Jaz didn’t like wearing a hat, even though it was raining hard, because he thought it made him bald. Not that anybody would laugh at him. They wouldn’t dare, or he’d be the last one to do the laughing when he caught them one dark night with his mates and a blade in his hand. But his hair is the hair God gave him, long and frizzy and damp, and it covers up most of his face and a variety of sins. That’s who he is. That’s what gave him the edge. Eventually, with too much messing about for his liking, they get nearer the job. Not far from Albert Road, one of the big houses off Second Avenue on the corner. He reluctantly pulls a pair of women’s tights over his head, gawks through tan, denier-number thirty, and straying strands of lilac, at the flaking green paint of the back door.
Rab tried it, said it was open. Before that Jaz had taken the lucky dip on other side of the street, while Godge kept lookout, smoking a fag, leaning against the trunk of an ash tree, the nearest of the birch trees, lined up like skittles, sheltering him from the road and other houses. They wore their work gear, black crombies, and with the streetlight broken, made them difficult as gorillas to pick out from the bushes. Mostly older folk, on the ground level trying the handle of the doors before running away. You didn’t want to get caught in the upstairs houses. Too much hassle, steep stairs and tight bannisters going up, about turn on the tiny hall at the door and more steep stairs. With three bodies it was a squeeze and hard to keep the noise down. Wee rooms and the living room, with the best pickings, as far away as the Dardanelles, with the bedrooms one side of you and a door likely to spring open. A hard landing if anybody woke up and challenged you. Godge had to put one on some old dear the week before. It wasn’t as if she’d anything worth stealing. The flat, a shambles, and it smelled rank of cat’s pee, without the cats, and she didn’t even have a telly, just some old radiogram with big Bakelite buttons perched on four legs near the window. All they’d got for their troubles was a half packet of Dunhill and imitation gold lighter, which didn’t even work, it was criminal. This house looked much better pickings. Two storey, big windows, with those sashes you just could just pull the window up and step outside, overgrown garden to hide in, with a wain’s swing out the back and Ford Capri out the front. The place stank of money. All they had to do was lift it. There had been a faint light on in one of the top window near the slanting roof, a bedroom, Jaz guessed.
Godge darts into the house first, because he is the one with the nimble toes, Rab at his back, Jaz last, letting his eyes adjust to the dark, a whiff of cooking, pot in the kitchen sink, dripping tap playing a tune. Wind on his clean-shaven cheeks as he turns his head to check nobody else is about, listening for the scream of police sirens, the bark of a dog, or the knock of somebody’s foot as they got up from the bedroom above and came rattling down the stairs. His turn for lookout, back against the door, holding it open, for a minute. But he keeps himself busy, edging away from the bubble of paint on the door when he feels it’s safe, pulling open a drawer. Nothing but cutlery. His fingers feel about underneath the trays and comes up with the goodies, a big black bone-handled knife. Heavy. The blade alone about nine inches and he flicks his index finger over to test its sharpness. He leaves it on top of the unit. The drawers further down is a false front. A wire hangs with an orange-cotton curtain hiding cleaning stuff under the sink. He cocks his head to listen. A slight shifting in the atmosphere, Godge come stumbling into the kitchen, a colour telly, wedged to his chest, lead and plug trailing.
‘There’s fuckin hunners of good stuff in there,’ he pulls his pair of tights up to whisper, sitting like a jobby ontop of his head. Too much of a hurry to bother with the black nylon of his sister’s tights, peeling it back down over his chin and hiding his face. He’s excited and sober, the sour smell of spent booze worn off, but knocking against the door handle as he goes out the back, banging the door.
Jas and Godge freeze and they listen. Rab comes slinking out of the hall and into the kitchen. A blue Addias bag clinks in one hand as he leans forward running a woman’s bag with a pair of sannies on the top. ‘Fuckin brilliant,’ he says, noticing Godge isn’t wearing his mask and, likewise, peeling the nylon skin his from his face. ‘Adidas Samba,’ he explains, giggling, ‘just my size too’.
Jaz takes off his mask, stuffs it into his coat pocket and rifles his fingers through his hair until it feels just right. He can hear them through the wall. They’ve already darted in and out with even more goodies, including a record player and set of speakers and a guitar. The size of the haul seems to have made them think they’ve become invisible and inaudible, and there’s no way they can carry it, even between the three or them. Most of it will have to be left lying under the kitchen window. He’d said as much, but there was no holding the lads back.
But Jaz has himself become distracted by a set of fishing rods standing waiting for him in a faraway cupboard, next to the fridge. The last time he’d been fishing was with his brother Danny, wheeling a bamboo pole with a round metal hangar with a green nylon sleeve for catching tiddlers in the Dalmuir burn. But somehow with the weight of a cork-handled rod in his hand and with the high ceiling he swishes it about for a practice run in an imagined sparkling lake with a salmon on the end of the line. He leans the rod against the table and dives back into the cupboard. The Wellington boots are there and the green camouflage of Barbour jacket smelling fishy. There are another two smaller rods and leaning against the wall the loop of a net used to land fish. The gleam of cobalt-blue metal make him do a double take. He can’t quite believe it until he’s pulled it out and has it in his hands. It’s an old gun, he can tell by the heft of it, the elaborate scroll of decoration on the barrel and the polished oily feel, rosewood, as if many hands has worn it clean.
‘Fuckin hell,’ he says, through tight lips, dying for a fag, not quite sure what to do with the barrel, but it opens with a smooth clicking action and he lets a breath out as he sees the barrels are empty, black sockets. He places the 20-bore carefully on the wooden table.
And he’s fallen to his knees as if in prayer, batting the stupid fishing rods out of the way. Opening and shutting drawers in the cabinet that climbs the wall, ignoring leather gloves, fishing hooks and reels and a variety of rainbow coloured floats with feathers attached, until he finds what he’s searching for, boxes and boxes of shells. He hauls the whole drawer out, putting it on the floor, he breaks open a white, unmarked, carbon cartridges and breathes in cordite, pushed together in shells like a ten pack of Benson and Hedges with brass-coloured heads. He can’t resist plucking two out, hearing the satisfying click as he pins the stock to his knee to break the barrel, and loads the gun. It’s as if he’s been born for this moment.
A light throws its beam from the hall and the clatter of someone cautiously coming down the stairs. ‘I’ve phoned the police,’ a male voice warbles.
That’s enough to make Rab and Godge, close behind him, hi-jink it, sprinting out of the hall and bundle into the kitchen. They barge into each other near the open door, Godge dropping a bottle of white wine on the floor and it rolling, wet, away from his feet, as he looks into a barrel of a gun.
Godge looks behind him and back at Jaz. ‘Hurry up,’ he whispers, looking into the night, ‘he’s phoned the police.’
Jaz lets the barrel of the gun arc and fall. ‘No, he hasnae, yah stupid cunt. There’s the phone there.’ He points to a phone underneath the cabinet and a black knife beside it. ‘And I’ve cut the line.’
There’s no time to argue. A bundle of dark-skinned boy, all movement, determined to be a man, slams through the door and into view. Jaz fires.