewellers and all the diamonds he could clear out the place.
Jimmy said, “Why d’you want to do all that and with Dave Simmons breathing down your neck and all. You don’t need the cash. Your dad saw you right didn’t he?”
“Sure he did Jimmy but there are reasons if you know what I mean and there’s the crack. I need to spice up my life to get over Joan. It’s the only way I know to get over her. I’ve got to do this, just one more scam, the best I’ve done, otherwise I’m just going to rot away bored and on my own in that great big house she loved so much.” Stanley went quiet like one of those moments when everything was about to overwhelm but does not quite make it.
“It’s okay son,” Jimmy said as he got up and put his hand on Stanley’s shoulder, “I understand. What d’you need from me?”
“The two monkeys, Jimmy. I need to find them. They’re perfect for my plans.”
“I can ask around all right son. No problem with that and I’m sure they will be found. But they won’t just do what you ask, will they? I’ve got no influence anymore. You know. In that persuasive sort of way.”
“I appreciate that Jimmy. All I want is for you to do the asking. You know who to ask, don’t you? I don’t. What I do have though is something they will want. Put the word out that I have their stubby, the one that was dropped in the cafe. That will bring them to me I’m sure and then it’s just up to me to do the persuading.”
“Okay son I’ll put the word out but I hope you know what you’re getting into. I’ll call you in a couple of days.”
Stanley said, “thanks a lot Jimmy.” Then thought, “I hope I do as well Jimmy. Know what I’m getting into. I sure hope I do as well.”
“I know a lady with a name tab Helen,” said Stanley looking at her name tab, “She has a name tab just like you but works in a badly lit place where you don’t need sunglasses but you need ear defenders as it’s so noisy.”
“It’s bright isn’t it. Makes sure you can see what you’re looking at though, doesn't it? Are you looking for anything in particular?”
“As a matter of fact I am and she’s called Maud. Is she in?”
“I’m not sure she’s taking callers right now Sir.”
“She’s in then and she’ll see me all right. Tell her the love of her life Stanley Hollaway has arrived to take her for an early dinner.”
And Helen picked up the phone.
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