The Standalones

Chapter Four

Ken Preston

01 June 2024

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

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Chris pulled a pack of bills out of the holdall and held it up like it was a holy relic. “I’ve never seen this much money before in my life!”

Scarlett pulled two packs out and gazed at the bulging holdall. “There must be like over a hundred grand in there!”

“Are you a millionaire or something?” Chris said.

“No!” Chloe exclaimed. “I don’t know where all this money has come from.” She stepped away from the holdall. She didn’t want to touch any of it, she didn’t even want to be near it.

“You mean it’s not yours?” Matt said. He hadn’t picked up any of the money, either, Chloe noticed.

“That’s not my travel bag, it looks like mine, but it isn’t.”

Chris riffled the wad of £20 notes with his thumb and whistled. He seemed not to have heard Chloe speak, his fascination with the money was so intense.

“Imagine what we could do with all this cash,” Scarlett said.

“I’m thinking about that right now, babe,” Chris said.

“Imagine the places we could stay,” Scarlett said, her eyes taking on a faraway look.

Chris nodded as he pulled more packs of money from the bag. “I could have a bath for once, instead of a quick scrub down with cold water in the toilets on Killick Street.”

“Centrally heated rooms and soft beds.”

“Hot and cold running water.”

“Maybe even a colour TV!”

“But it’s not my money,” Chloe said again.

Chris and Scarlett were too far gone in their daydreams of luxury hotels to hear what Chloe had said.

“Have you any idea how you came to have it?” Matt said.

Chloe was grateful that he at least was thinking about how the money had come to be in her possession, rather than what they could spend it on like the other two were.

“Oh my gosh, it was the man at the train station,” Chloe gasped, suddenly remembering. “This horrible little man ran into me and fell over. He had the same holdall as I did, and we must have picked up the wrong ones. Which means he has all my clothes and my song lyrics!”

Chloe dropped her head into her hands. What a catastrophe! What was she going to do?

A hand rested comfortingly on her shoulder and she raised her head to see Matt next to her, a look of concern on his face. And for a brief moment, her spirits lifted.

“Hey, don’t worry, we’ll find out whose money this is and get it back to them, and we’ll get your belongings back too, okay?”

Chloe gave Matt a faint smile. “Thanks.”

Not only was he drop-dead gorgeous, but he was kind and concerned about others, too. Even though she had only known Matt Sumner for five minutes, Chloe knew she was falling in love.

“Whoa, hold on!” Scarlett said, holding up a hand. “Let’s not go so fast, shall we? I mean, I think we need to consider first of all where this money came from before we start thinking about giving it back.”

“What are you talking about?” Matt said.

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“I’m talking about taking a moment to think this through before we run to the nearest cop shop and hand all this cash over.”

“Are you being serious?” Matt replied. “This money doesn’t belong to us, and you’re actually thinking about keeping it?”

Scarlett rolled her eyes. “Aw, come on Matt! I’m not saying we should keep it, of course we need to give it back. I’m just saying we need to talk about this, and consider our options before we rush into anything we might regret later.”

“Who carries this amount of cash around London in a holdall?” Chris gestured at the bag. “I mean, come on, it’s got to be stolen, or drug money, or something.”

“Yeah, Chris is right,” Scarlett said. “Whoever this joker is that collided into you and took your bag, I bet he’s a gangster or something, and he was on his way to a drop-off or something like that.”

“So, what’s your point?” Matt said.

“Our point, Matthew,” Scarlett said, “is that the man who left this money behind isn’t going to be asking the coppers to find it for him, is he?”

“And seeing as how the cash was nicked in the first place, it’s not like we stole it off anyone, is it?” Chris said.

“So you are saying we should keep it?” Chloe asked.

Chris and Scarlett looked at each other but didn’t say anything. It was obvious what they were thinking, but neither of them wanted to be the first one to say it.

“You two are crazy,” Matt said.

“Why?” Chris waved the wad of bills at Matt. “Think of the nice places we could afford to stay in, rather than dumps like this. And we could get a new van and some new gear.”

“And clothes too,” Scarlett said. “Like, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but these threads are getting pretty old and worn out.”

Matt shook his head. “I don’t believe it. We should just go straight to the police with this, it doesn’t matter where it came from.”

Chloe was grateful to have an ally in this, she would have hated to argue her point on her own. “And if you’re right, and this money is gangland money, I’d rather get rid of it as soon as possible. Can you imagine what they’ll do to us if they find us?”

“What will who do to you if they find you?”

Chloe turned at the sound of the voice, along with the others. Chris stuffed the money into the bag and zipped the holdall closed.

The girl standing in the doorway of the flat was thin and angular looking. Her bare arms displayed dozens of tattoos, her hair was a spiky orange, her lips painted bright red, and her nose and ears were pierced with rings and studs.

She extended a long, pale arm and pointed at Chloe. “And who is this?”

Matt stared at the floor, seemingly finding something absolutely fascinating in the threadbare carpet. “Um, Lexi, this is Chloe.”

Lexi glowered at Chloe, the dark eye shadow around her eyes giving her a demonic appearance. “I don’t believe it, you’re replacing me with her?

“Lexi, we’ve had this discussion,” Scarlett said. “And we gave you plenty of warnings about your behaviour.”

Lexi sneered at Scarlett. “Oh, sorry, teacher, are you going to put me in detention now? Besides, I wasn’t talking to you and I wasn’t talking about your stupid band.”

Chloe’s chest tightened with a sudden bout of anxiety and jealousy. Lexi and Matt had obviously been an item once, and then Matt had split up with her. Lexi assumed that Matt was now dating Chloe.

“Hey Lexi, calm down alright?” Matt said. “That’s no way to talk to Scarlett.”

“Calm down?” Lexi spat the words out like they were poison. “Why should I calm down when I’m the victim here?”

“I’m sorry,” Chloe said. “I didn’t realise—”

A sudden pounding on the door made them all jump. They looked at each other, wide-eyed. Chloe noticed Scarlett and Chris immediately leaping for the bag of money, picking it up between them.

“Oi, you lot! I know yer in there, I wants me rent paying!”

“Is that your landlord?” Chloe said.

“Yes, the one and only Danny Lamb,” Matt said, and turned to Lexi. “We’re going now, Lexi. You need to forget all about this and move on. You’re not rejoining the band.”

Lexi scowled at Matt, but said nothing.

“Come on, let’s get out of here, quick!” Chris hissed.

Matt opened a window and one by one, they scrambled outside. Chloe was impressed at the way Matt waited until last before climbing out himself. They ran up the steps to pavement level and then took off at a sprint down the road. Chris and Scarlett carried the bag between them.

“Max is parked on Goodge Street!” Scarlett yelled over her shoulder as she ran.

“Max? Who’s Max?” Chloe gasped, the bass guitar on her back slowing her down. Was this another band member they hadn’t told her about?

“Max Switchblade, our van,” Matt said. “Scarlett’s a massive Max Switchblade fan, and so she named the van after him.”

“Oi, I wants me rent paying!”

Chloe glanced back and saw a huge man in a vest and shorts standing outside the house they had just left, and waving his fist at them.

The four of them barrelled around a corner, narrowly missing colliding with a mother, pushing her baby along in a pram, and Chloe pulled up short when she saw Max.

“Oh wow.”

The famous Max Switchblade criss-crossing lightning bolts had been painted down the bonnet, the bright blue of the lightning contrasting dramatically with the red the rest of the van had been painted.

Scarlett climbed into the driving seat while the others scrambled in the back. The van was already filled with instruments and suitcases, which left hardly any room for people, but they squashed in somehow. The van’s shock absorbers creaked in protest at the extra weight they were forced to bear.

With a cough and a rumble and a cloud of purple smoke, the van chugged into life. Scarlett had to wrestle with the gear stick until, with an alarming crunching noise, it engaged with the clutch and Max kangaroo’d out of the side street and into London traffic. A car horn blared in protest, the driver angry at being cut up.

Their former landlord pounded his fist against the van’s windows as Scarlett drove past him.

“Oi, I wants me rent paying!”

Chloe twisted in her seat to look out of the back window. The landlord, still waving his fists, disappeared in a puff of purple exhaust fumes as Max Switchblade backfired.

Chloe shoved her hand against her mouth to stifle a fit of giggles. Whatever happened next, it wasn’t going to be boring, that was for sure.

And then she saw the holdall full of gangster money at her feet, and her giggles died away.