It was on Monday morning when I realised the barbeque had been a raving success. Liz and I dropped Mick off at the babysitter’s early on Saturday night and went on to the party at about eight o’clock to see if we could help in any way. Everything was ready so we lit the barbecue and started drinking. People began to arrive shortly afterwards. We couldn’t have picked a better night; the weather was perfect. Everyone had summer clothes on, as the heat was tremendous from both the sun and the barbecue.
It was the first time Andrew had used this barbecue. There was a large spit that ran above the full length of the grill, allowing the pig to rotate slowly and, underneath, he’d had small ovens fitted to keep the food warm while everything else was being cooked. The shed at the bottom of the garden was filled with a stack of booze that got larger every time someone new appeared.
A few people I hadn’t seen before brought some drugs. I don’t think there was anything too hard. I saw plenty of brown stuff rolled into cigarettes and someone else I’d never seen brought some speed. In fact, I tried some of that; it certainly kept me awake.
The party went on all through the night. Some went home, others lay down on the grass where they’d been standing. There were even some that managed to find a bed in the house, Liz included. In the morning, at about 7.00 a.m., I cooked breakfast for about twenty remaining people.
As the morning went on, a few people came back, collected a drink from the shed and carried on drinking. It was another sunny day and by about 11.00 a.m. there were quite a few gathered, so we had a second party. By this time, I had drunk myself sober. Liz came down about midday and disappeared for a few hours to fetch Mick from the sitter’s. She brought him back to play in the pool with the other kids that had appeared from somewhere.
At about nine o’clock, people started to leave and, by 10.30 p.m., there was only Denise and me left in the dark, sitting by the barbecue, with the flames flickering from the logs I’d thrown on when the coal had run out earlier. After talking about our holiday in Greece, we decided to ring the friends we’d met over there. They had a bar called ‘The Hideaway’ in Zante. After the fourth attempt, we got through and I heard Denise say, “Is that you, Stefano?” with a beam right across her face. Then, with one finger in her ear and the portable telephone on the other, she sat on my lap. I put my arm around her waist to stop her from falling off and she told Stefano quickly about the party. After five minutes or so, the phone was passed to me and I spoke a bit of Greek to him. I could tell she was impressed because she laid her head on my shoulder and kissed my cheek. I said goodbye to him and turned the phone off. Denise started crying and said how much she missed them all. I couldn’t help myself. I kissed her on the lips, for a good couple of minutes, and she put her arms around my neck. Then all of a sudden, she jumped up.
“What if someone’s looking?” she said, as she stepped back towards the fire.
“I don’t think that anyone is awake but perhaps we should call it a night, in case,” I said. I stood up and we walked to the back door of the house holding hands. We then stood by the door and kissed again. Denise went to wake Liz and Mick while I waited. I looked down the garden. I couldn’t believe the mess: bottles, plastic cups, paper plates and napkins, chairs all over the floor and that’s only what I could see from the patio and the lights down the garden. It must have been ten times worse than this in the daylight, I thought.
As I turned back to the house, Liz appeared at the door, carrying Mick in her arms.
“What happened to you?” I said quietly.
“Don’t ask,” she said, as she passed Mick to me, asleep. “Just get me home.”
We thanked Denise, who was in the doorway and, as I kissed her on the cheek, she winked and smiled. Liz had walked around the front and was probably already in the car, asleep. I carried Mick out and put him in the back, fastened his seat belt and watched his head fall to one side and his hands drop to his lap. I drove home very carefully, with both Mick and Liz fast asleep. When we arrived home, I had to carry them both to bed.
The next morning, not feeling too bad, I made my way to work. I thought about the few minutes Denise and I had spent alone together. It was something more than just a kiss in the garden, I could tell.
I went up to my office and was trying to work but it kept coming back to me, over and over. I kept thinking about her. I wanted to ring but I didn’t know if Andrew would be at home.
Later that day, Liz rang me. “Denise and Andrew are coming round tonight, so can you bring some wine home?”
“Yes, I will. See you about seven o’clock,” I said and put the phone down. It wasn’t long after that when I started to go downhill. My head was throbbing and I felt tired. I sat there for ages, trying to work out a plan to get the money for these dates. I thought and thought but nothing sprang to mind - except to steal it.
Some years ago, I’d known a man that used the same bank as me. He walked from his offices to collect the wages with a big green cloth bag. When he walked back, it was always bulging and often I thought about robbing him. I made plans to go on Friday, to see if he still made his weekly visits, then I went to the shops to get some aspirins for my headache.
As I drove home that night, I felt a little better. Liz rang me on my car phone to remind me to bring some wine home, as Denise and Andrew wanted to chat about the party. I told her I hadn’t forgotten, even though I had, and said that I would be home in ten minutes. As I put the phone down, I suddenly thought perhaps Andrew did see us from his bedroom or Denise told him. Maybe someone else saw us snogging and said something - that’s all I needed. I thought about it for a while, then brushed it aside; maybe I was getting paranoid.
I collected the wine and got home just after seven. I quickly ran upstairs, got showered and changed, put Mick to bed with a story, ate my tea and sat waiting for them to arrive while watching the telly. They pulled up about 8.30. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Here we go, I’ve been caught. I haven’t started my game yet and I’m in trouble.’ I opened the door and, luckily for me, Denise was first; Andrew was collecting the drinks from the back seat of his car.
I said hello and she kissed me on the cheek whispering in my ear, “Thank you for looking after me last night.” I was relieved.
Andrew followed, loaded with bottles of wine.
“What’s all this?” I asked.
He grinned and said, “There’s loads left from the weekend, you might as well have some here.” He carried the box through to the kitchen and placed it on the table. “How do you feel?” he asked. “I heard you haven’t been to bed for two days.”
“Just tired,” I replied. “I had something to keep me awake. I think they called it speed. Someone rolled a ten-pound note into a tube and told me to sniff a line up my nose. I must admit, it worked. I never really felt tired till last night but it makes your eyes run for a while.”
He pulled the cork from a bottle of Rioja and laughed. “The hair of the dog,” he said, as he lifted his glass.
We took some glasses through to the lounge and sat drinking for a couple of hours, reminiscing about the barbecue. Denise and I kept glancing at each other, half smiling.
As they left to go home, Andrew said, “I didn’t get a chance before.” A cold shiver went down my spine. I thought, ‘This is it’. “Thanks for all your help before the party.”
“No problem,” I said, relieved.
Denise kissed me again. “I will see you soon,” she said, flicking her eyebrows up and down. That night I had a good long sleep.
The week went by and each day I felt a bit better. I’m convinced it takes longer to get over a session, the older you get.
On Friday lunchtime, I went to the bank to get the wages and popped round the corner to see if that man still collected his wages the same way.
I sat in a car park over the road from his bank for half an hour. I was sure it was about the right time but nothing. I was just about to go when I saw him marching up the stairs from the underpass, still with his green bag in his hand. He looked a little older than I remember but he went into the bank, collected the wages, the same as always, and left.
He was 45-50, five feet six, and about eleven stone. I had to work out how to get the bag from his hands without any harm or damage. I was surprised he hadn’t been robbed before.
As I drove back to the garage, I started to plan the robbery.