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.”


“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.”


“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.


“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.”


“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.”


“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?”


“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.


Jim Murdoch said...

I’m late commenting. I did what I always do, sent a link to your blog to Evernote from my tablet so I don’t forget about it and then I read the post later on my laptop. I like my tablet for lots of things but even though it’s got a 10.1" screen it’s still a bit on the small size. I’m currently drooling over the new Samsung Galaxy Note PRO 12.2" Tablet but £350 (which is about the cheapest I’ve seen it for) is a lot when I’ve already got a laptop, a PC, a netbook and a perfectly-functional tablet. Maybe in a few months I might be able to pick up a used one.

I’m late commenting. I said that. I fully expected there to be loads of comments already and what could I possibly add to what’d been said already? and yet when I look I see no comments whatsoever. Not a one. Maybe there are and you’ve not approved them. Somehow I think not. I’ve not checked on Facebook but I suppose a few people responded to your comment there. I hate when people do what. I dunno why but it really rubs me up the wrong way. Probably because I’m basically anti-Facebook. I try not to be, I try to think about what’s good about it but mostly I let it annoy me. But no comments. Not a one. Makes you wonder why you bother. It bothers me when I get no comments but then something nice happens as some French professor discovers your two articles on Guillevic and sends you a nice e-mail. That was kinda nice. He wanted me to write a fresh article for this journal he edits but I had to turn him down. I’ve forgotten practically everything I read about Guillevic and’d have to start from scratch and just the thought of it’s exhausting.

Apparently blogs aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be. Everyone’s rushing off to Facebook and Twitter it seems. I don’t really get it. I do understand that young people might be less interesting in longer forms of writing but what about all these old people who refuse to die and have plenty of time on their hands? Why aren’t they blogging? Or maybe they are. It’s been so long since I had a good trawl to see what’s new out there. Logic dictates there must be new and interesting blogs coming into existence all the time but how to find them? The old problem we all have. It’s not as if you can type “new and interesting blogs” in Google and see what it comes up with. Not that I’ve tried.

I suppose I should say something about your story now. I like the surveyor’s name. (Occasionally I use real people’s names. In Living with the Truth the two fishermen—Messrs Edgar and Polson—were the named after the two girls who I worked beside at the time. It was a bank of four desks. One sat to my left and the other facing me.) On the whole it’s a decent enough story. The ending was not entirely unpredictable but I did like the last two paragraphs very much. If I was the star-giving kind of person you’d get a whole extra star just for that ending but I’m not saying how many stars the rest of the story’d get because tomorrow I’d probably change my mind.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks, Jim, I like your comment... well, it's the only one I got... :)

Never mind.

This wee story had to be 'exorcised' from my brain. On the Monday before I posted it, I made the mistake that appears withing. I was blithely wandering round a services station and only realised when we left that I wasn't at the one across the road.

I immediately thought 'There's a little story that could be erected around that and I challenged myself to have a go at it. I mulled it for days and then let rip. It was quite cathartic. It's not the Best Thing Ever but it was, as they say, fun in the breeding.

As for comments and blogs, I think that might be my next blog post...

cheers matie.