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The Great Bank Robbery…

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There’s an old saying, ‘We all make mistakes,’ and of course, we all do: big ones, little ones, silly ones, and often, stupid ones. And once and a while, someone makes one that is as ‘big and stupid ‘as they come…

The plans were all laid. Big Ron had a gotten together quite a crew for this one: There was little Mickey ‘Wheels’ Tanner, the best getaway driver short of Sterling moss. Jack Dawkins, the explosives expert, electrics and alarms man, Peter Hills. And last but not least, that well known hard-man, Hatchet Harry, had been brought in to add a bit of muscle; any problems with wannabe heroes, and Hatchet Harry was more than willing to shove a sawn-off shotgun down their throat – and pull the trigger too if they thought he was bluffing.

Rumour had it that this was a rather exclusive bank, very discreet, catering to the stars, politicians, the super-rich, and even senior members of the Royal family. Located in the heart of London’s exclusive Mayfair, it was an old Victorian building, with little to indicate what is was other that a shiny brass plate, saying simply, The Bank.

Big Ron had high hopes for this one. With that sort of clientele there had to be serious money to be had, not to mention jewellery, bonds, and god knows what sort of secrets the rich and powerful preferred kept secret…

“So, we’re all clear then, we go through the adjacent wall. Pete here has already traced the in-wall alarm wires so there’s no probs there.” Big Ron said.

“And I’ll be waiting right outside with the motor running.” Peter Hills assured them.

“Yer’ bloody well better be!” Added Hatchet Harry.

“I still don’t get why there ain’t more security though, I mean like, if there’s really as much as yer’ reckon there is?” Hatchet Harry said. He might have been the hired muscle but he was far from the stupid oaf many thought him to be…

“It’s as I explained,” Big Ron began, “‘it’s because of who the customers are. They don’t want people, you know, the public and the Press and stuff knowing their business. And a load of armed guards and security cams and stuff would attract too much attention.”

Hatchet Harry nodded, still not fully convinced, but sufficiently tempted by Big Ron’s promises of untold money to put aside his doubts.

“Right then, let’s do it.

It had been a well-planned job, right down to the last detail. Big Ron had leased the adjacent basement office for the past six months, at no inconsiderable expense. Every penny he had, had been invested in this one last caper. And things were progressing nicely…

“That’s it, we’re in,” declared Jack, the explosives man, “an’ you’re sure we haven’t tripped any of them alarm wires, Pete?”

“No chance.” Pete Replied.

“Stop yakking and let’s get in and out, pronto!” Said Big Ron, following the two of them through the hole in the wall, closely followed by Hatchet Harry.

“Who the hell…” A voice boomed at them, “Where… How did you get in here..?” Hatchet Harry was the first to respond…

“Down on the floor. Now!”

The night security guard did as he was told; when Hatchet Harry told you to do something, you did it.

“Right, Pete, start on opening those deposit boxes,” Big Ron bellowed.

“Wh… What is it you want here?” The security guard stuttered, turning his head to look up at them all.

“Are you serious? We want what’s in all those cash filled deposit boxes.” Hatchet Harry replied.

Despite the obvious danger he was in, the security guard couldn’t help but let out a muffled laugh: “That’s what this is about, money?” And again he laughed.

“First one’s open,” Peter Hills declared.

“And?” Asked one of the others.

“Erm, I’m not sure… Just some test tubes and, erm, petri dishes I think they’re called.”

The others looked around at each other in disbelief, and then to the security guard:

“There’s no money in any those boxes.” He said

“No money!” Growled Hatchet Harry, not at the security guard, but at Big Ron.

“What do you mean, no money?” He said again, turning back to the security guard who was still lying prone on the ground…

“This isn’t that sort of bank, it’s a blood and tissue bank, you know, genetic material, stem-cells, stuff like that, to help the rich and famous to stay young and healthy when they start to get old and sick. They’re the only ones who can afford all this.”

Hatchet Harry turned again at Big Ron, shot-gun in hand…

“It’s not my fault, how was I to know that?” Big Ron pleaded.

It didn’t matter; Hatchet Harry raised the gun a little higher and fired a shot straight in Big Ron’s head…

********************

“Pretty bad mess we got here.” The detective in charge was saying.

“Yeah. Who’d have thought Big Ron would end up making a deposit in the very bank he was trying to rob?” His colleague added, looking across at the mass of brain tissue and scull fragments splattered across the front of the tissue deposit boxes of the vault…

Sweet Old Lady…

Preface:

When we think of murder and those who commit it, it’s common to think of a man, someone brutal and evil looking, calculating and without remorse, or sometimes someone consumed by jealousy or thoughts of revenge or greed perhaps. On those rare occasions when the murderer is a woman, again we conjure up an image of someone hard and evil looking, like those now infamous pictures of the likes of the British child murderer, Myra Hindley, or the American serial killer, Aileen Wuornos. The truth is, there is no look or image for a murder, they look just like you and me, and everyone else…

 

Sweet Old Lady…

Elspith Eliza Harrington and her husband had moved to the quaint little village not long after the advent of the internet. With so many different sources of entertainment available, work for an aging actress of the stage had become harder and harder to come by, and Elspith was not one to take second-rate roles in the smaller theatres…

Life in the village was pleasant. Elspith and Mr Harrington had settled in well, especially that nice Mr Harrington, who had been born and raised not more than a few miles away. The villagers were so proud that a local lad had made a name for himself; he had enthralled the locals with tales of the theatre, and best of all had brought fresh life to the local ‘amateur dramatics’ group.

She was by far the more famous of the two, but Elspith was a Londoner, it might take longer for her to gain their acceptance, or so Elspith thought and hoped.To the villagers they were just a normal couple. In private, things were very different…

Elspith had been an actress in her younger years; it’s what had attracted Mr Harrington to her in the first place. He was the casting director at the Strand Theatre, and she became his latest, and as time would show, greatest discovery. She wasn’t his only discovery though; he auditioned many chorus girls, always willing to provide a helping hand to the careers of the many young girls dreaming of theatrical stardom, and his wandering hands and roving eye were always more than willing. For Elspith though, time had made her his prisoner, his cash cow, and his possession. Many of her friends and admirers had urged her to leave the old bastard. One particular admirer, Charlie, a charming but brutal East London gangster, had even offered to have Mr Harrington entombed in the foundations of his new house. Years later she regretted not taking him up on his offer, especially when Mr Harrington’s extra-marital affairs gradually became common knowledge throughout the business; Eliza didn’t like that; he would have to go when the opportunity arose. That took much longer than Elspith would have liked, thirty years longer in fact….

********************

“I wish you’d let me drive the car as well, it would make life so much easier for me.” Elspith said.

“I’ve said no. Everywhere in the village is within walking distance for you.” Mr Harrington replied.

“I know that, but I just mean so that I can go a bit further, see some of the countryside, it seems a shame to be surrounded by so much beauty and not be able to see more of it.”

“You haven’t driven in years; it would cost too much to add you on the insurance.”

“And whose fault is that if you never let me drive in the first place? As for the insurance, it is my money we’re living off after all.”

Mr Harrington didn’t reply. He just looked at her. Elspith could sense his resentment, and immediately regretted saying anything. It wasn’t that she was sad at having maybe hurt his feelings, he didn’t have any, but she knew he would be even more unbearable now for the next few days, deliberately making her life even more of a misery in a multitude of different ways.

Elspith missed her old life. Her days of stardom were long behind her, but it would have been nice to lend her experience to the local amateur dramatics group like her husband, but Mr Harrington would have none of it. She knew the locals would have liked her to participate more, and resented her for not doing so, thinking she believed herself to be ‘far too grand’ for them, a belief she knew her husband encouraged on the quiet.

As time passed the locals treated her with more and more indifference, while affording Mr Harrington the adulation he never had in the theatre; it was his revenge, she thought, for remaining in the shadow of her public success for all their years in the theatre together.

Over the years the villager’s indifference gradually turned to thinly disguised scorn. If Elspith and Mr Harrington were visiting one of the village shops, he would be greeted with a friendly smile and social chit chat, she with little more than begrudging nods. He was invited to numerous social gatherings, often related to his involvement with the ‘am-dram’ group; she remained at home, left to her own devices. It was during those times Elspith thought about and plotted an end to her situation, waiting for just the right opportunity to put her plans into action…

*************************

It was that time of year again, the summer charity fete. Mr Harrington was rehearsing another of his awful period dramas. Against her husband’s wishes, Elspith had volunteered to run one of the food stalls. Such generosity with her time and effort had not been warmly accepted, but anything that reduced the workload of the village fete committee was never refused, no matter how unpopular the source of the offer.They had a committee for just about anything – jam making, the church roof, even what colour the bus-stop benches should be. Elspith had learned to despise the small and narrow-minded extent of village life.

Mr Harrington did nothing to support her, choosing instead to belittle her efforts at every opportunity…

“I don’t see why you’re doing this. It’s just a village charity fete, not one of your grand star studded fund-raising events, can’t you just do as I ask for once and not try and hog the limelight?”

“I’ve always done as you asked, or more like what you’ve told me to do. I’m bored not having anything to do – you won’t let me play a part in any of the amateur dramatics, you won’t let me drive, I’m practically your servant and prisoner. Why are you so against me taking an active role in village life?”

“Because you’re not one of us, you’re just a chorus girl who got lucky, and that was thanks to me. Why can’t you be grateful for the life you have and not try to be the centre of attention? This is a village, not the starring role in a west-end production.”

Elspith already knew that’s how he thought of her. Despite it being her money that had bought them their lovely house and provided the income for their comfortable life, he regarded her success as his own and therefore the money too. And why shouldn’t he, he often thought, he had given Elspith her first big break in the business – her hard work and talent were incidental…

With Mr Harrington out of the way at rehearsals, Elspith was busy with her baking: fancy tea cakes, sausage rolls, savories, chocolate cookies, all manner of delicacies to tempt the appetite. She was a bit behind, having had to wait for various ingredients that were hard to come by – her old friend Charlie had been most helpful in that department. He’d long since retired from his ‘other activities’ so was glad to be of help, ‘just like old times’ he’d remarked when she made the unusual request.

All those days spent alone while Mr Harrington had been at rehearsals, out with friends, and socialising had given her all the time she needed. She now knew more about the countryside and all it had to offer than most of the locals; she was amazed at how many of the local plants, fruits, berries, and the such like were actually quite dangerous. She also knew as much about the villagers: Mrs Collins for example, the chairwoman of the local ‘am-dram’ group, had a severe allergy to nuts, while that equally obnoxious sister of hers had an intolerance for penicillin. Daisy Morgan, the church organist, was diabetic, while Jack Miles, the postman, had a heart condition for which he took a blood thinner to help his circulation.

The selection of culinary delights Elspith had produced was impressive. Even Mr Harrington had to begrudgingly concede she had done well before leaving for his early morning walk. How smug he would have been had he known the truth, that Elspith had secretly gotten her old friend Charlie to deliver in food from Royal food suppliers, Fortnum and Mason.

Elspith allowed herself a rare moment of reflection of how good life might have been in the village. The doorbell interrupted her thoughts…

“Oh, hello Charlie, I’m so pleased you could make it.”

“Eliza my darling, anything for you babes.” Elspith laughed out loud; only Charlie ever called her by her middle name or ‘babes.’ She knew she was far too old now for such endearments as the latter but she appreciated the flattery.

“I know, but thank you anyway.” She replied, smiling, and gave him a theatrical kiss on both cheeks.

“So Eliza, are you sure about all this?”

“After thirty years, never more so.”

“That’s my girl. I’ll be off then before he gets back, but I’ll be hovering around in the background to keep an eye on things.”

*************************

The fete was going well. The locals and a fair number of visitors had turned out in force. Elspith stood in dutiful attendance at her food stall, one of several but by far the most popular – it was difficult for the others to compete with the professional products of the Royal food suppliers:

“Really, Elspith, these look delicious,” said Mrs Collins, looking over the pastries in the middle of Elspith’s display.

“Thank you Mrs Collins, one does one’s best…”

“Oh please, call me Margaret; you’ve obviously worked so hard.” Elspith forced a weak smile in acknowledgement.

If only Mrs Collins had known just how true that was, about how much work had really gone into her efforts; not just the baking and cooking, but the planning and the preparation, thirty years’ worth, and it wasn’t simply to earn Elspith the accolade of calling Mrs Collins by her first name.

“I’ll take one, please, no need to wrap it.”

“My pleasure… And please, I’ve got a couple more already wrapped for you later, my little thank you for all your theatrical efforts with my husband.” It was Mrs Collins’ turn to force a smile, not quite sure of Elspith’s meaning…

“Yes, you’ll enjoy these, they’re a particular favourite of mine too,” Elspith assured her next customer, Daisy Morgan, “and I think I may have made too many of the sugar free butter candies so if you stop by towards the day’s end I’m sure they’ll be plenty left if you want some to take home?”

“That really is most kind of you. I have to be so careful with my diet.”

“Yes I know, but I had so many friends in the theatre, particularly the dancers, who had to maintain their figures for their work that I learned of all sorts of ingenious delicacies they came up with. I can give you the recipe for them if you would like?”

“I’d like that very much. We must be sure of seeing more of each other from now on.”

“Yes. And I’d like that very much, bye for now.”

“These honey filled scones taste great Mrs Harrington, I’ll take four.” It was no wonder Jack Miles had a heart problem and struggled to get the post delivered on time. Elspith knew he wouldn’t share a single one of them with his wife.

“Four it is Mr Miles. And here’s an extra two, free of charge for when you get home.”

“Hmmm,” said Jack, “I’ll enjoy them later. I can’t remember the last time I tasted honey this thick and succulent. How did you make it like this?” Elspith looked at him with her sweetest smile. It was best all round that she didn’t answer that question, at least not truthfully…

“So, how’s it going Eliza? Selling lots?” Asked Charlie.

“I should say, but I think that’s more to do with the quality of the Fortnum and Mason suppliers than my selling skills. This lot are getting the very best the world’s chefs have to offer for less than the price the local bakers would charge.”

“Hmm,” Charlie muttered, and then adding, “well just you be careful you don’t get them mixed up. You said yourself some of the villagers were alright to you.”

“No need to worry. I’m not one of the Borgias, you know. I’ve been most careful.”

“And you’ve sold to everyone you wanted to then?”

“Yes, to every one of them, it couldn’t have gone better if I had planned every last detail.”

“But you did,” Charlie laughed.

“Ha! So I did!” Snapped back Elspith with a huge mischievous grin…

It had been a busy but enjoyable day. Elspith’s catering efforts had gone down a treat. For the first time in years, the villagers had been really nice to Elspith. But it was all too little and too late…

Later that night, Margaret Collins went into anaphylactic shock, the result of something she ate, though exactly what couldn’t be identified.

Two days later both Daisy Morgan and Elizabeth Collins died in strange circumstances: Daisy from an extreme diabetic attack brought on by elevated blood-sugar levels and Elizabeth from some sort of penicillin induced heart attack.

A food source was suspected in both cases, but like with Margaret Collins, what particular food or where from was a mystery.

The mystery deepened further when the following day, Jack Miles died from a sudden and massive heart attack. Traces off an anti-clotting agent were later found in the autopsy, the very last thing you would expect to find in someone taking a blood thinning agent for clogged arteries.

And who could have foretold of Mr Harrington’s suicide? No one had suspected anything going on between him and Margaret Collins. He must have loved Margaret very much to be so distraught to kill himself when he heard of her death…

Poor Elspith, people thought. The village had finally warmed to her…

 *************************

“Not guilty!” The verdict of the month long trial was greeted by cheers and knowing nods of approval from the public gallery. The friends and admirers of the defendant had left little room for the usual assortment of morbidly curious onlookers.

Elspith Eliza Harrington allowed herself a wry smile as she listened to the Judge telling her she was free to go. She made a pretence of trying to adjust her hearing aid, forcing the judge to repeat himself. There was nothing wrong with her hearing but it amused her to do so…

The verdict had never really been in doubt; the evidence was flimsy and circumstantial at best. And even if it had been stronger, without absolute proof or a full confession, who would have believed that the frail looking sweet old lady standing in the dock could really have been responsible for multiple deaths in a quiet country village?

A court usher assisted Elspith descend the three short steps from the dock, not that she needed any help; truth be known, she was fit as a fiddle and with a razor sharp mind to match, but the frail, slightly confused persona had served her well so why abandon it just yet?

Only two people in the court weren’t fully taken in by Elspith’s performance: Judge Billingsgate, who had frequently indicated his disbelief by way of repeated interruptions of the defence; prolonged fiddling with his silver rimmed glasses as he pulled them midway down his nose to peer over betrayed his scepticism as surely as standing up and calling her a liar. And then there was Inspector Musgrove, the officer in charge of the investigations that had brought them all to this point…

It was sheer bad luck for Elspith that Inspector Henry Musgrove had been at the village fete that day otherwise the whole affair might never have come to court. What clinched his suspicions was seeing Charlie at the fete too. You see, Henry Musgrove hadn’t always been a country copper. Twenty years previously he’d led the task-force assigned to gathering the proof to convict Charlie Hawton – unsuccessfully.

There was nothing to connect Charlie with the unexplained deaths but it was obvious he knew, and was fond of Elspith Eliza Harrington.

In his mind, wherever Charlie was there was a crime waiting to be solved- if he couldn’t prove Charlie was responsible it would have to be the dotty old woman instead. He simply hadn’t counted on the ‘dotty old woman’s’ theatrical skills – the jury never stood a chance…

Charlie gave the inspector a cheeky wink from the gallery before proceeding to greet his ‘now’ fiancée, his beloved Eliza.

Accepting Charlie’s marriage proposal was a small price to pay for the opportunity of one last great performance…

Lottery Loser…

Preface:

 Murder, the deliberate taking of another human life, is quite possibly the most heinous of crimes a human being can commit. There can never be a real justification for it, can there? But are there cases where it might be understood, identified, and even sympathized with? You decide…

 

Lottery Loser…

How quickly life can change. Peter Miller had a beautiful wife and two adorable kids. What he didn’t have was a job, money to pay the bills, and hope for the future. Like everyone else on the run-down estate where they lived, he dreamed of how things might be: fancy holidays, a new car, and a better life for his family. All that stood in his way were six little numbers, the right numbers on the right ticket. It was the same dream fifteen million other lottery ticket buyers had. Dreams just didn’t come true for families like the Millers…

“For god’s sake Pete,” screamed Jill, his wife,”there’s barely enough electric left on the meter to get us through the week, we’re out of milk, behind with the rent, and you’re still wasting money on bloody lottery tickets!”

Peter turned away, knowing she was right, too ashamed to meet her angry tear-filled eyes. Neither of them had the energy to pursue the arguement further.

Peter Miller continued to dream. He needed his dreams to cope with going through the motions of applying for jobs he wouldn’t get. Each new morning brought the usual letters of rejection from those who had bothered to reply. The bin was full of such letters. The bills and final demands couldn’t be disposed of so easily; they were put in a draw.

Saturday night came round. Peter Miller would have liked to drop the kids off at their gran’s and take his wife out for a night out. But where to? With no money, no car, not even bus fare? Another night in front of the TV then. Peter Miller slumped into an armchair, mentally preparing himself for the inevitable disappointment of the lottery results. Jill no longer had enough fight in her to be remotely interested; the cost of their lottery ticket would have bought them two pints of milk.

Peter switched TV channels to hear the results. They never saw the other channel appear. Without warning, the the TV and the lights went dark and quiet.

“Well, that’s just soddin’ great!” Jill said.”

“I’ll go and operate the emergency supply,” he replied, lifting himself up. Like most of the other residents on the estate, their electric supply was a ‘pay as you go’ meter. You paid in advance for the electric you used. And when it was used up, the lights went out. The only safeguard was the emergency supply button; five pounds of emergency credit to allow the customer to restore their electric supply until the customer could get to a local shop to buy more credit for the key that updated the meter balance. Two minutes later the lights came back on, and the TV sprang back to life. They had missed the lottery results. It seemed unimportant. What was important was that it was another week away before they got the next unemployment cheque – the measly five pounds emergency credit wouldn’t stretch another week…

The days passed. Life continued for the Millers. With a little economy they might just make the electric last til the end of the week; more blankets instead of central heating, strict rationing of the house lights, and the kids would have to forego using their X boxes for the rest of the week – they would cope, somehow. The Millers were used to coping, to making do..

The Wednesday edition of the Hackney Gazette dropped through the letterbox, the local freebie paper. It made a change from the bills and job rejection letter. It was filled with local news and an ever decreasing number of job adverts. The news was mostly bad, and the jobs beyond his qualifications and skills. It did feature the lottery results as well though…

“This can’t be fucking right? – Jill!” It was Peter’s turn to scream her name. Jill assumed it was another bill, and continued her washing up.

“Jill! He screamed again, “Jill, for fucks sake, leave that and get in here will you.” This time she took notice. It wasn’t like him to swear like that, not at her.

“What is it, what’s wrong?” there was worry and concern in here voice.

“Wrong? Nothing, at least I don’t think so – here, take a look…” He replied, thrusting the local paper into her hands, “look at the numbers, they’re our numbers, the ones we do every week.. We’ve fucking won!!!” She took the paper., not really taking in what he was saying. The winning lottery numbers certainly looked familiar, but it had been so long since she had been the one to buy the tickets that she couldn’t be sure, still not believing it…

“I’m telling you Jill, those are our numbers!” He didn’t bother to wait for her reaction before racing upstairs to retrieve the lottery ticket. Jill raced after him, paper still in hand. They stared at the numbers screaming out at them from the now crumpled page of the Gazette and compared them to those on the ticket. They were the same! They turned to look at one another, their eyes met. This time the tears were joyful. No words needed saying at that moment – the empty fridge, the electric running out, their damp cold flat – none of it mattered now, they were going to be rich…

The morning’s weather was as cold and wet as it could be, but for the Millers it was the brightest they’d ever known. They’d been too excited the previous night to actually ring the lottery company to claim their winnings. With shaking hands Peter Miller dialed the contact number to verify their ticket.

“Hello, is that the claims line?” He asked, his voice shaking in sync with his hands.

“Yes, this is the Camelot claims line, can I help you?”

“Yes, I think we may have won this week’s jackpot, we’ve checked the numbers and everything.”

“That’s good. If you could just read the numbers on the ticket for me then please?”

“Sure: seven, eleven, twenty four, thirty two, thirty nine, sixteen, and bonus ball is eight”

“Yes, those are the correct numbers. Now, could you just read the ticket verification code in the bottom left-hand corner.”

“Two, one, four, nine, six.”

“Thank you, if you could just hold on a moment please… Just having a bit of trouble getting the verification, nothing to worry about, the system’s a bit slow at the moment.”

“That’s okay, I can hold…”

“Errm, can I take your details please? The system’s down at the moment so we’ll need to get back to you later today, or if that’s not possible could I you call back later?”

Peter Miller gave the claims assistant his name and number and agreed that they would speak again later to confirm his claim just as soon as the ‘system’ was up and running again…

“They said we’ve got the correct numbers, but their verification machine is down at the moment so we need to call back later for final confirmation, or something like that. Other than that, everything’s okay.”

“Oh that’s so great, I’m so sorry for snapping at you, oh god, I’m so happy!”

“Me too, love. Now let’s start planning…”

Over the next couple of hours, the two of them made all the sorts of plans you would expect of a money-strapped young couple who had just won the lottery: what sort of house and car they would buy, where they would move to, a world cruise, who they were going to help, everything they could dream of. Life was going to be so great for them from now on.

Three hours later…

“Hello, is that Peter Miller?”

“Yes, that’s right”

“This is John Salford, from Camelot. You spoke to one of my colleagues earlier in respect of a claim. I’m afraid there’s a problem…”

“A problem? I don’t understand, I mean, the numbers are right, I’ve checked and re-checked them a dozen times..”

“Yes they are, but the ticket verification code you provided, it’s invalid. According to our records it’s registered to a ticket issuing machine that was stolen from a retail outlet three years ago… Sorry, are you still there Mr Miller?”

Peter Miller was having trouble following what was being said, he just wasn’t taking it in. He’d bought a ticket from his local newsagents, how could it not be valid? The man in the shop had even paid him for previous little wins, the odd tenner or so, it just wasn’t making sense to him…

“I’m afraid I’m going to need details of exactly when and where you bought your ticket so we can pass this matter onto the police and our fraudulent claims department Mr Miller.”

“What? You think I’m making a false claim, I bought the fucking ticket in a shop for God-sake, this is all bollox..”

“Yes, I understand. No one’s accusing you of making a false claim, but we believe a wider fraud may have been committed in which you are a victim Mr Miller.”

*************************

Arnold Simms, proprietor of the Dalston Road HappyShopper newsagents and tobacconist, was charged with multiple counts of defrauding the Camelot Lottery company. Over a three year period he had pocketed over thirty thousand pounds from the sale of invalid lottery tickets by way of a stolen lottery ticket machine. To perpetuate the fraud, he had paid out numerous small wins to maintain the illusion of selling valid tickets, working on the assumption that the odds of a customer having a really big win were too long to worry about. He intended to plead not guilty on the grounds on that he had bought the said stolen machine in good faith. Due to his previous good character he was granted bail and allowed to continue trading. He was never brought to trial…

 *************************

Peter Miller was originally charged with the murder of Arnold Simms, having walked into the HappyShopper newsagents in broad daylight and shot him twice through the chest. When the police arrived, Peter Miller was sitting on the floor of the shop with the gun lying beside him, muttering and crying. At his trial the jury refused to convict him of murder, opting instead for the alternative of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He was released after serving three years of a five year sentence…

 *************************

Was it murder? Should he have been released so soon? Put yourself in Peter Miller’s position. How would you have reacted to having all your hopes and dreams come true, only for them to be destroyed in a single moment? What might you have done?

Cold Callers…

Preface:

 It’s funny, the little things that provide the inspiration for a story. In the following story, the seed of the idea started with a TV commercial featuring a woman in the kitchen receiving a phone call from a loft insulation salesman. She puts him on hold while she goes off to make a cup of coffee. It got me thinking of all the different ways to deal with cold callers…

 

 Cold Callers…

Time – 08:00: Here I am, Sunday morning, sitting at my keyboard, working on my blog. It’s another short story, not so much a whodunit as a whytheydunit.

The TV’s off, I’ve put my mobile on silent, logged off from Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media, and locked the wife and kids in the cellar – well, not really, I made that last bit up, but you take my point.

I’m lost in my own little world, the only external contact being my fingers tapping away at the keyboard. The words are flowing, bringing the page alive before my very eyes, I couldn’t be happier… The last time I had a flow like this was a burst water pipe.

Disaster… The landline is ringing. I think for a moment to ignore it. Only my family and close friends know my home number; it might be important. Reluctantly I emerge from my other world…

“Yeah, who’s this?” I ask, making little effort to hide my annoyance at the interruption. If it’s anyone I know I can make my apologies later. If not, I don’t care…

“Is that Mr Brown?” The twat didn’t even have the courtesy to answer my question.

Who is it that’s asking?” I ask, again…

 “Oh I’m sorry, did I not say?”

“No.”

“Ah, okay, I’m sorry…” He’s lying; he’s not a bit sorry, obviously a salesman of some sort.

“So you said. Now, who are you?”

“Yes of course, my name’s Colin, Colin Smithers.” Smarmy git, he’s trying to control the exchange, like a chess player trying to dominate the middle of the board. Well, I’m not playing…

“What do you want?” I already know what he wants, a sales commission. He won’t be getting one, not from me…

“I’m calling on behalf of Snuggly loft insulation, and…”

“I live in an igloo! I’m not interested.” I say, slamming the phone down. I take a deep breath, just like my therapist advised.

Time – 08:35: I’m back at my keyboard. I can’t help wondering, if I can’t even get some peace and quiet in my own home to write, how the hell did JK Rowling manage it in a cafe? I put the thought from my mind as I resume the sentence I was writing. Now what was it, oh yes I remember, the outline of a murder plot, my fingers returning to the keyboard once more..

Dingggg Dongggg… It’s the front doorbell going…

“What the fuck now?” I mutter under my breath, once again having to tear myself away from my beloved keyboard…

“Yes?” I ask, throwing the door wide open. Standing before me are a man and a woman, of African origin I would say, wearing bright coloured clothing and with equally bright beaming white teethed smiles that would grace the covers of Dentistry Monthly

“We’re from the Holy Hackney Church of the Apostles…”

“And I’m from the Battersea Boy’s Home for waifs and strays, what of it?”

The beaming smiles momentarily wither beneath their puzzled frowns. But only for a moment; they’re trained you know, to deal with stroppy unbelievers. The greater the challenge the greater the reward in heaven, they think. I’m about to throw doubt on their hypothesis…

“Would you be interested in any of our leaflets on the life eternal…?”

I’m glad it’s the man who’s asking. I’m not sexist or ‘owt, but I do find it so much easier being rude and abrupt to another man. It’s a failing, I know; I’m sure if I was a woman I’d feel comfortable with either.

“Not in the slightest!” I reply, about to close the door on this interruption.

“You’re not a believer then my friend?” Asks the female half of the double act.

I feel my blood pressure rising, I take another deep breath, just as I’ve been told. My therapist is going to have to devise a more effective coping mechanism for me; this one is beginning to fail…

“Oh but I am,” I reply, treating them both to a broad smirk, “a fully paid-up member of the Sun Worshiping Pagan Tree Hugging Society,  have you heard of us? No? …Thought not…”

It was amusing to see those ‘far too happy to be true’ smiles fall from their faces as they turned to walk away in sync with my closing the door on them. Another unwelcome interruption satisfyingly dispatched…

Time – 09:15: I’m back at my keyboard. A full stop concludes the sentence I was writing, and indeed the paragraph. It’s also the conclusion of my muse for the moment. My ‘flow’ has become a trickle, and no, that’s not a reference to a prostate problem so please forgive the unfortunate analogy.

The brief satisfaction of my dismissal of the God botherers has worn off. I’m still annoyed at them, blaming them for my loss of focus. I sit staring at the screen, the words on the page a blur, my fingers seemingly paralysed. Another hour passes and still the words don’t come. I fill the following hour with all manner of meaningless tasks: tea making, email checks, Facebook updates, anything to fill the void until the words return. Nothing seems to work, I’m becoming jittery, like an ex-smoker in those first few days of giving up. The deep breathing exercises have lost all effect. I resolve to make another appointment with my therapist. I really should take one of my pills, but I don’t want to blur my imagination even more…I take one anyway.

My morose mood is punctured by the sound of the landline ringing, my second call of the day…

“Hello, is this Mr Brown?” A voice asks. With my mind and fingers still not communicating, this time it’s a welcome intrusion.

“Yes it is. Who’s calling please?”

“My name’s John Hargreaves. I’m calling on behalf of Winter Warm Windows about an exclusive offer we have for your area, Mr Brown.”

“Sorry, what was that name again…Har…Grove… was it? Could you spell that please?”

“Spell it..?” I can hear the frustration in his voice.

“Yes, that’s right, just so I know who I’m talking to…” It’s only fair; he already knows who I am…

“Errm… Yes, right then… H – A – R – G – R – E – A -V – E – S.”

“Thank you for that. And the name of your company? Was that Winter Warm or Warm Winter?”

“The first one, Winter Warm, but as I was saying…” The resignation in his voice is becoming more evident, I wonder if he has high blood pressure too?

“And is that all one word or two, or hyphenated maybe?”

“Oh, erm, two words, without a hyphen… But, what I wanted to…”

“Thank you for that John…I can call you John can I?” I’m enjoying this. Before he can answer I continue:

“Tell me, John, what’s it like working for Winter Warm? Are they a good firm to work for, it’s just that I’m thinking of a career change  and  I quite like the idea of sitting around all day just talking to people…”

“It’s… a bit like that, but…” Again I cut him short…

“And the pay, would you say they pay well? It’s not one of those ‘commission only’ setups is it? I would insist on a decent basic salary as well, wouldn’t you agree…?”

Time to give him a moment to splutter some blurb about what it is he wants me to buy…

“Yes, the pay’s okay, and yes, there’s a basic salary, but what I was calling about was our special offer to customers in your area…”

“A special offer you say, how exciting.” I hope he recognises the distain in my voice.

“Are you offering to double glaze my entire house for free then?” If he says yes I might even start taking this conversation seriously…

“Not free exactly, but we are offering a fifty per cent discount to the first twenty customers who sign up for six new windows.”

“That sounds good,” I lie, “and the payment, can I pay in instalments, would there be a deposit to pay first?”

“Yes, definitely, you can pay in instalments, with just a ten per cent deposit to pay first.”

“And the deposit, can I pay that in instalments too?”

“Well, not really, we do require the ten per cent to paid before any commencement of work I’m afraid.”

“Oh,” I say, trying to sound disappointed.

“I’ll have to give it some thought then. Obviously before making any commitment I’ll need to take a few particulars about your company to verify its legitimacy, you don’t mind do you?”

“No, not at all,” he says, actually believing I’m genuinely interested now.

“First, could you give me the full postal code addresses of both your local and Head office premises, as well as that of any parent company, and of course their respective customer service and administration telephone numbers. I’ll also need your VAT and Company House registration numbers. I trust none of that will be a problem?”

“All the information you’ve asked for would be in the documentation we provide.”

He’s trying to maintain his composure and civility; sales calls are mostly recorded these days. I suspect this is being recorded too, for training and monitoring purposes, otherwise he would almost certainly have either put the phone down by now or bluntly asked if this was a piss-take.

“I appreciate that, but I would still require it beforehand, for my checks you see. And another thing I forgot to ask, is it a new company, and who the directors are? You hear so many horror stories of rogue companies carrying out bad work, closing down, and then opening up again under a slightly different name… Your company isn’t one of those is it?”

There’s an uneasy pause before he answers:

“No, we’re not one of those companies,” he reassures me…

“I’m sure you’re not, but you do see I had to ask don’t you? It’s just that while we’ve been talking I’ve been googling your company. According to their entries, your company was only formed six months ago, and it has… My gosh… Eighty-seven consumer complaints against it and an honorary mention on both the Cowboy Builders and Consumer Watchdog TV programs…”

I wait in gleeful anticipation for his reply… Oh dear, we seem to have been cut off, I conclude as the line goes dead. I’m so grateful for his call though, our little exchange has quite rejuvenated my creativity…

Time – 11:55: The words are flowing again, my mood lifted, and my blood pressure back down in the safe zone. Life is good again as I put together the final pieces of my literary jigsaw. The final dilemma was the method to be used for the actual murder committed by my principal character. I had been torn between a brutal bludgeoning or knife attack, and poisoning. The decision is clear to me now as the final scene comes alive on the page…

Dingggg Dongggg… The sound of the doorbell shatters the tranquillity, again…

 Deep breaths, in-out, in-out, fists clenching, blood pressure ready to explode again. I close my eyes in the hope that whoever it is will go away…

Dingggg Dongggg… Why now? Sunday is supposed to be a day of peace and quiet…

They’re still there. I feel an anxiety attack coming on. I’ve not the time to take a pill or ring my therapist. Defeated, I rise from my desk to answer yet another intrusive call…

“Yes!” It’s not a question this time. The man standing before me grins like a Cheshire cat. He’s younger than me, mid-thirties I estimate. His suit is slightly ill-fitting. He’s gone for the executive look, but on a limited budget, it’s more ‘dodgy second-hand car salesman.’

“Hello, I’m Colin, Colin Smithers; we spoke on the phone earlier this morning. I think I may have caught you at an inconvenient moment at the time.”

My jaw drops in disbelief. The arrogance of this prick. Was I not blunt enough with him on the phone?

“What is it you want?” I’m bloody pissed; this really is taking cold calling to a whole new level. I’ve had enough. Well, I think my response will also have to be taken to a whole new level too…

“I think we may have gotten off to a bad start on the telephone earlier, and as I was in the area on another appointment I thought I might call on you personally to let you know about our limited time exclusive offer we are able to offer on account of a budget underspend last month.”

“Yes, perhaps I was a bit hasty this morning. Please come in…”

Time – 13:45: I’m back at my keyboard. I’ve just about finished my story. The murder scene came out better than I could ever have imagined, a gory brutal decapitation for dramatic effect…

 ********************

It just after 2:20pm when the armed response unit arrived at the house. Mr Brown was sitting at his desk, typing, covered in blood, muttering away to himself, something about ignoring any more interruptions. He hadn’t even noticed when they came crashing through the door, armed to the teeth, screaming at him to drop to the floor. He just looked over his shoulder and calmly turned off his PC, and told them he was done now done and would be happy to oblige. It was the strangest call-out they’d ever had; the odd reports of a possible murder, the site of that severed head hanging from the external door knocker when they arrived and the makeshift sign saying ‘NO COLD CALLERS’.

 *******************

One year later… Time – 08:00: It’s great here. I’ve got access to lots of PCs, and even one in my room. I no longer have to work, not if I don’t want to, so I’ve got all the time in the world for my writing. The doctors tell me I’ll be here for the next twenty years at least, even longer with a bit of luck, though I’ll have to play up a bit if I want an indefinite stay.

Now, what was I writing, ah yes, a storyline for the murder of an annoying room-mate…

Nicholas C. Rossis

dream-protecting author

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