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by Tess Makovesky

The gang wait, hands clamped on handlebars, the scent of diesel and warm leather strong enough to choke. They turn up their collars, hunch into their jackets, listen for their prey. The roads are deserted this time of night: fewer pickings, but fewer witnesses too. Less chance of the cops getting themselves involved. More chance of success.

Faintly, in the distance, the sound of a van droning along the road. An old van: air-cooled engine, cylinders misfiring now and again. Big Les raises a thumb. “Perfect. No quick getaways for that.” The bikers grin, wrap scarves around their mouths, kick up their stands. Inch their way forwards, walking their bikes between their legs. Waiting for the van’s slow and stately approach.

Finally it clatters past: an ancient VW camper with writing on the side. The words blur past: Hen … Mar … Con … but the gang aren’t stopping to read. Tyres and exhausts smoke as they roar to overtake, surround the van, slow down, bring it to a halt. Big Les dismounts, leaving the engine running for a fast getaway. He approaches the driver’s window, raises a tattooed arm and knocks.

The window slides down in manually-operated jerks. The driver, young and plump, is pale. “Yes, friend? What seems to be the problem?”

The others laugh into their scarves and copy him, under their breath, until Big Les waves them quiet. He reaches into his waistband, comes out with bag and gun. “Kill the engine and fill the bag. Anything valuable. Phone, jewellery, cash. And no yelling for help.”

“N-no, no. Of course.” He stuffs the bag with notes and wedding ring. Tugs off his watch, hands trembling so much he can hardly undo the strap. Reaches into the glove compartment to add his mobile phone. Cowers behind the steering wheel, as though that will protect him, should Big Les fire. “Please don’t shoot! That’s everything I have.”

Big Les grabs the bag. “No calling for help, now. Not until we’re clear.” He remounts his bike, revs, takes off, followed by the gang. The driver listens to their fading snarl, praying they won’t return.

The gang pull over down the road. Big Les upends the bag to share the spoils. “What the fuck’s this?” Yard after yard of gaudy scarves, a trio of juggling balls, a dove that flies off with a startled squawk. Last and smallest, a business card. Big Les catches it, squints in the headlights to read. Henry Marvel, Conjuror and Master of Illusion.

“We’ve been done! I’ll fucking kill him.”

In the van the driver wipes his face on one last rainbow-coloured scarf, pockets his valuables and dares to turn the ignition key. He’ll lose himself in the back streets, moor up somewhere until the danger’s passed. He shakes his head, then allows himself a smile. It’s an old trick and he can’t believe he’s got away with it. His money and his life.

Liverpool lass Tess is now settled in the far north of England where she roams the fells with a brolly, dreaming up new stories and startling the occasional sheep.

Tess writes a distinctive brand of British comédie noir and her short stories have darkened the pages of various anthologies and magazines, including Shotgun Honey, Pulp Metal Magazine, Out of the Gutter Online, Betty Fedora, Exiles: An Outsider Anthology (Blackwitch Press), Drag Noir (Fox Spirit), Rogue (Near to the Knuckle), and Locked and Loaded (One Eye Press).

You can follow her ramblings (both literary and literal) at her blog: https://tessmakovesky.wordpress.com/