Fish Fingers…..…by……….Terry Bostock

August 16, 2009

“Yes”, Fingers would tell anyone who asked, “I WAS a thief ONCE. That was how I got the nickname. Either from the sticky fingers I had when I was a kid nicking stuff from the sweetshop or, later, from being the best at undoing a safe’s combination lock!”

He would then normally go on to explain that all that was now behind him; that umpteen years in Strangeways or the ‘Scrubs had taught him a lesson and that NOTHING would EVER induce him to go back to that way of life again. He was, in fact, so sincere when he told anyone this that all (including Probation Officers who should, perhaps, have known better!) believed him.

To be completely fair it is quite possible that he believed it himself; he had, indeed, “gone straight” for an unprecedentedly long time since his last incarceration. Had anyone thought to ask him about it, a well-intentioned warder from Fingers’ last prison would have claimed a good deal of credit for this. He had spent a substantial amount of time trying to find Fingers a suitable hobby to occupy his time on the principle that “the devil finds work for idle hands”.

It was this warder who found the answer, suffering as he did from a kind of claustrophobia that should not normally have put him into that kind of job. He was accustomed, whenever domestically feasible, to take himself and his fishing tackle to the nearby Essex coast there to sit for hours in isolation attempting to persuade Piscine life forms to swallow sharp pieces of metal. Whenever he met with any success at this the whole prison would hear of it and Fingers, to his own surprise, found himself interested.

As he was nearing the end of his sentence (with full remission for good behaviour) the warder was able to persuade his superiors that he should take his new convert with him on some of his trips. Fingers surprised everyone by showing a natural talent for the sport. His own particular forte (and all fisherman have some sort of speciality) turned out to be what is known to the more common amongst the angling fraternity as “flattie-bashing”. For the uninitiated this means targeting those species such as Plaice, Dabs and Flounders which, unlike Cod or Whiting which are distinctly round in cross section, were designed (after gutting, filleting and cooking of course) as readymade sandwich fillers.

After a while it became true to say that if there were flatfish in a stretch of water Fingers could catch them and it did not take long for the inevitable change to be made to his nickname. “Fingers” became “Fish-fingers”! He was rather pleased at this as it gave him a simple explanation when questioned by the terminally nosy as to how he had come by the name.

Released at last Fingers was able, aided by his new found enthusiasm, to obtain a job working on a market stall in an East London suburb. He was selling (what else?) fish. This did not keep him in the same style as he had enjoyed in his previous lifestyle but he was able to boost his fairly poor earnings by selling some of his own catches with the stock supplied to him.

This was, of course, just as dishonest as stealing but as the only losers were the Inland Revenue he did not think that he would find a jury that would convict him and he was probably right. Nevertheless it may be that getting away with this small dishonesty sowed the seeds of his downfall.

When not working Fingers would disappear, sometimes for days at a time, in an old van borrowed from a friend on the promise of a share of the catch. He would take his fairly small collection of tackle (mostly old stuff given to him by the warder) and a garden fork and drive off to the less accessible tidal reaches of the rivers Blackwater, Crouch or Thames. There, after spending a few hours at low tide digging out a supply of worms, he would relax under a patched old umbrella and start catching fish. That is where we find him on that fateful November Sunday when his world fell apart!

Fingers had been out on the muddy stretches of Wallasea Island on the River Crouch, opposite and just downstream from Burnham, since early Saturday morning. The weather was particularly cold and damp and the fishing had been almost spectacularly good throughout the day and on into darkness. For no apparent reason, however, the bites had stopped just before midnight and by 5 a.m. when it began to rain Fingers was thoroughly dejected and decided that enough was enough!

Putting away his fishing tackle took only seconds but he lingered in his usual meticulous way over the sorting of his catch. The fish had been gutted as they had been caught but had now to be sorted into black plastic bin bags for each of the different species that he had caught. Fingers had found that this made it easier to infiltrate his own fish among the others on the stall. By using white bags for the van owner’s share he could also ensure that his friend did not get all of the best stuff!

Having pulled the converted golf trolley, on which his gear was loaded, back to the van Fingers prepared to drive home. On attempting to light up, however, he discovered to his disgust that he had left his last remaining pack of cigarettes on the riverbank the best part of a mile away.  Fingers had always been a smoker and considered in his own mind that a constant supply of nicotine was as essential to his mental well being as fishing.

In this situation he would normally have hurried back for the packet. It had now begun to rain extremely heavily, however, and it was obvious that they would be ruined long before he could get his waterproofs back on.  Cursing at this nasty end to an otherwise successful weekend he drove off, telling himself that even on a Sunday there must be a shop SOMEWHERE opening early for Newspapers.

The rain continued to crash down in that torrential fashion that makes it seem as if it is bouncing back up into the sky to have another go at falling! Fingers was unable, in the morning twilight and on an unfamiliar road to proceed at much more than walking pace. The strain of trying to stare through both the windscreen and a film of water completely unaffected by the wipers seemed to increase his nicotine craving by the second. In fact, by the time he reached the end of a small village a band of steel seemed to be tightening around his chest and a throbbing headache was beginning behind his eyes.

Not surprisingly, the natives were staying indoors on a morning like this. Even the early morning dog-walkers were absent although they would not have been visible in the fog-like spray rising from the roads and pavements. Scanning left and right as the van crawled down the main street Fingers at last caught side of the brightly-lit word “Supermarket”. After it the buildings of the village ceased completely and it was obvious that this was the only shop it possessed. It was, unfortunately, also apparent that the village newspapers came from elsewhere as, apart from the sign, no light was showing! With his head buzzing from enforced nicotine withdrawal he pulled up outside the shop with two wheels on the pavement.

To anyone passing by and able to see through the streams running down the windows it would have been obvious that a great internal conflict was taking place in Fingers’ head. On one side were all of his good intentions. On the other was his need for a cigarette. ‘Need’ was an inadequate term for it! It was a desperate aching longing, a feeling that he could happily kill for a cigarette!

Gradually he reasoned out that with his old skills he could get into the shop without too much trouble. He could leave some money for his purchase and it would not then be stealing. No-one would see him enter or leave in this weather and it would all be perfectly safe. The thought that relief for his problem was near at hand calmed him down considerably and he began to prepare. He first tucked some essential bits of the van tool kit into his pockets and then awkwardly pulled on his heavy PVC coat and thermal gloves.

Leaving the engine ticking over he flung open the door and rushed to the cover of the little striped canopy over the shop doorway. Up close it was clear that while glorying in the title ‘Supermarket’ this was really little more than a traditional village store. It did not even have an alarm system!

It was the work of a moment to break the lock on the door with a heavy screwdriver. Nobody saw the dripping figure slip through and head for the cigarette counter at the back of the shop. A metal cage was locked over the actual display but several boxes had been left on the floor, presumably ready for restocking the shelves later. Fingers was about to open one of these to take a single packet when the plan went wrong.

Above the shop the owner had been awoken by a throbbing sound (the van’s diesel engine). He had been unable to see the cause through his condensation clouded windows and was coming down to investigate.  Hearing the heavy tread on the stairs, Fingers panicked! He grabbed up the box he had been opening and stumbled his way back out through the broken door. His dash across the pavement took him to the back door of the van. Seeing no signs of pursuit he quickly opened the back door and threw the box in with his fishing tackle. He was looking anxiously over his shoulder at the shop as he closed the door and did not notice that his action had disturbed the bags of fish piled there. He particularly missed noticing one of the slippery, wet bags slithering through the bottom of the closing door into the gutter!

The shopkeeper was still not in sight and was presumably nervous about coming out to confront an armed gang.  Fingers was, consequently, able to get to the driver’s seat and accelerate away into the gloomy countryside.

The continuing downpour and poor visibility had resulted in an unopposed getaway. Indeed, nobody afterwards was able to give any useful information about the vehicle – except that it was diesel-engined, which did not help much! Of course, Fingers did not know this and it was only after several nervous miles that he felt safe enough to stop and have the cigarette that was the cause of the trouble. For the record, it was not his usual brand and he did not enjoy it.

Fingers returned home without further incident. After unloading his tackle at his lock-up garage he deposited the black bags of fish in his freezer. Then it was on to his friend’s house to return the van and hand over the “rental” payment of white bags. At this time he was vaguely aware that there seemed more white bags than there had been black. Before he could think about this, however, his friend offered him a coffee liberally laced with whisky and this took his mind off it completely. The two of them, in fact, continued sampling various spirits for the remainder of the day and a good part of the evening! Eventually Fingers returned to his humble flat feeling thoroughly warm and comfortable and with the events of the early morning almost forgotten.

Late on Monday morning he awoke with a very nasty taste in his mouth! His head throbbed and he was pleased that this was not a market day. After dressing and taking a couple of painkillers he was about to leave for a ‘hair of the dog’ at the local pub. He opened the door and was unpleasantly surprised to find, hand raised in the act of knocking, a large uniformed Police Sergeant. They stared at each other for a few seconds, both rather startled!  The Sergeant was first to recover and broke into abroad smile.

“Mornin’ Fingers”, he said, “I don’t know if you remember me. I had the pleasure of arresting you about fifteen years back when you were just starting to do grown up jobs”.

Fingers, who stood on the doorstep with his mouth open throughout this statement, began to recover. The paralysing fear that had washed over him at the first sight of the uniform was now fading and he began to think more clearly. Surely, he thought, they would not have sent this old fossil to bring him in over yesterday’s little job. He did, after all, have professional pride! Villains of his status were normally arrested by C.I.D. Inspectors in suits! No, he reasoned, this must be something else entirely. As he was innocent of anything else it would do no harm to be friendly and co-operate.

“Of course I remember you Sergeant” he replied after the barest hesitation, “I would’ve thought you’d have been retired by now though”. The Sergeant, whose beaming smile was beginning to get on Fingers’, nerves a bit, nodded wisely.

“I very nearly have retired my boy. They keep me on for little tasks like persuading good citizens such as you to pop down to the station to help us with our enquiries. Would you have any objection to that?”  Fingers smiled back at this rosy cheeked parody of an old time-copper. He made a ‘lead on’ gesture towards the police car parked a few yards down the road.

At the Police Station, fingers was shown into an interview room and waited patiently for someone to condescend to interview him. He was quite surprised and further reassured when the smiling Sergeant entered the room and sat down across the table from him. He was not quite so reassured when the Sergeant leaned over and inserted two cassettes into the official recording device on the table and switched it on! He was even less reassured when, still smiling, his adversary began to read him his statutory rights!

“All right” he said, beginning to lose his cool a bit, “what the hell is all this about? I’m here voluntarily so tell me what you think you’re doing! Trying to relive all of your past triumphs or something are you?” This was not a sensible thing to say in normal circumstances. However, the smile never wavered and maybe even broadened a bit.

“You know exactly what you’re here for Fingers – that silly little job down in the marshes yesterday”. Fingers opened his mouth to protest but the Sergeant raised his hand slightly from the tabletop and he closed it again. Somehow Fingers knew that whatever he said now would not make the slightest difference but he had to say something. He began a rather rambling little speech about being elsewhere when whatever it was that had been done was being done………and so on.

“Fingers, Fingers”, said the Sergeant as though speaking to a petulant child, “all straight out of the Old Lags handbook but I really wouldn’t bother. We knew that it was probably you five minutes after the details were put into the computer. After the ridiculous mistake you made to give yourself away the C.I.D. couldn’t even be bothered to turn out to arrest you. Why do you think you got me?”

Strangely, given the danger he was in, Fingers was only aware of feeling very hurt and insulted. This man was casting aspersions at his professional reputation after all!  Because of this he stopped protesting and snapped at the Sergeant “Mistake! What mistake! Tell me what you mean! I didn’t make a mistake, ridiculous or otherwise……”  His tirade ran down to a stop, not because of any interruption but because he realised the effect his words were having on his audience.

The Sergeant had not stopped smiling but was now having some difficulty containing emotions that seemed to be threatening to cause him actual physical pain. He wrapped his arms around his stomach and seemed to be shuddering violently. Every bit of skin showing around the tight fitting uniform seemed to have turned scarlet so that fingers wondered briefly if he should call for help. Before he could do so, however, the Sergeant gave up the struggle! A great roar of laughter burst from him, so loud that the sound-proofed room could not contain it. Officers in the corridor outside popped their heads around the door to see what was happening. What they saw was their colleague sobbing with laughter over some unknown joke and an indignant petty criminal trying to find out what was so damned funny!

It took about ten minutes and several glasses of water before the Sergeant could go on with the interview. His first action was to apologise for the outburst to Fingers who was seething with suppressed anger.

“The amazing thing about this job of yours” he explained, “is how close you came to getting away with it. We had no descriptions. We had no witnesses. In fact, until you confessed for the tape a few minutes ago we had only one piece of circumstantial evidence against you. What a piece of evidence that is though! You may not even go back inside for the job but it’ll make you a laughing stock amongst your fellow villains and you’ll never be taken seriously as a safe cracker again. That suits us of course”.

Fingers listened uncomprehendingly. He had gone over the events of the previous morning in his mind time and time again. Try as he might he could not think of ANY mistake he had made, especially one as damning as this appeared to be.  He gave up!

“All right. I freely admit that I did the stupid job! Now tell me what all this ‘mistake’ business is about”.

The Sergeant took pity on him. “OK son, let me give you a little clue. It concerns a bag of fish”. Fingers mind flashed back to his misgivings when he had unloaded his catch. This was beginning to make sense. He must have dropped a bag outside the shop. Something was still puzzling him however………..

“Thank you Sergeant. I’m getting the idea now but why are you finding it so incredibly funny? Please tell me that and I’ll be able to sleep tonight!”

The Sergeant seemed to be suppressing his laughter with more success this time. Nevertheless he had to speak between great shakes of his shoulders as he gave his final speech.

“My dear boy just put yourself in my place. I’m at the end of a career that began when Policemen actually behaved the way you see them in old films. Saluting the public and calling them Sir or Madam. Your side, the bad guys, never (until now anyway) have lived up to your literary likenesses. I have never, for example, seen anyone in your profession wearing a mask or carrying a bag with ‘swag’ written on it. You, however, have sent me to my retirement a completely happy man.  At long last, I can now say that I’ve met a criminal who came to grief through that classic literary cliché……….…………………………………………………

You left your Dabs at the scene of the crime!!!!!!!!!!



Hello world!

August 16, 2009

Pseudonymous writings from the past twenty years. Enjoy