The Wallet




This is a story about two guys who met because of a wallet. It has a beautiful moment and a horrible moment but all turns out well in the end - if you don’t count the guy with the gun...


So far the summer had been outstanding, and Tad set out home after another fabulous day at the beach swimming and sprinting barefoot along the sand or just lounging in the heat of the sun. The sea was warmer this year too, and clear as spring-water. Tad had been admiring the other swimmers; youths mostly, their tanned bodies glistening as they laughed and chased one another splashing into the sea.

Walking up the hill away from the beach he moved easily, tired but relaxed and well contented from a whole day of idling. He was taking his usual route through a small estate. Once beyond it, he’d sprint across a playing field, then over a main road and finally weave through a spinney to the road where he lived. But at the top of the hill as he entered the estate a wallet lay in the road.

Now on the two or three occasions when Tad had found a wallet, it had been empty and mouldy. He looked about. The street was deserted. Everyone’s still on the beach, he thought, but the wallet could hardly have been there long. He stooped and picked it up. It contained a £20 note and a card: Tarquin Fong, plus a phone number. OK, he thought, a Chinese guy with a Roman first name; I’ll call him when I get home. He dropped the wallet in the carrier with his towel and swim shorts.

Despite feeling tired, Tad still ran across the field. By the time he reached the stairs to his first-floor flat he’d forgotten about the wallet; all he could think of was to grab a beer. Although it was late afternoon, the sun remained high. So with the beer in one hand he opened the door onto his balcony that overlooked a sunny communal garden at the back of the block. He slumped into an old easy chair he kept there. It was his favourite spot to just chill-out and let his mind go blank, gazing out at the view with the sea in the distance. After about 20-minutes, he got up and went in for another beer. Then he remembered the wallet. He shoved it in his pocket, returned to the balcony and called the number.

As soon as he heard the ring-tone, he also heard a phone ring somewhere outside, maybe in the neighbour's garden or in the street. Coincidence? He rang-off and the ringing stopped. More coincidence? He called the number again and the ringing began once more. He rang off and again the ringing outside stopped. Curious, and still carrying his beer, he went down and out into the garden. He looked about, but could see no-one. He called the number again. The ringing was from the street. Then it answered.

‘Hello.’ said Tad, ’What’s going on?’

‘I might ask you that.’ came the reply, 'You found my wallet then?'

‘Where are you?’

‘In the street by your flat. Are you going to let me in?'

‘How did you know where I live?’ Tad was certain no-one had followed when he ran across the playing field. Maybe by some fluke the wallet belonged to a neighbour?

‘The wallet has a homing device.' was the reply, ‘I couldn’t decide which flat it was in.'

‘Clever.’ said Tad, ‘I didn’t think of that. OK, I’ll bring your wallet now.'

Tad went in through the communal hallway and out to the front. There stood a youth maybe 20-years old in a white T-shirt and pink shorts, with a pink cloth shoulder-bag. At first he reminded Tad of the kids he’d been watching on the beach - except this one outshone them all. He more resembled a Chinese Adonis. Christ, he thought, slightly stunned as he presented the wallet.

The youth took the wallet, ‘Thanks,’ he said, checking the contents, 'Aren’t you going to invite me in?’ then gesturing at Tad's beer, added, ‘I could do with one of those right now.’

‘Er, well...’ said Tad, wondering whether despite the kid’s cute looks it was wise letting a complete stranger into his flat. Then, gripped by an irresistible hypnotic force, he heard himself say, 'OK, sure. Follow me.'

In the flat Tad handed his guest a beer. ‘I’m Tad. You must be Tarquin. It didn't take you long to find me.’

Tarquin took a long guzzle, then said, ‘I followed you.'

‘I didn’t see you.’ said Tad.

‘The signal.’ said Tarquin, gazing around the room, ‘I followed the signal. Do you live here alone?’

‘Why,’ said Tad, ‘does it look like I live alone?’

‘Just curious.’ said Tarquin.

Tad dragged another chair onto the balcony and they sat looking out at the garden and the view. Then Tarquin removed what looked like a large torch from his shoulder bag. ‘Have you seen one of these before?’ he said.

‘What is it?'

‘A telescope.' said Tarquin, peering through it beyond the garden. ’Here, take a look.' He handed it across, ‘Rest it on the railing to keep it steady.’

Tad leaned to the balcony railing and held the scope to his eye, then he gasped. ‘Incredible.' he muttered, looking up then back through the scope, ‘Bloody incredible. How much does a thing like that cost? I've never seen such a powerful telescope.’

‘I’ve had it awhile,’ said Tarquin, ‘They were about a hundred quid, but maybe now only twenty of thirty for all I know. You must have seen them advertised?'

‘Possibly,’ said Tad, ‘I kind-of ignore adverts.’ He took another look, moved it around a bit then handed it back.

Tarquin returned the scope to his bag, ‘From where I've been living,' he said, ‘I could see in close-up detail everyone who walks up that hill to where you found my wallet. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve been watching you most days for the past month or so.’

Tad raised his eyebrows, ‘I can't think why.’ he said, 'but I guess there’s no harm in it. Cameras are everywhere these days and there's nothing anyone can do about being watched or photographed.’

‘I hope you won’t take this the wrong way,’ said Tarquin, 'but the wallet was a ploy.’

‘A ploy?’ said Tad.

‘When I saw you approach the hill.’ said Tarquin, ‘I went out and placed it just where you usually walk. As I say, I’ve been watching you most days for several weeks. I like the way you look, the way you walk, the way you dress….  everything. I somehow feel I already know you a bit, maybe in the way people feel they know a celebrity or someone in the news. I thought it would be interesting to get to know you better.’

‘I’m amazed.’ said Tad, with total honesty. He could feel his heart beating, which normally only happened when he’d been running.

‘I’m glad you’re not offended.’ said Tarquin.

‘No.’ said Tad, ‘Not at all. I reckon I’d do the same if I saw you go by every day. I wouldn’t have thought of the wallet, but why the £20?’

‘You’d have left it in the road otherwise.’

Tad nodded reflectively.

They stared at one another. Tad was clearly mesmerised. Then, still staring, Tarquin got up slowly, moved towards Tad, took his hand and led him back into the flat. He said, ‘Where’s the bedroom?’

* * * * *

The next morning they were still there asleep, naked and loosely entwined in Tad’s three-quarter bed, when Tarquin’s phone rang.

‘Oh,’ he groaned, stirring, ‘I forgot to turn it off.’

Tad moved now. He said, ‘Don’t answer it.’

‘It’ll be Jake, my Air-bnb landlord.’ said Tarquin, reaching out to silence the phone ‘I didn’t tell you, I’m supposed to be leaving today. Besides which I haven’t paid the rent all the while I’ve been there.’

‘How long’s that?’ said Tad.

‘About six weeks.’ said Tarquin leaning back against the pillow.

‘So you were watching me from when you moved in?’

‘More-or-less,’ said Tarquin, ‘Love at first sight.’

‘Snap.’ said Tad.

They laughed, then entwined again.

After a while Tad said, ‘You’re welcome to move in here.’

‘I was hoping you’d say that.’ said Tarquin, ‘I reckon we’ll get along fine, except apart from that £20 I’m skint.’

‘No problem.’ said Tad, ‘I make enough to keep us both. It doesn’t affect the rent, and the council-tax Gestapo won't know.’

‘I just have to collect my stuff.’ said Tarquin, ‘Which won’t be easy. Jake’s a weirdo control freak; I’m not sure if he wants his money, but he doesn’t want me to leave.’

‘Can’t you get your stuff when he’s not there?’

‘He’s disabled and there all the time.’

‘We’ll figure something,’ said Tad. He gently released himself and got out of bed. Then looking back at Tarquin, said exuberantly, ’But I can’t believe this is happening. It’s too good to be true. I mean, I thought I’d always be alone and never expected anything like this. I feel rejuvenated.’

‘You look rejuvenated.’ said Tarquin, now crawling out of bed.

‘What stuff do you have anyway?’ said Tad, ‘If it’s too difficult, you could leave things like clothes and books and so on and get new ones.’

‘It’s not that kind of stuff I’m bothered about,’ said Tarquin, ‘I have a load of gadgets, some prototypes, stuff like that telescope and the homing device.’

‘A gadget geek.' laughed Tad,, ‘So how much do you owe him?’ 

‘Maybe £600 for rent,’ said Tarquin, ‘But it’s not that simple. I’m not sure how to say this… it’s not just the money.‘ Tarquin stood still now, staring at the floor.

Tad watched him silently, then said, ‘You mean…. ‘

‘Exactly.’ responded Tarquin before Tad could say anything more.

‘OK.’ said Tad.

‘It was nothing serious.’ said Tarquin, 'Really… even so, if I’d have known you were….’

‘No problem.’ said Tad, ‘We have to just think how to get your stuff.’

‘He's got a gun.' said Tarquin,

‘A gun?’ said Tad.

‘And like I say, he’s a bit insane.’ said Tarquin, ‘I’ve been really scared of him for more than a week now, wondering if he might try to kill me or something.’

‘Gawd,’ said Tad, 'It’s not worth risking your life for, however valuable your stuff' is.’

‘I could be imagining it, though.’ Said Tarquin, ‘Maybe he’s incapable of killing anyone.'

‘Why would he have a gun?'

‘He nicked it from the army.’ said Tarquin, 'He got invalided out a couple of years ago. He says the gun is both memento and protection.'

‘Protection from what?’ said Tad, 'You look harmless enough. But anyone who’s been in the army is probably quite capable of killing someone. It's their job. It’s what they're trained to do.’

‘He’s been acting crazy ever since I said I was going to leave.' said Tarquin, ‘I guess there's no telling what he might do. He goes into these deep depressions, then for no reason throws a temper and smashes things.’

‘That’s scary.’ Said Tad, 'I have a car. Why don’t we go and try to get your stuff now?'

‘Sure, we can try.’ said Tarquin.

By the time they’d had coffee, made a few contingencies and got ready it was late morning. Tad stopped his car a block from the ground floor flat where Tarquin was staying.

‘You wait here,' said Tarquin, when they were out front of the flat. He removed the key from his pocket, adding, ‘It’s all in a couple of suitcases.’

Tad sat on the low wall outside and waited. It was another excellent day of sun, and he was eager to get down to the beach again. After about ten minutes he could hear shouting, followed by the sound of glass smashing. Then a gunshot. Tad got up quickly and pushed the door…

Tarquin was sprawled on the floor in a huge spatter of blood. ‘Christ!' Tad cried, staring now at a big guy in a wheelchair pointing a gun at him, 'You bastard!’

‘Sod off!’ the guy boomed, raising the gun, 'Or you're next.’ Then aiming, yelled: ‘NOW!

Tad turned, slammed the door behind him and ran into the road. Breathing hard, he took out his mobile and called 999: 'Ambulance and police.' he spluttered when they answered, 'Murder... there’s been a murder.’

‘Christ…’ he mumbled, staggering towards his car. He leaned on the bonnet breathing heavily. A few minutes later a cop car appeared. As it stopped, Tad went towards it and shouted, pointing, ’He’s in there. He’s insane. He’s got a gun. He just killed a guy.'

At that moment another shot resonated from the flat. Then Tad heard the cop’s colleague still in the car call for firearms backup. The cop moved cautiously towards the flat. From one side he knocked the door hard and shouted. They waited, but there was no response. He shouted again. Still no response. The cop leaned across and pushed the handle so the door swung open. Tad could see from the road the big guy slumped back and sideways in his wheelchair with the gun-barrel still in his mouth; blood everywhere.

That’s when the ambulance arrived. Tad said to the cop that he felt shattered and was going home to rest. He gave the cop his details and left.

For two weeks Tad wandered around in a daze. He tried spending time on the beach again but it didn’t feel the same. By the third week, though, his life began to return to normal. Tarquin's bag was still in his car with his mobile. He took the bag into his flat, but without the code was unable to operate the phone. As to the telescope, he began occasionally staring through it at the distant sea, which looked almost alarmingly close. It evoked the memory of when they’d sat there together on his balcony.

A few days later, he decided to try what Tarquin had done. He went into the bedroom to look out along the road at the front. Being a cul-de-sac there was little activity, not many cars or people.

At the start of the fourth week after the shootings, Tad was almost feeling normal again. The incident was fading now in his mind. He’d been to the beach again and was beginning to enjoy life once more. He couldn’t help though, now and then, reflecting plaintively on how close he'd got to what could have been a superb long-term or even permanent love affair. He regarded the telescope as a happy reminder of his fleeting relationship with Tarquin.

Then one day, watching the street through the telescope as he often did now, he noticed someone enter the far end limping and with one arm in a sling, but who looked amazingly like Tarquin. He adjusted the scope and focussed. Impossible, he thought, as the figure came too close for the telescope. Unbelieving, he nevertheless ran down and into the street.

‘Why didn't you visit me in hospital?' cried Tarquin, approaching as fast as he could when he saw Tad.

‘I thought you were dead.’ Said Tad laughing, as they embraced, ‘Why didn't you contact me?'

‘For a couple of weeks,' said Tarquin, 'I couldn’t remember anything. Then when I did start to remember, I couldn't think where you lived. And you never told me your last name.'

‘This calls for celebration.’ said Tad.

So they bought some Champagne and a couple of glasses, and later sat together on the beach in the warm afternoon sun, watching the youths chase one another splashing into the sea.

The End