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When you live life in The Gutter, then a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.
A Conversational Robbery by Jason Beech
I felt bad for Mr. Patel that I'd chosen to rob him. He'd always been nice to me, always asked how my day had gone, and never failed to smile at the lies I offered at how my hours had drifted by. I checked my shoulder and pulled the balaclava over my face. Barged open the door. The bell rang dull, as if its little hammer had become meek at the sight of my gun. I charged into the shop and froze at the sight of some other fella behind the counter. A young man, with slicked-back hair that wouldn't move in a tornado, read the newspaper he had sprawled over the surface. An aviary fluttered in my stomach. I'd wanted the familiar in my robbery. I don't know why—maybe if they discovered my identity they'd forgive me.
I raised the gun at the man because I couldn't calculate quick enough to turn and get out of there. He wet a finger in readiness to turn the next page and made a casual glance up. His eyes danced in amusement at first, but soon turned all Japanese cartoon-eyed as his focus hit the gun aimed at his bonce.
“Tim, what the fuck are you doing?”
“Wha …? What?”
“Put the gun down, you tit, what are you thinking?”
“How? I mean … Empty the fucking till.”
“No. I'm not emptying the till.”
Of course, Mr. Patel’s son, Nik. We talked football just the other day. He said English football is about to crash and the big money would soon leave to new pastures, leaving English football barely a step above Scotland’s variety. So what did he know? My tunnel vision for his dad blinded me to him.
Someone shuffled behind the crisp section.
My nerves made me slam a shot in that direction and puff went a few bags of salt and vinegar. A woman screamed.
“Please don't kill me. Please … I have a son. He's an arse, but he's all I've got. I'm all he's got. Oh please don't kill me.”
“Whoa, whoa, Tim, you calm down.” Nik had his hands in surrender mode.
“My name’s not Tim.”
“Okay, Tim, okay, it's not. Just put the gun down and we'll say none of this happened. Alright, love?”
The woman’s voice wobbled across the air. “Yes, love. I won't say a thing. I promise.”
“Just give me the money, Nik, and I'll get out of here.”
“See, we know each other. We have a rapport. If you put the gun down, we can talk about a loan. How much do you need?”
“I'm not borrowing anything, Nik, not a penny. I'm taking it. All of it.”
“But, what's dad gonna say? He'll be proper pissed off. He works his arse off for all this—he won't take kindly to giving it all away to a man whose day’s work involved only the wave of a gun. Goes against his principles.”
“Tell him you lost it.”
The woman risked my attention. “Just give him the bloody money, Nik, and claim the insurance.”
Nik could have been the front man of a boy band with that smile and tone. He made me want to drop the gun and discuss loan terms over a cuppa tea. But I'm skint and my old job is never coming back. And my kid wants a birthday present. I mean, he's not demanded it, or even mentioned it. In fact he's been dead good about not asking for stuff since those bastards laid me off. But he's a kid, so I know he definitely wants a prezzie. The pressure of that want … kills me.
“Look at this.” Nik holds up the free paper. Page five. “Thief in garage robbery gets ten years. Imagine that, Tim.”
“I'm not Tim. Tim’s probably at work or something.”
Nik gets all forensic, scalpels my eyes for examination. I glance away, dead embarrassed. “Of course you're Tim. You have that little brown flaw in your pupil. I thought you had a tumour, but it felt wrong to bring it up. I mean, it's none of my business, is it?”
“No, it bloody well isn't.” I rubbed at my eye, self-conscious. I waved the gun again to make him shift his eyes from me. “Come on, how much have you got in the till?”
“Not enough to buy your lad a present.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, what is this?”
“The truth, Tim, nothing but—”
“What’s happening here?” I spun at the strong Indian accent. Mr Patel’s stern eye might have knocked me out, given time, but the woman behind the crisp shelf did him a favour with one fine throw of a can of beans I saw only at the point of contact with my temple.
My son would have to go without, this year.