‘So, we were …’
Ten minutes later, Jay, Derek and Alan eat their main course while they watch Stephen finish the story through large mouthfuls of food.
‘And that as they say is THAT,’ Stephen concludes.
‘Finally,’ Derek says.
‘The story is a lot longer than I remember,’ Jay says.
‘Oh, it gets longer every time,’ Alan says.
‘And more embellished,’ Derek says.
‘Shut up,’ Stephen says, and turns to Jay. ‘Still have your vest?’
‘Yeah,’ Alan interjects. ‘I encased that shit. Cost me shit loads too.’
‘Fucking hell,’ Stephen says, and gestures to Derek and Alan. ‘It’s all about money with you lads.’
‘That’s why we HAVE the money,’ Alan retorts.
‘Ouch!’ Stephen exclaims with amusement. ‘That was low. I’m trying.’
‘That’s not what your wife says,’ Alan jovially jabs, and turns to Derek. ‘Right?’
Derek exaggeratedly nods.
Stephen laughs softly and waves them off. ‘Speaking of, ‘ he says to Jay. ‘Can you try to get me a job where you work?’
‘You don’t want that,’ Jay says. ‘And …’
Jay stops abruptly as his phone begins to ring. He puts a hand out in apology as he pulls the phone out. He looks at the caller ID and recognises the number as Mr Smith’s.
‘I need to take this,’ Jay says, and stands.
As he walks away from the table towards the exit, Stephen says loudly, ‘Put in a word for me.’
Jay answers the call and coldly says, ‘Give me a moment.’
As he walks through the reception, he makes eye contact with Natalia, who’s stood elegantly behind the desk, and again their gaze lingers on each other, until he is bumped by a swaggering overweight man in his late twenties, who’s dressed rather very flash in an outfit that could’ve been ordered from the first page of an urban gangster catalogue, who goes by the self-given moniker “Slim Charles”.
Jay sharply turns to Slim Charles with a hint of anger, but that immediately fades to amusement as he sees Slim Charles wearing large garish sunglasses in the dark room. Jay shrugs and steps out of the restaurant.
‘Yes,’ he says into the phone.
‘Captain, have you reconsidered?’ Mr Smith asks.
‘I didn’t think I was supposed to.’
‘The company is offering double the price for your service.’
There is a moment of silence.
‘Okay, state your price.’
‘Price is irrelevant.’
‘I know this, Captain. You’ve never cared about the money. It’s not why you do what you do. But I know you take pride in your work. Take pride in being the best. You already are held in the highest regard by the company, as evidenced by how much we already pay for your service. Now we are giving you the chance to retire as the undisputed best, which is affirmed only by the price we pay for your service. And yes, I did say retire; after all, it will be your last job.’
There is another moment of silence as Jay ponders.
‘Captain, again, I never thought I’d have to say this to you, and I’m not one to be pedantic, but, just earlier, it was reiterated to me by the suits that your contract states you cannot refuse the last job; I know you know this.’
Silence reigns again.
Okay, Captain. You also should know that the suitor of your service is very desperate. So, if you reconsider …’
There is silence as Mr Smith fights back to urge to commend Jay’s steadfastness.
‘If you reconsider, it will be a favour to the company,’ Mr Smith says, and continues without pause, so as not to give Jay a chance to object. ‘I will text you the details of your contact. You meet the contact, listen to the offer, and refuse it if you wish.’
‘I meet the contact?’ Jay asks, surprised – that never happens.
‘Time is of the essence, and you already are where you are needed. Plus, I don’t suppose you have any tools?’
‘The contact will provide.’
Again, silence reigns.
‘I’ll be in touch,’ Mr Smith says, and ends the call.
Jay takes a deep breath and scans the somewhat busy high street. He switches his phone off, opens the back case, and there is a red SIM card on the battery. He swaps the SIM cards and switches the phone back on. He dials in a five-digit number and calls.
It’s answered immediately. ‘Hello,’ says an automated female voice. ‘Who is speaking?’
‘Seven, Four, Four, Four, Six, Two,’ Jays says, and waits as the voice recognition software at the other end of the line does its thing.
‘Hello, friend,’ the automated voice says. ‘How can I help you today?’
‘I need 50 thousand, ASAP.’
‘Would you like cash or a card?’
‘What alias, and where would you like it couriered?’
‘Mr J Matthews; Epsom.’
There is silence.
‘Yes,’ Jay says. ‘I am home.’
‘Okay, friend, it will be with you on Tuesday. The card will have no withdraw limit, and only because of our long-standing relationship, not the fact that I know you are good for it, the card will also have an unlimited overdraft. You will be charged the standard fee.’
‘Would you like to know your balance?’
‘Okay. Be safe, friend.’
Jay ends the call and switches the SIM cards.
Slim Charles walks to Natalia with a forced sinister swagger and dumps a filled duffel bag on the reception desk in front of her.
She stares at him for a moment, not bothering to hide her contempt, and picks the bag.
‘Wait here,’ she says, calmly but commandingly, and walks towards the restaurant.
‘Vera in?’ Slim Charles asks with a deep voice, soaked in an urban South London accent.
She stops and turns to him.
‘I’ll let her know you’re here. If any guests walk in, do not approach them, do not speak to them.’
He nods and as soon as she turns to walk away, he smirks.
She walks through the restaurant to the bar, making sure to avoid eye contact with any of the patrons. She taps Vera, who’s waiting at the bar for an order, and gestures to the reception with a disappointed expression. Vera smiles sheepishly, knowing exactly what the expression means, and nods respectfully before she walks away towards the reception.
Natalia walks through a door behind the bar.
Vera steps into the reception and smiles as she walks towards Slim Charles, but his eyes open wide as he sees something over her shoulder in the restaurant.
He barges past her and bursts into the restaurant.
‘Baby!’ she pleads.
He ignores and marches through the restaurant, focused on Alan with a frenzied smile.