Life has many beginnings and endings. Not always what you hoped for, like a train journey with uncertain time tables and disappointing destinations, and, if you are unlucky, derailments too. Eric was pondering on this analogy while sitting uncomfortably on the hard bench, as the door swung shut with a clang, imprisoning him in the small airless police cell. Air may have been in short supply, but there was an abundance of odours, mostly unidentifiable. The only one he could be certain of: the pungent aroma of piss from the galvanised pail in the corner. He thought to himself that his life had just experienced a triple whammy: a timetable malfunction, derailment and definitely a disappointing destination. Thinking, as Eric knew from experience, was something you did a lot of in a police cell.
His mind reset to the point earlier in the week when ‘Brains’ Carmichael’s bronze Range Rover drew up alongside, just as the gates of Armley Prison closed, not for the first time, behind him. As he climbed out of the driving December sleet into the plush car interior, the saying, ‘as one door closes another opens’, entered his mind. The lift was as welcome as Brains offer of work. The money would be handy, help ease his way back into the matrimonial home, buy presents for the kids he hadn’t seen for 3 years and 4 months. The job would be a breeze, said Brains. A breeze in here would be nice, Eric thought ruefully, as he looked around his cell.
The job was to rob the Yorkshire Bank in Headingley, an area of Leeds heavily populated by University students. Brains’s plan revolved around the Otley Run, a traditional pub crawl by drunk students in fancy dress. Brains would employ a motley group of crackheads and layabouts to hand out fliers to the students, their supposedly better educated peers. The fliers advertised an improbable promotion: the Yorkshire Bank offering vouchers for free drinks, redeemable at one of the local pubs. As the inevitable tsunami of excited students descended on the bank, the gang, dressed in Santa Claus outfits, would mingle with them. In the ensuing chaos the door between the public area and the back office would be jemmied, the staff intimidated and the contents of the cash drawers and safe emptied into sacks. They would then slip out, stroll to the Original Oak, four Santa Clauses with swag bags slung over their shoulders, where the getaway car would be waiting. The plan seemed foolproof, but Brains had hired a fool, the preeminent getaway driver ‘Plank’ Murphy.
The evening before the robbery, Plank, an expat, flew in from Benidorm, collected the mock Uber taxi from the long stay car park and drove to the local Travelodge hotel, where he spent the night with an energetic call girl. None of this would have been relevant, but Plank, exhausted from his tussle with the call girl, lived up to his name and forgot to turn his watch back an hour. This small error, this failure to rotate the crown of his Rolex, bought from a Moroccan on the Levante beach, meant that he pulled into the pub car park a full hour too soon. The error was compounded by the appearance of four inebriated students, a post grad biochemist and three aspiring doctors, dressed as Joseph and the three wise men. Fully expecting an Uber taxi they jumped, or fell into Planks car. Briefed to expect the gang to be dressed in seasonal apparel, Plank played his part and rammed his right foot to the floor. When questioned later by DC Armitage, it was hard to say what had surprised the students most. The departure from the pub car park, rear doors still hung open as the taxi fishtailed on the ice on Otley Road or their unintended arrival in Hull.
His mistake dawned on Plank as he passed under the shadow of the Humber Bridge. As the bemused students stumbled out of the car in the outskirts of Hull a bemused Brains and his hapless gang were climbing into a police van.
Eric’s musings on these disastrous events were interrupted as the hatch at the bottom of the cell door slid open. A small tray was pushed through carrying a mince pie garnished with a sprig of holly. “Merry Christmas!” Said a disembodied voice from the corridor followed by a mirthless laugh.
As he bit into the pastry, Eric again pondered how unsatisfactory the beginnings and endings in his life had been.