He’d told Charlie the Murthwaite brothers were bad news. Charlie hadn’t listened. Had one eye on the new neighbour, Belinda. Been working in Vegas, so she said. Steve knew Charlie was out of his depth as usual, between the shapely blonde and the Murthwaites.
He splashed through the dark and fingered his rucksack, wondered what mess Charlie was in with these people. Charlie’d have backed him up if he’d got wrong side of the two brothers. A few brandies had brought things to a head.
Sinking down under the rain, Steve remembered his mate’s drunken goodbye. “Suit yourself. Those brothers are something special.”
The last time he’d seen the big man. Charlie off in a huff.
The house loomed ahead as the sleet made his eyes smart. Street-lights mirrored in the wet pavement. Steve sheltered in the alleyway at the back where the glow of a bedroom lamp brought him up with a start. Knew they’d return but it had been three days. No sign of Charlie.
Wait till he saw Belinda. She and Charlie deserved one another. But the femme fatale seemed to have disappeared too. Steve was fed up with this rain.
The two buddies went back a long way. School, then the army. Could always see Charlie didn’t cope. Even put off his college course to sort the guy out.
They were doing okay. Until Belinda came along.
“You could make something of yourself,” she’d said, tapping a gentle finger on Charlie’s chest.
Charlie shuffled in his size twelves. “You really think so, Belinda?” Enough to make you puke.
But Steve’d never leave his lovesick friend high and dry.
He smiled as he skulked in the rain and thought of the soap-box speeches he’d made to Charlie to keep him onside. Now the great lump’d lost his head over that bit of skirt. Somehow, his noseying’d upset the Murthwaites too.
Steve stopped. Trying to catch the voices through the rain. Cold droplets inside the neck of his hood. He made out the sounds that floated from the window down to the depths of the alley. A gathering of the Murthwaite clan.
Now his army training’d come in. Cause a commotion in the front garden. Climb over the wall at the back, up the honeysuckle and flick the catch, in through the window. If they’d got Charlie, the two of them’d give a good account of themselves. Steve patted the solid shape in his rucksack.
If only the rain would stop. The front garden dripped and glistened. Plenty of cover from rhododendrons and conifers. Then he’d be off to the open window at the back. Glad to get rid of this rucksack, he thought.
Crouched against the hedge, Steve stayed low as far as the front gate. Prickly hawthorn reached out. plucking at his hood. Beyond the open gate, lamplight-beams reflected from puddles, like sentries searching.
A shaft of light from the hallway through the half-open front door. He sidled through the gate. Dank, leafy, branches, with the whiff of boiled cabbage left-overs.
The rucksack’d kept his parcel dry; detonator and multipack firecracker in the parcel to light up the sky and flush out the Murthwaites. A deafening explosion of colour.
It didn’t happen as planned. Steve‘d just set the timer in the bushes.
“Stand up, sunshine, and don’t turn round.” A voice full of menace. “Move slowly over to the front step. Keep looking ahead.”
They were too clever. The game was up. Well, no mood to let Charlie down. Best form of defence was attack.
A blood-curdling Mohican, Steve leapt into the hallway and crunched into a man-mountain coming out of the lounge. It was Charlie.
“So, you decided to join us.” Cool as you like, hands on hips. “Belinda thought you might but you took your time.”
Steve was in shock. “Join you? Belinda? Are you crazy?”
Charlie smiled. “Belinda’s a Murthwaite. Suggested I join the family business. They need staff at the new casino on the coast. Been down there for a few days to check it out.”
As he shook the water from his hood, he had other questions. Charlie chuckled, delighted to fill in the detail.
“I could never get a word in. You and your homespun ideas on what I should and shouldn’t do.” With a twinkle, Charlie added, “I’ve always been fine so you can go off to your college course now, get in some real lectures. May even be a job for you when you get back.”
A job when he got back. Wrong about Belinda’s family, just kept themselves to themselves. And Steve could see Charlie and Belinda would be good for the Murthwaites’ budding casino empire.
Out on the front step, he was glad to see the rain’d stopped, checked his watch. Then Steve remembered the timer in the bushes. Guessed he had time to turn back and close the door behind him. “What sort of a job are we talking about, Charlie?” he enquired.
Arthur Newton, a retired teacher and education manager, returned to writing after many years, with a short story recently accepted by Abandoned Towers.