The Standalones

Chapter Eight

Ken Preston

05 June 2024

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

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Chapter Eight

Scarlett parked the van around the corner from Danny Lamb’s house. Chloe squirmed in her seat, nerves twisting her stomach up in knots. She had travelled down to London to join a pop group, but now she seemed to be involved in a spot of breaking and entering.

At least the item they were stealing belonged to one of their own. That couldn’t be called stealing then really, could it?

Matt touched her on the elbow. “Hey, you don’t have to come in with us. It’s Chris’s fault for leaving the keyboard behind, he knew we were moving out, he’s the one going back in.”

Chloe gave Matt a smile. “What if I stand outside as a lookout?”

“That would be great.” Matt gave her arm a gentle squeeze.

Chloe’s skin tingled where he had touched her.

“Alright guys,” Scarlett said from the front, “are you all ready? We’re going to have to make this quick and we’re going to have to be quiet. Everybody got that?”

“Who put you in charge?” Chris said.

“Me,” Scarlett replied, “because I’m the only responsible one around here.” She glanced at Chloe. “Present company excepted, of course.”

“Charming,” Chris said.

They climbed out of the van and scurried around the corner. The window they had opened for their escape was still ajar. They ran down the steps to the basement level, where their former room was located.

Matt bent down and cupped his hands together. “Come on, I’ll give you a leg up.”

Chris placed his foot in Matt’s hands, and Matt boosted him. Chris grabbed the window frame and pushed his head through the gap in the open window.

“Looks like the coast is clear,” Chris said. “Lift me a little higher.”

Matt grunted with the effort, but managed to lift Chris high enough that he could slither through the window. With a panicked cry, Chris fell headfirst into the sink, scattering dirty pans and washing up water.

“You alright?” Scarlett hissed.

Chris appeared on the other side of the glass, face and hair dripping wet. He nodded and then turned and disappeared into the bedroom to grab his keyboard.

Chloe took a look up and down the street. Down here she was at pavement level, and her view was mostly restricted to shoes and ankles. How could she keep a lookout from here?

“What’s taking him so long?” Scarlett muttered.

“You know what he’s like,” Matt replied. “He’s probably forgotten where he last put it.”

Chris suddenly appeared at the bedroom door. His eyes were wide and panicked. He ran to the window.

“I can’t find it. It’s not here, someone’s stolen it!”

“Don’t be stupid!” Scarlett hissed. “It’s got to be in there somewhere!”

“Yeah? Well you come and have a look for it then!”

Chloe watched as Scarlett used Matt as a hoist up, and she climbed through the open window. Unlike Chris, she managed to avoid a dunking in the kitchen sink.

Chloe and Matt waited in silence.

“They’re taking too long,” Matt finally said.

“What if your landlord found it and has stolen it to sell it?” Chloe asked.

“Then we’re finished,” Matt replied. “We can’t do without a keyboard player.”

Chris and Scarlett emerged from the bedroom. They both shook their heads.

“This is ridiculous,” Chloe said. “We can’t waste time skulking around down here, we need to find out if your landlord has it.”

“And how do we do that?” Scarlett said, her voice muted by the windowpane.

Chloe didn’t reply, she was too busy thinking. She hadn’t travelled all the way down to London to join a band, but then have to give up on her dreams of pop stardom because someone had stolen the band’s keyboard. Especially when the thief was most likely sitting inside this house right now with the keyboard.

“I’ve got an idea,” she said. “Everybody stay right where you are.”

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“What’s your idea?” Matt asked.

Ignoring Matt, Chloe ran up the steps and knocked on the front door.

“What are you doing?” Matt hissed.

Chloe waved at him to be quiet. Her stomach was churning with nerves, but also a thrill of excitement. She was taking a risk, but she was reasonably sure that Danny Lamb hadn’t taken much notice of her earlier, and that he wouldn’t recognise her now.

The sound of bolts being drawn back and locks unlocked echoed from the other side of the door. Sounded like a fortress in there. Finally the door opened and there was Danny Lamb, in trousers and a vest, scratching at his enormous belly.

He looked Chloe up and down and licked his lips. “Yeah?”

Chloe put on her most feminine tone of voice. “Excuse me, I hope I’m not disturbing you, but I’m doing some market research and I wondered if I could take some of your valuable time?”

Danny Lamb licked his lips again. “What kind of market research?”

Chloe batted her eyelids. “It’s for a new brand of beer coming soon, and we require volunteers for tasting trials before we start selling to the pubs and the shops.”

Danny thought about this for a moment. “You mean, it’s like free beer?”

“That’s exactly what it is, Mr…?”

“You can call me Danny, young lady.” Danny Lamb smiled, showing off a set of chipped, stained teeth.

“May I come inside and I can ask you a few questions while we wait for my colleague to arrive with the cases of the beer?”

“Come on in, young lady, come on in.”

Danny Lamb stepped back and held out his arm, inviting Chloe inside. He closed the door behind her.

He led the way through the darkened hallway and into his living room. On the way, they passed the staircase down to the flat below, where Chloe had been only a few hours before.

Danny Lamb’s living room looked like it might have been pleasant and spacious once, but it was impossible to tell now as it was buried beneath several years’ worth of rubbish. Piles of newspapers, empty beer cans, old takeaway trays, empty cigarette packets, and tattered cardboard boxes lay everywhere and on almost every surface.

But there, sitting on a battered old sofa, was Chris’s keyboard.

“Ah, sorry about the mess, love,” Danny mumbled. “The cleaning lady’s been on holiday.”

“Now, before we start,” Chloe said, “may I use your toilet?”

“Yeah, it’s just down the hall.”

“Thank you, I’ll just be a moment!”

Chloe shut the living room door behind her as she left. After a brief glance up and down the hallway to make sure she was on her own, she ran down the stairs to the basement flat.

“How did you get in here?” Scarlett gasped as she saw Chloe open the door.

“No time for that right now,” Chloe whispered. “Chris, your keyboard is upstairs in Danny’s front room.”

“I knew it!” Chris said.

Matt tapped on the window. “Come on you guys, get out of there!”

“What are we going to do?” Scarlett said. “How are we going to get that keyboard out of Danny’s living room without him noticing?”

“We need a diversion,” Chloe said.

“Like what?” Chris asked.

Chloe smiled. “I’ve got an idea.”

After quickly explaining her idea to Chris and Scarlett, they climbed the staircase to the ground floor. Chris and Scarlett held back whilst Chloe trotted down the hallway to the toilet. She opened the door warily to find exactly the mess she had expected. The toilet itself was caked with dirt and stains and the wallpaper was peeling from the damp walls. The inside of the bath appeared to have something growing in it, and brown water hissed and sputtered from a tap.

Chloe stiffened her resolve and stepped inside.

She closed the door.

Took a deep breath.

And screamed.

First came the sound of the living room door being flung open, and then the heavy footsteps as Danny pounded down the hallway. He stopped outside the closed bathroom door.

“What’s wrong?”

“There’s a rat!” Chloe screamed and wrenched the bathroom door open.

Danny stared wild-eyed at Chloe. “A rat?”

“Yes!” She pointed at the bath. “It ran under there! Oh I hate rats!” Over Danny’s shoulder, she saw Chris and Scarlett running into the living room.

She just had to keep him distracted a little longer.

“Look, look, under there, you’ll have to kneel down, look.”

Chloe kept talking as she gestured for Danny to get down on the floor and peer under the bath. A mixture of emotions ran across his face. He obviously wanted to impress this attractive young woman who had come to visit him and give him free beer, but at the same time, he didn’t want to get on his hands and knees and possibly come face-to-face with a rat.

Chloe saw Chris and Scarlett sneaking out of the front door with the keyboard under their arms.

Time to make an escape herself.

Chloe screamed again, right in Danny’s ear. He screwed his face up in pain and clapped his hands over his ears.

“I saw it again!” Chloe screamed. “Oh, I can’t stay here a moment longer.”

Pushing past Danny, she ran down the hall and out of the front door, slamming it shut behind her.

Matt was waiting for her outside. Chris and Scarlett were already heading around the corner to stow the rescued keyboard in the camper.

“I cannot believe you did that!” Matt exclaimed, grabbing her hand and running with her down the street.

Chloe started laughing. “I can’t believe it either!”

Matt started laughing, too. By the time they rejoined Chris and Scarlett, they could hardly stand up straight they were laughing so hard, and they had to cling onto each other for support.

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