No Such Thing As a Free Tea by Jennifer Stakes

YOU’D TAKEN THE JOB because your father had been on at you for weeks to get off yer arse and do summut and this had been the first vacancy sign you’d seen on the High Street. It’d only been for a couple of weeks, something to shut your dad up, but you were still there, five months later. You’d got used to the money, got used to being able to buy drinks for girls in pubs, got used to new trainers and takeaways from Himalayas, not Chick’n’Tasty, where you’d once seen a rat as big as next door’s terrier run out from under the counter.

Your mates would come in and take the piss sometimes but even Bradley had got a job down the electronics shop now so it was just Dave and Rosh. Rosh would rib you for the uniform and steal penny sweets from the counter to make you chase him down the street but you’d never let him rile you, you’ d just point to the security camera and tell him the police’ d be round to his later. Rosh’s Mum’ d castrate him if the police ever showed up so Rosh stopped that game pretty sharpish.

You’d had some trouble from the kids from the estate. They knew their rights. Your manager Iain said if they’d learned as much school as they had about laws for minors they’ d have got their PhDs by now. They knew the law couldn’t touch them, and if you laid a finger on them they’d have the police on you. They’d come in, flick you the V’s and tell you: we’re nicking stu fand there’s nuffin’ yer can do! There wasn’t much you could do, either. There were always six or more so when you stopped one the rest ’d be in and grabbing sweets and crisps. You’d catch one or two, empty their bags and tell them they were banned, but the rest ’d be pulling faces through the window. It was the same story with all the shops down the lower end of the High Street. You’d radio the other security guards to warn them they were coming, but what could they do? The police had been round with the CCTV footage to show their parents but it was the parents who’d sent them in the first place. Free tea, you see?

So you had to get creative. You were the security guard and it was you they were making a joke of, not the cashiers who couldn’t give a crap what was nicked as long as they got their breaks on time. It’d taken a few pints down the Cow and Snu fers with Dave, Bradley, Rosh, your manager Iain, and the other security guards to get the details together.

They didn’t show for a week. You’d gone off the boil so when they did come in, eight of them in the pack, you’d almost forgotten what to do. You radioed the other guards as they taunted you, then you grinned at them in a way that made them look confused and hit the red button Bradley had rigged up.

Thieves! Thieves! Thieves! screamed a loudspeaker by the door. It made the tallest boy jump so hard a Curly Wurly shot from his hand. Over and over it flew, hitting a fat kid who’d opened a bag of Walkers. You had a camcorder and their ugly little faces were all over the thirty-two inch screens in the shop.
Everyone looked up from their shopping baskets and the cashiers were wetting themselves laughing.

It wasn’t just your shop. As the little thugs ran down the Lower High Street the other security guards had them on video and you could see the pink blurs of their faces in all the windows. Passers-by hooted and pointed, waving at the boys as they ran and asking for their autographs.

Your photo had been on the front page of the Reporter for that one, one of those local hero stories. You knew their older brothers would kick the crap out of you for what you’d done but for now their Mums and Dads had found other places for them to nick their free tea from.


Jennifer Stakes: I write poetry, flash fiction and short stories and am currently working on a novel. I have previously been published at First Edition Magazine, Bewildering Stories, MicroHorror, Doorknobs and Bodypaint and Every Day Poets, among others.

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