Photo: Bruno Martins – Unsplash
The brief was as follows:
Genre: Crime Caper
Character: A gemmologist
Word limit: 2,500
Deadline: 8 days
Title: A Retirement Job.
Synopsis: The heist was a success, but the gemmologist is dead, they can’t find the other half of the team, and worst of all, it’s fucking snowing.
One more job they said.
This is why so many guys end up retiring in jail and divorced. They think they can squeeze out one last heist. I fucking fell for it. This is going to be the one that gets me I can feel it. I’m already divorced so may as well double down.
Bernie, the fat bastard, is really starting to stink up the van. He’s barely been dead six hours and he smells like yesterdays vindaloo. Not the leftovers, when you shit it out. Dave is mouthing-off at the universe again. Christ knows what he’s saying, it’s all in Cantonese or whatever.
Bernie had a kebab induced heart attack halfway through packing the van. With the gemmologist dead there’s no way to tell which bits of the gear are valuable. So now we have a load of gems, we know half of them are priceless and half of them are coal. But we can’t tell which half is which. We can’t unlock Bernie’s phone to call the other team and it’s pissing it down with snow too which, isn’t helping things.
Bernie is propped up between us in the van, COVID nappy on his face and sunglasses on. I’m trying to figure out what the next move is while driving in circles around the slippery Kensington suburbs. Every numb-nut in London is at home because of the lock down, so the streets are lined with badly parked, expensive cars. We’ve had a few near misses already. I’m supposed to only be the getaway driver, now I’m the fucking de-facto gaffer on this job.
A siren squeals briefly behind us and I see the lights in the mirror. Shit. “Just stay cool, you two,” I say for my own benefit.
I pull over. An officer knocks on the window. I step out of the car into the snow. “You know you’re driving the wrong way down a one-way street?”
“Oh, I didn’t know. I can’t see the road markings.”
The officer peers in through the driver’s window, “Uh huh. What you boys doing out in the lock down?”
“We’re out on a job,” I say, pointing to the side of the van where the words ‘Sauvin Landscapers’ and a phone number that goes nowhere is printed.
“On a Sunday?” asks the officer.
“Yeah.” I lower my voice, “Rich bastard called us in on a Sunday to finish off some job. Another contractor left them in a hole and they want it done before they come back from holiday tomorrow. You know how it is with rich folk and we have to take every job we can get during COVID.”
“Can I have a look in the back?”
I open up the van. It reveals pile of landscaping tools, a lawnmower, various other gardening paraphernalia and three bags of compost, which I know have some precious jewels hidden in them.
“Alright,” says the officer walking me back to the driver’s door. “Be more careful. Everything around here is one way. Look for the road signs.”
“Will do, officer.”
“Do you know where you’re heading?”
“Err. We’ve got the address but…” I pat my pockets pretending to look for my phone.
“It’s probably a place on Addison Road you’re after.”
“Yeah that’s it,” I stutter, “Addison Road.” What a diamond. If only officers helped all our jobs it’d be a lot easier.
“We tend to know when the… special residents are out of town. The housekeeper is home I think.” He looks through the driver’s door, “What’s wrong with that guy?”
“He had a couple of shandies last night, the job was last minute.” I shrug.
I get back into the van and exhale for a long time. Dave is finally quiet. “I’ve got an idea to get rid of our dead gemmologist,” I say to no one.
Addison Road is a long road and we can’t see which house it might be from the front. Dave starts climbing up lampposts trying to see over the large fences that protect the back gardens. At the third attempt, he points at one of the houses then slides down lamppost gracefully. Grease-men might be one trick ponies, but it’s a hell of trick.
I move the van closer to the door and park between a couple of cars I still won’t be able to afford even when we cash the loot. I whip on a surgical mask and knock on the door in hurried way. Hopefully a sense of urgency will be enough to blag us in. A blonde woman in her late 20s opens the doors. “Can I help you?” she asks, in an Eastern European accent. I guess she’s the housekeeper. She’s wearing a pair of tight jeans and a sparkly halterneck with fluffy slippers. The bassy din of a party is spilling out around her. She has a champagne flute in her hand. I have the feeling we’ve caught her doing something she shouldn’t be – beauty.
“We’re the landscapers, we’re here to finish the job in the back garden before the owners come back on Monday.”
“They’re coming back on Tuesday…” She panics.
“Yeah, Tuesday morning. Same difference. Look we need to crack on, Duck.”
“Yeah.” She looks over her shoulder.
“We ain’t here to grass you up. We’re just want to do the job and get home. It’s Sunday, you know?” She nods. “We can’t bring all the clobber through the house. Is the gate at the side open?” She reaches behind the door, grabs a keyring and hands it over. “Perfect, you won’t know we’re here.” I give her a big grin.
Dave and I grab a few things from the truck to take to the back garden first so we can do a reccy. The garden has three different levels. The lowest has decking that connects the house and the first level of lawn. The second is perfectly manicured lawn with some boxed up loungers. The third step, furthest from the house, is where the unfinished landscaping is. A Zen fountain and sand garden is being installed. The type that went out of fashion fifteen years ago and never gets used properly anyway in London because it’s always shitting it down. But the excavation hole is perfect to hide Bernie in.
The kick in the nuts is that the garden faces the back of the house. The lower floor is a façade of glass looking in to a giant open-plan kitchen. Four or five women are milling around in the kitchen and making drinks. They see us and sheepishly move deeper into the house. The glass is tinted so I can only see so much of the kitchen.
“Fuck it, we’re going to have to risk it.” Dave gives me the ‘OK’ sign, I think he got the gist.
We go back to the van. I hoist half of Bernie’s weight onto one shoulder and Dave gets his tiny frame under the other half. Bernie was a fifty-something brick shithouse. Dave has the build of a high-school gymnast. We limp around the house, kicking Bernie’s feet forward to make him walk. We look like a horrifying ventriloquist show but getting him up the garden is the real challenge. My armpits are drenched with stress sweat despite the freezing cold. My chest is prickling uncomfortably. “Don’t look back. Just plonk him here.” Dave looks at me shocked as I start positioning Bernie to sit facing the window. “It looks like he’s slacking off, it’s less suspicious and it will make the girls self-conscious. He always was a lazy cunt.” And it works. While we’re digging the hole, I see one of the women come into the kitchen, glance at Bernie and quickly slink out of sight after grabbing a drink.
We only need to excavate a bit more earth but ground is brutal. My fingers are freezing but my back is screaming hot. Dave weighs about nine stone wet. He might as well be working with a teaspoon.
“Is he okay?” Someone asks. Shit. I look at Dave. Squeeze me out of this one grease-boy. I look around the mound of dirt we’ve propped Bernie against. The housekeeper is there, wrapped in an oversized designer fur coat she nabbed from her boss. She lifts the sunglasses off Bernie’s face and jumps back. “He’s dead.”
“This ain’t what it looks like,” I say, because what else can I say?
Dave leaps out of the hole and stands between her and the house. It would be a nice move but he is about half the size of her and I don’t fancy his chances. “I’m calling the police.” She tries to sound brave but she is bricking it. Dave adjusts into a crouching position, as if he is going to tackle her. You can’t knock the lad’s effort. She pulls a mobile phone out of her pocket.
“Think for a second, Duck. What’s going to happen when the pigs arrive?”
“They’re going to arrest you.”
“Then what?” She looks at me blankly. “When the cops see the party happening and start asking you birds questions, are all the visas gonna come up squeaky clean?” Her soul exits her body. “Now let’s have a sensible conversation.”
I hear the glass doors open and another bird falls out of the house without a coat on and a canned cocktail in her hand. “The police are here,” she whispers. Here we fucking go.
“Who called them?” asks the housekeeper.
“Up there,” I say. Everyone looks up at one of the bedroom windows on the house next door. The curtain flutters closed as whoever was watching backs away from the window. “Someone probably grassed you up. You can hear the music you guys are playing halfway down the fucking street. Ten grand fine on the spot. Plus more trouble for any of your friends who aren’t supposed to be here.” Both the girls look like rabbits frozen in the headlights, the poor things, they’re on our side now, “Has anyone opened the door yet?”
“Well someone better before they just walk around the side of the house. The gate is still unlocked. You, answer the door. You, take all the other girls down into the basement. I know a place like this will have one. Make sure your mates take all their drinks bottles and shit down too. Let the police in and just say you’re having a few drinks and you were playing music to drown out the noise we are making.” They both look at me blankly, “Well get a wiggle on!”
The girls move quickly. Dave and I reposition Bernie so he is hidden in the hole. Then I put on my face nappy, move into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. I want to stop the officers going into the garden if I can. I turn around to see Dave jumping over the 8ft fence. What the fuck is he doing, making a run for it? Too late now to give a shit. In the front room I can hear the housekeeper speaking to the officer. Apologising for being so loud. Yes, she has been drinking, she admits. No, there is nobody here.
One of the officers comes into the kitchen, wearing all his gear, holding his radio like they do. His mask is below his nose.”Are you working here?” He asks.
“Yeah, last minute job. You want a cuppa?”
“No thanks. Seen anyone else here?”
“Just her,” I say, nodding at the living room.
“She says she’s been drinking on her own.”
“This lock down is tough,” I say, shrugging. The police officer turns away and mumbles something into his radio, then turns back, “Did you bump into my colleague earlier today?”
“Yeah, I think I did actually.”
Dave bursts through the door with his mask on and looks at the officer, then looks and me and says, in perfect English, “There’s a problem with the plumbing.”
I stare at him for five long seconds before saying, “What?!”
“The water for the fountain.”
“Oh,” I turn to the officer expectantly.
“I better let you lads get to it,” says the officer heading back into the living room.
“Since when do you speak perfect fucking English?” I whisper.
“You fucking cunt. What’s the plan?”
“There’s a pool next door and door in the fence connecting the two gardens. I’ve unlocked both sides. All the curtains are closed next door. Looks like they’re hiding after calling the cops. Let’s strip Bernie to his underwear, so it looks like he’s been partying hard and dump him in the pool next door. We call the police, report a party, they turn up and find a body at the bottom of the pool, we drive off into the sunset.”
Alright he’s a two trick pony. “Let’s do it now. The neighbours are probably looking out the front window to see what the rozzas are doing.” We move quickly. No time to look over our shoulders, no time to check for cameras. We should be long gone before anyone looks at any tapes anyway.
I grab an empty bottle of prosecco out of the bin on the way outside. I hold up Bernie in the excavated hole while Dave strips him. Then we half carry, half drag the icy cadaver through the gate. I try to slide Bernie into the pool but he has so much rigor mortis at this point that he just flops in. I throw the empty bottle after him. Dave makes a call to the police on his burner phone. I can heard them telling him that they have officers in the area and they will be around shortly. We head back to the other garden, Dave sorts the locks on the door in the fence and packs Bernie’s clothes into a bag. We stroll around the front of the houses. The front door opens and the housekeeper appears.
“Are the police gone?”
“I think so, but they’re going to be back in a minute love so I’d keep your head down.” I throw the keys to her and she catches them.
“Where is the other guy?”
“He went for a swim next door. Just remember, if they ask, you’ve never seen him in your life before. In fact you barely remember what we look like. I’ve left a cuppa on the kitchen side for you, just a little thank you.” I give her a wink.
We get into the van, I take a second to breathe then start it up and drive off calmly, the right way down the road. In the wing mirror I can see a police car rolling around the corner quietly and parking outside the neighbour’s house.
“Looks like I’m not retiring in jail just yet, Dave.”
“My name is Lao.”