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The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Autumn 2016 Results




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Copyright © Shaun Thompson 2016


The kid had told Alfie he needed some advice. He wanted Alfie to meet him at the bench at the end of Pier 7, at the stroke of midnight. He had actually used that term, stroke of midnight. These God damn young punks. Always acting like they need to prove they’re some sort of mobster. Midnight, for Christ’s sake.

So here Alfie was, sitting on the bench at the end of Pier 7, and it was five past midnight, and the kid was a no show. The pier was deserted, apart from the stench of the polluted sea. Alfie could have been in bed with the Mrs, instead he was freezing his 65-year-old nuts off on the bench at the end of Pier 7. At God damn midnight. Ten past.

To hell with this, he thought, when he heard footsteps coming down the pier.

“Jimmy.”

“Hey, Alf, thanks for the meet.”

“Take a seat,” Alfie gestured to the empty space next to him. Jimmy sat.

“So, the reason I asked to talk to you-”

“And you couldn’t do this over the phone?”

“I thought maybe we shouldn’t use phones for work, Alf. I wasn’t sure the boss would like it.”

This is what Alfie was talking about. The kids these days. The boss never said nothing about not using phones. Nope, phones just wouldn’t have been clandestine enough for the kid.

“So tell me what you couldn’t ask me over the phone.”

The boss had given Jimmy a job, apparently. The story went, there was this guy – another young punk, went by Brett, apparently – this guy, he was not paying up his gambling debts. Was in to the boss for three fifty, apparently. Alfie thought Jimmy’d meant three fifty thousand, but no. Three hundred and fifty dollars. Which seemed hardly worth it, to Alfie, but there was this thing, apparently, where this Brett kid had been strutting around like some big shot, telling people about how he wasn’t going to cough it up. The boss didn’t want any of that talk going around, so, he wanted Jimmy to get it out of him.

“So get it out of him.”

“But that’s the thing, Alf. I aint never done this before. I think I should go to his home maybe? Rough him up in front of his kids maybe? Maybe wave a gun around in front of his face.”

This is what Alfie was talking about. The kids these days. These kids. Maybe wave a gun around?

“You think this is Goodfellas, Jimmy? You always wanted to be a gangster, that it?”

“No, Alf. I just figure I show some strength is all.”

“The boss asked you to get this dip shit to pay up,” Alfie explained, slowly. “So all you gotta do, is get him, to pay up.”

Alfie sat a moment to see if any of this looked like it was sinking in. It didn’t.

“OK, I tell you what you do. You go to his place of work. You just sit down with him, and ask to have a chat. You tell him, you’re there to get the boss’s money.”

The kid stared at him as if there was more to the plan.

“And then what?”

“Then, he probably gives you the money. That’s it. People, they don’t like people coming into their place of business. He’d probably crap his pants at the fact that you even know where he works... You know where he works, yeah?”

“The RTA.”

“Like, where you get your licence renewed? That RTA?”

“Yeah.”

“Perfect. Government worker. He don’t want no trouble. So, you go in, you ask to speak to him, you maybe find a quiet corner, you let him know who you are and what you’re there to do, problem solved. It’s three hundred and fifty dollars, for Christ’s sake.”

“Right.”

“Just remember: keep it simple, and stay calm. Don’t, don’t... you know,” Alfie made a gun with his hand and pointed his finger in the kid’s face. “Don’t go waving your gun around, kid. You’ll get the cops involved. Also, we’re not psychos. I don’t know where you got that idea.”

“Got it.”

* * *

Jimmy was sitting in the food court, drinking an iced coffee he’d bought from the Donut King, staring into the RTA office. It was busier than he imagined. How many people need to use the RTA? It seemed too busy.

Whatever. That was OK. He could do this. Stay calm, keep it simple, just like Alf had said.

He could see Brett – he was working one of the counters. Didn’t seem like there were too many people at his window. That was good. Stay calm, keep it simple. He was just going to go up to Brett’s counter, and tell him who he was and what he was here to do. Brett’d probably crap his pants then and there. They’d go to a quiet corner away from everyone else, and Jimmy’d just tell Brett to give him the money. He’d arrange to collect it at Brett’s earliest convenience. He’d say it just like that, at your earliest convenience, Bretto, sarcastic like.

Jimmy took a big long suck on the iced coffee to finish it up and tossed it in the bin without even looking at it. He made his way inside. As soon as he did, he stormed his way up to Brett’s counter. Counter number 13. Lucky number 13. Not so lucky for you, Bretto.

“Can I help you sir?” Some stiff got in Jimmy’s way and was all in his face, a couple metres from Brett’s window.

“I’m just here to see that guy,” Jimmy said to the attendant as he tried to push past him. But this stiff was having none of it. He was a big guy, and the kinda guy that only seemed to be well spoken because he was paid to be.

“Do you have a ticket?”

“I don’t need no ticket, man, I just need to speak to that guy,” Jimmy pointed at Brett, raising his voice just enough to try and get Brett’s attention, but not enough so as to cause a scene. Stay calm, keep it simple.

“You need a ticket if you want to go to the counter, sir,” the stiff was telling him and kind of dragging him to some ticket machine near the front of the office. This guy was dragging him!

“Hey, listen buddy,” Jimmy began. But then the stiff was giving him a look. Stay calm, Jimmy.

“Yes, sir?”

“Nothing man. Just give me the ticket.”

“What would you like to do at the RTA today?”

What the hell did that matter?

“What the hell does that matter?”

“The type of ticket you need will depend on what business you’d like to conduct.”

“What does that guy do here?” Jimmy pointed at Brett, who was still working, completely unaware.

“That window is for licence renewal, sir.”

“I’d like to renew my licence.”

The stiff gave him a ticket and told him to take a seat.

* * *

Waiting at the RTA was easily about the most tedious thing you could do. Jimmy flicked through magazines, making louder and louder sighing noises. At first, he was doing it to try and get Brett’s attention, but in the end he was doing it because he was actually bored.

After what seemed like a God damn eternity, his ticket number buzzed. Thank God.

“Hey, Brett,” Jimmy said as he stomped his way towards counter 13. Brett looked down at his name tag and then towards Jimmy. “My name’s Jimmy, and I’m here-”

“Sorry, sir,” Brett said. “I don’t think you’re meant to go to this window.”

“Sir?” Some old broad a few counters down was shouting at him like some sort of cranky teacher he used to have. “Sir, are you here to renew your licence?”

“Yeah, but I’m gonna go to this window, it’s OK, love.”

“Sir.” The broad was making her way from her own window down towards where Jimmy was walking. “Sir, you have to come to my counter. That counter is for once you’ve completed your renewal application.”

Keep calm, Jimmy. Keep it simple. Just explain yourself to the old battle axe and move on.

He made his way over to counter 9, this old broad’s counter, and she made her way back.

“Look,” Jimmy whispered, looking down at her name tag, “Barbara. Barbara, there’s been a misunderstanding. I just need to speak to Brett about something. It’ll only take a sec.”

“That counter is for picking up your renewed licence, sir. You need to apply for your renewal first.”

“OK, but no, see, I just need to speak to Brett. It’s really, really, simple. So if you could just let me-“

“Brett is working sir, and he doesn’t have time to take a break and talk to his friends, now are you here to renew your licence, or are you not?”

Let’s just get this over with.

“What do I need to do to renew my licence?”

Barbara reached under the counter and pulled out a form, and plonked it in front of Jimmy.

* * *

The problem with pens in RTA offices was they are attached to the desks by those ridiculously short strings of tiny ball bearings, so you’ve got no chance if you have to fill out your licence renewal form next to, say, a morbidly obese man.

Anyway, Jimmy filled out the God damn form. He tried to imagine what Alf would do in this situation. He couldn’t imagine Alf standing here like a God damn chump filling out a God damn licence renewal, but he didn’t know what else to do. Like Alf’d said, he didn’t want to make a scene. Keep calm, keep it simple.

And they made him get another God damn ticket. And he had to wait. Again. All the while, he was giving Brett the stink eye, but the doofus seemed completely oblivious.

Finally, he’d filled out the form and his ticket got called, again, so now he finally made his way to Brett’s window. He was really gonna let this guy have it now. Simple? Sure. Calm? Sure. But no more Mr Nice Guy.

Jimmy was about three steps away from the perpetually unaware dip shit when the old battle axe screeched at him again.

“Whaa-aat?”

“Come over here, sir.”

Jimmy scuttled back over to counter 9. The broad held her hand out expectantly. After a moment the penny dropped and Jimmy handed her his licence renewal form.

“Can I go see Brett now?”

“No.”

“I hate you.”

“That may be, sir, but first you have to go around here,” Barbara gestured around the corner, even further away from Brett’s window, “and get your photo taken.”

“I don’t want to get my photo taken.”

“You have to, to complete your licence renewal,” Barbara said, twice stamping something on his form, in time with her final two words. She handed it back to him.

* * *

“Just note, sir, we used to have people smile for their licence photos, but we don’t do that anymore. In fact, you’re not allowed to smile.”

“That’s not going to be a problem.”

It took the pubescent assistant behind the camera about five minutes to set the thing up and take the photo.

“OK, great. Looks great. Now that’s just processing, it’ll be ready in about two minutes. If you can just go around to counter 13, you can pick up your new licence!”

“Swell!”

OK, this was it. Enough bullshit. Jimmy walked around the corner and marched up to Brett’s counter.

Only, Brett wasn’t there.

The person that was there, the most effeminate man Jimmy had ever laid eyes on, was smiling the brightest smile Jimmy had ever seen.

“James Holt? Here’s. Your. Licence!” he said as he handed the new laminated card over the counter to Jimmy.

“Where’s Brett?”

“Oh. He’s on his lunch break.”

No.

“No.”

“Um. Barbara?” the effeminate man leant backwards and shouted down to counter 9. “Where’s Brett?”

“Lunch.” Jimmy slammed his fist on the counter.

“Where... does he have lunch?”

“There’s no need to get snooty, sir. He’s probably in the food court.”

“Fine,” Jimmy said, and started to walk away.

“Wait!” the gay-man-who-wasn’t-Brett said. Jimmy stopped.

“What?”

“You have to pay for your licence renewal!”

“I. Didn’t. Even. Want. A. Licence. Renewal.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but it’s been processed now. You’ll have to pay for it. We can’t let you leave until you do.”

Jimmy put his face in his palms and let out a sigh.

“How much is it?”

* * *

Alfie was about to sit down with the Mrs to eat some lunch and watch Judge Judy, when the phone rang. It was the kid. Alfie had to admit, he kinda wanted to shoot this one.

“Yeah.”

“Alf, you gotta help me out. I’m at the RTA.”

“I thought you didn’t want to talk about this sort of thing over the phone, kiddo?”

“Alf, come on. Are you gonna help me or not?”

“Did you get the money?”

“Not exactly.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Alf, I’m totally good for it, but I need you to lend me $350.”