My dad was a villain; there is no getting away from it. He was a bloody good one at that, but he did dabble in legitimate business now and then and he ran a very successful scrap yard at one time in Newcastle as well as his haulage business. I started hanging around there and making a few quid from the age of eight or so but I was aware that my dad had his fingers in a few pies – and it seemed that more than often he would be up to no good. He would always say to us that if he ever got nicked we’d need to get rid of anything he left in the house. He would never leave anything in the house though, so I guess it was just a precaution…but it was one which would serve us well.
So, we got word that my dad’s cousin had been arrested. Even at this age, we knew the procedure: we checked the house over from top to bottom, but there was nothing incriminating lying round or hidden away. It was one of those old-style houses where downstairs, two rooms had been knocked into one and had glass doors separating them. I was just about to sit down when I saw an old suitcase on the floor that we must have missed earlier. I don’t see how you could miss something like that; I’m surprised we hadn’t tripped over the thing when we were searching. I picked it up as our John came into the room and wasn’t sure whether to open it or not, but curiosity got the better of us and we put it on the table and unclipped the locks before slowly opening it. The suitcase was neatly packed full with money on both sides. I’ll never forget the look on our John’s face; no doubt the expression on my face was just the same. As we were looking at each other my mam walked in and her face was a picture too. We all just stood and stared for what seemed like two or three minutes before the realisation hit my mother and she slammed the suitcase shut.
‘Ah, me babies… me babies. You can’t see this. We’ll all be arrested.’
She threw herself over the case to protect us from it. Even at eight years old I’d learned not to panic and, with the help of our John, we managed to calm her down. We told her that we knew what we had to do. We assumed that the police would come bursting through the door at any minute, so there was no time to lose. We emptied the suitcase into an old army duffle bag and we were off with it before the police turned up.
We headed up Elswick Road to the cemetery. To most people it was just a rundown, vandalised and over-grown cemetery. It was anything but that to us; it was everything. It was our playground, head quarters and our stamping ground and we knew it like the back of our hand. Even at that age, we’d earned a bit of a reputation with local constabulary (hard to believe, I know) and to them we were the Elswick Mafia Boys. Not a bad name to have, eh? The grass in the cemetery was over four foot long in places, which made a great hiding place. Which was just as well because within minutes of us getting there with the bag, we saw the police arrive at our house. They were there for a while searching high and low but found nothing. As they were leaving I saw one of them stare straight over to where we were hiding, like he could sense us watching him… or worse, he could actually see us. It was getting dark though. Unless he was Robocop, we should be safe. We stayed hunched down, one hand each on the bag, poised ready to leg it, our hearts racing.
There was one tomb in the cemetery that we could both move. We’d used it as a place to hide in when we were playing games, so we instinctively knew to make our way over there. Sure enough, there was a gap and it just took a bit of pushing and pulling to move the concrete slab to give us just enough room to drop down into. We’d chucked an old length of rope into the duffle bag so we got it out, tied it to the handle and lowered the bag down into the darkness. It all seemed a bit too easy… like it was old rope for money…. and that’s when we heard shouting and screaming. Not from inside the tomb though! It was someone being chased by the police, with their torch lights swinging from side-to-side as they ran. Without thinking we both slid our way down into the tomb, pulling at the grass and stones to cover our tracks, but leaving a little gap to spy from. We held our breath as we watched the copper’s boots pace up and down past our hiding place, looking at each other, our eyes widening at how mad the situation was. I was sure we were going to get caught. It was like the police knew we were in there but were just toying with us, letting us suffer in an old grave before deciding enough was enough. After another pass, they called it a night. That’s when me and John breathed out for the first time in what seemed like hours. It was only when we could see their backs far away that we knew we were in the clear. You might think that hiding in an old tomb would scare the shit out of an eight-year-old boy, but not me. Not saying I was like Robert the Bruce hiding in his cave or anything, I mean… it was dark and dingy but the thing for me was that the tomb was secure just like the dog kennel in our back yard. To be there in the tomb with our John, protecting my dad’s money (or whoever’s it had been) felt natural to me and I never doubted myself for a second. I knew in my heart what I was doing was right.
Once the coast was clear and we climbed out with the bag, we couldn’t help ourselves. We took another look into it.
‘How much do you think is in?’ asked our John. ‘I reckon a million dollars,’ I replied.
I put my hand in my pocket, pulled out a penny and I chucked it on top of the notes.
‘There’s over a million now,’ I said and we both started laughing. Eight years old and millionaires! We were never going to be nine to five’ers after that, were we?
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