Bank notes - Wikipedia commons
BANK ON IT
That morning I could find nowhere to park, which was annoying, as I had planned to rob the bank.
When you’re really desperate and short of funds, it’s an option.
I took it as a sign. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to rob the bank, after all. Maybe my fate was to stay law-abiding. Law-abiding and destitute.
It isn’t as if I was going to hurt anybody. Wasn’t that the usual self-excusing mantra of the dishonest? I mean, the insurance companies pay the money back so the bank’s savers don’t lose anything. That is, if there are any savers these days. The experts seem to think we’re all living on credit. I used to be one of those people not particularly favoured by Mr McCawber. The credit card company kept increasing my limit so that my wife Mary and I maintained our spending pattern in an attempt to attain the limit. But the more things we bought, the higher they raised the credit limit figure.
I should have known better. After all, I used to be an accountant. It isn’t as boring as people make out, either. Unfortunately, I was working for a crook though I didn’t know it at the time. He was very creative with the accounts. The books were masterpieces; I’m surprised he wasn’t nominated for a Booker Award.
When I stumbled on his fraud, he told the police I was the villain and then he left the country with his ill-gotten gains. Eventually, I was able to convince them of my innocence but by then, unfortunately, word got around and nobody would trust me afterwards. Mud sticks and my career was in tatters. That’s when Mary and I started having rows. She continued to spend as if we had a generous income. I did, too. Couldn’t face reality.
That is, until Mary ran off with the bailiff.
What did I get out of my marriage? Unpaid bills, mostly. And a cynical disposition.
Now, I’m homeless and live in my car. My job-seekers’ allowance pays for the petrol and a few necessities. I’m just hoping that the car doesn’t need servicing. I can’t afford it and I’m hopeless with anything mechanical. Like many in a similar position, I carry my passport, driving licence and some photographs in a polythene bag inside my shirt. I fear that eventually they would go – lost, stolen or even sold for food, since there’s a ready market in ID documentation.
This now is my reality. A few days before Christmas, hunched up in my car with the windows misted over. Shivering in my two woollen jumpers and overcoat, two pairs of socks and boots lined with last week’s Sun. My gloves have holes at the join by the thumbs and it feels as if the cold is slipping into my bones from there.
Common sense tells me that I should go to a hostel. But I don’t like soup. I’ve been independent for too long. Some might call it misplaced pride. Perhaps I don’t trust any kind of organisation now. And I’m not alone.
Michael used to be an IT consultant. But he was too wrapped up in his work and his IT partner shafted him good and proper and left him with massive crippling debts. Being honest, Michael paid off everybody, selling his house in the process. His marriage collapsed and his wife left the country. He found out later that she had been colluding with his partner and she had joined the swine somewhere in Italy. Michael had a nervous breakdown. When he recovered, he was homeless, carrying all his possessions in a tin sweet-box. He says that when the weather’s warm – which should be all the time if those climate warming pundits are to believed – he has a quick brain. Now that it’s cold, he still mentally limbers up with crosswords. He says that The Times is the best – not only for crossworks, but also for keeping him warm on a park bench. The local constabulary don’t bother to move Michael on because he speaks posh.
Today, though, as the forecast in Curry’s window said it was going to be freezing tonight, I asked Michael if he wanted to share my car for warmth. ‘That’s decent of you, old son,’ he said. So now he was snoring in the back seat.
And alongside him, snuggled up to conserve heat, was another vagrant. She said her name is Trash. Probably really Trish but she was suffering from low self-esteem, poor lass.
Trash sank all her money into a high street outdoor boutique – selling climbing gear, boots, tents and such. But due to poor accountancy and a few misjudgements, she ended up owing the taxman thousands of pounds. The credit crunch just made a bad situation worse. She was ruined and didn’t even have a sleeping bag left to use. Her friends snubbed her because she was a failure. In a matter of weeks she spiralled down into the gutter, which was where I found her.
Apart from Michael’s gentle snoring all was silence inside my car.
I could hear the soft patter of snowflakes landing on the car roof. It would insulate us. Could it be a rare white Christmas? Perhaps we’ll be buried in snow and won’t be found until the thaw in a few months’ time. Another tragedy for which the Social Services will be blamed.
The eerie silence brought back memories of childhood. The wonder of a world transformed into something pristine and beautiful. A time when you felt you could do anything, be anything...
‘What are you thinking?’ Trash whispered.
Half-turning, I eyed her. Her lips were thick and she had a lovely little upturned nose. Her black curly hair was pushed inside a fawn and red woollen hat.
‘This morning,’ I whispered, ‘I was all set to rob the high street bank.’
Her big blue eyes widened and she grinned. ‘The one next door to my old shop?’
‘I still have a key, you know.’
‘What, to the bank?’
‘No, silly.’ She pulled a face, creasing her brow, but she was still attractive. ‘To my old shop.’
‘Why don’t you use it? At least you would be warm tonight.’
‘I thought about it.’ She smiled. ‘But I like your company – and Mike’s, too.’ She snuggled up to him.
‘Am I intruding?’ I was a little jealous, I suppose. ‘Do you want me to leave?’
Trash giggled. ‘No – anyway, it’s your car. I’m just after warmth.’
‘That’s what they all say,’ growled Mike in his low fruity voice, winking at me.
‘You’re awake!’ she exclaimed and playfully hit his shoulder with a gloved hand.
‘Ouch, of course I am! You both might think you’re whispering, but you’re loud enough to waken the dead!’ He sat up. ‘What was that about a bank?’
So I told him.
Michael pulled out his tin box and opened the lid. He studied the contents then chuckled. ‘I’ve got a better idea.’ He snapped the lid shut decisively. ‘Trash, can you get me into your old shop tonight?’
* * *
The electrical wiring for the bank actually went under the buildings. And in the shop basement Michael found the right wires. Using his considerable IT knowledge he managed to connect the shop’s computer to the bank’s systems.
‘Hacking is illegal,’ he said, ‘so don’t try this at home.’
We dutifully nodded, amazed at his ability.
He asked Trash and me for some details. Fortunately, lack of decent food and warmth hadn’t affected our memories.
Within a few more minutes he was hooked into two bank accounts – my wife’s and Trash’s solicitor’s.
‘Isn’t this stealing?’ she whispered.
‘Too right it is.’ Michael chuckled again. ‘We’re stealing back what was stolen from us, if you like. Nothing more. Musn’t get greedy.’
The funds were electronically transferred to a foreign bank account.
‘But,’ Trash interrupted, ‘how can we get at that money? It’s abroad and we don’t have any cash. And we’d need a bank card, wouldn’t we?’
‘Too right.’ He pulled out his tin box and opened it and withdrew a bank card. ‘I opened this account when I was thinking of branching out into France.’ He laughed emptily. ‘Completely forgot about it until today... Other things on my mind, you know?’
‘Won’t your wife or that guy have cleaned out the account?’
‘Unlikely, Trash. They got away with enough.’
I gestured at the screen as money moved through the ether. ‘How do you know all this?’
‘Before I set up with my nefarious partner, I was on shift work. I had to pass the time somehow...’
* * *
As dawn lightened the snow-clad rooftops, Trash and I poked our heads out of the shop doorway. Wisps of our breath in the air seemed to be the only movement.
We hurried over the crisp and even pavement to the bank’s ATM. Just in time. It started to disgorge bank notes. Jumping up and down excitedly, Trash pocketed some and I took the rest. It was like winning on a slot machine, only much better.
A few minutes later, Michael came out and locked the shop door. ‘I’ve disconnected the wiring and put everything back to normal,’ he explained. ‘Don’t want anyone else to get the blame, do we?’
‘You’re too good,’ Trash said.
‘I am, aren’t I?’ He gave Trash the shop key and she threw it down a drain.
Although I wanted to run, we calmly walked towards my car. Once inside, I counted out a share of the bank notes for Michael. I felt guilty but kept telling myself that Mary had robbed me blind and it was her money, not the bank’s.
Trash laughed. ‘I’d love to see that accountant’s face when he gets his next statement!’
I drove to the town centre multi-storey carpark where we waited for the shops to open.
Then we bought a few items of clothing and some decent shoes; we didn’t go mad since most of the money was in the foreign account. ‘I think we all look quite civilised again,’ I observed. Both Michael and I could do with a decent haircut and a shave, but that could wait. I was impatient to get away.
‘Yes, I feel human again,’ Michael said. ‘How about you, Trash?’
She nodded. ‘Call me Trish.’
We were lucky to get a last minute deal at the travel agent’s: a self-catering holiday in a splendid villa near a place called Torrevieja. Never heard of it, but it might become our new home, since we’re EU expats with plenty of money. No need to tell the agency we didn’t intend using the return tickets. They were not really surprised that we paid in cash: plastic is definitely suspect these days.
I drove us to the airport.
It was that busy time of year and I could find nowhere to park, but I didn’t care. I abandoned the car and we strolled into the terminal and our new lives.
* * *
Previously published in The New Coastal Press, 2009.
Copyright Nik Morton, 2014.
So, if you liked this story, you might like my collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat (2013), which features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye, ‘in his own words’. He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection of twenty tales, Crooked Cats’ Tales.
Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback and as an e-book.