"You sure about this crew you've dragged together?" Carly asked as she helped Reuben on with his suit jacket.
Reuben straightened the cuffs and replied. "As they say, you can't polish turds. But, for the job at hand, they'll do."
Billy held the end of the knackered belt tightly in his teeth. He slapped his forearm a couple of times and then dug the needle in good and deep. He grinned like a simpleton.
Lou sat at the kitchen table putting the denomination bands around the wads whilst whistling. His missus, April, came into the kitchen with a full linen basket. She opened up the washer and took out the half brick and set it down on the counter. She dumped the crumpled notes on the top and fed the machine the dirty laundry.
Ellis looked at himself in the mirror that was attached to the front of the bathroom cabinet. He felt better for just working off the stress that had been plaguing him. He opened the cabinet to snoop. The altered angle of the mirror showed the woman sprawled on the bed, the ligature still about her neck.
Carly was right, all three were ne'er-do-wells. But the point wasn't to band together a small group of professional thieves. That was above and beyond the call of duty. It was too hard to rob banks and get away with it anymore and building societies were pretty much the same. The world was becoming more and more a place where virtual money had more sway over the real, foldable variety.
Criminals, on the other hand, they lived for the stuff they could touch, the paper they could flash. This was where these three came in.
Billy Jones, a hopeless heroin addict. Reuben didn't care, that was all that Billy had to be, a real honest junkie.
Ellis Poole, a hard man and a right old finger-breaker. A complete lunatic when he lost the plot but perfect for what was at hand.
And old Lou. He was a face that Reuben had known from years back. A top safe-cracker before arthritis took the fiddle from his fingers. But he reckoned he had enough dexterity for the type of lockbox they were likely to encounter.
This job was a soft one and also to be Reuben's last one. All he wanted was a few thousand to see him on the way to warmer climates. He'd made money throughout his career but had spent it as fast as he had got it. Houses, holidays, motors and mares was the way it had been wasted. The houses had gone with the new law that gave the courts the right to confiscate anything that they thought had been purchased through illegal gains. A thud on the door of the transit van got his attention.
Reuben wound down the window. "You're early, get in the back," he said.
Billy looked like shit run over twice. Billy slid open the side door, sniffing all the while. "Thanks for this, Mr. Beaumont. Really appreciate it." He sounded sincere and also sounded as though he was starting to need another hit.
"You okay, Billy? You had a hit today?"
"Yeah, Mr. Beaumont, this morning. But starting to get shaky."
"We'll be done with the job soon and you'll have all the money and smack you need."
"Sounds good, Mr. Beaumont!"
Billy took to staring at his shoes. Nice new shoes, the kind a runner wears. Reuben looked in the rear-view mirror to see Billy. That was the face of the future of England. Disgusting. A few minutes later, Ellis turned up and got into the back. Lou turned up with his large workbag and got in the front. Reuben put the borrowed van into gear.
"You're never going to come across a job as easy as this again. The simplicity is what will make it work. Billy-boy in the back has told me of a dealer who is expecting a large delivery this evening. Billy's seen the safe at the dealer's den so we're hoping he has the cash in there instead of under his bed. We'll check there as well, just in case."
That brought chuckles from them all.
"So, it works like this: Billy goes and knocks, wanting to score. As he's being let in, I run up shouting that 'I'm police!'. That should start a panic. This is where Ellis comes in. Ellis, you run in after me and start making people relax. Then Lou comes in and opens up the safe. Any questions?"
"How far can I go?" asked Ellis. He was holding a crowbar like it was an extension of his hand.
"We don't want anyone dead. Dead people attract police. Hurt drug dealers don't tend to call the Old Bill so feel free to knock 'em about a little." Reuben's words looked to cause a little disappointment. Ellis shrugged, he'd get to work out his stress later and he'd also be a hell of a lot richer.
They left the house and headed for the van. Reuben had the bag of cash. Billy kept looking at the bag and then down to his new running shoes. He wanted to grab the money and run, as was his plan.
And then it was too late. They were back in the van and heading towards the outskirts of town where they were going to dish out the shares.
Reuben applied the handbrake.
"Before we get down to business, I just want to say well done!" He was about to say more when Ellis swung his crowbar and caved in the side of Billy's head.
Ellis was bringing it back to take a swipe at Reuben when there was a loud bang. Lou had been carrying a piece. It was only a small thing, suitable for a woman's purse and would have been laughed at any other time. The small calibre bullet tore out Ellis's throat. He toppled over, the crowbar still in his grip.
Reuben blew out air.
"Whoa, shit. Fuck-me!" was all he could say as he watched Lou put the gun away.
"Thanks," he finally managed. He took a few steadying breaths. This wasn't the way it was supposed to go down. He hadn't ever planned on sharing the loot with any of them but it most certainly wasn't supposed to be played out like this. He pulled out his own gun and aimed it at Lou.
"Lou, I know this looks like a right cunt's trick after what you've just done. So that's why I'm gonna just tell you to get the fuck outta the van and I'm gonna let you live."
It was the least he could do.
"You shitting me, Beaumont?" Lou's dentures were practically rattling in his mouth.
"Bad times and business is business. Need me to count to three?" Reuben figured Lou didn't need a countdown but asked anyway. Lou got out of the van with his tool bag and stood looking disgusted as the van took off.
Reuben opened up the bag as he drove, all those lovely notes, fifty grand shared one way. That would last him a good while into his retirement. When he got home, Carly was waiting for him.
"Well?" she asked, her bags already packed.
"I did it baby." He shook the bag.
"I wanna see." She was reaching out.
Reuben pulled the bag away from her a little and told her off. "You look with your eyes, not your hands." He opened the mouth of the bag wide.
The Queen was staring up at him. He stared back at her, grinning. The grin began to slip slowly, like the moment an echo upsets the snow. Then it picked up pace and his grin became an avalanche, slipping from his face. He stared at the queen. She stared back.
The problem, it seemed, was that the Queen had a moustache.
BIO: Lee Hughes lives and works on the Isle of Man with his wife and two fish. He is currently putting the finishing touches to his first novel. His short fiction is to appear in the upcoming Cern Zoo: Nemonymous 9 by Megazanthus Press. And regular spots on Thrillers Killers 'n' Chillers.