The Standalones

Chapter Thirty

Ken Preston

27 June 2024

Silhouette of a rock band against a spotlight and the words The Standalones

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Chapter Thirty

“You’re that man, the one who collided with me at the train station!” Chloe exclaimed.

“Yeah, that’s right, and you’ve made my life a misery, I can tell you,” Ratzo replied.

A hot, fierce anger surged inside Chloe’s chest. “I’ve made your life a misery? I wish I’d never met you, I wish I’d never seen all that money of yours.”

“Well, you should have watched where you were going, shouldn’t you?”

“But I was sitting down!”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Because you collided with me, because you were the one who wasn’t watching where you were going, that’s what!”

“My point exactly, you were sitting in the middle of the concourse waiting to trip somebody up. That’s why it’s your fault and not… ah, whatever, who cares?” Ratzo eyed the holdall at Chloe’s feet. “That’s not the money, is it?”

“Don’t be stupid, why would I be carrying a bag full of cash around London?”

Ratzo bent down and unzipped the bag. A brief glance at the contents seemed to be enough for him, and he stood up.

“Satisfied?” Chloe said, hands on hips.

“I knew it was your bag, really.” Ratzo wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I just needed to check, that’s all.” He took a swift look around. “Don’t worry about it anyway, the money’s not your problem anymore.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I’m out of here, and I hope I never have to see you again.”

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Ratzo turned to walk away, but Chloe reached out and grabbed his arm. “Wait!”

Ratzo spun back to face Chloe. “Are you serious?”

She let go of his arm. “I… you… oh, I don’t know! Wait, yes, I am serious. Where are you going?”

“That’s none of your business.”

Chloe narrowed her eyes. “You know where the money is, don’t you?”

“What’s it to you?”

Chloe paused, stuck for an answer. That was a good question. Why should she care if this unpleasant little man got his money back? And yet, it wasn’t just about the money anymore, was it? Chloe had the feeling that they were mixed up with some very bad people now, and the fact that they didn’t have the money any longer might not matter to whoever was after it.

“Who does all that money belong to?” Chloe asked. “It’s not yours, is it?”

Ratzo shook his head. “You really don’t want to know. But believe me when I tell you, I need to get it back to him, or I’m in deep trouble. Like six feet deep, if you get my meaning.”

Although Chloe most definitely, absolutely disliked this man, she felt a sudden, and surprising, twinge of sympathy for him. She had seen a momentary flash of fear in his eyes. Whoever Ratzo owed the money to, they were obviously someone you didn’t want to mess with.

“Go to the police!” Chloe’s words blurted out before she realised what she was saying.

Ratzo let out a single bark of humourless laughter. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. If I go to the cops, I’ll be arrested on the spot. And once Frankie hears about that, my life won’t be worth a penny of all that money.”

A chill swept through Chloe. “Who’s Frankie?”

Ratzo looked like he had realised he had said too much, as a flash of fear swept across his face. Chloe thought he might not say anything else, but to her surprise, he answered her question.

“Frankie Henderson, London’s number one gangster and all round tough guy. You don’t want to mess with him, I’m telling you. Listen, you seem like a nice girl, and I’m sorry you got wound up involved in all this. The best thing you can do now is forget you ever met me and forget about all that money. Once Frankie has his cash, he’ll be happy, and then we can all relax.”

“But what about Danny Lamb and his friend?”

Ratzo rolled his eyes. “Danny and Fred? Don’t worry about them, they’re small fry. As soon as they know Frankie’s got his money back, they won’t bother you anymore.”

Chloe had to admit, he was right. And this was what she had wanted all along, to be rid of the money. It had been nothing but trouble ever since that moment she had inadvertently picked it up at Euston Station. So what was wrong? Why was she hesitating?

“Lexi,” she said, thinking out loud.

“What are you talking about now?” Ratzo said.

“Lexi, the girl inside Mac’s Cafe, she’s renting a room from Danny Lamb.”

“I know who Lexi is, but, more to the point, what’s she got to do with you?”

“She’s got the money right now, she had to have stolen it off Danny. And if you steal the money from her, that means she’s going to be in trouble with Danny and Fred.”

Ratzo leaned in close to Chloe. “I already told you, Danny and Fred, they’re small potatoes, they’re smaller than that, they’re like…”

“Baby potatoes?”

“Never mind.”

A thought occurred to Chloe. “How do you know where the money is, anyway?”

“I told you, keep your nose out of it, that way you won’t lose it.” Ratzo turned and stalked off.

Charming, Chloe thought as she watched him walk away.

Doing her best to dismiss him from her thoughts, Chloe risked another look through the cafe window. The couple nearest the window were busy tucking into their burgers and didn’t notice Chloe had returned. The little boy saw her and gave her a wave. She waved back and then placed her finger to her lips, to encourage him to keep her presence a secret.

At the back of the cafe, Matt and Lexi were now deep in conversation. A pang of jealousy pierced Chloe’s heart.

Maybe Lexi was telling Matt where the money was. But that didn’t matter any longer, not now that it was going to be back with its owner any time soon.

They stood up, and Matt leaned forward and gave Lexi a peck on the cheek. Chloe took a deep breath to calm herself. At least he hadn’t kissed her on the lips.

It looked like the date was over. Chloe scurried around the corner out of sight and waited for Matt and Lexi to leave Mac’s Cafe. She checked the time. They’d finished early, Chris and Scarlett wouldn’t be back for another twenty minutes at least.

Chloe heard the cafe door open and close, and then the brief murmur of conversation. A moment later and Chloe saw Lexi walking away.

Alone.

What now? Should she reveal her presence to Matt? Keep it a secret and pretend to know nothing when she met up with Matt, Chris and Scarlett later?

“Hey.”

Chloe squealed with surprise.

Matt grinned.

“You scared me, popping out from around the corner like that,” Chloe said.

“Sorry about that,” Matt replied. “But then you scared me, peering through the cafe window.”

Chloe’s face reddened with embarrassment. “You saw me?”

Matt burst out laughing. “Me and the rest of the cafe!”

Chloe buried her face in her hands. “Oh no, I don’t believe it.”

Matt gently pulled Chloe’s hands away from her face and held onto them. “Don’t be embarrassed, it was sweet.”

“I feel ridiculous.”

“Don’t be silly. Fancy going for a walk?”

Chloe’s breath caught in her chest. “What about Chris and Scarlett?”

“What about them?” Matt smiled. “We can catch up with them later.”

They began walking down the street together, hand-in-hand.

“I’ve got some things I need to tell you,” Chloe said.

“Snap, I’ve got some things I need to tell you, too.”

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