Numbers on dustbins

 Officer O’Leary swung a leg over the bicycle and coasted to a stop at the bus stop. He leant the bone-rattler against the stone wall and nodded to the only other person standing there.

“Good morning, Tom,” he said.

“Morning,” said Tom, letting his left hand fall casually on the cloth bag over his shoulder.

“You’re up bright and early.”

“Never one for lazing in bed, me.”

“No, I’m sure. It’s almost as if you haven’t been to bed yet.”

“Just enjoying the sunshine while we have it.”

“I see you’ve got your shotgun with you today.”

“It’s licensed. You know that. You gave me the licence for it yourself.”

“No, no, I know that. It’s just, you’re waiting for a bus, I take it.”

Tom looked up at the bus stop sign.

“Well, I’ve a long wait if I’m waiting for a ship, now haven’t I.”

“True enough. The bus driver, do you know him?”

“How would I know?”

“Exactly. He’s probably from over Cliffvale way. That’s where the bus garage is. He probably doesn’t know you like we do. So it might be an idea, before the bus arrives, just to break open your gun.”

“It’s not loaded.”

“Of course it’s not. A country gentleman such as yourself, you wouldn’t need a shotgun to bag a rabbit or a pheasant.”

“Are you calling me a poacher, Mr. O’Leary?”

“No, no. Calm yourself. I’m just saying, there’s no need for a gentleman such as yourself to go around with a loaded shotgun. But for the look of it, break the gun, Tom, or the bus might not stop. They’re a suspicious lot over in Cliffvale.”

“Well, you’re not wrong there, I suppose.” He reluctantly broke the shotgun open and rested it in the crook of his arm. “Do you know what I heard? Some of them paint their house number on the dustbins, for fear someone will steal it. Did you ever hear of such a thing? Who’d want to steal a dustbin?”

“It’s a dark world out there, sure enough,” said O’Leary. “So where are you off to this morning?”

“Nowhere.”

O’Leary looked pointedly at the bus stop. “Nowhere?”

“Nowhere in particular, I mean. I just fancied a change of scenery. I thought I might take a trip. You know, on the bus.”

“To Cliffvale?”

“Maybe. Why not? It’s a free country. I might take myself all the way to the city, even.”

“The city? Why would you want to do that, Tom? Besides, it’s powerfully expensive in the city. You’d need money, and not just for the bus fare.”

“Maybe I have money.”

“Really? A long-lost inheritance, maybe?”

“Well, yes. Sure, that’s it. An inheritance. From my uncle, God rest his soul.”

“I never knew you had an uncle, Tom.”

“He was a recluse. Didn’t get out much. But me and my aunty, we were close.”

“Oh, so he was married? Well, that’s a blessing. I expect it would be a lonely life, being a recluse and not being married. Can I ask, how much did he leave you?”

“A hundred.”

“A hundred? Well, that’s a lot of money here, but I hear you could spend a hundred in an evening in the city, and have nothing to show for it the next morning except a headache.”

“I’ll be careful.”

“I’m sure you will, Tom.” O’Leary rubbed his hands together briskly. “It’s a bit chilly this morning, isn’t it? Are you not cold with no hat on?”

“I’m fine.”

“Really? With no hat? Oh, wait. Did I not see you with a woollen balaclava last winter? Have you still got that?”

“Yes. No. I mean, I think I might, somewhere. But not on me.” Tom executed a complicated manoeuvre which resulted in his shotgun resting in his left arm and his bag slung over his right shoulder, the one furthest from the policeman. He looked down the road in the direction the bus would come.

“I heard the funniest thing last night, you know,” said O’Leary to the back of Tom’s head. “I heard Flannigan’s only gone and installed a television in the pub, right there on the wall of the bar. Is that right?”

“Yes, it’s right, true enough. In colour too.”

“Would you believe it? A television in a pub. It’s the death of conversation. So you were in Flannigan’s last night then? What was on the television?”

“A film. Cops and robbers, it was.”

“Cops and robbers!” O’Leary spat the words out like a bad taste. “Why would people want to watch a film about a policeman’s day? It just encourages people to get the wrong idea. So you had a drink or two then?”

“Nothing wrong with having a drink or two after a long day’s work.”

“No, no, that’s fair enough. And being Friday, I expect he had his usual lock-in, eh?” O’Leary nudged Tom conspiratorially. “You know, after hours drinking for those in the know.”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t know about that.”

“No, no. But if he did, I hear they might go on all night. A single fellow like you might not get out till daybreak.”

“Like I said, I don’t know anything about a lock-in.”

“Ooh, that reminds me. Did you hear about the widow Dermot?”

“No.”

“Just after she opened shop, just after daybreak that would be, she was only robbed. Can you imagine that? In broad daylight. Well, daylight, anyway. A man with shotgun. Took the money out of her till. A hundred, she says. Did you ever imagine something like that could happen here?”

“Is she all right?”

“The widow Dermot? She’s fine. I heard that once, when she was a young girl, she faced down an escaped bull. Hit it so hard on the nose it jumped a gate to get away from her. She’s not mellowed with age, neither. Still, a bit of a shock, being robbed at gunpoint by a stranger.”

“A stranger, you say?”

“Well it would have to be. Think about it. She’s lived in the village all her life. She’d be able to recognise anyone local.”

“Are you sure? I mean, she’s getting on. Her eyesight isn’t that good. I wouldn’t think she’d make a reliable witness.”

“No, she’d recognise someone. The set of their shoulders, the tone of their voice. Even if they were wearing a balaclava, she’d be able to see right through that. Especially if, oh, I don’t know, especially if they hadn’t bothered to change their clothes or anything like that.”

Tom looked down the road again, rubbing dry lips. There was no sign of the bus.

“You think so?”

“Yes. It’s a shame, really. You know what I wish?”

Tom continued looking down the road, as if the sheer power of his stare could pull the bus into view. He shook his head.

“I hope that in his haste he dropped the money. He would have to have a getaway car, see? Something powerful that would speed him away from the scene, because only an idiot would hang around afterwards. So what I really wish is, I wish he’d dropped the money and not noticed. That way, if someone local happened across it, they could hand it back to her. I expect, if that happened, well, she’d forget about it. As it is, I’m going to have to report it. You know what that means?”

Tom turned his head and looked into the officer’s eyes. He shook his head.

“What it means is, a report would go back to headquarters. The inspector from Cliffvale would come down. Maybe even the Superintendant from the city. They’d bring detectives. They have computers, you know, and scientific instruments, and DNA. They’d crawl all over the village asking questions. Outsiders, see? They wouldn’t care about who they upset or why it all happened. They’d find out who did it and lock him up. Ten years minimum, I wouldn’t wonder. Ten years in a tiny cell.”

“What, even if the gun wasn’t loaded?”

“Even if the gun wasn’t loaded and the robber was just a drunk with a silly idea put in his head. And what’s worse, they’d start to question how it was that I wasn’t around to stop it. I might even be transferred and some town policeman with his head full of laws and regulations take my place. The next thing, people are looking at each other sideways and not trusting each other, and before you know it we’re putting our house numbers on our dustbins. Then there’s the widow Dermot. She’d have to go to court, all the way to the city, and give evidence. Her, the victim, an old woman, being forced to go through that. Oh, I wouldn’t like to be the man on the receiving end of her anger if she had to do that.”

“You think it would come to that?”

“If it gets back to headquarters, then there’d be no stopping it. As if I haven’t got enough to do. It’s going to take me an hour to get back home and phone this in as it is. I really wish some citizen could find that money.”

“She’d withdraw the complaint if they did? Only she’s got a fierce temper.”

“You know what’s good for calming people down? Rabbit stew.”

“What?”

“No, it’s famous for it. If she got her money back and somehow laid her hands on, oh, say a couple of rabbits, she’d probably ask me to forget about it all.” O’Leary laid his hand on Tom’s shoulder, resting it on the strap of the cloth bag. “Fresh rabbits, mind, not road kill. Oh, look, here comes the bus.”

Tom rubbed his hand over his mouth and shuffled his feet.

“Actually, now I come to think of it, I think I’ll give it a miss. Go for a walk. Maybe check the widow Dermot is okay.”

“Good idea,” said O’Leary. “After all, who’d want to go all the way to somewhere where they paint numbers on their dustbins?”

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About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

2 Responses to Numbers on dustbins

  1. The Dude says:

    I liked this.

    Captures the spirit of the country

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