By Adam Dixon
“I knew today would be the day he finally killed me,” he rasped, breaking off to spit out more blood. “I knew it as soon as we started this job.”
“Shut up a minute and let me think!” I snapped. I felt bad about that, but the stress was getting to me. I couldn’t believe that it had gone so wrong. The job had been planned to the last detail and we should have breezed through it. I glanced back down at Wilko, watching him as he held his wounded stomach and struggled to breathe.
I was in shock. Breathing deeply to calm myself, I took in our surroundings. We were in an abandoned car park underneath a derelict block of flats; it was the rendezvous point that Wilko had suggested days ago, during our planning. Hiding in plain sight, he had called it. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, and Big John had been happy enough with it. Now it seemed like madness. We were essentially trapped in a giant open space just yards away from a busy street. What if someone had seen us pull into the building? It would only take one nosey sod to dial 999 and it would all be over. It was cold, dimly lit by the surviving lights above our heads and it stank of stale urine. It was not helping my mood at all.
“How the bloody hell did this happen?” I said aloud, half to myself. Wilko grunted and a pained sneer spread across his face.
“I’ll tell you how,” he wheezed. “We let ourselves get involved with bleedin’ Pyscho Bill, that’s how! I knew I should’ve pulled out as soon as he was let in, I bloody knew it.”
“Well, your foresight really helped you, didn’t it?” I replied spitefully. I felt another twinge of regret, but he was really getting on my frayed nerves. The smell of his blood and his piss-soaked trousers wasn’t helping, either; it threatened to make me add vomit to the list. Worse than that, I was scared. The day had tuned into a colossal cock-up and I could almost hear the judge condemning me to another long stretch in a dark, cramped cell. But more annoyingly, Wilko had a point. What had Big John been thinking, putting a loose cannon like Pyscho Bill in our team? We had had the group we needed: myself, Wilko, and Fingers handling the crowd, with Miggs and Tiptoes emptying the safe. A team of five men, all professionals, all reliable, and crucially, we had all worked together before. Next thing we knew, Big John called and told us that Fingers was out and Pyscho Bill was in, no arguments. We couldn’t believe it; Pyscho Bill was, as the name suggested, a maniac, a liability. We needed to get in there quick and get out with minimal problems and no mistakes. Wilko had been especially unhappy about the change; he kept saying that Bill had a serious problem with him from an old job they’d worked on. I’d told him he was paranoid, but I hadn’t felt comfortable around the man, either.
“Why did he just flip like that?” I asked in exasperation. Everything had been going smoothly: Joe Public were scared stiff and under control, and Miggs and Tiptoes were sweeping the safe nice and fast.
“We were on our way out the doors, for Christ’s sake! Why did he take a shot at you then, when everything was almost over?”
“Buggered if I know,” Wilko growled, struggling to sit up. His long grey hair was lank with sweat, and his wrinkled face looked more haggard than ever. “I told you, the bloke had a screw loose. He never liked me, or Miggs, come to think of it. That’s why he shot him next. Poor sod took one right in the face.” He shook his head in anger and grief. He and Miggs went back a long way, but I wasn’t in the frame of mind to get sentimental.
A stray cat moved into sight near the entrance, making me jerk and reach for my pistol. I swore loudly at myself for being so jumpy.
“I think we were set up,” Wilko declared, out of the blue.
“Oh, do me a favour!” I snorted, “you must’ve lost a pint too many if that’s what you’re comin’ up with now!”
“Mate, there’s something you should know,” Wilko reached out and gripped my wrist tightly. He stared into my eyes and I saw the serious, pleading look in his. “Pyscho Bill was Big John’s nephew. I think John knew that Bill was likely to snap and try to take us out, that’s why he put him in our team instead of Fingers.”
“What?!” I yanked my arm free from his grip, my anger flaring. “Wilko, I ain’t in the bloody mood for games!”
“I’m dead serious, mate,” Wilko insisted, and he certainly looked it.
“But…why would Big John want us all killed? It…don’t make sense,” I stammered. “Why let the job go ahead in the first place? If he wanted us all dead, he could’ve sent some heavies ’round to our gaffes and done us in individually.”
“I know, I know,” Wilko rasped, shaking his head. “It sounds daft, but think about it. It was bugging me from the start, why John insisted that we do it all old-school and not take any mobile phones and not to contact him until we were well away with the money. Usually he’d want to have ears on what’s goin’ on, and be able to bark out orders when needed. But this time he said he’d rather sit back and leave us to it.”
“Well, that’s cos he knew we’d be able to handle it!” I said, desperately. “Christ, he knows we’re all good for a simple job like this!”
“Maybe so, but he’d still’ve wanted to know what was happenin’ as it happened.” Wilko had set his jaw, a stubborn expression I had seen many times. “We both know that! I reckon that he stayed well away this time so it would look like our own doin’, nothin’ to lead it back to him. I also reckon he told Bill that he wanted us all dead, and that he’d have to wait until the job was well under way before he tried anything. That’s why he shot me and Miggs.”
“But that don’t make sense either!” I whined. I sounded pathetic, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t accept what Wilko was saying. “Why would Big John put his own nephew at risk? He must have known that Bill wouldn’t’ve had the brains to pull it off!”
“That’s what I’m thinkin’ too,” Wilko replied gravely. “An’ I reckon that Big John was bankin’ on Pyscho Bill getting’ taken out in the process. Look, the bloke’s an embarrassment to him, that’s why he never told anyone that they were related! Nah, he wanted Bill to go down too, and he’d deal with whoever survived some other way.” I was stunned into silence, a ton of ice settling heavily on my shoulders and melting slowly down my back.
“This is all getting a bit Reservoir Dogs to me,” I groaned, running both hands across my sweating face. “All that needs to happen now is for a copper to get tortured and you to end up as a bloody police mole! That’d just about top it all off!”
“Piss off!” Wilko snapped, immediately grunting in pain. “This ain’t a poxy movie and this ain’t a bloody joke. That arsehole has got me killed today, and you and Tiptoes will probably get banged up for your trouble! You’ll get done for murder as well as armed robbery, even if it was self-defence, and that’s if you’re lucky an’ all! What happened to Tiptoes, anyway? I didn’t see much after I took one in the derby.”
“He took off in the other car,” I said slowly, massaging my temples. “Just after I shot Bill in the chest. He looked like a ghost had turned up and booted him in the arse. He had all the cash, too.”
“Well, halle-bleedin’-lujah!” Wilko sang angrily. “At least one of us did alright out of this mess!”
“Tiptoes ain’t stupid,” I said, rounding on him. “He’ll have made straight for Big John to let him know what’s happened. It’s all gone pear-shaped so far, but it’ll be a lot bloody worse if that cash doesn’t get to the boss! Cos I don’t think you’re right about this so-called ‘set-up’ anyway. Once Big John learns what’s gone on, he’ll sort us out. You’ll see.”
“I hope you’re right, son,” Wilko sounded doubtful. “’Cos if you’re not and I am, Tiptoes is dead as soon as he gets to Big John.” We drifted into uneasy silence once again, a chill wind sending a shiver up my spine as I tried to think clearly. Maybe this was the universe playing a big cosmic joke on me and my partners: the old ‘crime doesn’t pay’ rubbish. Or maybe it was ‘no honour among thieves’. Har-dee-bloody-har.
“What I said is worth considerin’, is all,” Wilko said matter-of-factly. “It’s definitely the sort of thing a cold-hearted bastard like Big John could arrange. I don’t know why he’d want us all taken out, but I ‘spose it ain’t that important right now. You should think about what I’ve said and plan your next moves very bloody carefully, mate.”
“Why did we even take this job, Wilko?” I asked softly. I didn’t want to hear any more about Wilko’s conspiracy theory, it was making my brain hurt. “I mean, neither of us are hard-up for a bit of cash these days, the other jobs saw to that. We could’ve just sat on our laurels, bone-idle and comfortable for the rest of our lives. Why did we come back? What was so special about this job?”
“Weren’t the job, mate,” Wilko replied, pausing to spit blood again. “It’s ‘cos we can’t sit bone-idle, not forever. We’re too bloody greedy for a start, and we love the thrill of a big job like this one. That’s what it all comes down to. I’ve been on the wrong side of the law for thirty-odd years, and no job has ever made me want to change that for long. So I blow some of my ill-earned dosh on drugs, booze and women and then wait by the phone, hopin’ that Big John will call me again. I ‘spect that you’re the same.”
“Yeah, I suppose I am,” I said, thoughtfully. He was right, about the thrill of a job and also about being greedy. ‘Once a thief, always a thief’, as my old man used to say. How bloody true.
“Figured as much,” Wilko wheezed, closing his eyes. “Screw it, I’m done for. I knew that son of a bitch would kill me today, I bloody knew it.”
I didn’t have anything else to add, so I sat down on the damp ground next to my dying friend. I put my arm around his shoulders and waited. Time passed slowly, and my minuscule hope flickered and faded along with Wilko’s vital signs. Finally, my old pal let out a long, rattling breath and left me alone. I had no bloody idea what to do next.