Almost a month had passed. I had been very busy watching the man with the green bag, at the same time, every Friday. He took the same route to the bank, so there shouldn’t be a problem with that. I worked out that if I could get the bag from his hand under the subway, on a motorbike, I could drive up the ramp on the other side, onto the road and along Fir Tree Lane to the canal in six and a half minutes. It would take the police at least nine minutes from the station in the nearest town, if the roads were clear. I timed it one night in my car. So, during the day, it should take longer.
‘By the time he runs back to the bank, and phones the police,’ I thought, ‘I should have about, 15 to 20 minutes, unless there’s a squad car in the area.’ Then I’d drive down the embankment on the bike, dump it, jump into a speedboat and drive round to the next bridge, where my car would be parked.
I convinced myself it should be easy and decided to do it on the following Friday.
On the Monday, I bought myself a fast motorbike for £200 cash and gave the previous owner a false name and address so I could leave the bike and it wouldn’t be traced to me. The boat was moored at the bottom of someone’s garden, just by the side of the bridge. I just hoped that the bag was worth all this trouble.
I’d sat outside his offices and about thirty people worked there, so if my sums were right, at £150 per person, that should give me around four and a half grand. That was more than enough for what I wanted, I thought.
As the week went on, I got more and more nervous. I got up early every morning and, luckily, Liz had a few days off. I ran five miles, planning, thinking, trying to work out every last detail and what to do in the event of the police catching me. The more I thought, the faster I ran. I figured if I did get caught at least I could give the old bill a run for their money.
I couldn’t sleep Thursday night. I tossed and turned till eventually I must have dropped off. The alarm woke me and I almost jumped out my skin. I couldn’t remember my dream but I had a good idea what it was about.
I went for my run in the morning; it could have been my last. As I ran, I went over everything, worried in case I had overlooked anything. I was in such a trance, I nearly got run over twice. I checked my watch when I got back home to see how long it had taken me, as I did every time. I had run faster than I had ever done before, by three and a half minutes.
I took a shower, got changed and sat down to eat breakfast. I sat there, looking at the box of cereal and an empty bowl. I couldn’t put them together, my stomach was churning. I just sat there thinking, ‘Tonight, I will either be very happy and have enough money to take the girls out for this fantastic night or I will be sad and alone, in a cell’.
I went upstairs to say goodbye to Liz. She was brushing her teeth in the bathroom. I gave her a kiss and put my arms around her as she put her toothbrush back in the rack and wiped her mouth on the towel. I went to pull the door open and I heard her say, “What’s the matter, aren’t you coming back home?”
I turned and, with a forced smile on my face, said, “I will see you tonight,” and walked down the stairs to the front door, where Mick was waiting for his lift to school. I dropped him off by the gate and, as he went to get out of the car, I put my arm over his shoulder, pulled him towards me and kissed his little cheek.
“Dad, everyone will be looking, get off!”
I smiled. “See you later, son,” I said, as he slammed the door.
I drove back to the house, opened the garage door quietly and pushed the motorbike out on to the road, without Liz knowing. I put it on the frame at the back of the car that I’d had made especially by one of the lads at work. It fitted on the tow-bar and the bike sat in it across the width of the car. I tied it on then drove to the pub car park. I arrived there about nine twenty, went straight round the back of the pub, unloaded the bike, pushed it into the hedge and put a chain through the back wheel so that no one would steal it. The frame, I dismantled, put it in the car boot and then carried on to work. I stopped round the side of the workshop, removed the frame and put a full-face crash helmet and gloves in the boot before driving back round the front as normal.
”Good morning,” I shouted to everyone and went up to my office to do some paperwork. I didn’t want anyone to see how nervous I was.
I messed about trying to make myself busy and not think about the robbery. It was about midday when I told the lads I was going to get the wages and left.
I drove to the pub and parked the car next to the bike. As I got out of the car, I glanced around the car park to see if anyone was about. It was quiet and a very still day. There were a few cars scattered about, enough to shield me while I got dressed.
The overalls, that belonged to my mechanic Alan, I put on first, then the gloves and the helmet. I closed the boot, locked the car and hid the keys up the exhaust. Again, I quickly looked around the car park then unlocked the chain and pulled the bike out of the hedge.
I looked up into the blue sky and asked myself if I was mad as I fumbled with the key in the steering lock. It was either my nerves or the gloves. I couldn’t take them off, because of my fingerprints, but eventually it turned. I kicked the engine over to start it but there was nothing. I kicked it again and again - still nothing. The visor on my helmet was steaming up and I was starting to panic. I checked everything and realised the petrol was off. A branch must have turned the knob as I’d pulled it out of the hedge. The bike burst into life as I kicked it again. It was so hot but I was shaking like a leaf. I tried to pull myself together as I headed off towards the bank. I drove past the bridge and glanced over the top rail. The boat was in place. I carried on to the car park opposite the bank. It was 12.50. From there, I would be able to see him come round the corner. At this stage, I was like a nervous wreck. I was still trembling and I had pains in my stomach. It was so hot in my overalls and helmet; the visor was steaming up again and I could hardly see anything. I waited and waited. The longer it took for him to walk round the corner, the more I thought of calling it off.
I had been there for about ten minutes and noticed some people were starting to look at me suspiciously. I kept saying to myself, ‘One more minute.’ If I gave up now, I’d never come back and try again.
I decided to drive a little way down the road, turn around and come back towards the bank. At least the fresh air might cool me down. I pulled out on to the road, lifted the visor on my helmet a little and drove off. All the time I was checking the rear view mirror. I could just see the top of the subway. I turned around and went back. As I indicated to turn into the car park, I saw him, bobbing up and down on the last few steps of the subway. With the bag in his hand, he went into the bank. I quickly pulled the visor back down and pulled up about three metres away from the door, with the engine still running. I waited with one foot on the floor. I couldn’t see him from outside because there were too many posters on the window, so I put the stand down and got off. Then I pretended to look at my back wheel; I bent down by the side and looked in.
I could see him at the counter, talking to one of the cashiers as he put the money in his bag. My heart was pumping so fast, I thought it was going to explode. Through the window, I saw him throw his head back, laughing. He waved and turned to walk out. A cold shiver went straight though me as I pushed the bike forward off the stand. I sat back on the saddle and waited for him to walk outside. I checked my watch as he stepped onto the pavement, holding the door open for an elderly lady. Everything he did seemed to be in slow motion. As he turned towards the subway, I noticed the bag was in his left hand, which meant, as he walked through the subway, the bag would be between him and the wall. I was committed, I didn’t have any choice at this stage. I waited until he got to the bottom of the steps and quickly looked again at my watch: it was ten past one exactly.
I revved the bike up and took off. I didn’t have time to stop and think about it any more. Bumping down the stairs, I could vaguely see him; everything was a blur until I got to the bottom. I looked up at him in front of me. He hadn’t turned round yet and I was about ten metres behind him. There were about five people that could see me coming and they were moving to the sides.
As I approached him, he turned his head round first, then his whole body seemed to follow. His arms started to go up over his scared expression and the bag was right in front of me. I grabbed it in my left hand, which was lucky because I had to work the throttle with my right. I carried on dodging the people that were screaming and shouting. I turned left and drove up the ramp to the pavement at the top. The noise from the bike was echoing off the walls.
All I had to do now was to get to the bridge as fast as possible - every second counted.
I turned right along the pavement, still weaving my way through the people, dropped down onto the road and took off like a scalded cat, up Holy Lane to the roundabout.
By now, I had tucked the bag inside my overalls. As I approached the island, there were about six cars waiting to pull away. I managed to get past three on the inside but the next car was too close to the kerb so I jumped up the pavement, went past them and pulled away with a screech of tyres. I heard someone sound their horn but I couldn’t turn round to look. I drove up towards the traffic lights on Fir Tree Lane and checked my watch again; it had taken me five and a half minutes so far. I had to pull up for the lights that were on red. I weaved my way to the front of the traffic queue. I was so close; from this point I could see the bridge and I could only wait. I sat there looking up at the lights for what seemed ages, revving the bike, pushing forward all the time, inch by inch. I heard someone sound their horn again; it was obviously the same person I’d upset at the island. The adrenalin was pumping around my body faster than ever. I had half a mile to go and, if the police were coming, I had to hit that bridge soon.
The lights changed. I was the first to pull away, concentrating on every car coming over the bridge towards me. I bounced up the kerb to my left and went across the grass, skidding and sliding into the bushes and brambles. The engine cut out and I leaped off the bike, throwing it to the side; it carried on sliding down the embankment and stopped on the towpath with an almighty crash. I slid the rest of the way down, on my backside, to the stone.
I’d planted the key that I’d made to fit the boat and a knife for the rope under it the week before. I kicked them into the canal and had to fish them out. Then I ran back under the bridge to the boat. With one stroke, I cut the rope and threw the knife into the canal. I jumped into the boat and turned the key. It was a bit awkward with gloves on but it started almost straight away. I pushed the throttle lever forward, turned the steering wheel and took off. As I went under the bridge, I noticed the bike had caught fire and was giving off thick black smoke that was drifting over the road above. I looked back to the rails up on the bridge and some people were looking down at me as I sped off. All I had to do was to get around the bend to the next bridge and the horrendous ordeal would be all over.
As I approached the bend, I wondered what was happening at the bank and if the police had arrived yet. I eased the throttle forward a bit more and pushed the visor up on the helmet. The cool breeze on my face was welcome. Every item of clothing I had on was soaking wet with sweat. As I turned the corner, I could see the bridge getting nearer - it was almost over. I pulled my helmet off and threw it into the canal, turned the engine off and threw the key in after it. I aimed the boat at the embankment and got myself ready to jump off and leave the boat unmoored. I stood on the side, then jumped onto the towpath and the boat carried on under the bridge, slowly.
As fast as my legs would carry me, I ran up the grass bank to the road, careful to cover my face as some cars went by. Then I hurriedly crossed over and went into the car park behind the pub, to my car. I bent down to get my keys from the exhaust, opened the boot and quickly took my gloves and overalls off. It was so hot; I thought that I would melt. I unzipped the overalls and felt for the bag of money.
A blank expression came over my face when I realised it wasn’t there. All I could think was that I had done all that for nothing. I must have dropped it somewhere by the bike when I’d jumped off. My head dropped and I covered my eyes with my hands. I stood there for a second longer, then suddenly realised I had to hurry, bag or no bag. It wouldn’t take the police long to get round to the bridge by car. I threw everything into the boot and slammed the lid. I was still shaking, with either anger or fear, when I dropped the keys on the floor and had to stoop to pick them up. It was then I saw the bag on the ground under the rear bumper. A smile beamed right across my face as I quickly picked it up and got in the car. I opened the glove box and threw it in, then speedily drove off towards work.
I was so relieved that it was over. I opened the sunroof and all the windows to let some fresh air into the car. I knew I could never do it again. I had never been so scared in all my life.
I’d been driving for a couple of miles when I found a lay-by, so I pulled in and sat for five minutes with my head on the headrest and my eyes closed, thinking about what I had done.
I opened the glove box and stared at the green bag, scared to open it in case I had done all that for a few pounds. I finally plucked up the courage. Gingerly, I pulled it out and put it on my lap. It certainly felt heavy and lumpy. I opened the top and peered in. There was a load of notes inside. I smiled to myself as I pushed the top back together and placed the bag back in the glove box. Then I carried on to the garage and pulled up on the forecourt.
I hadn’t got out of the door when one of the lads came running out of the workshop, excited, shouting, “Have you been listening to the radio? There’s been a robbery in Helden. Someone on a motor bike drove down the subway, grabbed a bag full of money off some bloke and drove off!” I looked up at him and casually said, “No, I’ve been listening to my Greek tape.” I locked my car door as he walked back inside. As I squeezed the handle of my briefcase, my hands were still shaking. I went up to my office quickly, sat down at my desk and let out a loud sigh. It was all over.
Still trembling, I rang one of the lads in the workshop and asked him to bring me a coffee up, while I tried to calm down and concentrate on some paperwork.