Another piece of short fiction I wrote years back.
‘Sit down.’ I indicated a stool along the bar from me. He sat.
‘What are you having?’ I asked.
‘Whisky.’ He said, ‘A good one.’
‘Macallen, 18 year old?’
‘Good enough.’ He shrugged his way out of a leather jacket, and lay that on the bar beside him.
‘Sorry it took longer to clean, this economy’s hurting everyone.’
He laughed. ‘A coupla days more? I figure what we got, I can wait.’ He took the envelopes, one in each hand, and smiled, appreciating their weight, then put them next to his drink.
He raised his drink again, ‘The biggest job we ever done.’, and emptied the glass, then whistled loudly for the barman, unnecessarily, he was on his way over. The doors were locked, chairs on the tables, fruit machines switched off, we had his full attention. He waited at the other end of the bar when not needed, respecting my need for privacy in my dealings, but nonetheless attentive.
He was a good lad, and I bristled slightly at the whistling, but it was just Pete's way when he was in a good mood, so I said nothing, and he ordered us two more drinks. I thanked the barman.
‘How long have we worked together?’ I asked. Pete looked at me and pondered.
‘Must be 22, 23 years.’
‘Yeah.’ I grinned, remembering us back then. ‘When I was 24 I thought I had the world at my feet. What a big man I was.’
‘You’re a bigger man now.’ He grinned
‘Ay, I earned this,’ I caressed my stomach gently, and shot back, ‘Got nothing to prove, look at you, you probably still got a six pack, just to show off to the young’uns. Sad on a middle aged man’
‘Six pack and...’ He ran one hand through his thick, dark, neatly cut hair, looking like a model from an advert for dye, or rich roast coffee. I’d been shaving mine close ever since it went thin in my early thirties.
We both drank then, amused.
‘Didn’t think then we’d still be doing the same shit now.’ Pete said.
‘I guess the scale changed. We got cleaner, more professional. And I got this place.’ I waved an arm vaguely around.
‘Yeah.’ He looked at me, ‘Your ivory tower.’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘Never get your hands dirty now. You plan the things, but we never see you on the jobs.’ He looked ruefully at his now empty glass.
The barman arrived then and I told him to leave the bottle. I poured Pete’s next drink myself.
‘Is that so bad? I planned this last job.’
‘Aye’ he said, brightening.
‘Tell me about it.’
He looked at me. ‘What about it?’
‘How it went. What happened.’
‘You know how it went. You’ve just given me my share of the prize. We all came back, nobody hurt, no problems, everything cool.’
‘Just talk me through it. As you said, this is the biggest job of our lives and, as you also pointed out, I’m not on the jobs myself any more. Gimme a walk through, let me picture the scene.’
‘Heh’ he shifted on the stool to fully face me, just his arm resting on the bar by his drink. ‘Well, after the fortnight we spent randomly tripping his alarm system he was less cautious than before. Can’t imagine the names he must’ve called the repairmen he’d had out.’
‘So we set it off, and waited outside. He was still careful enough to leave his wife and kid in the car while he checked the house. We ran at the car from our various positions, got her and the boy out and walked them up to the house, shutting the door behind us. He was coming down the stairs, but stopped when he saw us and the knives at their throats. Kev told him to keep coming, and Paul set up a chair in the dining room for us to tape him to.’
He had finished his drink while he was talking, so I topped the glass up. He nodded appreciatively.
‘The wife and kid were in the room with him, off to one side. The dining room turned out to be ideal. You know what those posh types are like. The range of cutlery there on the table was, uh, good for inspiration.’
He was warming to his subject, becoming more animated as he talked, obviously enjoying the recollection. One of the reasons I’d kept using Pete, beyond our history, was that he took a certain pride in a job well done, and that led to a passion comparable to a chefs for food or a pianists for music.
‘We worked him over gently before we asked him anything, but he knew why we were there, and was denying having anything beyond the wife’s jewellery and the silverware in the house before we’d said a word. Kev dragged the kid over in front of him, told him he didn’t believe him, and said if he didn’t tell us where the coke and money was we’d kill the boy. The wife was crying and begging but that cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch just shook his head.’
I refilled his glass and he thanked me, then excused himself, and went to the toilets. I sat in silence, sipping my drink and digesting what I’d heard so far, until he came back and resumed his story.
‘Well, of course, we couldn’t kill the kid till later, if we’d done that straight away he and his missus would never cooperate, so I told Paul to stand behind him. Know what a carving fork looks like, with the two prongs?’
‘I got Paul to hold his eye open, then pressed the fork to it, just close enough to touch, and asked him again, real quiet, where the stuff was. Always liked eyes. I seen some hard men break when their eyes were under threat. Not as messy as doing bollocks, and almost as effective.’
He got out a packet of embassy and lit one, thanking the barman pleasantly when supplied with an ashtray. This smoking ban in pubs baffles me, and I’ve no problem with the after hours lot smoking in here.
‘At first he was quiet, then he told me. Two different places, opposite ends of the house, Ten kilos, pure as the driven, six million in cash. I nearly laughed out loud.’
‘And then?’ I sensed the story was finishing and was now eager to get to the end.
‘Then we did the three of them, Kev and Paul drove to Dorset, dumped their car and them off a cliff, drove back, and I came and gave you what we got.’
‘Smooth and easy.’ I said.
‘Smooth and easy. Never had a job go like it.’
I reached toward his glass with the bottle, now nearly empty itself, but he held his hand up to stop me. I filled mine instead, and he waved the barman over.
‘What’s that thing, like tequila, but real good stuff?’
The barman turned and pulled a bottle from the back shelf.
‘Any limes?’ Pete asked.
The barman turned again, placed the bottle on the bar, then disappeared out back for a second before returning with two freshly chopped limes on a little plate, set them down next to the bottle and smiled politely at Pete. A thought struck him, and he grabbed a fresh glass from a shelf over the bar, and set that next to the one Pete had been using. He turned to walk away, but Pete called him back and threw a tenner at him. For a second the barman looked amused, then bent to where the money had fallen, picked it up, and placed it next to the limes, before turning and walking away. Pete looked at me quizzically, then burst out laughing.
‘Some kid you got working here, can afford to turn down tips like that.’
‘He’s a good lad, and he knows when to keep his mouth shut. Better’n that, he knows when to keep his ears shut. He earns his money, and gets a fair wage for what he does.’
Pete poured himself some of the mescal, knocked it back, and squeezed a lime into his up-turned mouth.
‘Never tried this stuff, but always wondered what it was like.’ He poured another glass.
‘It’s smooth. I’ll try sipping it this time.’ We were silent then, both lost in our own thoughts, him sipping his drink, me sipping mine. He got himself another cigarette and was about halfway through it when I asked ‘You ever think about the morality of what we do?’.
He took a drag on the cigarette, and contemplated me through the exhaled smoke.
‘Guess I must’ve at some point, but not for a long time now. Not consciously. Why, something bothering you about it?’
‘Why now, all of a sudden, when we just came good? I mean, really good.’
‘I Dunno. Maybe I’d never thought about it before. I mean, it’s something we’ve always done.’
‘Right.’ He nodded, and sucked a slice of lime for a second, then grabbed the bottle to refill his glass.
‘You’re enjoying that. Why something new?’
He patted the envelopes on the bar.
‘Maybe I feel like celebrating a job well done.’
I emptied my glass, poured the last of the bottle for myself.
‘Sounded like you started celebrating before the job was done.’
‘What d’you mean?’ He sank the rest of his glass and poured another.
‘Paul told me what you did with the wife.’
He paused, then looked at me and grinned.
‘She was a cutie.’ Still smiling, he shook his head a little. ‘Would’ve been a crime to let that pass.’
‘You didn’t mention that in your account.’
‘I guess not. Must’ve slipped my mind. Not an important detail.’
I knocked back my drink and, while the barman was opening a fresh bottle, asked
‘You ever done that before?’
Pete sipped his drink.
‘Yeah. Not every time but, if they’re nice, I figure why not?’
‘I mean, we’re gonna kill’em anyway. Why not get some fun from them before they‘re no use to anyone? ’Cept sickos.’
I didn’t feel like drinking any more, but filled my glass from the fresh bottle anyway. I spilled a little on the bar ’cause my hand was shaking.
He laughed. ‘You remember that time you cut that guys arm off, and he was givin' you the finger when you did it, how we laughed at him tryin'ta get his wedding ring back, with nothing below his elbow? Man, every time I think of that, I can’t help but smile.’
‘You never touched the women back in the day.’
‘What’s the problem?’
‘Who says it’s a problem?’ I pulled my hands from the bar, so he wouldn’t see the shake.
‘I gotta explain myself to you?’
‘I just want to hear about it’
He looked at me then, I could see him trying to figure out if he should be angry or amused. I stared back as passively as I could manage. Eventually he smiled.
‘Never figured you for the kind that pervs on this.’
‘When’d you start?’
‘Years back. Private job, for me, I realized that the guy wasn’t gonna give up the info I wanted from me threatening him, but the girl was a real sweet piece, and he was big time in love with her. Had her right there in front of him, him screaming out the details trying to get me to stop. Had to make him repeat everything after I finished, and he only did that ‘cause I told him I’d do it again, and again, until he told me calmly.’
‘It was a professional thing?’
‘Yeah, just another tool, get’em to talk.’
‘Like you said. Celebratin’. And like I said, if we’re gonna kill’em anyway, what’s worse than that?’
‘With the kid there?’
‘I took her upstairs, but the ones with kids are the best. Tell’em you’ll let the kid live if they do, some of’em’ll even act like they want it.’
I stood up.
‘’Scuse me.’ I headed towards the toilets.
‘You never could hold your drink.’
I went straight to the basin, and, looking in the mirror, it was easy to see why he’d thought that. A sweat covered my forehead, and I looked pale. My skin seemed to be stretched over my face a little too tight. I could hear birdsong. I ran the tap, splashed my face with water, then went back.
He was putting on his jacket.
‘S’nearly seven. Time for bed.’ He swayed unsteadily towards the door. The barman was waiting with the door unlocked. Pete went through without saying anything else. The barman closed the door, then turned to look at me, one eyebrow raised, to hear my verdict.