June 2024, 1st: Mittens

It was a Thursday last June when Mittens walked into the back bar of the Cavalier.
‘Got an idea for a caper,’ he said, sitting down at my table with a fizzing pint of the Cav’s cheapest.
Back then we didn’t call him that. He was Mozzy. Gangly as an inflatable tube-man, complexion like cauliflower past its sell-by, and spiky hair dyed carrot. Bright, but no common sense, I always thought.
‘A job?’ I said.
Mozzy fancied himself as a bit of a villain. Liked hanging out with us because some of the boys had form. But he used to irk them with these theories that he had.
‘Spice,’ he says. ‘Saffron. Know how much it is in Tesco’s?’
‘Tell me.’
‘A fiver. Ten little bits of fluff. Three hundred for ten grams. You know how many grams in a kilo?’
‘About a thousand?’
‘Right. That’s thirty thousand for a kilo.’
‘So seven million for a tonne,’ I said, trying to be constructive.
‘It’s like what I was saying. High value-to-weight. Larceny 101, mate. You’re in, you’re out, no messing about. As clean as the day you was born.’
It was one of the theories – that you were born under the radar and that successful thievery was about keeping it that way.
I already knew where this was going. Mozzy was going to do Wally’s. Wally’s Spice Emporium was legendary. Well, not actually legendary. It’s on the corner of Corporation Rd and Cambridge St. Looks like a bookie’s from the outside. Inside, synthetic Persian rugs, Aladdin lamps, and every kind of spice under the sun. People come from all over. I used to get my curry powder there until one of Wally’s blokes told me how they mixed everything with rice flour. Daft sod thought it was normal.
Baking hot, it was, the week after. On the Friday I took Jack Russell out before lunch. Poor little bugger was not impressed – looked at the dog-lead with his you-must-be-kidding-me expression. On the street, he stopped to lap from some water that Mrs Hoodwinkle in the charity shop had put out, and then we laboured on towards Cambridge St. And there, around the corner, was Wally, up a stepladder, cementing broken glass onto the top of the brick wall.
’Not very friendly, Wally’ I said.
‘This’ll stop the little bastards next time,’ he said.
It was up in the eighties, so when I got to the pub I took my pint outside to one of the tables in the street. It’s not exactly Paris, and people-watching in my neighbourhood carries a certain risk, but inside the air was mostly sweat vapour. Jack, installed under the table, was panting and – I swear – had beads of sweat on his forehead. I was halfway through my pint when we saw Mozzy coming our way. Dressed mostly for the weather: shorts, T-shirt, counterfeit Crocs, shades … and sheepskin mittens. The kind with wool inside and wool around the wrists.
He sat down and he asked me to buy him a pint. It seemed worth the investment.
I put it down in front of him.
‘You’re looking particularly anomalous this morning,’ I said.
He looked up and down the street. Then he slipped off the right mitten to reveal a hand stained a deep nicotine yellow.
‘Something to tell me, Mozzy?’.
‘So I’m over the wall and into the warehouse, no problem. He’s got all the stuff there in these plastic bins. Paprika, coriander, ginger, chilli, fenugreek, cardamom, oregano, the lot.’
‘Asafoetida, frankincense, myrrh … any saffron?’
‘Big tub of it, metal this one, “Indian saffron” written on the top. Powdered. So I gets the lid off and I starts pouring into my bag. But the last bit won’t come out so I sticks my hand in to unstick it, like, and then it all comes loose at once.’
‘Over your hand.’
He nodded.
‘You got the saffron, though?’
’Ten kilos’
‘Any turmeric in the warehouse?’
Shakes his head.
‘So what about the stain?’
‘No worries, googled it. It’ll come off but it’ll take a few washes. So I borrowed my sis’s mittens.’
‘You googled it? They can trace you with that.’
‘You think?’
‘You’re on the radar now. So much for “in, out, no messing about.” Maybe crime’s not your thing.’
He glanced sideways at me. I noticed that he had a bit of yellow on his cheek, too.
‘I’ll think about it,’ he said.
‘What about the other hand?’ I said.
‘It’s clean. But I’d look a real eejit walking along with one mitten on, wouldn’t I?’
He finished his pint, his Adam’s apple moving up and down like a valve letting the beer through, and then me and Jack watched him as he walked away, mittened hands at his sides.

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