Popeye

(Warning – contains colourful language.)

 

Charlie & Ethel

‘Are you sure you want to do this? We’ll have nothing left, Charlie.’ Ethel took off her spectacles and let them dangle on their chain.

‘We don’t need it. We have everything we need right here.’ He bent over and kissed her cheek, his smile revealing a dark open space.

‘Oh, do put your teeth in, dear, you look ridiculous.’

Charlie lifted his bottom lip up to his nose and closed one eye. ‘A-gah-gah-gah-gah-gah-gah!’

Ethel shook her head and sighed. ‘You always were a smooth operator.’ She grabbed her spectacles and glanced through the window. The morning frost glistened off the cracked and peeling paint on the windowsill. She sighed once more and turned her attention back to yesterday’s Argus.

Ethel sat at the side of a small folding dining table below the first of two sashed windows. One of the table’s folding sides was raised forming a semi-circle draped in a flowery tablecloth. On the other side of the table was a box of Christmas cards and envelopes.

‘Last box?’ she asked.

‘Yes dear, last one.’

Charlie reached in and pulled out the cards, spreading them out on the table. The image of a dishevelled Ebenezer Scrooge handing out presents adorned the front of each card. The message ‘God bless you all’ was written in gold glittered letters at the bottom.

Charlie sat at the table and, for the next twenty or so minutes, he carefully wrote the same message onto each envelope in his best handwriting:

Merry Christmas from 19 Beechwood Drive,

Love Charlie & Ethel Bishop.

 

Charlie crossed the room and opened the top drawer of their 18th century oak Welsh dresser. He pulled out an ALDI plastic bag, shook it and tipped the contents onto the table. There was a small thud as a rectangular packet landed on the tablecloth. Around the middle of the packet was a white piece of paper with ‘£1000’ printed across it.

Charlie picked at it with his nail. The crisp £20 notes spilled out across the table as the paper finally released its hold. Charlie sat down once more and wrote the same message on the inside of each card but this time he added ‘Mr Bin Man’ at the top. He placed £200 into each card before sealing them inside their envelopes. Once all the cards were done he gathered them up and placed them on the mantelpiece behind the grandfather clock. It was 07:06am.

‘Just enough time for some breakfast before they come.’ Charlie hobbled toward the kitchen. ‘I’ll put the kettle on. Shouldn’t take long, it’s boiled once already.’

‘Is your hip still playing up, Charl’? You should’ve gone private, we had the money.’

‘Silly to waste it on me, dear. There’s far worse out there.’

*

Ethel lifted the lid of the teapot and peered inside. There were two moist teabags stuck to the bottom. She added a fresh bag, poured in the boiled water and stirred. She replaced the lid and covered the pot in a woollen tea cosy.

‘Won’t be long, love.’

Charlie nodded and dropped a piece of bread into the toaster.

‘Are you not having toast?’ she asked.

‘No, I fancy a cheese sandwich. That should keep me going ‘til dinner.’

 

When the toast popped up Charlie put it on a plate, grabbed a small blob of butter from the glass butter dish and spread a thin layer over the surface. He placed a tea towel over a jar of Monmouthshire honey and twisted the lid open before drizzling it across the toast. He slid the plate towards Ethel.

She smiled. ‘Thanks, love.’

Charlie got the cheese from the pantry and sat opposite Ethel. After thinly buttering a piece of bread he unwrapped the cheese and cut the mould off each side.

‘Breakfast for the seagulls,’ he muttered.

He put a slice of cheese on one side of the bread and folded it over. The bread snapped in an almost perfect line along the crease. He poured two cups of tea through a strainer and left Ethel to add the milk and sugar as he sucked on his sandwich.

*

‘Why are you still wearing those blooming socks? There’s holes bigger than my thumbs in them. What if you’d worn them to chapel, eh? What would people think, mun? Take them off so I can darn them,’ barked Ethel.

‘Stop fussing, love, it’s fine, no one’s going to see them, are they?’

‘That’s not the point, Charlie, take them off, you scruff.’

 

Charlie grabbed a pair of socks from the laundry basket and sat in the pantry; the window in there had a much better view up the street. As the refuse trucks came over the hill Charlie snatched his duffle coat from off the hook, slipped his shoes on and strolled out of the front door of his semi-detached house into the cold air.

He gurned at the young binmen and suddenly remembered he was still toothless. As he passed the binmen he waved at the driver to stop. Brakes screeched and hissed as the truck jolted to a stop. Charlie reached into his pocket and held one of the cards up to the driver.

‘Merry Christmas.’

The driver opened the door and reached down to the frail old man stood before him and took the card. ‘Thanks, butt. Merry Christmas to you an’ all.’

Charlie waved the four bin men over. ‘There’s a card for each of you, here. Thank you so much for your hard work, it’s much appreciated.’ He handed out the rest of the cards and carefully headed back towards his gate; the frost was worse than he had first thought.

‘Jesus Christ!’ boomed out of the cab window. ‘Oh, butt, we can’t take this off you, it’s way too much. You probably need it more than us.’

Charlie looked back over his shoulder and waved him off. ‘No, please take it, I insist. Have a good Christmas.’

The driver jumped down and ran towards Charlie. ‘OK, but there’s only the five of us, so have a hundred and fifty back and we’ll have a tenner each, see. That’s plenty, mun.’

Charlie laughed and placed his hand on the drivers arm. ‘You misunderstand.’ He tapped the fistful of notes in the driver’s hand. ‘This is for you and you alone. They have the same in their cards, too.’

Charlie watched as one of the binmen (quickly followed by the others) ripped open his card. ‘No way! I’ve got two hundred quid, too.’

‘Me too,’ said another. He was beaming with excitement, while another stood in silence, mouth agape and tears welling up.

The driver gently patted Charlie on the back. ‘Jono’s just found out he’s gonna be a dad.’

He looks way too young to be a father. Not even in his twenties and so much responsibility ahead of him, thought Charlie.

Jono stepped closer. ‘It wasn’t you that won twenty K on the lottery the other month was it? Somewhere in Blackwood they said. You must be rich, butt.’

‘I suppose you could say we are. There’s nothing more that we need.’

*

Ricky and Jono

‘Are you sure you want to do this? You’ll have nothing left, Jono.’ Ricky Finch slowly brought his beat up Volkswagen Lupo to a stop in an alleyway and glanced at Jono Tomas in the passenger seat. ‘No job, no family, nothing,’ he continued.

Jono moved back against the door and rubbed his chin. ‘Hmm, yeah, course I’m sure, mun. It’s my job, innit. If we pull this off we could be sorted for life, see.’

‘Fine. It’s your call, butt. I’m about due another stint inside so I couldn’t give a flying fuck to be honest, like.’

‘I’ve gorra get some proper coin for my missus, she’s up the duff, see.’ Jono pulled his balaclava over his face and adjusted the eyelets so he could see properly and blew out hard. ‘Let’s do this.’

 

Ricky slid a flat piece of metal between the sashed windows and popped the latch up in one swift motion. ‘Piece of piss,’ he whispered. He slid the window up and wedged a battered old baseball bat into the frame and crawled inside. A heavy metallic object slid out of his hoody and clattered to the floor. It was a Luger pistol. Jono followed him through the window and picked it up.

‘What the hell d’ya wan’ this for?’ he asked, waving the gun about.

Ricky snatched it off him. ‘Don’t fucking point it at me, you tit! It’s for insurance, butt, now keep your bloody voice down and start looking.’

Jono turned towards a large oak cabinet with glassed doors displaying old crockery and ornaments and searched through each of the drawers. He held his palms skywards and shook his head.

‘Keep looking.’ Ricky pointed towards the kitchen before moving through the passageway to the front of the house.

Jono scoured through each kitchen cabinet and drawer in turn, making certain he checked in every pot, tin and tub that he could find.

 

Ricky checked the cupboard under the stairs but found only a makeshift cloakroom. Even so, he checked inside every pocket, bag and shoe. Nothing. He cursed under his breath and moved forward into the front room.

 

After ten minutes Jono crept into the room behind Ricky.

‘Nothing?’ Ricky asked.

Jono shook his head.

‘Fuck!… Sorry butt, we’re gonna have to.’ He raised a gloved hand and pointed to the ceiling. ‘Things are gonna go ballistic, now.’

‘Don’t hurt them, though.’

Ricky grabbed Jono’s shoulder and playfully slapped his wool-covered cheek. ‘I can’t promise anything, butt. It depends whether they wake, and if they do, they gorra listen, see. If they don’t, then-’ He raised his hands and shrugged. ‘Stay here and keep watch, I’ll be back in a jiffy.’

*

Ricky crept up the stairs and scoured through the small bedroom on the left and found a few small knick-knacks, which were shiny and old and possibly worth a bob or two. He stuffed them into the rucksack on his back and stepped back out onto the landing and stared straight into the barrel of a Luger and froze. Ricky reached behind him. His pistol was gone.

‘Well aren’t you the clever one,’ said Ricky, as Charlie’s hand started to shake. Ricky lunged forward and hit the pistol out of his hand in one swift motion. It thudded and clattered its way back down the stairs as Ricky’s fist slammed into Charlie’s jaw.

 

Charlie’s head smashed into his bedroom doorframe and opened up a two-inch gash just above his right eyebrow. The cream paisley wallpaper, which Charlie hated, was splattered with his blood. He almost smiled as he saw the mess on the wall, then Ricky dragged him back into his bedroom.

Ethel swung at Ricky, catching him straight across the side of the head with her umbrella. He laughed and jabbed her square in the face. She staggered backwards hitting her head on the bedside cabinet as she fell. She groaned slightly but didn’t move again.

‘Noooooo!’ Charlie screamed. His arms and legs flayed out as he tried to get free of Ricky’s grip. ‘My Ethel, you’ve killed her, you bastard!’

Ricky slammed another fist into his face. ‘Quit whining old man, she’ll be fine, mun.’

‘Leave ‘em alone!’ shouted Jono.

Ricky turned to see Jono pointing the pistol at him.

‘Really? Your gonna point that shit at me, are you for real or wha’?’

‘I told you not to hurt them.’

‘Well it was either him or me, Jono; he had my fucking gun, for fuck’s sake. What was I supposed to do, eh? Let the old man shoot me?’

‘No.’

‘Well then, stop pointing that shit at me and check the room. It must be under the mattress cos I’ve found sod all so far, unless you’ve found it already?’

Jono lowered the gun and his gaze and shook his head.

 

Charlie came round as Jono threw a glass of cold water into his face. His head was forced to the side as Ricky jammed the pistol into his neck. There was an audible click as he removed the safety catch.

‘OK butt, where the hell is the money? I haven’t got all night.’

‘What money?’ croaked Charlie.

Ricky sighed. ‘The twenty K, see. You know, the lottery win you had.’

‘Oh that, that’s all gone, now.’

‘Bullshit! This house hasn’t changed in over a century so where is it? You haven’t spend a penny, mun.’

‘We gave it all away.’

‘What! Who to, the fucking tooth fairy?’

‘No, we gave it to deserving people like him.’ Charlie nodded towards Jono. ‘For his child.’

Jono’s jaw dropped but thankfully Ricky couldn’t see that with his balaclava on, but his wide eyes betrayed him.

Ricky stood up. His pistol still aimed at Charlie. ‘He knows you. How the fuck does he know you?’

‘I don’t know, maybe you said my name.’

Ricky swung the gun towards Jono. ‘Don’t blame me for your fuck up, you piece of shit! I’m doing you a favour, here.’ He punched his fist into the mirrored wardrobe door, shattering it. ‘Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! I don’t need this shit, butt. He’s gonna identify you and then I’m screwed, literally. I’ll be banged up before breakfast.’

‘I thought you said you couldn’t give a shit whether you went back in?’

Jono’s eyes almost popped out of his sockets as Ricky’s hand tightened around his throat and the Luger barrel slammed into his temple.

‘You cheeky little shit. Who d’ya think you are? You buy a bit of weed off me and think you know me. You don’t know me.’ Ricky released his grip, turned and pointed the gun at Charlie. As he pulled the trigger Jono rugby tackled him.

The bullet slammed into Charlie’s chest just below his clavicle. As the two young men fought, Charlie slowly dragged himself across the floor towards Ethel. He jumped as another shot was fired and automatically looked down at himself, checking for holes.

When he finally looked up Ricky was nowhere to be seen. Jono was slumped on the floor with his head lolling to one side. The paisley wallpaper behind his head was splattered with blood and brain matter.

Charlie gently cradled Ethel in his arms. He could hear her faint breathing as her chest crackled its defiance. Her eyes flickered open as he spoke to her.

‘It’s OK my dear, we have everything we need right here.’ He kissed her cheek, lifted his bottom lip up to his nose, closed one eye and smiled out of the corner of his mouth.

 

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