I’m sharing with you a short story, based on a family from the Rembrandt Estate, the council estate from my crime mystery novel, Hidden.
If you haven’t read Hidden yet, you can still read this story as a stand-alone, although, of course, I highly recommend you read Hidden too. You can buy it in the following places:
Amazon UK: http://bit.ly/BUYHIDDEN
This short story was originally shared in my October newsletter. I have a monthly newsletter where I offer exclusive writing pieces, updates, freebies, and competitions. If you’d like to be part of it, join me here: https://mailchi.mp/9ebcbcf53cb5/lisa-sell-author-news
There will be more short stories like this in future newsletters. Don’t miss out!
The Waites of the Rembrandt Estate
The Waite family from Turner Road were a valuable commodity on the Rembrandt Estate. If you wanted luxuries, they could provide it. If you were too tight to part with your cash for the basics, the Waites would see you right. The Waites had formed an enterprise of shoplifting to order.
Jim Waite believed he was the brains of the organisation. Considering he’d been in and out of prison like a Yo-Yo, his wife, Gemma, begged to differ. She’d never been caught and often reminded him of it.
Rather than keeping a calendar of her family’s appointments and events for the week, Gemma plotted who would steal from which shop. Gemma had a system. She was aware of which security guards knew them, where there wasn’t surveillance, and the shops that didn’t prosecute.
Gemma’s ten-year-old daughter, Cathy, was becoming a rising shoplifting star, if only she wouldn’t eat the goods first. What Cathy couldn’t steal wasn’t worth having. Her parents were proud of their daughter’s ability to shimmy between supermarket shelves despite her expanding girth.
Cole Waite was Gemma’s pride and joy. His cute five-year-old face was the perfect foil for a stealing spree. Gemma shoved him into the seat of a trolley. It was amazing how much you could tuck underneath a child who had learned not to wriggle. Cole enjoyed trips to the shops. It was an adventure where he became Indiana Jones, dodging obstacles and avoiding scrapes.
Jim taught Cole how to hide stolen goods in the family home when the police turned up. Cunning Cole outwitted the boys in blue faster than Indy running from a boulder. Sweeping the booty into a blanket and legging it over the garden fence, made Cole treasure stealer extraordinaire.
There had to be a black sheep, or more likely a pure white one, considering her virtue within a den of thieves. Caroline despised being a Waite. She was a smart girl, often with her nose in a book to escape her family’s wrongdoings. The teenager understood the difference between wrong and right more than her parents ever would.
Caroline was still smarting from her mum’s latest escapade. Gemma was caught in the corner shop, stealing sweets. The owner, Mr Armitage, was usually an easy-going man. He thought nothing of selling cigarettes and alcohol to kids. He wouldn’t abide stealing though. Mr Armitage had banned most of the residents of Turner Road for pilfering his goods. Until that day, the Waites had been escaped his attention.
Gemma’s migraine kept her off her game. Desperate to get home, she shoved confectionery into Caroline’s school bag. Caroline was distracted, reading a copy of National Geographic. Mr Armitage watched, waited for them to leave, and pounced.
Gemma screamed her rights. She called Mr Armitage a racist, on account of Irish blood filtered down from her Great Grandmother. Mr Armitage phoned the police. While waiting for the boys in blue to arrive, Gemma coerced Caroline to replace the sweets. Gemma continued her argument with the shop owner as a distraction. Caroline despised herself as she put the confectionery back into the correct places. She hated her mum more for making her do it.
Caroline couldn’t face going to school when the piece Gemma gave to the Troddington Echo was published. Gemma claimed harassment from Mr Armitage and the police, based on her being from the Rembrandt Estate. Caroline was thankful Mrs Woods, a reporter from Renoir Road, didn’t cover the story.
Since the incident, Caroline avoided her family as much as she could. When she heard Jim talking on the phone with one of his dodgy contacts, Caroline groaned. As soon as he said, ‘You’ve got yourself a deal’, Caroline closed her bedroom door, seeking refuge.
Jim was convinced his new venture was the big one. Shifty Sean knew a fella who had a job lot of chicken breasts. Meat sold well. The women on the estate and in Troddington sought cheap meal solutions. The gods of raw meat smiled upon Jim. A Transit van-load of chicken winged its way to him.
Shifty Sean advised a quick sale. Jim wasn’t an amateur. When he opened the van, he realised why Shifty Sean had given the advice.
Cathy covered her nose as she looked in the back of the van. ‘Eurgh. It smells like someone’s died in here.’
Jim was an optimist. At least Cathy wouldn’t eat the goods before they could sell them. Cole took a whiff and ran to the lawn, emptying the contents of his stomach.
No one could call Jim a quitter. For him, it was a sign of strength to never walk away. To everyone else it was idiocy. Jim knew he could make a killing with the chicken. Shifty Sean avoided eye contact as he grabbed Jim’s money and made a hasty retreat.
Caroline watched in bewilderment as Cole stood on a crate to reach higher. Cathy joined him, unpegging chicken breasts from the washing line.
‘That should’ve freshened them up,’ Jim said, despite the blue sheen glistening upon each piece.
Jim focused on how impressed Gemma would be. When she returned from working at the care home, he’d have sold the lot. They’d eat like kings tonight, not chicken though.
Caroline chuckled at her dad and siblings, with tea towels wrapped around their faces as a shield. They placed the meat into bags. Caroline questioned once again if she was adopted.
Word got round chicken was going cheap. A queue formed outside the Waites’ gate. Jim enjoyed playing salesman and instructing people to form an orderly line. He had to keep them moving. Gemma was due home soon.
‘Why is the washing machine slimy?’ Gemma asked, inspecting her hands. ‘I’ve put a wash in and I’m covered in gunk.’
‘Dunno,’ Cole answered, staring at the television.
‘Haven’t got a clue,’ said Cathy, around a mouthful of Parma Violets.
‘The washing machine’s old,’ was Jim’s unrehearsed and rubbish reply.
‘No, it isn’t,’ Cathy said. ‘Your brother nicked it from a warehouse a few weeks ago.’
‘Probably the powder you’re using.’ Jim glugged the dregs of his lager and hoped for the best.
‘I’ve got the threepenny bits.’
Jim wondered why his neighbour, Porkie Pullen, felt the need to pay a visit to discuss his loose bowels. Porkie clutched his stomach. Sweat trickled from his forehead.
‘What are you going to do about it?’ Porkie asked.
‘We’ve got some kaolin and morphine somewhere,’ Jim offered.
Porkie didn’t reply. He was too busy running for the Waites’ toilet. Jim tuned out the Armageddon sounds coming from the other side of the door.
Gemma appeared and turned the handle of the toilet door. ‘Flipping kids are always in there.’ She paced the hallway.
Porkie opened the door, wafting a stench so powerful it made Jim and Cathy’s eyes water.
‘Hello Porkie,’ Gemma said, wrinkling her nose. ‘Got caught short?’
Porkie reddened. ‘It was the chicken.’
‘Right,’ Cathy replied. ‘Well, make sure you cook your food for longer next time. I’ll use the toilet upstairs,’ Gemma said as noxious fumes carried into the house.
Appreciative of Porkie’s physical weakness, Jim shoved his neighbour outside, with a refund.
The good news was the queue of angry and sick people trailing along Turner Road formed when Gemma was at work. The bad news was them being there at all.
Throughout the morning, the Waites’ toilets were engaged and their pockets emptied for refunds. Jim gained a black eye from Macca, the estate hard nut. No one gave Macca and his family the runs and got away with it.
Learning elderly Gladys Greene had been hospitalised, because of dehydration, Jim feared a potential death. The death would likely be his if Gemma found out what Jim had done.
Gemma didn’t know where to look as she approached home: at people vomiting in her flowerbeds, someone having an accident behind the shed, or the line outside her house. Gemma spotted Jim, doling out cash. There was only reason he was giving out money rather than taking it. Jim had messed up again.
Dinner that evening was a sombre affair. Caroline stifled her giggles as Jim confessed to selling chicken that had likely given food poisoning to most of Troddington. Gemma’s face remained passive. In contrast, Jim looked like he was in hell.
Cole and Cathy chewed their food, waiting for the inevitable storm to hit. Caroline ate only bread and butter, claiming she wasn’t hungry. Gemma said she’d eat later as she’d had a big lunch. Confession given, wife not losing it, Jim rubbed his belly as he finished dinner.
‘Enjoy that?’ Gemma asked her husband.
‘It was bloody lovely. You can make that again.’
‘Really?’ Gemma replied. ‘Get more of that chicken and I will.’
Jim’s mouth filled with saliva, making a smooth passage for his dinner’s reappearance. ‘That was pork casserole, wasn’t it?’ he asked Gemma.
Gemma shook her head. ‘I thought pork was your favourite meat. It seems you can’t tell pork from chicken.’
Jim’s face paled. Cole and Cathy were his fellow ghosts. Cathy edged away from the table.
‘Hope you enjoyed your chicken, Jim, Cathy, and Cole,’ Gemma said, looking at each of them in turn. She gave Caroline a high five as the rest of the family raced for the toilets.
‘You know what, Caz?’ Gemma said. ‘Your dad can’t tell when pork is in his food either, silly sod.’