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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic


Michael and Sam wanted to be like the great gangsters of the past. But like all great gangsters from history; Dillinger, Capone, the Krays, Gotti, they all had one thing in common, greed was their
downfall.

Submitted: November 28, 2017

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Submitted: November 28, 2017

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Page 6

 

I was twelve years old when I first stole food so I wouldn’t starve. I remember walking home, hating myself for becoming a thief. But at the same time, the thrill of not getting caught was fantastic. I took two cans of beans and a packaged cheese and coleslaw sandwich from my local corner shop, run by a man who had once joined our table for Christmas dinner. I was a different person back then; the world was a kinder place. It was me and my mum against the world. It was before I learned that everyone’s a friend until you ask them for something. Before I met Sam Marshall, meeting that boy changed my life forever.

‘Open the fucking safe! Open the fucking safe now you cunt!’ That’s Sam, the one with a shotgun made out of plastic. I’m pretty sure it was once used as a Halloween prop. He loves the theatrics, and he loves the word cunt more. Even as a kid nicking sweets, he’d swear at the shopkeeper as he left with a handful of starburst. But, it worked. An irate and visibly desperate twenty year old with a shotgun had a way of encouraging people. Appearances are everything; the taking of a shop is like a piece of theatre. You plan it, you rehearse it and you always have a plan in case things go tits up. If all goes smoothly, you leave an impression on your audience that they won’t forget for a long time. Sam is what you call a method actor. Me, the narrator of this story, I was looking for a way to survive and in doing so, I made a friend. We were the Jesse James Gang of Peckham.

Just when I was having a good time and really starting to feel it, my hips were swaying, I was embracing the atmosphere, giving the performance of a lifetime and then some stupid member of the audience decided to interrupt me. The Saturday girl decided to be a fucking hero. It’s my own fault, if I can give you any advice; when staking out a shop, look to see if they have an ‘employee of the month’ scheme. If they do, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Trust me, move on. You won’t feel good about having to smack the retainer out of a fifteen year old girl’s mouth, but it’s better than going to prison. We walked out with two grand in a backpack and she left with an important life lesson, when being robbed by a man with a gun, fucking comply. It’s not nice but that’s the reality.

We’d come a long way from when we first met, I was fourteen, sleeping rough and nicking my lunch out of a co-op in Clapham. I thought he was on the payroll when he followed me out the shop, but it turned out he’d clocked me taking my lunch and wanted my help grabbing the till drawer. It was the biggest thrill and score of my life, we got away with it. Four hundred pounds for five seconds work. From that moment on, we were partners. It made sense and it was nice having someone to watch my back. But as much as I liked and trusted Sam, he made me nervous. He was rarely satisfied; he took joy out of making people feel uncomfortable. Sam was liked by few and it was entirely his doing, but if you’d met his dad, you would be more understanding. It’s hard to be a lovely boy when you grow up with your dad putting cigarettes out on your arm and giving out the belt because of some minor infraction. Sam is a lot of things, but one thing that you couldn’t fault Sam on, was his loyalty.

Like all the great gangsters from history; Dillinger, Capone, the Krays, Gotti, they all had one thing in common, greed was their downfall. I’m sitting here now, sipping my pint whilst Sam goes on about some big job that he wants us to do and all I can think about is stabbing him in the throat. Just end it here and now, before it’s too late. Six years ago I would have never punched a girl in the mouth. And you know what, it was fucking haunting me. I stole out of necessity, Sam enjoyed it. I punched that girl, if his shotgun was real, t would have ended differently.

‘We’re gonna need to buy some proper guns for this one though…’

What the fuck did he just say?

‘Michael, are you even listening to me?’ Asked a clearly irked Sam as he looked his best friend in the eyes. ‘What do we need real ones for? The replicas work, our act works. We go in fast, we scare them, they don’t even clock on.’ After making sure that the table next to us couldn’t hear, Sam fought his case.

‘Is that what you want? Till grabbing and knocking over corner shops for a few hundred quid or a couple of grand if we can get them to open the safe? Not being able to leave the flat in case the law are looking for us? I’m not asking you rob a bank with me, it’s a few smack dealers who have a fucking treasure chest in their flat. I heard about them through talk, they’ve recently sold a shit ton of gear and they’re waiting for the money to be collected.’

‘Smack dealers? Yeah you’re right Sam, it’s no big deal, it’s only fucking heroin. Are you outta your mind? You want to rob dealers? That’s how you end up in a warehouse with nails in your bollocks and acid on your feet. I’ll do more shops with you, a bar if we get desperate, maybe a bookies if we can put together a solid plan on it.’

‘Stop being a cunt, I’m not asking you to shoot anyone, but I can’t do it on my own and I only trust you to watch my back. I know that you won’t fuck off if things turn sour. After we pull this off, we’re talking fifty grand. We’ll take off up north and start again somewhere else. Do some smaller jobs, take less risks and if we catch heat, we’ll keep moving. Now, are you in?’

I wish I could say that’s when our partnership ended, we wanted different things and we wished each other luck on our future endeavours. But in my gut I knew that it would go wrong, we weren’t ready for it. We weren’t qualified, we were amateurs doing community theatre and suddenly auditioning for the biggest blockbuster of the year. I didn’t wanna end up like Dillinger with a bullet in the back of my head. He wasn’t thinking, we were going off script. Precautions weren’t being taken. For the first time, there was no backup plan and that scared me, for the first time, he’d come out of character, he was desperate.

I laid awake for hours that night, thinking about the morning my mum left. I remember walking downstairs in my pyjamas, there was hundred quid on the table and she’d scribbled down on the back of an envelope that she was sorry. There was no warning, we hadn’t argued, we’d watched a film and eaten Chinese the night before. She just left. For months I told myself that she would come back. Even after the council turned the electric off, I stayed in the flat hoping that she would turn up one night with dinner and a hug. I thought I saw her in the high street once, I called after her and even ran over but it wasn’t her. I never did find out where she went, I like to think that it was to a nicer place where you couldn’t take kids. She deserved a happy ending. I didn’t know her reasons, but I’m sure she had them for leaving; just like I had mine.

I wanted us to get stopped, I fantasised about it, playing the scene through my head as I drove us over the A102 to Hackney. If the police pulled us over, they’d find two MAC-10s in the boot and a Glock in the glove box of our stolen 95’ Vauxhall Astra. I’d pull up to the side of the road, they’d run my name and licence plate through the system, discover that the car was reported stolen, they’d search the car, find the guns and that would be the end. I’d be off the hook. After five years, maybe less for good behaviour, I’d be free. But that wasn’t to be, no one stopped us.

‘I can’t do this. I can’t kill someone’ The heavy rain hitting the windshield was the only noise to follow the words of betrayal that we lingering in the air like a frost, Sam made no movement, showed no emotion as reached into the glove box to retrieve the Glock. ‘You don’t have to. If you’re here when I walk out, we’re still boys. If you’re not… look after yourself, yeah?’ Michael didn’t have to respond. Sam knew that he wouldn’t be there and he didn’t blame him. ‘We’ve come a long way from that day in the co-op… the Jesse James Gang of Peckham… naughtiest little bastards in the south-east… outlaws.’

I’ve thought about that night for ten years, what would have happened if I’d gone in there with him. Would my being there have made a difference? He was shot that night and I have no doubt that I would’ve met the same fate. I often ask myself why he let me go.

 I still have the newspaper clipping from the morning that I found out, “Heroin draws gangland blood”. He made it on to page six of the Metro; Sam always wanted to be famous. He always saw himself as a budget Jesse James; it was one of the reasons why I liked him. Underneath all of our smash and grabs and armed robberies, there was a friendship. There were times that I loved him, but there were times that I hated him too. I never fully understood the reason why he called us the Jesse James Gang of Peckham; it was only recently that I researched the story behind the legend.

Jesse James was murdered by a member of his own gang in 1882. Robert Ford shot him in the back to collect a bounty that was put on his head as he was fearful of the law closing in on them. I couldn’t help but find a disturbing similarity in our actions. We’d had an argument one night and he’d called me ‘Robert’, I never registered the significance before.

 

Was I Robert Ford?


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