I don't know why they call him Uncle Jimmy but that was the name flashing up on my mobile phone last Tuesday evening. He told me he needed a driver for a post office job he was planning and that it was all ready to go.
Jimmy is well into his 50s, but unlike most normal people, age has not mellowed him. He is a huge man, heavily built and a testament to what modern steroids can do these days. And he always carries his silver-barreled Beretta, loaded and with the safety off, inside his pilot-style leather jacket.
Jimmy lives for the thrill of frightening people, he adores the look on their faces as they stand terrified before him. And don't think he is a criminal genius, because he isn't. At best he is an angry and illiterate thug but catch his eye and he becomes a rabid animal. If Jimmy wants something, he takes it and enjoys himself in the process. Especially if it involves breaking a bone or puncturing a lung.
Robbing banks or post offices is almost impossible these days, despite what the movies want you to believe. The chances of evading the Police are almost zero. I didn't want to do the job as I'd only just come off remand and my probation worker was giving me a hard time about changing my ways.
But, as usual, money or the lack of it forced me into making a decision I didn't really want to make. Monica had just lost our second baby and the doctors had said that IVF was our only chance of having a family. When they told me the cost of the treatment I had no choice but to answer Jimmy's call.
There was no real plan to this job. Jimmy had bought a cheap harlequin mask to cover his face and had decided we would hit the post office just after closing time when he assumed it would be quieter. I was to wait outside that new fried chicken take-away which never opens till gone 6pm, by which time we should be a long way away with postal bags full of used notes.
A week ago, he followed one of the counter staff right up to the poor man's front door and pushed his way inside the moment the 46 year-old clerk had put his key into the lock. He grabbed him in a head lock, choking him around his throat whilst his distraught pensioner mother looked on. The couple's Jack Russell had begun barking, like they do, but was soon silenced as Jimmy put his foot through the poor terrier's skull.
He was to make sure the front door of the post office remained unlocked after closing time on the day of the hit. He agreed immediately given that Jimmy now knew where he lived and had given this wretched man the fright of his life. Jimmy had even told him he could call the Police after the job was done and tell them how he had coerced him into being an accomplice.
He really didn't care as long as that door was left unlocked.
The day of the job was grey and miserable as light rain fell onto the windscreen. We pulled up outside the take-away in an old blue Volvo that Jimmy had supplied. The car was a mess on the inside, with cans of cola and discarded red Marlboro packets littering the foot wells. I checked the time on the cracked dash board and it was just about to turn six o'clock.
“Don't worry sunshine, I'll be in and out in minutes. Just keep watching the door and be ready to go once you see me come out.” Jimmy checked his gun and put on the cheap mask after throwing his half smoked cigarette out of the window.
I nodded as he opened the door, checking to see that all the passers-by had gone. He squeezed his huge frame out of the battered vehicle and made his way towards the Post Office. Watching him walk away, I started to regret my decision in getting involved with this hit. Maybe it was just Jimmy that got me worried, a man I despised but had to come to rely on over the years for money. I didn't want this life anymore and if Monica knew I was sitting outside a Post Office with him, I think she would have packed her bags and left me.
But, it was for the treatment. We wanted a baby and deep down I had convinced myself that this would be the last job if I could make enough to get that IVF. I just wanted to have a family and a son or daughter would be my perfect excuse to stop being a criminal.
Jimmy reached the Post Office and pushed open the heavy glass paneled door. It was unlocked, just as he had hoped and he calmly walked in. Taking the gun out from under his jacket he pointed it at the manager who was rearranging the passport application forms.
“Don't panic, bitch. Get the rest of them out here nice and quiet and nobody ends up with a bullet.” The woman froze for a moment, staring at the gun which was directed at her. She nervously called out to her team and four uniformed workers walked in from behind the counters, with arms held aloft. They gathered next to her.
Moving his gun sight at the youngest of the staff, he firmly asked the girl to fill a post office bag with all the money they had taken for the day, including the coins. “The rest of you, lie down on the floor. Anybody does anything other than lie down and they get a bullet in the shoulder, and I'm not fucking about.”
It was going smoothly, nobody had panicked and everybody was doing just as they were told. It was just as well, as other than the man Jimmy had already threatened none of the team had any idea what he was capable of.
The girl came back out trembling, with a sack stuffed full of bank notes and coins. “Stay down on the floor and don't any of you get up”. Jimmy picked up the bag and strolled out the door, grinning under his mask. “Easy.”
Just as I saw the door open, a police officer had turned into the top of the road. What was he doing here, of all the times he could have walked down this road it had to be now. The officer quickly spotted Jimmy, masked and carrying the bag. Without thinking, he shouted at him, asking him to stop.
Jimmy looked over and noticed him reach for his radio, presumably trying to call for backup.
The stand-off became motionless for a second and I knew what was about to happen. I was sitting in what was almost certainly a stolen car, waiting for one of the city's most violent men who had just walked out of a post office in a mask and bag full of money. He'd just been seen by the Police and in a flash Jimmy raised the Beretta and shot.
The bullet hit the radio, sending it flying from the officer's hand and off his jacket. He hit the ground, in an attempt to take cover from any further fire.
Jimmy signaled to me, his massive frame running towards the Volvo. The shot, or perhaps the Post Office staff, had alerted a nearby patrol vehicle as I could now hear the sounds of a siren.
Do I stay and try to escape with Jimmy and the money, in what had now become an attempted Police murder as well as an armed robbery or should I just leave without him in the hope he gets arrested and sent away? Nobody had seen me, I wasn't on any CCTV and I hadn't been involved in either the robbery or the shooting. Nor could they trace this car back to me.
In the time it took for Jimmy to get to the Volvo I had already made up my mind. I slammed into first gear and accelerated hard, away from the scene, leaving a wheezing Jimmy alone on the pavement. Enraged, he fired two shots into the vehicle, smashing the rear window and blowing out one of the tyres.
But I wasn't about to stop and kept my foot down on the accelerator and headed for anywhere, just away from Jimmy and that Post Office.
Had I just signed my own gangland death warrant? This wouldn't just blow over even if Jimmy did get picked up and put in a cell. I was now a wanted man, if not by the Police then by Jimmy's violent entourage.
I grabbed my phone and dialed Monica.
“Sweetheart, pack some things and pack them now. We have to leave and if you love me you'll do this. I'll be home in five minutes. I got something I need to tell you”.