The Chubb    a short story by Pat Robotham.

 

Martley sat in the cab of the old crane and looked at what he had dangling on the end of the gib. The smelly old diesel engine continued to putter away with the exhaust belching sooty smoke, and Martley leaned forward and peered through the filthy windscreen to work out exactly what he had got dangling from the wire in the jaws of the grab. He looked like some mechanical gnome, fishing, by a pond of scrap.

No one else was at the yard; it was seven o’clock on a warm July evening and his mate Ick had already gone to the pub. It was hot thirsty work in the scrapyard in the summer and the clearing was going apace. Although Martley fancied a pint of Pedi himself, on at least two evening a week he stayed behind to do a bit for himself, try to dig out a few nuggets of gold as it were, he’d never found any gold of course, but he had found a good cache of old motorcycles and a few other bits which had made him a few extra quid, which he’d been able to keep to for himself because he kept it to himself and away from Ick, and that was the only way he was going to keep it

The thing on the end of the gib looked like a block of iron about two foot square, he could tell as he dragged it out from the bottom of the heap that it was pretty heavy as the old engine had had to work a bit harder to get it free.

“I know what it is. It’s a bloody safe.”

With that he pushed a lever forward and the object was lowered very gently so that it rested on the ground on one edge.

Martley left the engine idling and got down from the cab. As he peered at the safe he spotted a brass plate in the middle of what was the door. Giving it a good hard rub with an old rag he always kept in his pocket, he gave it another peer. “The Chubb” it read.
  
“Made in the midlands” Martley muttered. “But where’s the bloody key? They’ll be nowt in it but I can always weigh it in, maybe there’s vintage safe collectors, there seem to be collectors for everything else”

He climbed back up in the cab and released the grab from the safe. “Damn, it’s stuck” the safe had not gone flat on the ground as it was propped up on something underneath, and now he could not get the grab to close underneath it to lift it up again. He switched off the engine and climbed down. On his way over he picked up a long iron bar and jammed it under one corner of the safe. Using all his weight he leaned on the bar, the safe rocked forward and landed flat on its back.

That was when he thought he heard it. Even though the yard was in the town, at this time of day it was really quiet with everyone having tea or in the pub or watching Cory, and in the quiet he was sure he d heard it.  Just as the safe fell on its back there was an extra thunk.
“There’s something in it “.  So as not to be on a fool’s errand he got the pry bar and levered the safe over again, this was hard work but rewarded him with that extra “thunk”. Just to make sure and so he could get at the door he levered it back onto its back again and there was the “thunk” again.
By this time he was really sweating and decided to call it a night .He restarted the engine and grabbed a load of old exhausts and dropped them onto the safe to keep it away from Ick’s prying eyes. “Time to get down to the Dog for a pint; I’ll look for the key tomorrow”.

………………

 

“What the hell do you think you are looking for”? Martley looked up shocked by Ick’s voice. 

“I was just looking for a key, but it doesn’t matter” and he moved to leave the office squeezing passed Ick in the doorway.
“Come on mate what you up to?” Martley was never any match for Ick once he got the feeling that Martley was hiding something.
“I was just looking for a key to an old safe I’ve found, its got to be worth a bit more if I can open it, otherwise its so much scrap iron.  It came out of the back west corner the other day I reckon it’s been there since about 1980. It’s all tangled up with a load of old garage and motoring stuff and I don’t remember if we ever cleared anywhere like that.  I might find it in the old ledger; and give me a clue where Ted put the key.”

“Even if you find the key you can bet your life that the old bugger never left owt of value in it.”
They both knew what a tight bugger their late boss had been, far worse that the current one who pretty much let them take what they like so long as the site got cleared.

 Still there was always a chance.

Ick joined in the search for the ledger and the key, and they did no more work that day. About six o’clock just as Martley could feel a thirst coming on and was starting to think of his first pint of Pedi, Ick jabbed at a page in the ledger with a filthy index finger.
 
 “Here’s something.”

Unfortunately it was not the key but it was an entry in Ted’s writing in a ledger marked 1982. It read

Clear Dravens garage yard and office. It then gave a list of cars, parts, tools and office fittings including one Chubb safe. No mention of a key. 

This rang a bell. They both thoughts so, but thought that memories might be better jogged down the Dog.

 

By about five pints in they’d found someone who said they remembered, although what you can remember accurately, and what you think you can remember after so much strong beer is a bit of a question. Anyway Barney the minicab driver came up with the story.  A garage was robbed and the owner had been shot and somehow Ted had cleared the site. He’d done it as a favour to the dead man’s wife about a year after it happened as she wanted the site cleared for selling on.
 
By the end of the evening and another couple of pints they all reckoned they remembered it that way and were busy agreeing with each other over the details which got increasingly unlikely as the night wore on.

“Ill sort it out in the morning, and try to find that key” Martley toddled unstably to the door and Barney drove him home.

………………

 

 “It’s no good looking for something so bloody small in here the whole place is a tip,”
 Martley muttered.  He had spent the morning going through every nook and cranny in the office. Even the little office safe which occasionally held any valuables that turned up in the yard was searched although Martley knew exactly what was in it, having been in it a couple of months ago. After four hours of going over everything again and again he sat down for a think and a mug of tea.

As he was just supping the last of the brew Ick stuck his head round the door. “Got summat for you “
 “Have you? Where do you think you’ve been - the day’s half over.”
 “Yes and you’ve not done much yerself, just turned this office over looking for the key to that safe.”
 
Ick chucked a grubby envelope on the table in front of him.  “Been down the library looking at old local rags, got a load of stuff about that robbery, and there’s no point in looking in that safe as it was emptied by the robbers, got away with five grand cash, safe was open when the coppers got there.”

With that he left the office saying Martley should get off his arse, stop moping around that safe and do some real work. Bloody cheek, Martley thought. He stuffed the cuttings in his pocket and went outside to get on with sorting.

Martley stayed back that evening. He had removed the rubbish from on top of the safe and was contemplating it. He was also waiting for Jed Logan, someone he’d met years ago in the Dog who had worked for a lock company in Willenhall.

While he waited he pulled out the packet of copied cuttings that Ick had given him. He had about half an hour before Jed got there so he thought he’d give them a good read. There were descriptions of the robbery from eyewitnesses, descriptions of the site after the robbery and a couple of accounts by the dead garage owner’s wife of what she thought had happened.  Her picture and address, 21 Macklin Avenue, were all printed, as was her heartfelt plea to help find the animals that killed her husband. There was even a picture of the son Johnny who was eight at the time. Before Jed arrived Martley nipped up to the office and looked in the phone book. “They are still in Macklin Avenue then.” 21. J S Draven.

Down in the yard Jed had arrived and was already looking at the safe. “That’s going to be a tough one, without a key. You could try to drill the lock out, but the steel is pretty hard. Its not very high Tec, just an ordinary office safe but it was well made and the keys are rare as rocking horse shit”.

“So you can’t open it or get me a key then”?

“Me? You must be bloody joking, I’m in the building trade now, and as I said the keys are impossible to get.  You could try the company. You’ve got the safe serial number, but they won’t have a key in stock, may be able to make you one though. I can lend you a drill.”

“No I’ve got drills, I don’t want to ruin it, may be worth summat.”

“Suit yerself. I’m off down the Dog, coming?”

“In a bit.”
 

………………

 

Martley walked across the yard to a small corrugated iron shed that was up against the outside wall. The front opening was covered with a piece of dirty carpet, he rolled it up and bent down peering in and reaching forward from his shoulders. As he moved backwards an old motorbike followed him balanced precariously between his two outstretched arms as it rolled forwards towards him. At just the right moment he stepped to one side and was now holding the bike steadily from the side. He put his right foot under the bike and heaved it backwards onto its stand. He grinned as he stepped back and admired the beast, “that’s what I’ll do I’ll go round there and ask them, it can’t do any harm and they may have a spare one all the same”.

 With those thoughts still in his head he ducked down inside the lean-to, coming out with a two-gallon can of fuel and one of oil. He topped up the oil in the oil tank on the right side of the rear of the bike and unscrewed the petrol cap. Making a makeshift funnel from a bit of old tin, he tipped fuel into the tank. Once he’d done that he stepped over the bike and put his foot on the kick-start and pushed down firmly lifting his weight off the ground and bringing it down on the lever. The engine sprang onto life with a clatter and oily smoke came out of the exhaust. He got an oily rag from his pocket and rubbed it over the faded black paintwork. You could just read the name on the black petrol tank - ARIEL. He stood and looked at it with an air of satisfaction as he watched the valves go up and down. Then he switched off the fuel and suddenly it was quiet again.

He’d found the bike with a few others eighteen months ago. It was when things were bad and he had not told anyone but had sold the rest and kept this one for himself. With some of the money he had made he had done a few repairs and a bit of amateur bodging to put the bike on the road, with a friendly MOT and a bit of help with paperwork he was now legal, so long as you did not look too closely, and all under Ick’s nose without him knowing anything about it. No wonder Martley looked smug. As he was messing with the bike the light was going, it was about eight o’clock now and he fancied a pint and as the bike had no lights he decided to leave the trip to Macklin Avenue until the next day. He shoved the bike back in the lean-to and dropped the carpet over the front to keep out prying eyes. He went to the Dog.

 

………………

 

Next day Martley was standing looking at the old Ariel. He’d had a pretty heavy night at the Dog and was feeling a bit rough. It was midday and Ick wasn’t coming in today so after a few brews to set him up he was ready for the off, putting the old pudding basin helmet on his head and zipping up his old leather jacket, he turned on the petrol, tickled the carburettor, retarded the ignition and kicked her into life. A cacophony of rattle and a pall of smoke surrounded the old bike.  Martley left her ticking over and opened the little gate, pushing her through and shutting up after him. As he rode down the streets towards Macklin Avenue he could tell that the noise of the old bike attracted people’s attention. Older men looked on and grinned putting their thumbs up, young kids fell about laughing if they were boys and looked disdainful if girls of almost any age. Thirty-something mums looked disapprovingly, presumably assessing the level of lung damage the constant haze of oily smoke produced by the engine would have on their precious offspring. The only people that did not seem to see him were four-by-four drivers who had recently replaced the dreaded Volvo drivers as the ones that can’t see.

After about twenty minutes he turned into Macklin Avenue, and in true surveillance style, knowing the kind of attention that the bike drew, he cut the engine and coasted to a stop about twenty yards up from the house and behind a large black Landrover Discovery Reg number JD46.

“That’ll be the lads,” Martley muttered. He sat and waited.

There was a Van parked outside the house and a man in his late thirties was giving instructions to a couple of removal workers who were moving to and fro loading furniture into the back. The man sent some things back in and other stuff was loaded. Martley noticed he was not taking any crap.
 
Then it struck him he was clearing the house. He parked the bike up took off the helmet and walked towards the van as he approached the man giving orders he had already written the yard’s phone number and his name on a scruffy bit of paper.

“We can clear what you don’t want to take, just give me a ring.”

The man looked startled. “Who the bloody hell are you?”

“Martley from Ted Wilkins scrap yard. I noticed you were emptying the house and thought you may want what’s left cleared”

“Wilkins yard you say. Bexham Street?”

“Yeh, that’s right”

“Well it looks like you’ve come at the right time, we will want it cleared its got to be emptied for the next owner by the end of the week, my mum moved into  a nursing home a few years back and now its  sold, Just rescuing a few of the best bits and family stuff. Do you want to take a look?”

Martley followed him into the house and through to the back. There were odds and ends everywhere but nothing too tricky. It was a large 1920’s suburban detached house with a little gate at the side leading down to a pretty long garden. All the gates were liberally decorated with rising suns, a common motif at the time; it fell out of favour a bit after the Second World War.

“These sheds will interest you, they’ve all got to be cleared, load of old garage stuff, my dad used to own one.”

Martley kept schtum. “When will you be out of the way so we can start?”

They agreed terms and a start tomorrow afternoon. Martley could hardly wait; he was certain that in the sheds somewhere was the key to his safe.

 

………………

 

The following afternoon saw Martley and Ick turn up at the house in an old flat bed truck they’d borrowed off their mate Divvey. Well he wasn’t really a mate just someone you’d put up with so you could borrow their truck. Johnny was there to meet them and took them into the house. Martley wanted to get straight out into the sheds but he had to at least look interested and get on with house clearing before they could even make a start on the sheds. As it turned out they didn’t get the house cleared until about 8 o’clock and Ick was gasping.

“That’s it for the night; I’m off down the Dog for a few, you coming?”

“What about unloading?”

“Sod unloading. I’m knackered; it can wait till tomorrow.  Divvey don’t want his truck back until tomorrow evening, we can just park it up in the yard, and you’ll have to unload yourself in the morning. I’m off to Uttoxeter for the racing.”

Normally Martley would be pretty pissed off with this from Ick but today it suited him fine. It meant that he could come back tomorrow and get on with the shed; he could move all the small stuff on his own and in the process go through it with a fine tooth comb.
Martley got up at six the next morning to get an early start, he was down at the yard by seven and had the truck unloaded in half an hour. There was not much of value on it so he took what there was off first and then unloaded the rest in great tangled grabfulls with the crane. He’d burn most of the furniture as he’d tried to sell this sort of stuff before and no one wanted it. He got to the house by 10 and let himself in with the keys Johnny had given him, he went straight through to the first shed, found the padlock key and opened up.

“Right where would I keep a key?”

After an hour all he had managed to do was completely mess the place up, even more than it was already. He’d opened all the drawers he could see in all the cupboards and filing cabinets. He’d opened all the tins, tipped out all the tools and the old garage stationery, and now he just stood in the middle of all this wreckage and looked lost. OK he had found a few things that may be worth putting on eBay for the classic car enthusiasts but that was not what he was after.

“I’ll be more organised. I’ll start in this front corner and I’ll work my way across, and then move further back. Any good stuff Ill put in these boxes and the rest I’ll just treat as junk and pile it up.”

And that is exactly what he did. Once the impatience of looking for the key had subsided he settled back into the well-known routine of sorting scrap. Two hours later he was about half way through the first shed, and he’d taken two loads of mostly rubbish back to the yard. He didn’t hear Johnny come in as he was going through an old tool box.

“What the bloody hell are you doing? I thought you were just going to stick it on the truck and shift it out of here. I didn’t think you were going to go through the lot like you were looking for treasure. Where’s your mate?”

Martley blinked and looked bothered. The reasons for this were twofold. Firstly he had to try to come up with a story so that Johnny did not suspect he was looking for the key, and he was not very good at thinking things up in a hurry. Second he’d just spotted something out of the corner of his eye that he was desperate to get a better look at, but he couldn’t do it with Johnny watching.

“Ick’s at the races today so I’m here on my own. It’s taking a bit longer, there’s more here than we bargained for and I’m doing a bit of sorting now, I’ll finish by the end of the week like we agreed.”
 
“You’d better or you can kiss your money goodbye. The new owners are moving in, in a few days and it’s got to be clear, so get a wobble on. Do you want some tea? I’ve bought a brew with me.”

As they sat drinking tea from Johnny’s flask they looked around at all the stuff.

“Funny isn’t it I have never really looked in here, my mum always kept it locked when I was a kid, said it was too dangerous to let me in so I lost interest in it.”

Martley thought that was a bit odd; he reckoned that the minute you tell a kid not to do something that’s when they get really interested. Still maybe he was a bit of a mummy’s boy.

“When she went into the home and I got all the keys all I could think about was getting the place empty and sold and that’s taken long enough. Let’s have a look at what you’ve found then.”

Martley did not like this turn of events. If Johnny started to get interested anything could happen. He could start feeling he owned it and that was not the deal. If Martley sorted and took it, it was his. That was the deal, and he was going to get bloody well paid for hauling away as well. Still he said nowt and let Johnny poke about.

As Johnny leaned forward that was when Martley saw it hanging out of his shirt around his neck on a gold chain. A key.  A bloody key.  Almost certainly THE bloody key.

Johnny must have felt his gaze; he looked across. “What?”

“Nuthin, just looking.”

Martley could not keep his eyes off it

“Christ, man do you fancy me or something. What are you looking at?”

Martley blushed. Then he had it.

“Just looking at your key and wondering if it fits that old safe there.”

He was pointing at the second thing that had caught his eye. Sitting in the corner of the room under a great pile of stuff was another safe. It looked identical to his at the yard.

“Well bugger me, it just might be,” and Johnny launched himself across the intervening junk to get at it.

It was pretty disappointing in the end.  OK the key went in the lock and turned the lock so it was the right one for the safe, but the safe was already unlocked and there was nothing in it. Martley was thinking about the information he now had. He knew what the proper type of key looked like. That was a start. There was a definite chance that this key would also fit his safe, after all they both came from the same business, so how would he get Johnny’s key to try it in his own safe? Why did he have a key round his neck, on a gold chain, obviously as some sort of keepsake, anyway?

Martley reckoned he’d start here “Let’s have a look at that key.  Where did you get it from then, did you know it fitted this safe?”

Martley slipped the key in the lock and turned it lovingly, feeling the solid click as the lock mechanism turned and fell into place.

“Pity to have a safe without a key, can I keep it? Otherwise the safe is so much scrap.”

“Sorry then that’s how it’s going to stay; I can’t give this up now.”

Martley had a brainwave. He’d seen an old jar of what looked like putty somewhere if only it had not dried out. Eventually he found it and opened the lid which had been tightly sealed. He poked out the putty but the outer surface was rock hard. He got out his knife and dug away and sure enough the middle was still quite soft. He rolled it, flattened it out and turned to Johnny.

“Mind if I stick the key in it then I might be able to get one made?”

“Be my guest, but wipe it up afterword - I don’t want all that shit on my shirt.  My mum gave that to me after my dad was killed, never said what it was for, and I never asked, just said it was precious to dad and for me to look after it. I put the chain on it a few years ago, sort of a family symbol I suppose. This must have been the office safe that was emptied in the robbery. Mum must have given it to me when the cops had finished with it. Bloody funny thing to do now I think about it - mums eh - who knows what goes on in their minds sometimes.”

“You close to her?”

“Yeah go and see her couple of times a week”.

“You could ask her why”.

“I could, wouldn’t do any good she’s been going gaga the last three years, can’t remember a bloody thing, that’s why I moved her out of here. Memory got so bad she was going to leave the gas on and blow herself up if she hadn’t moved into the home. Mind you she’s got worse in there quite quickly, can barely remember who I am. You got parents?”

“Dead.”

“Oh.”

Johnny left after another hour and Martley carried on clearing  By the end of the day he was about ready for a pint and he’d cleared the first shed, there was only the really heavy stuff to put on the truck and he’d come back tomorrow with Ick and the truck with the HiAb. Right now he needed to go and meet a man about a key.

………………

 

He’d agreed to meet Jed Logan in the Dog about 8.30.  He hoped Ick would be somewhere else, he did not want any interference at this stage, and anyway he knew Ick would be pretty pissed up whether he’d won or lost at the races.
He was in luck - no Ick.

“Can you cut me this key?” He handed over the hardened putty with the key shape pressed in it.

“No, but I know a man who can. It’ll cost you twenty quid though no ones supposed to make copies of these, the blank keys are really hard to get.”

Martley handed over the putty and the twenty pound note and they went off to sit down and play some dominoes.

 

………………

 

He sat in the crane with the engine running, moving the jib over to where the safe was lurking under its cover of protective scrap metal. It had been three days since he had given Jed the putty and he was getting impatient for the key. He’d been told it would take a week but he was interpreting that optimistically, and his optimism was driving him mad. He lowered the wire with the big magnet on and as it just touched the pile of old exhausts he had rather nonchalantly placed on top of the safe to hide it from Ick’s prying eyes, he pulled a lever in the cab. The flow of magnetic energy into the lump on the end of the hawser caused a very satisfactory rustle and click, click, effect amongst the old exhausts as they jostled for position on the magnet under the influence of its magic power. It took a second for the exhausts to settle down and get comfortable and once ready Martley gunned the old diesel and moved a lever so that the drum started to reel in the hawser taking the magnet and the exhausts with it and revealing the safe underneath. This was a bit like a conjuror revealing some hidden thing from under a cloth, and it always gave Martley a thrill to see it happen. He switched off and got down from the cab, got his pry bar and started to lever the safe over. He needed to hear that “thunk” again - it really had him hooked. He spent ten minutes levering the safe over on its back and up again just to hear that noise.  Once he did not hear it and that sent him into a panic, so he had to lever it over all over again. This was tiring work - the thing weighed two hundredweight at least. Once he’d got the safe where he wanted and he had reassured himself that there was something in it, he climbed back in the cab, dropping the magnet gently to the ground.  He turned of the power and the exhausts just slid to the ground in a nice tight heap. If he’d just dropped them from a great height he knew he’d have to waste time gathering them together again when he wanted to put them back on the safe. Next he spun the cab of the crane round and lowered the magnet down over the back of the truck finally he energised it with a flick of the lever and lifted and swung it back lowering the second safe which he had got from Johnny’s into position. So there they both sat like two wise monkeys, one with the door open and one with it locked shut - see no money, hear the money, so to speak

After a while he grew tired and impatient of staring at them, what he wanted was the bloody key. He dropped the exhaust pipe cluster back on the safes, spreading it about to cover the two of them, switched off and went down to the Dog for a drink. He thought he’d have a big plate of lobby for his tea; they usually had some on at the Dog this time in the evening.

 

………………

 

 The next morning Martley was hard at it back at the house; he’d cleared the first shed and had moved into the second. So far he’d not found much of any real value, nor of much scrap value, and he was now pinning his hopes on the key Jed was going to get made to open the safe. So this had turned into just another scrap job. He might make a few quid extra from some of the stuff, as there were a couple of old fusee clock mechanisms in amongst it all, but he was really relying on a straight payment for the clearing so he had decided to get it done, just in case Johnnie decided to cut the payment because he’d overrun. It was two in the afternoon and he’d just finished his cobs, cheese and pickle like he always had, bought in the Dog the night before. He’d taken a second load back to the yard and was about to take the third with the fourth and final one by about five o’clock, or so he reckoned.

“You still here?” It was Johnny.

“Course I bloody well am. There’s a lot of junk in these two sheds, should be finished by this afternoon though.”

“Good, I’ll bring your money round to the yard tomorrow, just got a bit of business to finish off today; I should have some cash so I suppose cash is OK for you?”

“Yeah cash is always best, anything to stop the bloody taxman.”

“Same in my game always has been in the building trade. Trouble I get is being paid, mind you, you can tell who’ll pay and who’ll try to stiff you. English are the worst payers at the moment don’t seem to have the money and don’t seem to want to part with any of it. Always have bigger and bigger ideas when you’re doing the job, you try to tell ‘em that it’s going to cost more if they change it and keep adding to it all the time but they don’t listen, then they don’t want to pay for it or they haven’t got the money. Sikhs are good payers, always know what they want and usually pay a good bit up front in cash, always got time to work for them. You’re not a bad worker considering you’re English. I can’t get any casual tradesmen that are any good or reliable unless they’re Poles. They know how to work and aren’t afraid of it.”

“What’s your problem with the English then?”

“Oh I dunno, country’s gone to the dogs. See you tomorrow.”

“Miserable bugger.”

 

………………

 

That evening Martley had to go for a ride on the old Ariel. It had been a really hot day working in a closed shed sorting out dusty dirty stuff belonging to other people so he didn’t even know whose dirt he’d been breathing in meant he had to get some fresh air. He had a couple of hours before the darts and doms evening started at the Dog, just long enough for a good blow.
 
He pulled the bike out of the lean-to and checked the oil and petrol - it was ok. He sat astride the bike with his helmet on and turned on the petrol, tickled it and swung down on the kick-start. The old bike burst into life.

“Dunno what that miserable bugger’s so down on the English for, no one else made bikes like this.”

He pushed it into gear and slid out of the yard on a blue haze of oily smoke, kicking the picket gate shut behind him. Down Bexham Street, then left into Kiln Road and on into Slater Street, he was travelling about 35mph, but he could not really tell as the bike had no Speedo. Never had from new. After about another fifteen minutes he was starting to leave the town behind, the roads got a bit wider and the houses bigger with a bit more space between. He was beginning to enjoy himself. Flat out the old bike would do about fifty; after all it was eighty years old and had not had much loving care in the last sixty of those. By the time he had lost all the houses and was really out in the country it was starting to get dusky.  As the bike had no lights he reckoned it was time to head for home and he turned into a tiny lane he knew would lead him back to town. As he rounded a corner going steadily he saw a large four by four filling the whole road, when he was pretty sure that the driver wasn’t going to pull over he had no choice but to put the bike up onto the grass verge, ending on its side with him underneath, he just managed to cut the engine and switch off the fuel which was pouring out onto his leg. As he lifted the bike up to get out from underneath he felt it get lighter.

“Sorry mate, didn’t see you till it was too late you OK, bloody hell Martley, is that you?”

“Of course it’s me. What are you doing out here?” Martley had just recognised the driver - it was Johnny.

“Just been seeing my old lady. She lives out here since we split needed to talk to her about one of the kids. I’ll give you a lift home it’s too dark to ride.  Where’s your bloody lights? I can’t believe the coincidence.”

Yeah, nor can I, thought Martley rather ruefully rubbing his sore leg. They lifted the bike into the back, it wasn’t damaged, it had seen worse than that in its long life. Johnnie dropped him back at the yard and they unloaded the bike. Martley looked at his watch.

“You got to be somewhere?”

“Yeah, it’s darts and doms night at the Dog - they’ll be wondering where I am.”

“I could do with a pint. There’s no one waiting for me at home now so I’ll buy you one for knocking you off.”

“Make it two and I’ll forgive you.”

Just as it was coming out of his big gob Martley wished he wasn’t saying it. The last person he wanted in the Dog tonight was Johnny, he was pretty sure that Jed would be there with the key and if he opened his mouth about the other safe Johnny was bound to be interested, and Martley did not want that - what was in the safe was his to find and his to keep, the bloody thing had been there twenty years after all.

“OK, let’s go, I’m parched.”

………………

 

As it was Jed wasn’t in the pub, he’d been in earlier and had been looking for Martley, but he’d had to go and pick up his daughter from her shift at the hospital. However he had said to tell him that he’d come to the yard tomorrow.

So the key is ready!

Martley could hardly contain himself - he did not sleep at all and kept getting up to see if it was light and time to get going. Like all sleepless nights this one went on forever and only served to fuel his rising anticipation. After a hurried breakfast he was at the yard at 7:15, he was so excited he could not really settle to anything constructive and kept stopping and starting the crane and moving some stuff here and some stuff there and then back again. It was hopeless so he switched off having uncovered the two safes and went and made a brew. He kept looking at his watch, it was 10:30 and seemed like midday, he paced about and drank so much tea that he had to keep going for a pee. At about midday he was coming out of the bog after his fortieth pee and there was Jed. Half of Martley wanted to kiss him and the other half wondered where the hell he’d been.

“Bit late aren’t you, got it then?”

“Yes I’ve got it. What’s up with you, where’s the rush?”

“I’ve been waiting here since half seven, I thought you’d get here early.”

“Why? It’s not my sodding safe. Mart, you really are like a big kid sometime, anyway there you go.”  Jed handed him the shiny new key, if he hadn’t just had one he’d have wet himself.

“Well, let’s go see if it works” now even Jed sounded excited. They went over to where the safes stood and went straight to the one from Johnny’s. The key worked in it spot on, which was not surprising as it was copied from the key for that safe. Then, hands shaking a little and palms all sweaty, Martley turned his attention to his safe, in went the key no problem, but it would not turn.

“It’s no good.”

“I told you it was a long shot. They didn’t make two the same. What would be the point? There was just a chance that they’d had a pair made, but they didn’t.”

“Thanks Jed, I’d better get on” Martley was in a sulk now and just wanted Jed to go.

“I can take a hint.”

Martley didn’t even acknowledge him going. He just stood and stared at those two bloody safes, one with its mouth open and the other closed.

“Here’s your money, I put an extra thirty quid in to cover any damage to you or the bike. Bugger me, what have we got here” Johnny was next to Martley staring at the two identical safes. Martley took his money.

“Both came from your dad’s place. Want some tea?”

He followed.  “What do you mean”?

“I’ll tell you over a brew”.

As they sat over their tea Martley handed over the old ledger and all the cuttings about the robbery.

“So what do you reckon then? Do you think there’s anything in it?”

“I know there’s somat in it, I’ve heard it, but I can’t open it. That’s why I came to your house, the other stuff was just coincidence, the clearing and that thought I might find a key or something. Well I did, didn’t I, and another bloody safe but it doesn’t fit mine, so I still can’t open it.”

They went back into the yard and Martley played him the “THUNK”.

“It’ll turn out to be an old shoe - you know that, don’t you.”

“Probably, but I’ve still got to know.”

Johnny stood there staring at the safes and didn’t say a word. You could almost hear him thinking.

“This explains a lot, you know, and I can find you the right key.”

He got a bit of paper out of his trousers and scribbled down an address. “Meet me here this afternoon about 2.30.”

When he’d gone Martley looked at the paper - Sunnyside Nursing Home 24-32 Wednesbury St.

 

………………

 

Two o’clock found him on the bike tick tocking along the road followed by a reassuring mist of blue smoke; Martley liked exhausts that smoked a bit, it meant that enough oil was around to keep everything lubricated, including his shoes and trousers. Johnny was already sitting outside the nursing home.

“Lets go and meet my mum” he said “don’t expect a conversation but you may get a look.”

They rang the bell and were let in. Johnny led the way through the corridors off which were numerous lounge rooms with lots of old chairs filled with people silently watching the television at maximum volume. The whole place smelled of disinfectant and the things it was being used to disinfect, it was oppressively hot.

“I come a couple of times a week but she hasn’t known me for ages, we just sit for a bit, I can only stand it for about 30 minutes, it takes ages to get the smell out of my clothes. Having said all that, she does not like to let go her bag so this may not be easy.”

They went into the end sitting room and Martley saw an old woman propped up and lolling in a big old armchair, her legs were bandaged and her feet were up on a low stool. Her eyes did not look over to them, it was quiet, no telly here.

“Hi Mum” Johnny leaned over and kissed her on the cheek she did not move, or seem to register. They stayed for about 20 minutes. Johnny got up to leave and leant forward to kiss his mother goodbye, as he did Martley saw him slip his hand into her open bag, as he did he put his key in and took another almost identical one out.

 

………………

 

Back at the yard they were staring at the closed safe. Johnny stepped forward put the key in the lock and tuned it the well-oiled hinges, allowed the door to swing silently open on the slightly sloping ground. Martley strained forward and Johnny stepped back to let him closer.

“Go on then, get it out whatever it is - it’s your safe”

Martley leaned down and pulled put what looked like an oily rag and a small haversack about nine inches square. His hands were shaking with anticipation as he started to unfold the oily rag, there was something hard wrapped in it. Johnny stepped back as Martley turned, he could now see he was holding a revolver.

“What the fuck is that doing in there?”

Martley handed it to him as he turned his attention to the haversack. He tipped it out on the ground between them and out poured five thick bundles of old twenty pound notes. All held together with those paper bands as if they had just come from the bank. They did not speak, but picking up the stuff they went back up the stairs to the office. Johnny had some whisky in the car so he got that and they sat and drank half of it. Martley thought it should be in celebration of the find but it did not seem as if Johnny felt like that. The pistol was an old service issue Enfield unloaded, the notes were old style -useless - and five thousand pounds worth.

“Don’t touch this, don’t show it to anyone, don’t do anything with it. I’ll be back in half an hour.”

Martley didn’t much care for Johnny’s tone. After all it wasn’t his stuff or did he think it was? After all, what did Martley want with some old notes he couldn’t use and a revolver with no bullets that he did not know how to use? His years in the scrap trade told him one thing though. This stuff was trouble, the gun was trouble, the notes were trouble, he didn’t know why but he did know they were. That meant he could not go to the bank with the notes and he was in possession of an unlicensed gun.  Somehow he wished he’d been a bit less curious and left the bloody safe where it was. Still he had found out what was inside, and that mattered.

In a bit Johnny was back. He handed Martley an envelope in which were ten new fifty pound notes. Normally Martley wouldn’t touch fifties but he thought he’d make an exception this time.
 
“What’s this for then?”

“You take it – it’s compensation. Now I want you to lose the whole bloody lot - safes, gun, the lot, I’ll burn the money down in the yard.”

“You’ll have to tell me what it’s all about first.”

“I never knew there were two safes. All I knew was we had two keys one each; God knows why she wanted us to keep them. I knew life changed after dad died, it was easy, she was happy, which seemed odd to me. She must have done it herself to get rid of him and collect the insurance. That twenty K insurance put me through school, did a whole lot of things, that and selling the yard our lives changed, she must have done it. Killed him, faked the robbery and used the second safe as a decoy, to look like a robbery had taken place. This is the money dad took out of the bank to go to Midland Motor Auctions with - only he never got there, she shot him. He loved that garage but she didn’t, always said that it held them back, so she shot him and got rid of it. Got everything she wanted in one move, amazing, my bloody mother a murderer.”

He finished ranting and turned to Martley with an icy stare. “You and me have got a secret, there’s no point in opening this all up again, what good would it do? Take your money and get rid of this gun and don’t mention it again.”

“Don’t worry, Johnny boy, this yard’s hidden worse stuff than that over the years. Just between the two of us then.”

 

END
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