It goes without saying that being drunk, tired and lethargic on a wet winter night is not the recommended strategy for making an instant fortune. But it is how Robert Taylor did it. Maybe.
Slumped on a cold bus-shelter seat, trying to read the evening newspaper while waiting for the night bus, his heel hit against something. He flopped his head forward between his legs and looked backwards under the seat. A large brown leather briefcase sat in a puddle.
He hiccoughed and dropped the newspaper. A gust picked up the pages and pegged them against the illuminated advertising board in the shelter. He had enough problems of his own without the blaring headlines about local drug gangs.
The world was against him. It might have been better if they had fired him, the demotion was worse; a daily humiliating reminder of putting a decimal point in the wrong column and losing the company £20M in a microsecond. It might have helped if Janet had supported him instead of complaining she’d have to find a job and economise on his lower salary. And moaning about what her sister would say. You’d expect a wife to support you through thick and thin. Now was the thin and all she did was moan.
He slid the case out and placed it on his lap. He burped and it carried away on the wind. A solitary black cab with its light on splashed towards him, windscreen wipers flapping. He stood, staggered, put out a waving hand and it sped past.
Robert sat back down and pushed up on the case’s catches: they didn’t give. He squeezed his eyes at the indicator board: N29 — due. He got up and fell against the glass shelter, a gloomy red bus approached and he put out an arm.
He staggered onto the bus, case under one arm and pressed a card on the reader. Multiple times. Each time a red LED and a bleep signalled failure. Strange, he’d topped up that morning.
“It’s your library card.” A world-weary metallic voice came from the driver’s perspex screen. The bus pulled away.
He located his bus travelcard after a swaying search through trouser and coat pockets. He clicked in and tottered to the back of the empty bus. He placed the case on his lap and pushed rebellious thumbs at the catches. It opened with a clunk. He had been pressing up instead of down.
The case was full of neatly packed £50 notes wrapped in bank slips. He slammed the lid shut. He lifted it again. Bundles of £50 notes. His eyes widened and his lips parted into a gormless smile. He looked around despite the vacant seats. An electric buzz fought through his clouded mind.
A yellow post-it note was stuck on one bundle. He pulled it up to bleary eyes: sǝʇou pǝsn ‘spunod puɐsnoɥʇ pǝɹpunɥ ǝʌıɟ. Russian? He frowned, turned the note and squinted: Five hundred thousand pounds, used notes.
He flopped back against the seat. He must be hallucinating, he should never have had those shots. Who leaves £500,000 at a bus stop? Or that bottle of wine. Who cares? He’s rich. Or those beers. Sod the company. Or the double vodkas. Sod Janet’s sister too. Oh dear, the cocktails.
He should call the police. No he won’t. The street had been deserted and the bus was empty. Who would know? 500 grand; this was his chance to change everything. A gift from above. A new life. A wife who wanted him again.
He clutched the case to his chest, his grin grew and the bus rumbled on.
Where was he? What time was it? He ground at sore eyes with the balls of his hands, his mouth like a bowl of dust. He sat up in last night’s clothes and coat. He had one shoe on, the other was upside down on the coffee table. He slid off the sofa and stood and swayed. Something acidic burnt his throat, his head thumped like being hit repeatedly on the head with a shovel by Janet. Janet. Loud bangs came from the kitchen. Trouble.
He staggered to find and placate his wife and to locate the medicine of caffeine. Janet was in her new supermarket uniform slamming cabinet doors.
“Please,” he said, putting his hands up. “Quiet?”
“Had a good night?” She folded her arms. Her impassive face failed to disguise the flames in her eyes. “At least someone here is trying to earn money rather than piss it up the wall.” She looked to the ceiling and huffed. “A supermarket job, really. Do you know what my sister said to me when I told her? Her husband is in line for partner. And how are we going to afford skiing this year and to make the payments on the Mercedes? I need a new dress, a coat, shoes.” She transferred her hands to her hips, face pinched, slitted brown eyes fixed on him.
He loved her in her serious mood and, to be honest, the uniform. It was so…, he didn’t know what it was but it was sexy, even in supermarket blue polyester. He tried to smile but had to swallow back something disgusting.
He shuddered and grabbed her hand. “Bugger your sister, I’ve got something to show you.”
He pulled her to the living room, hobbling in one shoe.
She pulled a face, shook his hand away and stepped back, her face creased. “Smells like an explosion in a brewery.” She folded her arms tight against her chest.
He spread an arm out. “I found a briefcase.”
She pursed her lips.
“Full of money.”
Her disinterested eyes scanned the room and settled on his upturned shoe.
Panic flashed across his face. “Where’s the damned case? Five hundred grand.”
Janet tapped a foot.
He knelt and looked under the sofa, up to the top of the sideboard. Around the room. He was sure he hadn’t left it on the bus, he’d clamped the case to his chest like it had half a million pounds in it.
She raised a single eyebrow.
He rushed around the room, head spinning. He went out to the hall and came back. “It’s not here.”
“So it seems.” She pushed past him. “A drunken fantasy?” She strutted to the front door and picked up a large packed gym bag “I’ve got to get to work. Then I’m enrolling at the gym. I’ll be late.” She hoisted the bag over her shoulder and sloped sideways with the weight.
“But I found half a million pounds.” He scrutinised the floor, avoiding her accusatory eyes. “I think?” His forehead creased into lines of doubt and he looked up. “You hate the gym.”
The door slammed. He clamped his palms to his temples. Where did Janet keep the Ibuprofen?
Robert raced past the pile of free local newspapers at the station entrance, they fluttered in his wake reporting an upsurge in drug-gang warfare over a missing payment drop a month ago. He was running late for a job interview.
Janet had never returned home the day of his drunken dream about finding half a million pounds. She never went to her job at the supermarket that day or enrolled in the gym. Only her passport was missing.