The paper was crunched into a ball, ready to burn. It was orange with a light blue edge when it arrived on the open fire. Michael launched it under hand and hit the middle sending up sparks. Both men followed the arch and nodded at the perfect landing.
The light illuminated the old man. His hair, once auburn, now thin white. His mustache followed suit with an added yellow stain to match his fingers. Michael looked on him without seeing his own fate in time to come.
Three piles sat between the two men. Paperwork stacked a foot high, leaning onto a second of magazines, that had been thumbed by an inquisitors mind. The third, wood to keep the fire blazing, reclaimed from an old wooden chair.
Bill lifted the next sheet and read the top line. 'William Roberts, Hospital appointment 01/03/1990. ' Some twenty-nine years ago nearly, when he was just fifty. Too young for a pacemaker. But his life style before that date made it necessary. He showed his son. "No need to keep hold of this. If this ticker packs in now I don't think they will restart me now. I think I've had a good few years." He gave a wheeze of a laugh that said that even after he had promised not to take up the roll ups, he had.
"Are you sure Dad? Might need it one day.” Bill shook his head, crunched up another ball and tossed it towards the fire. It sat on top of one of the busted chair legs, waiting for its turn to glow and light up the room.
A new sheet was lifted. "Your mother kept everything. Hoarder of paperwork. Hoarder of magazines." He pulled one from the second pile. 'Pocket crosswords.’ “She always loved a quiz, a crossword and a challenge." He flung it on the fire.
"Your mother, a good woman, put up with me, and you for that matter." Both men sipped at their whisky's. "Was from a good home, I was never in her class. She knew it, I did and her parents never forgave her for getting knocked up with you by me.” He looked down at his son and pinched his lips tight. "They told her to go, so she did and we got hitched. Had only known each over a few months, and well, you’re fifty now, so it must have worked." Bill nodded to himself. A few whiskies and he could convince himself of anything.
"Never saw them again. We got this place from the council and muddled through. Don't know how she managed sometimes, but always had food on the table and she kept the bills at bay too." He wondered how he would cope now she was gone. The lights were kept off in the unused room and there was plenty coming from the burning files. Now that he had to cover the bills, the heating was from the fire only.
Michael read through a few more. "More hospital stuff about your operation. Burn them?"
An hour later, the pile halved and the whiskey bottle down to a quarter. Michael picked up a sealed envelope. He recognised his mothers precise writing. It was addressed to both of her men. Holding it out for his dad to see, he ripped it open. "Go on son, you read, my eyes aren't what they used to be." And certainly they weren't after four large whiskeys.
Under the orange glow he squinted at the blue ink and focused.
"Dear boys. If you're reading this then one, I'm dead, and two, Bill actually listened and started burning my filing system. There's nothing in it important except this letter.
As you know, my family were very wealthy, but after finding myself pregnant with you Michael I left them to avoid them embarrassment. They did not disown me as I let you believe, it was my choice, young and stupid I gave it ago.
I married you Bill, even though I knew you were a wasteful man, a drinker and a bookies friend. With the baby I hoped, in vain , that you might change.
How disappointed it turned out. Gambling our rent and the food money, blowing any and all our cash in the Queens head on a Friday. I tried, but with the drink in you, you never were going to listen. Always on a quick win, that never came off. But I had Michael, I worked hard and kept us afloat. And one day I received a letter. My mother had died and had left everything to me. Everything. Just over half a million in cash, and a treasure trove of jewellery.
Naturally if you had known then it would have been drunk or gambled. My jewellery pawned and we would have been broke as we had always been. So I hid it from you, except my mothers engagement ring. And we know what happened to that.
When times got hard I would dip in, pay the rent , the bills, clothes for our son. I hoped one day Michael would grow into fine upstanding man. But no, he took after his father with wasteful, get rich quick schemes that never did. So I've kept it back all these years. The interest kept its value intact. Sat in my safe upstairs is the information you need to grab the lot. I can’t use it now, so you both may as well drink yourself to death.
But to get to the money, lets play a game. A treasure hunt. The code for the safe is eight digits, each clue gives you two, find all four and its all yours.
So to Michael lets begin....
you drove me mad with in my piece of tin.
My pride and joy, my freedom to get away from you all
but you took it away, and killed my days.
Let the hunt start."
"The bitch!” said Bill. "She kept that money away from me. Me, her husband." He burped out his whisky. "I'll show her. I'll spend, spend, spend!" His fist came down hard. "What the hell is she on about?" He stared deep into his sons eyes. There was something behind coming forward. "Michael?"
The son twitched and dropped his eyes. "You know mum had that Fiesta, the little silver one with the beige interior . Well I borrowed it."
Bill squinted, taking his memory back five or six years. "It was stolen, she left the keys in it and it was taken from outside ASDA. The insurance wouldn't pay. I told her she was a stupid old woman. How was I meant to get to the doctors if she couldn't drive me?" Bill stood and pointed his grubby long finger at his son. "We had to take the bus."
Both of Michael's hands came up in defence. "But dad, it was a cert. I just needed some cash to get in at the ground floor, a grand that's all I needed. I took the car from the garage. Drove it up north and got quick cash." He gave a slight smile. "It should have paid five times back."
"And did it?"
"No.” he said sheepishly, "Turned out to be a bit of a scam." He turned his palms over to face the heavens. "Anyway mum knew you would hit the roof so she covered for me." He leant back out of reach from his father, remembering the temper from his childhood days.
Bill rubbed his palms down his face, leaving a black smudge on either side. "She kept it and the keys in the garage. Didn't she have a spare set?"
Both men bolted to the sitting room door, banging against the walls as they bounced out and into the garage. The brick building stood cold and dark. Old metal pipes, a flat wheelbarrow and two lawnmowers with the engines open to the air covered the floor. Michael stepped over the junk. "Not as tidy as when mum had the car" he said to himself. Bill knew there was money in these bits of scrap and had collected them. The mowers were a bit more tricky, but the pipes, lead. Got to be worth twenty at least.
At the wall he felt his hand against the brick, remembering where the key hook was. "Can't you even change the bulb in here?” His hand brushed over and he grabbed it up.
Turning it in his hand, the key had two numbers scratched into the metal, 24. "Yes.” shouted Michael. Attached, hung a label. Taking the key outside and away from his parent he read the note under the winter sun.
"an emerald and gold
given me to hold
was snatched away, for gambling debts to pay
But I got it back and hid it away."
This time it was the sons turn to search for answers from his dad.
"She's not blaming me for that the cow," shouted Bill. If I hadn't been ill and could work , then I wouldn't have to find ways of getting a little cash. Just enough for a pint and a fag. Is that too much for a man to want." He stomped off back into the house.
Up the stairs he ran like a man thirty years younger. At the top he turned to the left, not the master bedroom, but the box room where she kept her clothes, bits and bobs and a small jewellery case. Bill smashed in, pushing piles of garments and books out of the way and onto the floor. On her crowded dressing table he stopped and grabbed up the small red lined wooden box.
"She told me it was all costume stuff." He opened the lid and rummaged his fingers into it.
"What are you after dad, what did you do?"
Without looking up and fixed on his prey Bill spoke straight. "She had this engagement ring, gold, emerald. It was her great grans or something. I knew it was worth something. I just needed to tide me over. So I took it and pawned it. She kept in this box. Her boutique room as she called it. She was still posh really. Boutique I ask you. A box room in a council house. Strange boutique if you ask me.” He stopped and looked with disgust at the room. Bill went back to his hunt. "Anyway wasn't the ring I got her good enough. She never wore it. Just a rubbish old ring. I got three hundred for it."
At the bottom, a lump in a small package gave him hope. He ripped it open and dropped the ring into his palm. Inscribed inside sat two small number, 58. "Got it"
A note floated out. It landed writing side up, both men crouched in to eagerly grab the next clue. "Half way dad” he said into his fathers ear."
"A lovely little boy
I have a picture of him with a toy
His mum left us behind, when your lies, anger were too much of a bind
The last date I saw him are written on the back
Find that date and you are on the right track."
"Ten years, he'll be nearly fifteen now." Michael's eyes watered. He wanted to explain. It was the only real disappointment his father had shown and it had broke his mothers heart.
"I did my best, I tried to give us stability. But dad you know how hard it is? She should have stuck by me. She walked out, I didn't." He stamped his foot, showing how much father and son were alike.
"If I had know her better before she trapped me. Pregnant. Five years I put up with her moaning. Always on about me getting a job, not to throw good money after bad. And what did she do? Nothing.”’He dropped his gaze. "So I gave her a slap or two, what did she expect with all that bloody going on?" He caught his father, wanting sympathy.
Getting in close Bill tapped his shoulder. "Never mind son. We get the safe open, then you can show her. You'll be rich and she is the one to miss out. Throw that in her face. The boy will be back.”
He winked at his son. "I know where the picture is" he beamed.
Bill grabbed the chair that sat by his bed. His son watched as he dragged it towards the wardrobe and with a wobble stood on top. "It’s here somewhere. I caught her looking at it. She never said what it was, but I checked when she was out. Stupid woman thought I didn't know.”
"Always mumbling about the boy, I told her a million times, 'Forget it'. But she pined for him. She was soft like that."
His hand brushed at the dust, sweeping towards the back. It flicked up at the second go. "Got it”. He picked it up and brought it down to his eyes. On the back it was dated. 12 July.
In precise writing underneath was scribbled one line.
"Under the safe."
"I've got it dad." Michael came out of the boutique and flew back in the living room safe in hand. The fire burning down, the boys grabbed up their whiskeys and contemplated their money . Michael moved the small yellow safe, running his prints over the numbers. It was metal and kept, usually, under her dressing table. He turned it over and as stated a note was attached to the bottom.
Opening it up he held it for both men to read. "Last clue dad. Then its all ours"
"you drank and gambled your health away
and left me with the bills to pay
the doctor operated and fixed your heart
I took the number of the part.
Two digits were inscribed , I wrote them down and let them hide inside.
To get the money you will have to die. 'You don't deserve to be rich and survive."
Bill, wide eyed at the writing, re-read again, mouthing the words as his brain and that of his son worked out the final game from his wife.
"It's on the pacemaker.” Bill's hand felt his chest, feeling the rhythm gloating at him. "The doctor showed us it in his office. Wrapped in plastic. Small metal thing with two wires coming out. I didn't take any notice, but yes, yes She did.”
"The bloody bitch.” shouted Bill . "There must be something on this paperwork , her files?" He flew on his knees staring into the embers
"But dad we burnt the hospital ones first. She had them on top. Remember?”
"That bitch knew." He turned to his son wide eyed. "What are we going to do son?"
"Well dad, you did say...." Michael stood behind his crouching dad, a heavy chair leg in his hand ready to strike. "That you'd had a good few years.”