Otis had said that the walk to Sheffield was likely to be brutal, and Lenham was increasingly of the opinion that he had understated it. The food that they’d bought just before they went on the run had quickly run out and since then they’d only eaten what Otis had been able to shoot, mostly rabbits and foxes. Otis had been so visibly angry with himself when he wasted a bullet on the third night, shooting at a rabbit in the dark, but Lenham had decided there was little point in taking him to task for it.
On the fifth night Lenham mentioned, with some understated bitterness, Otis’s Spanish leather boots and the fact that they made the journey easier on one of them than the other. In response to this Otis walked the next day bare-foot. Although he didn’t visibly wince when they walked over rough ground or mention the blisters on his feet that evening, Lenham still felt guilty. “Wear your damn boots tomorrow, McLillac: you don’t have to go bare-foot. I was just saying.” – “All right,” Otis responded simply.
When Otis had suggested that they walk to Sheffield across the countryside, staying off the roads and keeping out of the towns, Lenham had agreed, purely because it made sense in principal. After a week, as it came to seem more of a hardship than it was worth, he asked Otis if he really thought it was that much more dangerous to travel by coach or train. “Well, there are police out here, of course. The chances of us seeing a police car or the like are about the same. But if we stay on the moors we’re more likely to see them first, and from a distance. That aside, the police will know that you’ve worked with Simpson in the past, and he’s known to travel on trains. I don’t know why trains: they’re rather slow.” Lenham nodded. “Yes, I’ve told him that. I think it’s a melodramatic, film noir kind of thing, pacing on train platforms in a trench coat and whatnot. He doesn’t actually have a trench coat, but for God’s sake don’t suggest it to him.”
Lenham felt somewhat silly for having to have this industry knowledge explained to him: he was already conscious of the fact that Otis had been working a little longer than he had. The fact that he had been dismissive of Otis when they first met, because of his bizarre antiquated clothing, because of his quiet demeanor and air of childish naivety, made him feel even sillier. McLillac’s intention was probably to deceive people, to make them underestimate him, and he had been successful. They were both nineteen, but everything Otis did emphasized how much more seasoned than Lenham he was.
In this connection, the last night before they came in to town, Lenham wondered whether he’d have any problem orchestrating the job with McLillac as his second in command. As he had planned and researched the job, Otis had agreed to him leading it, but once they were there he wondered if he would try to undermine him, or possibly even screw him over in some way: turn him in for his last job, or find some way to abandon him in the bank so McLillac got away and Lenham got busted. He didn’t think about it too much, though: he knew it wasn’t healthy.
They walked in to town the next morning. McLillac had been wearing his colt the whole time they were on the moors, but now he put it in his bag. Lenham was worried to notice that he was nearly crying at the sensation of being in a town again, and one so full of Saturday morning bustle. Wearing his top hat frock coat and boots, McLillac looked as though he wasn’t on his guard, but Lenham knew he was. He didn’t suppose one could dress like that and not be. When they were close to the hotel, one of two pretty girls wolf-whistled sarcastically at Otis, which just made Lenham feel awkward. When he’d lived in Northampton he’d never had friends who purposefully tried to confuse and irritate people in the way Otis and some others of his stock did: now that he did, he’d no idea whether he should defend Otis, or laugh about it with him, or ignore it in the same way he ignored it himself. For the moment he chose the later, but couldn’t stop himself from looking at Otis slightly uncomfortably.
He got quite sentimental once they were at the hotel, shaking hands with McLillac and telling him well done. McLillac smiled, but it was obviously not that impressive an achievement to him: apparently taking such walks was his modus operandi. Lenham wondered if that was why the cops didn’t have a sheet on him. Lenham immediately went up to his room and went to sleep in a real bed, feeling a little guilty that Otis had decided to go out and round up everyone else. But then, he didn’t want to consider the possibility that some of the others had been caught. They had finished robbing the Topshop and had been some distance down the road when it became apparent that the police were after them. That the two of them had escaped was pretty much solely McLillac’s work, and he had no guarantee that Andy and Gwen hadn’t been picked up, or that Jason, crazy little Jason, hadn’t drawn his gun and gotten himself shot. Those Manchester guys didn’t fuck around: they were noted for it.
The first sign he had that everybody was okay was when Andy came and knocked on his door to tell him they were all downstairs. He hugged Andy and told him he was sorry at the way things had happened. “Well, it wasn’t your fault. We all knew it was a little tight, doing that many jobs in that little time.” – “Well, I’m just glad you thought to fix the cameras,” said Lenham. “Otis has been wearing those same bloody clothes all the way here, and they wouldn’t have had much trouble finding him with that description.” Andy smiled and nodded. “Otis always has to dress like that. Now he’s got the money to buy something new, it will be something just as crazy. Anyway, everyone’s ready.”
Lenham got his coat on. “We’re taking tonight off, anyway. We don’t have the detail we need to go after this place just yet. I thought I might let Gwen do that: that should calm her down a bit. I expect she’s twice as pissed off at me now we’ve been apart for a week?”
“Well, she’s pretty pleased with herself about making you arrange a place to go to if we got separated.” Lenham laughed forlornly and they headed downstairs. Gwen, sure enough, was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. She was dressed in her usual tomboyish attire, but seemed to have made more of an effort than usual. Lenham wondered if that was because she was the first woman he’d taken a proper look at it all week.
“How are you doing, Simon?” she said amicably and, to his momentary bafflement, held out her arms for a hug. He embraced her: maybe this was an acknowledgment of how much of a trial the last week had been rather than an actual attempt at reconciliation. In any event, it was what they tended to do after a job and he was glad that she didn’t need to be told that at the end of her first job with them.
“How did you guys get away?”
“Little Jay’s car was on the fritz. I was required to classically hotwire another while the law was occupied with him, then I drove it up to the car and the others jumped in.”
Andy was such an awkward, nerdy little guy: however hard he tried, Lenham couldn’t stop himself being amazed every time he proved his worth this way, but he did a pretty good job of concealing it this time. “Nice work,” he commented simply, and Andy smiled sweetly and nervously back as they walked in to the bar.
Michelle was a fat, loud, brassy girl who dressed in slutty outfits and was so confident that you got the feeling she could genuinely do anything she wanted. She had hooked up with Andy in London (what the hell was going on there Lenham didn’t care to speculate) and, once Otis had said he didn’t see the harm in it, Lenham had let her follow them at a safe remove. He had worried for a while that she was fucking Andy around, only being dissuaded of this suspicion when she smashed another girl on the head with a bottle for drunkenly flirting with Andy in a pub in Leicster. He knew that Andy didn’t tell her anything about what they did, but she knew, or at least knew in outline, and that made him very uneasy. For the minute, though, he was quite happy to enjoy the fact of being reunited with her. She smiled broadly and held out her arms. “Simon! Allright, darling?” He hugged her. “Hey, Michelle. Have you kept our boy here out of trouble?” – “He’s the one who’s been getting me in to trouble!” she screeched delightedly. He wondered whether this was meant to be some kind of double entendre, and the filthy laugh she placed after it led him to suspect it was.
They had already agreed that they would sample the Chesterfield nightlife after they had a drink in the hotel bar. Otis hated the idea of going out, but he knew it was necessary: if the others got to feel like he was aloof, like he wasn’t one of them, their performance could suffer. Nonetheless, he sat by himself and drank while the others were socializing with the customers. After a while, Lenham came and sat with him. “Do you want to leave?” he asked. “I think I will in a while,” said Otis. “Look around.”
“Oh, there’s no need for that yet,” said Lenham. “Besides, when we do start planning, it’s unlikely to take up much of our time.” “I’d rather do it just in case. You know Gwen has probably already started.” “Yes, she fucking would have done, wouldn’t she? Have enough information to out-argue me with when the time came.”
They drank silently for a minute. Then Lenham said, “Do you trust me? Do you trust me to do things the way they have to be done here?” The question and Lenham’s eyes let McLillac know he was drunk. He stared at him for a minute and replied “You know what I’m going to say to that. Yes. Whether it’s true or not.” “Damn it, I’m worried about it. I’ll happily let you lead…”
“I don’t want to lead.”
“You’d rather I ruin it?”
Otis downed his drink. “You may have noticed there aren’t an overabundance of people of our stock. We’re extremely hard to find. There are so few of us, in fact, that one of us doing something is like the other doing it. Which is to say I trust you to lead. Good night.” Lenham only realized how utterly meaningless that sentence was when Otis was gone. The rest of the evening was saddening. He was homesick and scared, realizing for the first time in months that this wasn’t who he was, not really. In short order he went and joined the others at their table. Andy was drinking lemonade, Gwen coffee. Michelle was drunk and at the bar getting another bottle of WKD. “It baffles me that she can drink that stuff, but I guess she’s basically a chav,” Gwen said to Lenham when Andy went to the toilet.
“Don’t you like her?”
“I like her more than I used to, but she is a fucking chav. That’s a statement of fact. Anyway. Don’t want to talk business.”
“Neither do I, Gwen. That’s the last thing I want to do.” She nodded. “Well, alright.”
Presently Andy came back. He was quietly euphoric. “We did pretty well,” he said. “The whole bunch of us split up and run across the country and not one of us gets picked up. It’s pretty good.”
Lenham smiled at his modesty. “You were pretty good, anyway,” he said. “Well, the circumstances were in my favor… oh, hey, baby,” he said as an aside when Michelle sat serenely on his lap, which Lenham found intensely disturbing. At one point he had to go puke, and once he had he continued drinking. Drinking was like his life now: there was nothing in walking away from it, or trying to.
© Copyright 2016 Doc Scurlock. All rights reserved.
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