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U3A Writing: Robson's Choice

…In a daze I picked up and thumbed through a loose bundle. Five hundred used twenty pound notes. A rapid calculation . . . ten grand in this one bundle! And there were hundreds of them!…

Patrick Hopton tells the tasty tale of a man down on his luck, a Mercedes SL and four and a half million quid.

This is how it was . . .

It had started as a bad day and got worse. I had been dumped by my girlfriend even before breakfast - cursorily dismissed in a text message from Benidorm - a casualty of Shirley Valentine syndrome.

‘Robbie its ovr 4Unme. I’m with this gr8 guy Pablo now. Srry. Luv, Allie’

SRRY! So she bloody well should be. And LUV! What sort of sick joke was that! I was being casually disposed of in a few words of text-speak – and all for a greasy Spaniard named Pablo!

To have landed the hotel job in Somersbury might have been some consolation for me, but after a ninety minute bus journey (my car had been repossessed last week) I had arrived at the job interview only to be informed that the position had already been filled – by some Polish guy I shouldn’t wonder, employed for a pittance.

Even more gallingly, this short and unsatisfactory interview had lasted just long enough for me to miss the bus back to Taunton. I was now faced with a tedious gap of two hours before the next one.

No, I was not a happy bunny as I trudged the narrow street leading from the bus shelter to find the nearest pub. Ahead of me, sitting propped against a wall, was a scruffy bearded vagrant wearing a shabby army greatcoat and a navy-blue woollen hat pulled well down over his ears. In his lap he nursed a small, grubby khaki haversack. The way things were going for me at the moment that might well be me sitting there before long. The thought prompted a wave of sympathy for the poor man; he and I shared a common bond. Rummaging in my pocket I found a loose pound coin.

‘Here mate,’ I said as I approached, hand outstretched, intending to toss the coin into the hat beside him on the pavement.

He didn’t answer. Instead he stared unseeingly at the belt buckle of my Levis. The guy was blind perhaps – or, more likely, spaced out with booze or drugs. I pocketed my coin and went on my way.

I turned as I reached the end of the street and looked back. The sight of the man still sitting there, staring fixedly ahead of him, made me feel uneasy. Reluctantly I retraced my steps.

‘Are you all right mate?’ I asked him.

Receiving no response I tentatively stretched forward a hand to touch the tip of one of the fingers exposed by his woollen mittens. It was stiff, icy cold and blue in colour. There could be no doubt of it: the man was dead.

It took both the police and the ambulance some twenty minutes to arrive. In that time of the early evening the few passers by had looked inquisitively in my direction as I stood guard over the man, seen that I had the situation in hand and hurried gratefully on their way.

‘It’s Dirty Don Lucas, poor sod,’ one of the two policemen said, crouching over the corpse. ‘We move him on from time to time,’ he amplified for my benefit. ‘Well we won’t be moving him on no more that’s for sure.’

When the ambulance had made off with poor Don, the second policeman took particulars of my part in the happenings.

‘Your name sir? In case we need to contact you.’

‘Kent Robson,’ I told him, transposing my first name with my surname, and giving a completely false address in Bristol - a city where I was unknown. (I had learned at a very early age never to give your correct name and address to the law.)

‘You’re a very public spirited citizen, Mr Robson,’ he called back to me as he climbed back into the car.

It sped off leaving me and my moral glow alone at the spot of Don’s demise. There was nothing to mark the poor guy’s passing except . . . Good God, between them both the police and paramedics had overlooked the dead man’s haversack!

Gingerly I opened the bag to reveal a half eaten sandwich wrapped in tinfoil, a thermos flask – empty by the feel of it – and a moth-eaten pullover. That was it. No . . . wait! There was something in a small side compartment.

Incredibly I retrieved a set of car keys. That poor wretched creature couldn’t possibly have possessed a car! Or could he? If so, what car . . . and where?

I had seen a car park near the bus shelter. I made my way there now and, more in hope than expectation, waved the key fob at the dozen or so vehicles standing there. Amazingly, a metallic silver Mercedes SL blinked back at me.

I made sure that no one was watching as I let myself into Don’s car- if Don’s it was - sumptuous leather upholstery, leather-faced dashboard, and spotlessly clean. On the passenger seat beside me lay two unopened envelopes: both were addressed to a Mr Donald Lucas, 17 Brendon Street, Taunton. I was in Don’s car all right. I knew Brendon Street, a road lined with modest terrace houses, a short distance from my own.

It was still an hour before my bus was due to depart on its tedious journey: Don’s car keys were in my hand temptingly - and he certainly wouldn’t be needing them. I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded. After all I would only be delivering his car home for him.

‘Don’t you know little fool you never can win,’ I sang happily to a Sinatra CD of Don’s as the Mercedes purred home across the Somerset Levels.

Within the hour I drew up outside 17 Brendon Street. Cars lined the road on either side and I was forced to double park as I hailed a man with his head under the bonnet of a car nearby. He straightened up at my call.

‘Nice motor,’ he enthused looking at Don’s car.

An odd response from a neighbour! ‘Seen it parked here before?’ I ventured.

‘What, in this street! Those alloy wheels would be off that car before the engine was cold.’

So Don didn’t park it here then . . . and there was no room for me to park it here now. The car would have to come back with me overnight.

‘I was looking for Donald Lucas,’ I said. ‘Do you know him?’

‘Only by sight. Nobody actually knows that man. Keeps himself to himself, if you know what I mean.’

‘So he lives alone then?’ A relief that – no bad news to be broken or explanations about the car to be made.

‘Believe me, no one would want to live with dirty old sod. Look at the state of his place. It gives even this street a bad name.’

I saw what he meant – rotten woodwork, flaking paint and grubby curtains in shreds. I thanked him and drove the Merc home.

It was as I was locking the car that I remembered Don’s correspondence. I opened the first envelope – junk mail. The second was of more significance, a quarterly invoice for a lock-up garage at the other end of town. I sighed in resignation. Fighting the temptation to keep Don’s car, I resolved instead to park it in his garage in the morning. It would be for the best.

Next morning I found the place without difficulty. As I made to back the car into the garage it occurred to me that I ought first to check out the boot. Might it at the last tell me something about the enigmatic Don? Disappointingly, it held only an empty suitcase and a few tools tidily wrapped in a container.

I had left the radio playing and music was blaring through the open boot as I yanked open the up and over door to reveal a dusty garage interior, empty apart from a padlocked metal cupboard at the far end. Closer inspection suggested that neither the cobwebbed cupboard nor the rusty padlock had been touched in many months.

‘Orchard FM news at eleven o’clock, I’m Jamie Cox,’ a cheerful voice broke in on my thoughts. ‘Avon and Somerset Police have announced that a vagrant found dead in Somersbury yesterday has been identified as Luke Donald, who was wanted in connection with the Securicor Depot heist in Filton in May 2005, when over four and a half million pounds was seized in an armed raid. Three of the four man gang that carried out the raid are already serving lengthy jail sentences, but the fourth – alleged to be Donald, a former Securicor employee, has always evaded capture. Not a penny of the stolen money has ever been recovered. Insurers have offered a reward of ten per cent for any part of its recovery. . . . In Afghanistan British troops . . . ‘

The newscaster gabbled on, now unheeded.

There were three keys only on Don’s key ring - one for the car, one for the garage, and the third . . . ? My fingers were trembling as I struggled with the padlock. Eventually it fell to the floor. I tugged open the twin doors of the cupboard.

And there they were - two piles deep and five piles wide - bundles of banknotes stacked high and crammed to the ceiling of the cupboard, each one fastened with a canvas strap. In a daze I picked up and thumbed through a loose bundle. Five hundred used twenty pound notes. A rapid calculation . . . ten grand in this one bundle! And there were hundreds of them! It was all here I was sure – all four and a half million of it. My mind raced. Four and a half million of dirty money – as opposed to four hundred and fifty K legit.

Oddly enough I had considered this eventuality many times before now. Among my fantasies to wile away sleepless hours in bed was the logistical problem of laundering vast sums of stolen money. It was up there along with winning a National Lottery Roll-over, managing the England Football Team to World Cup glory, and a night in bed with Julia Roberts.

Dirty money or legit? I knew my answer. I had long reached it in my night time fantasies. Anyway, was I not a proclaimed public spirited citizen?

Then a nasty thought struck me. You know what slimy bastards those Insurance companies can be. The chances were they’d come up with some trumped up excuse, quoting some obscure clause in the conditions of their offer, to wriggle out of paying my reward. That mountain of money was just sitting there invitingly . . . and I might end up without a penny of it.

And that’s why I did what I did.

I mean, put yourself in my shoes, your honour: well, what would you have done in those circumstances?

**

Orchard FM news at eleven o’clock, I’m Jamie Cox.
At the Central Criminal Court of the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Palmer has handed down to Robson Kent of Taunton a suspended sentence of six months, for the misappropriation of four-hundred and fifty thousand pounds – part of the four and a half million pound haul of the Filton Securicor Heist of May 2005. The sentence on Robson Hood – as he has been dubbed by the popular press – was greeted by gasps from the Public Gallery and a smattering of applause. Judge Palmer said that in assessing the sentence he had taken into account the fact that, although taking the money was indeed a serious criminal offence, Kent had done so only to safeguard the reward that he considered due to him. There was laughter in court as the Judge described the deed as a sort of insurance policy. The accused had made no personal gain from the misappropriation as, once he did receive the four hundred thousand pound reward from the insurers, he had distributed anonymously to charities and needy individuals the money he had previously taken. The insurance company had already reclaimed the reward money paid to Mr Kent; so he would not be making a penny profit from his crime.

Questioned later by a reporter about the leniency of the sentence, notwithstanding these mitigating factors, the Judge replied, ‘Well, what would you have done in those circumstances?’

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