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Bareknuckles Pulp No. 24: Manila Heisters

You're going to get on the plane to Asia, and get rich quick. Right.

Manila Heisters by Gerard Mulligan

The security guard actually held the door open as the two men wearing suits and carrying briefcases entered the premises. After the heat of the pavement outside the interior of the jewellers was a relief. It was Friday afternoon and Manila was busy. Short-sleeved office workers mingled with the vendors and beggar children who crowded the streets. Inside the premises, a handful of men and their mostly younger female companions browsed over the glass counters, stuffed with the glare of gold and diamonds which lined the walls of the room under the watch of the sales girls. The first suited man, Joss, moved into the shop and stopped in the middle of the room. He kept his head downwards reading an open page of a tourist guide, as if getting his bearing, meaning the shop cameras could not get a good view of his face. The second man, Sean, tripped coming over the entrance and dropped his briefcase as if by accident at the foot of the guard.

“Remember,” Joss had said the previous night as they had some beers in a bar down from their hotel each with a local girl sitting on their lap. “This shithole isn’t America. The cops here won’t read your Miranda Rights. They will just gun you down where you stand. So we go in, no messing around, get the shit and are gone. Understand?” Joss then snorted a laugh and bounced the girl up and down on his lap.

Sean had understood all right. As the security guard reached down to retrieve the briefcase, he pulled the silenced gun from under his jacket flap and pressed it into the man’s stomach before pulling back on the trigger. As the guard fell back with a shout, Sean pushed him so he fell forward onto the carpeted floor of the shop. He then kicked the door closed behind him with one foot and pulled a rubber ghoul mask from a side pocket and slipped it over his face. Joss, still waiting in the centre of the room, shoved the tourist guide into a pocket, pulled on a similar mask and held up a second gun. They crossed over to the glass stands, opened the briefcases, threw them onto the counter and pointed the guns at the sales girls.

“America is no good for us anymore,” Joss had said after a few more beers. “We’re old fashioned robbers in a land that hasn’t got anything that can be robbed anymore. There’s so much fucking security everywhere, it’s impossible to hit anywhere without ending up on some fucking FBI list five minutes later. Cops crawling over everything. What did dad used to say? We don’t live in a democracy anymore, we lived in a copocracy. But out here, it’s different. This is where we should be. We can get it all here. After this job, maybe we’ll have enough money to set up a bar, get a few nice girls, get married and bang out some kids. There are all types of places, jewellers, banks, just waiting for us to hit. This is the new frontier.”

One of the sale girls started crying and shaking her head. Joss reached across the glass and hit her with the butt of the gun. As she went down, the other girls flicked open the glass stands and began to fill the briefcases.

The two brothers had started working on the heist nearly a year ago, after their dad’s funeral, selecting targets, organizing travel preparations and arranging for their weapons to be sent over from an old trusted friend in Japan. No-one knew them here so they could easily hit some high-quality places with little or no security like the jewellers, ship the stuff to Japan and then get a plane out. Joss waited until both briefcases were full and waved his gun. The girls stepped away to against the far wall. Each man snapped a briefcase shut and walked backwards towards the door.

As they stepped over the guard, they pushed the guns back into their pockets and, once outside again, pulled their masks off and eased into crowd. They stayed by each other. Joss set the pace and Sean followed. Almost immediately, Sean started sweating. Although his heart was beating, he forced himself to slow down so they moved with the crowd. Just another pair of overdressed American businessmen in the Asian wonderland trying to grab their piece of the paradise. Sean kept his eyes straight ahead resisting the temptation to look back to see if they were being followed. He thought of the briefcase he was carrying. Probably worth more than most of the people around him would earn in their whole small lives. He forced himself to calm down.

After a few minutes walking, they turned off the street and climbed some steps up to a walkway which passed over one of the walled-in highways that cut through the tower blocks and slums of central Manila. The walkway forked off with one path leading to the roof-top car park of a mall. Entering the mall, they moved down through the building floor by floor getting lost in the confusion of shoppers and stores. Reaching the front entrance, they pushed through the people and walked quickly along the pavement to the American Grill Bar. They slipped off their jackets and began to undo their ties. Joss had chosen the bar as the stop-off after the heist to give them time to cool off, modify their clothing and make sure they were not being trailed from the jewellers. They nodded at the girl inside who showed them to a table at the far wall.

“Two Red Horse,” Joss said.

They waited until she was gone before smiling at each other and letting out a breath.

“Fuck,” Sean said.

“Told you, brother,” Joss said. “Easy.”

The girl returned and poured the beer into glasses.

“To dad,” Joss said, raising his glass.

“Dad,” Sean said. “He would be proud of us.”

“I am proud of you. You did a great job.”


Sean sat back and took in the mix of clientele as he drank. At this time of the day, the bar was filling up with both local and expats who were there to relax. The clientele was almost entirely male and under forty.

“Would you want to live here?” he asked. “Like them?”

“No.” Joss said. “The heat out here wouldn’t agree with me. It’s not like the heat back home. Too humid here.”

“They’re all here, working away, sending money home or something, I guess.”

“More likely screwing every local girl they can find.”

“But it’s funny, all these foreigners coming here to make money, it used to be the other way around. They were all trying to get into the States.”

“The world is changing,” Joss said draining the last drop from his glass. “These guys may be working for some damn boss in some office somewhere but they’re still thinking the same as us. This here is where it can all happen, this is the American dream on a new frontier.”

“Weird fucking place for the American dream.”

“Ok, that’s long enough,” Joss said. “We weren’t followed. Let’s get back to the hotel. We’ll have some more beers back there.”

Joss placed some peso notes under his glass and they headed for the exit. They went over to the edge of the pavement and even before Joss moved a hand, a taxi pulled up. Joss gave the name of the up-market hotel he had booked to go with their cover as businessmen. The taxi pulled away and brought them through the evening traffic to the city quarter which housed the more expensive hotels. They began chatting about the last game they had seen together as they entered the reception, walked past the desk and to the elevators. The elevator rose up through the hotel and they followed the corridor on their floor down to the room. Joss flipped the door card in and out of the handle lock and moved into the room. Sean followed along the short hall to the bedroom but then almost banged into Joss who had stopped.

“Fuck man,” Sean said, but then saw what had stopped his brother.

Three local men, all holding short stubs of wood stood in the room. Sean instantly turned to run but was hit hard in the face by a fourth man, who had been waiting in the off-hall bathroom to block their exit. As his nose burst open, Sean staggered backwards under the blow but remained standing. He swung the briefcase up but the other man stepped back avoiding the briefcase before then pacing forward again to bring his stub down onto Sean’s outstretched arm. He fell under the blow and landed knees first on the floor. A boot cracked into his head and his vision blurred under the pain. His attacker leaned over him and pulled him up. The gun was found and the briefcase torn from his hand before he was pushed into the bedroom onto the nearest bed. Joss was lying on the other bed. Blood poured from a cut in his forehead onto his shirt. The fourth man stood in front of the hotel television with the two briefcases now in hand.

“You stupid Americans,” he said in heavily accented English. “You think you come here to to our city, drink beer and mouth off in front of our girls and get away with your crime. This is our city, not yours. You need to learn that.”

He nodded towards Joss. The larger man by the bed pushed his hands against Joss’ chest holding him down. The man other pulled a thin blade from his boot. Sean tried to raise himself up off the bed but his attacker punched him in the stomach. He then forced Sean’s head sideways thrusting it into the mattress so he could see his brother. The knife man flicked the blade across the entire arc of Joss’s throat so his blood sprayed out across the bed. Joss gagged and spit as his life ended.

“Now,” the leader said turning to Sean. “We go, we take these cases, they belong to us. We leave you alive so you can go back home and tell all your friends not to come here. You tell them, this is not America. This is Manila.”

The men walked from the bedroom. Sean heard the door close. He took a few deep breathes and forced himself up. He swung his feet off the bed and almost fell forward onto Joss. Kneeing by the bed, his dead brother’s blood on his hands, he thought through the mess. He would need to act quickly, shower, and get out before any cops arrived. He would have to ring their friend in Japan and arrange a flight out tonight. He knew without looking that the Filipinos would have left enough cash and their passports. They were not after mere trinkets. They wanted him to get away. He looked down at Joss one last time and stroked his hand across his face before turning away to leave.

Gerard Mulligan is based in Dublin, Ireland. He is a Doctor of Archaeology and has published a number of academic articles, fiction stories and novels. The loves of his life are his family, writing and travelling.