Odds On Loser

To most people he was known as TFM, The Fruit Machine or Fruit, for a reason he did not find particularly amusing — he had one arm, he was a one-armed bandit. Ha ha. He lost the absent limb on a bank job when an automatic timer dropped a rather heavy vault door sooner than expected and, thinking himself something of an Indiana Jones, he reached backwards to fetch his fallen hat. He had a grip on the hat, the severed arm maintained it’s grip on the hat for quite a while after it abandoned its owner. It gave the police quite a laugh, they had toyed with the idea of releasing an A.P.B looking for an unarmed man, but unfortunately seriousness won out.

Gerry, as he was known to his mother, spent fifteen years in clink because of that blunder. It’s not exactly that difficult to get a positive I.D off five easily obtainable fingerprints. It’s not that easy to hide the fact that you are missing an arm either. It took the officers assigned to the case a record amount of time to put the jigsaw together, unfortunately it was too late to reattach the arm. The officer in charge of the case had had the famous arm embalmed as a souvenir with Gerry’s blessing, why would Gerry want to see the bloody thing ever again? It might have amused him to know that his arm was cited as a contributing factor in the detective’s divorce two years after the deed. Maybe not. The arm maintained pride of place anyway, it had a celebrity all of its own.

Gerry wanted to shake off the stigma which had greeted him on his release but it was not to be. He reassembled some members of his old crew for a job which he’d been given the details for by one of his cell-mates. His old crew was a fairly accurate description — time had not favoured many of their number … it earned them a spell under the moniker Gerry and The Pacemakers.

It was lucky for him that they were old school and weren’t in the habit of giving away their mates because only Gerry and Barry, the so-called explosives expert, got away. Fred, the get-away driver, known as the fastest wheels in the country in his day, had an embolism that made his foot punch the accelerator and he hit a wall, writing the car off. Tom, the electronics whiz of the outfit, electrocuted himself due to the lack of sensitivity in his bad-circulation plagued fingers and locked himself in the safe only to suffocate as the air ran out before the police arrived. Alf, the second bag man and one-time best man at Gerry’s wedding, displayed a hither-to unforeseen talent for slapstick and slipped on a broken pearl necklace from one of the safe boxes — needing to be rescued by a policeman from choking on the badly fitting false teeth that lodged themselves in his throat. The Heimlich Manoeuvre would have been a good name for any band of robbers under Gerry, his teams always choked when it came time to perform.

To gain some distance from the laughable image that he had got for himself as a robber he decided to move into the assassin business. It was not a logical leap as far as anyone who knew him was concerned, but once an idea had lodged itself in his mind it was stuck there until an even more epic flight of fancy knocked it loose. His friend, who provided dodgy life insurance for people who legitimate companies wouldn’t touch with a bargepole, refused to help him, saying that he didn’t want to encourage the deathwish that Gerry seemed to entertain.

What idiot would hire a one-armed hitman? A one-armed drummer, fair do’s we all know that works. But, and it is a big but, what use is a one-armed hit man? Perhaps the person who paid him had a dark sense of humour, or perhaps just wanted him out of the way. It must frustrate the criminal fraternity that the person garnering the most notoriety was a totally inept criminal, a bungling idiot — the Frank Spencer of the underworld.

Gerry’s first hit only succeeded in tipping off the target that people wanted him dead and resulted in increased security so no-one else could have a pop at the contract. By-passing the alarm had been a tricky job managed with fast-moving fingers and teeth, it was an impressive feat — but you must always check for back-up systems. The first circuit was effectively a decoy, difficult enough to get past in its own right, but not the real meat and veg’ of the set-up. It never even crossed Gerry’s mind that there was a person in the world who would make double sure something was safe. He’d had to put his gun in the holster to open the door, so he found he couldn’t fire at the security guards when they came charging out of the building — it probably saved his life. It made Gerry even sicker at himself, even angrier, that the only reason he was still alive was because he amused people. The security guards let him go — they took his gun off him and sent him on his way.

His second target was a bullseye, a point-blank bullseye. Gerry managed to pass it off as a success to those who couldn’t be bothered to probe that little bit further, but those in the know, surprising you may think, knew it was not so.

The victim came across Gerry while Gerry was checking out the man’s regular route so he could best place himself to off this walking meal-ticket. Anyone who has a hitman chasing after them will be suspicious and wary enough to note any variance to the schedule their day runs to without deviation. To come to the notice of someone who wants to put a contract on your head you will often be in a business where you yourself may be required to seek a professional killer’s services — you know what to look for. The uniform Gerry had pilfered made him invisible for about a second, how was he to know that the building committee had opted to change the electricity supplier last week on the promise of a better deal? Gerry had his gun in his pocket, he figured he’d been spotted — he had a bullet chambered and the safety was off. The target charged his would-be assassin, tripped on the carpet and landed on Gerry who, in a knee-jerk reaction, squeezed the trigger. Blood everywhere … not a by-the-book killing by even the sloppiest gun-shark’s standards — it was worse than a bloody serial killer’s efforts. No-one could surely take pride in this.

For some, who had more money than sense and were pretty relaxed about when their contracts were fulfilled, they appreciated the novelty value the One Armed Bandit had. A t-shirt sprang up among the brotherhood that was loosely forged of various types of professional and hobby murderers sporting a fruit machine detailing the career of the Gerry and his many guises. He gained some small amount of fame among celebrities with criminal world associations and a few songs were written about his exploits. Not many in the mainstream culture believed the tales, saying they had to be elaborated — if they only knew how depressingly true they were.

Gerry got wind of the infamy that was trailing him about and felt that he had to raise his game. He wanted to celebrate nearly forty years in the business, he was a fit sixty year old who, in his own bedroom was a legend that was holding his own. The humour of the situation was due to go sour long before he made the latest in a long string of mistakes.

A crime boss was trying to go legitimate — he had one last major thing to do to ensure his happiness in the straight life. It was a job only a desperate man would take. Gerry hadn’t heard that his new employer was looking to leave criminal activities behind him after this; Gerry thought it was a good chance to get a foot on the ladder. He never thought that it was too late for him to start climbing up the ranks — all the nicknames and people laughing at stories of his capers failed to clue him in to the truth of his ineptitude and his place in the scheme of things. All he had to do was whack the crime boss’s daughter’s friend who the boss thought was a little too much like a whore in her behaviour and a bad influence on his pride and joy. Gerry had a photo of the girl he was supposed to kill, he had the house number. It was simple.

You don’t go on a job after having got tanked up on drink. Gerry favoured real ale so he tended to move like a sloth when he was drunk. He got muddled — I understand how that can happen. But once you’ve accidentally offed the boss’s daughter in the heat of the moment — obviously she was panicked by a man with a gun coming in through her front door — don’t you look at her and think: shit, I’ve just bumped off the wrong person I better get out of here and forget the rest of the plan? Obviously common sense was never a strong point for Gerry, he never had a survival instinct to kick in, he seemingly trusted to blind luck. Well, blind luck had just tripped over her own feet but Gerry didn’t stop to pick her up. Having realised his error he went out of the house opened the friend’s front door and, finding the friend on the phone to the police, shot her point blank. Everyone in the vicinity heard the commotion and half of those who heard it saw him fleeing the scene.

If he’d only wiped out the person he was supposed to then Gerry might have been able to count on the protective wing of his employer; as it was, he was a problem that had to be dealt with in case he led the police back to the source of the money. And what motivation could there possibly be for a father to look out for the person that left his daughter with her brains spread over the hallway? None, none at all.

Gerry had the sense to go somewhere other than his normal hidey-holes, but putting that much imagination to use obviously exhausted the reserves. It didn’t take much to track him down, I, unlike him, am a professional. I don’t relish having to spill this particular man’s blood though — that I shall bring an end to the legend. I feel like I’ve been sent to shoot Charlie Chaplin. I’ve laughed more than once as someone, a friend with a flare for storytelling, has regaled me with various episodes of the One Armed Bandit’s comic life.

He looks tired and pale. I move close to him so that I can wake him up — I can’t do it while he’s asleep, that would be cowardly. It will be harder this way, but he at least deserves to see the man who is to be his full stop. I shake his shoulder and his heavy lids lift. His expression is confused, he coughs to clear his throat.

‘Who are you?’
‘I’m sorry, Gerry.’
‘What?’
‘You messed up worse than usual, today’
‘Huh?’
‘You killed the boss’s daughter.’
‘No, I killed her friend like I was supposed to.’
‘And her. Before you went next door and did the mate.’
‘Yeah? I thought that that was just a dream.’
‘I’m afraid not.’
‘So what are you here to do?’
‘Isn’t that obvious?’
‘Not to me, no.’
‘I’m here to kill you, Gerry.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘What?’
‘What’s your name?’
‘That’s not important.’
‘So it’s not important for me to know the name of the person about to bump me off?’
‘It’s nothing personal.’
‘Oh, that’s OK then. Let’s get on with it shall we?’
‘I’m gonna put a pillow over your head and then I’m going to shoot you.’
‘Just tell me one thing.’
‘Yeah?’
‘Was I ever anything more than a joke?’
What can you say? I just delivered the punchline.

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