notaphily (noun): the study or collection of bank notes

They got away with twenty-six million, but I only seen about ten grand of that and, even then, it was them useless recalled notes, the ones with the old design on them. One of the boys – I’ll not be telling you who, now – gave me this stack of them and I says to him ‘what would I be wanting these for?’ and he shrugs and says ‘you can use them to wipe your arse, missus, for all I care’. They knew the serial numbers of those notes, you see, the security services and that, so I may as well have been holding a pile of bog-roll.

                All the same, I put them away in shoe boxes and slid them in under our Kieran’s bed. I wasn’t for behaving like some of the other ones; lifted at the corner shop for trying to pass off a stolen twenty or questioned by the peelers for buying some Bulgarian timeshare. No, I decided that I’d as soon sit on that worthless money and see whether it might ever get itself a bit of worth again.

                There’s stories in the papers about the job, right enough. They’re saying it might have been an inside man, at the bank, or even the old Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary on the take for one final time. Truth be told, they don’t have a notion. All they know is that two of the ones with keys for the vault had their families taken hostage. The usual thing: gunmen in balaclavas. Then, the next day, those same two men opened the doors and the safes so that the robbers could dander in without so much as a word of a challenge. Fair enough, if you’re asking me. Why would you want to go risking the lives of your family for someone else’s money. There’s no call for it. The bank’ll be insured and you’re as well doing what the boys say so as your family get released no bother. And they did as well, didn’t they? Not a scratch on them.   

                Down the road, there’s a wee lad called Declan – known to our Kieran – who got spooked when he was given his pile of useless notes. The eejit that he is, he builds himself a bonfire in his back yard and starts putting armfuls on. Thousands of pounds. And one of his neighbours sees the lit notes drifting on the breeze and, soon enough, the whole place is surrounded. There’s no link between him and the robbery itself, though, so all they can get him for is the handgun they find up the stairs and membership of the Provisional IRA.

                That gets me worried, a fair bit, about our Kieran. After all, they’re more likely to blame the seventeen-year-old hallion than the forty-year-old housewife. So I move the shoe boxes from under his bed and put them out in the garage instead. Then I tell Kieran that it’s time he was moving out and away from his mammy. Which is no word of a lie, banknotes or no banknotes.

                I hear tell, as well, of Niall – cousins with our Julie – who buried near enough twenty grand in his allotment. He put it in plastic Tesco bags, he says, but the wet got in anyway and he ended up with mulch. Still, he’s well enough connected that he got handed another five grand and told to take better care of it.

                Word around here is that they got too much. The robbers, I’m meaning. They were thinking that they’d find a couple of million in used notes, maybe some Euros and Dollars as well, and they could provide a wee hand-out for the gunmen left behind by the peace process. As it was, they found enough cash to buy half of Belfast and they got greedy and swiped the lot. Then the bank went and took the old-design notes out of circulation and we’re left with Declan’s bonfire, Niall’s mulch and my shoeboxes.

                And it’s not until four years later that I have my idea. Kieran’s out of the house, by then, and our Erin too. I’m reminded of the notes in the garage by the news that one of the bank-workers is to stand trial and then I’m in the bar down at the end of the street and there’s this American tourist in and he’s talking loud-as-you-like about the mural tour he’s just been on and the money he’s given, over the years, to be sent over the water for the ‘struggle’. And it sets me thinking. So I go over to him and I says ‘would you be wanting a wee momento of that there robbery?’ And he does that shout-talking back, so I tell him to wheest and stay there with his pint of Guinness. Then I go off home and take the picture of Kieran out of the black frame on the mantle and I get a ten-pound note from the shoe boxes in the garage. Back at the pub, I sell the framed note to your man for forty quid.

                That’s how it all starts. I put word out through the taxi drivers who’re doing the tours – the ones I know – and ask wee Dervla behind the bar to keep an eye out too. I’m thinking there must be a message board or newsletter for those American types as well, because soon enough there’s a steady stream and I’m buying the wee frames in bulk – ten for thirty-pound. That’s my only outlay, though, the rest is profit.

                The lad from the bank is acquitted, later in the year, and the robbery isn’t in the news so much, but I still have my customers. The most of them have American accents, but there’s a few Scots and the odd German or Japanese. I’ve a thought or two about undercover officers, but it’s unlikely they could charge me for much beyond handling stolen goods and some kind of fraud – I’m thinking – so I’d probably be out of the jail even before Erin has the wee baby she’s expecting. And, in the meantime, I’ve made near-enough twenty-five grand out of that ten grand of useless notes. It’s money laundering, aye, but only like doing your delicates; careful, small-scale.

                All the same, the shoe boxes are nearly empty and I’m fretting more about that than about a knock on the door. I could go back to the boys that gave me it in the first place, but the ones with connections have long-since washed their hands of it. Or I could go to Niall – through our Julie – and see if he still has his second lot of notes.

In the end-up, though, I decide that I’ll just start going to the cash machine and getting the notes with the new design. I’ll still have a decent profit margin and those American tourists would buy a fag-end if you told them Bobby Sands had once smoked it. Besides, by the time they’re on the other side of the Atlantic, it’s not a bother if they realise that the banknote they’ve got framed on the wall is legal currency and not part of the robbery haul.

               I’ll only keep it up until I’ve got enough to get our Erin settled or until I get lifted; whichever comes first. If I get caught now, though, then it won’t be for using notes from the robbery, it’ll just be for scamming some dip-shit tourists with money lifted from the ATM. And no jury’s going to do much about that beyond having a wee chuckle to themselves and maybe muttering, under their breath, ‘go on yourself, Rosemary, serves the stupid buggers right’.