My name’s Charlie Wills, I’ve been living in the Black Prince nursing home for the last ten years. When I first came to this converted Victorian workhouse on the south coast, I gave myself four years top-whack. I reckoned I’d get bored out of my skull and turn my toes up pretty bloody quickly. That’s what I wanted I suppose.
It didn’t happen like that. For a start, they’ve got a really big library, everything from crime pulp to Shakespeare. Then there’s the gym. They’ve got top-notch trainers specialised in keeping old buggers like me fit without killing us. The grounds are full of shrubs and enormous Beeches in the summer; you can lose yourself in there. It’s like living next to Hyde Park. I’ve never been so busy in my life. If we do get bored, we’re free to go into town unaccompanied whenever we like, providing we can put one foot in front of the other and aren’t wheelers or droolers.
I signed up when I was seventy. It weren’t cheap, but I had a bit put away, left over from an investment I made when I was about thirty-five. I didn’t have any family left and I’d lost touch with all my friends and contacts so I thought, why not? You’ll probably croak soon anyway.
I’m pushing eighty-two now and I’m fitter that I’ve ever been. Strange thing, life. Some of the inmates (we’re not supposed to call them that really) are stuck in wheelchairs or suffering from senile dementia, but most of us are pretty good. And the women – they can be very naughty. I’ve had some interesting walks around the grounds, if you know what I mean. The staff are very understanding – very good at turning a blind eye: keeps us young at heart I suppose.
We get a lot of new arrivals and, naturally, a lot of departures. It’s kind of a rich-geriatric conveyer belt. I know that sounds cruel, but I’ve always had an odd sense of humour. Why worry? I reckon. I could be the next one out of here wrapped in oak. It’s not exactly rocket science to work that one out, is it?
Anyway, about four months ago, we had this new bloke turn up in a wheel chair. He was around the same age as me. Apparently, he’d been sent here because the outfit running his nursing home went bust. Lot of it about I hear. I didn’t take much notice of him at first. He was just another poor sod with more money than time: just like the rest of us.
It’s a funny thing; a man can change dramatically as he gets old. He can go bald, get fat, wrinkled out of recognition, shrunken like a dwarf and loads of other things, but there’s one thing that don’t hardly change: his voice. One afternoon I heard a voice I recognised. A simple, ‘thank you,’ when a nurse gave this new arrival a cup of tea. I couldn’t believe my luck.
I didn’t say anything straight away in case I was wrong. I moved to a chair near him so I could see his face better. I watched him while he tried to drink his tea out of one of those cups with a spout like they give toddlers, trying to see if I recognised anything about his face. He’d had a stroke; all his left side. That made his face sag, twisting his mouth down so it was hard to see his features. I noticed his nose was broken and it bent slightly to the right, and his eyes were very light-blue, like a Husky’s. Yup, it was “Harry-the-Husky” alright. His real name was Harry Jones, he’d got the nickname at school. They called me “Woodbine,” on account of my surname. We were best mates. When we grew up, everybody knew us as, “Woody and Woof.”
I watched him trying to drink his tea. The cup wobbled in his one good hand, the right, and I remembered he’d been left-handed. Life would be doubly hard for him now. He put the cup down when he finished, but as he did, he knocked a little box containing his medication on the floor. I went over to him and picked it up.
‘There you go, mate,’ I said in a hushed voice.
He raised his eyes and looked at me, but there was nothing in them to say he recognised me. ‘Thank you,’ he said. I smiled and returned his gaze, but he looked down at his cup. He seemed to concentrate on it. I went back to my chair, deciding to let it go in case he’d lost his mind to dementia.
During the following week I watched him from a distance. It soon became obvious, although he was severely handicapped, there was nothing wrong with his mind. I listened as he made little jokes with the nurses and some of the more sprightly residents. I could see from his lop-sided smile and his guttural chuckles, he liked the way people fussed around him. I decided to try again.
One morning I offered him my newspaper, but he shook his head. He said he couldn’t hold it upright. ‘It’s alright, mate,’ I said, ‘I’ll hold it for you.’
That’s how we struck up a new friendship. We got into a routine. Every morning, I’d get a newspaper for him and hold it for an hour. He liked to read The Times. Then I’d go to the gym and have a workout. In the afternoons, I’d take him a cup of tea and a cake and I’d hold my newspaper for him to read. I like the Daily Mirror.
We did this for about three weeks, but in all that time he never recognised me. I knew it was over forty years since we last saw each other, but I thought something about me, my gestures or my voice might trigger something. Then it dawned on me: I’ve spent a very long time in foreign countries. I’ve lost my accent and picked up different mannerisms. People often said I seemed a bit foreign, and apart from that, I had more reason to remember him than he did me. I decided it was time to introduce myself.
I chose a Saturday night to pay him a visit. On Saturdays there’s less staff on duty and it’s easy to move around without being noticed. I wanted to speak to him in private so I waited until about two in the morning before I went to his room.
He was asleep and lying on his back when I entered. That made things easier for me. I moved the emergency call remote out of his reach. Then I tied his right arm to the side of the bed with a bandage I’d brought with me. Finally I filled his mouth with a load of compresses and stuck a wide a plaster over it. He woke up. It took him a while to figure out he was tied down and I was in the room. It was pretty dim with just the night-light. He tried to struggle, but he couldn’t do much being almost paralysed from the stroke. It was easy to hold him down with just one hand.
‘Hello, Woof. Remember me? I asked; quiet like. He tried to shake his head, but he could hardly move.
‘Take it easy, you’ll give yourself a heart attack,’ I said. He relaxed or at least stopped moving.
‘Don’t you remember your old pal, Woody?’ His eyes went wide.
‘We got a score to settle, don’t we?’ He tried to shake his head again.
I smiled at him. ‘Thought I was a fool didn’t you, Harry, with me telling my Eileen where I hid my share in case of emergencies while I was inside.’ He started grunting, but the compresses muffled the sound. ‘Yeah, that’s right. Inside taking the rap for the bloke you killed. Remember that?’ He closed he eyes. I felt a tear roll down my face. ‘You didn’t have to work her over like that, Harry. She would never have grassed you up. She knew she’d be alright even if you took my share.
You didn’t know about the diamonds, did you, Harry? I found ‘em tucked away in a drawer inside a pair of silk knickers while you were downstairs beating the shit out of hubby. They were contraband, even the wife didn’t know about ‘em. That’s why I went down for you. Twenty-five years of my life. My investment for the future I called it. I was going to cut you in when I got out. But you had to take my future away from me. All for a measly hundred grand. The money you got from that job weren’t enough for you, was it? You wanted it all so you could start up that property business. I have to hand it to you though. It was clever the way you made it look like you got your stake money by hard work and then bled in the loot to grow the company. Once you got rich, nobody questioned a respectable landowner did they?
She was five-months gone; my Eileen. That’s why she died from her injuries. . . . Complications. Another thing you didn’t know: little Alice saw what you did to her mother. She was hiding on the landing. I suppose you thought she wouldn’t remember, being just turned four. But she did. Scarred her for life it did. Topped herself when she was twenty-six. I only had a couple of years to go before I got out with good behaviour.
I knew the coppers would be watching me, so I sold the house and got out with the jewels as soon as could. Took me nearly twenty years moving from one shit-hole country to another, slowly fencing the ice. I changed my identity I don’t know how many times. Best part of a million I had by the time I could bring it back here. Not that it did me any good; you saw to that.
There I was, a rich single pensioner, all my friends long gone and no family. I never got Eileen and the kid out my head. I couldn’t stand it, so I ended up coming in here. I gave up the idea of finding you years ago. I thought about killing you when I got back, but I didn’t want to die in prison. And now you end up here; delivered to me on a plate. There must be a God. Eh, Harry? I reckon he wants me to finish his job for him.’
I didn’t have anything more to say so I took out the supermarket bag in my pocket – and held it over his nose and mouth. It took him longer to die than I’d expected, given his frail condition: struggled quite a bit too. Those fitness sessions certainly paid off. Ten minutes after removing the bandages and the compresses from his mouth (I checked inside to make sure there was no lint – he had rotten teeth) I was in my bed. Slept like a babe, I did.
Bio: I have been writing fiction for about five years, firstly as a hobby, but now I am getting serious about it. I have stories published in Volumes 3 and 4 of Radgepacket and one in the newly released Volume 5. I also have a couple of stories on the Radgepacket website.