The Fraud

Clyde had never done anything wrong before.

He couldn’t ever remember swearing. He hadn’t ever smoked or got drunk – and certainly hadn’t ever hit anyone or anything like that. He usually laughed when people offered him drugs. “I’m high on life!” he’d reply, chirpily.

He had always led a simple, clean life. So what had he done to deserve this?

He stared at the coin as it lay in his palm. He had been sorting through his old change jar when he saw it; a counterfeit £1 coin. It was obviously fake; it was too shiny, the features too smooth. The odd, tarnished golden colour looked almost painted on. It was too light. He could almost feel the rough edges where it had been hurriedly cut out. He could picture the toothless, dirty, long-haired rogue who had made it. Cackling in the dark.

He could picture the toothless, dirty, long-haired rogue who – he imagined – had made it. Cackling in the dark.

How had he ended up with it? He tried to think of every transaction he had ever made with cash, but the sheer scale of the job made his head hurt.

At least he had found it now; imagine if the police had to stop by for any reason and discovered it. He’d be thrown in jail! Probably. But then, the police had never had a reason to stop by. Why would they? He’d never done anything wrong.

Clyde weighed up his options. He couldn’t leave it here. Destroy it? Throw it away? Perhaps he could put it in an old sock, weigh it down with a rock, and chuck it in the canal at night. Things like that worked in the movies, right?

He knew he had to get rid of it somehow, but the weight of the decision was crushing. His panic made thinking clearly difficult.  Clyde shoved it in a drawer, away from his change jar, and decided to sleep on it.

In the end, Clyde shoved it in a drawer – well away from his change jar – and decided to sleep on it. Though he fancied he wouldn’t be able to sleep properly until the coin was out of his life.

* * * * *

Only, he slept like a log.

And the night after, too. And the one after that.

* * * * *

Clyde froze when he looked down at the counter.

It was several months later. He had tried to pay for a newspaper on an automated machine in the little supermarket, but it kept spitting his money back out at him.

A girl, about his age, smiled from a nearby counter. He thought he knew her from years ago at school; he had dimly recognised her when she started working here a few weeks ago. He hadn’t had the guts to ask if it was her then, and the chance had long since passed. It would be far too awkward now; not least because she was very pretty, despite the shop’s harsh, less-than-flattering lighting.

She offered to serve him and, distracted by his thoughts, he grabbed his rejected change and shuffled over to her.

She made a little joke about those machines being nothing but hassle, and how they were no replacement for the human touch. Clyde laughed nervously and tried to control his sweating; he’d been lost in her bright eyes and now he could only think of what it would be like if she touched him. And if he touched her.

Without counting it, he unceremoniously dumped the fistful of change on the counter as he tried to think of something witty to say. Some of it rolled onto the ground on her side. She smiled, murmured a “Whoops” and ducked out of view for a second to pick it up. It had sounded strangely lyrical. Clyde had heard anything quite so sweet.

Then he saw it. Spinning on the counter, surrounded by other coins, pocket lint and a mysterious piece of old till receipt, was the counterfeit £1 coin.

She was already back on her feet before he could grab it.

Smiling, she took the rest of the coins before he could do anything. He smiled back, doing his best to hide his horror.

He had paid for something with counterfeit money. The police were sure to come to his house now. He would have to go around his house and look for other things they might disapprove of; was that spice mix he’d bought back from Italy legal here? Should he have declared it when he went through customs?

She smiled at him. “Is that all?”

Clyde nodded, nervously.

“Would you like your receipt?”

Proof of the crime? Oh God, be cool Clyde. Be cool. Breathe. “No, thank you.”

She smiled sweetly while Clyde lingered at the counter. Why wasn’t he walking away? His feet weren’t working! He should say something about the coin. Put this right.

“I’ve got it,” she said, waving a finger towards him. “I know you from school. Clyde, right?”

Clyde checked behind him, just in case. The shop was empty. He nodded his head, automatically. She laughed and leaned forwards. He tried not to let his eyes follow the line of her neck towards her shirt.

“OK, time for me to confess,” she whispered, as if sharing a dark secret. “I actually knew it was you ages ago when I first started working here. It’s just usually so busy on the shift I haven’t been able to talk to you properly.”

Clyde tried to say something. He wanted to be funny and attractive and smooth. After all, he was a hardened criminal now. A scoundrel with a disregard of the rules and a heart of gold. He was Han Solo!

But all he could muster was “Oh?”

At least it wasn’t a swear word. Or something sexual.

Or something about the coin.

Oh God, the coin!

She smiled and nodded. “Yeah… So I was thinking; do you want to go and grab a drink some time? Have a proper catch-up?”

There was something about the way she said the words “proper catch up.” They were loaded with meaning.

He should say something about the coin. He should run away. He should grab her by the shoulders, scream “Yes,” and never let her go. He should live happily ever after with her. He should admit he’d been a fraud.

He kept smiling, the weight of the decision crushing him.

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