It’s all in the Planning.
The rain lashed down on the windscreen, blurring the darkening road ahead but I didn’t care; I was ecstatic, the adrenalin was pulsing through my veins. The wipers worked furiously to clear the rain and I couldn’t wait to get home and raise a glass in memory of my dear old Dad who’d taught me everything I know.
“It’s all in the planning Michael.” he would instruct me. “Planning and preparation, the only way you’ll be successful my boy.”
I smiled at his memory, recalling how I had worshiped everything about him. I had longed to grow up and work with him; to be at the top of the tree as he was. People had respect for my Dad. No-one crossed him, not even Ma. She knew which side her bread was buttered all right. I could remember him lifting me up on his shoulders and striding down to the corner shop.
“Anything you fancy Mikey boy, and it’s yours.” He would laugh as I dithered over what to choose; gob-stoppers, black bullets, sherbet fountains, everything a boy could wish for and my Dad, holding my hand. Life couldn’t get any better than this. Then there were the hours we spent in the garden shed. Dad’s collection fascinated me and if he was in a good mood he would let me sort through his ‘tools’. Tiny screwdrivers, bits of wire, old padlocks, torches, things to fascinate any boy. Mum would get cross when he took me out there.
“Leave the boy alone Jack.” She would plead. “Let him make his own way in life.” But Dad
always had the last word; I was to be trained as he had been he insisted in no uncertain terms and that was all that I ever wanted .
Dad would have been so proud of me today. I’d been meticulous in the planning and execution of this job, my biggest one so far. A pretty fair day’s work all round. For weeks and weeks I’ve watched that supermarket; cost me a fortune in coffees too but it was a brilliant plan, the simplicity of it was nothing short of a stroke of genius.
Creatures of habit in these supermarkets, they deserve to get robbed, even a child could think up better security than they had.
Just a few more miles and then I can really celebrate, now where did I put those fags?
Hell’s bells, what was that?
I can see him now. He looks much smaller in here and the smiles are gone too, he was cross with Ma.
“Why d’you have to bring the lad?” He scowled at her, ignoring me.
“He wanted to come Jack; you know how he idolises you.” But Dad seemed different somehow. Gone was the confident proud man I knew. He’d lost weight and there were dark circles under his eyes. He wore an ill-fitting boiler suit of kinds, not the dapper man I knew and looked up to. Ma had told me that there’d been some sort of mistake and Dad had to go away for a while. I must have worn her down begging to go with her to visit him, and now I was wishing I had never asked, it was making him cross. But Dad relented and eventually pulled me onto his knee. Everything was fine again until I asked when he’d be coming home.
“It’ll be a long time yet lad, so you’d better be good for your ma and look after her for me.”
I nodded my head, not daring to speak for fear of the hot tears I was holding back escaping.
I struggled to open my eyes but couldn’t focus. It was dark, pitch black, and I was sprawled at an angle across the dash board of the car. The rain had stopped, I don’t know how long I’d been unconscious, could be minutes or even hours. My head hurt, but even worse was the excruciating pain in my left leg. I reached down to touch it and felt a warm sticky fluid; blood! Outside was quiet and black as the grave. I could remember hitting something in the road, a fox or a rabbit perhaps, and then swerving off down the bank. Bloody hell, I could be here all night! So dizzy…and the pain…
I cried all the way home. Mum tried to comfort me but I thought I would never see Dad again. People kept staring at us on the bus.
“Sshh Michael. It’s bad enough that we have to go an’ visit that place without you drawing attention to us now, quiet son, please.” But I couldn’t help it. My Dad was no longer in charge. He had been led away by two big, burly guards who seemed intent on hurting him. They didn’t need to be so rough with him. If he’d met them on the street he’d have shown them who was boss. What mistake was it I wondered and why did Dad have to stay in that awful place?
Mum looked at me solemnly.
“Michael, your Dad’s a villain.” She had said before we set off, “There’s no two ways about it. He’s broken the law and now he has to do his time. Just let this be a lesson to you, you’re a bright boy, you can go places an’ have a good life. Don’t be like your Dad.”
But all I had ever wanted was to be like my Dad, he was my hero. I was eight years old and my Dad was my life. How could I not want to be like him?
Damn it. I must stay awake but it’s so cold… got to get out of here and get some help. How could it have gone so horribly wrong? I’ve always maintained that planning and preparation were essential for success, and I’m usually right…oh…the pain’s killing me! I couldn’t have done much more to prepare but….sod it…there’s only one way out now and everything I’ve worked for will be lost.
At least that bloody rain’s stopped. I’ll have to get out of the car but the pains so bad, I feel weak and dizzy. Its pitch dark too, but I can’t complain at that, part of the plan that was.
It’s laughable really, emptying the tills every hour at the same time and Securityplus, never there before 5.00pm. An open invitation to anyone with half a mind, easy pickings; but hell, what a mess I’m in now, blood everywhere… must do something quickly.
Oh the look on that supervisor’s face. Priceless! I’m sure she must have wet herself when I held the knife against her ribs.
“Just be a good girl and I won’t have to use it.” She’ll be dreaming of me forever. And all that lovely cash, it’s refreshing to know that in this world of the little plastic card so many people still use good old fashioned cash; dirty, crinkled notes, just how I like them.
But what on earth can I do now? Perhaps if I hadn’t driven so fast, or lit that cigarette?
The getaway was perfect, exactly as planned. 4.20pm to get the maximum of the day’s takings and miss the tea-time rush. The light would be fading then too, an hour’s drive through the quiet country lanes, and I’d be home and dry. It could have worked like a dream; it should have worked like a dream. Sod’s law I suppose. The bend was slippery with the rain. Thought I was a goner when I went off the road, reckon I still could be if I don’t get this stupid door open.
The disguise was good, would even have fooled my old ma, God bless her. A false beard works wonders and with the baseball cap and baggy charity shop track suit, I hardly recognised myself. Easy to whip off too, a quick strip in the car and I was back to a younger fitter man. The limp was a stroke of genius, trailing my leg and stooping forward; added twenty years at least.
Great, the doors open at last. A bit of mud won’t hurt, not like this leg. I can’t stand on it and the bone’s sticking out. Bloody hell, if I don’t get on with it I could pass out again. No one can see me down here. Must attract attention quickly, I’m feeling quite light headed…
The car’s a write off. A new car was the first thing on the wish list… this isn’t turning out as I planned.
Ah, look at these lovely stuffed carriers. Wonder how much cash is in there. A holiday in the sun, a trip to LA, some new threads to impress the ladies, I’ll never know…
Pull yourself together Michael; you have to do this. It’s dark now, think. What options are left? Bleed to death in the mud and be found in a week’s time, maybe a month? Or attract attention now while I still can.
What would you have done Dad? I’ve always tried to think like you. You were the best in the game; I’ve tried so hard to be like you. What was that mistake which ended it all? I never did find out. Ma was tight lipped when I asked her. I only saw you one more time before… bad luck ending up in there and to die so young. Life’s not fair, but you always told me that didn’t you?
I wish we could have worked together. There’d have been no mistakes then eh? More fun too. Jack and Mikey, just like you said it would be. You’d have had a right good laugh today Dad. Those scared faces, grovelling to give me the money they were. A right good laugh we’d have had together.
Funny, can’t feel the damn leg now, gone numb it has. Maybe the mud’s good for it.
Hell, everything’s soaked.
Attract attention Michael boy. You know what has to be done even if you weren’t a boy scout. Sorry Dad, I didn’t plan for this hiccup and it was going so well… attention, in the dark, it’ll have to be a fire. Huh, a fire in a cold wet copse where everything is soaked. Just my luck that the only thing not sodden with this damned awful rain is my lovely crinkly cash! Gives new meaning to the phrase ‘money or your life’ eh? What would you do Dad? Only one thing to do really, it’s a no-win situation; keep the money and probably die, or burn the money and live… now, where the hell are those matches?
What he had taken for a bundle of rags
suddenly began to move!
Andy ducked into the shop doorway just in time as the drizzle turned into torrential rain. The crack of thunder made him shudder and the following lightning suddenly illuminated the doorway revealing that he was not alone. What he’d taken to be a bundle of rags suddenly began to move, and the gaunt figure of a man stood up to face him with a hard stare from cold dark eyes. Andy shrugged the droplets from his Armani suit and pretended the other man didn’t exist. He couldn’t escape from the doorway unless he was prepared to get drenched to the bone.
‘I know you.’ The tramp’s voice was raspy and flat, without inflection or emotion. ‘But I bet you don’t remember me.’
Andy blinked, squinting to try and see clearly through the gloomy winter’s evening. A street lamp cast the only light; all the shops were in darkness, customers and staff long gone home to a warm house and a hot meal, he imagined. The tramp was about his own height and build but he could make out very little else. His lower face was covered by a dirty, matted beard and eyes obscured by long damp tresses of greasy hair. The tramp, he thought, could certainly benefit from a good hot bath. Andy was beginning to feel nauseous from the smell of dirty clothes, alcohol and body odour. It was impossible to guess the man’s age but he was certain they had never met.
‘I think you’ve got the wrong man, pal.’ Andy turned away to look again at the rain, hoping it had eased but if anything it was even heavier.
‘Andy Patterson, United’s best leftie since the 1980s.’ Of course the tramp would recognize him; his photo was always in the papers for one reason or another, documenting his prowess on the field and his antics off it too. The price of being a celebrity. Andy gave a forced smile; after all, a fan is a fan. He began fishing in his pocket to give him one of the signed photos he carried around with him and perhaps he’d give the old boy a tenner too, make his night for him.
‘We played together on St. William’s School under fifteens and after that we went on to the local youth team, remember? Good mates we were in those days, we dreamed big and played hard.’
Andy peered at the tramp trying to see past the disgusting beard and the layers of filthy clothes.
‘Ben? Ben Robson, it can’t be, surely not…’ Andy was astounded.
‘Yeah, it’s me. Surprised you remember now you’re such a big shot. I thought we were friends once. You were the brother I’d always wanted but I was expendable wasn’t I, just like Sally? Ever think of Sal, do you, my baby sister? You finished my career and ruined her life all in the same year, then left us both high and dry when you went off to be the next Wayne Rooney. Didn’t want to know Sal when she got pregnant did you? Sent your ‘agent’ to take care of it. Money is always the answer, isn’t it?’
‘Now hang on a minute, we were just kids! A baby would have been equally as bad for her as it would have been for me, it was the best solution all round.’
‘So your agent said. But you could forget; Sally couldn’t. She was devastated, never trusted anyone again after that. The abortion ruined her; she’s a mess, granted not in the same way as me, but a mess all the same.’
‘You can’t pin that on me! Look at yourself, what example have you been to her? Having a brother like you is more than likely the cause of any problems Sally has.’
‘True, I’ll give you that but how do you think I got to be like this? Memory failing you, is it? Let me remind you. It was that so called friendly game at the beginning of the season. We were both in line to be signed up for United’s youth team; my talent was every bit as good as yours but I was ‘loaned out’ to the opposing side for that match, remember, they were a man down?’
Andy did remember, all too well. If the light had been better the tramp would have seen the colour draining from his face. The guilt and shame of what he’d done had been pushed to the back of his mind, only troubling him on very rare occasions and soon forgotten with a couple of drinks under his belt. He’d twisted the facts so many times that he himself had begun to believe that he had no culpability in Ben’s accident. The tramp continued in his emotionless flat voice.
‘You had to show off, didn’t you? Your image was more important than fair play. I was your friend but you were determined to ruin me, to have all the glory for yourself.’
‘Now hang on a minute…’ Andy interrupted. ‘It was a legitimate tackle; I couldn’t have known what would happen.’
The tramp didn’t speak for a full minute, leaving Andy’s words hanging in the air, both men recognizing the lie.
‘You weren’t going for the ball, were you? Your kick was aimed directly at me. Did you hear the bone crack? I did, I can still hear it in my sleep sometimes. I was the best player on that field and you wanted me off so you could shine. Well you succeeded; you got me off permanently. I’ve never played again but you wouldn’t know that, would you? You left while I was still in hospital. Why was it that you never came to visit? We were friends, weren’t we? But I was expendable, someone to trample over on your way to the top.’
Andy was trembling at the tramp’s words. He wanted to turn away and hurry back to his penthouse flat and his cosy life but for some reason he couldn’t move, he was frozen to the spot, feeling the cold seeping through to his bones. He wanted to defend himself but couldn’t find the words. Shame and humiliation had taken hold of him; he wanted to apologize but that would be admitting his guilt. What did this tramp want? Why couldn’t he just turn and run for home?
‘I remember the pain, the agony of the injury and the knowledge that I’d never play again. Did you care, Andy? Did you ever for one moment regret what you had done?’
Andy’s discomfort was growing with every word. He had to try to put his slant on it.
‘Now hang on a minute I think you’re getting things way out of proportion here. Accidents happen, it’s fate, bad luck if you like, I had….’
‘You had what? A glamorous career ahead of you, money to burn, girls to fawn over you, cars, property? How much is it you earn each week, sixty, eighty, a hundred grand? That’s more than most people get in a lifetime.’
‘A footballer’s career is short, you know that, the money’s relative.’
‘Who are you to judge me? I don’t have to justify myself to you, look at you, a filthy dirty tramp, a drunken bum. You’re hardly in a position to criticize others.’
The tramp was still again, watching the angry tirade with his blank stare. A slow smile began to form on his lips. The light from the street lamp reflected from Andy’s Rolex as he waved his arms around in exasperation. He quickly pulled his sleeve down, embarrassed by the ostentatious possession. His anger was spent. He didn’t know what to do so reached into his pocket, changing to a more conciliatory tone.
‘Look, Ben, let’s not let this get out of proportion.’ He unrolled a wad of twenty pound notes and began to peel some off. Ben’s anger rose to the surface again,
‘Don’t you dare try to salve your conscience with money, I don’t want your filthy lucre!’
‘Don’t be silly, it’s a gift just a token, a little something to help you along. Take it, please.’
There was a piercing, feral scream like the cry of a wild animal. Andy took a moment to realise it was coming from the tramp who threw himself at Andy, knocking him against the plate glass window of the shop. Andy thought it would shatter with the force but it didn’t. He slid down to the wet pavement, feeling vulnerable and afraid as Ben towered over him. The sickly smell of filth filled his nostrils and he turned his head, shielding his face with his arms, fearful of what was about to happen. With another loud cry, the tramp stamped with both feet onto Andy’s legs, the swift movement powered by years of repressed anger, his aim as true as the talented striker he had once been. This time they both heard the cracking of bone and as Andy passed out with the pain, the tramp moved quietly away feeling for the first time in many years that justice had at last been served.
Snow Wish. A children’s story.
Bleat was born in late spring when the days were warm and sunny and the grass grew green and lush.
“You’re a lucky little lamb,” said his mother, “Some lambs are born early when the snow is still around!”
“What’s snow Maa?” Bleat asked.
“Well, it’s white and soft, it covers the grass and it is so, so cold!” his mother told him.
“I wish I could see the snow!” Bleat said.
The days were getting longer and Bleat was getting bigger. One morning when the wind was blowing, the blossom began to fall from the trees in the orchard. The petals blew into Bleat’s field and swirled around his head.
“Is this snow Maa?” Bleat asked.
“No,” his mother told him. “This is blossom, it means the trees are getting little apples on them and the rain and sunshine will make them swell and grow, just like you’re growing. You’ll know when it snows, it’s so, so cold!”
The weeks passed by and Bleat almost forgot about the snow, until one morning when the farmer was washing his tractor. The water and soap made lots and lots of bubbles. Bleat went to the fence to watch. The bubbles bounced around on the breeze. When one landed on his nose it went POP and made him jump! Bleat ran back to his mother.
“Is this snow Maa?” he asked.
“No Bleat,” she told him, “The farmer has been ploughing the field and his tractor is dirty. They are soap bubbles made by the soap and water. Don’t be in a hurry to see snow, it’s so, so cold!”
Bleat was beginning to think he would never see snow. One morning when he woke up he could hardly see anything. There was a wet mist that covered everything. Bleat could only just see his mother!
“Is this snow Maa?” He asked.
“No my little lamb,” she said, “This is fog. When the clouds are too heavy to stay in the sky they come down and cover everything. But don’t worry Bleat, it won’t be long until the snow comes and it will be so, so cold!”
The fog went away, just like the blossom and the soap bubbles had. Bleat grew a little bigger each day, happily eating the sweet grass with his mother in their field on the farm. One day the sky grew very dark.
“The clouds look very heavy.” Maa told Bleat.
“Will it be foggy again?” Bleat asked.
“We’ll see!” Maa said.
The very next morning when Bleat woke up, he could hardly believe his eyes. The whole world was white!
“Maa!” he woke his mother up, “Is this snow?”
“Yes Bleat, it is!”
“But it’s so, so cold…” he shivered.
Maa moved closer to her lamb and Bleat snuggled into her thick woolly fleece.
“The best thing about snow,” she told him “Is that it’s the time of year to snuggle down together and keep each other so, so warm!”