‘It’s sweet, Tommy. Easy money.’
Mickey’s words have a hollow ring to them now. Tommy pulls his knees in tighter to his chest, wraps his arms around his legs. It’s pitch black in the small space, warm, airless, and claustrophobic. He’s having trouble breathing, panic causing him to take shallow sips of air. Tommy wonders if he’ll suffocate, wonders what would happen then. Would the old fella get done?
He hears movement: a drawer opens and closes, 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 is high and frail, but shows no trace of fear. ‘I’ve got your mate.’
The plan had been simple enough: there’s an old fella in March Avenue, lives alone. Bound to have money in the house, the oldies always do. Mickey was going to hide round the corner while Tommy knocked, drew the old bloke out. While he was diverted, Mickey could nip in and go through the place, lift whatever he could find. Sweet. Easy money. Even if he twigged, what could the man do? There’d be 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 see, and lo and behold, the cat was nowhere to be seen, so they began looking for it. Meanwhile Mickey nipped in through the open door and straight up the stairs, started turning the place over. Then the old bloke asked a favour: would Tommy please come in and read his leccy meter for him? 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 has recovered well and is trying to take control. ‘I haven’t got nothing. Didn’t find owt. Look.’ Tommy imagines Mickey turning out his pockets.
‘Thieving little bastard.’
‘Your mate? He’s where I want him. Now you get over there. Move.’
Tommy and the old man went inside, into the sitting room. The old bloke got Tommy to move the armchair away from the wall. There was a little door behind, just half-height, that led into the cupboard under the stairs where the meter lived. Tommy opened the door and got down on his hands and knees, crawled part way in. Next thing he knew there was a boot up his arse, he pitched forward into the small space and the door was locked behind him. He heard the old bloke grunting as he pushed the chair back in front of the door.
Tommy hears what he presumes is Mickey doing as he’s been told, followed by a series of electronic beeps and the old man’s voice.
‘Hello? Police? I’m being burgled.’
Tommy feels sick. Bad enough to be caught, but to be caught robbing a war veteran…. They’ll get the shit kicked out of them for this, and not just by the coppers.
‘Stay where you are! Stay where you are!’ There’s panic in the old man’s voice. Mickey has evidently decided he isn’t hanging around waiting to be arrested so he’s taken matters into his own hands. Tommy hears the clatter of the phone hitting the floor, then a noise like an explosion rips through the house. Fear blooms in his chest. He fights for breath, then finds his voice.
‘Mickey!’ he shouts, banging on the small door. ‘Mickey, what the fuck…?’
‘Where are you?’
‘Cupboard under the stairs. Move the armchair, there’s a door.’
Tommy hears furniture scraping, then the door opens, light blinding him temporarily. He crawls out of his prison, tries to get the circulation going in his legs.
The old man is sprawled on the floor, a big, raw, bloody mess where his chest used to be.
‘Gun backfired,’ says Mickey. ‘Otherwise that would have been me.’ He gives Tommy a shaky smile.
A siren blares in the distance. The two boys head for the door as one, sprint round the corner and fling themselves into the Ford. As Tommy drives off, he swears to himself he will never do that, or anything like that, ever again. Nearly caught, nearly killed in Mickey’s case, and not a penny to show for it. That’s it, he’s finished with thieving.
Mickey sticks his hand down his jeans and rummages about. ‘Look!’ he exclaims when he pulls his fist out. Tommy looks. Mickey’s clutching several bundles of notes, all banded up by the bank. ‘Four grand,’ he says. ‘Told you: easy money!’ He flips 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 grins. If there is anything as sweet as the allure of easy money, he sure as hell doesn't know what it is.
‘Aye,’ he says, his decision to go straight melting like frost in the sun. ‘I’m in.’
This is a heavily-edited version of the story of the same name that first appeared in Powder Burn Flash in 2007.