The next 48 hours passed uneventfully. Sean returned to the penthouse apartment, unable to cope with the idea of taking time off in the middle of a con, and Mickey paced the floor in a restless, impatient mood. Emma and Albert waited in vain for word from a social worker, and Albert grew more worried about Ash, who had moved on from the hotel where Albert had found him, and was refusing to answer his phone.
Finally Mickey caved in. "Emma, call social services to tell them Albert's back. See what you can find out – is there any special reason for the hold-up?"
But Emma's efforts fell flat. No-one was available who could help her, and once more the woman who answered the phone was singularly obstructive. When Emma rang Mickey to let him know, he said, "OK, I'm calling it. You and Albert pack up and come home. I have a bad feeling about this one."
Emma ran upstairs to inform Albert, who joyfully threw his few personal items into an overnight bag and declared himself ready to leave. Emma, travelling less lightly, took a bit longer to pack, and they each called for a separate taxi, which the ever-cautious and prudent Albert had suggested they take to two entirely different destinations. That way, there would be no remaining connections that would allow anyone to track them down.
When the four of them were finally gathered at the penthouse, Mickey announced that there would be a debrief in half an hour. Despite Emma's protestations that this would never be enough time for her to freshen up "after all those weeks in that dump", she was ready to join the other three assembled in the lounge at the appointed time. She glanced around, a slightly puzzled look on her face, and asked, "Where's Ash?"
Sean saved Mickey by replying, "At a family funeral in Wales. He's not sure when he'll be back, maybe the end of the week. There's some kind of property stuff he needs to sort out."
"Oh! Not a close relative, I hope," exclaimed Emma, dismayed.
"Don't think so – a great-uncle or something, was it, Mickey?" asked Sean.
"Something," retorted Mickey economically. "Right, Albert..." He turned his gaze on the old man, who was engrossed in his newspaper.
Emma nudged him. "Albert!" she hissed, nodding across at the impatient Mickey.
By way of a reply, Albert folded the paper and turned it round to display the headline, "Crooked social worker's haul". There was a large photograph of Gabrielle Stevenson accompanying the article. Mickey's jaw dropped in astonishment as Albert began to read aloud:
"A social worker has been charged with defrauding council bosses out of over £200,000 worth of goods that should have gone to needy families.
"Gabrielle Stevenson, 52, was employed at Hackney Borough Council and earned over £40k a year in her job as a senior social worker, where she was supposed to provide financial support to the vulnerable and disabled.
"Instead, it is alleged that over the past three years she charged a string of items to her employers at Hackney council, but kept the items or their equivalent value for herself. Household goods, fitness equipment, and furniture as well as thousands of pounds in cash were claimed as 'necessities' for pensioners, single parents, and terminally ill clients. A team of police officers were yesterday seen carrying dozens of evidence bags from Stevenson's Finchley home, as well as files and computing equipment.
"Ms Stevenson herself refused to comment, choosing instead to assault our photographer with a handbag."
Albert passed the newspaper over to Mickey, and an astounded Sean and Emma looked at each other in disbelief.
"So I'd say it's pretty certain we won't be conning Ms Stevenson out of much anytime soon," concluded Albert casually. "On the other hand, I think justice may have been better served this way."
Emma said, "When she was in Hastings, she must have had a tip-off that she was being investigated..."
"...and tried to do a runner before it all came tumbling down," added Mickey, as he continued reading the article for himself.
"Too late!" observed Albert wryly. "But I think we were fortunate enough to avoid being dragged into it."
"Perhaps you were her last victim, Albert," suggested Emma, simultaneously horrified and relieved at the thought.
Sean smirked. "I bet even now the cops are breaking your door down to try and find you."
"Out in the nick of time, then, I think – eh, Albert?" said Mickey, gratefully. "I knew something wasn't right when she disappeared off the radar like that. At least now we know where her money was coming from," he finished, and sat back on the sofa while Sean and Emma pored over the story.
"It gets better," added Sean, and read on, "Police have appealed for any of Stevenson's social work clients to come forward if they have not already done so. Detective Inspector Michael Parrish told reporters, 'We are particularly anxious to speak to an elderly gentleman from the Stoke Newington area, whom we believe Gabrielle Stevenson was planning to defraud out of much-needed furniture and kitchen equipment that she had promised him.'" Sean added with a grin, "And there's a freephone number for you to call, Albert, if you want to get in touch with them." Albert merely rolled his eyes in response to this sarcasm.
There was silence while everyone mulled over this news, then Emma spoke. "So what do we do now? We don't have any other marks lined up, do we?"
"I think we all deserve a rest after this," declared Albert. "All that hard work and then nothing to show for it can be rather draining. In fact," he stood up and stretched, "I may go for a nap. I didn't sleep too well while I was away." He took himself off to his room, leaving the others to chat, plan, and eventually go out for a consolation drink. They didn't wake Albert, but Emma left him a note to say they'd be at Eddie's if he wanted to join them.
They had only been gone five minutes when Albert re-emerged from his room, looking cautiously around the apartment to make sure it was empty. His phone rang and he took the call. "Bernie?...ah, excellent! I owe you one...well, several...all right, quite a few...good grief, man, are you keeping score? Thank you," he finished pointedly, and put the phone away. He picked up the travelling bag at his feet, made his way down to reception, and asked for a taxi to be summoned.
"Where to, sir?" asked the concierge briskly.
"Heathrow," replied Albert. "And I'm in a bit of a hurry, so if you know of any fast drivers..."
"Fear not," was the response, "I see just the man sitting at the rank across the street." And with that, he whistled shrilly and waved to a burgundy-coloured cab parked nearby. He obviously knew the driver well, because just over an hour later Albert found himself in Terminal 3, gazing at the travelling hordes. He located the check-in desk, where he presented his passport and freshly-printed ticket to the British Airways assistant.
"Thank you, Mr. Davis," she smiled. "Have you any luggage to check in?"
"Just the one item, thank you," said Albert, placing it on the scales. The woman tagged it and returned his documents. "Here's your boarding card, Mr. Davis; if you'd like to wait in the First Class lounge, it's through these doors and just along on the right."
"Thank you very much," he nodded in reply. Once settled with a double malt in the executive bar, he looked at his watch; there was still some time before his flight left, so he decided to send one last text message before he turned his phone off. Having done this, he browsed through the various complimentary newspapers, paying special attention to the articles about Ms Stevenson. He was quite enjoying these, but swiftly laid The Guardian aside as Ash walked past him.
"Ash! Why don't you join me?" he said warmly, and was rewarded with the mother of all double-takes.
"Albert...!" The fixer's eyes looked as if they were about to pop out of his head.
"I know, I know, we have to stop meeting like this. Where are you off to?"
"Somewhere sunny, quiet and far away," was the guarded retort. "How about you? Vegas again? Or is it Monte Carlo this time?"
Albert shook his head. "Neither. I've decided I need a rest from poker for a while, so I'm heading somewhere new and different: Cyprus."
Ash's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "That's where I'm going..."
"Really? What a splendid coincidence! I'm glad to see you're travelling First Class, it's definitely worth the extra few bucks. On the 4.30 flight, are you? Good. I'm sure the cabin attendant will see to it that we can sit together. We have a lot of catching up to do..."
"No, seriously, it was THE most ridiculous heist I had ever seen..." insisted Mickey, staggering slightly as he left Eddie's bar with Emma and Sean. They all laughed uproariously, and Eddie sighed, a combination of relief and disapproval. He swiftly locked the door behind them before he could be prevailed upon to order a cab. An extended night of hustlers' celebrations was as much as he could stand – although on this particular occasion, they had been celebrating their plans for a Caribbean holiday.
"Taxi!" yelled Sean, failing miserably and sitting down on the kerbside with a bump. This set a giggling Mickey off again, but Emma gathered herself and let out a piercing whistle which half the cab drivers in London could have heard. Fortunately one was all they needed, and he took them swiftly homewards.
Mickey continued to entertain his friends en route, and insisted on paying the cabbie when they got out.
"Watch it, Mick, you've dropped your phone..." Sean picked it up from the taxi floor and followed his sister and Mickey into their building. He noticed the alert light flashing on the BlackBerry, and pressed a button to bring up the screen. "Hey, you've got a text from Albert..." He was still standing, a little unsteadily, in the foyer, but by now the others were in the lift, as oblivious to Sean's activities as he was to theirs. He frowned as he read the message: "Gone away for a week in the sun. Keep an eye on things while I'm away and don't let things with Emma start up again. Make sure you have your story straight for Sean."
The lift doors had closed before he could look up again.
Emma snuggled close to Mickey in the elevator. In his relaxed state, he didn't object, and then they both heard a faint roar of outrage rising from the ground floor.
Michael Stone and Emma Kennedy are currently awaiting sentencing in a New York court, after leaving Britain to get away from Sean. Posing as an English media mogul with Emma as his girlfriend, Mickey picked the wrong mark and they found themselves the victims of an FBI sting.
Sean Kennedy also left the country, but managed to stay ahead of the law, despite there being an arrest warrant out for him after he tried to take Mickey's head off with a samurai sword. He was last seen picking up some modelling work in Milan.
Ash Morgan ended up inheriting a farm in Wales. It turned out he did have a great-uncle who had left him something in his will. He moved there and makes a comfortable living out of cybercrime – advising companies and government agencies how to beat it, that is.
Albert Stroller found religion, gave up his gambling ways, and is happily spending the rest of his life on a monastery in Norfolk, where he tends the vegetable garden and is learning ancient Greek.
Eddie the barman keeps a table for his old friends in the hope that someday they will return and annoy him, just one more time.