Stop Thief!

Young man playing guitar and singing, banknotes flying into his guitar case

It seems the two thousand pounds in rolled-up notes is too hot for some to handle… so where on earth will it end up?

Flynn stood strumming his guitar in the underpass. The commuters had been generous that morning – he could see his guitar case filling nicely. Today he might have something substantial to take back to Kerrie.

Angry cries rang out and Flynn looked up to see what was going on. A guy in a hoodie was running down the steps as if his life depended on it, pushing anyone who got in his way.

Ignoring calls of “Watch where you’re going!” he ran towards Flynn and hurled what looked like tubes of tightly rolled card into his case before fleeing.

“Cheers, pal,” Flynn murmured, wondering what rubbish had been dumped on him this time.

When the crowds thinned, he stopped for a break and inspected the morning’s takings. He almost had a cardiac arrest when he realised that what the hoodie-wearer had actually dumped on him were rolls of banknotes – fifties and twenties, at a rough estimation a couple of grand’s worth.

“Jeeze!” he exclaimed, going hot and cold.

Hastily gathering up the rest of his money, he decided to move pitch before anyone came along asking questions.

Two thousand pounds?” Kerrie gasped, when Flynn showed her. But when he explained the circumstances, her joy turned to alarm.

“You’ll have to get rid of it!” she cried. “It’s obviously drugs money or something. They’ll be looking for it, and if they find you, you’ll be in trouble.”

She didn’t explain who they might be, but Flynn knew she meant police or drug barons, neither of whom he wanted dealings with.

“All right,” he agreed reluctantly. “I’ll get rid of it.”

Trying to disengage mentally, he stuffed the notes into the pockets of an old jacket he’d bought at a charity shop.

“I’ll take it back there,” he said, and set off for the shop before temptation got the better of him.

“Thanks, sonny. Just put it out the back, could you?” the woman behind the counter said. “We’re a bit busy at the moment…”

Flynn could see that. The shop was crowded and it appeared there was only her and one other lady working there. He dropped the jacket onto a pile of recycling bags near the door and left before he changed his mind.

Better put all the rubbish out, Glad,” Phyllis said to her friend when they finally had a quiet spell. “They come around lunchtime, remember.”

“Oh yes,” Gladys muttered, noticing that some of the rubbish wasn’t even in a bag. “That Sharon who’s in first thing – her ‘that’ll do’ attitude
drives me mad…”

She tutted as she crammed the jacket into another recycling sack.

Come on, mate – what’s taking so long?” Lee moaned, as he waited impatiently behind the wheel of the dustcart.

“Just a min,” Trev called back. Past experience had taught him it was always worth having a quick rummage through the stuff the charity shops threw out before they took it to the tip.

Someone on another round had actually found an antique watch in a broken teapot!

Not much today, though, Trev thought as he tore open the last bag. Mind you, there was an old jacket that would do nicely for fishing.

Lee laughed when Trev finally clambered back into the cab with his find.

“You’d better wash it. Looks like some old boy’s had it for years,” he chuckled. Knowing Trev’s belief in ghosts and all things paranormal, he couldn’t resist teasing him. “In fact, he might not like you wearing his jacket to go fishing. He might come back and haunt you for the rest of your life!”

“Shut up, thickhead,” Trev muttered.

Yet hours later, when Trev was sitting on his bed examining the jacket, he began to get a strangely uncomfortable feeling. And then he discovered what was stuffed into the pockets.

“Oh wow,” he muttered. “Two grand! I can go on holiday, I can buy a car. I can –”

He stopped, fingering the crisp, pristine banknotes. These were probably the life savings of an old man who didn’t trust banks. Probably intended for a good cause, if he had no family to leave it to.

But… Trev had found it fair and square. He hadn’t stolen it, it had just fallen into his lap.

Maybe some divine spirit – or that of the jacket’s previous owner – actually wanted him to have it!

For a dustman, gifts like this didn’t turn up every day.

Setting aside his doubts, Trev hid the money in his wardrobe. The last thing he wanted was the guy he shared the flat with to know about it. He was a decent bloke, but you never could tell for sure – especially when money was involved.

That night and the following day, Trev was tormented with doubts and fears about taking the money. Should he try and trace the rightful owner?

No, Lee was probably right, the jacket – and the cash – would have belonged to someone who was now dead. That was how a lot of clothes ended up in charity shops.

Trev sighed, deeply troubled.

Much as he wanted the money, he didn’t feel comfortable with it.

Suppose he was setting himself up for a lifetime of being haunted? Ghostly accusing fingers pointing at him, the shadowy figure of a frail old man staring at him out of the gloom?

There was no one he could talk to about his fears – certainly not Lee – so when he finished the round that afternoon he made his way to the church.

“What should I do, Vicar?” he asked the Reverend McClune, who was always ready to listen to a troubled soul.

“Well, no-one would blame you for keeping it, son,” said the Reverend. “We are all mere mortals after all. Filled with greed and sin.”

“So – would that stop me being haunted?” Trev asked.

The Reverend shook his head.

“If you are haunted, my son, it is by your own conscience, telling you the right thing to do.”

“What’s it telling me?” Trev asked. He shivered suddenly – the church was cold. Freezing, in fact.

“Maybe that you should give it to those who need it more than you do,” Rev McClune replied.

“And then, would I be all right?” Trev persisted.

“Without a doubt!” came the profound reply.

Trev thought for a moment.

“Who d’you think I should give it to? The cats’ home?”

“Oh no, no, they receive plenty of donations,” the Rev McClune said hastily. “I was thinking – if you really want to do this wonderfully kind thing and donate the money – why not here, to our church?

“That way we could have the roof mended, it wouldn’t be so cold and more people would come to worship. You would certainly be in the Almighty’s good books then.”

Trev nodded. It made sense. He got to his feet and shook John McClune’s hand.

“Okay, Vicar. I’ll be back later with the cash.”

“Oh John! How could you? That poor boy…” Theresa McClune said crossly as her husband counted the pile of notes on their dining room table.

“I didn’t persuade him, my love. I only offered guidance,” John replied.

“Guidance, my foot!” Theresa said angrily. “I wonder about you sometimes. I thought we were doing the cross country run to raise funds for the roof?”

John smiled sheepishly at her.

“Clearly that is not God’s will, my sweet,” he murmured. “That’s why He brought this boy to our door.

“And my knee has really been very sore since I slipped in the nave. I doubt I could run far enough to raise much at all, to tell you the truth.”

“God’s will, my eye,” Theresa muttered. “If you’re half the man I thought you were, John McClune, you’d give that money to Valerie Pearce, that poor old lady in Parkin Street – she was robbed of her life savings a couple of days ago.”

The following morning, Reverend McClune called on Valerie Pearce. Theresa could be extremely persistent.

The old lady blinked in disbelief and had to sit down to take in what John was telling her.

As she wiped away tears of joy and gratitude, John shared the feeling. He had, after all, done the right thing.

Valerie was such a lovely, sweet-natured person – it was diabolical that someone should have robbed her.

“Have they arrested anyone yet?” he asked her gently.

Valerie shook her head of white curls.

“Said there wasn’t much chance of catching the thief. Fool that I am, I left the back door unlocked when I went shopping.

“Some opportunist burglar got lucky that day.”

John murmured sympathetically and left Valerie to mull over his amazing act of kindness in peace.

Later on, she saw Bob next door tidying his lawn. She waved, and he came over.

“How are things?” he asked kindly. “You’ve had a bit of bad luck, lately.”

“I’ve had some good luck today,” Valerie told him happily. She explained about the Reverend bringing the money.

“I feel guilty,” she added at the end. “I mean, the money – to be honest, I don’t need it. In fact I was only saving it to treat that nice young lad who comes to do my garden – Nathan.”

“Speaking of whom, I’ve got his mobile phone indoors,” said Bob. “He left it on my coalshed roof when he was pruning your tree.

“I saw it just as he was leaving last week, called him and tried to run after him, but he was obviously in a great hurry and I couldn’t keep up.”

Valerie smiled.

“What – a fit man like you, and in  your line of work?”

Bob laughed and patted his tum.

“You forget, I may have the uniform but I spend most of my time sitting behind a desk.”

Valerie smiled. “Never mind. Nathan’s due to come and fix my fence later on today – I can give it to him then.”

Nathan was pacing up and down the claustrophobic bedsit he shared with his girlfriend. Becky sat on the shabby sofa stroking her baby bump.

“Calm down!” she complained. “You’re stressing me out and even Baby can feel it.”

Nathan sat down beside her and raked his stringy hair with nicotine-stained fingers.

“I don’t want to go to the old lady today. I don’t – I can’t even look at her after what I did.”

“Nathan, you had no choice. We’re desperate – if we can’t get a deposit together for a flat, we’ll be stuck in this hovel for good.”

“But – her.” Nathan twiddled his hair. “She’s such a nice old girl – I –”

Becky started to lose her temper. She was six months pregnant and her hormones were all over the place.

“At the end of the day you didn’t even bring the money home!” she reminded him. “Stupid idiot, giving it away. And we’re still in a mess, while some musician lives the life of Riley!”

Nathan began to get angry, too. He loved Becky but things were getting on top of him.

He’d only done it for her. He could have coped with staying in the bedsit for a bit longer, while his earnings from odd jobs mounted up until they had enough for a deposit.

“You’d better get going, then – because if you’re late she really will start getting suspicious!” Becky prompted.

Nathan got to his feet.

“OK, OK. Got to face her some time, I suppose. Make all the right noises about how awful it is, someone like her being robbed.”

“Don’t keep going on about it!” Becky snapped, though she, too, felt very guilty deep down. It was easy to keep telling herself that an old lady
with a nice house and everything didn’t need that amount of cash – but it wasn’t easy to then convince herself that it had made stealing Valerie’s savings OK.

“Anyway, I need to find my phone,” Nathan muttered. “I know for sure that was the last time I had it – last week over at her house.”

He dragged his heels all the way to Parkin Street, fear placing an ever tighter grip around him as he drew close.

It hadn’t been a straightforward in-out job.

Someone had seen him leaving while Valerie was shopping, someone had called out and started chasing him, a neighbour probably.

He’d easily outrun his pursuer, but he’d been so terrified of ending up with a jail sentence he’d panicked and dumped the money.

If he’d had a calmer head on his shoulders, he could’ve just slipped it back in the drawer he got it from the next time he was there. Valerie would just think she’d mislaid it, and all would be fine.

Instead, nothing was fine.

As he reached Valerie’s gate, a cold sweat drenched him and he felt his knees buckle. The old lady was talking to a policeman.

They both looked up and came towards him. He was too weak to run. Too crushed to try and argue.

“I’m sorry,” he said as they reached him, bursting into tears.

“Hey mate, what’s wrong?” Bob exclaimed in concern.

“Come inside, quickly, and sit down,” Valerie said, fussing around like a mother hen.

“Arrest me. I did it. I’m so sorry,” Nathan sobbed.

“Did what?” Bob asked.

“Robbed the cash. You know I did, or why are you here?” Nathan snivelled.

There was a long silence before Bob spoke again.

“I’m Valerie’s neighbour. I’ve just come off-duty. I know she was burgled, but I’m not on the criminal investigation team. I hadn’t a clue you were involved.”

“You must be the one who shouted and ran after me.” He felt numb, frozen with shock.

“Because you left your phone behind,” Bob said quietly.

Nathan gave a laugh that was bordering on hysteria.

“OK, so I’ve just made a confession when I didn’t need to,” he said bitterly. “Looks like you’ve got me banged to rights, mate.”

“Now, now, let’s all just be civilised about this, shall we?” Valerie said, sweeping in and taking control. “I’ll make a nice pot of tea and we’ll all have a good talk.”

Nathan went home with a huge smile on his face and a heart bursting with happiness that day.

Valerie had listened to the story of his miserable plight with Becky, and assured him she would call the police and ask them to call off the search. Bob agreed he would say nothing at the station.

Then Valerie handed him fifteen hundred pounds – enough to cover his deposit and more.

Nathan had never known such kindness and resolved to turn his life around, make her proud and be a good father to Becky’s baby.

Valerie, happy to have helped, went into town to bank the remaining cash.

In the underpass was a busker she often saw there, playing beautiful harmonious music on an acoustic guitar.

He was clearly talented; he deserved better than playing in a grubby tunnel.

Suddenly she knew exactly what she was going to do. Without a second thought, she went over and dropped all the money into his guitar case before quickly walking away.

She didn’t need thanks – the way she felt was rewarding enough. What goes around, always comes around.

We’re sharing a varied collection of crime-themed short stories from our archives. Look out for them every Monday and Thursday during September. And don’t forget, there’s exciting brand new fiction – including regular contributions from big name authors – in My Weekly magazine! Check out our great money-saving subscription offer.