Joey Had Never Been Out of the City

Joey had never been out of the city but, by God he was out of it now. Racing down the motorway at 122 kilometres per hour. A little over the speed limit but probably not enough to get stopped. 

Beside him, in the passenger seat of the hotwired Peugeot, Wayne sweated and twitched and clutched the ancient biscuit tin closer to his stomach.

“Do you think we killed her?” he asked, almost too quietly to be heard.

“She looked resilient, like,” Joey said, “she’ll probably make it.”

When they left the old bird, she had a big gash high on her forehead from the blow of the cosh and her gossamer eyelids had flickered alarmingly. The two assailants were so shocked at their own violence that they had phoned an ambulance for her straight away after they had robbed the car. That was the good deed that would get them caught later in the evening.

Wayne cracked the lid of the biscuit tin for the seventh or eighth time and peered inside. By the rush of the passing motorway lights he could still see the wads of rolled-up fifties packed inside.

“It’s a score,” he grinned, “a genuine score.”

Joey shook his head.

“We have to get rid of it,” he said.

“But why?”

“It’s too much. They’ll never let us walk free with all this and the 'hurt-bird' too.”

“So what’ll we do with it?” Wayne peered out at the unremitting dark outside the windscreen. He had never been outside the city before either.

“We’ll stop and find a field and bury it. We’ll mark it somehow and come back and claim it when the heat is off.”

Joey liked the sound of what he was saying. All his life he had craved for the heat to be on him. Now, at long last it was and he was enjoying the burn.

“But what do we know about fields?”

Wayne was a bit of a gobshite but he did have a point. The two city boys were well out of their turf now. They were used to concrete and tall towers. Out here there was nothing but darkness, the unravelling white line on the road, and the faint smell of cow-shite in the air. They were a long way from home but there had been no choice except to go. The old lady had resisted too much, had been hurt too severely, and she had far, far too much money in her biscuit tin. They had to drive for as long as they could. As far out of their comfort zone as they could get.

They passed through a toll booth, scraping coins together to make the charge, and then there was only the four lane road, the unending darkness and the loneliness you only ever really get on a three am drive away from home.

“We haven’t go a shovel or anything, for digging in a field.”

“A spade.”

“Wha’?”

“You dig with a spade.”

“What do you do with a shovel so?”

“You shovel.”

A moment’s silence then.

“Do we have a spade?”

“Shut up, Wayne.”

Up ahead, there were lights. Some kind of posh petrol station. They pulled in. They’d never seen anything like it but then they’d never been outside of the city before. It was like an oasis on the motorway desert. There was Burger King and Costa Coffee and petrol and sweets and toilets. Only everything was closed except the petrol and the sweet shop.

Joey made up his mind.

“We’ll hide it here.”

“Why?”

“It’s like you said. We don’t know nothing about fields and digging. This is a bit like home, we’ll hide it here and come back when the heat dies down.”

Wayne looked puzzled.

“Why do we have to hide it at all? Why can’t we just split it and keep it like we always do?”

Joey looked at Wayne. He just didn’t get it. He tried to break it to him gently because he was only seventeen.

“We have to hide it, Wayne, because this time we’re gonna get caught.”

Joey was right. Forty minutes later, sixty-kilometres further up the road, they ran into a checkpoint that was looking out specifically for them. Their midnight run was over. They were arrested and charged but there was no cash on them and they said they knew nothing about any money or any old lady, for that matter. CCTV showed the boys passing through the motorway services station at 3.15am so maybe they had ditched the evidence there. It was searched but the money was never found.

Four and a half years later, Joey was released from prison with his earnings from his laundry duty in the back pocket of his brand new jeans. He was booked on a private bus back to the city and was pleased to find that he could charge his long-dead phone in a socket beneath his seat. He listened to the same radio DJ he had listened to every day for the last four years and watched the alien greenness slide along past his window.

The bus made a stop about two hours outside the city and Joey climbed down into the drizzle to stretch his legs and breath a little air.

He couldn’t believe his eyes.

This was the place. The exact place where Wayne and he had stopped on that night four years before. The place where they had buried the money. It was brighter than the last time he was here, and there were a lot more people around, but it was definitely the place. Burger King was still there and Costa Coffee and all the benches and coach parking spaces and petrol pumps and kids play area. It was all as he remembered.

He had fifteen minutes before the bus left. He went into the shop and bought a cheap screwdriver kit. There had been one in the boot four years ago. Then he headed for the rear of the compound, making sure nobody was watching him. There was a maintenance area back there and at the rear of a small storage shed there was a gas tank under a canopy and beneath the gas tank there was an inspection chamber with a steel lid on it. 

On that dark night, Wayne had spookily suggested that the inspection chamber was perhaps not in use. They lifted the lid and found this to be absolutely true. There was nothing beneath the lid except a dry shallow concrete chamber. No pipes, no wires. A risky place to hide thousands of Euro but they had little choice. They dropped the biscuit tin inside, shut the lid back down, and left.

Joey had some trouble getting the lid up. The screwdriver was crap. It twisted and buckled but eventually he got a finger hold on the rim. The lid seemed stiffer than four years before but that was understandable, Joey was stiffer too.

The lid clattered over onto the concrete. Joey looked in. Dry concrete, no pipes, no wires… but no money either.

Joey rode the bus in barely contained rage. Every fibre of his body was clenched. Somebody had happened upon their cache and had taken it and had the time of their lives with it. Or else…

Or else…

Joey got on his newly charged phone and called Wayne.

“Joey!!”

“Wayne, when are you getting out?”

“I’m out.”

“Since when?” Joey kept his voice steady.

“Two days ago. I was coming to tell you in your cell but they just pulled me out and stuck me on the bus home.”

“Amazing.”

“Joey,” Wayne’s voice dropped, “I have news. About the ‘thing’.”

“Tell me.”

“Maybe the phone isn’t the safest-”

“Tell me.”

Joey told him. “You’d never believe it. The bus I was on, it stopped right at the place. You know, the place-”

“I know. Tell me.”

“I walked over and looked. Joey, it was still there.”

“So you took it. Good man.”

“No. I didn’t take it.”

“What?”

“I thought we should go together. So I left it there. When do you get out?”

Joey’s mind raced. “Tomorrow. I get out tomorrow. I’ll… come and see you, yeah?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I’m leaving town for a while. Me ma bought me a holiday to Spain so I’m off today.”

“Ah, right so. I’ll… see ya when I get back.”

“Right. If I get back,” Wayne laughed, “if you know what I mean.”

Joey said nothing but he reckoned he knew what Wayne meant all right.

“We’ll spin down on the bus when I’m back and get the ‘stuff’. It’s safe though, that’s great, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Joey said, “that’s great.

Wayne’s house was a fifteen minute run from the bus stop and, when Wayne opened the door, Joey rushed at him so hard that he forced him all the way across the hall and onto the back wall. Joey didn’t really say all that much. He just saw the suitcase by the door and he swore and swore and Wayne sobbed and tried to reason with him.

Then the twisted screwdriver was in his clenched fist and he plunged it into Wayne’s chest and it slipped between ribs and spine, front to back, and met no resistance until it hit the back wall of Wayne’s front hall.

Joey searched the house as Wayne bled out on the hall tiles but he never found the money. Well, he wouldn’t have, would he?

Almost three years later, a young surveyor called Murdoch was making a schedule of the inspection chambers of a service station on a motorway some hours outside of the city. He came upon a lid beneath a gas cylinder and noted that the chamber wasn’t on his list. Using a specially prepared tool, he lifted the cover.

Inside, he found a biscuit tin with thirteen thousand euro inside it.

He knew it was pointless and rather silly but, as he tucked the tin carefully in his case, he resolved to walk across the footbridge that spanned the motorway and check the inspection chamber in the identical service station just out of sight on the other side of the road.

Just in case there was some money in that one too.

Becoming a Roadie

I like my new role as a Roadie to my son, Sam.

He’s a drummer, you see, and he’s only fourteen so some of the hauling and connecting-up and screwing-together is not quite his forte yet.

He can drum though. Man-oh-man, he can drum all right.

So I’ve become his Roadie. Well, you know, I’m really just the Dad who hauls all the drums around and sets them up a bit. I don’t really know all than much about what I’m doing but I’m learning all the time. 

I'm learning about drums and I like that.

Sam has a much better kit now than he used to have. That's thanks to a clever local library scheme to help budding musicians. Up until a few months ago, he had a ram-shackle starter set with a buggered cymbal and a snare that was missing some bits. Now, though, he’s got a rather fanciable Gretsch kit with Sabian Cymbals and the Roadie and him are finally starting to look the part. We’ve also got huge faux-fur-lined cases to haul all the drums around in and we cut an impressive shape when we turn up with all our gear. That’s what I think anyway. 

When we got that first knackered kit, one Christmas Eve years ago, it was plenty. Up until then, Sam had been going to drumming lessons without having any drums. He would tap out his rhythms on the table, on the window cill, on my head. He simply burned to drum. 

And that first kit was a wonderful opening-up for him. I hadn’t the first clue about it and where everything was meant to go. One of my abiding Christmas Eve memories will be stumbling up the hall after midnight, time and again, with the various clinking-clanking components of the drumset, trying to put it all together with nothing to go on but a jagged image printed off the internet. It was the only present he ever got where, upon its discovery, the tiniest hint of a tear appeared in his eye.

And now, some years later, with the new ‘posher’ kit and some years of moving stuff around, I’ve become almost passable at packing, unpacking, setting up and adjusting everything. I’ve learned my crashes from my rides, I can set up the rather tricky high-hat in mere minutes, and I’ve stopped catching my fingers in the bass pedal thingie.

Yesterday, Sam was drumming along with a professional drummer in rehearsal. The guy was really lovely and he gave me some tips for setting-up which has increased my self-image of Roadie-hood about two million percent. It’s the little things, you see. For instance, when setting up the floor tom, put it upside-down on the stool and then the legs fit into it easily. (You don’t want to know how I was doing it before). Or keep the legs of the bass drum up a bit more so that the drum is angled upward a bit at the front. It makes the pedal connect sweeter with the skin. The best tip I got yesterday, though, the absolute winner, was that the pro-drummer brings all the loose bits - the stands and such - around in a wheelie suitcase. This is so obvious but I was carting them all around loose and suffering multiple trips to the car as a result. I went straight home and got out the suitcase out and, hey presto, I am now complete.

The professional drummer was also showing me some of his own kit and telling me the stories behind them. He had a beautiful snare which dated from 1968 and was found in a left-luggage locker in Chicago. The thing practically radiated long roads and old music. I feel there’s something in all that – the stories that drummers have about their drums. It's for some other day, perhaps. 

Tomorrow, Sam and his drum kit will travel with the Kaleidoscope Big Band to the National Concert Hall in Dublin to play on the main stage in front of the President of Ireland and loads of other people too. The Roadie is tagging along. He's checked and double checked the baggage and everything seems to be there. We’re good to go.

Now, where’s my tee-shirt?