Inside his office, Winston heard the front door creak open, then bang shut.
“Jussaminute,” he called out, pulling on his boots and hauling himself out of his filthy grey recliner. He pushed open the patched up panelled door leading to the garage, took a greasy cloth from the cluttered desk and squinted into the dark.
“Who’s there? This ain’t no goddamn playground, come on out or I’ll crack yer skull soon as I find ya.” He spat loudly, picked up a wrench from the leather on top of the engine he’d been working on before lunch, and slapped it into his palm, the sound echoing off the far wall. He moved to the front door and flipped on the spotlights, dousing the shadows in nauseating pale white glare.
“Right thassit, I’m getting my gun. This is my place, and I ain’t letting you punks steal my stuff for your drug money.” They were always trying to sneak his tools and swipe his engine oil. They even took a motorcycle once. “This is my place.” Winston repeated, shouting as he stomped back towards his office. As he slammed open the office door he found the way blocked by his own revolver, pointed straight at him.
“Put the wrench down,” hissed a stony voice. “I won’t hurt you unless you do something stupid. Now, put it down. Slowly.” Winston did as directed, his stare stuck fast on the barrel in front of him. As he rose, he allowed his eyes to take in a dark suit and a white shirt; some black and grey stubble covering pale, damp cheeks; deep circles under bright green eyes; a heavily creased, sweating brow. Pale wasn’t the word for this guy, he was almost see-through. Winston looked down to an arm across a midriff, noting the stiff, bent posture.
“You’re hurt?” Winston asked, looking at the hand covering a deeper area of dark suit.
A smile curled the corner of the man’s mouth. He moved the hand showing Winston a bloodied palm.
“Occupational hazard,” he whispered, his cold rasping voice wavering a little, unlike the gun.
Green eyes darted around Winston’s small office. “I’m going to need some money. I’m sorry. I will return it. I’m keeping this too,” he said moving the gun for the first time. “And which car’ll get me to the airport in one piece, and unnoticed?”
Winston hesitated. Losing any of the cars he was working on couldn’t be explained away easily. He couldn’t exactly report their theft to the police. The gun moved closer. “I said don’t do anything stupid.“
“Take mine,” whispered Winston. “The one out front. Key’s in my jacket on the back of the door, there.”
“I’ll leave it in short stay parking,” said the man, wincing. “Pick it up from there. Now, money.”
“There’s a hundred in the jacket,” said Winston, then, rediscovering his outrage, he sneered, “you might as well take that as well, since you’ve bled all over yours and taken everything else I own.”
The man laughed, grimacing again. He nodded to the grimy chair. “Sit there and don’t move.” Winston sat and watched as he peeled off his sodden jacket. Blood covered most of his shirt, but was darkest just below the ribs on one side. He gingerly pulled on Winston’s dirty jacket, zipped it up and felt in the pockets for the keys and money.
“Like I said, sorry to do this. I’ll pay you back.”
Winston snorted. “Never met a junkie that’s kept a promise. Not even one in a suit.”
“That’s what you think, that I’m a junkie?” asked the man.
Winston nodded. “Always trying to steal my stuff. That’s why I got the goddamn gun in the first place. Just get on now won’t ya. You got everything you want, I ain’t give ya no trouble, so get out.”
“OK. I am sorry,” said the man. Winston heard the front door creak open and bang close. He slumped back in his dirty grey chair.
Winston heard the pounding on the front door from his chair inside the office.
“Jussaminute,” he called out, grabbing a bunch of keys from the hook by the door. “Who’s that?” he shouted.
“Delivery for ya. You gotta sign for it.” Winston peeked through the spy hole he’d made about a week after he was robbed and, seeing the uniformed delivery guy, unbolted the door.
“Sign here please,” said the delivery guy, handing over a soft package a little bigger than a shoe-box. Winston signed and took the parcel. “…Nice day,” mumbled the delivery guy as the door closed with a bang.
Bolting the door and turning the heavy-duty locks he’d installed just last week, Winston took the parcel to his office and sat down in his greasy chair. He pulled slowly at the paper, unwrapping his old jacket, cleaner than it had ever been. He stared at it in amazement before putting his hand in one pocket, finding a hundred dollars. He felt in the other, finding his keys.
As he held it up for further inspection, an envelope fell into his lap. He picked it up and slowly turned it over in his hand. Not a mark on it. Not a grubby thumb print, not a post-mark, not a single word.
Finally, he tore one end of the thick paper, looked inside and saw the unmistakeable gleam of fresh dollar bills. He pulled it out greedily and counted it. There were twenty hundred dollar bills. He counted it again before slumping back in his chair.
He stared at the money for a while before he noticed the note. He slid it out and carefully unfolded the thick, expensive paper. His eyes scanned over the typewritten words once, and then again.
Winston shook his head, allowing himself a smile.
Sorry I can’t return your gun. It didn’t work. Thanks anyway.
He rose from his grubby chair, folded the note into its envelope and placed it in the drawer where he’d kept his gun.