This is the seventh part of a fiction serial, in 1555 words.
Lying to Mummy didn’t come naturally to me. I had always been a good boy, and now I was the man of the house too. I made up a story about the father of one of my school friends needing help with his deliveries, and he had asked me to help at weekends. I tried hard to think up a trade he might have, as Mummy pondered whether or not to give me permission. “You would have to do your school studies before any work, Manfred, so that will mean more effort on Fridays after school. But overall, I think it is good that you want to work. What does he do, this father?”
I thought it sounded lame at best, but she seemed to believe it. “Scrap metal, Mummy. He has returned from the war, and managed to rent a truck at weekends from an old comrade. He tours the streets looking for any metal scrap, and I suppose he gets paid for it at a metal works”. She examined her fingers. “And what will he pay you?”
I lifted my sleeve, and showed her the watch. “Not money, but things. He has given me his old Air Force watch, and a camera too, both for working today, and for next week. We could sell them, or exchange them for what we need”. I lifted the camera from the bag, and showed it to her with the rolls of film. She knew nothing about cameras, I was sure, but she appraised it is as if she was an expert. “A nice camera, and valuable too. I think you should keep the watch, but the camera should be donated to the school. They can take class photos with it, and sell copies to parents perhaps”. I nodded my agreement, thinking how pleased Fraulein Weiss would be with my gift.
After dinner, I went to my room, and made copious notes. I wrote down all the names I had heard, listing physical descriptions next to each one. Then I drew a rough map of where Pablo’s cellar was, and a list of most of the things I had seen stored down there. I had forgotten to get the number on the truck’s plate, and made a mental note to memorise that next weekend. When I had enough information, I would reveal my detective work to Mummy, and she could hand it all over to the Police. I wasn’t scared of Pablo’s threats, as they would all be in prison.
Fraulein Weiss was not as pleased about the camera as I had hoped. She eyed it suspiciously, turning it around in her hands. “So your mother suggested you donate this, Manfred? Tell me, how did you come by it?” I had no option but to lie again. After all, she knew the boy I was supposed to be working with had lost his father many years ago. He had been killed in Crete, serving with the paratroops.
“It was my father’s camera, miss. We have no developing equipment, and no money for more film, so we thought the school could make use of it”. I was trying to sound as casual as I could, but was never sure if she was convinced. She opened a drawer with a key, and placed the camera inside. As she locked it, she looked me in the eyes. “Very well. Thank your mother for me. I will give this over to the school headmaster, and he will decide how it is used”.
That afternoon as I walked home, I realised I had learned a lesson, and not one about the capital cities of Europe, or the Franco-Prussian War. I had a feeling inside, and one that proved to be right. The camera was never mentioned again, and never seen after that afternoon either. Fraulein Weiss had certainly not given it to the headmaster, I knew that in my gut. But she did come to school three days later wearing a new red overcoat.
After that, I was no longer in love with her, and started to notice someone else instead. A girl in my class, Helga. She was slightly older than most of us, but too young for the next class up. I liked her blonde hair, tied in bunches. And she blushed when I looked at her.
That night in bed, I started to wonder if Helga liked chocolate.
And how her legs might look in nylon stockings.
On Saturday morning, Spider and Leo were nowhere to be seen. I stamped on the trapdoor with my foot a few times, but it didn’t open. I then tried to lever it up with my fingers, but it didn’t budge. It was undoubtedly locked from the inside. I hung around for ages, wondering what I would tell Mummy. I concocted a story that my friend’s father could no longer get access to the truck, so my job was no more.
I had more or less decided to give up and go home, when Pablo appeared at the entrance to the courtyard. He was walking strangely, and kept stopping, as if to catch his breath. When he saw me standing by the trapdoor he seemed pleased, and beckoned me over. “Ah, Curly. I had all but forgotten you boy. Good lad for showing up. Now, help me get over to that door”. He placed his arm around my shoulders, and felt very heavy as he let me take his weight. I walked slowly over to the doorway he had shown me, barely able to stand myself.
Inside, he leaned against what was left of a wall, and fished in his pocket for a key. Pointing along the roofless hallway, he indicated a door at the end. “There. Open that padlock”. I ran down to the door, and slipped the key into the big black lock. It turned easily. Pablo was already behind me. “Now lock this behind me, and then go back to the trapdoor. I will open it from inside soon”. I did as he asked, watching him wince with pain as he descended some stone steps inside. It was a full five minutes before the trapdoor opened just enough for me to squeeze through the gap. Pablo stood at the bottom of the ladder. “The bolts, boy. Close both bolts”.
By the time I had shifted the stiff bolts into place and got back down the ladder, Pablo had taken off his overcoat, and was leaning on his side across the large bed. There was a hole in his jacket, near the pocket, and blood all over his shirt. He pointed across at a metal shelf. “The red box, the one there. And get some Vodka from the corridor. A big bottle, with a blue label, clear fluid inside”. I went to get the Vodka first. The writing was in Russian script, but I found the blue label and clear fluid. I picked up the red box, and took it over to him. “What happened, Pablo? How did you get hurt?” He waved me away, striking the neck of the bottle against the bed frame, to break off the top. “In a minute. You have to help me now”.
Pulling up his shirt, he poured some of the Vodka over his side, yelling loudly in pain as he did so. I could see a small hole at the front, and a larger one at the back. They were neat, and circular. When he had calmed down, he opened the box, and handed me a large packet. “It’s a field dressing, young Curly. Open it carefully, you have to put it on me”. He slowly removed his jacket, then his shirt. He wasn’t wearing a vest, and his chest was covered in dark hair. Around his neck he wore a gold cross on a chain. Leaning to one side, he nodded. “Wrap it round. Nice and tight now, not sloppy”. I did as he asked, and he watched carefully as I tied off the tapes. “Good job. Now pass me the Vodka”. I gave him the bottle, and he poured a lot into his mouth, taking care not to touch the jagged neck with his lips.
Smiling at my wide-eyed stare and bloodstained hands, he told me to sit on the side table. “It was another gang, Curly. That’s the problem with this job, always someone else trying to muscle in. Luckily, the bullet went straight through. I should be alright as long as it doesn’t get infected. I haven’t got a clue what happened to Leo and Spider though. I think Spider might have got off worse than me, as I saw him fall, and he didn’t get up. Reaching under his pillow, he produced a large revolver. “Here, take this. It is easy to use, just pull the trigger all the way back, and it fires. Keep it low mind, it has a tendency to lift. Now sit there and keep watch, in case they come. I have been up all night, and need rest”.
It wasn’t long before he was asleep on his back, snoring loudly. I sat looking at the heavy revolver in my lap, wondering what to do if anyone came.
It occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a gangster.