CRIME OF THE CENTURY

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic


Petty criminal Matthew Taylor's path crosses with Britain's biggest crime of 20th century. Ignorance can be blissful!

Submitted: September 04, 2018

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Submitted: September 04, 2018

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CRIME of the CENTURY.

 

How did it feel the first time you stole something?

 

I remember it clear as day, in Perkin’s corner shop. That first, finger tingling thrill.

Jack asked Perky for a tuppenny ice, and whilst his unsuspecting back was hunched over the freezer, I grabbed a handful of MoJos and stuffed them into my trouser pocket. Typical, one managed to spill out. No time to grab it off the floor. I kicked it, neat as a button, right under the shelf all piled up with candles, fire lighters, and the like.

 

Outside, we made it to the nearest alley.  Grinning, we shared our easy gotten gains; Jack stuffing his face to make one huge ball of chewy goo - saliva oozing from the corner of his mouth. My MoJos however, stayed in my pocket. I was already planning the next raid.

 

In the following four years, I remember Perkins spent a lot of time bending over the fridge and returning empty bottles to the back of the shop. Our hands got bigger and I even “acquired” a jacket that had nice deep pockets without no flaps. This only stopped when, at fourteen, we got our first job. I don’t remember much of school; by six my mind had left the classroom, and by twelve my body had too.  We both started apprenticeships at Spaldings, but only Jack finished it. I seem to remember, in the second year, telling this teacher bloke where to stick his criticism. Sure, it got a laugh; but it got me the push. And I learnt a new phrase… you’re blacklisted.

 

It could have cost me, but I made sure it didn’t. For a couple of years now, I have been my own boss, building up a tasty little window cleaning round. To start with, on the south side of Linslade, and then early last year, some more work in nearby villages. That was when I stuck thirty bob down and bought the love of my life; a 1958 BSA Bantam D1. So now, to reach these rich folk out in the sticks, I don’t have to walk no more.

 

I am good at my job; I even sometimes quite enjoy it, and, would you believe this, I’ve never stolen so much as a half smoked fag from any of my customers. Other people; they’re still fair game. The kid’s bike in the front garden, the wallet left on the bar. But I am clean with my customers; out of loyalty and, because I know the police would add up the steals if I started nicking from my punters.

 

But petty thieving is a mug’s game. Tonight would be different. Tonight would mean no more wet, freezing hands. Tonight would mean a Triumph Bonnie and holidays in the Costa Brava sun.

 

 

 

So there I was, seven o’clock, standing in my bed-sit trying to get a scarf wound around the bottom half of my face. Quite why I was all dressed in black at this time, heaven knows, because my plan was to set off around 1.00am, when the drunks would be off the streets. But every time I shoved my helmet on, the scarf slid down around my neck. It was ages old, knitted by my Nan; but was far too long and bulky for what I wanted. Still, I needed something to cover my face, so out came the scissors… snip, snip! Three quarters of Nan’s lovingly knitted scarf lay in the bin. I paced about the room, with the helmet on… with the helmet off. To help try and pass away these last, endless hours, I kept going over the plan.

 

At about two this morning I would be helping myself to gold, silver and the kind of jewellery that just drips diamonds. One of the very first really big houses I cleaned belonged to a Major Beresford-Linnell and his wife; both in their sixties. I rarely saw him, and if he was actually a Major, then my piss pot Dad was a vicar; but everyone called him “the major”, including his wife! It was she I saw most; she who used to give me the key to the garage where the ladder was stored; and she who, for the last six months, had made me a cuppa before I left. Me? I could get to chat quite nicely if I knew there’d be some reward at the end of it all.

 

Window cleaning was the perfect job for thieving, just as long as you used a bit of common. Standing twenty foot up a ladder staring into people’s private lives; I already knew where a good six bags of lovely loot lay. Just the thought of the silver candle sticks on that long shiny dining table gave me itchy fingers. What’s more, our tea time chats were not wasted words. I knew that the Major was a dealer in old, and no doubt, expensive jewellery, and that three days ago the Beresford bloody Linnells had taken a BEA flight to Italy!

So, I had asked; who would be looking after their three Labradors?

The Major’s sister would be having them on her farm, came the answer.

And…. because I would be around again in August…what about the key to open the garage? Was there anyone about while they were away?

It was cinch to find out that Harris the gardener was going to be there, and that before he left each afternoon he’d be checking everything was secure. It would be him I got the key from.

 

Not that I needed a key. I had a copy in my trouser pocket ready for later this evening. I grinned to myself as I imagined how surprised I’d have to seem when I turned up in three days time to find old Harris telling me the house had been done over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Major’s drive smelt different at night, and I hadn’t expected my boots to make quite such a loud, hollow, scrunch on the gravel. Mind you, the neighbours were a good two hundred yards up the lane, so they would hear nothing. I was also surprised that, once my eyes were used to the dark, I could see quite a bit, considering it was approaching 2am.

 

The copied key was stiff to turn in the lock, but soon I had the garage door ajar and the wooden ladder poking towards the treasure trove ahead. I only needed one section of it, which I carried back across the drive to the single story kitchen at the side of the house. I carefully lowered the ladder down onto the slates of this small roof, so that I could easily climb in through the sash window above it. This was going to be more than just my way in; it was my way to a new life. I could hear my Grandpap saying “Find your route to the loot and the rest will follow”. Don’t know why, but he always had a sparkle in his eye when he said that to me.

 

Being asked by Mrs Beresford-Linnell to also do the inside of the windows, had turned out to be one hell of a help. The room above the kitchen she called “the box room”, and, true to her word, it was full of boxes. On my last visit I had loosened the screws of the window catch, so, with my jemmy as a lever under the bottom edge of the frame, one sharp push and pop! Off flew the catch! I was enjoying this.

 

Cleaning inside the house meant I’d already had a good shifty, and I knew which rooms were worth a visit. I started with their big bedroom. But by the time I had opened the third drawer of her ladyship’s dressing table I knew I had problems. There was less jewellery about than I’d seen when cleaning the windows, so, either she had taken it on holiday, or it had been locked away somewhere. No time now to look for a safe. In any case, if I found something, I wouldn’t have a cat in hell’s chance of getting it open. I sat on the bed, thinking about what to do next.

Like a voice from God Almighty, I heard the answer.

The stillness of the empty house was broken by the sound of clocks, all ringing out two, and their wish to be nicked! The Majors’ clocks! Proper old ones; in the library, the living room…. there was even one looking down at me from the bedroom mantelpiece. Why the hell was it so important for rich people to know the time? Still, I didn’t need an answer right now… all I needed to know was that it was good news for me! Realising that the two hold-alls wouldn’t carry everything, I did a quick scout and decided which clocks looked the business and which were too big. The rozzers might reckon on something fishy if they saw me riding my Bantam through Mentmore with a grandfather clock sat on me lap.

 

I collected eight in all, and they were little beauties. I didn’t know much about antique things, but I could see these were good. Two had gold bits plastered all over their cases, and there was even one made from china, with pictures and patterns on the sides. Five in one bag, four in the other; which meant there was just room for the silver candlesticks. They went in the hold-all a treat, I sat down for a moment, at the end of the long table.

 

 

On the outside, everything I was doing seemed careful and precise, yet inside my heart was racing top speed. It felt fantastic. Like when I kicked the MoJo under the shelf… but twenty times better.

 

It was then I realised the Major was looking at me. At the far wall, beyond the end of the table was a life sized portrait of himself. Serious, all flash looking in a waistcoat and gold chain. Thinning black hair greased back from his forehead, and those eyes…. the artist had sure caught his dark piercing look. In his right hand he was holding a fat cigar, and I think it was this that suddenly gave me the idea of taking one from the box that sat in front of me on the table. I got my lighter out and struggled for a minute to get the thing going. But I did. This beat Woodies any day. I puffed smoke into the air, and looked back up at the Major. I could be like you, in fact better. It was at this moment that I realised; except that he had no moustache, the major had an uncanny likeness to Hitler. I laughed at that idea of me robbing Adolph’s secret bunker! Time to make tracks. I took a final long drag from the cigar, stubbed it out, and walked over to the painting. On tip toe, and using the cigar like a chubby crayon, I smudged in a black mark, under the Major’s nose.

 

 

I had parked my bike on the pull-in beside the Mentmore allotments, leaving it in a spot where it couldn’t be seen from the road. It was just five minutes walk from the Major’s house, yet by the time I reached it, the two hold-alls were beginning to get heavy. Just like their contents, everything so far had gone pretty much like clockwork. But, I hadn’t reckoned on their size and I was buggered if I could get both bags tied to the Bantam’s small luggage rack. Another thing I couldn’t do was hang around too long, so I decided to lay the second bag across the fuel tank. Not what I planned, but needs must.

 

 

First kick the engine fired up and I was off, along the country route, back to the bed-sit. Mentmore, as villages go, is a fair old size, with two bumpy, sharp bends right in the middle. Because of my tricky load, I took them with something to spare but I wasn’t expecting a bloody sausage dog. Christ! To this day I don’t know what the hell it was doing there; in the middle of the road, in the middle of night, in the middle of my plans. But it was, and, as I swerved to the left, the bag on the tank went right.

Twenty yards further up the street I came to a stop. I left the engine running and legged it back to the unhappy heap in the middle of the road. I gave it a shake and it didn’t sound too bad and, looking on the bright side, I knew this geezer who’d got my Mum’s Westminster going, so all was not lost. More worrying was the bedroom light which flashed on in one of the overlooking cottages. I didn’t hang about, jumping back on the Bantam and bombing off down the street.

 

Thank God there was nothing else worth a mention on the road back to Slapton, except that is, at Bridego Bridge. I nearly came off there in the ice last winter, but tonight was different. A train was stopped over the archway, and there was this Austin Loadstar parked close by. Slowing up, I could see a pile of large canvas sacks at the back of the truck, and beside the cab I thought I could make out several figures. Another time I might have stopped for a quick shifty, but right now I had my own fish to fry.

 

I woke with a jolt. It was five in the afternoon and the Major’s cigar seemed a world away. At times like this I wish I’d had the radio repaired; but at least now I’d soon be able to rent a TV, or even buy one! I decided to get a paper, not that I could read much of it. The Luton and Dunstable Post would soon be out, and I reckoned I’d be able to work out enough to know if my robbery had been discovered. And I remember Nan moaning that, at holiday time, the news in the Post was never worth a buy; so today, if the police had been called in, it might even make the headlines.

 

The small newsagent’s shop was packed. There was a queue of at least a dozen punters, and at the counter I could make out Perry and his missus selling from the stack of newspapers, like there was no tomorrow. The line edged forward quickly and soon I was resting my elbow on the front edge of the sweet counter. In one section was a pile of MoJos, still four a penny. It felt like I had come a long way in ten years. A skinny youth excitedly pushed by, pulling at his father’s arm.

“Daddy look at the headlines…” he screeched “Crime of the Century…and it’s all happened right next to where we live!”

His words were still spinning inside my head as he disappeared out of the shop. Crime of the century! Did the Major own the crown jewels or something… were those heavy candle sticks going to be worth a bomb? And, were the rozzers on to anything?

Mr. Perry already had a paper in his hand.

“I’ll take two” I said, sliding sixpence across the counter with my fingertips. “And keep the change” I added.

Outside, with a thumping heart, I unfolded the paper and carefully spelt out the headlines….

 

CRIME OF THE CENTURY. ROBBERY SCOOPS £2.5 MILLION

 

I had struck gold.


© Copyright 2018 Mike Gascoigne. All rights reserved.

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