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The Last Drop

by Cornelia 

Posted: 28 July 2011
Word Count: 1699
Summary: Here's the last of my crime competiton stories.

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When I get to Brussels I know Iím being watched - and I know whoís doing the watching. At first, Iíve a good mind to get right back on the next Eurostar back to Waterloo. Then I think, ĎWhat the hell, itís all set up!í Spavin's no threat; not to me, anyway. All the same, I take one of my pills.í

I walk into the Connaught, near the Bourse. Spavin's climbed out of the taxi behind mine and rushes over to have a word with the driver whoís just dropped me.

I spotted him on the train as we left Lille, hiding behind a free copy of The Times. Thatís typical of him, blowing his cover when the suspect has to take a leak. He canít have told his boss; Collins knows better than to send an amateur like Spavin to catch me out.

I like the Connaught. It looks like something out of Poirot, with that wood panelling and fan-shaped wall lights, but nobodyís going to remember you. Well, they wonít remember me, anyway; bloke in his sixties wearing stuff that could be picked up in any branch of M&S. I'm just a summer tourists in Brussels; widower, somebodyís granddad enjoying a cheap Euro break.

As soon as I leave the Connaught, theyíll search my room.

ĎArguably the most beautiful city square in Europeí says the guidebook. They wonít get any argument from me. Iíve seen a few places since my son Mark suggested I join him on the day trips, so I Ďm quite an expert. His wife said that Ďthe children should know something of their history.í Privately, I thought it would be all a bit one-sided, but I said nothing.

The kiddies preferred those ruined castles where they could pretend to be knights on horseback, but myself, I soon began to see the possibilities in the stately homes. They were stuffed with what the afternoon TV programmes call Ďcollectablesí.

Not that I didnít sympathise with Mark about the cost of raising kids these days. It was different for me when he was a nipper Ė the market barrow, with a bit of no-questions business on the side, and if I had to be away now and again, it didnít matter too much.

Itís for the kiddiesí sake I decided to do one last drop. Mark gave me a lot of ear-ache until in the end I had to pretend I was only joking. Spavin was wrong when he said Mark was a chip off the old block Ė he hasnít got the bottle, for one thing, and for another he has those two nippers to think about.

I go for it straight away when my old contact Frank suggests Belgium to fence the goods. ĎYour dadís sweeping the Jerries out of Belgiumí, my mum used to tell me. I didnít know what she meant, but I remembered the name. He didnít come back with any medals.

I sit in the Grand Place, and look at the buildings with their pointed fronts sprouting statues, and the big umbrellas over the tables, the beer all different colours, in big wine glasses.I could get used to this. Frankie says he can get a million from a collector in Amsterdam.

Spavin is watching me somewhere, drinking lemonade. I could almost feel sorry for him. I saw him earlier, chatting up the hotel receptionist, who didn't look too impressed.

I pretend to look at the guidebook before I catch the 48 tram, starting off underground and ending up in some cobbled suburb. I get off near to the street, Rue de La Perche, carved on my brain since Frankie suggested it as the venue for the drop. I know the name of the place: Swimbad Victor Boisin. I see it more or less straightaway, and donít give any sign that I know Spavin is behind.

Itís touch and go whether he gets on the back of the tram, but I just step back in time to catch sight of his ginger bonce before he disappears into the crowd in the other carriage. I have a very uneasy ride for a minute or two, because thereís a lot of pickpockets on trams. Then a little kid gives me his seat.

The Schwimbad is really old. In fact, itís so old I think it probably has some kind of preservation order on it. The guide book says itís Art Deco, and I know just enough to see that from the decorations in the cafť bar. The baths doesnít even have separate changing rooms, only these numbered cubicles all round the edge of the pool. You go to an empty one, and when youíve changed into your swimming things the door shuts automatically behind you with your belongings left inside. You have to remember the number, and after your swim you get an attendant to open it again.

Iím thinking itís about now that Spavin will be trying to hire a costume from the surly bloke on the front desk. They're not exactly hostile, the Belgies, and they speak English, but not what youíd call helpful, either. I spot Frankie at the other side of the cafť-bar, where the windows look out over the pool.

I freeze, wondering what to do. If Spavin sees me talking and recognises him, weíre done for. I look at him and flip my head sideways. Frankie, heís as good as gold and catches on right away. He scribbles numbers on the back of a cigarette packet and holds it up for me to see. Then, putting down his glass, he slips off towards the gents.

Soon Iím in the pool, watching Spavin argue with one of the lifeguards. Heís probably trying to find out which of the cubicles I used to change into my togs, and where I might have left the item. Itís number 24, but the lads say they didnít notice. Frankie must have made it worth their while. So he picks himself an empty cubicle, goes in and is soon out again, wearing goggles and a swimming cap, with a pair of trunks flapping against his scrawny legs.

There's not many people in the pool and in no time Iím swimming lengths. Spavin is shivering in the shallow end. He knows heíll have to wait to see which cubicle Iíll go to and change back into my clothes. What he doesnít know is that Frankie has left me, in 31, a set of identical clothes to the one I was wearing plus a towel and enough money to get me back to the Marriott. All he has to do is wait until Spavin has gone, empty-handed, and then pick up the goods from 24. It seems fool-proof.

I didnít ask Frankie why anyone would part with a million for Wellingtonís Star of the Garter medal. You wouldnít believe the amount of stuff lying around on public display up and down England Ė the real thing, too, not even replicas. You just have to know where to go to find it. A contact who knows a thing or two about CCTV cameras and security case alarms comes in handy, as well.

Itís when Iíve stopped for a breather at the deep end that it all starts to go pear-shaped. Two Belgian coppers appear, on the side at the shallow end, yelling at me to get out. Iím cursing Spavin, who must somehow have managed to call in some local back-up. Iím panicking, too, in case they hold me while they search the cubicles. The coppers start running up and down, one of them blowing a whistle. I make for the shallow end as slow as I can, thinking about what Iím going to say.

Itís only when Iíve nearly there I suddenly realise itís not me theyíre shouting a; itís Spavin. Heís going mad as they haul him out, waving his skinny arms and squawking, but they donít take any notice - uniform branch probably donít speak English Ė and they soon have the cuffs on him when he wonít come quietly.

But itís not over yet. Iím about to get out when an iron band clamps round my chest, and I canít move. I have to rest against the side, breathing slowly, like the doctor said, until the pain stops.

Later, on the tram back to the Bourse Iím feeling a lot better. I think of Spavin hauled up before Collins. Heís been arrested for indecent assault while travelling on a public vehicle.

According to one of the lads on the poolside, that was the charge when the Belgian uniforms got him. It seems Spavin had been crushed up against a young woman in the tram and couldnít keep his hands to himself. When he got off she called the police on her mobile and told them Spavin had gone into the baths.

Back in the sunshine in the Grand Place I take the call from Frankie to confirm heís collected the medal. Iím browsing through the National Trust Handbook, or Collector's Guide as I've come to think of it, wondering if I should specialise in Art Deco, maybe make things easy by taking the kids to Eltham Palace, or visit Churchillís place down in Kent. I bet thereís a few medals hanging about doing nothing.

Itís then I notice the black shiny shoes, right in front of me. And somebodyís saying my name.

As I find out later, they connected me with the Apsley House job because I was caught on the CTTV cameras as I left. I was more concerned at the time that Mark and the kids might have spotted something. Then they tie me in with the train booking to Brussels.

So thatís why Iím sitting here talking to you and waiting to see my brief, instead of sizing up Chartwell. Frankieíll see Mark right after he lies low for a while, so I'm not too worried. As for me, my brief says it could go either way: true, Iíve got form, but the judge might give me a suspended, on account of my age and health. Wish my old dad could be here, though. He'd see the funny side.

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Comments by other Members

Katerina at 18:15 on 28 July 2011  Report this post
Hi Sheila,

I've got a bit of time, so thought I'd have a quick read of this for you.

You don't mention anywhere who Spavin and Frankie are - and we as readers need to know who the characters are in relation to the main character, so it would help a lot if you could explain who they are and what their roles are.

Again, as with the last story, this has too much going on for me.

There's the train journey, the stuff about the Connaught, the bit about Mark and raising kids - I wondered who he was too until I realised he was the narrator's son - then the tram, then the bit about the Schwimbald etc etc.

Do you see what I mean? it's a lot of stuff going on in such a short story.

I don't really understand why he went to all that trouble to leave someone a medal, why couldn't he have done it in the UK at a NT property or something?

Sorry Sheila, I didn't really get this story.

Kat x

Cornelia at 20:19 on 28 July 2011  Report this post
Kat, thanks for reading.

We know from the start that the mc is being followed; the reader asks 'why'? The roles are hunter and hunted and the quarry is on his way to Belgium. That's the 'hook' to make the reader carry on reading.

By paragraph three we know that he's a 'suspect' and the man following him doesn't have his bosses permission to do this because he an 'amateur'. The reader figure out he's committed some kind of crime because he doesn't want to be conspicuous.

By the fifth paragraph you know he's a 'suspect' and that he has something that causes Spavin to search his hotel room.

For me the foreign background is an added attraction - I like to read Graham Greene and/or Somerset Maugham- even Ian Rankin's Edinburgh stories gain from the background.

It's a story as much about finding out why the mc has done it as whether he'll get away with it. He says he's doing it for his grandchildren - as a small-time crook he hasn't been able to give them much money. But the real reason is his childhood - he feels life owes him something because his own father wasn't around when he was young, because he was fighting a war. The key sentence is that the mc's father didn't get any medals.

Two reasons for not 'fencing' the goods in the Uk is that he'd be more easily traced and Belgium is nearer to Amsterdam, the European centre for stolen antiques and other valuablles. Frankie has the contacts and will take a cut of the money.

He's not 'leaving' a medal but is carrying out a 'drop' - the one in the title. I think readers of crime mysteries will know the expression. The hardest part of a robbery is often not so stealing the goods as getting them out of the country, if that's where the best price is to be had. When a retired criminal does 'one last' job you know he's going to get caught - it's a convention of the genre.

Apsley House is the home of the Duke of Wellington -it's run by English Heritage, not National Trust, but it's the same sort of idea. The mc's old dad would like to think his son got away with stealing a military decoration from a general -it redresses the balance.

He's going to confess, and he's already telling someone - probably the prison chaplain, who won't pass on the information.

I can say that Mark is his son, though. That shouldn't be a mystery.

Thanks again and I'm sorry it was confusing. I don't want to make it too straightforward.


Katerina at 08:33 on 29 July 2011  Report this post
Thanks for the explanation.

You know all this because you wrote it, but the reader doesn't know this and a lot of it doesn't come across in the story - such as But the real reason is his childhood - he feels life owes him something because his own father wasn't around when he was young, because he was fighting a war.

I didn't get a sense of that at all from the story!

Yes I knew it was a 'drop', but didn't understand why they went to all that trouble to do it in Belgium - again, the reader doesn't necessarily know Amsterdam is the European centre for stolen antiques and other valuablles.

We aren't mind readers, so you need to maybe tell us these things within the story.

You could have a discussion where someone tells him the drop will take place in Belgium, because it's near Amsterdam and then give the reason why.

You still didn't say who Spavin and Frankie are!

The mc's old dad would like to think his son got away with stealing a military decoration from a general -it redresses the balance.

Sheila, again YOU know this because it's in your mind, but WE don't!

A story needs to be clear and concise, not leave the reader confused and wondering who the people mentioned are, and what's going on.

Kat x

Cornelia at 09:18 on 29 July 2011  Report this post
When I've read this in writing groups, people understand right away who Frank and Spavin are - maybe it's better read aloud.

A story needs to be clear and concise, not leave the reader confused and wondering who the people mentioned are, and what's going on.

'Clear and concise' is how I like instruction booklets, but not short stories.

I do read lots of womag stories, as you know, so I know how explicit they can be. It's an effort for me to write in the style, but I'm learning. However, this story isn't meant for a magazine but for a competition, so I'm allowing myself a bit of latitude. I've studied some of the past winners. You wrote that you didn't write stories for a particular audience but to please yourself. I think that's a good plan.

I do agree that this story probably needs a lot of reworking because it has a lot to say about the mc's motives as well as a complicated plot. I wrote it a while back so I've had chance to try it out in a couple of groups. People don't have a problem understanding the basic situation or why it takes place where it does - it's the complications of the actual drop and the use of the cubicles that usually give the problem, also the character of the mc who was not so sympathetic at first and even got away with the crime in the original version.

I did cut this down to fit the word limit, and that doesn't help. What I probably need to do is expand it.

Thanks again for highlighting some problem areas. I know it can sometimes seem as if a writer is delibrately trying to be confusing, when it all seems quite clear to him/herself.


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