I’d always wanted to be a thief. The type who didn’t get caught. Well, I met Dave. That was good luck.
He taught me the art of robbing and thieving.
Robbing took me away from the miserable shithole I was born into, and put me into the “game”.
You learn the ropes.
The way you play the game isn’t set in concrete. If it is, then the concrete is still wet, and the rules of the game shift and change like the weather. There are names fingered into the wet concrete of time. People I never met. Some worked the ropes for decades, others came and went like spring rain.
It all gets harder, meaner, and more brutal. Greed makes the rules. The greed grows among us.
If you want to survive and prosper in this game of crime, then you have to be a weatherman. Make it all up and convince other’s it’s the truth. Then, everything will be fine and sunny.
We were all sat in the safest room in the club. Lots of banter about places to rob, the good, the bad, and the downright, no-bloody-way-mate, or the, ‘maybe it sounds like good graft,’ type of jobs. Men and women throwing ideas about the room, cards spread on the table. The game half played, never finished. The conversation heated up, drinks were spilt onto the green velvet.
We brainstormed each other for a job that’ll pay enough to satisfy all of us.
I watched Dave. He sat like a king at the top of the table. Everybody had to respect him as boss. He had the years and the knowledge. He had a quick temper and carried a gun. And we all knew he’d use the gun. Most of all, that’s what made him boss.
The gun always made things edgy when we argued. He’d rub his chest, screw his face up and scowl at us when we didn’t agree with him. Then his chest rubbing turned to his hand sliding onto the bulging metal halfway covered in his trouser belt.
That was his sign; don’t get arsey with me, don’t disagree and make a fool of me. I’m boss, show respect, and we’ll all get along.
Keep your bottle for out on the street.
There’s an old bloke in overalls at the end of the room mopping the floor. He swished his mop about like an expert, slopped it in a bucket, then swished it across the floor again.
He was the only outsider allowed in. He did his floors every three days, then left.
We let him in because he knew the score. He limped badly, dragged his left foot behind him. And he was deaf as a door post. Try talking to him, and he’ll cock his head towards you, and just say, “Wot?, wotcha saying?”.
Pretend to be deaf, and you hear everything.
We had our own drinks trolley, chipped glasses, and sandwiches. The clubroom was for talking business. No parties, no drunks, and no friends of friends.
Dave was listening to the chatter, me too. Stay quiet and listen to everything. Even when you think you know better, keep your mouth shut. You can weigh in afterwards. The final plan has to satisfy everybody’s greed.
How big the split after the job, the risk, it had to be water tight and tickety-boo all round. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an unhappy thief on your hands. You won’t know it at first, but he’ll show up some day. Revenge is always a threat in our world.
And that’d be an unknown force. And you might find yourself out in the woods on a dark night, digging a deep wet hole with a gun pointed at you.
There are many loose threads in this world. People have long memories, they wait patiently for their moment. Like a staged drama with actors’ cues. A thing is said, an actor steps into their space, and a dark figure emerges from the wings, sword in hand. Their eyes on the crown.
It’s happened before. It’ll happen again. Sometimes it comes as a big surprise, like you didn’t hear the voices on the wind. A warning. Bang! And it’s all over.
Then, greed moves on to the next devious plan.
Each one of us are fools. We plot, and we plan. Our devious hearts heed no wisdom, only driven by hearts full of bloody avarice.
Dave told me how he learned his trade and that alone helped me study mine. A good teacher, a gentleman in the classroom, but a hard man on the street.
What Dave learned, he learned from his mentor — he refers to him as the King. So Dave will also be called King.
An unknown force can be your end, even when it seems harmless at first. That was a lesson that Dave drilled into my head.
Don’t trust people, he told me. That’s basic training.
“You’ll learn it in time, and in time it’ll become second nature to you. Even when you really like a person, you won’t ever trust ‘em”.
That sounded about right, so I went with it. Like an epiphany, it freed me up inside, made me feel confident.
“I learned that from the King — God rest his greedy soul,” Dave’s grin was like the dripping edge of pale wax.
Criminals are in the game for money, for sure. But really, we’re all about the life. We want things. You have to impress to get. Nobody gives a ragged toss for a poor criminal. Where’s the trust factor? So, you have to flash cash, and drive tasty motors. Get seen in smart establishments, keep up with the lingo and sit with the best people.
To be seen, you need to take risks and make money. Like I said, flash the goods.
It’s an education. I’m glad I met Dave. He was my lucky break.
Dave has served his time as far as I’m concerned. He’s a mentor, not a master. These days I see him as a helpful bloke open for a chat, exchange ideas, all that good stuff; but he’s over the hill.
And like I said, really, we’re in it for the life. Living it. The thieving, the risk, the getting away with it as long as you can. The thrill.
Every criminal has a life span. Ten years of full-force whirl-wind robbing. Then, after a couple of stints in the nick, run-ins with the law, and all the suspicion that other criminals put on you, you get tired. Ghosts come back to live in your head. And then, that’s that. You become a nut-job that nobody wants to work with, and you’re left at home playing with yourself all day long.
Dave told me that. I took it with a pinch of salt at first, but as time goes by, I watch how they fall.
One by one.
Sometimes, it’s ugly.
I watch Dave.
We are thieves. But the most common deed is revenge. Somebody who thinks they were hard done by. They see red, grab at straws, and shoot blindly at the first thing that moves. Dead blokes everywhere for a week. Then it’s back to normal — back to robbing shiny objects.
Dave was an intelligent bloke. I really got to like him, and it felt good that I could talk, ask questions, bend his ear for information about the criminal trade, for as long as I did, and still I didn’t trust him in the slightest. He was a sound criminal man.
I asked him once, “how long you been in the business, Dave?” He pretended to be deaf. More likely, he didn’t want to answer. More than ten years, I reckon.
I listened. Dave sat there picking his nails with a bottle opener. A woman who I hardly knew was pitching an idea at the table. Some prize worth taking in North London.
The cleaner clattered the bucket, slopped the water, and swished the mop. He was a tall man, long legs, and baggy trousers that didn’t fit his hips. His pockets were stuffed with rags, pencils, cigarettes, a small row of screwdrivers poked out from his top pocket. He used them for fixing electric cables. He wore a wool cap that he’d pulled down to his ears. His blue eyes flickered as he look across at us, then he looked right into my eyes, then at Dave.
He dragged his foot as he mopped. Then he leaned over and pulled the bucket closer to his mop. He kept repeating this action, it got on everybody’s nerves.
A small fat man at the table, wearing a green pork-pie hat, threw a soggy beer mat at the cleaner and told him to be quiet. The cleaner didn’t hear him. He just kept clattering his bucket, and sliding his mop in our direction.
Dave turned to the cleaner, and told him in mime, with his hands, “keep it down, or I’ll thump you.”
The cleaner leaned forwards, cupped his ear, growled back at Dave,”Wotcha saying?”, Then he lifted the bucket, instead of dragging it.
The woman said, “I’ve been around the place, last night. It’s sweet. We could sweep through the top floor and come out with the goodies. It’ll take about thirty minutes, tops,” She took a swig from a glass of whiskey. Red lipstick smeared the tips of her fingers. She kept wiping her mouth.
“Where is this palace of goodies?”, Someone asked.
“North London, geezer’s rich as fuck. Loaded with coin.” She said.
Everybody called her Beth.
At first, Dave called me “eh you”, and sometimes when he had something to teach me, he called me “Laddy”. That went on for a year. Then he suddenly called me Rabbit.
I didn’t like it. It stuck. Nothing I could do about it. I’m Rabbit.
Criminals are greedy. They don’t take much convincing about a job, except when it looks like they’re going to get caught. Their minds become addled when the chance of a big take outweighs the risks. The money first, the chances of getting away with it second. That’s bad maths, but that’s The Life.
The fat man in the pork-pie, spoke, “Yeah, I know it sounds nice an’ all that, but will it spread. The money, I mean. It’s got to be enough to feed the masses, or else I’m not interested.”
“You’ll be counting your dosh in the sunshine, don’t worry about that. The place is full of old paintings, the owner collects them. Gold coins in boxes stacked in a room where he sits and ponders his lucky life,” Beth said.
Ricky Nipper tilted back on the legs of his chair, “Who knows where to get rid of paintings? And anyway, what do you know about art?”, his chair tipped forwards, and he put his elbows on the table, “I certainly ain’t got a clue.”
Dave spoke, “Yeah, well, Beth here, knows about old paintings, and vases, and she’s already got an interested party for the gold coins.”
Pork Pie Hat said, “Wait up, you two been talking about this behind all our backs. I thought the Safe Room was the only place to discuss a job?”
“Beth mentioned it, so I told her to bring it up in this meeting. She’s not going to waste your time with all the details.”
“Thirty minutes inside, to collect our prize — that’s a long time, ain’t it?” Said Ricky Nipper.
“No probs. The geezer’s away on a business trip. Picking up a load of old paintings, I expect.” Said Beth,
“That’s right. Beth can confirm that, so we’ll have plenty of time to do a decent job of it, and be away on our toes lightly, in no time,” Dave looked at Beth, nodded, then sipped his whiskey.
The cleaner was closer to the table, he’d just shifted his bucket next to Dave’s chair, and now Dave was beginning to look uncomfortable about it.
“What the rubber-duck is this cleaner up to?”, Dave put his glass onto the table and went to stand up.
The cleaner dropped his mop into the bucket with a splash. The dirty water sprayed onto Dave’s trousers.
The room went quiet.
The cleaner leaned towards Dave, patted his chest. Dave tried to shove him away, then took a swing at him but realised he couldn’t stand up.
We gawped at the cleaner as he laid his large grubby hand onto Dave’s shoulder. In his other hand he held Dave’s gun. A scratched black Glock G29, a nice small job that can be slipped in and out easily — so easily, that Dave hadn’t notice as the cleaner pulled it out of Dave’s waistband.
(This is a fragment of a crime story for a new book compilation)
Hardwin Rust – Notes on a short Story