A rusting hatchback sat on a double yellow line on Hayden Street in mid-December. Inside a mother and son prepared for a robbery.
Marjorie Sutton, seventy-five, jabbed a walking stick into the car mat to steady herself as she bent forward to eye the gift shop across the street.
Alan, fifty, slouching on the driver’s seat, wore a dark blue beanie hat that covered a balding head. He was nervous and twitchy, biting at his fingernails, fiddling with the broken air-conditioning, counting minutes and turning the radio off and on.
‘Jesus, would you turn that shite off,’ Marjorie said. ‘Am I not trying to concentrate here?’
Alan turned off the radio. ‘Mam, are you sure there is no cameras in this place? It looks too nice and that not to have cameras.’
‘Didn’t I tell you a hundred times now, Alan?’
‘But you are sure you can trust this Glenda woman? I’ve never knew met her before.’
‘And you won’t need to either. She is good salt, Alan, that’s all you need to know. Sure, just look at her record: Mason’s Jewellers twas Glenda. That rental property joint with the stash of cash, wasn’t that her too. Sure we wouldn’t be sitting in this car if she didn’t help us steal the bastard from Duffy’s. She’s loyal, so stop looking so nervous. You’ll have nothing left of them nails.’
Alan took his fingers out of his mouth, spat out bits of fag-stained nails and tried to concentrate on the task at hand. He stared at the gift shop. It sat on the corner of the street, beside a tall medieval gate and a launderette. The sign read ‘House of Gifts’ in italicised font. The door and window frames were painted cream. There was a display of white bulbs stacked into the shape of a Christmas tree and tinsel neatly wrapped around mirrors, clocks and large candles. The shop and its stock were all creams, beiges, mauves and greys.
‘Could you just tell me what she said again, Mam?’ Alan asked, growing restless again.
Marjorie didn’t respond, her eyes fixed on the target, running through potential snags and suitable contingency plans.
‘Mam, please just tell me one more time.’
‘Christ Alan, can you not see I’m concentrating here? I really can’t be wasting my time spoon feeding you the details. I’ve told you already – Glenda took the call. The cameras have gone down and they need replacing. She saw it to that they are not going to be fixed till tomorrow. You don’t need to know anymore.’
‘How did she see to it though?’
‘What do you mean? She’s the secretary of the security company. She took the call and delayed telling them the details. They are fixing the cameras tomorrow morning and God-willing we will be in and out of there soon enough.’
‘And she is sure there is no detectors on the door?’
‘Yes…Jesus…there is no detectors on the door. Didn’t I check it myself yesterday.’
‘You were in there yesterday?’ Alan asked, sitting up on his seat.
‘Of course I was. I got the three buses to get here. Didn’t I need to scope the place out?’
‘What did you find out?’
‘Well as I said there is no detectors on the door and I know what I’m taking from the place.’
Marjorie shook her head as if wasting energy explaining these facts. ‘I’m sure I told you this already. The most expensive gear is the designer mirrors but they’re no good to us. We can’t get them out of the shop. Next best is the watches. They’re going for a couple of hundred each. I reckon, if you don’t mess it up, that I’ll be able to nab two or three of them.’
‘Are they not in glass cabinets?’
‘Which is why…’
‘Does anything stick inside that head of yours, Alan. Didn’t I tell you this before? I ask them to open it up to have a gander at the watches and then you distract them along with the other tools you’ve got for the job. How much did you pay them in the end anyway?’
Alan hesitated in replying, an ominous sign to his mother.
‘Twelve packs of fags,’ he said.
‘Ah here. Didn’t I say to you that the most you give them is ten?’
‘I know Mam and I told them that but…’
‘That Ger Hughes wasn’t having it.’
‘What do you mean he wasn’t having it? He’s twelve years old, Alan, for fuck’s sake. Twelve years old! Are you a man at all? So you gave them twelves packs in the end?’
‘What did you expect me to do, Mam? They weren’t having it for ten packs. They said they would be the ones nabbed if something goes wrong and I had to convince them that nothing would come back to them. They wouldn’t do it. I didn’t have any choice. Ger Hughes said the risks were outweighing the rewards.’
‘It’s only because they know you are weak. Do you think they would have turned down ten packs of fags just to cause hassle in a shop? Not a chance they would. Especially that Ger Hughes, I see him eating the fuckin’ things. Same as his father, a tight miserable bastard. So what did you tell them to do then? You’d better gave the right instructions.’
‘Yeah,’ Alan said. ‘They count to thirty then follow you in the shop. They start picking things up and putting them back in the wrong place and…’ He paused for a second. ‘After a few minutes of this they drop a drink on the ground.’
Marjorie turned on her seat to face her son. He looked away out the side window, so she prodded her walking stick into his side. He winced and turned to give her the contrite look she expected and desired.
‘You gave them money for the drink, didn’t you?’
Alan looked down at his battered runners. There was a hole in the sole of the right one, a blister had formed on his toe.
‘Unbelievable,’ she said.
‘Ger Hughes said it was an expense of the job.’
‘And if Ger Hughes told you to suck him off you would as well, wouldn’t you?’
Alan looked out the side window at the dull pavement as his mother berated him and swung her walking stick at the radio when it turned itself on. He tried to hide his wobbling lips and the blood rushing to his cheeks by concentrating on a piece of old gum. The average piece of chewing gum costs 3p to make and £1.50 to clean off the pavements, he thought to himself. It was one of his favourite facts and he often tried to use it in conversations.
‘Go off into your own little world then, Alan,’ Marjorie said. ‘God only knows what you do be thinking about. You’re not thinking about putting food on the table, I can tell you that. Twelve packs of fags! And you give Ger Hughes the money for a drink. No hope. No feckin’ hope.’
Marjorie only stopped when Alan’s big shoulders hunched and gently shook.
‘Ah Jesus. Feck’s sake. Come on, Alan, now.’
She shrivelled her nose and squinted her eyes at him, as if gauging the mood of a toddler.
‘Okay, I shouldn’t have said that,’ she said. ‘Let’s forget about it. I’ll deal with Ger Hughes when I see him. Don’t worry about that but don’t start crying now.’
‘I’m not crying, Mam,’ Alan said, turning to her with reddened eyes.
‘Okay, right, you’re not crying, Alan. Let’s just concentrate on the job in hand. You know we need this money. And I already have a buyer for the watches and all going well I’ll bag some of the crystal Christmas decorations they’re stocking. Seventy quid a pop they are.’
This seemed to perk him up a bit.
‘Are we keeping the decorations?’ he asked.
She responded stony-faced, her deep, knowing wrinkles refusing to crease and appease.
‘No, we are not,’ she told him, as she looked into the wing mirror at workers dispersing onto the streets to buy lunch and do some Christmas shopping. ‘I’ve a buyer for them too. The Chink who the shop bought them off told me he’d buy them back at cost price. He can’t get any in stock, the things are gold dust.’
‘Don’t you think they’d look well on our Christmas tree, Mam? Imagine Josie’s face if she saw crystals dangling from it.’
‘Exactly, she’d soon snatch one when we have our backs turned. No, better off with the money in our pocket and our hands clean.’
‘I suppose so.’
‘Now what time did you tell this shower to turn up at?’
‘A quarter past one like you said.’
‘Right, because I’m after thinking that we should have made sure they wear their baseball caps. You’d want them looking as sinister as possible.’
‘I told them to, Mam.’
‘There might be some hope for you yet.’
The car felt into silence then as Marjorie alternated her gaze between the gift shop and the wing mirror and its view of oncoming cars and pedestrians. The narrowness of her eyes and her heavy, chesty breathing were clear signs to Alan that he was to be quiet. He tried not to fidget with anything and watched the people walking in and out of the coloured doors with the knobs and knockers and intercom systems – the offices of solicitors, accountants, dentists and financial advisors.
He always admired the cut of their suits, especially the men’s trousers. He liked the way the soft fabrics clung to the body. He also liked the habit they had of undoing and buttoning their suit jackets and longed to do it himself. The only suit he had ever owned was borrowed off an uncle for a court appearance and it was no sooner on than it was off.
‘Should be here in ten minutes or so now, Alan,’ Marjorie said, picking up her handbag from the floor. She took out shopping bags, cereal bars, bookmaker’s pens, packets of tomato ketchup and mayonnaise, IDs of various people, a bottle of perfume, keys, lipstick, four mobile phones and two iPads.
‘There should be plenty of space for the watches in this now,’ she said. ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever get rid of these phones though. You’ll have to put them up on that eBay thing and see what you can get for them.’
‘Okay, Mam,’ he said.
She sprayed some perfume on her neck, then pulled down the visor mirror to reapply some more pale pink lipstick. He watched on, always perturbed by her calmness in these scenarios, as she rooted out a pair of bifocal glasses – an accessory to the crime – her eyesight being frighteningly sharp. Then placing all her possessions in the glove department, she looked at her watch.
‘Any minute now if the little shits have their act together,’ she said.
‘I’ve a bad feeling about this one, Mam.’
‘Ah shut up will you. You’ve a bad feeling about every one. You’re just like the new priest; all he ever does is warn of bad things approaching. Death’s approaching. That’s all we know. The rest is a lottery and I want to bag some watches.’
‘Who works in there? Is there many of them?’
‘No,’ Marjorie said, smiling. ‘I had a nice little chat with Eileen yesterday. It’s only her who owns and runs it. All smiles and naivety she is. Couldn’t ask for a better type.’
Alan didn’t share his mother’s excitement. He imagined the gift shop owner and thought of a neat and organised woman. He pictured her cutting a square of wrapping paper, placing a velvet box on its centre, folding its edges into pleasing shapes, and using one hand to cut small, precise lengths of sellotape to seal the package in place.
‘That’s where we go if something goes wrong,’ Marjorie said, pointing to an alley that led down a series of steep steps. ‘It leads down to the Quays. I’ll meet you at the back of the dry cleaners.’
‘Why don’t we hop in the car?’
‘Because she’ll be out of the shop to get the license plate or no doubt some busybody will spot it for her.’
‘But it’s stolen anyway.’
‘Do you think I don’t know that? But the police will come out of the wallpaper if they have robbers in a stolen car.’
Alan shifted in his seat and turned on the radio again.
‘What did I tell you about the radio, Alan?’
‘I just don’t like this. We should at least pay for a parking ticket though. Double yellow lines, Mam. What if we come out of the shop and they’ve clamped the car?’
Marjorie was unmoved. ‘Just do your part ,Alan, and the rest will take care of itself. I lit four candles this morning. We’ll blame him if it goes wrong.’
Alan tried to look calm.
‘Here we are now,’ Marjorie said, hoisting herself up on the seat. She’d spotted a four-strong gang of lads in the wing mirror. Alan looked in the rear-view mirror at them swaggering down the street with their arms swinging off their sockets. Ger Hughes led the way, donning a grey baseball cap, grey hoodie, and grey tracksuit pants tucked into white socks. The look was finished with factory-white runners. His disciples wore similar combinations with differing shades of grey. Ger directed them up the street with pointing fingers and all the convictions of a born tactician.
There was a gleam on Marjorie’s face.
‘Would you look at the state of them. Aren’t they perfect, Alan?’
Alan didn’t respond. He watched on as Ger Hughes raised a hand to order his troops to stall beside the bank. He moved his head to the side, pressed his tongue against his palate and shot a gob of spit at the bank’s stone wall. He took a cigarette out of his pocket, caught a lighter off one of the others and motioned them up the street towards Alan, Marjorie and the gift shop.
‘I’ll have my way with that Ger Hughes,’ Marjorie said, tapping her walking stick on the dashboard. ‘But that family doesn’t half produce a good face for terrorism. Would you look at those eyes. Aren’t they Satan himself. I’ll tell you one thing, it won’t be long before he’s got some poor doll pregnant. Am I right, Alan?
There was no response.
‘Are you there the fuck?’
‘Yeah, you’re right, Mam.’
‘What?’ She started at him with raised brows. ‘Don’t tell me you’re scared of the fecker. A feckin’ twelve-year-old, Alan?’
‘I’m not scared, Mam.’
‘Well you’d fool me.’
‘I said I’m not scared, Mam.’
‘Is that why you let him walk all over you and get two extra packs of fags for his few minutes’ work?’
‘I’m not fucking scared alright,’ Alan shouted. ‘I’m a forty-fuckin-year-old man. I’m not scared of that scrawny little shite.’
‘Quiet down, Alan, for heaven’s sake,’ Marjorie shouted back. ‘Remember why we’re here. You’re not going to mess this up. Do you…’
She lost her breath and coughed loudly into her hand
‘Are you okay, Mam,’ Alan said, putting a hand behind her back, ready to pat her.
She waved his hand away. ‘You’re going to kill me. Fuckin’ kill me so you will.’
Alan gave her a tissue. She wiped her face and composed herself again.
‘Right, here we go,’ she said, looking out her window as the gang of lads walked to the side of the car. ‘All you got to do is ask her the price of things while this lot starting picking things up and fucking around. That’s all, Alan. Just pick up anything and ask the girl the price. And then pick up another thing. Don’t matter if the label is staring you in the face. Just ask her.’
‘We’re not going to make a mess of the shop though, are we?’
‘No,’ she barked. ‘Don’t start all that again.’
‘You’re ready then?’
‘Yeah, I guess.’
‘Right, good luck, son. I’ll see you back here in a few.’
Alan watched as she heaved herself out of the car with the handbag clutched tight to her side. Ger Hughes and his three followers parted into two groups, giving her room to walk slowly between them. But as she went to go past them, Ger stepped in front of her. She, bent over, could only see feet and didn’t need to look up to identify the impediment. Alan sat in the car, unable to move, able only to watch.
‘I don’t know what you think you are doing, Ger Hughes,’ she said. ‘But you’d better have a fair reason for being in my way.’
Ger’s followers looked to him to respond as he gulped in some fresh air.
‘We would like the fags up front,’ he said.
‘You’ll get your fags when you do your job. At the moment you are in the way of me doing my job.’
Ger shivered but kept his position in front of Marjorie. She had tightened her grip on the walking stick and decided on a blow to the testicles when a civilian intervened.
‘Are these lot giving you trouble?’ a middle-aged man in building attire asked Marjorie.
‘No, just a minor disagreement that has been settled is all.’
The man looked to the lads to explain themselves.
‘Yeah, it’s settled,’ Ger mumbled.
‘A fine day,’ Marjorie said to the man as she brushed past Ger and walked on to the gift shop.
Alan had already switched on the radio and put the volume up loud, unbuckled and buckled his seat belt and pulled down the visor and pushed it up again. He couldn’t stop fidgeting as his mother stopped to chat to a woman outside the gift shop. The woman showed off her purchase: a candlestick holder with ornate golden leaves. They stood facing away from the shop surveying the street and its people.
Beside the car, Ger Hughes kept taking his phone out of his pocket. He looked to Alan to explain his mother’s actions. Alan looked down at his thighs, his breathing erratic and the tips of the ears red-hot. He twisted the car key, turned on the ignition and went to flee. Marjorie heard the car rumbling and shot eyes in his direction. He turned off the engine, rubbed his hands on his thighs again and started singing to himself.
Marjorie finished talking with the woman. A young man coming out of the shop held the door open for her to walk inside. Ger and gang mumbled through their count to thirty before following her in.
Alan breathed out and tried to steady his breath. He said to himself, You’ve done this many times before and you can do it again. And with that he slapped the steering wheel with the palm of his hand, almost engaging the air bags.
He crossed the road and walked into the shop. Eileen, the owner and sole worker sat on a high stool behind the counter. She smiled at him as he entered, causing him to turn around and go to leave.
‘These are gorgeous watches,’ Marjorie said loudly. ‘Just beautiful now.’
Alan turned back into the shop and hid behind a shelf of mugs.
‘Thank you,’ Eileen said, leaving her stool to assist Marjorie.
Eileen, a slender middle-aged woman, had a long fringe that sat just above soft blue eyes and hers was a thin nose, sitting above small, pale lips. It was a flat and unassuming face and reminded Alan of an elf. He could see where his mother saw naivety. She seemed unmoved by or ignorant to the four tracksuit-clad teens juggling snow globes in the corner of her shop.
He stood with his back to Eileen and his mother. In front of him was a shelf of handmade plates and he tried to concentrate on their various designs and prices. Through the reflection in the shop window, he could see Eileen fussing over Marjorie – letting her try on different watches and opening wooden drawers to reveal more of them. Marjorie beamed and laughed along, using words like gorgeous, fabulous, stunning, and cute.
He tried to concentrate on the plates. There were small plates, medium-sized plates and big plates. The prices and brands of each were detailed in elegant calligraphy on laminated card. He ran his finger over the black ink, following the shapes of the lettering – his mind drifting to Eileen deliberating over the layout of the shop – changing the displays, adjusting the angle of a clock face, aligning rows of candles, polishing and re-polishing the mirror, arranging the watches by styles and colours – going home, dreaming, sleeping – going to work to tinker again – to make everything better.
Ger and gang had revved up their antics and were now throwing snow globes across the room to each other. Eileen, noticing the unrest or allowing herself to notice it for the first time, apologised to Marjorie as she tried to explain her predicament.
‘No, you go, please, it is terrible how these youngsters behave nowadays,’ Marjorie said. ‘I’ll just have a little think about which one I want.’
Eileen thanked her for her consideration and approached the teenagers timidly, as if feeling guilty for disrupting their fun and games.
‘I can’t let you throw them around,’ she said. ‘I’m afraid they are too expensive for that.’
Ger smirked at her and put the globe in his hand back onto the nearest shelf. He lifted his head at the others to do the same. They did as they were told.
‘Thank you,’ Eileen said. ‘Was there anything you were looking for in particular? Christmas presents or something like that? I can gift-wrap anything to cut out the hassle for you.’
Ger, with one hand down the front of his pants cradling his balls, mumbled, ‘We’re just looking.’
She responded with a smile, then looked at them a few times as she walked over to Marjorie, who had already got one watch into her handbag and had another on her wrist, eulogising over it.
‘Oh, I’m thinking this one now. I love the detail on the face and it’d go with most colours, wouldn’t it?’
‘Yes,’ Eileen said, regaining her composure. ‘And I think it’s one of those that you could easily wear casually too. I mean there’s is a subtlety to it. It’s not an ‘in-your-face’ kind of watch, if you know what I mean?’
‘I do, I do, I do,’ Marjorie said and stretched out her arm to see the watch from a remove. ‘You know, I might just treat myself.’
Alan, still stood in front of the homemade plates, watched Ger produce a bottle of Fanta from the open-ended front pocket of his hoodie. He loosened the cap, took two gulps and passed it around to his three friends. They took sups until it was half-full and then one of gave it back to Ger with a shaky hand. Alan’s mouth went to speak, went to find words, as Ger let the bottle slip from his grasp.
‘Oh God,’ Eileen said, hurrying over to Ger and gang, who stood in a semi-circle looking down at a pool of orange seeping into the beige carpet. ‘That’s okay,’ she continued. ‘It’s easily done. Accidents happen. Let me…I’ll just get a cloth to it.’
Alan couldn’t bring himself to watch as she went around the till counter to look for something suitable. ‘I’m sorry, I’ll get back to you in just a few moments,’ she said in Marjorie’s direction.
‘Don’t worry yourself, pet. I’m in no rush at all. Take your time,’ Marjorie shouted.
Eileen got down on her haunches and started scrubbing at the orange stain with a wet cloth, still trying to engage Marjorie as she did so.
‘They’ve been very popular this Christmas.’
‘Yes, they’re just lovely now.’
‘I always try to have things in the shop that I would buy myself, and those watches were quite expensive to buy in, bit of a gamble for a small business like mine, but I’ve shifted a few of them you know.’
‘Oh I could imagine so,’ Marjorie said, as her voice struggled to maintain its pleasant façade.
Ger and gang were mooted, almost remorseful, as they stood and watched Eileen on her knees, trying to save the carpet from a permanent blemish.
Alan knew this was his cue to get involved in the distractions. He turned to the dinner plates. He turned over various enquiries in his mind but all felt stupid. The tips of his ears were hot again and he scratched at his itchy, sweating hair. He picked up a plate from the display, a pale blue one with tight spirals running along its circumference, and turned to face Eileen, still bent over the stain in the carpet.
‘Can I put this in the microwave?’ he got out.
‘Pardon, what was that?’ she asked, now rising to her feet and going to walk over for a closer look at the plate in his hand.
‘Can I put this in the microwave?’ he repeated.
‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘They are all fine in the microwave.’
He smiled but could feel his right knee shaking.
‘Can I help you with anything else?’ she asked him.
He stared at the wet cloth in her hand as his mind ran through words and tried to put them in the right order.
‘Plates are round,’ he said. ‘I mean it’s easier to make round plates with a potter’s wheel. I mean, back in pre-industrial times. Now they can make…’
He couldn’t get any more words out. He felt sick, as if his stomach was trying to run away from him. His mouth was dry and its corners were filling with a gunk he tried to wash away with his tongue. Childhood memories passed through his mind. He wanted to cry and be done with it and sensing everyone’s eyes on him, he let the plate fall from his grasp and drop to the carpet. It didn’t break. It took a couple of bounces and rolled on its side across the floor to Eileen’s feet.
She picked the plate off the ground, wiped off some fibres from its surface and looked at Alan as if gauging his sanity.
Ger and gang covered their mouths to mute their laughter and Marjorie was in flight mode.
‘I’ll just have a think about these watches and come back soon,’ she said, going to leave with a handbag full of watches and a few crystal Christmas decorations.
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ Eileen said, flustered. ‘Bit hectic today. I’m not sure what’s going…’
She stopped to look at Alan, all red-faced and shaky lips.
‘Are you okay?’ she asked him.
He couldn’t reply.
‘The cat’s got his tongue I think,’ Marjorie said laughing, brushing past him to the door. ‘I’ll see you soon now.’
‘Yes, hope to see you again,’ Eileen said, waving.
Ger led his gang out of the shop after Marjorie, leaving Alan stood there on the shop floor.
‘Are you sure you are okay?’ Eileen asked. ‘Was it a set of plates you were after or just the one?’
Alan found himself looking over at the watches.
‘Was it a watch you were looking for too?’ She asked him and put out a sympathetic hand to guide him to that side of the room.
‘No,’ Alan said, still shaking. ‘It was just the plate. I’ll take the plate please.’
‘That’s no problem,’ she said. ‘I’ll just ring this up for you.’
Alan was glad to see his legs moving to follow her to the till. He watched as she typed away at the touch screen.
‘Now, that’s twenty-five euro, please, when you are ready. Would you like me to gift-wrap it or shall I just wrap it in some newspaper for you?’
‘Just the newspaper please,’ he said.
He thought of his mother in the car now, waiting for him with grinding teeth and the walking stick at the ready.
She took two sheets of newspaper and rolled the plate in it, before securing the package with sellotape. Alan handed her the money.
‘That was interesting what you were saying about plates,’ she said. ‘I guess we take it for granted that most plates are round but there has to be a reason for all these things, doesn’t there.’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Always a reason.’
‘Nowadays you see a lot of square plates about the place. I’ve had a few ranges of square plates in here myself.’
‘Yes, getting popular. They are just as easy to make now.’
‘Is that right? How do you know so much about plates? Are you in the industry?’
‘No, I just know a lot of things.’
Eileen smiled and gave him his receipt and change.
‘Would you mind if I took the card with the prices and description on it?’ he asked.
‘Oh right, yeah, if you want.’
‘Yeah, if you don’t mind.’
‘Sure, no problem.’
She walked over to the plate display and picked up the laminated card holder and gave it to Alan.
‘Thank you,’ he said.
‘Not at all. Have a good day now,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ Alan said. ‘Yes, have a good day.’
He walked out of the shop and across the street to the car parked on the double yellow. He got into the driver’s seat and put the shopping bag to its side. He turned on the engine and didn’t look at his mother. The car pulled out onto the street and then drove down a steep hill towards the river before a word was said.
‘Treated yourself to something?’ she asked.
‘It’s just a plate, Mam,’ he said.
‘Don’t even tell me,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to know. It’ll come out of your share of the profits is all I’ll say and I’ll say no more. You’re lucky to be getting any cut with the way you performed in there. I should have known you’d be dazzled by the sight of a nice, friendly woman. God, you’d think you’d never saw a woman in all your life the way you are looking at her and arsing up your words. But somehow the plate drop worked. God knows how but it did.’
Alan couldn’t listen and nearly missed the turn for the rendezvous point with Ger and the gang in the old tyre yard on the outskirts of town.
‘Still thinking about her I see,’ said Marjorie. ‘Pull over here.’
They sat in silence for five minutes until they arrived, swaggering and cradling their respective balls beneath their tracksuit pants.
‘Go over to them,’ Marjorie instructed.
Alan drove abreast to Ger and gang. Marjorie wound down her window. Ger approached.
‘I hear you struck a deal with Alan here for twelve packs,’ she said.
‘That’s the deal,’ Ger said.
‘Well I’m not one to renege on a deal. So, you’ll get your twelve packs but know now that there’ll be no leverage the next time.’
She opened the glove department, took out twelve packs of cigarettes and handed them to Ger.
‘Will there be another job soon?’ he asked.
‘We’ll be in touch,’ she said, closing the window. ‘That’s all you need to know.’
Alan drove the car out the tyre yard and set off for home.
‘You’d do well to learn from that Ger Hughes chap,’ she said to him. ‘Did you see the look on his face when he dropped that Fanta onto the ground? Jesus, he’s got a great face for the job. I know he bullied you into that deal but I’d pay a little extra for that kind of service. We’ll be hiring him again. That’s for sure now.
She took one of the watches out the handbag and admired it.
‘Aye, now I think of it,’ she continued. ‘I’ve the perfect job for him at that new petrol station up in Collon. You should see the set-up they’ve in there. Sitting ducks is what they are, Alan.’
‘Great,’ he said.
‘What? What’s with the big sore head on you now? You haven’t even asked me what I took from the place yet. No interest in the job whatsoever do you. And me not even giving out about you buying that feckin’ plate or the breakdown you were having.’
‘I’m fine, Mam.’
She put the watch back into her handbag and placed it beside the walking stick.
‘Funny way of showing it,’ she said. ‘Grown man like you fawning over some woman in a gift shop. Jesus, I was going to suggest we go the Chinese to celebrate but I’m not celebrating with you if your bringing that face with you. I’ll go by myself.’
Alan stopped listening. He drove through the town and on to a series of narrow, winding roads that led into the countryside and anonymity. He fed the steering wheel into each hand, the smooth leather running through his palms as he turned left and then right.
He smiled as he thought of his new plate and Eileen’s calligraphic writing, of the letters deftly slanting to the right, the fluid inks softening and hardening, and all its curved flourishes.
Eamon Doggett is a 24-year-old from Bettystown, Co. Meath and a recent graduate of the MA in Writing programme at NUI Galway. He has had short stories published in Prick of the Spindle and the ROPES 2016 Anthology and hopes to have a collection published in the future.