by Harry Dayle
Ken looked from the money to his wife, standing beside him dressed in old painting overalls. She remained silent.
“Well those are twenty pound notes. I reckon there must be fifty per bundle, ten bundles in each pile, and there are, hmm,” he paused while his finger traced a loop around the window, counting the stacks of cash, “forty eight bundles. That makes,” another pause.
“£480,000. It’s a grand per bundle, ten grand per pile. Forty eight piles makes £480,000. I thought you were supposed to be good with numbers?” Tracy’s eyes never left the money as she spoke.
Ken said nothing.
“Where the hell do you think he got it?” Tracy asked. “And why leave it on full view, in the middle of the living room floor like that?”
“Well it’s not as if you can see in from the street,” Ken said, scratching his beard absent-mindedly.
“What if he was burgled? Or had visitors? A stack of cash is the kind of thing that might raise awkward questions.”
“When have you ever known Bernard to have visitors? He wouldn’t even let that UPS guy bring a parcel in the other day, the really heavy one. He got him to leave it on the front step and then hauled it in on his own.”
“Well we can see why that is!” Tracy snorted. “Best part of half a million quid lying in the middle of the floor, I wouldn’t let anyone in either.” She thought for a moment. “You did ask him if it was okay for us to be here, didn’t you? You’re not just saying you did because you forgot? Ken?” She looked at him for the first time since they had seen the money.
“Of course I asked! You think I’d just waltz into his back garden while he’s out, without checking with him first?”
“Wouldn’t put it past you. What exactly did you say to him?”
Ken’s eyes glazed over as he cast his mind back to the previous week.
“I just asked if he minded if we popped into his garden to repaint his side of the fence. And he said that was fine. He seemed pleased actually, he was going to do it himself but he wasn’t sure if the fence was ours or his.”
Tracy turned back to the huge window and rested her forehead on the pane, staring once more at the bundled notes stacked neatly in the middle of the plainly decorated room.
“And you told him when we were coming? I mean he knows we’re here now? He’s not going to come back and shoot us because he thinks we’re burglars or something?” Tracy’s words condensed into mist on the glass.
“He said to come today. He said he would be visiting his mother all day Saturday, and that he would leave the back gate unlocked. Let ourselves in, that’s what he said.” Ken sighed. “And if we don’t get on with it, we’ll still be here next Saturday.”
He turned away from the window and ambled over to the fence. Tracy reluctantly pulled herself away, as if distancing herself from the cash somehow decreased her chances of ever owning it.
As they painted, Ken hummed contentedly to himself.
“Do you think it’s drug money?” Tracy wasn’t ready to let the subject go. “He could be a drug dealer. He seems the type. Don’t you think he seems the type?”
“How am I supposed to know? How many drug dealers do you think I’m acquainted with?”
“Probably loads,” Tracy laughed. “I bet half your customers are big time drug lords. Who else buys sports cars in a recession?”
“You’d be surprised. Most of the motors I’ve sold this year have been to women.”
Tracy stopped painting mid-stroke and turned to face her husband.
“Are you saying women can’t deal drugs? Is there a glass ceiling in the criminal underworld? Women can’t rise to the top?”
“Oi! Stop waving that brush at me, you mad woman,” Ken laughed. “I’m just saying, they’re all WAGS, you know, Wives And Girlfriends, kept women. Their husbands are footballers and the like. I’m sure half of them probably take drugs, but sell them? That would be too much like actual work.”
“Drug barons,” Tracy paused, “and baronesses for that matter, they don’t sell. They have people for that. They just manage, do deals, that’s where the big money is. Wholesale.”
“You’ve been watching too much Breaking Bad. Anyway, I’m sure it’s not drug money. Since you ask, no Bernard really doesn’t strike me as the type. I can’t imagine many drug dealers drive Nissan Micras.”
The two of them turned back to the fence, painting in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.
“Perhaps he held up a bank. Ken? What do you think? He could have held up a bank. Some of the girls in the shop were talking last week. They said there was a rumour that the HSBC got robbed. The bank deny it of course. Well they would, wouldn’t they? They don’t want anyone else getting smart ideas, thinking they’re a push over!”
Ken closed his eyes, lowered his head, and spoke softly.
“I don’t imagine for a second he held up a bank. Why does the money have to be ill-gotten gains anyway? Isn’t it possible that he earned it? Or maybe inherited it?”
“£480,000? You think he earned nearly half a million and left it sitting around on his living room floor for the world to see?”
“The world can’t,” Ken started, but his wife cut him off.
“Yes yes, the world can’t see it, but we can, and so can anyone else who wanders into this garden. Like, well, the gardener for example. Ooh, maybe they’re working together? Perhaps the gardener was the getaway driver!”
“Or maybe, just maybe,” Ken was losing patience, “he won the lottery. Or it’s his life savings, and he’s moving it to a new bank. Apparently the ones round here aren’t safe, they get held up by gardeners!”
“Smart arse!” Tracy snorted. She gazed back in the direction of house, as if the money was calling to her.
“Come on, forget about the cash,” Ken said. “We’ve got a fence to finish, and it looks like it’s going to rain soon. If we don’t get a move on we’re going to have to come back tomorrow, and I really wanted to get on with clearing the loft out tomorrow.”
“Wow, what an exciting life you lead Kenneth Hitchens. And there was me thinking you might take me out somewhere nice tomorrow.”
“I still might,” Ken smiled. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”
“I won’t hold my breath.” She winked, and planted a kiss on his cheek.
They continued to paint, taking on one fence panel each, working their way down the garden. Each time they moved on, Tracy couldn’t help but look back towards the receding pile of twenty pound notes.
“What would you do with it?”
“What would I do with what?”
“Four hundred and eighty grand. If it was yours. What would you spend it on?”
“Who says I would spend it?”
“Well you wouldn’t use it to wipe your arse with now, would you?”
“No, but I might put it in the bank and live off the interest. Then I could give up work.”
“God that’s so boring. Could you really not spend it, if you knew if was sitting there in an account? Wouldn’t you want to blow at least a bit of it? Buy a Ferrari? A cruise round the world?”
Ken considered this.
“I suppose a cruise would be nice,” he said. “But a Ferrari would be a waste, the insurance premiums would cost a fortune.”
“You could afford them! You’d be bloody loaded!”
“I wouldn’t be if I had to pay the insurance on a Ferrari, I’d be broke. Anyway, what would you spend it on? I assume the sensible option of investing it is out of the question?”
“Pah, investments are boring, we could be dead tomorrow and what good would investments be then? No, I’d enjoy myself. Ourselves,” she added quickly. “But I would pay off the mortgage first, obviously. And I’d pay for an extension on the house so mum could come and live with us.”
Ken looked aghast at this idea.
“Wouldn’t she be better off in a nicer nursing home? One where she was properly looked after? If she lived with us you’d have to give up work to care for her.”
“And the problem with that idea is what exactly?” Tracy had stopped painting and was brandishing her brush dangerously close to Ken’s nose.
“We need your salary to live, we couldn’t survive on mine alone, that’s all I meant.”
“Yes but if we had half a million quid in the bank, or on the floor, or wherever, then we wouldn’t need my salary, would we?” Tracy was getting angry. “Are you telling me you’d still be getting up every morning to go and flog used motors if we had that kind of cash?”
“But we don’t have that kind of cash,” Ken said slowly. “That’s the whole point. Let’s not get carried away with a purely hypothetical situation that, let’s face it, is never likely to become reality!”
Tracy threw her brush into the pot of paint and walked back up the garden towards the neighbour’s house.
“Where are you going now?” Ken called after her. “We need to get cracking if we’re to finish this today!”
Tracy said nothing. She reached the window, and stared in once more at the bundles of money, thinking about all the things, the impossible things, she would do if it were hers.
Ken finished the last few strokes of his fence panel and lowered his own brush into the paint pot. He wound a finger around the handle and lifted it up, carried it back up to the house. Lightly touching his wife’s shoulder, he spoke softly.
“Come on, let’s go home. I’ll come back tomorrow and finish off the last few panels.”
Tracy peeled her eyes away from the lounge and walked slowly towards the gate. Se glanced back one last time, then stepped out of the garden and back into reality.
A Nissan Micra trundled towards the couple.
“Looks like Bernard is back early,” Ken said. “Why don’t you take this back inside and I’ll see if he’s okay with me coming back tomorrow to finish the job?”
Tracy took the pot holding the paint brushes. “You take care, I don’t trust him,” she said anxiously.
“He’s the same Bernard he was before you knew he was rich, I’ll be fine. Go on, I’ll be in in a second.”
The tiny car pulled into a parking space in front of the garage. Bernard stepped out, watching his neighbour disappear through her front door.
“Every okay mate?” he asked.
“Fine, yes fine. We didn’t finish the painting and it looks like rain is on the way. Are you okay with me popping back into the garden in the morning to finish the last bit?” Ken look agitated.
“Yeah, yeah of course, no problem. Listen,” Bernard glanced around then leaned in, conspiratorially, “I’ve counted it all out and your half is inside, you can pick it up whenever you’re ready, you know, when Tracy is out or something.”
Ken said nothing, just nodded.
“Four hundred and eighty grand it came out at. Shame we couldn’t make a nice round half a mill each eh? Anyway, like I said, whenever you’re ready.”
The two men nodded to each other, and parted ways.
Harry Dayle is the author of Parallel One, a romantic sci-fi thriller about a woman who moves between parallel worlds when she dreams.