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Monk’s Habit

Mr Monk always impressed upon Angela the importance of thoroughness.  It was one of the many things she admired about her boss, his attention to detail. He had the habit of checking everything twice.

‘Make sure the garment is suitable for dry cleaning,’ he’d said on her first day, five years ago.  ‘Write the customer’s name and number correctly, and always check the pockets.’

Sometimes she watched him handling the clothes.  He had nice hands which, she knew, would never slap or bruise anyone.  He owned a cottage in Brittany, Angela was terrified he might go and live there.

He told her he’d once found a gun in a jacket.  She listened enthralled as he described how, with trembling fingers, he’d checked to see if it was loaded (it wasn’t) and then he’d called the police.  The owner never returned to collect it.

It was thoroughness that led to Angela’s own discovery that morning.  A loose thread dangling from a coat lining had made her look closer. Maybe a small repair would be needed.  Her own fingers trembled as she drew out a bulky envelope hidden within the fabric.  Mr Monk was going to be late, a dental appointment.  Angela thought he had good teeth for a man of forty-nine. The envelope was sealed but she tugged at the edges and raised the flap.

Money.   Wads of fifties.

She dropped the latch on the shop door, turning the sign to closed.  In the back room she explored the lining further, then the pockets; just a few old betting slips, nothing more.  There was four thousand pounds in the envelope.

Mr Monk was cheery when he came in.  He hadn’t needed a filling.  Angela’s Frank hadn’t visited the dentist for years and had the bad breath to prove it.  The money was zipped into her handbag.  The coat was in the pile waiting to be cleaned, she had entered her own name and number onto the paperwork.

‘You’re quiet, Angela,’ Mr Monk said as they smoothed plastic covers over newly cleaned suits.  His fingers were long and slim.  Once, after the regional staff dinner, he had placed a gentle hand on her bare arm for a moment.  Sometimes she thought about that night and could still feel his touch.

She met Melanie for lunch.  Angela kept her handbag on her knee.

‘We’ll go shopping on Saturday, if you like,’ she said.  We can look for a dress.’

‘There’s one in a bridal magazine, Mam.  Gorgeous.  Eight hundred pounds though.  We could buy two settees for that.’

Angela thought about taking out some notes and counting them into her daughter’s hand; instead she ate her sandwich and said nothing.

Melanie queued for coffee and Angela picked up a discarded newspaper.  She couldn’t concentrate, idly turning the pages, till she came to the sports section.  And then she saw it. A horse running in the four o’clock was called Monk’s Habit.  Mr Monk’s only habit, as far as she knew, was checking everything twice.  Frank’s habit was another matter entirely.  She tugged her sleeve down over her bruises, but Melanie, returning to the table, had already seen them.

‘I’m worried, Mam. What will you do after I get married?’

‘I’ll be fine,’ she said. ‘I know how to keep the peace.’  She smiled, trying to breathe deeply.  Her knees were shaking under the table.

In the bookies men were scribbling on scraps of paper or shouting at TV monitors.   Angela had already decided she would bet one hundred pounds.  If the horse lost she would replace it and slip all the money back into the coat lining.  The owner would never know.  She’d have to scrimp a bit this month but it could be done.  At the counter she explained about Monk’s Habit, and was told the odds were 15-1.  She slid the envelope from her bag.  Suddenly Mr Monk’s voice was inside her head.

‘If a job is to be done, Angela, make sure you do it thoroughly.’

She pushed the envelope across the counter.  ‘Four thousand pounds,’ she said,  ‘to win.’


Mr Monk’s name was Trevor.  Angela loved to say it slowly, out loud, catching her bottom lip between her teeth as she pronounced it.  He had helped her set up the building society account so she bought him a good watch, to say thank you.  She gave Melanie the money for the dress; told her she’d saved it up as a surprise.  ‘Best not mention it to your dad, though.’

At the wedding, after the bride and groom had left, Angela slipped away.  He was waiting round the corner in a taxi.  She laughed when he called it their getaway car.  They stopped off to post a letter to Melanie enclosing a nice cheque.

There’d been a moment when Angela didn’t want to put the four thousand pounds back, but Trevor said she should.  She had, after all, got her stake money back and anyway it would be wrong to steal.  She had stuck the envelope down and slipped it back into the coat, popping a couple of stitches into the lining to ensure it didn’t fall out.

As the Eurostar glided through the fields of Kent Angela wriggled luxuriously in her seat, pressed back into the soft cushion behind her head, and loved the feel of Trevor’s fingers laced with her own.  ‘I’ve been practicing a few words of French,’ she whispered.

‘Me too.  Shall we join a class once we’re there?  Might as well do the job properly.”

They hadn’t cleaned the coat in the end.  Angela took it home and hung it in the back of the wardrobe, where she’d found it.  Frank never even noticed it had moved.  Fancy him being a gambler and her never knowing; but it didn’t matter now.  And in the end he didn’t need the coat for the wedding. Angela wondered why she thought he would, October had been so mild.

Trevor took an envelope from his pocket, fingered their passports, leafed through the crisp Euros then pushed them back.  ‘Just checking,’ he said.  ‘Monk’s habit.’