I heard a very low humming sound coming from inside somebody’s pocket. One of the two men sitting at the table behind me pulled out his phone and clicked a button.
The phone stopped ringing.
The man standing at the toilet door put his phone away and walked towards the bar. He stopped next to me. I looked at him, he was tall, and looked like he spent a lot of time doing bench presses. He looked down at me, nodded, then asked Yola to get him a drink. She put the drink on the counter, he walked along the bar and prodded at a customer who was snoozing, the drinker’s head supported in both his hands, eyes closed. He rocked in his cupped hands, then looked up at the robber, surprised.
“We’re closing, so get on your way,” Said the robber.
He watched the man stand up, stagger, and then make his way to the door. He hadn’t paid, but Yola let him walk.
The robber did the same with each customer. Some of them were too drunk and didn’t understand that to follow his instructions was better for their health than to sit and argue over the dregs in their glasses. He grabbed them by the shoulders, dragged them across the bar then pushed them out into the street. He was direct about it, but kept enough respect to ensure they didn’t try and fight back. They got the message, and moved on to another bar.
The two other robbers sat at the table behind me, they sipped at their tea, and waited till everything was right. One of them looked at his mobile phone again. It was buzzing lightly. He clicked a button and listened for a moment, then he quietly said, “Okay, Weasel. we’re here,” He slipped his phone into his pocket. He stared at Yola, then the robber who was throwing people out the door.
The bar was almost empty, I sat on my stool. I’d already made my mind up that I wasn’t leaving. Two reasons, the first was that Yola would be left alone with these robbers. I didn’t want that to happen. Secondly, I hadn’t finished my beer and I wanted at least five more to get blitzed enough to send me to sleep that morning. Driving a cab in the night time city can put your brain on full-alert, it’s hard to wind down. I don’t know any cabbies who can just quit driving after all those fares, each one of them a bag of problems, or aggressive, and always looking for something, and then crash into bed and sleep like a baby. The drink can douse the flames of thought and help you forget the night.
I ordered another beer as the big man threw the last customer out onto the street. Yola hesitated, then thought better of asking me if I was sure. She tipped the brew into a tall glass and put it onto the counter in front of me.
The robber came and stood next to me, leaned over, and in friendly way, said, “You should just leave. We’re closing up, now.”
I just told him straight that I’m staying, and explained that I’m doing what I do, drinking after a hard shift of dealing with scallywags and basket-cases. He smiled, then asked me where I came from. He had heard my accent as I spoke German. I told him.
He then asked me what I was doing living in Berlin. I told him. I used to be in the British army. The old story, I met a woman, fell in love, married, then fell out of love. And now, I’m a cabby who lives alone with his television and books. I could see that he was interested.
The two robbers finished their tea, stood up, one gripped a heavy looking tool bag made of canvas. I watched them pass me, they walked behind the bar and lifted the cellar door flap. As they descended into the darkness, I saw a logo on the side of the bag, the print of a hedgehog, and the words, “Boss Hedgehog’s Motor Shop”.
As soon as they were down in the cellar, the robber standing next to me pushed a button on his mobile phone. He spoke as soon he put it to his ear, “Okay, get on with it, it’s okay up here.”
Immediately after that, the sound of hammering could be heard from the cellar. It surprised me, but they didn’t seem concerned about the clunking sounds they made with their hammer and heavy chisel. Then it stopped. A few moments later they started drilling. The slow grinding noise vibrated along the floor boards.
I don’t know how to crack a safe, but this wasn’t how it was done in the films. I looked at the robber, he was sipping on an orange juice with ice. He put his glass down, smiled at me, and asked me about cab driving. It was a normal bar-room conversation with another drinker. He suggested I should probably go home, but I refused. Then, his eyes lit up.
He looked at the street through the large glass windows. A Polizei patrol vehicle slowly moved along the street. It stopped. The driver wound down his window and peered into the bar. The robber hit a button on his phone, his face turned red and sweaty.
He spoke to the safe crackers down below, “stop, do nothing. Cops are outside,” The drilling stopped, they waited.
I said, “Don’t worry about it, they always do that.”
“Do they? How do you know?” He asked.
“This is that type of bar, the people in here are pimps, robbers, and local nut-jobs. The cops are looking for likely-faces,” The robber nodded his head. It made sense, the place was a dive. Of course, the cops were looking for an easy collar.
“Really, I mean it. It’ll be okay.”
I realized I had just helped a criminal do his job. I hoped that I was right about the police patrol. The cops weren’t moving, and the driver looked like he was preparing to get out of the vehicle. He picked up a clip board and looked at it. Yola looked over at me, the robber was fumbling with his mobile phone. He clicked the button and spoke to the safe crackers.
“Rabbit? Start packing up, it doesn’t look good.”
Before he clicked the hang-up button, he said, “Tell Fox to look for a back door,” They had nicknames.
Rabbit and Fox, and the sweaty robber standing next to me, probably called Hedgehog. Amazing what comes out of the forest at night.
I watched the cops, but tried to look as if I was in conversation with Hedgehog and Yola, I nodded at Yola a couple of times, for no reason, the Hedgehog raised his juice glass and toasted to something or another. I was still aiding and abetting. Couldn’t these guys do the job alone, without civilian help?
The cop in the driver’s seat spoke with his colleague, then threw the clip board onto the dash and fired up the wagon. They drove off slowly, without looking back.
The Hedgehog told the Fox and the Rabbit, downstairs, to carry on. The sound of a deep sigh rose up the cellar steps, followed by German cuss words. The slow drilling started again, the Hedgehog kept looking at his phone, occasionally, he would call them, and it sounded like they told him to go to hell, let them just get on with the job. They were having trouble with the drill. The job was turning out to be tougher than they’d thought.
The Hedgehog turned to me, he wanted to speak, but he didn’t. He looked at the table closest to the door.
“Yola? Why is that guy sitting there?”, He looked at Yola.
Yola looked across at the table. An old man in a long coat sat drinking a glass of beer.
“I didn’t see him come in, I don’t know”, She said.
“Well, you served him a beer, He needs to go”, Said Hedgehog.
I thought it’s none of my business, the job and everything, me helping too much. So I kept quiet. I hadn’t seen the man come in, and I hadn’t seen Yola serve him a drink.
I did notice that Hedgehog was making mistakes. I shrugged my shoulder at all three of them, and drank some beer.
The drill sounded laboured. I expected to hear the sound of a broken drill bit, at any moment.
The old man turned to all three of us, he nodded at me as if he knew me. His beady eyes were alert, shifting back and forth as he checked the bar. The Hedgehog walked halfway across the bar room, but stopped close to the edge of the counter. He appeared to sense something, a reason to stay away from the man.
“Listen, the bar is closing. So, take your beer and go somewhere else, will you?” Said the Hedgehog.
“Don’t worry son, you’re screwing everything up, anyway. I’m not the spanner in the works for you” Said the old man. He pulled at his coat, and looked down at old beer stains on the floor.
“You’re doing a grand job of fluffing this caper yourself. Let me drink my beer.” The old man turned away, gripped his tall glass and surveyed the street outside.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about”, The Hedgehog looked scared.
Hedgehog went to Yola, she leaned over the bar, and he whispered something that I couldn’t hear. Hedgehog put his hand on Yola’s shoulder. I watched. It wasn’t the touch of a stranger, a robber that frightened her. It was a well known touch, just as the way he spoke her name, as if he’d called her Yola a thousand times before.
I realized I didn’t need to be here, protecting Yola from dangerous robbers. Nor to help, when the police arrived later. That was all going to be a ruse. A set-up between the inside and the outside, the keys easily obtained from Yola, no questions and, I supposed, a wad of cash for Yola when they made their getaway.
The Hedgehog had a new plan. The old man had put his spikes up, put the jitters into him, he was trying to fathom who this man was, but couldn’t. Nobody knew him, or how he’d come to be in the bar. Worse was, he knew about the robbery. That was a bad thing. The old man, poor sod, had knowledge and seen faces that he could talk about.
The Hedgehog told Yola to open the cash register, and give him all the money. She looked shocked.
“No, that’ll put me deep in the crap with the owner, the police. They’ll all know something’s up,” now she’d let the cat out of the bag. I heard her say it, more or less admitting to a conspiracy with the animals of the forest.
Yola looked across the bar and caught my eyes. Her forehead crinkled into a frown, then a nervous smile. Her lips shifted and pursed into the form of the shush word. I understood it. I had to be quiet about everything.
It was the old man that bothered me, his safety. What the hell was he doing here. I watched him for a moment, he gripped his glass firmly, and slurped the foam off his beer. His tongue popped out now and again and licked his lips.
Hedgehog was fishing around in his pockets, Yola leaned on the cash register, she watched Hedgehog struggle with his mobile phone as he shoved it into one of his pockets, to free his hand. Then he dug deeper into his inside pocket, finally, he found what he was looking for. He pulled out a small gun. It had a barrel that rattled when he moved his hand, it was old and scatched up all over.
Yola uprighted herself, and took a step back towards the rows of bottles, behind her. Her face pale now, and her hands trembled.
The old man sniggered into his beer, then hissed.
I couldn’t do much. I had a feeling I should hide, or take cover, but that wouldn’t do much for me in this small room. I looked at my glass of beer, and for some reason that I can’t explain, I suddenly had a tremendous thirst for it. I picked up my beer. Hedgehog moved his hand, and the barrel rattled. I saw the gun pointed at me.
The sound of the drill in the cellar stopped. A loud crack from a hammer blow filled the bar, then one more hammer blow. We heard the sound of heavy steel hit the floor. The Fox and the Rabbit laughed, and hedgehog’s phone started buzzing. He answered, his gun hand went a little limp, he listened, then smiled once.
Hedgehog looked at Yola, “A couple of minutes, then we’re out of here,” He said, “Give me the money from the cash register,” He knew it would be a problem for Yola. She wouldn’t be able to explain the stamp on the time line. But he didn’t care, he was now getting all the money. He’d deal with Fox and Rabbit when they brought the bag upstairs.
As it turned out, I heard later, she was supposed to open the register thirty minutes after the robbers had left. She would keep the money as her pay-off. That would leave a timing imprint on the computer that showed the owner, and the police, that the robbery had happened later than she reported. If everything was done perfectly, it would give the robbers enough time to get clear of Berlin before the cops started looking for them.
Now, she knew she would still have to make the call late, if not, she would have to deal with the Weasel. And Yola didn’t want the Weasel getting upset with her, she’d heard about his methods.
When the police eventually figured that something was out of whack with her story, they’d arrest her, and she’d be back in prison for a long stretch. Yola didn’t want to go back to that darkness.
Hedgehog turned to Yola, and pointed the gun at her, “open it, the register!”.
Yola clipped one of the buttons and the register popped open. Hedgehog grabbed at the notes and stuffed them into his pockets. He even scraped up the big coins with his large hands. Yola watched every move. He stepped closer to look into the slots for more money. Yola grabbed at his arm, then the gun.
I heard the barrel rattle, then a shot. Bottles shattered, and whiskey dripped to the floor. The gun fell from Hedghog’s hand, he backed away from Yola. She was leaning on the counter. Her breathing heavy, confused by the shot, she checked for blood. She hadn’t been hit, but there was blood and whiskey on the floor.
Yola bent down and grabbed at the gun. Hedgehog backed off, and slipped into a chair at the same table where The Fox, The Rabbit, and he had at first sat that morning. He was bleeding badly. His shirt wet with blood. He couldn’t feel pain, but a rising fear that he’d made a terrible mistake gripped his mind.
The old man stood in the middle of the room. He looked at The Hedgehog, his black eyes dry, lips wet from the beer.
The Fox and The Rabbit came up from the cellar. They carried a shoulder bag with the night’s takings. It was a good haul, and had been worth the trouble. The drill bit had broken at the last moment, but the hammer had finished the job, and the door prised open.
They walked into the room and stood next to the old man, he greeted them both with nods and a faint smile.
The old man spoke to them, “Take it out to the van, the white one with dark windows. Then wait a minute for me, I won’t be long.”
Hedgehog looked up at the old man, he was confused and frightened.
“What’s this? It ain’t your job to have, old man.” Hedgehog dropped his chin onto his chest, the blood was oozing down his shirt.
“I told you, son, you made too many mistakes. You’re too cocky, moving about on my patch”.
The old man put his empty glass on the bar, and signalled to Yola to get out. She put her jacket over her arm and walked out of the bar to meet The Fox and The Rabbit.
The Weasel stood close to The Hedgehog and looked down at him. He sniffed the air, then made a snapping sound with his teeth. The Hedgehog curled back into the chair, his chin tucked down low, both hands pushed against his wounded chest.
“This whole job was mine from start to finish, I decided that when The Fox came to see me about it. He was sly enough to check he wasn’t hunting in my territory.”
The Hedgehog’s eyes flickered as he looked up at The Weasel.
“I thought you didn’t like rabbits, either?” Said The Hedgehog.
“I don’t. He’ll find out about that, soon enough.”