Published on 2012/09/16

Gold

Martin Willoughby

Colin was never at his best first thing in the morning, not that his best was ever that good, but today had started even worse than normal. For one thing, he was face down on his bedroom carpet and his left foot hurt.

To be precise, it was his big toe on his left foot that hurt. And his nose. And his chest. In fact, the more his fugged mind thought about it, quiet a lot of him hurt. The only reasonable response to the pain was to scream out in agony, but that meant expending effort, something he wasn't sure he was capable of at seven in the morning, so he just lay there and tried to run through his options.

The first option, screaming out in pain had already been dismissed, so he moved onto option two, which was to get up and rub all the painful parts. As that required even more effort, he dismissed the idea even quicker than he had dismissed screaming. The third option seemed by far the more sensible. Go back to sleep and wait until the pain died down.

As he was contemplating the idea, and running through the ramifications of going back to sleep, such as losing his job and starving, he became aware of something touching his left foot. Having his face buried in the carpet meant he couldn't see the object so, after some mental maneuvering and persuading his body that it was good idea, he rolled over onto his side and looked down at the place where his foot had been.

It was a good job that God had designed humans with eyelids or Colin's eyes would have popped out on stalks when he saw what was at his feet. He'd never seen one of these before, at least not for real. On the television or in films, yes, but not on his bedroom floor within touching distance. He reached for it, then held back, then reached a bit more, then stopped and pulled his hand back.

Bing. It was a moment of sudden realization, the kind he'd read about in books, and one that answered a fundamental question about his day. “That's what I tripped over,” he said, staring at the gold brick.

Gold, as he remembered from school, was heavy and gold bricks were very heavy, which would explain why his toe hurt so much. He pondered this for a short while before his brain finally woke up to the fact that, for some unknown reason, a gold brick had appeared on his bedroom floor.

“Must be worth a fortune,” he said before remembering gold bricks weren't valid currency and he couldn't go down to the supermarket and pay for his weekly shopping with it and ask for the change in twenty pound notes.

Colin, as has been established, was not a morning person. Truth be told, he wasn't a waking person, or even much of a person at all. He'd spent most of his adult life in a constant state of bemusement, occasionally terrified, often half asleep, drifting through jobs and the odd relationship (one of which was very odd) as though this was merely a stage of existence to be tolerated until the real misery began.

Several questions were flying back and forth through his mind, such as 'how are you going spend it' and 'what's the current value of a gold brick'. There was one question, however, that kept back into his mind, insisting on being answered: 'how did it get there?'

Once Colin had acknowledged the existence of the question, decided he had no idea and that was the best answer the question was going to get for now, another question popped into his head: 'what am I going to do with it?'

His brain had already dismissed spending it as impractical and taking it to a bank as dangerous as they were more likely to have him arrested. Sticking it in the airing cupboard and forgetting about it was a possibility, but what would happen if the person who put it there came back for it?

Colin stiffened at the thought and then began to wonder if he should call the police, or take it down to the police station. Fingerprints. If he touched it, his fingerprints would be all over it and they'd assume he'd stolen it from...from wherever it had been stolen from.

He got on his hands and knees and crawled over to the brick and started examining it, being careful not to touch it, for any marks or, preferably, a signature and a return address.

After a careful examination, all he had discovered was a single indent on the top in the shape of a snake. “Bugger,” he said out loud and then, for reasons of habit more than anything looked at the alarm clock and saw it was 7.30.

There followed a moment of panic about missing his bus and being late, before he returned his gaze to the gold brick and sat down again. There was only one course of action Colin could take in times as stressful as these, so he stood up, rubbed the bits that still hurt and went into the kitchen to make some tea, then, mug in hand, went into the front room and sat down on his sofa to contemplate his luck and whether it was good or bad.

* * *

Stevenage Police Station reception was empty, so Colin walked up to the desk and waited for the young female officer to notice him. He waited for her, something that he'd come to accept as a normal part of his life with regard to women, and when she eventually looked up he saw the look on her face that he'd come to expect over the years. The 'oh, one of them' look given to every nice man born since Adam lay down with Eve.

“Can I help you sir?”

Colin tried to ignore the look, failed, but spoke anyway. “Er, yes. I found this in my bedroom this morning,” he said reaching into his small rucksack.

The woman's face changed to a look Colin didn't recognize, but looked similar to the ones given to weirdos, and watched as her right hand reached under the desk. “What have you found, sir?”

“This.” In his head, he wondered if he was doing the right thing and contemplated running out as fast as he could and just leave the rucksack there and leave it to luck that they would never find him. That was before he remembered that his credit cards were in his wallet, which was in the bag and he would be unlikely to be able to get that out before running. Besides, police officers were trained to remember faces in some detail and it wouldn't be long before his photo was published in every newspaper and be shown on every news show across the country. He might even get on Crimewatch.

Colin pulled the gold bar out slowly and placed it on the desk. “As far as I know,” he said, his voice trembling, “it's real. At least it felt real when I tripped over it when I got up this morning and landed flat on my face on the carpet, which really hurt my nose, and my toe is still throbbing quite a bit, my left toe, that's the one I accidentally kicked it with, and I have no idea how it got there as it wasn't there when I went to bed last night. I'd watched a DVD, The Great Escape, you know Steve McQueen and his bike and James Garner helping blind Donald Pleasance, who gets killed by the way, along with 50 others executed in a forest, though Donald Pleasance wasn't with them, he was with James Garner...”

“Would you mind coming with us please, sir?”

Colin swung round and saw three policemen, two standing in front of him and, just visible in the gap between them, one standing by the door. “I was just telling the young lady about the film I was watching last night.”

“Yes, we heard,” said the one on the right. “I thought it was horrible the way the Nazis killed Richard Attenborough and Gordon Jackson. Now would you come with me please, sir and you can tell me all about it. I love war films. Seen Tobruk hundreds of times. I particularly like George Peppard's performance.”

Colin looked over his shoulder at the woman who now had her arms crossed and a smug smile on her face, then at each of the three, before returning his panicked expression to the plain clothes officer on the right. “I'm already late for work and I thought that it would the right thing to do to bring it in here as it might be stolen goods and I didn't want to be arrested for possession or...”

“I could make this official and arrest you,” he said, smiling. “But I'd rather not. Not yet anyway.”

Before Colin could reply the uniformed officer on the left said, “Would you like some tea or coffee? Milk? Sugar?”

“Err, tea, no sugar please.”

* * *

It took a couple of minutes to get to the interview room, during which Colin couldn't stop himself talking about The Great Escape. The plain clothes officer, who said his name was DS Wilkins, nodded in agreement and added various other points of interest about The Great Escape, including the names of several stuntmen who'd worked on the film and listed the acting credits of the German actors who'd taken part.

Colin was still talking as he was escorted to a chair opposite the uniformed officer and carried on after sitting down, but stopped when DS Wilkins put a hand up.

“Mr. Maw, may I call you Colin, or would you prefer to keep this formal?”

“Er, Colin's fine. I don't like it when people use my surname as it reminds me of the teachers at school and I didn't...”

“Colin it is. My name's Mark and you can either use that name or DS Wilkins, whichever you feel comfortable with.”

“Mark will be good. Less threatening and far more...”

“Good. Now, you said that the gold bar appeared overnight in your bedroom. Would you happen to know roughly what time that would be?”

“Er, no. I was asleep.”

“Then how do you know it appeared?”

“Because it wasn't there when I went to sleep.”

“What time was that?”

“About midnight.”

“Hmm.” Mark sat back and crossed his arms. “Were you with anyone last night? A girlfriend maybe? A boyfriend?”

“No.” Colin looked at the officer by the door, not the one who'd offered him some tea, then at Mark, then at the desk and then panic set in. “Look I just found this gold bar on my bedroom floor this morning I don't know where it came from and now I'm being arrested for something that I haven't done, not that I even know what it is that I'm supposed to have done, the woman at the desk looked at me like she trod in me on the pavement...”

“She does that to everyone, Colin. Don't take it personally.”

The door opened. “Ah, Peter's here with your tea.”

Peter brought it over, placed the Styrofoam cup in front of Colin and sat down, placing a manila folder on the desk. He looked at Colin, at Mark then at the tape machine on the desk.

“Mark, you haven't switched the machine on.”

“Silly me,” he said with no conviction whatsoever.

“Colin,” said Peter. “The gold bar you handed in was one of several that were stolen several years ago, of which only four have been recovered. There are still five missing, including the one you brought in. Would you mind if we searched your house?”

“Flat. I live in a flat.”

“Search your flat for the rest? Whoever put this one in your bedroom may have left the rest there too?”

“Why?”

“That,” said Mark, with more of a threat in his voice than Colin thought necessary under the circumstances, “is what we want to find out.”

There was a short silence before Peter said, “We could get a warrant, but that would mean we could turn your place upside down and not have to put anything back and you don't want that. Do you have your DVDs in alphabetical order? Must've taken some time.”

“Not really, I only have a dozen or so. It's only a small flat. Harrow Court. One bedroom.”

“Ah,” they said together. “Harrow Court.”

“We know a lot of people who live there,” Mark said. “Not very nice people. Know any of them well? Do favors for them do you?”

“I don't know anyone there. They scare me.” Colin's panic started to rev up to the point where he would want to huddle down in a corner and rock back and forth until everything went away.

In the far corner he saw an elderly woman with a wand, grinning. He was about to ask who she was when the image disappeared in a shower of glitter and Colin decided his mind was playing evil tricks on him and he was now close to a nervous breakdown. The only question he needed to answer was whether or not having a nervous breakdown would constitute an admission of guilt.

* * *

Colin had no idea how long it had been, but judging by the two cups of tea he'd had and allowed to get cold before drinking it must have been almost two hours, maybe more. Terror and panic had given way to fear of losing his job, which was followed rapidly by the anger rising inside of him like a cobra. Colin was ready to spit poison at the first person to come through that door and it happened to be Markr who said, “It's your lucky day.”

“Is it?” Colin said, his arms crossed. “Let's see. I've been sat in this interview room for over an hour, I've been accused of stealing gold bars, insulted, abused, not had anything but a dry cheese sandwich to eat, two cups of lukewarm tea and to top it all...”

“You're free to go. We've traced the fingerprints on it to someone in your block. He was renting the flat from the actual tenant, who was sub-letting it illegally and claiming housing benefit. Found him after a flat to flat search. He's known to us and wanted for other crimes as well.”

“Oh.” Colin felt the anger dissipate, but also felt cheated. He'd got himself all riled up to vent his spleen and now the moment was being taken away. He steeled himself to use what remained of his anger. “That's as maybe, but there has been no apology...”

“I have a letter from the Chief Inspector, apologizing for the manner in which you've been treated.” Mark walked over to him and handed him the letter. “There's also a reward for information leading to the recovery of the gold. One million pounds. As you are the only one to have provided us with any information, you get the lot.”

The trouble with having your mouth wide open when told you're about to become a millionaire is that all manner of insects can fly into it. Today, being the first official day of spring, a newly hatched fly was looking for something to eat and found his way to the interview rooms on his route to the restaurant. He could smell something rotten to the core and decided that a dead beetle in the hand was two in the bush, so followed his antenna.

When he entered the room, he saw a wide open mouth, which his senses told him was the source of the smell, and as he got closer saw some rotting cheese and bread and a little butter. It was too inviting and, not waiting for the mouth to shut and take his breakfast away flew right into it.

Colin nearly choked as the fly hit the back of his throat, coughed, spluttered and eventually spat most of the fly out and then hit it hard as it lay buzzing and dazed on the table. He tried to compose himself and noticed that Mark was still standing there, arm extended, the letter of apology in his hand. “Sorry, I just...”

“You don't owe us an apology, sir. We owe you one.” He shook the letter to remind Colin it was there, so Colin took it and stuffed it in his pocket.

“I'll read it later.”

“If you want, I'll take you for something to eat. Our restaurant is open and serves some decent food. We're paying, naturally.”

The wind now permanently removed from his sails and his anger having retreated back to its safe hole in the far reaches of his mind, Colin returned to his normal, mild-mannered self (though it could no longer be said that he wouldn't hurt a fly), said yes and followed Mark.

Along the way nearly everyone nodded at Colin and smiled while Mark talked about war films and how thought that Zulu was undoubtedly the finest war film ever made and, in his opinion, Michael Caine gave the finest performance of his career as the British officer.

When they got to the restaurant, Colin asked why everyone was looking at him and smiling.

“The gold bar story. We searched your flat and found the rest of them and as you've been able to help us solve that crime you're a bit of, errrm... not a hero exactly, more of... I'm not sure how to describe you, sir.”

“Oh.” He tried to hide his feelings of disappointment at not being a hero, but felt good about some positive acknowledgement. It had been a long time since anyone had given him that.

Mark took him to the queue and told the chef to give Colin whatever he wanted and the station was paying for it. Colin didn't want to appear greedy so skipped the desert, even though it was a jam roly-poly.

As they sat down, Mark said, “Someone from the insurers will be in touch about the reward in the next week or so, and I've already called your boss to inform her that you've been very helpful in solving a crime. She seemed a little put out.”

“She's always put out. Wears a permanent scowl.” There was more malice in his voice than he wanted, but when Mark smiled, he relaxed.

“I know the type. My sister works for a man just like that. Doesn't matter if they're male or female, they're just arseholes. But I doubt she'll give you any problems. I spoke to her boss and the H.R department too, just in case, then spoke to her again to tell her who I'd spoken too.” He leant back in his seat. “I find it amazing what you can do when you communicate with all the relevant parties.” The smile unnerved Colin, whose hand froze in midair, leaving a precariously balanced forkful of meat pie just in front of his mouth.

Before gravity woke up and took full comic advantage of the situation, Colin recovered and placed in his mouth.

“I have some paperwork to do.” Mark stood up. “Peter will be here in a minute or so to see if there's anything else you need, get you to sign some paperwork and lawyer he'll bring with him will explain everything. Enjoy lunch. And apologies for the way you've been treated.”

“How did those gold bars get into my flat?”

“We don't know,” Mark said standing. “We suspect he broke in and hid them in your flat. Why he left one on the floor we don't know. But it's just guesswork.” With that, Mark left.

Colin carried on eating, and then noticed that everything had gone quiet. He looked up from his meal and saw an old woman sitting opposite him. He looked around saw that everyone else was still.

She leant forward and said, “Well that worked out well. I wasn't expecting them to arrest you, but this fairy-godmother lark is new to me. I only took over your case last week. Your previous fairy-godmother wasn't up to the job. Went a bit senile. Still, it happens when you get over a thousand years old.”

There was another forkful of meat pie hovering in front of Colin's mouth, but this time gravity was ready and waiting and caused it to plop into his lap.

Before he could even shout 'it's bloody hot', she said “Let me get that.”

With a wave of her hand, it sprung off his trousers, leaving no stain behind, and into his still open mouth. “Makes a change from that fly.” She screwed up her face and added. “Cat got your tongue?”

Colin chewed and swallowed as quickly as possible and said, “Fairy Godmother?”

“Yes. Everyone's got one, though most don't need one, it' just that there are so few of us we can only help a certain number of people and when I saw Gloria's list I took one look at you and decided that you were desperately in need of one. I only had a couple of weeks to help you, and having that crook in the tower block was a wonderful opportunity so I used it.”

“You had me arrested? And that's meant to help?” He could feel his anger rising again. Forty years of pent up frustration was ready to explode at this old woman in front of him until she raised a hand.

“You got a million pounds out of it. Surely that's worth a few hours of inconvenience?”

He was just about to explode when he saw her point, agreed with it, and then calmed down as quickly as he'd got angry. “I suppose so.” His shoulders sunk. “What else have you got planned? What horrible things are going to happen so something nice will come of it?

“Oh don't be such a misery. I haven't got anything planned. As such.”

“As such?”

“I must be going. I have a lot of people to help and so little time to do so.”

“What do you mean, you...”

She disappeared in a cloud of glitter and the rest of humanity returned to normal. Colin stared into space for a moment, wondering if it had really happened, but was disturbed by someone sitting down opposite him.

He looked at the woman constable and remembered he hadn't been this popular at any other time in his life.

“Hi,” she said. “My name's Yvonne, I'm a constable and I've heard about you solving that crime.”

“Well, I didn't actually solve it; I just tripped over a gold bar in my bedroom.” At that moment, his big toe reminded him that it was in pain and Colin felt the urge to shout 'ouch' but resisted it. Just. It did manage to register some pain on his face which Yvonne noticed.

“Are you alright?”

“My big toe hurts.”

“The one that hit the gold bar.”

“Yes.”

“Would you like a lift to the hospital? I'm off duty now, well not now exactly. I'm taking a break for lunch after filling out my paperwork, and then I'll be off duty. My car's outside.”

“Is this part of the official apology?”

“What? Oh that. No. I just fancy you. That's all.”

Colin had just brought another piece of meat pie to his mouth, let it hover, and pushed it into his mouth before gravity took another stab at placing a stain on his trouser crotch. Through chewing the pie he mumbled, “Sorry?”

“Well, you're going to be a millionaire now and there will be a lot of women, mostly young and obsessed with boob jobs, who will want a piece of you and your money, so I figured I'd get in first. Not that I'm young or need a boob job, except to have these ones reduced in size.”

She kept on gabbling about her age, forty-two, her interests outside of work, none that he could discern, and her life to date for a few minutes, when he noticed an old lady in the corner, grinning. She waved, urged him to say something and disappeared.

Yvonne had just started to list her boyfriends and their various faults, mostly to do with them not listening to her, though Colin wondered how they managed to get a word in edgeways, when he found himself reaching over and put his hands on hers, which seemed to stop her.

“I haven't got any money at the moment, so why don't we go for a cup of tea after you finish and talk. You're far more interesting than some 20 year old blonde bombshell. If it works out, fine, if it doesn't, at least we tried.”

“Okay. See you in reception in half an hour?”

“Depends on how long it takes to sign the paperwork a lawyer's got for me.”

“I'll wait.”

* * *

Within a month, Colin had his million pounds. He then told his boss where she could stuff her job and sent a letter to her boss and HR describing in some detail her behavior and threatened to sue the company for allowing the bullying to carry on for as long as it had. This opened the floodgates from other members of staff who, being of the opinion that if someone as wet as Colin could do it so could they, also sued the company.

He moved out of the flat and bought a pleasant detached house in a village, taking a part-time job in a local charity shop to keep himself occupied and started painting in his spare time to see if he really was as bad as his art teacher at school had told him. Two years later, he gave up as the teacher was spot on.

A year later, he married Yvonne, she gave up police work and they re-opened a café in the high street where many policemen came after work and with their families, resulting in a sudden drop in the crime levels in the surrounding area.

One summer evening, the two of them sat in their back garden after they'd closed up for the night, each sipping from a large bottle of beer they passed between them.

“Do you believe in fairy godmothers?” Yvonne said.

“Not anymore,” he said, hoping that she couldn't tell if he was lying.

“When I was young, I had one. I called her Gloria. Bit senile if you ask me.” She waited, took the bottle from Colin and took a large swig. “Not long before I met you I swear I saw this old woman, in my dreams, who said she'd taken over from Gloria and that she was going to help me find a man, then disappeared.”

Colin looked over at her. “Let me guess...”

“Sounds silly doesn't it?”

“About five foot tall, evil grin, yellow teeth, pink rinse hair in a perm and thinks sixties clothes are still in fashion.”

Yvonne turned her head, astonishment on her face.

“In my dreams, she placed the gold in my flat.”

They let the silence hang for moment, then Yvonne moved closer to Colin and rested her head on his shoulder, handing him the bottle of beer. “Dreams are weird.”

“Yep.”

They sat there and stared at the stars in silence for another hour, drinking two more bottles of beer, then went to bed, turned out the light and cuddled up.

In the corner of the room, a yellow-toothed grin could be seen, which vanished in a cloud of glitter as soon as Yvonne started to snore.


Martin Willoughby has two self-published books on Amazon UK, one under the name of Willaby, and he is a founder of the Starfish Publishing Co-Operative, a group of writers in Hertfordshire, UK. He also acts and fixes computers.