Flash excerpts

The Last Stop - A Berlin Story  103 000 words approx.

Excerpt - The incompetent heist

Jack's friend is on remand. If he uses the gun, she is accused of using, the police case against her, collapses. Here is his attempt at being a crook.

Jack parked several hundred metres from the truck park, pulled the white boiler suit left him by the police, over his newly purchased clothing and then walked to the front gate, fully aware that he was visible on this deserted Sunday evening, on an industrial estate. There was a light in the window and a van parked up by the stairs. He took the stairs two at a time and noisily tried the door handle. It was locked. He thumped it twice and then took the handgun from his pocket, checked the safety catch on the gun and tried to control his breathing. He expected to have to talk his way in and sounding like a gasping marathon runner would not be convincing.

‘Who is it?’

Jack was happy to let his accent come across, but he knew that his opening sentence was the risky one.

‘You don’t know me. I’ve come from Peter Napravnik. You need to listen to me. He’s not happy, but there is a way out.’

‘I don’t know this man.’

That was Jack’s worst fear – the pimps were not linked to Napravnik.

‘Course you do. He’s on his way to Berlin. Arrives tomorrow. It will be better for you, if I can tell him we’ve had a sensible discussion.’

‘Where are you meeting him?’

‘He’s staying in some flea-pit hotel in Neukölln. Bringing his muscle, too, judging by the number of reservations he’s made.’

‘Shit!’ came the muttered response, followed by the sound of voices discussing.

‘Shit indeed. Now open up. I’m beginning to get tetchy.’

Jack heard more discussion. Supposing they didn’t open? What then? He decided it would be just as effective if he shot a few holes in the cabin and then left. Why hadn’t he thought of that before? He’d said he had come from Napravnik, therefore, a couple of shots where the police would find the bullets would do and he could be gone. Very little danger. Just the problem of tipping off the police. He raised the gun ready to execute the safer plan, but his hesitation changed everything. The key turned and the door opened, leaving the gun at face height, pointing directly at a twenty-something delinquent. Back to plan A!

‘Go backwards very slowly,’ Jack hissed. His adversary was a lot taller. He moved the gun to beneath his chin and pressed hard, in case there was any doubt about the situation.

Jack manoeuvred him back down the corridor in an ungainly fashion and had difficulty negotiating a woman lying across the floor. She was either asleep or unconscious. He noticed blood oozing from her nose. On he shuffled, like the lead man of an incompetent dance couple, into the smoke-filled room where the men had been playing cards and drinking.

As soon as they were in the doorway the pimp started to lift his arm. It may have been to wipe his nose or a conciliatory gesture. He may have wanted to ask his chums if they knew what was going down. He couldn’t know that Jack’s finger was almost without feeling. It simply squeezed the trigger. He hadn’t expected to. There was no greater plan. He was so scared. It just happened, almost as a natural consequence of the situation. But he’d secured the gun, just in case – hadn’t he? He must have armed it when he decided to shoot holes in the cabin. In his panic and fear, he had screwed up and become a killer. He was unprepared for how easy it was. You pull the trigger and your adversary disappears in a shower of blood and gristle and splintered bones. All done. How hard is that? He was scared rigid though, by the report and result. The noise was deafening in the enclosed space, and the bullet seemed to explode as it went into the back of his head and out through an eye socket. This left skull, blood and brains sprayed across the wall opposite and over the remaining card players. He was amazed the man didn’t fall, or wasn’t knocked over. He just stood there, in front of Jack, minus most of his head.

The gun flew backwards and upwards from the recoil and discharged another bullet before Jack realised what was happening. Even though he had been warned, he was unprepared. This shot took the top off the skull and went on to implode the old tube television mounted high on the wall. The lifeless corpse sank, almost gently, to the floor, but it seemed an eternity before the sound of falling glass showering down on to the other two men, ceased.

Jack was as stunned as the two men left sitting, still holding their hands of cards, covered in tiny glass shards, like oversize Christmas fairies. Some women’s voices elsewhere in the unit, broke the silence. Jack had to get his plan in motion, but all he noticed were his legs shaking violently. He pushed his knees back and braced them by tightening his leg muscles. It helped a bit, but maybe they would spot it. A robber with the shakes. How convincing is that? He held a hold-all bag in the general direction of the pair and shouted, ‘put the money in there.’ He felt his voice waver.

‘What money?’ came the meek response.

‘The money you take every night off the girls. I will count to three and then you lose your knee cap. Get the money.’

The plan was gone. Jack realised he was making up things as he went along.

One of the men rose. He didn’t even dare dust the glass off his clothes, and moved toward a filing cabinet. Jack followed his actions with the gun.

‘Don’t try anything. I’m very nervous and not in control of this thing.’

The pimp opened the filing cabinet.

‘Stand to the side as you do it! Keep your hands visible at all times.’

Even under the pressure of the moment, Jack reflected that emptying a filing cabinet and keeping one’s hands visible, could be a challenge too far. But, the pimp got the message and carefully spooned handfuls of cash into the bag. When he was finished, he moved in Jack’s direction to give him the bag. Jack took it and dropped it by the door.

‘Get the rest of the money out.’

‘There is no rest. That’s it.’

Jack remembered the advice. Get up close. His original plan was in tatters. He had begun crisis management. One corpse on the floor was a life sentence. He was trying to get his mind in order and regain control, but it wasn’t that easy. He was more frightened than he had ever been. He needed to assert himself. Look threatening. He lunged forward, the gun in a tight muscle spasm grip. There was no control. The muzzle hit the card-player’s face; there was a jolt and a third report. Jack seemed out of his own body somehow. There was no horror. He watched the second pimp collapse with no recognisable face left. The screams coming from a room down the passage jolted him back to reality. The first shots had woken the girls; this one caused panic. The few seconds before calm returned, seemed like an hour in Jack’s time warp.

The remaining pimp lunged for the filing cabinet, seized anything he could find and started paddling through rivers of blood, carrying handfuls of used notes. The bag was full of notes, randomly packed. Jack carefully lifted the gun a last time.

‘Empty your pockets onto the floor.’

The knife Jack kicked under the sofa. He stamped on the phone, then sent it the same way as the knife.

‘You’ve got ten minutes. You’d better make a start.’

‘I can’t run. They will think I did this.’

Jack laughed. What a good idea. He was nearly euphoric on adrenaline.

‘That wasn’t the original plan. But as you saw, I’m not really an expert with this thing.’

He waved the gun around. The pimp ducked on to the floor, covering himself in blood.

‘But actually, it’s better this way,’ Jack continued. ‘One of you surviving is excellent. This way, you will have your employer after you for theft and the police for murder. Now, get going!’

Jack felt the building shake as the pimp disappeared down the metal ladder. Seconds were now precious. He walked to the dormitory door from where the screaming had come. Locked! In the event of a fire there was no way out for the girls. Hushed voices could be heard.

He called out, ‘Calm down now. It’s over. Someone will come to let you out .’

The voices fell silent. He returned to view the corpses. There was blood everywhere, across the walls and ceiling, including the phone. He gingerly picked it up and dialled 110. He left the receiver next to the closest pimp, and then checked his gloves. He could not see any blood traces, but he knew that meant nothing.