by Julie Morrigan
I don’t have a guardian angel. I know they’re fashionable right now, but I just don’t have one. Not that I lack guidance. I have clear, direct and divine guidance. It tells me what to do in every situation. It comes in the form of a neon sign.
I remember the first time I saw it. I’d just shared a joint with Bullshit Billy when I looked at him and I saw the sign flicker into life, just behind his right shoulder.
‘What the fuck …?’ I said.
‘What?’ Billy asked.
‘Do you see that? Behind you, that sign?’
Billy turned and looked for a long time. ‘Nothing there, man,’ he said.
That’s when I knew it was just for me. There was no way you could miss it flaring and sparking, shining bright in hot-pink gassy glory. If Billy couldn’t see it, he was either blind or unworthy. I figured it was the latter.
Here’s what the sign said: Billy has an eighth of dope in his inside pocket.
‘Have you got any blow?’ I asked him, since we’d just smoked the last of mine.
Billy shook his head slowly. ‘Clean out,’ he said. The sign flared.
‘You sure?’ I said, and he nodded.
I jumped him and got my hand in his inside jacket pocket. ‘Liar,’ I said, then I lamped him and took his stash. Turned out he had a half a dozen Valium as well as the dope, so I scored big time. And next time I saw the sign, I didn’t question it.
That happened just over a week later. I was on my way to sign on, skint and bored, fed up with the crap system in this country that keeps those of us who don’t work on the breadline. Not only that, a system that tries to take jobs away from people who badly want them and force them on others who don’t. The way I see it, I’m doing people a favour by staying on the dole. Jobs are hard to come by, so I made a conscious, unselfish decision to leave mine for someone who’d appreciate it.
They should pay me double for that.
As I walked up to the counter, I saw a sign, lime green this time, behind the lad’s head: He doesn’t need the iPod, it said. Which was cool, because I reckoned I could use one.
It was half past three, so I went for a pint then stood at the bus stop opposite and had a smoke while I waited for him to finish. Sure enough, just after five, out he trots, fiddling with the iPod, sticking the buds in his ears. I fell in behind him and followed him round the block to his bus stop, getting on the bus behind him, then sitting a couple of seats back. When he stood up to get off, I waited until the last minute then walked fast down the aisle and got off as well. That still kept me behind him, unnoticed.
I didn’t have long to get him. I wasn’t sure how far from his front door he was, but I wanted him down before we got there. Then he did me a massive favour: he took a shortcut along a narrow passageway. It ran between two houses with high fences, so once you got a way in it was sheltered and dark. That’s where I jumped him. He still had the earbuds in, the volume turned up, so it wasn’t hard to catch him off guard. I kicked him in the back of the knee then pushed him forward. He was flat out, face down, confused, and I grabbed his hair and bashed his forehead off the pavement. That sorted him out and I nabbed the iPod then went through his pockets. I got about twenty-five quid in cash, a bank card and a credit card.
I did really well out of chummy from the Job Centre, spent his money and got a good price for his stuff.
I didn’t see the sign again for weeks and when I did, I was in the middle of a rare good deed.
I was walking back into town from my folks’ house when I saw this old dear struggling with her shopping bags. I decided to do my bit, so I went to help her. She rattled on about having a bad wrist while I picked up her bags for her. They weighed nothing, she must have been in a right state. Anyway, I carried them to her front door and she asked me if I’d take them inside for her and put them in the kitchen. While I was waiting for her to get the key in the latch, I saw the sign again. Turquoise this time. She keeps her money in the airing cupboard, it said.
‘Where’s your airing cupboard?’ I asked her as I put her bags down on the kitchen benches.
‘Why do you want to know that?’ she asked me.
‘I just want to take a look at it. You don’t mind, do you?’
‘Yes. Yes, I do mind.’ The smile had vanished and her voice had gone wobbly. ‘I want you to leave.’
‘That’s not much of a thank you, is it? I thought the older generation were always polite.’
She scrabbled in her bag and got her purse. Her hands were shaking so much that she dropped it. She let it lie on the floor and took a step back. ‘Take it,’ she said. ‘Just take it and go.’ Her face had gone a funny colour.
I kicked the purse away from her before I bent down to pick it up. Didn’t want her banging me on the bonce with a frying pan. ‘Thanks,’ I said as I pocketed the cash it held then put the purse back in her bag, ‘I will. But I’m still going in the airing cupboard. I think you’ve got something there that I want.’ I headed back towards the front door and went up the stairs. Sure enough, there’s the airing cupboard on the landing. I rummaged around and found what I was looking for: bundles of notes tucked in amongst the folded towels and sheets.
When I went back downstairs I saw the old dear was lying on the kitchen floor. I went closer. She was clutching at her chest. ‘Help me,’ she wheezed. ‘Call an ambulance.’
I stared at her.
‘Please,’ she whispered. ‘Help me.’
But I didn’t. I just walked out of there with my pockets full of her money and took it home and hid it. And she croaked.
Turned out the old bird was Bullshit Billy’s granny. I’d been seen taking her bags in for her, but that meant nothing; I was just doing a good turn. People might have had their suspicions, but they had no proof, and there wasn’t a mark on the old dear. I might have got away with it if her money hadn’t burned a hole in my pocket. I was minted. I’d never had that much cash in my life. I went on a spending spree. I might as well have had a neon sign above my head that said: Guilty. Billy being a mate, he saw my new stuff. And while he wasn’t a problem, his dad was.
Billy’s dad is as hard as fucking nails, that’s one of the reasons his boy was such a soft shite, he’d been a punchbag all his life. And I’d just killed his mam.
When Billy’s dad came for me, I was bricking it. He pushed his way into the flat and decked me with a single punch. I looked up at him and he was wrapping a chain round his fist. And a big, bold, bright red neon sign above his head said: You’re fucked.