Sing Like You Know the Words, page 24
He reached into his chest pocket and for a moment Mitchell felt the panic rising again. Ray pulled out a heavy battered wallet and began peeling bank notes from it. He put a pile of them on the beer soaked table in front of them.
-That’s four grand there, he announced. You can give that to the thieving bastards at the bank, or – he paused reached into his trouser pocket and drew out another wad of notes – there’s another two grand making six in all. You can take both piles for having to explain that you failed to find any sign of me.
Mitchell looked around, concerned at seeing so much money exposed in public before them.
-It’s real money if that’s what’s worrying you, but it’s not a good idea to leave it on display.
Mitchell hesitated. Derek said that the golden rule was to take any cash on offer whatever supposed conditions were attached. Promise anything, deny later. He began to scoop up the cash. Ray watched for a moment smiling, but then he placed his big hand on top of Mitchell’s own.
-Good lad. Right call. A word to the wise though, the smile was still there, friendly as ever. I don’t know what’s on your mind and I don’t know who put you up to this, though I can tell you they are not your friend. I’m guessing that whoever sent you here had a good reason for not coming himself, which might mean that he knows more about me than you do. This is not your normal line of work, and if I said you were taking to it like a duck to water, I’d be lying. Leave it at that. It’s not up to me to explain your own situation to you, but it is important that you should have it clear in your head that, in my world, when you pick up that money, it means you and I have a deal. And in that world you don’t go back on your deals. You might also want to keep it in mind that this is money I’m happy to lose. You could call it an acceptable cost of the evening ending without unpleasantness. Are we clear?
Mitchell nodded, pocketed the rest of the money, and walked back to his room. When he shut the door he noticed that his teeth were chattering, though it was warm enough. He sat on the bed for a while, getting up two or three times to check that the door was still locked. He wouldn’t have slept at all but the alcohol put him out. He woke up early the next morning, sitting in the armchair, fully clothed. He supposed that Ray must have left already, but he made no attempt to find out for sure.
Wednesday morning: back in the office.
-How was it in London?
Like I’d tell you anything Derek.
-No show. Duff information as usual.
-Shame. I’ll get back on it.
Had he sounded natural enough? What to do with the cash now? Pay it into his own account? - might as well hand it straight over to Mrs W. Do the decent thing and pay it into the business? - The business would be gone in a few weeks, and besides he’d already lied about it just now. Hide it somewhere, but where? - The safe of course: no one looked in there. There was never anything to look at in the safe. The drawback was that Derek knew where the key was. But under the old papers that were rotting away in there, it should be well enough hidden. Easy enough to get Derek out of the office, whilst he did the hiding: just ask to speak to him about the finances.
The next morning, Sue brought him some tea and treated him to one of her smiles that were rather insipid when he thought about it.
-Sue, do you ever think about, I don’t know, just leaving all this behind and starting again somewhere new?
-Not really, do you? You don’t seem like the type.
What was he thinking of really? What could you do with six thousand? More than you could do with less than nothing was the inner reply. Nothing to lose was there?
-Anything else I can do? He’d forgotten that Sue was still there.
-You look worried
-No, everything’s fine
-You’re not in any trouble over that money are you?
-That envelope in the safe. I suppose you put it there yesterday. Derek was looking at it last night, after you’d gone. Counted it all but put it back. Not very like Derek, I thought.
-How did he find it?
-He didn’t say. Didn’t seem to know quite what he was looking for, but you could see he was looking for something, if that makes any sense. He was in your office for a while
Cheating, deceitful, lying bastard. He knew. He knew and he was obviously planning to take it all for himself. Probably planning to come in the evening after Mitchell had gone home. Cheat, cheat, but what to do about it? The answer was obvious; get there first.
After a little thought, Mitchell went to visit Raj and Pete later that afternoon. It was a little difficult to persuade them to break into an office at short notice (“we do houses not offices, and we don’t do safes”). When he’d explained for the third or fourth time how easy it was to get in and where the safe key would be, they seemed a little more willing, and once he’d told them that the firm was intending to make an insurance claim after the burglary, then it made sense to them and they became almost enthusiastic. A dishonest motive made everything comprehensible.
-And don’t forget, he said, there’s five hundred in readies in that safe, just waiting for you. But it has to be tonight, when there’s no chance of anyone being there.
The rest of the money felt comfortable in an envelope in the breast pocket of his jacket.
Mitchell was awake when the phone rang at three fifteen in the morning. He took the call before anyone else in the house was disturbed, carrying the phone to his study as quietly as he could.
-You never told us there might be someone there. If you had told us that we would not have gone near the place. It’s your fault.
-What’s my fault? What are you talking about? Where have you been till now?
It was clear that Raj was quite drunk; he supposed Pete would be too. Raj admitted they’d had a few drinks to steady their nerves before the job. His story, so far as Mitchell could understand it, was that they’d gone to the office in the early hours of morning, and everything went according to plan at first. They found the key, found the safe, found the money; and they were just having a quick look round (for anything else worth stealing) when they heard someone coming up the stairs. They hid in the main office, but it became obvious that this was where the intruder was headed: they were trapped.
- Funny thing was, Mr Walcott, whoever it was just had this little torch, like us, and he didn’t switch on the lights, it was like he was coming to burgle the place, like what we’d just done already.
When they realised that the stranger would discover them, they panicked and made a run for it, bursting through the door and flying down the stairs.
-It was so dark, Mr Walcott, we didn’t see his face and he didn’t see ours, but the thing is, as we were running we heard this heavy bumping like something being dropped down the stairs behind us, and Pete looked round and he saw that it was the man what had been at the door, so we realized then that we must have knocked him over, accidentally, as we was running.
-What did you do then?
-Well we couldn’t stop or he’d have seen us, and anyway we were shit scared. You can’t imagine. But Pete said the man was lying in the outside doorway, with the door half open, said he could see him and that he wasn’t moving. We didn´t know what to do when we stopped running. We could hardly go back there. But now we´re scared someone might say we attacked this man. That´s not us. We don’t go around hurting people.
-I’ll deal with it
-Thanks Mr Walcott.
But what could he do? He couldn’t just happen to call round to the office at four in the morning to check that all was well. And if were to go there, just for a quick look, without letting anyone see him; what then? Supposing it was Derek who´d fallen down the steps. Obviously it was Derek. He´d been there staging his own burglary for Mitchell´s benefit.
He might be badly injured or worse. If it was worse than bad; well then there was nothing to be done and best to walk away. But
Mitchell decided that he could not trust his own imagination. He was panicking and most likely there was nothing to worry about. Doing nothing was the only sensible option: he only had to persuade himself of that. Wasn´t inactivity what he did best after all?
His pulse was racing so much that his head was starting to ache. Willing himself to be calm, Mitchell tiptoed back to bed. His body moved quietly enough: only his mind refused to follow instructions. Everyone else in the house was still asleep it seemed, thank God.
He pulled the bed covers tightly over his thin body, envying the steady breathing of his sleeping wife, but the dark held no comfort. There would be a record of the call he had received. The two idiots might be picked up by the police at any time. Maybe Derek would even recognize them. Why had he trusted them with the job? Why had any of this happened to him?
The next day, when Mitchell arrived early at the office, the police were already there. There was a proper crime scene investigation underway and he couldn’t go inside. They told him that his partner had visited the premises in the night and disturbed some robbers who had attacked him and fled.
When Sue arrived, Mitchell told her to take an early weekend. It was Friday and they had no work in any case. He phoned home to say that the offices had been broken into. His wife asked if that meant he´d be late home. The police told him which hospital Derek had been taken to and that his injuries weren´t that serious. Mitchell raised a silent prayer to whatever deity ruled his fate.
The officer only wanted a brief statement from him. Just a matter of routine.
-Fairly clear it’s an opportunistic burglary, sir. Not so surprising when you consider the level of security you have here. You should think about upgrading it. Did you have much of value in the offices sir?
-I er, don’t really know. I’m a bit confused at the moment. I should check with Derek.
-Well I suppose you’ll go over it with the insurers, but we’ll need a full list in case we catch them, or recover any of the missing goods.
-Do you think you’ll…?
-Catch them? All depends. It’s your basic breaking and entry, not many clues there. If we are lucky and they have form and were too stupid to wear gloves, we may get a print. Anyway scum like this never do just one job so we´ll get them eventually. Then it´ll be a slap on the wrist for them and back to the street I suppose. I must admit though, this job was a little unusual?
-In what way? Mitchell tried not to gulp. The fear was starting again.
-Not so many office burglaries these days. But when they do happen, usually they take the computers and printers. These lads ignored yours.
-Our equipment is quite old fashioned; I expect they took the cash out of the safe.
-I expect so, but who keeps cash overnight these days?
-Well you know, debt recovery, it’s a cash business, working all hours.
-I suppose so. Bad luck that your partner was coming in to the office at that time in the morning, just as the intruders were here, wouldn’t you say?
Mitchell had to get away before his own manner betrayed him. He felt as if his story was unravelling as they spoke, though he kept telling himself that the police would have no interest in a routine burglary. He made the excuse that he needed to visit Derek in the hospital to cut the interview short.
Derek had broken some bones in the fall, but he seemed reasonably cheerful. He claimed that was due to the strong medication that the doctors had given him for pain.
-Only a few little breaks, nothing to worry about much. The sad thing is, and I don’t want to concern you unduly Mitch... as you know I had to leave the police force early.
-Yes, they caught you stealing but allowed you to retire on ill health grounds, as I found out not so long ago: but aloud, Mitchell said nothing.
-Injured in the line of duty you know. I twisted my spine. One of those injuries you never really get over.
-Well, I wouldn’t worry you so much, but in between the medication, when I can feel a little bit more, I’m getting these terrible spasms up my back. I mean, I can’t describe the symptoms clearly just now, obviously I can’t feel anything properly yet, but there’s a chance I won’t be able to pick up the business again. If it doesn’t get better I mean.
-I suppose you’d be eligible for compensation and benefits?
-Some, yes, so I believe. But the point is; if they catch these villains, they won’t have any money to pay compensation will they?
-I suppose not
-You see, you and I are employees of the company, technically, and the company has insurance for the benefit of its employees. So you see what I’m thinking, if it should come to it.
It was clear enough: Derek was planning to spend the next six months in bed, leaving Mitchell to run a failing business about which he knew nothing. Unless the police tracked down Raj and Pete, in which case he’d be in prison for fraud, he could look forward to bankruptcy sooner rather than later.
Three days later, Mitchell was on board a plane to Malaga, carrying a false passport that had cost him fifty pounds, and with a little over five thousand sterling in his wallet. No one knew where he was going. The money wouldn’t go far maybe, but he felt like he was making a new beginning. He felt better than he had in a long while.
Patricia had never forgotten about Derek Moss and John Obuswu. When she read the report in the local paper about Moss being attacked by thugs at his office, something did not seem quite right. More importantly, it seemed that she was being given a sign.
The nagging sense of guilt that had never left her demanded that she should act in some way. She had always thought that she should have made more of an effort to speak to Moss privately, outside of the official channels. Now here he was, presented to her and by the sound of it not going anywhere for a while.
She left it a day or two before ringing him at the hospital. His voice did not sound as pained as she had expected, in fact he sounded almost jovial. He didn’t enquire too closely why she wanted to see him. It was as if the time he had spent talking to journalists about his recent experiences had left him with the feeling that people wanting to interview him was a natural state of affairs. He´d developed a taste for celebrity, it seemed. In any case, he agreed to their meeting readily enough: Patricia didn´t even having to lie outright about why she wanted to see him.
The hospital close to the centre of town, a long established institution that had started large and grown steadily. The original building boasted an imposing Victorian façade, and housed wards and theatres which must have been amazingly modern in the nineteenth century. The grounds would have been impressive in those early days. There had been enough open space to accommodate the various extensions that had been added over the years, doubling the size of the old hospital, and providing facilities that were more in keeping with modern practice, even if they lacked architectural distinction.
In the days when carriages drawn by horses pulled up outside the hospital, access would have been ideal. Now it was a struggle to locate a parking place and then the appropriate public entrance. In the main reception, the visitor´s eye was drawn to colour coded bands on the flooring that led away into a maze of corridors with the tenuous promise that the band might continue unbroken to its stated destination. The corridors were long and echoing. Medical staff marched with purposeful tread. Porters gently manoeuvred trolley bound patients between the departments that would conduct blood tests, x-rays, scans, and sometimes even treatments on them. Time seemed to flow at a slower rhythm.
A lot of the wards were ancient, with shared facilities and not much privacy, but Derek Moss, the have a go hero injured in the course of performing his civic duty, was
After introductions, they discussed his condition briefly, Derek confirmed that he had no idea who his assailants had been or why they had been burgling his office, but he recounted the events of the night with some enthusiasm and obviously not for the first time. It was clear that he assumed she was a journalist. Patricia said nothing to suggest otherwise.
Moss was a big man with small piggy eyes, and a high weak voice that he disguised with an exaggerated, pompous speaking voice. His dark hair was greasy that would not wash out. Lying in the hospital he seemed bloated and pale, as if he would sweat margarine.
-The worst is, he concluded. I shall probably never work again, with this damage to my back.
-It’s very bad luck, Patricia agreed. You were in the police before weren’t you? I suppose that’s how you had the previous condition.
Derek agreed that it was so.
-I wonder; would you mind talking a little about that time?
Derek shifted as if the bed had suddenly become uncomfortable.
-Could you tell me about, for example, when you were working as a detective on the north side of the city? Do you remember years ago, when that black man was killed?
-What has that got to do with anything? Why are you asking me? Do I know you?
-Don’t panic Derek, just a few questions. For the story.
-There is no story. You’re talking about ancient history. I told everyone back then that I had nothing to say. What kind of journalist are you anyway? You don’t talk like the others.