“Another cig, Jen?”
“Yeah. Cheers, Daz.”
Darren took out two Marlboros. He handed one to Jenny, lit it with his cheap disposable lighter and then ignited his own.
“Last bloody one,” he thought and a gloom descended on him which even the nicotine hit could not dispel.
He surveyed the prosperous shoppers in the pedestrian zone of Queen Street and compared his group of friends monopolizing the benches in the centre of the walkway. They were a scruffy lot in cheap jeans and T-shirts. Most were unemployed since the shoe factory in Tredegar had closed, but fortnightly they would use their bi-weekly dole money to take the bus to Cardiff just to get out of their stifling small town for a while.
He’d had his eye on Jenny since she had broken up with Terry. Last night in the club in Tredegar they had had a drunken goodnight kiss after he had bought her a few drinks.
“You’re alright, you are, Daz,” she had slurred as she walked off with her equally drunken girlfriends. This was a sign she was ready to move on from Terry.
But therein lay the problem. He’d spent nearly all his dole money and the three cans of cider he’d bought her this lunchtime from the discount supermarket across the road had almost bankrupted him.
All that damn money for a kiss! He knew Max, lounging on the opposite bench, was also pursuing her and would be accompanying them all to the Rummer Tavern down the road for an afternoon’s drinking before returning to their local in Tredegar that evening. He barely had enough for the bus fare home so he’d have to make his excuses and leave Jenny to his rival, and return on the bus with the boys not old enough to drink in pubs.
His eyes roamed to Stanson’s Menswear store on the corner. He studied the two wealthy looking thirty-something men perusing the expensive jackets in the window. To Darren, they could just as well have been alien beings, with a world of opportunities he could only dream of. The taller blond one had his wallet in his back trouser pocket. In Tredegar that would be an advertisement saying “Please rob me!” but this was genteel Cardiff on a Saturday afternoon.
Darren’s melancholy hardened into a mean-spirited envy. He quickly classified the two men as “one percenters” living the good life at the expense of the downtrodden masses.
And then came the idea.
“Can you handle it?” he asked Jake as their whispered conversation came to an end.
“Yeah, no probs,” said the boy, “but remember it’s a pack of cigs for me to go home with.”
“Done,” said Darren as the two walked away from the group saying they were off to the toilets nearby. Mingling in the crowd they walked towards the two men. Jake jogged on ahead so that he passed them and could approach from the other direction. Darren came nearer the blond one still looking intently at the items in the Stanson’s display. Pretending not to see him Darren bumped his shoulder against his back.
“Oh, sorry mate!” he said.
“That’s ok,” answered the man in a courteous voice.
Meanwhile, Jake had used the moment of impact to lift the wallet from his back pocket and jog back unnoticed. Darren walked past the men and then crossed the road to double back to the group.
It was to be his moment of triumph!
He speculated the wallet would contain a few hundred pounds in cash. His daring exploit would impress Jenny and crush Max’s hopes. He thought ahead to the Rummer Tavern where he’d ply her with vodka and tonics and they could drink in Cardiff in the evening when everyone else had gone home for lack of funds. His mind even began to fantasize walking into a city center hotel to round the night off in style in a plush double bed.
As he approached his friends the double bed vision dissipated as he prepared to focus on the admiring faces he expected to see.
Instead, they were all looking at him and laughing uncontrollably. The boy Jake was holding the open wallet. In his other hand there was a slip of paper, evidently from the aforementioned accessory.
Trying to appear calm, Darren said, “Well? How much was there?”
More roars of laughter greeted the question. Then Jenny spoke.
“I think that is meant for you, Daz.”
Darren took the paper from Jake’s hand. On it was a single word in capital letters:
The two men had now appeared in front of the group and were smiling broadly.
“Do you want your wallet back, sir?” Jenny asked.
“That wallet’s empty, so I assume it’s your friend’s,” the blond man replied with an amused and scornful grin at Darren.
The remark set the whole group off again in howls of malicious laughter. Darren looked at his friends and at the two chuckling men.
His great idea had made him the laughing stock of rich and poor.
Bio: I am originally from South Wales. I studied English Literature at Oxford University many years ago. I live in Taiwan with my family and am a high school teacher here. I have also been a freelance writer for over 10 years and write articles for Taiwanese educational textbooks. I have recently had a horror and a crime short story published by Short-Story.me.
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