A satisfying glass of Sangria
Mark had nearly finished his familiar trudge around the local streets; a few more yards and he’d be home. When he turned the final corner, he recognised the person facing him straight away. The hair was a lot thinner, and going grey, but there was no mistaking the gaunt frame and weasel eyes. He frowned at the self-styled wide-boy from his teenage years.
Darren Fisher leaned against the wall of the Red Lion and stubbed out his roll-up. ‘Look what the cat’s dragged home, if it isn’t Mark Grainger, do you remember me?’
‘Hello, Fish,’ Mark said, trying to move on.
Fisher put his leg out to stop him. ‘Haven’t seen you for about fifteen years, me old mate.’
Mark hoped it would be another fifteen years before he saw him again. He remembered when Fisher targeted houses, and old cars, that were easy to break in to. Sometimes he’d steal garden tools, maybe a pushbike or two; anything but face an honest day’s work.
Fisher adopted his trademark lop-sided grin. ‘I see you’ve gone up in the world then?’
Mark propped his ladder against the wall and placed his bucket on the pavement. ‘At least it’s a proper job. What’ve you been up to for the past few years?’
Fisher narrowed his eyes. ‘This and that . . . got a few contacts in the West End, haven’t I?’ He put his hands in his pockets. ‘The old gal’s been a bit dodgy on her pins lately. Thought I’d come back home for a while and look after her.’
Mark couldn’t believe what Fisher had just said. He’d seen his mother sauntering around the market that very morning; probably, he thought, on one of her shoplifting expeditions.
Mark thought back to the time when Fisher used to go missing from the estate, where they both grew up, for months on end. He would turn up in the pub, unexpectedly, and brag about all the money he’d made. No one believed him. Speculation grew where he really had been, or detained, as someone had suggested. The more self-respecting locals regarded him as nothing more than one of the petty thieves in the area.
Fisher flipped open his tobacco tin and started rolling up another cigarette. He looked at Mark’s ladder and bucket. ‘You could be useful to me, especially in your job this time of year.’ He glanced at the cloudless sky and shaded his eyes from the sun. ‘I could put some work your way you know.’
‘You want your windows cleaned?’
Fisher struck a match, lit up again, and blew smoke through his nostrils. ‘Don’t be daft. You trying to wind me up?’
Working for Darren Fisher was the last thing on Mark’s mind. ‘I’m too busy, Fish,’ he lied.
‘Too busy earning a few quid on this poxy estate cleaning windows? Want to earn some real money? Bet you could do with some.’
‘Yeah of course I need the money, with a wife and kid to support now. I don’t know, Fish.’
‘You won’t be breaking the law, no need to look at me like a frightened cat. I’m in the big-time now. It’s all above board what you’ll be doing.’
Mark bit his fingernails. He wanted a good holiday with his wife and young son, but nothing had ever been “above board” with Darren Fisher. Mark used to be easily led, and had helped Fisher, with his dodgy dealings, in the past. He wasn’t a teenager any longer and had more responsibilities to take care of.
Undeterred, Fisher explained what he wanted him to do. He slapped Mark on the back.
‘I told you it was easy, didn’t I?’
Mark didn’t answer, but turned the proposition over in his mind. Against his better judgement, extracting money from Darren Fisher, for doing so little, began to appeal to him. He thought it also might give him the chance to help Fisher disappear for a little longer; with no recriminations. Yes, it would be good to pull a fast one over that loser. The temptation gnawed away at him.
‘One more thing,’ Fisher paused for effect. ‘I’ll need you at the airport as well.’
Mark raised an eyebrow. ‘The airport?’
Mark locked his front door, patted his pockets for Sterling, Euros and passports then tried the door again. All the windows were secured. He rattled the side gate for a second time, as his wife and son waited patiently in the taxi. The family were all looking forward to their unexpected break in the sunshine.
Ron, the driver, engaged first gear and drove out of the side street. They hadn’t gone far when he announced, ‘Whoops, here we go again, another dawn raid by the local Plod.’
Mark glanced at his wife first then peered out of the taxi’s window. Police vehicles were parked outside a terraced house; the one with an overgrown lawn and shabby curtains. Some of the officers gathered by the front door; others sneaked around the back.
‘Isn’t that Darren Fisher’s place?’ asked Ron, ‘I heard that toe rag was back on the scene. I didn’t think it would be long before he had his collar felt again.’ He slowed the car down. ‘They’re going in. I don’t think it’s his mother they’re after for nicking tights from M&S.’
‘Put your foot down, Ron, we’ve got a holiday to enjoy.’
‘Lowlife, all of that family,’ Ron went on, as they sped away, ‘even the old man’s doing time for nicking lead off the roof of St. John’s.’ He shook his head. ‘At his age as well.’
Mark didn’t respond.
‘There’s been a few burglaries round here since Darren Fisher came back on the scene, bit of a coincidence if you ask me,’ Ron said.
Mark shifted in his seat and wished Ron would change the subject. Taxi drivers, he thought, armed with a big font of local knowledge they can’t wait to impose on you; he tried his best to stay calm.
‘It’s the holiday season again, isn’t it? People are more careless this time of year. Take London for example,’ Ron explained further as Mark rolled his eyes. ‘Over 5,000 homes, last year, were burgled by thieves, who entered through unlocked front doors?’ The taxi slowed down at traffic lights. Ron glanced over his shoulder. ‘You can’t believe some people can you? Spend loads of dosh on security systems then forget to activate them, all because they’re in a rush. I think that’s what’s been happening on the new development. Expensive area, you know.’
‘Only half an hour commute to the city as well,’ Mark’s wife said, ‘all made of money, that lot, if you ask me.’
Ron swung the taxi towards the dual carriageway. ‘I think Fisher’s involved someway, been trying a few door handles. He couldn’t do it on his own of course, hasn’t got the brains. He’d need an accomplice to tell him which house to go to, while the owners are on holiday. I’ve heard that airport scam has reared its ugly head again as well.’
‘What scam’s that then?’ Mark asked.
‘You know the one, when people write their full names and addresses on their suitcase tags,’ Ron shook his head, ‘even put mobile numbers on sometimes. Combine that with the front door walk-ins and you’re on a winner.’
Mark cleared his throat. ‘Really?’
‘I suppose you’ve got to feel sorry for the holidaymakers, though,’ Ron added, ‘imagine lying on the beach on the Costa Blanca. Your mobile bursts into life. “Hello, mate, this is your local friendly thief. I’ve just burgled your house.”’
‘Whatever you say, Ron, whatever you say,’ Mark said, shifting in his seat.
‘Come on, I’m serious. It really has happened you know. I’m not making it up.’
The drop-off points for Heathrow came in to view. ‘Where did you say you’re going to again?’ Ron asked.
‘Benidorm, for two weeks,’
Ron curled his upper lip. ‘Well whatever he’s been up to, Fisher won’t be going anywhere nice today, will he? The whole family are disliked on our estate, even by some of the other crooks. I wouldn’t be surprised if the police haven’t had a tip-off.’
Mark glanced at his wife, who looked at the back of Ron’s head and smiled. ‘You’re probably right,’ she answered, trying not to laugh.
Alan has been writing short stories for four years. Before that, he was the editor of a civic society newsletter for seven years. His first cheque, for fiction, arrived on Christmas Eve 2009. Almost two years later he made the short list for one story and became a prize winner for flash fiction; both awarded by the same best-selling UK magazine for writers.