Free Money


(650 words)

“Arabic garlic sauce, otherwise known as thoom. Freshly made.” Vernon Crowther held out a small glass bowl filled with something resembling a whiter version of mayonnaise.
“It looks nice, sir,” said Jake Smeddlehurst. He was about twenty, tall and thin, with a pronounced jawline and black hair that flopped over his narrow face and passed his collar. His eyes were dark and sunken. They darted around furtively, avoiding the speaker.
Vernon placed the bowl onto an occasional table, went back into the kitchen, removed his green and white striped apron and emerged, carrying a plate of vegetable slivers and Doritos. “Take a seat, Smeddlehurst.”
Jake sat down, pushing his hair off his face.
“Try some.”
Jake self-consciously dipped a slice of carrot into the thoom before crunching down on it. “Mmm, it’s delicious, sir!”
“Good! Now, Smeddlehurst, I want you to listen. You carry on, enjoy some more dip.” Vernon took a seat in a sumptuous olive-green leather armchair. “Now, I’m going to be frank with you. I’ve seen you at work, heard things about you, and, to be truthful, it seems to me you don’t have banking in your blood. Am I right?”
Jake quickly swallowed a thoom-coated mushroom. “Well, sir, I play the drums, that’s what I really want to do.”
“Look, Smeddlehurst, I’ve been at Halliwell’s for nigh on forty years. They’ve been good to me, but what with Sandra’s boating and Wendy’s maintenance, not to mention the children’s private schools, well ….” His aged face coloured. “The truth is, it’s become a nightmare. They’ve taken me off futures and put me on credit assessment, stuff a monkey could do!”
Jake munched on a piece of courgette, nonplussed.
Vernon continued, “I think we could both do with a substantial cash injection. Am I right?”
Jake took a Dorito, scooped up a giant blob of dip, and pushed it into his mouth. He nodded enthusiastically. “Mmm.”
Vernon ceremoniously plonked down a silver-coloured plastic bank card.
“What’s that, sir?”
“This is an ATM master card, our service guys use it. This one’s been specially modified. Type in a PIN, and you can withdraw any amount, there’s no limit!”
Jake’s interest suddenly increased tenfold.
“Now, I’ve got a printout of our top hundred accounts. Some rich bastards have got a fortune!”
“Well, they’re the ones least likely to notice a, shall we say, spurious cash withdrawal.”
Jake stared. The penny began to drop. “But … er, you wouldn’t know the PIN.”
Vernon smiled, producing a computer printout. On it were numerals one to a hundred. These were followed by two numbers. One very long one, preceded by a pound sign, and another, just four digits long.
For once, Jake’s eyes fastened on the speaker. “You mean ….”
“Exactly, Smeddlehurst! Go to any hole-in-the-wall machine, pop the card in, type in a PIN, and make an appropriate withdrawal. Say, five thousand. Late Saturday night or early Sunday morning is a good time. Just once a week, or we could be in deep doo-doos.”
Jake pushed the empty glass dish back and belched. “Oops, pardon, sir.”
Vernon reeled from the waft of garlic. “Granted.”
“Er, but that’d be illegal, sir!”
Vernon smiled. “Look, I was useful around the tubs myself when I was young. Good cymbals don’t come cheap, and now you’ve got these new-fangled double bass pedals, all shiny titanium!”
Jake’s dark eyes became less dark.
“All you need to do is wear a woollen hat over your head and something to obscure your face, or a crash helmet’s a good idea. And wear gloves too. You put half the cash in a bag for me and I’ll tell you where to leave it. Best not to use the same ATM or account twice. How does that sound?”
“It sounds good, sir, there’s just one thing.”
“Yes, Smeddlehurst?”
“Is there any more of that dip please?”

Featured in the book, Letters from Reuben and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Mirth

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