They timed it for the court case, from the CCTV taken inside the jewellers. Not the CCTV from me leaving the Tube station and walking to the shop, a patchwork of pictures taken from one camera here, another one there, joining together in one long panorama of me walking head down and fast. Not the CCTV from outside the jewellers, me spilling out through the door all arms and legs while shoppers stop in their tracks like the picture had been frozen, or the CCTV from above the office at the end of the street that silently watched me tear around the corner.
Not the CCTV from the shop in the next street that caught that quick moment when my hood was slipping back because I was running so fast and the black scarf fell down around my neck, and they had it, one still from half a second of footage. It was just a grainy snapshot of a face but it was enough for someone who knew me to make a phone call and that was that.
They played back the film from inside the jewellers, and they said it was seventeen seconds.
In through the door, hood almost down over my eyes, scarf pulled up to my nose, shotgun out from under my coat, screaming out to everyone to get down on the floor, screaming to scare them, screaming because I was terrified myself. Five seconds.
The manager coming out from behind the counter, brave or stupid or just sick because this was the fifth time for him. He shouted, red face. The woman customer on the floor gaped up at us both. Eleven seconds.
I lost my nerve, lost my will, turned to run. Twelve seconds.
He grabbed my shoulder and span me round. Thirteen seconds.
The gun fired. I didn't fire it. I didn't mean to fire it. I know it was my finger, but I didn't mean to fire it, I didn't fire it. The gun fired. Fourteen seconds.
I ran out of the door, all arms and legs while shoppers stopped in their tracks.
I turned a corner
in the road, and there they were. A man in jeans and hoodie carrying an
incongruous briefcase, and a short-haired stocky man just behind him, moving
fast. The man with the case started to turn around, but the stocky
man kicked him hard in the knee, making him shout out and drop to a crouch. A woman on the other side of the road turned, took a step back. “Hey,” I
shouted, and nobody took any notice. The stocky man grabbed for the briefcase,
but the other man pulled back. I started to run, and the
attacker took a step back, and kicked the man with the case hard in the pit
of the stomach, sending him flat to the floor, but still clinging to the briefcase as if
it was part of him.
“Hey!” I shouted
again, and the stocky man looked up at me, but carried on the tug of war. As I
ran down the street he won, and finally had the briefcase. He started to run,
but I had built up a head of steam. I played rugby at school, and all
through university, and turned out a few times for the local team before my
knee gave out, and I put everything into it and hit him with all my weight,
just above his waist. He went down hard, and I landed on top of him hard,
and because I’ve not done as much exercise as I should since my knee went there was a lot of me to land.
The woman stood at
the side of the road, hand up at her mouth like a parody of shock. “Call the
police,” I shouted, and she turned and started to hurry away. “Call the damn police,” I
shouted again, and she still walked away but she took her phone from her bag as
she went. The man underneath me moved weakly, and said something, but I didn’t
hear what. I pushed his head down into the pavement to make it clear that
moving any more would be a bad idea. I heard the man whose case had been stolen retch somewhere behind me.
“Are you OK?” I
asked. “I’ve got him, don’t worry.”
He started to say something, but then he retched again. “Get off me,” the man
underneath me said, and I said, “No, the police are coming, you just wait
there.” So he laughed, and he did, and a minute or two later they arrived. When
they were close enough that it was safe, I stood up. “This one,” I said. “He
attacked—” and I went to point to the man on the floor behind us, but he was
off running, down the street and away around the corner.
The two policemen rushed towards me, and for a moment I was confused, thinking you’re
running the wrong way, and then I wasn’t really thinking at all because my arm
was bent up behind my back, and I was hitting the pavement, hard. I tried to protest but a knee pressed my face
down into the concrete and I couldn’t speak.
“I am arresting you
on suspicion of assaulting a police officer. You do not have to say anything,
but anything you say—”
“Let him up, Lee.”
The knee came off
my cheek. My arm was released, and the weight went from the small of my back. I
got to my feet and glowered at them. “I’ll have your badge numbers--”
“Shut the fuck up or I’ll
pepper spray you,” one of them said.
“Lee,” the man I
had tackled said. “Enough.” He looked at me for a moment, then walked a few
steps away and picked up the briefcase. He opened it away from me, so I
couldn’t see what was inside, nodded, and closed it again. “Just go home,” he
said. “Thank you for doing your bit sir, but this is all police business. Go
“But I saw you,” I
said. “You attacked that man from behind, and you stole his case. Look, there,
you’ve got it.”
“I think you’re
“I don’t think I
“I think you are.
Dangerously so. Are you on drugs, sir?” He came and stood very close to me,
looking into my eyes. The two uniformed police stood close in a huddle.
ridiculous,” I said.
said, and he reached a hand into my jacket pocket. Took it out, held his hand
up. Showed me a bag of white powder.
I looked around.
No-one else was about. “You know that wasn’t in my pocket,” I said.
“Yes,” he said.
“Yes, I do know that. Does that help you though?”
I stood there. He
stared at me. The others pressed in close.
“Go home,” he said,
and he turned away, not interested anymore, and picked the briefcase back up.
“Thanks lads,” he said. “I’ll see you right.”
He walked up the stairs from the platform, and along the concourse towards the main entrance. When he got there he stood with the other people looking up at the board. He'd just missed his connection, and the next train was in half an hour. He wasn't in any rush, so it was no big deal. He'd go for a coffee. Platform 6a, platform 6a, platform 6a, he said to himself, although he knew that by the time he'd finished his coffee he'd have forgotten and he'd have to wander back over to the board, find his train in the shifting flicker of signs of departures everywhere else.
He loved travelling by train, even if it was for work. For two or three hours, there was no call on him, he was anonymous and unknown, drifting free in a half-world that was neither where he'd been or where he was going. It often occurred to him that he could get off somewhere he wasn't meant to be, take a connecting train he wasn't meant to take, end up somewhere he'd never been. He never did, but just the thought was enough.
He turned to walk towards Costa, a latte and a croissant, twenty minutes watching the world coming and going, and she was stood off to his right, oblivious, staring up at the board and biting her bottom lip in concentration, the way she always did. She wore a suit that looked good on her, had a suitcase on wheels at her feet, and her hand wrapped round a cup of coffee, wrapped around far enough that he could see the wedding ring.
He knew she'd been married, had seen the pictures of the kids on her Facebook album until she changed the settings to friends only. She and he weren't friends because they had been many things but never that, and never would be that, and besides there was new partners and their feelings to think of, and it was easier to try and quarantine the past and shut away temptation. They had split many years before, but whenever they ran into each other that never seemed to stop them, and they would end up in a spiral of stolen nights and recriminations and vows of never again, never again.
He lost two new relationships as a result of it, and she lost her first engagement and all their friends thought that they would get back together in the end, but without knowing how, the two of them knew that it would never work. Then she moved city, and they stopped running into each other, and years passed, and along came marriages and children and songs skipped when they came up on shuffle because they brought back too much.
He watched for a moment. She was older, like him. A few lines and a few pounds but then who hadn't. He knew how it would go, because it had always gone the same. Either they would make time now and miss trains and meetings, or arrangements would be made and numbers would be swapped, and in a week or two they would be in some shitty Premier Inn, closing out the world and falling back into each other as if not a day had passed. There was no doubt. It was like the sun rising, or the rain coming.
He smiled to himself, and he hoped she was happy, and he turned and walked off to platform 6a.
One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous predatory bug. He lay on his armour-hard back and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, his arched abdomen divided up into rigid bow-like sections. From this height the blanket, just about ready to slide off completely, could hardly stay in place. His spiked forelegs, powerful in comparison to the rest of his circumference, flickered viciously before his eyes.
"Hell, yeah," Gregor thought. "This is more like it." He clacked his raptorial legs together, testing them out, and heaved himself from the splintered remains of his bed.
He was getting used to this now. The first time had been the hardest, and he'd ended up trying to take his own life. But after a strange period of limbo and endless, restless moving shapes in the fog, he'd woken up again, back in his house, back as a human. The family were delighted to see him, if a little embarrassed about how they had treated him, but life settled back into something approaching normality. Until the next change came, and he woke from anxious dreams and found out that he was a very hairy moth.
And so it went on, from change to change, none of them much fun for Gregor. He had metamorphosed into a ladybird (everyone laughed at him), a cockroach (everyone shouted at him, threw shoes at him, and tried to incinerate him with hairspray and a cigarette lighter),and a water boatman (he skated moodily around an algae-laden pond and thought, is this it, while small children threw stones at him).
This time though, it would be different. He smashed his way out through the walls of his house, picked an indignant Mr Samsa up with one claw and tossed him over the roof, and then ambled out into the road. For laughs, he sliced open a tram car, reached forward a leg towards a trembling and corpulent passenger, and then tickled him under the chin with a spike and clattered his jaws, but got bored when the man fainted. Gregor leapt and sprang from building to building, and quite enjoyed the sound of screams and shouts wherever he went.
This time would be different. This time, he was going to have fun.