A Hopeless Crook | Fun story from our archives

Cartoon man trying to crack open a safe

A Hopeless Crook

By Tess Niland Kimber

Big Les was giving him another chance… but did Miles want it?

PLOP! Oh no! Miles  just couldn’t believe it. Hardly daring to look,
he saw his all-singing, all-dancing, smart-Alec smartphone floating in the toilet.

Panicking, he grasped the side of his head, encased in a pair of his wife Pam’s tights. This was his first proper “job” with Big Les and if he messed up…

“What am I going to do, Pam? I love what I do but I can’t hack it. I’m useless. I can’t bear doing people over.”

She’d beamed. “Thank goodness. You’re not cut out to be a villain. You’re too soft-hearted. You couldn’t hurt a fly. Why you thought you’d make a con, I’ll never know. You’re much more suited to – Hang on. What about the job for Sly Steve? Aren’t you working for him next?”

He’d pulled a face. “I’d forgotten.”

Pam organised his diary. She was his right-hand woman. Every freelance con should have one, he boasted. Well, every successful one…

“You can’t let down Steve,” she warned ominously. “You know what he’s like.”

Miles swallowed. Sly Steve wasn’t someone to let down… lightly.

“OK – after his job I’ll tell them to count me out.”

Everything was going wrong

But then life became complicated. Before he could “resign” he was asked
to help out with yet another gang.

What could he do? He hadn’t anticipated leaving the criminal underworld would be so difficult.

Tonight, as usual, everything was going wrong. He sighed, watching as his mobile floated in the toilet bowl.

Pushing up his sleeve, he fished the totally un-waterproof mobile out of the water. Why, when these new-fangled phones did everything bar fly a plane, couldn’t they take a soaking, he thought, wrapping the dripping phone in a bath towel.

It was quite a nice towel now he looked at it. Soft, a lovely shade of pink, thick… Oh no, Pam would go mental when she found out he’d just defiled one of her best Egyptian towels. Oh well, he’d buy her a new one for Christmas.

Hurriedly, he patted the phone dry before extracting the battery. Well, he didn’t so much extract it – it floated out on a tsunami! It’d never work again.

“I’ll text yer when I want yer,” Big Les had growled.

How would he contact him now? He was up to his soon-to-be broken neck in it. This was going to be the gang’s first big job in ages.

“Pay for all our holidays if we get this right,” Big Les had claimed, when he’d first run through the details. “And we will get this right, won’t we, Miles? Yer won’t let us down again.”

Meekly, he’d shaken his head. Well, tried to shake his head. It was hard to move yer… I mean, your head when your jacket lapels were clamped in a humungous fist.

He wasn’t cut out to be a con

Since Miles had joined Big Les’s gang they’d had a few… mishaps. When it was suggested he join them, he’d imagined being a celebrity villain like the Krays or Ronnie Biggs, but he just wasn’t cut out to be a con. So far, every task he’d been involved in had gone completely wrong.

Take last month.

Miles was supposed to help the gang hold up the garage at the edge of town. Despite their carefully laid plans, waiting for the coast to clear, things went awry.

Miles had rushed in, perfectly disguised in his motorbike helmet, brandishing a fake gun. As menacingly as he could, he’d said, “It’s a stick-up.”

The assistant, flicking through one of those celebrity magazines, had replied, sounding bored, “Oh, hiya Miles.”

He’d been utterly thrown. “How…?”

Luckily, she’d thought it was a prank and not called the cops. As he’d explained to a furious Big Les later, “I’m sorry – I forgot my old motorbike helmet had my name printed on the front.”

Then there’d been that time in Menzies’ jewellers when he’d thought he was smiling into the mirror…

“I didn’t know it was a CCTV camera lens, honest, Les.”

But the mess-up that demoted Miles to getaway driver was when they’d tried to raid a sub-post office. His phone had rung when they’d opened the safe and someone had heard it and called out. They’d fled, and Miles had almost directed the gang to jump over a wall.

“How was I to know it was the back of the local cop shop?…”

Luckily, Big Les hadn’t seen through him that time.

I’ll do you, Miles!

Now, this job was a real biggie and he wanted to go out on a high with Les’s gang. Get everything right. But unless he dried out his phone double-quick, he’d mess up this, too.

“Here – take my mobile,” Pam had offered. “I’ve added Big Les’s number to my list of contacts.”

Relieved, Miles grabbed the phone and ran out to the sound of his wife screaming, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY BEST TOWEL?”

Jumping in the van, he reflected that escaping Pam in a temper was good training for anyone wanting to be a getaway driver.

Quickly, he phoned Les.

“Yeah, I know, I’m using Pam’s phone. Slight technical problem. I’m coming to collect you all. Then we’ll soon be on our way.”

“I’ll do you,  Miles… Now hurry up.”

Miles put the van into gear and sped off to the rendezvous. There was just one more call he had to make first…

All the ducking and diving was exciting

With all the lads in the van, Miles soon clocked up the miles to Gulliver’s Warehouse. It was full of  stock, Big Les said, and they were sure to make a killing!

As he drove, excitement flooded through him. He hadn’t felt this good for years. Was he having a change of heart? Maybe it wasn’t so bad joining in with the criminals. All the dodgy deals and ducking and diving was exciting… Maybe this change of career would be the making of him.

“Now don’t mess up this time,” Les growled through his own tights mask as Miles pulled into the yard.

“No, Les, I…”

“Enough gabbing. We’ve got to go.”

With empty cloth sacks and crowbars Big Les and the other members of the gang jumped out of the van.

There was One-R – on account of how he spelt his name Bary with one R.

“Mum weren’t that good at spelling,” he’d once explained sheepishly.

And then there was Jack Fox. A small, dark haired man with the meanest eyes Miles had ever seen.

The men disappeared inside Gulliver’s Warehouse. The minutes ticked away. Miles felt so hyped up when he saw them emerge, with bulging bags, and run across the yard to his waiting van.

We’re in for it now

Just as they prepared to open the back doors, Miles said, “Um… not so fast.”

Big Les looked at him as if he’d gone completely mad.

“I’m… err… not going to be driving for you tonight.”

Before Miles could explain further, the humungous fist was around his throat again.

“I… ahh…” he gasped.

As he tried to choke out the words, they were interrupted by squealing tyres as not one but two police cars – blue lights flashing – flew into the yard, effectively blocking the gang’s exit.

Les released Miles’ throat almost immediately. Miles rubbed his Adam’s apple, peeling off his tights mask. For the first time since they’d met, Les looked worried. Seriously worried…

“We’re in for it now,” Les muttered out the side of his mouth.

“Technically, I’m not…”

“If I go down, we all do.” He glared at Miles.

The police were out of the cars.Miles edged away from Les.

“Here he is, lads.”

“What?” his old boss looked utterly confused.

“Leslie Fortenscue Laker, we’re arresting you on suspicion of robbery. You do not have to say anything…” the police officer cautioned Les.

One-R Bary stifled a giggle. “Fortenscue!”

But Les was glaring at Miles.

“You’ve grassed me up!”

“Technically, no… These gentlemen are my colleagues.” Miles smiled. “Sorry Les – I’ve been working undercover for months. Although I don’t think I’m cut out for a life of crime.”

No con would suspect you

As the police finished arresting the gang, the officer in charge slapped Miles on the shoulder.

“Actually, Detective Vaughan, I think you’re ideally suited to undercover work. Look at how this job’s gone. Your first task for the plain clothes team and your work’s led to a significant arrest already. I think you’re going to do very well.”

“But what about all those bungles?”

“Don’t you see? It’s the perfect cover. No con would suspect you – you’re too… hapless.”

Miles smiled at his boss. That was the greatest backhanded compliment he’d ever received.

Yep, he thought, as the gang were led away, being a useless con somehow made him a very successful copper.

After all, even if he couldn’t perform very well, working undercover in all these gangs had meant he was learning all about the inside tricks of the trade. And being useless had given him the best cover yet!

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Karen Byrom

My coffee mug says "professional bookworm" which sums me up really! As commissioning fiction editor on the magazine, I love sharing my reading experience of the latest books, debut authors and more with you all, and would like to hear from you about your favourite books and authors! Email me kbyrom@dctmedia.co.uk