I’d managed to convince myself I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Besides, you didn’t say no to a man like George Chumley.
Although we lived on different sides of the law, George and I had grown up together. He knew I knew the score and could be trusted to keep my mouth shut. George had lots of fingers in lots of pies and was never short of a few quid; all of it in used notes and all of it illegal. It became routine to hold some of it for him while he was away ‘on business.’
That’s how I ended up with forty grand in cash stashed under my bed. Well, our bed. Mine and Sheila’s.
Sheila. The future second ex-Mrs Dean Whitley.
Sheila and I had got together thousands of miles ago when we thought we knew each other but didn’t yet know our own selves. Small things we shared were exaggerated by a mutual need to be wanted and a common want to be needed. Inevitably, our lives had become a cluster-fuck of simmering loathing: of ourselves, of each other, of the whole damn world. We were struggling to maintain a pretence of shared desire and this led with increasing frequency to the thrashing-out of awkward compromises ultimately unsatisfactory to us both.
We had another argument just before one of Chumley’s apes came round to drop off the loot. There’s never enough money, Dean, she said. You’re a waste of space, she said. Go fuck yourself, I said, because I couldn’t think of anything better. She was sore and kept going on about unpaid bills and needing money for food so I did what I thought was right and gave her a handful of notes. The next day, with the rent due, I gave her some more. Then enough to put petrol in the car. So on and so forth, until forty thousand had become closer to thirty-seven, just like that.
Then George Chumley came back. And my whole world fell to shit.
To my great surprise, it was Chumley himself who came round to pick up the bags. I fed him a story about having to borrow some dough to tide me over.
‘Could we come to an agreement about the vig?’
‘Don’t worry about it, Dean,’ he said coolly. ‘They’re not worth shit.’
‘How’s that?’ I asked, my throat beginning to feel dry.
He waited half a cigarette before answering, ‘They’re all fakes. Not very good ones, as it turns out. I had no luck trying to pass some of them while I was away so the whole lot’ll have to go in the furnace. You know, in case the coppers get wind of them.’
Fucking fuck fuck fuck.
At that moment the living-room was suddenly infused with flashing blue and red lights. There was the sound of booted feet coming up the path. Two sharp knocks at the door. A gravel voice, ‘Mr Whitley. Police. We need to talk to you about a woman who lives at this residence.’