Oliver struggled to keep pace with the others as they approached the target; the small off licence on the dimly lit street corner. He was sixteen years of age, although he looked a lot younger, an attribute he'd always felt gave him a distinct advantage in the business of theft. No one ever suspected a young, frail looking boy. It was just lately however that he had begun to have doubts about everything he had ever known.
His mother was herself a thief, and had been taken into custody just the night before for a crime she had committed. It had been a decisive moment for Oliver, concluding that what he did was not about 'survival', as his mother had always told him, but that it was wrong. He glanced up at Jake pacing ahead of him, and the other two lads he had brought along; it was true what they said about thieves being opportunists. Small things that Oliver noticed them doing now, like glancing in car windows as they passed, ready to grab anything of value, and the quick and silent pace they kept that hinted at the lives they lead.
Jake broke the silence.
'Right then.' The usual start to his briefing before a job. 'Ollie, I want you out on watch tonight. And concentrate, I know your mind can wander sometimes. Shaun, Mal, we're going in round the back, alright? Remember what I said about getting the shutters up …'
Their voices faded into the silence of the night as Oliver broke away from them and slowed to a stop on the shady street corner. He cast his eyes about and gave the area the 'once over'; Jake always had some lads carry out a sweep of the area sometime before a job, but Oliver had to make sure there were no cameras. Not only did he want to avoid being caught all the more after his mother's arrest, he was now questioning whether to stop stealing altogether. He thought back to his early childhood - his father had been a good man, a dentist, respected by others. Even he had left his mother when he had found out what she was - he had at first tried to persuade her to stop, but she was addicted to the high of crime. He had left them to avoid the shame of her habits becoming known. He could still picture him vividly now, the clothes he wore, his smell, and the brush of rough stubble on his face when he had kissed him goodbye.
Oliver resurfaced from his thoughts. He could hear hushed voices from inside the newsagents behind him. They must have had the shutters up already, no problem.
Wake up, he told himself. You're supposed to be on lookout here!
He rubbed his eyes and looked back up the street. He froze as he noticed two policemen on their beat no more than 100 yards away. Suddenly, Oliver found he couldn't move; he desperately wanted to run and warn the others, but he knew deep down that they were doing wrong.
There was no time; the two officers were walking fast, only strides away now, seconds from noticing his small silhouette in the shadows, and discovering the others. He made his decision.
He threw up his hood, spun on his heels, and darted away down a side street. He didn't look back.