XENON

“You put our money into what?”

“Xenon,” John replied, grinning, wiping his hand on his paint stained overalls.

“What, exactly is xenon? Don’t they make photocopiers?”

“It’s a gas,” John said. “Not a photocopier maker.”

Shannon sighed, turned round and took off her coat. It was enough to deal with having to try to make ends meet with John working only now and then as it was, but this was absurd.

“How much?” she asked, hanging her coat on the back of the door.

“Not too much,” he said. “Just a bit.”

She stopped and closed her eyes. Gathering herself together, trying not to scream, she turned round, opened her eyes and look John squarely in the face.

“How much?” she asked. She was slow and careful. Not getting angry. Not swearing. Neither of those things would help right now.

John coughed, and grinned, like a little boy with his fingers caught in the cookie jar.

“You see,” he lifted up one hand and opened it, gesturing wildly as he spoke. “There’s two grades of xenon gas – there’s ordinary and medical grade. But really, the difference is minuscule. And I have this friend -”

“You mean Greg?”

“Well,” John scratched his chin. “Yes, I mean Greg. Obviously. But his idea is to get the higher quality non-medical gas and to use that -”

“Oh Jesus no,” Shannon said.

“What? It’s the same as -”

“It’s not,” Shannon cut him off. “Come on, this could kill people. This is basically like the plot of ‘The Third Man’.”

“The what?”

“Orson Welles film.”

“Who’s he?”

Shannon closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Sometimes I wonder how did I ever marry you John, you know nothing.”

“Ah,” John said. “Well, you see, that’s where you’re wrong.”

She opened her eyes. John was grinning from ear to ear. He beckoned her with one finger and she followed him into the kitchen.

The kitchen table was cleared. In the centre were sitting stacks of clean, crisp bills.

“Of course,” John grinned, “Greg did the importing so he also had a percentage, but we’ve taken most of the profit, so he says.”

Shannon looked at him.

“You’re an idiot, John,” she said. “You’re a real idiot, you know that?”

She sat in one of the chairs and picked up one of the wads of money. It was done up with a proper band around it, and it looked official. She flipped through and counted, and could easily believe that there was a thousand in this bundle. In all, there were nine bundles on the table.

“Well thousand?”

“Yes,” John said. “Well, more than that altogether, that’s just our bit. And I reinvested some more of it, he’s going to do the trip again.”

“The trip?”

“To China,” John nodded. “He picks up the xenon from the manufacturer. Then he exports it to somewhere in eastern Europe, they change the labels, then it comes back as medical grade xenon. The hospital buys it for seven K per cubic metre, while we bought it for just twelve notes per litre.”

“What?” Shannon’s jaw fell open. “We lost five thousand per cubic metre?”

“No,” John shook his head and chuckled. “We made money. Nearly the whole seven thousand on each one. This is our share from three litres.”

Shannon slammed both hands on the table and stood up.

“John wake up,” she said. “For crying out loud, this is insane! Don’t you realise that?”

“How?” he smiled. “Come on, we’re onto a good thing here, aren’t we? Greg’s really come through for us this time. I always knew he would.”

“Greg is conning you!”

John shook his head.

“How much did you give him? For this?”

“Well,” John said. “First off, there were the air tickets to get to China. Then there’s the cost of the gas itself – that’s minor – but shipping it to Zagreb wasn’t. Once it was there, the guys there need to be paid, and it needs to be shipped here. All in all, two thousand.”

“Two thousand!” Shannon almost screamed. “And how much did you get from him?”

“Ten thousand,” John replied. “After the reinvestment for the next one, of course.”

Shannon looked down at the wad of money in front of her, and then at the centre of the table. There were another seven there.

“What did you do with the other thousand?” she asked.

“I’m glad you asked that,” he smiled, pleased with himself. “Come on, I’ll show you.”

She followed him out the back door, through the garden and out of the back gate. They entered into the communal parking lot, and he led her over to the space allocated for their house.

“Here it is,” he said, pointing to a car. “This is what I bought.”

Shannon looked at it carefully. It was maybe ten years old, but looked fairly good condition. She peered through the driver’s side window and saw a small number of miles on the clock.

“We can’t afford a car, John,” she said. “We just can’t. We need to save for a deposit for a house.”

“We still can,” he replied. “Look, it’s simple. Greg needed seed money, he said we can be in on the next few trips as well. It’s easy money.”

She looked up at John.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said to her. “We can afford a car and a deposit on something now.”

Shannon walked off, back towards the house, temper boiling. She wanted to hit him. Greg was a cheat, a con man, and yet because they’d gone to school together, John trusted him implicitly, always had, always would. It infuriated her.

He closed the kitchen door behind them, and filled the kettle and put it on.

“Coffee?” he asked, cheerily.

“Do you realise what you’ve done?” she snapped, looking up at him.

John shrugged.

“We can’t risk banking this money,” she said. “Because if we do, they’ll ask where it came from. And if they ask that, we have to come up with something.”

“Then we just spend cash for a bit,” John replied. “Pay everything with cash, don’t use the cards so much.”

“They look for patterns like that,” she said. “Do you not remember that time the bank rang us before?”

“Well,” he said, “we just tell them we’re saving. It’s no big deal.”

Shannon stopped. She clearly wasn’t getting through to him.

“Where did you buy the car?” she asked.

“Oh, just some geezer,” he said. “It was a small ad in the paper.”

“I see.”

“Something’s bothering you,” he said, spooning instant coffee into mugs. “What is it?”

“Well, if we were selling a thousand litres of gas for seven thousand, how can we make a profit paying twelve thousand?”

He turned and looked at her, frowning.

“No, that’s not right,” he said. “We’re buying one litre of gas and selling it for seven thousand.”

She shook her head. “You told me seven thousand per cubic metre.”

He shrugged. “Same thing, isn’t it? Litre, cubic metre, same thing, different names. That’s what Greg told me.”

“No John, it isn’t.” Shannon spoke quietly.

“What then?”

“A cubic metre is a thousand litres. It used to be called a kilolitre.” John still looked puzzled. “You know, like a kilometre is a thousand metres?”

“So?”

“So the numbers just do not add up,” Shannon said emphatically, her patience running low. “You cannot sell something for more than you paid for it and make a profit.”

John frowned.

Shannon picked up the money and looked at it.

“Did you use some of this money?” she asked.

John nodded.

She pulled out one of the notes and looked at it, carefully. Suspicion growing, she turned it over and examined the other side.

Shannon stood up, still starting intently at the note, and walked over to John. Pointing with one finger, she held it under his nose, and he stepped backwards a little to get it into focus.

Her finger pointed to two words: CNETRAL BANK.

“This word should be spelled correctly, shouldn’t it?” she asked.

John went pale.

“So, again. Who did you buy the car off?” she asked.

“Like I said, it was someone I found in the paper,” he replied. “Just some geezer.”

“You didn’t tell him your name, did you?” she asked.

“Ah,” John blanched.

Shannon closed her eyes again.

“Well…” he tried to smile, to minimise it, but failed. “He did mention he wanted some decorating doing, so I had a look, gave him a business card and said I’d send him a quote.”

As Shannon shook her head, the doorbell rang.

“Mr Graves?” said a voice. “This is the police, we’d like to talk to you.”

The post “Xenon” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.

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