Authors: Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
To Lena Sanfridsson, Barbro von Schönberg and
Inger Sjöholm-Larsson – my warm and sincere
thanks for an unforgettable effort!
One thing is certain,
you can never drink too much champagne . . .
Martha, aged seventy-nine
When seventy-nine-year-old pensioner Martha Andersson put the cheese, the Argentinian sausage and the delicious lobster pâté in her big flowery bag, it marked the
start of a new life.
Humming contentedly to herself over the buzzing of the supermarket’s overhead air conditioning, she thought a drink of cloudberry liqueur with some tasty snacks would be
perfect before the evening’s gambling session. Martha just loved living in Las Vegas – it was the place where anything and everything could happen.
Eager to return to the comfortable suite at The Orleans Hotel & Casino, where she was staying with her four oldest friends, she turned and, as bossy as ever, announced to the pensioners
trailing behind her:
‘My friends! Let’s go back to the hotel and recharge our batteries!’
She pushed her short white hair under the wide brim of her yellow sun hat and took a firm grip of her shopping bag with her nicely manicured hands. Her black Ecco shoes sounded loudly as she led
the way. Her fellow pensioners Oscar ‘Brains’ Krupp, Bertil ‘Rake’ Engström, Anna-Greta Bielke and Christina Åkerblom nodded and paid politely for their goods at
the check-out before they followed Martha out of the shop. It was just over six months since they had left Sweden after making it onto the Most Wanted list with their Robin Hood-style art robbery.
They had been keeping a low profile ever since. But now they had had enough. Their motto was:
if you are bored, you are not living
. So it was high time to do something fun.
Outside the department store a dog was waiting for them alongside their Zimmer frames. The cocker spaniel yapped and jumped up at Martha’s aromatic bag. The five friends – or The
League of Pensioners, as they sometimes called themselves – helped to exercise Barbie, the hotel receptionist’s dog. Martha bent down to stroke and calm the dog and then, when everyone
was ready, she strode forth, leading the way again.
The white hotel buildings towered high above their grey heads and the Tarmac glistened. The neon signs blinked, the heat was oppressive and a police car drove past at high speed. After just a
few steps, Martha was soaking with perspiration. Panting, she turned into Hayes Street, pulled out her fan and started to hum a jolly traditional Swedish children’s song about climbing
mountains. Soon the League of Pensioners would make themselves as unforgettable in Las Vegas as they had in Stockholm.
The staff in the De Beers Diamond Shop further along the street ought to have behaved with more caution. But instead the security doors were opened immediately and the guards
politely stepped aside when the three bearded, impatient, young men entered the shop. Two of them had guide dogs, and the third helped his friends across to the counter. The female assistant gave
them a welcoming smile, her look full of friendliness. The men courteously said hello and asked to look at cut diamonds. Then, to reinforce their meaning, they whipped out their pistols and yelled:
‘Give us the diamonds!’
The shop assistant and her colleagues reacted instinctively and discreetly started groping about for the alarm button. At the same time, they pulled out all the drawers with the shimmering
diamonds. Their hands shook as they placed the diamonds on the counter. Two of the men pushed the guards up against the wall and disarmed them while the third man quickly stuffed the diamonds into
specially sewn collars worn by the guide dogs. The glimmering diamonds were quickly followed by a dark-blue sapphire and some rough diamonds from the workshop that had not yet been cut. The robbers
emptied the drawers and didn’t notice when the assistant finally managed to press the alarm button. When the alarm sounded, they swept the last of the gemstones into the dog collars, then
zipped them shut and hurried out. The last of the three men to leave had short-circuited the electrics so that the security doors would lock themselves after he stepped out the door.
Out on the pavement, the three men took off their wigs but kept their sunglasses on. Then they calmly walked down the street as if nothing had happened. The trick with the guide dogs was
something they had used before. It worked well and made people less suspicious. Now the men just looked like completely ordinary pedestrians, and they leisurely went round the corner and into Hayes
Street where their car was parked. After a hundred metres or so, they couldn’t resist looking back to see if they were being followed, but in doing so they took their attention off the path
ahead and managed to bump right into a gang of pensioners who almost filled the whole pavement. The five elderly men and women were singing for all they were worth and took small dance-like steps
behind their Zimmer frames. All the robbers could do was stare at them.
‘Watch up!’ Martha exclaimed, her English not being its best if she didn’t have time to think. Then she and her elderly friends continued along the street towards the three men
and their dogs, singing a jolly children’s marching song. They had sung in the same choir for thirty years, and they liked singing loudly and happily together.
‘We stride across the dewy mountains, tra-la-la . . .’ they sang in parts and, as always, when they sang this song, they became a little sentimental and started to long for their
home country. They were in their own little world, unaware of the goings-on around them, and they weren’t in a hurry either as Barbie had lots of exciting things to sniff at. Walking down the
street they had passed lots of restaurants, casinos and jewellery shops and Martha enjoyed it all. Las Vegas was a town for adventurers, and she and her friends belonged there.
‘Move out the way!’ shouted the men with the guide dogs.
move out the way!’ Martha responded, but backed up when one of the dogs in luminous-yellow coats bared its teeth. Best to be friendly to the canine, she
thought quickly and fumbled in her bag for the Argentinian spicy sausage. Brains had had the same thought and was pulling out the pâté. The big German Shepherd ignored the delicacies,
growled threateningly and leapt across to try to bite Martha’s leg. Thankfully, Brains managed to push his Zimmer frame in between them, and the next moment the dog got caught by its collar
in the walker basket. That was when Barbie reacted too.
Confronted by the huge German Shepherd, the little dog panicked, yapped rather pitifully and pulled so hard on her lead that Christina lost her grip. Howling, little Barbie dashed away with her
lead trailing after her, upon which the other guide dog, a black Labrador, also got loose and charged after her. Barbie was, one might add, a rather sweet little doggie, and to cap it all was on
‘The dog collar!’ the men shouted when they saw the Labrador disappear with the diamonds. Two of them rushed after the dog. The German Shepherd was still caught in the basket of the
Zimmer frame, and one of the stressed robbers was trying to get it loose.
‘I am sorry,’ said Martha.
The man swore in response.
‘If you take it easy it goes better,’ Martha went on, leaning forward and giving good advice, in fact doing her very best in broken English. But the man ignored her and just tugged
and tugged without managing to release the dog collar. Suddenly several police sirens could be heard. At the sound, the entangled robber gave a start and pulled the dog away so hard that the collar
broke and was left hanging from the basket. In full panic he then set off down the street with the dog after him.
‘Hey, stop! You forgot your dog collar in the basket!’ Martha shouted, gesticulating wildly, but, instead of stopping, the man ran to his car. His companions had also heard the
sirens and they gave up chasing the black Labrador and fled towards the vehicle too. Once there, they unlocked the car and threw themselves inside. With screeching tyres they disappeared round the
corner, but without any dogs.
‘Weird way of going about things! They don’t seem to need their guide dogs at all,’ Martha mumbled to herself. Then she unhooked the dog collar just like she had suggested to
the man. After which she caught her breath, shook her head slowly and muttered: ‘Why do people so rarely heed good advice?’
Martha’s good friend, Brains, took a quick look at the dog collar.
‘Put that in the basket for the time being. We can phone the owners later. Their name will certainly be marked on the inside.’
They all thought that was a good idea and as soon as they had succeeded in getting Barbie to come back to them, they walked off towards their hotel. Now they had a new addition to their party
– the black Labrador was in tow – and once they arrived at the hotel Martha realized that they would have to look for the dog-owner too. She took off the dog’s collar and put that
in the basket as well, just as the receptionist came up to them.
‘Thank you so much,’ he enthused, lifting up his little Barbie before disappearing with quick strides into the lobby with his darling in his arms. The Labrador started yapping and
ran after them, but wasn’t quick enough to sneak in before the big glass doors were shut in front of its nose. Broken-hearted, it stared a long while through the glass before dejectedly
wandering off with drooping ears. The League of Pensioners were left with two dog collars.
‘I’ve got a magnifying glass up in our hotel room. There’s bound to be something written in small print on the leather or there’ll be a little note inside that zipped
pouch,’ said Martha, and then they all took the lift up to their suites on the fifth floor.
‘That’s what’s so strange about life; you never know what is going to happen, do you?’ she chirped a while later when she had laid the table for the evening’s
drinks and snacks, and pulled out her magnifying glass. ‘Now, let’s see what it says here.’