Anthony has turned his hand to writing fiction since he retired five years ago. A graduate of Birmingham University in the days when the red brick was still vivid, Tony studied Literature, Linguistics and Education. He vowed that one day he would write seriously and with the help of a couple of creative writing courses from the University of East Anglia, he has now set sail on the rough seas – as you can see from the adjacent photo – to realise his ambition.
Having had success with short stories he has embarked upon his first full length work which is going to be the great post-9/11 novel!
His genre is contemporary fiction, his idols the usual suspects: John Steinbeck, Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Eliot, Ian McEwan and, most recently, Evie Wyld and Amy Sackville.
I have included the one piece. It’s entitled Deception and tells the story of a bank manager and his unusual personal ambition.
Hope you enjoy it!
“Hermann went out of his mind, merely muttering with extraordinary speed: ‘The three, the seven and the ace! The three, the seven and the queen!’”
The Queen of Spades, Alexander Pushkin
‘Well, I think that was successful, don’t you?’
‘Yes, I think it probably was.’
Richard took the empty glass from Trudy and walked into the kitchen. ‘I was serious about the Pushkin you know, it’s my absolute favourite – and I think everyone should be made to read it,’ he proclaimed.
‘Mm … It’s good, Rich, but steady on, make everyone read it? That sounds a bit tyrannical to me.’ Trudy got to her feet and brought her hand to her brow. She closed her eyes as she swayed gently to the rhythm of the chardonnay. ‘I think I’ll head upstairs. Need some shut eye. The room’s beginning to spin.’ Her hand reached out for the arm of the chair to steady herself.
‘OK, you want some help? Shall I carry you up?’
Trudy, not usually one to seek assistance, gladly placed her arms around Richard’s shoulders and allowed herself to be swept off her feet.
‘You haven’t carried me like that for a long time,’ she whispered suggestively, as Richard laid her on the bed. If only she spoke like that when she was sober.
Back in the sitting room, Richard helped himself to a generous whisky, slumped into his chair and with full glass in hand, relaxed and reflected on the events of the evening. It had been a success – he was sure. Jo and Simon were good people and Trudy and he enjoyed their company. The “What’s your favourite book?” discussion had happened purely spontaneously and had led to a lot of joking and teasing but all had been said in good heart and no-one had taken offence at some of the less kindly comments passed. He had been surprised with Jo’s choice – Jilly Cooper’s Riders. He had thought her to be, perhaps, a little more discerning. With Simon’s, The Grapes of Wrath, well that was spot on. A very good choice, one he could unequivocally agree with. And he knew that Trudy would plump for the “our Jeffrey” drivel, she’s such a literary philistine.
And Richard and The Queen of Spades…? He loved Pushkin’s confidence, his mastery of storytelling and it highlighted a truism in life – you couldn’t afford to take your eye off the ball, especially when success was right there for the taking. Otherwise you might end up like poor Hermann! Such a fool!
Richard downed the last mouthful of whisky. As his mind began to wander, he was tormented by the thought that had been his constant companion for ten years or more. By turns uplifting and energising, strength-sapping and life-draining, he had been drawn and repelled by it in equal measure. But for him now the real question was, “Do I let Trudy in on the secret?”
He was working this question over and over in his head as he drifted off, no doubt to return to his dilemma the next day, and the next …
Richard Brockworth had since the age of ten wanted to be rich. Not just comfortably off, not only admired and appreciated by the well-to-do, the well-heeled, moneyed, successful businessmen he came into contact with everyday, but those who were Gatsby-rich, so that he commanded respect and recognition from the uber-wealthy. To give parties, to receive invitations, to be loved; this was Richard Brockworth’s goal from a very, very young age.
But between the idea and the reality, there was a deficiency, a shortcoming. He was not a go-getter, not an aggressive person where money was concerned but, surprisingly, quite a passive soul, someone who was inclined to walk away from risk rather than embrace it.
So, with the hand he had been dealt, how was he to realise his long-cherished ambition?
Five years after his promotion, the manager of Canterbridge bank felt short-changed; he still lacked the riches of Croesus that he so craved. His plan, his secret, had pre-dated his promotion. Many an hour spent balancing the books of his bank’s clients, authorising their loans, instructing them as to where to invest their wealth, had fired his imagination and brought about the birth of his scheme.
And it was simplicity itself. He must wait until his bank fell victim to a robbery. This eventuality would provide the robbers with their ill-gotten gains, and Richard with his opportunity. He would simply help himself under cover of the theft to a bit more. Well, to be honest, a lot more.
But the problem was all too obvious; he was powerless to instigate the event. He must wait, be patient. Very, very patient. And, indeed, recognise that Fate might deny him his opportunity altogether. Only by yielding to serendipity could he realise his dream.
And, anyway, it gave him something to look forward to each morning as he kissed Trudy and the children goodbye, closed his front door and headed off to join the others going round and round in circles on the M25.
Monday morning another week. He had decided not to involve Trudy, just to let things happen. There was nothing unusual about how the day started or the way that it progressed through the morning. Indeed, there was nothing to suggest, as Richard lifted his jacket from the back of his chair at 12:29pm as usual, that the opportunity for realising his dream was about to materialise.
As he left his room to spend his lunch hour looking for a birthday card for Trudy, he thought he heard loud voices coming from the customer area. He walked down the corridor, keyed his code into the pad, and pulled open the door. Lain out before him was a tableau the like of which he had only seen in films. People lay on the floor and three hooded men, brandishing guns, stood over them.
‘You! Down on the ground!’ bellowed one of them, his face masked by a dark red balaclava. Richard, sensing what might be developing, felt uplifted as he prostrated himself.
‘Do as I say and no-one will get hurt,’ Red Balaclava Man declaimed in a stentorian voice. He walked over to the counter directing his words to one cashier but addressing them all. ‘Take all the money out of the tills, put it in these bags and when they’re full, hand them over to my colleagues,’ he ordered. ‘Who’s in charge here?’
‘I am,’ uttered Richard (a little too eagerly?) from his position on the floor.
‘Right, you’re coming with me,’ and he picked his way between the prone bodies to Richard. ‘Get up. You’re taking me to the safe.’
Richard got to his feet. ‘You won’t get away with this, you know?’ he said as he re-keyed the code into the pad. He laughed to himself as he heard himself say the words, but it had just seemed the right thing to say. The door opened and R.B.M. issued orders to his ‘colleagues’ to hold the fort while he was away, issuing another warning to the customers ‘not to try anything silly.’
With a quick detour to collect the keys, Richard and R.B.M. descended the stairs to the heavily protected door to the bank’s safe. There followed a lengthy process while Richard unlocked the vault door and then the safe itself. Once opened, the contents were emptied into large bags.
‘Any jewellery? Where are the safe deposit boxes?’ pressed R.B.M.
Richard located them and was opening the first one when both men heard loud noises from upstairs. R.B.M. instantly went to the entrance of the vault.
‘Don’t try anything smart,’ he warned and disappeared from view. Richard could hear R.B.M. take a few paces down the corridor.
And it was now that Richard seized the moment.
Without a second’s delay, he began to take out the diamond bracelet, brooch and earrings and deposit them in his pockets. Fortunately they weren’t too big and didn’t cause any tell-tale bulges. He heard R.B.M.’s steps coming back, but no sooner had he appeared at the door, more noises were heard from upstairs and he disappeared again.
Hardly believing his luck, Richard now carefully selected the small objects he saw inside the second box – two gold rings, another diamond brooch and a small diamond-studded watch. This time each item found its way into the pocket of Richard’s jacket.
Enough, enough, thought Richard, best not to be too greedy, and he stood trying to keep calm as he awaited R.B.M.’s return.
‘OK, let’s move it,’ R.B.M. demanded immediately he arrived back in the vault.
Richard began lifting the bags, and when it became obvious that he couldn’t manage them all, R.B.M. picked up the remaining two. Both men, bags over their shoulders, made their way back to the customer area.
Less than five minutes after Richard had been ordered to resume his prone position, the robbers had fled. Customers struggled back to their feet, cashiers consoled each other, pushed buttons to raise the alarm and Richard stood speechless looking dazed, bewildered, a little distracted. The contents of his jacket and trouser pockets revealed nothing to the onlooker, but inwardly, inconspicuously, their weight bore down upon him reminding him of what had just occurred, of what he had dared, of what he had achieved.
And that, Hermann, my dear friend, is how it should be done.
Because it was a Friday evening, the journey home took longer than usual. By the time Richard turned the key in the lock of his front door, he had been over the events of the day a thousand times in his head. Debriefings had taken place in the afternoon for all bank staff, inventories drawn up of items stolen, estimates worked out as to the value of bank notes appropriated.
And through all this activity, Richard was calmness personified, in control, the illicit items of his endeavours undisturbed in his pockets.
The weekend lay ahead and he resolved to keep a low profile. Nothing was scheduled, no parties, no socialising, so he would just maintain his equilibrium and ensure he acted normally with Trudy and the children. And he would continue to do this, he vowed to himself, during the coming weeks. After that, he would consider how to exchange the jewellery. All he had to do now was find somewhere suitable to secrete his bounty, and relax.
‘Hi, Dad, got an A for my English today,’ beamed Nicola, as he took off his coat. ‘Here, look!’ and she thrust her exercise book in front of his nose. He saw at the top of the page the title, Deception, underlined in his daughter’s handwriting. ‘It’s my review of “Charley Varrick”. Saw it last week as part of my media studies. It’s my favourite film. Bye!’
And with that she shot upstairs to her room, taking the book with her.
‘Well done,’ he called after her.
Richard tried to keep everything as normal as he could at the start of Monday morning. Indeed, there was nothing to suggest to him as he grabbed his jacket from the back seat of his car after parking in the allotted space, that the events of the day would be much different from any other.
‘Morning, old chap,’ said Andrew Dillington, Head of Security, as Richard walked into his office. ‘Let me introduce Superintendent Dawson, Chief Inspector Brown and Detective Sergeant Jenkins. I think you already know Charley Davis from Head Office.’
Richard’s throat went dry. ‘To what do I owe the pleasure?’
‘Get straight to the point, old man,’ started Dillington. ‘Last Friday’s events not entirely legit, if you get my drift. All a set up. Thieves, customers – all actors, you see. Checking our security systems, see how our staff react. To be honest, hadn’t expected a certain person to react in quite the way he did. Bit of a rum do, if you know what I mean?’
Richard’s hand stroked the hair on the back of his head. His other hand blindly reached out behind him to feel for the reassuring arm of his chair. He slumped to the seat, leaned forward and both his hands covered his eyes, cradling his head. A deep, penetrating, primeval sob shuddered through his body permeating his inner self, transforming him into a weak, quivering shell unrecognisable to those who had gathered in his office five minutes earlier, who now gathered round him witnessing the disintegration of a fellow human being. None could help him.
Move over, Hermann, let me sit there next to you.
It was Dillington who responded first. Placing his hand on Richard’s shoulder he said, ‘Come on, old chap, let’s get you out of here.’
Charley Davis stepped forward. ‘I’ve got him,’ he said to the others and helped Richard rise from his seat, and walk towards the door.
And as he was led away, Richard was heard merely muttering with extraordinary speed: ‘The three, the seven, and the ace! The three, the seven, and the queen! Such a fool!’