by Rob Kitchin
‘I’m the last of the line,’ the old man said. He was sitting in an armchair, wearing flannel pyjamas and a tartan dressing gown.
On the other side of the room, his care assistant, Terry Watson, re-made the bed.
‘An endangered species,’ the old man continued. ‘Once I kick the bucket, the Carlingworth name dies. The only traces that we ever existed will be a few photos, a couple of death notices, and chisel marks fading on gravestones. That’ll be it.’
‘Come-on, Freddie, cheer up,’ Terry said, tucking the sheet in. ‘How can you be the last of the line? There must be Carlingworths all over the place.’
‘It’d be nice if there were, Terry, but I’m the last one. Take a look in the phone book or on the Internet, I’ll be the only Carlingworth you’ll find. And do you know what’s the worst thing about it?’
The care assistant glanced over at him.
‘That I’ve done nothing with my life. I’ve just drifted along. Taken the easy route. Avoided any unnecessary risks. And when I did occasionally snag a woman, I let her get away. I didn’t even try to keep the line alive. I’ve lived my whole life in a bubble; there, but somehow separate. Do you know what I mean?’
‘I’m forty eight and work as a care assistant, Freddie, what do you think? Drift is my middle name.’
‘I knew you’d understand. We have a lot in common, you and I. Well, it’s time I made a stand; made a mark on the world.’
‘Made a mark?’ Terry said, plumping a pillow, the blue ink tats on his forearm dancing a jig.
‘Go out with a bang; place the Carlingworth name on the map whilst I still can. If you help me, I’ll make you my sole heir. You’ll get my house, the bank accounts, whatever you can sell. With all that money, you’ll be able to make your own mark.’
‘Yeah. I’m eighty three years old. I need a wingman.’
‘For the bank. For robbing the bank.’
‘Robbing the bank?’ Terry put the pillow down and sat on the edge of the bed.
‘Yeah, robbing the bank. Try and keep up, will you. I’ve always wanted to rob a bank. The two things I always dreamed of: robbing a bank and crashing into an on-coming car. Have you ever wondered about that? What it would be like to drift across the centre line, hit the on-coming vehicle head-on?’
‘No! Why would I ... Freddie, we’re not robbing a bank. You’re not robbing a bank!’
‘What kind of care assistant are you? I thought you’re meant to make my last days fulfilling.’
‘I am, but we’re not robbing a bank, Freddie. You want to go to Disneyland, fine. You want a last supper in a fancy restaurant, I’ll help spoon-feed you. Hell, if you want to jump out of a plane, I’ll arrange it for you. But I’m not going to help you rob a bank.’
‘I can barely walk half a dozen yards without losing my breath, how am I meant to rob a bank without you helping me? I’ve no one else, have I?’
‘Look, forget about me. In any case, how are you going to rob a bank without a gun?
‘I was coming to that. I need you to get me a gun.’
‘How in God’s name do you expect me to lay my hands on a gun? I’m a care assistant in a nursing home, not a gangster.’
‘Tom Smith has a shotgun,’ Freddie said, referring to another resident. ‘It’s locked in a secure cabinet in his home. You could ...’
‘Well, how about a kidnapping then? We could snatch the daughter of the rich bastard who owns this place. Hold her for ransom.’
‘You’re right, no point traumatising the poor child, it’s not her fault she has a bastard for a father. We’re better off sticking to the bank job.’
‘There’s not going to be a bank job.’
‘Your share should be about a million, plus my effects when I pass on. You’d be set up for life. No more mopping up piss and wiping old men’s arses.’
‘A million plus extras. My house has to be worth a couple of hundred thousand, plus the money I’ve saved.’
‘But it’ll be you robbing the bank, not me?’
‘I’ll be carrying the gun.’ The old man’s eyes were sparkling with excitement, the most alive they’d been in years. ‘You’ll be my wingman—push the wheelchair in, be the getaway driver.’
‘Push the wheelchair in? Are you mad? Nobody robs a bank in a wheelchair!’
‘That’s why they won’t be expecting it. That’s why they’ll give us the money; they’ll think we won’t get very far, but I have a plan.’
‘I’ve had years to think about this, Terry, to work it all out. The body might be dying, but there’s nothing wrong with the little grey cells.’
‘That’s a matter of opinion,’ Terry said, rising from the bed and moving to the grimy window.
‘Look, if we get caught I’ll tell them that I made you do it,’ Freddie reasoned. ‘Threatened you with the gun. What have you got to lose?’
‘My freedom! I could end up in prison.’
‘You’re not going to end up in prison! I’ve just told you that I’ll take the rap for it. I’m nearly extinct in any case. At least this way I’ll go out with a bang and not a whimper. And if it goes to plan you’ll be a very rich man.’
Terry stared at the shabby apartment block opposite, weighing up the proposition. A million would radically transform his life, yet he’d still be able to drift along, only this time in luxury. The way things were going he’d soon be sitting in his own piss, nearly extinct with nothing to show for it. But then again, he’d no desire to spend a dozen of those years in prison on an armed robbery rap.
‘Come-on, Terry, where’s your sense of adventure?’ Freddie pressed. ‘Do you really want to be a care assistant until you retire? Tidying up after incontinent men who have little to say and plenty of time to say it?’
‘And this plan will work, will it?’
Terry sighed and turned away from the window. ‘I guess I’d better get the key to Tom Smith’s locker.’
* * *
‘You’re not going to use that thing, are you?’ Terry said, glancing across at Freddie.
The old man was staring out the windscreen, his right hand sheathed in thin rubber gloves stroking a shotgun, its barrel barely twelve inches long after Terry had taken a saw to it the previous evening. Freddie was wearing his best Sunday suit, now two sizes too big for him, a pale grey shirt that used to be white, a dark green tie, and a Fighting Irish Notre Dame cap pulled down low over his brow.
The old man snapped out of his trance and turned to face the driver. ‘What?’
‘You’re not going to use the gun, are you?’ Terry was not so much having second thoughts as fifteenth thoughts, wondering how he’d managed to let himself be enrolled in the old man’s scheme.
‘It’s not even loaded, Terry.’ Freddie tapped his jacket pocket where half a dozen cartridges rested. ‘Stop worrying, will you.’
‘It’s all right for you, you’ll be long dead before I get out of prison if this thing goes tits up.’
‘It’s not going to go tits up, is it? The plan is simple. You push me in, spray the security cameras with paint, and I’ll ask for the money. Then we make our getaway.’
‘What if they won’t give it to us?’
‘That’s what the gun’s for; no one says no to a gun—it’s not worth dying for money that isn’t yours, is it?’
Terry turned into a strip mall on the edge of the town. A large supermarket was at one end of a row of smaller units interspersed with big box units fronted by a couple of acres of mostly empty parking spaces.
‘Park up by the post office,’ Freddie instructed.
‘The bank is over there,’ Terry said, pointing.
‘We’re not robbing the bank. We’re hitting the post office.’
‘What? We’ve been planning to rob the bank.’ Terry scratched at his stubbled cheek, trying to suppress a nervous twitch.
‘No, we’ve been planning on holding up the post office. Park in there,’ Freddie motioned with the gun.
‘Freddie! You can’t just change the plan at this stage.’
‘This was always the plan, Terry. I’ll give you three reasons. First, in case you blabbed to any ...’
‘Why the fuck would I ...’ Terry interrupted.
‘Second,’ Freddie interjected, ‘you’ve been casing the bank. I know you have, so don’t bother denying it. There was a cash-point receipt in your coat pocket. They have your face all over their security footage. Third, it’s built like Fort Knox. The minute we take out the gun the doors will be automatically locked and metal shutters will drop down in front of the cashiers. We’ll be trapped like rats in a sealed box. When was the last time you heard of a bank robbery? Years ago, right?’
Terry didn’t reply.
‘No, you either kidnap a bank employee’s family and get them to rob the cash, hold up an armoured van, pluck an ATM from the wall with a digger, or hit a post office. Fuck-all security in your average post office.’
‘Jesus, Freddie! And you didn’t think to tell me this until now?’ Terry pulled to a halt and twisted in his seat, trying to keep his swirling emotions in check.
‘I just have,’ Freddie said calmly. ‘Look, I’m doing you a favour. If we hit the bank, we’d leave in handcuffs. This way we’ll leave with a bag full of cash. Plus you’re going to get my house and everything else I own once I head for the big gates in the sky. If we do this right and you manage to keep your gob shut afterwards, we’ll never be caught.’
‘I don’t know, Freddie. I don’t like being duped. What if it goes wrong?’
‘Terry, Terry, it isn’t going to go wrong. I have it all thought out, don’t worry. I collected my pension from here for years; I know the place inside out—its layout, its staff, its routines. This time of the morning, they’re loaded with cash to pay out in pensions and unemployment benefits. It’ll be like taking candy from a child. Here.’ Freddie pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, marked with a sketch of the post office layout. ‘This is the door. There’s a camera above it to the left. Inside, the cashier counter is here. There’re cameras here, here and here. The only customers are going to be folk as old as me. Too early for the jobless. Simple.’
‘Simple,’ Terry repeated.
‘Come-on, get the wheelchair out. It would be a shame to waste all this adrenaline. I feel alive, Terry. For the first time in years I actually feel like I’m living!’
The younger man nodded his head. He knew exactly what the old man was feeling; despite his annoyance, nervous energy was pumping through his system. He flipped up the hood on his black hoodie, exited the car, retrieved the wheelchair and rolled it to the passenger door, which Freddie had pushed open.
The older man levered himself up and out of the car, wheezing with the effort, and dropped into the chair.
‘Can you pass me the bag and gun, please.’
Terry did as he was told.
Freddie placed the sport’s bag on his lap and the gun beside his right hip on the chair.
‘Time to put on our masks,’ Freddie instructed.
Terry tugged on a rubber mask of Elvis, passing one of Mr Bean to Freddie.
Freddie covered his papery skin with the mask and tugged the cap back on. ‘Okay, let’s do this. Remember, spray the camera at the door on the way in. Leave me at the entrance and spray the other cameras, then wheel me to the counter.’
Terry pulled the wheelchair back, kicked the passenger door shut and set off towards the post office, still wondering if he was walking himself into years of incarceration or a life of luxury.
‘This is for all the dead Carlingworths,’ Freddie said, unable to hide the excitement in his voice. ‘Up the Carlingworths!’
‘I must be off my head,’ Terry muttered, pushing with one hand, pulling a can of black spray paint from the large pocket spanning his gut with the other and shaking it in preparation.
As they reached the door, he stretched up an arm and covered the lens with a fine spray of paint.
The pair entered the post office. There were five customers standing in line and two cashiers behind the counter and a glass screen.
Freddie pulled the shotgun from his side and yelled, ‘This is a stick-up!’ He’d always wanted to say that, ever since he was a kid. It felt good. He was Butch, Terry the Sundance Kid.
Everybody turned their gaze to him, seemingly unconcerned.
Terry seemed rooted to the spot.
‘The cameras!’ Freddie instructed.
Terry dashed forward and sprayed the first camera.
‘I said, “This is a stick-up!” Everybody stay calm and nobody will get hurt. Everybody against that wall.’
The customers all stayed where they were.
The moment seemed to be slipping away from the old man; his dreams melding back into reality. ‘Did you not hear me! Against the wall!’
A couple of elderly women started to shuffle backwards warily. The others stayed where they were.
Terry finished spraying the last camera and dashed back to Freddie, wheeling him to the parcel counter.
Freddie placed the sports bag on the polished wooden surface. ‘Fill it with cash,’ he ordered the pale-faced, middle-aged woman facing him.
She blinked a couple of times, but didn’t move.
‘Did you hear me? Fill the goddamn bag! If you don’t I’ll fill those five lifeless monkeys full of pellets.’ He pointed the gun at the customers.
‘I ... I ...’ the woman stuttered.
Freddie raised the gun and pulled the trigger. The blast made everybody jump, the gun recoiling violently. A hole appeared in the ceiling tiles.
Freddie glanced over at the customers who were now all lying on the floor, one of the women was crying. He turned his attention back to the cashier. His senses seemed hyper-tuned, a warm feeling of invincibility now coursing through his blood. ‘Fill the bag!’
The cashier raised the window and tugged the bag through, disappearing behind a division wall.
Freddie turned his attention back to the customers. Beside the woman whimpering, the only sound was Terry’s hand tapping out a nervous beat on the wheelchair handles.
‘Come-on, hurry up!’ Freddie said loudly, turning to cough, a dry hacking that made his eyes water.
The woman reappeared and pushed the half filled bag through the window.
‘I said, fill it.’
‘That’s everything,’ she countered meekly. ‘The rest is in a time-locked safe. It won’t open until one o’clock.’
‘Fuck,’ Terry muttered.
Freddie grabbed the bag with his left hand and pulled it onto his lap. ‘Come-on, let’s get out of here.’
Terry snapped out of his trance, twirled the wheelchair around and headed for the door. He struggled to wrench it open and push Freddie through at the same time. Nobody in the car park seemed to be aware of the robbery, people coming and going as normal.
Terry jogged to the car and pulled off his mask, his face red and coated in perspiration. He tugged off his thin rubber gloves and scratched at the itchy skin on the back of his hands. His adrenaline had dissipated to be replaced with jangling nerves. Firing the gun had been a big mistake. If they were caught it would put several years onto the prison sentence.
‘You told me it wasn’t loaded, Freddie.’
‘I lied,’ Freddie said dismissively. ‘Did you really think I was going to go in there with an empty gun? It was an armed robbery! Come on, help me into the car.’
‘You could’ve killed someone!’
‘Only if they’d been clinging to the ceiling. Pull yourself together. We got the money, didn’t we?’
Terry yanked the passenger door open and threw the mask and gloves over the seat. ‘I knew this was a bad idea.’ He took the bag from Freddie’s lap and threw it into the foot well. ‘There’s no way there’s a million in there. Probably isn’t even one hundred thousand.’
‘Does it matter?’ Freddie stood up out of the wheelchair, still holding the shotgun, and shuffled towards the open door.
‘Of course it matters!’ Terry snapped, struggling to collapse the wheelchair.
‘Forget the chair! Come-on, let’s go!’ Freddie coughed, then wheezed, sucking in breath.
‘It has the name of the nursing home on it.’ The chair finally folded. Terry opened the back door and threw it onto the seat. In the distance a police siren started to whoop. ‘If we leave it here they’ll be there waiting for us before we get back.’
Terry slammed the door shut, pushed over the passenger door and dashed round the front of the car. He slid in behind the steering wheel, turning the ignition. He felt physically sick; if they managed to escape it would be a small miracle. And all for a pittance. He mentally berated himself for not listening to his earlier doubts. He should have nipped the old man’s fantasy in the bud when he was propositioned initially.
Next to him, Freddie struggled for air, seemingly unable to catch his breath.
‘Are you okay, Freddie?’
‘We ... fucking ... did it!’ Freddie folded over and hacked a long cough.
‘Just ... drive.’
* * *
The police car hurtled past them heading for the post office, its lights flashing, its siren blaring.
Freddie turned in his seat and watched it until it was out of sight. Terry kept glancing up nervously into the rear mirror, his bowels performing a tense dance.
‘We did it, Terry!’ Freddie said, turning back, his face alive with delight. ‘We actually did it!’
‘It’s not over yet, Freddie.’
‘Don’t be such a pessimist. We’ll take Tom’s car back to his house, take off the false plates, and wipe it clean of prints. Then we’ll pick up your car, throw the gun in the lake, and head back to the home. Piece of cake. And no one will be none the wiser.’
‘They’ll know. They’re gonna hunt us down.’
‘And who exactly are they looking for? Elvis in his bloated phase wearing a black hooded top and blue jeans and Mr Bean in a wheelchair. There are thousands of white Ford’s on the road and this one will be safely stashed in Tom’s garage with its original plates. Just take your time and drive like you normally do.’
‘There’s no way there’s a million in that bag. You told me it was going to be a million. I could be looking at fifteen to twenty years for a lousy few grand.’
‘I’ve just told you, Terry, you’re not going to prison! Plus you’re my sole inheritor when I croak. You’re going to be comfortable for the rest of your life regardless. And you’ve just lived. I mean really lived. You can’t tell me that you didn’t just get a kick out of that?’
‘What I got was heartburn and a bad case of the jujus.’
‘Jesus, Terry! We just robbed a post office. Us! A pair of life’s losers. We actually managed to achieve something most people only ever dream of.’
‘Yeah, well,’ Terry conceded. There was no point arguing; better to let Freddie have his moment. They had succeeded in robbing the post office. His gut, however, told him they’d be behind bars by the end of the day.
‘I’m telling you, Terry, your days of wiping old men’s arses is over.’
‘Only when you ... well, y’know. I’m not going to be able to give up the day job given what’s in that bag.’
‘There’s more in here than you think,’ Freddie said, tugging the bag up from the foot well. He unzipped it, gazed inside and pulled out a block of notes. He leaned over and fanned them in front of Terry. ‘That’s one hundred fifties. Five grand. Five grand! And there must be fifty bundles in there. What’s that? Half a million?’
‘Two hundred and fifty thousand.’
‘There you go, two hundred ...’ Freddie folded in half and started to cough.
‘Are you okay, Freddie?’ Terry asked, resting a hand on his back.
Freddie waved him away. ‘I’m ... I’m fine. Jesus.’
‘Do you want me to stop to get a bottle of water?’
‘God, no! We’ll ... we’ll be at Tom’s in five minutes.’
‘For god’s sake, Terry, stop mothering me.’
‘I’m still your care assistant, Freddie. I might have crossed some kind of line back there, but I still have a duty of care.’
‘Not for much longer, Terry.’ Freddie wiped at his watery eyes, then fished out a few more blocks of notes and held them out toward Terry. ‘Not for much longer.’
There was a small hiss, then one of the blocks exploded, red dye spurting out.
Freddie dropped the bundle, his fingers scalded from the explosive heat.
‘Fuck!’ Terry muttered, pawing at his dye-stained face. His eyes felt full of grit and glue and he could no longer see. A quiet panic started to swell in his chest.
‘They booby trapped the notes,’ Freddie said, stating the obvious, sucking on the base of his middle finger, staring at the knot of shredded notes resting between the seats.
The old man looked up. Terry was clawing at his eyes with both hands. He shifted his gaze to the splattered windscreen. They were drifting across the central meridian, slowing down. A truck was only a few metres away, speeding towards them.
For the second time that day Freddie felt utterly alive. Buzzing with the jolt of adrenaline as another fantasy edged towards fulfilment. He hadn’t expected it to end this way, but it felt right; felt like destiny. He’d been waiting his whole life for this moment. Waiting to put the Carlingworth name on the map; a headline in every major newspaper.
The truck’s horn blasted out its warning, its brakes squealing.
‘Freddie?’ The panic had now blossomed, Terry’s chest seemingly coiled in barbed wire. He wanted to live. Needed to live. If that was in prison, then that was fine. He could cope with prison.
‘It’s going to be alright, Terry.’
Freddie leaned forward wanting to embrace the impact; to know extinction.
Bio: Hiding out in Ireland, Rob Kitchin spends his spare time reading or writing crime fiction. He blogs at http://theviewfromthebluehouse.blogspot.com/ where he publishes reviews and a weekly drabble (a story of exactly 100 words). He's the author of two police procedural novels and had short stories published on Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, A Twist of Noir, Powder Burn Flash, and Spinetingler.