Chances ( 1)
A SHORT STORY IN TWO PARTS.
I like to take chances. Some pay off and some don’t. But as my dear old dad used to say “You’ll never know, unless you have a go.” Bobby Philips was one of my big chances.
I first met him in 1982. He’d already been on the run two years by the time I tracked him down to a little town just outside Malaga in Spain. He was sitting outside a small cafe drinking coffee and brandy and reading a newspaper. He was early forties, a few pounds overweight and his hair had gone grey in places, but it was him, no doubt about it.
I made my way over to his table and casually sat down opposite. He didn’t for one moment acknowledge me, just carried on staring at his four day old English newspaper and sipping his brandy. I broke the silence.
“Morning mate. Lovely day. What’s the grub here like? Any good?”
Now I had his attention, he obviously recognised the east London accent, but remained cautious. He shrugged his shoulders.
“Dunno mate. I only ever have the coffee and brandy.”
“Sounds good to me. Great way to start the day.”
I called over to the waiter and ordered. We sat there in silence until my liquid breakfast arrived. I downed the brandy in one go. It reminded me of the time I syphoned petrol out of my dad’s car when I was a kid. My whole body shuddered.
“Woah, that’s woken me up!”
For the first time Bobby Philips smiled.
“Wait till you taste the coffee, it’s like rocket fuel.”
We both laughed. The ice was broken. He looked at me for a few seconds before speaking. It was as if he was weighing me up.
“So what brings a Londoner like you, to La Tosca? I mean, it’s not on the coast so there’s no beach and let’s face it, it’s not as lively as Southend.”
I couldn’t help it. I just came out with it.
“I was looking for you Bobby. It’s taken me a while. But here I am.”
His reaction took me by surprise. He didn’t seem shocked, he didn’t try to leave, in fact, he showed no emotion whatsoever. He simply called over to the waiter.
“Two more coffee and Brandys please.”
Then he looked at me and spoke.
“Best make ourselves comfortable while we have a little chat then. Yeh?”
“Sounds good to me Bobby.”
The waiter was back in just a few minutes. Once he’d left and was out of earshot, Bobby looked me up and down.
“Well, you certainly aint old bill. Cos I can smell em, and to be honest I couldn’t care less if you were. Nothing they can do over here in Spain. No extradition between our two great nations, so no way they’d let you take me back. Which means you’d have to take me back by force. And that’s gonna take some muscle and some planning and all of that costs money. For what? Little old me, who nicked a few quid a couple of years ago and then fucked off to Spain before they could catch me. I mean, let’s face it, I aint no Ronnie Biggs!”
He laughed when he mentioned Ronnie Biggs. So did I.
He was right on both counts. He was safe in Spain. And no more than a few dozen people back in England had ever heard of Bobby Philips, unlike Ronnie Biggs who was a household name.
I took my time before answering. I could almost hear the wheels in Bobby’s head going round wondering who the fuck I was. I took a mouthful of coffee. He was right...it did taste like rocket fuel. I decided it was time to tell Bobby a few lesser-known facts.
“On the second floor of Scotland Yard, there is an office. Room 206 to be precise. In that office is a filing cabinet containing 117 files. That’s the number of people the Police know to have fucked off to Spain to avoid arrest for a crime they’ve committed in the UK. Obviously, your name is on one of those files Bobby, every blag that you’ve been involved in, every job you’ve been connected with or suspected of is written down in that file. Even all the small time stuff you did as a kid will be in there somewhere. That last job you did back in 1980 with Paul Morgan and Danny Roberts, where you all got about two grand each? That’s in the file.”
He looked at me with a curious look on his face.
“So what you saying? What the fuck you want with me?”
I ignored his question and continued.
“Scotland Yard is becoming sophisticated. It’s moving with the times. All written information is slowly being put onto a computer system. HOLMES, they call it, after good old Sherlock. Can you imagine that? EVERY file that they’ve got, and there are hundreds of thousands of them, has to be transferred to a computer. It’s going to take them about three years to complete.”
Bobby looked disinterested.
“So what? Doesn’t concern me.”
“That’s where you’re wrong Bobby. Guess who’s in charge of putting all the information in Room 206 onto a computer. All 117 files, including yours?”
Now I had his attention.
I shook my head.
“No not me Bobby. My older brother Dave has that particular job. He works for the firm that’s got the contract to computerise Scotland Yard. He also has the power to make you disappear. Instead of 117 files being transferred to Computer what if he only did 116. That would make you a free man Bobby, no more having to stay in sunny Spain. You could go back to dreary old England and walk around the East End again. See a few old faces, drink warm beer. Or you could stay here and not worry about old bill knocking on your door for crimes you committed back in the day. Because believe me Bobby it’s only a matter of time before there’s an extradition treaty between us and Spain. Two years max I’d say.”
He’d listened intently to what I’d said. Once again I could almost hear the wheels going round in his head. He asked the obvious question.
“Okay, so what do I have to do to make that file disappear?”
I didn’t beat about the bush. I told him straight.
“You have to open up a Chubb JX260, Grade 5 safe, take out six million in cash and walk away.”
Now he looked confused. But before he had time to speak, I continued.
“Perhaps I’d better tell you what I do for a living. I’m head of security for the largest safety deposit company in London. Seven flights of stairs below the pavement of Hatton Garden is a small room containing the Chubb JX260, a safe that I believe you are well acquainted with. In fact, you opened one up back in 1980. I know that because it’s written in your file.”
Bobby Phillips drank down his Brandy before commenting.
“So, let me get this straight. You want me to open up a Chubb JX260 and steal six million for you. In return for me doing this service, I get to go back to blighty a free man because your brother will destroy my file at Scotland Yard? Doesn’t seem like much of a deal to me.”
I leaned forward.
“Not quite Bobby. The reason you’re stealing six million is because, two million is for me, two million is for my brother and two million is for you. Does that sweeten the deal?”
“Yep, that sounds much, much better. But I need to ask a few questions. Firstly how do you know that there is that much cash in the safe, secondly can you guarantee me access to the safe for at least thirty minutes, because that’s how long I’d need and lastly how am I going to just walk away with that amount of cash?”
I knew I had him. It was now just about tying up the loose ends.