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The International Writers Magazine
- Dreamscapes Life Stories

Sam North

Alverado was my best friend, although he caused me a lot of grief.
Right from the beginning it was friendship on Al’s terms. I didn’t mind. Being Al’s friend brought extraordinary benefits, one of which was endless dining out for free and the phone number of every cute waitress in the city.
Some of them, when they couldn’t sleep with Al, would take me for a poor second, because at least they would be sleeping in the next room to ‘him’.
brick sewer

Did I mention that Al looked like Richard Gere and had all of his self-confidence and charm? It was no use being jealous. I was rather like the fat girl who always seems to accompany that thin gorgeous blonde wherever they go.

Anyhow, let me tell you about how we met.
I was looking for an apartment to share and someone in a bar mentioned Al was looking to share his riverside place. I went around, it was sunny, shabby, but cheap and it had parking, so we quickly came to terms. I was curious about the plans he had spread out over his drawing board and Al was reluctant to tell me what it was. He seemed pretty embarrassed I’d noticed in fact.

The day after I moved in I was returning a hammer to him when I saw the plans were out again. "I didn’t know you were into architecture," I remarked, admiring the drawings of the classically proportioned Herbert Baker designed bank that dominates the downtown area.
Al looked at me with puzzlement. "You know this building?" he asked.
"The company I work for insures it. They’ve just uprated the foundations. Apparently there used to be a river running through the town but city engineers buried it under the streets in the 1920’s. Quite a feat I hear. They built the bank right over the underground river. In fact, Alverado, if I am not mistaken, these plans are from our office... see the stamp in the corner that says 'Reference Only - Restricted Access' "

Al smiled and folded the plans up, winking. "I hope the bank is well insured." He shook my hands then adding, "you can call me Al".

And that’s when our real friendship began. You can criticise me if you like. You could argue that I should have called the police first opportunity I got. But instead Al took me to meet his 'useful friends' and I found myself labelled as the guy who was going to ‘deal with the money’. This was on allegedly account of my dealings with high-finance and insurance. (I was in the settlement department of our insurance company and drew up the payment cheques). I’d gone from flat mate to gang member in just one day.

We met at a popular bar near the cricket ground, and Al ordered the beers. Diamond Pete came first, a short excessively tanned bloke with curly hair and a baby face. He was the ground transport man and organiser. Oliver Gent came next; ex-army it was going to be his job to use the explosives. I did worry that Al intended to blow up the bank, which would have been sad, it being a listed building and all, but he quickly reassured me that Oliver Gent’s role was to blow the metal lock boxes that the money came in. They only had seven minutes tops to do the robbery and speed was essential. Finally in came Frank. He was tall and had a nervous tick, but he was clearly the most important piece of the jigsaw. Frank’s job was to escort the old money due for destruction from the bank vault to the Treasury truck waiting at the end of the underground tunnel below the bank. Frank said it would be around three million.

I was impressed. Al seemed to have everything sorted. He had a pretty ruthless gang and an insider. Oliver Gent was a bit nervous that I was suddenly coming on board, but when it was explained that I could get their money transferred abroad in complete safety, they were impressed. For this ‘help’ I would be getting ten percent. I could have asked for more, but Al hinted that Oliver Gent would get upset and whatever I did, I shouldn’t get Oliver Gent upset.

Just for the record, I did explain to Al on the way home that what he was proposing was actually against the law. Al remarked that laws were made to be broken and besides where would I get three-hundred thousand from working as a clerk for an insurance company. He did have a point. I asked him why he trusted me and Al smiled, turning to me as we drove on the highway. "I trust everyone. Everyone wants to make money the easy way. I’m just playing Father Christmas, that’s all. I trust you all to be what you are; greedy and needful."

I wasn’t sure this was absolutely true. I was broke, to be sure, but I hadn’t once thought of robbing a bank to remedy the problem. I was just absolutely sure that I didn’t want to go to jail. Ever. One mistake here and that is where I’d be headed. I told Al that I thought the plan was flawed, the sewers dirty, the cops vicious and Frank unreliable. Al just laughed. He told me that me considering all these points showed him that I was the right man for the job. He didn’t like working with people who didn’t look at all the angles.

He outlined the plan. Al would be in the sewer with Diamond Pete and Oliver Gent at the very point where the Bank tunnel and the sewer intersect. They would burst out of the sewer, grab the money from Frank and his guards, blow the locks, transfer the money to the plastic sacks and escape through the sewers again. Frank would be left unconscious with his guards to make it look convincing. Seven minutes, three million. Simple as that.

You read about this sort of thing, but you never realise how easily it could be to happen to you. Or how impossible it is to say ‘no, thank you very much but, no’. Was I nervous? Me? Did I develop a constant headache? Of course. I was now officially a 'criminal’ and where exactly do you put that on your CV? Under precision planning and commitment to the job?

The robbery would take place at eleven-fifteen in the morning. The getaway car was ready, Al had everyone primed and I was at work, manning the phone. Tense? I should co-co. At ten, Al, Diamond Pete and Oliver Gent entered the sewage tunnel that would lead them to the bank. Frank, now above them, counted out the money that was to be returned to the Treasury to be burned. It was more than usual, closer to five and a half million. He was nervous and had to count it twice just to make sure.

At eleven, Al and Pete and Oliver Gent were in position, explosives ready and Al had already loosened the connecting plate that would allow them to literally drop down in front of Frank to grab the money.

However, unknown to any of the parties underground, at two minutes past eleven it began to rain. Not just any old drizzle. A complete monsoon. In two minutes there were rivers in the streets. Below ground, waste water that was ankle deep a moment ago became waist deep, then quickly rose up to armpits. Al sensed that they had to get out of the sewer, and fast, or risk drowning. But there was no question of going back up the pipe. They would have to take hostages or something, fight their way out of the bank. It was going very wrong indeed.

Frank was already in the tunnel with just one guard. They were pushing the trolley laden with cash. Frank hoping the guard couldn’t detect how unusually nervous he was. At eleven-fifteen precisely, Frank was in position and did what was required of him. He collapsed on the floor, faking a heart-attack. The guard was completely taken in and abandoning reason ran off back up the slope towards bank offices to get help.

He was only half way up the corridor when the sewer hatch burst open, crashed to the floor (narrowly missing Frank ) and all hell broke loose. Millions of litres of sewage cascaded through the aperture and somewhere in the middle of it were Al, Pete and Oliver Gent, yelling with pure terror. In seconds the entire tunnel was filled with the city’s ooze and slime and it was beginning to flow down the slope to the heavily secured door at the far end. The would-be bank robbers' muffled yells were nothing to the sounds of alarm bells, bursting pipes and a rising roar as the river, long buried underground, sought freedom from the rocks that bound it. Something very terrible was going to happen.

There was an explosion in amongst it all somewhere as Olive Gent detonated something, but whether it was him trying to get at the money or just a spontaneous moment, no one could be sure at the time. All they were sure of was that they were all going to drown unless they got out of there fast. The sewage flow was taking them further down the tunnel and there was no fighting it. A moment later, all of them ended up at the far end pressing against the reinforced tunnel door.
"Dear God, we’re all going to die," someone shouted, it might have been the guard. The raw sewage piled up behind them, building the pressure. The stench was disgusting.

Almost simultaneously the door bust open. Armed guards were standing ready to receive Frank and the money, but they got a lot more than they bargained for. The entire contents of the city sewers spewed out of the tunnel, completely overwhelming them and their waiting truck, pouring off the ramp into the adjacent flower market, sending people below running and screaming for their lives. In amongst it all were Al, Diamond Pete, Oliver Gent and Oliver’s Gent’s hands that he’d blown off when he’d prematurely set off the explosives. And somewhere in that putrid mess, Frank and his guard.

The funny thing is, although Al and Diamond Pete looked hard for Frank and the money, they couldn’t find him or any sign of the money boxes. They found the guard, unconscious by a fountain, but no Frank. Not one banknote. Oliver Gent I am sad to report drowned looking for his hands.

For the rest of the day Al and Diamond Pete waded through the tons of filthy foul-scented sewage and mud, disbelieving what their eyes and noses told them. Frank was gone. Somehow he’d gotten away. They were completely ignored by the cops who were very reluctant to do anything about this problem, certainly not wade through it like Al and Diamond Pete. Diamond Pete was all for blowing Frank’s head off when they found him, but Al knew that would be a waste of time. Frank had outsmarted them. They would have to accept it, Frank was free and stinking rich.

We did go looking for Frank, Al and me. We spent several weeks searching all those places where he used to hang out, but he had the money to go to better places now. We somehow knew he’d hang onto the cash and not do anything foolish that drew attention to himself. He’d know Al wouldn’t take it well and Frank probably savoured his life more than most.

That was my introduction to Al. I can happily report that I gave up my life of crime before it actually started. I was the only one relieved that Frank had stolen it all. Al and me had plenty of good times together, many laughs. We’d sometimes get drunk and relive that day when we could have been rich and Al still watched the weather reports a little more keenly than most. A year later, Al was gone. He had some scheme about diving for diamonds in Namibia. I thought I’d never hear from him again.

Some years later I was holiday in Canada and saw him across a street waiting in a silver BMW coupe. A tall, skinny blonde was loading up the car with her Ralph Lauren purchases. Life looked like it was treating him well. However, he seemed really pleased to see me, but said he was pressed for time. He was on Frank’s tail he told me. Seems Frank may have invested all our money in a rather well known coffee chain. Done pretty well from what I hear. Al was going to find him soon and ‘negotiate’ with him. I got the feeling Frank would be pretty unhappy to see him. And then he was gone.

But I couldn’t help feeling, as I saw Al drive away down Robson Street in that smart little BMW, that perhaps he’d found Frank some time ago. Maybe, I was thinking, when I find Al again, he’d advance me a loan on my ten percent. After all, that’s what best friends are for.

© Sam North 2005
Sam is the Editor of and author of
and Another Place to Die

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