They've been casing the place for two days now, watching everyone come and go. It's not a great part of town, which makes it easier and harder at the same time; it's secured, which means they need a way in. The nurses and female doctors all look like they've got scalpels in their knickers and pepper spray in their purses, and they move in packs like hyenas. Anyone who gets near one of them is taking their lives in their hands. Which leaves the two male docs. Overconfident because they're blokes, says Codfish sagely, and Bobby thinks Cod is brilliant.
One of the docs is fat, as fat as a blimp. Never fit in the boot, Bobby says, trying to sound like Cod. Cod nods and the suggestion of faint praise makes Bobby flush. Little one, Bobby continues. Gympy leg, small, easy. Easy, he breathes, and Cod grins a shark grin and stands up from his slouch. Now? Bobby asks, half terrified, and Cod flicks his cig in the puddle and saunters after the doc. No time like, Cod says, and off they go.
It's exactly as easy as they think it will be. They get right up behind the little bloke and get him straight into the boot of the old car, zip-tie his hands and feet, and hop in the front. Nobody sees them. It's perfect. Bloody perfect.
Cod intentionally hits a bunch of bumps on the drive, giggling the whole way.
Perfect. Bloody perfect, John thinks, as he smells stale cigarette smoke and spilled pickle juice and sour milk and beer and vomit. Even in the trunk this car reeks. He thinks, I'll never complain about Mycroft's methods of kidnapping again. The Chinese knocked him out so there's no basis for comparison there. Even Moriarty had a clean van for this bit. He doesn't count Irene in the style department, she was just mimicking Mycroft - although from what he's read, her usual methods of kidnapping would probably be more enjoyable than anyone else on the list. He's really got to give that one a go someday, just to round it all out. John then thinks about what it means that he's become something of a connoisseur of kidnappings. If the trunk of the car were any cleaner, he'd thunk his head on the floor in frustration; but he's rather afraid he'll accidentally cut himself and get tetanus. Or worse.
Instead, he sighs and gets to work on the restraints.
They pull up outside the building. Bobby keeps a lookout while Cod opens the trunk. Cod makes a noise of surprise; there's a polite "Hello" in a strange voice, and Bobby takes his eyes off the alley to see what's going on. The little gymp is lying there on his back, legs bent but obviously unbound, hands folded up on his stomach. He looks as though he's been having a nap instead of being scared and blubbering. Bobby gapes. The little man's gaze flicks between them for a moment while they stare at him. He sighs. "Right then." He struggles upright and scrambles awkwardly out of the boot; Cod and Booby back up a bit. Then Cod gets himself together and grabs the man's arm and yanks him towards the door, and Bobby starts to follow. The little man looks at him over his shoulder. His expression is puzzled. "Aren't you going to close the boot lid?" he asks in a mild tone, and Bobby and Cod both freeze. "It's just very conspicuous," the little man says gently, and Bobby whirls and slams the boot lid and swings back, thinking there must be a trick, but the little man is nodding genially and blinking at him as though he's just done something clever. The little guy smiles at him, then Cod yanks on his arm and the guy stumbles around and they head inside, and Bobby really, really can't figure out what's going on.
They get him into the flat and Cod shoves the guy, and he almost falls. He gets his feet under himself again, though, and looks around. His glance reminds Bobby of his aunt, the one who lived in the nice terrace house which always smelled like freesia and coffee and who Disapproved of his mum's drinking. Like he's seeing things that disappoint him. Bobby can't help but think the flat is a tip. There's a mattress covered in dirty linens, a cup with the dregs of coffee and a bunch of soggy fags floating in it, a broken fan, a playstation and a big screen TV and loads of games lying around and Bobby has to fight the sudden, irrational urge to tidy up.
"How'd you get loose?" Cod asks with a snarl, his shoulders stiff and his voice menacing. The little man blinks. "Oh, that? I've got a little thing, flattened the end off a nice sturdy paperclip. Keep it up my jacket sleeve. Almost forgot I had it, really," he says, and his gaze goes far away and fond and sad. He comes back with a start. Cod is recoiling like the little man is crazy, and Bobby is gaping. The little man winces. "Sorry, right," he says. "Um." He presses his lips together for a moment, looking at them. "I should explain. Or probably not, you seem very - um." He pauses and grimaces. Makes up his mind. "You don't kidnap people very often, do you?"
"How do you know?" Bobby says, and it comes out sounding a lot more admiring than sarcastic and frightening, and the man smiles a genuinely self-depreciating smile. And then there's a set of footsteps on the stairs, and the most beautiful woman Bobby has ever seen walks in texting someone. It's like seeing a ghost, or a scene from a movie. She doesn't belong in this crappy little flat at all.
Instead of whistling or hooting or looking awed like any sane person would, the little man looks appalled. "Oh bloody buggering hell," he says. "What on earth are you doing here?" He hasn't actually moved at all but suddenly looks very different, not at all injured and soft, but rather compact and coiled. The woman raises her eyes, lifts an eyebrow, and glances pointedly around the room. The little doctor exhales. Scowls. "Really, they're just kids. Complete amateurs. There was no need to -" Cod, who has been gaping all this time, reaches behind his jacket and yanks out a gun, and Bobby's breath freezes in his chest. Cod waves the gun around dramatically. Bobby feels both a moment of shining awe that Cod can do this so effortlessly and look so cool and dangerous, and a frission of fear that there's a gun, and a real anxiety because this isn't how it was supposed to go at all.
The little man and the gorgeous woman are both watching the gun with fascination, and Cod puffs up. Bobby is uneasy, though. There's no *fear* in them, and that's wrong somehow. But Cod is yelling, and that distracts Bobby from that niggling worry. "Shut it, shut your traps, fuck! Both of you - Against the wall, both of you!"
The little man and the gorgeous woman glance at each other and move over towards the wall opposite the entrance. The woman snaps her phone closed as she walks, tucks it in her pocket and crosses her arms. When she leans on the wall she looks like she's posing for a photo shoot, not being menaced by a gun. The little doctor has his hands in his pockets and looks like he's hanging around the bar at a pub waiting for a pint to be pulled.
They're both paying more more attention to each other than to Cod. The little man blinks at her. "Oh dear," he says mildly, and there's a line of concern between his eyes. "Are we going to war with China then? Or perhaps somewhere a deadman switch somewhere will go off, and Canada will blow up?" The woman gives him a Look, and the little man snorts. Then she glances at Cod's gun. "You have yours?" the woman asks, and the little man grimaces shamefacedly. "Didn't think I'd need it," he confesses, and she's got a smug look on her face but Cod is looming over them, the gun waving inches form their face, so they fall silent but as soon as Cod's back is turned Bobby sees the woman roll her eyes. He looks over at Cod. Cod looks upset. Bobby thinks he probably shouldn't mention the eye-roll, just now. The little man is watching him and his face looks so rumpled and understanding, and Bobby suddenly wants to confess everything he's ever done wrong and have the little guy tell him what to do about it all. Then Cod grabs his arm and drags him aside, and the moment is gone.
"Listen," Cod says, and he's grinning and Bobby feels uneasy and hopeful all at once. "Listen, this is good. No, yeah, this is good. Two hostages now instead of one, right? We don't both have to go, we send you with the Doc and I stay here with the babe and we tell them -" There are more footsteps on the stairs, and he and Cod share a disbelieving look because nobody ever ever comes up here ever and now it's just fucking Trafalgar Square.
"John?" someone calls, a guy's voice, and the little guy perks up. "Up here," he calls, and Cod just looks ballistic, and he takes two steps over towards the little guy to punch him with the gun when someone who reeks like pig steps through the door. He's got silver hair and cop clothes and cop shoes and he stands in the doorway, taking it all in, and Bobby thinks we're fucked the jig's up we're done for now, and the cop raises his eyebrow and Cod points the gun and shouts "Freeze!"
The cop's other eyebrow climbs up his head. He raises his hands. Cod is breathing heavy now, and for a long moment that's the only sound in the room.
The doctor's voice cuts the silence. "Ah. Perhaps you should ask him if he's armed?" He sounds polite.
The cop glares at the guy. "The fuck, John?" The little doctor shrugs.
Cod is trying to watch both the cop at the door and the doctor and the babe at the wall. Them being on opposite sides of the room makes this difficult, so his head is swiveling back and forth as he tries to keep them both in view. He shoots a look over at Bobby, and Bobby wants to say leave me out of it but Cod says, "Search the pig." So Bobby shuffles over to the cop and searches him, patting as though he knows what he's supposed to be patting for. All the guy has are handcuffs. Bobby pulls them off his belt and the cop grimaces, and Cod gets that grin on his face again, but this time Bobby's less hopeful and more worried.
Cod waves the cop over to join the others, and the cop does, treading with heavy cop steps across the room and watching Cod with the look of someone who will take advantage of any little slip-up. But "Cuff him," Cod says with relish, so Bobby cuffs the cop with his hands behind his back. The little doctor grimaces at the cop, who glares at the little doctor, who suddenly looks bloody angelic.
"Now you know how I felt," the little man says, and the cop grimaces.
"I said I was sorry," he replies, aggrieved. The little doctor sniffs, as though it's possibly not quite enough, but getting there.
"What are you doing here, anyways?" the doctor asks.
"Couldn't find you, called Mycroft," the cop says. "He told me you were here but neglected to mention anything else." They share a look of perfect disgust.
Cod is looking at them. "Right," he says, and he's nodding. "Right, this can still work. We can still do this. You," and he points at the doctor. "You're going with Bobby there," and all three hostages wince simultaneously.
"Please, please tell me Bobby is, a fake name or a nickname or something?" The cop is the one who's speaking. He sounds horrified. Bobby stares, wide-eyed and helpless, at Cod, who look like he just bit into a lemon and found a worm. The doctor has his eyes shut and is slowly shaking his head. The gorgeous woman is shaking too, but with mirth. "N- n- no," she gasps, almost doubled over. "Robert Bruce Hensworth, from Croyden, oh gods this is too priceless." She wipes tears from her eyes. "John, really, your standards in kidnapping have slipped so badly since Sh-"
She halts mid-word and looks stricken. The little doctor is frozen, still, his face devoid of all emotion. The cop looks sick, and glares daggers at the woman, who flinches and looks like she wants to bite off her own tongue. "John, I'm…" She reaches a hand out and the small man blinks and the empty face is gone. He looks at her, and Bobby knows it's fake, the smile, and she looks so regretful. "It's ok, it's fine," the little man says, but it's obviously not.
Cod's letting the gun dangle now. He clears his throat loudly, and the three hostages obediently stop their little drama to look at him with polite expectation on their faces. (Bobby thinks they look a bit relieved at the interruption, to be honest.) Cod glares at them and Bobby thinks, right, my name, let's not think about that please because I'm properly scared now so let's be moving on now to the bit where we get the drugs but there are more. Footsteps. On the stairs. Bobby closes his eyes in disbelief. He thinks he's actually seen this Benny Hill sketch before, somewhere. Cod just turns his head and looks at the door with a terribly pained expression.
A tall man in a very expensive suit steps into the room gingerly, as though he's afraid he'll get something on his loafers. He's holding an umbrella and he uses the tip to flick a dirty towel out of the way. His lips are pursed. The displeased expression drifts across Bobby, Cod, the cop, and the hot girl before resting on the doctor. "Doctor Watson," he says, and the little man shakes his head.
"We were having a perfectly good kidnapping without you," the little doctor says belligerently. The taller man tips his head back and looks down his nose at the small doctor. The doctor crosses his arms and presses his list together and looks as though he'd like to punch the taller man.
He points the gun at the ceiling and pulls the trigger. The noise is deafening in the room, and Bobby's ears ring and a bit of plaster falls down on Cod's head. It turns his dark hair white and rests on the end of his nose like he's been sniffing in a bowl full of coke. He ignores it. "I am the one with the gun!" he shouts. "None of you have a gun, that means I'm the one in charge, so you will - " the little doctor stalks over and calmly takes the gun out of Cod's hand.
He pops the clip out, racks the slide and catches the bullet that comes out, puts it on safe and sticks it in his jacket pocket. Puts the bullets in the other pocket. Looks Cod up and down with a look that Bobby thinks could come straight out of some war film, and says, "Give it up, son, you're terrible at this," and walks out of the room. The tall man looks relieved as the little doctor limps past him.
"Really, John, you can't go around letting other people kidnap you like this. How am I supposed to get ahold of you when I need you if someone else has you?" the tall man says, and the little doctor says, "It wasn't on purpose, Mycroft, and since when do I work for you anyways?" They clump down the stairs.
The beautiful woman has her phone out and is texting again as she walks past them. She pauses, looks them over, and her lips twitch. "He's right, you know," she says, and it's not unkind. "You're really rubbish at kidnapping." Then she shakes her head and picks her way out the door without looking up. The cop walks pas a moment later. His hands are free and he's pocketing his cuffs. He looks at them, shakes his head, and keeps going without saying a word.
Bobby takes two steps after them. "You're not going to arrest us?" he says in disbelief. The cop turns and looks at him. Looks at Cod. Looks at Bobby again and says, "You want me to?" and Bobby shakes his head, and the cop nods. "Right then," he says and shrugs. Bobby can't leave it though. "But we, I mean, we kidnapped…" and the cop is laughing.
"You really didn't, you know," the cop says mildly, and Bobby just looks confused. "Kidnap John. You tried, I'm sure. But you brought him in that brown car out front, right? The sedan?" and Bobby nods, suddenly worried. The cop just snorts. "That thing has back seats that fold down," the cop says gently. "John boy there, he could have come through the trunk into the back seat any time during the drive and killed you both, never even broken a sweat. He figured you were harmless so he decided to play along for a bit." Bobby is still stuck on "killed you both", picturing the little guy pushing the seat down and sitting in the back seat, slitting his throat while they drive, and he feels a bit sick. The cop is still talking, though. "…you're really lucky you picked him, though. If you'd tried one of the others at the clinic, John would've have been far more upset. He's been through a difficult time these past couple years and he's a bit, well. A bit protective of his friends." The cop looks sad. Then he cheers up. "But a nice kidnapping, that's a sure way to brighten his day up. So really, I owe you one for this. Probably best if you never try it again, though. He's not wrong; you're terrible kidnappers." He smiles sympathetically as though to take the sting out of it, and heads out the door and clumps his way down the stairs.
Cod is standing there looking lost. Bobby suddenly feels very fond of Cod, for no reason whatsoever. He walks over and claps Cod on the arm; Cod looks up at him with puppy-dog eyes, and Bobby smiles. "Come on then," Bobby says cheerfully. "We'll get a pint, ok?" Bobby nods at the door, and leads Cod out and down the stairs. Outside they contemplate the car for a bit, then leave it and begin walking down to the main street.
As they walk, Bobby hums softly a bit. Then he says, "Let's not do that ever again" in a very final voice. Beside him in the weak summer sun, Cod shudders in agreement.
Chapter 2: The Somewhat Alarming Redemption of Skinny Jimmy The Snake, Car Thief Extraordinare.
Skinny Jimmy the Snake boosts cars for a bit of extra cash, and Fat Willy, Billy Balls and Rotten break them down and sell the parts. Unfortunately, this particular car is somewhat more occupied than he was expecting when he stole it. And it belongs to some folks who are less than amused by its disappearance. And if anyone else points a gun at him today he really is going to wet himself, the hell with looking tough.
Skinny Jimmy the Snake is having a damn good day. First there was the girl at the shop giving him the Look and a smirk and an eye up and down, and her name was Lola. Lola, what a name. It just said hot shag all over. Then there was Joey telling him he might get a bonus. Now there was this, a fine black Mercedes just *sitting* there with the keys on the driver's seat and the door open. It was like a ray of sunshine in the middle of London. This day couldn't get any better.
He whistled as he drove, taking a roundabout route through the streets to the garage. He stopped in a parking lot to reset the radio, chuck out the phone that had been sitting on the passenger seat and yank out the GPS in the dash; no point in making it easy for the previous owners, was there? Then again, they couldn't have been too smart, leaving a nice bit of chrome like this laying around a neighborhood like that one. Honestly.
Half an hour later he pulled up in front of the garage, honked. The beaten-up painted door rolled open slowly. Rotten was visible at the side pulling on the greasy chain, and Jimmy cruised in, Flock of Seagulls blasting. The silence when he turned off the ignition was admiring; Billy Balls and Fat Willy were walking over, circling him and his very flash new acquisition. Ball's round face was squinted up in delight, and Fat was practically dancing his skinny little frame in place. Rotten, who was the only one tall enough to reach the chain without standing on anything, yanked on it to let the door close again before coming over. Codfish and Cautious Bobby were there, smoking on the ratty old sofa they have shoved up against the wall; they get up too and made appropriately admiring noises.
"It was just sittin' there," he says, grinning as he got out. "Keys and all." He tosses the keys in his hand. Balls leans in the open door, pops the hood; he and Fat immediately dive into the compartment and start going over the engine, discussing parts and the prices they'll get for each bit. Their asses are poking out into the air, Balls all fat and Fat all skinny. Rotten looks at them and snorts before cruising his lean leather-jacketed self over to the passenger side door. Cod and Cautious Bobby walk around, admiring the lines, trying not to get in the way.
Rotten heads straight for the glove compartment, leaning on the passenger seat, legs sticking out of the car. A moment later, he reverses out of the car so fast he clips the back of his head on the doorframe. He gives a whoop and holds up a black shape, waving it around.
Cod and Bobby look alarmed, and Jimmy focuses on what Rotten's found. A gun, far the fuck out, he thinks in delight. Then reality catches up with him. Christ, a gun. Whose car has he stolen, exactly? And will they want it back? He twitches nervously and glances at the slats of the closed garage door. Then back at Rotten as the theoretical owners of the car are dismissed in favor of alarm over Rotten, who is now pointing the gun straight at his face. His eyes cross. "Fucking hell, Rot," he says, trying not to squeak. "Point that shit somewhere else!" Rotten laughs and Jimmy thinks, Rotten, you are an asshole, staring at the thing pointed at his face. Then Rotten drops his arm and Jimmy can move again. He sticks the gun in the back of his trousers, and Jimmy exhales, tries not to show how shaken he was. He's never had a gun pointed at him before. That's not the sort of thing they deal with. Fuck. He found the car, it should be his gun, he should argue, but the sight of that barrel aimed his way has made his stomach feel all sick.
Instead, he stalks over and stabs the key into the trunk. There's some sort of hydraulic thing trying to make it open slowly, but he's angry so he yanks at it, forcing it open faster, and glares down at -
Someone glaring back up at him. From the trunk. There is a kidnapped person in the trunk.
Oh my god, he is so fucked.
There's silver tape over the little guy's mouth and silver tape around his ankles and knees and his shoes are gone, bare toes poking out, and his arms are behind his back. He's wearing a tan jacket and dark khaki trousers. The tape covers over the cuffs of the trousers. It's really a lot of tape. Overkill, Jimmy thinks, staring, trying to figure out what to say or do. "You guys," he says, and his voice sounds funny, he knows it does.
The guy in the trunk wriggles upright, eyes flickering around the room, and Jimmy can see that there's silver tape around his elbows and his wrists and his hands are pretty much swaddled in the stuff. It covers the ends of his jacket sleeves and most of his hands. The tape looks half-shredded on his wrists, almost completely cut through. A moment later the tape over his mouth flops to one side to hang off his cheek. "You're not Marcus," he says, and Jimmy boggles.
Cod and Cautious come around, eyes wide at hearing a voice, trepidation on their faces, and they look at the crumpled-looking little guy in the trunk and the little guy looks at them and Jimmy thinks, they know each other, and suddenly Cod - who is philosophical and smooth and cool and always a little in control, even if he has been distant lately - turns the color of fresh cheese curds and takes a step back. Cautious Bobby's eyes get as big as hubcaps, and he says, "Oh, no, oh, fuck no, what the fuck, the FUCK!" and he glares between Jimmy and the little guy.
Cod steps forward, hands up, practically babbling. "Ok, it's cool. It's cool, right? Um, we're not a part of this, right? We were just here smoking and we're not - I mean, we're leaving, this isn't our thing anymore, we didn't know." Jimmy gapes. Codfish is never like this. The others, Rotten and Fat and Balls, have all left what they were looking at and crowd behind Jimmy. He's at the front of the cluster, and they're all staring at the little guy, and the little guy is staring back.
"You," he says slowly, as if testing the words, "stole the car." There's silence. They can't figure out what to say to this. He was in the trunk, for fuck's sake. If they say no, then what, they kidnapped him? If they say yes, they're thieves. The little guy doesn't seem to need an answer, though. He eyes them. "Good job," he says at last, and they blink.
He glances around, eyes the boot latch directly in front of him from where he's sitting. Wriggles around so his back is to them and he's staring at the open boot lid. Shifts his legs to brace himself, hooks the tape on his arms under the latch, and jolts his whole body upwards from the knees. The tape comes free with a ripping sound; he flexes his torso and the stuff around his elbows comes apart too. He peels the tape off his fingers with his teeth and a grimace, then tugs the rest of it loose from his cheek and jacket. Pulls a knife out from an inside pocket of his jacket and starts cutting his legs. Why bother, at this point, Jimmy wonders- but a couple seconds later he has his legs free too. The glue has made a sticky mess of his arms and hands and trouser legs.
He closes the knife, sticks it back in his pocket, and swings his legs out of the car boot. He stands there barefoot in their garage in front of the very posh car, absently scrubbing at the tacky residue. "Right, who did the actual stealing?" Jimmy stands very still, but all the others take a step back. He feels his eyes widen at the betrayal. Before he can do more than shoot a wounded look over his shoulder, the little guy is addressing him. "Did you get rid of the GPS?"
His pride is on the line here. He puffs up a bit and tugs on the bottom of his jacket while he nods. "'Course. I ain't an ameteur," he sneers. The little guy nods, seeming impressed. His face crinkles in a smile. "Good job," he says again, mildly. "Don't suppose you found my phone while you were at it, though? Or - " he hesitates - "um, anything else possibly useful?" He seems a bit cagey on that last sentence.
Rotten makes a noise, then swaggers forward to stand beside Jimmy. "Dunno what you mean by useful," he says, hauling out the gun from his pants, "But we found this." He points it at the little guy. Jimmy, seeing it, feels nothing but relief it's not pointed at his face this time. He glances at the guy, who does not seem to be experiencing the tunnel vision or bowel-watering fear Jimmy felt on the other end of that black circle. "Now," Rotten says with a tough glare, "How about you explain - "
Jimmy has time to see Cod cringe and Cautious squelch his eyes shut, a pained look on his face, before the little guy blinks. "Oh, you found it then," he says. He snaps his hand up and takes the gun away from Rotten with a funny little twist. Rotten yelps, and is left standing there gawping at his empty fingers. The guy checks the gun, pops the clip and eyes the bullets, and puts it all back together. Then he sticks it in his pocket. "Thanks for that. Was there a phone with it?"
"I crunched it," Jimmy says. He's not sure if he should be scared of the guy or laugh at the look on Rotten's face. "GPS, yah?" The guy nods, but grimaces.
"Yes, but in this case it would have been… well. Not particularly friendly, but. Allied." He turns and looks over the car. Looks thoughtful. Drops to his knees and starts feeling around under the bumper. Not finding anything, he gets back up, brushes his hands off, and pads around to the front of the car. They all trail after him like confused ducklings, and watch him drop down and start searching under the front bumper with an intent expression on his face.
He comes back up looking grim and holding another phone. This one is filthy and has tape hanging off it. He hisses through his teeth and licks his lips. Mutters to himself. "Destroy it here, they know where to stop looking, but it's already been sitting here long enough for them to get a fix on this location. Any way to make it look accidental?" He looks up at them, winces. "Probably not. Best bet…." His voice raises, becomes commanding. "Listen, there's going to be some folks coming here," he says. "You need to make them believe that you didn't find me at all, that I was gone when you stole the car. I think - you, the one who stole it. Where was the place you ripped out the GPS?"
"Parking lot," he replies without thinking. Balls glares at him, but he just looks back at Balls helplessly. What the fuck is he supposed to do, lie?
The guy is nodding. "Right, this might work. If they think you've never seen me they might leave you alone. You got the car from a parking lot, it was just sitting there with the trunk open. You didn't know it was theirs, you'd never steal from folks like them, you're happy to return it. Hell, you'll take it to get detailed if they want." Fat looks offended but the little guy just shakes his head. "These are not people you want to be involved with," he says firmly, and Fat closes his mouth, looking mutinous.
Cod and Cautious are shuffling in place. The guy looks at them. They look back. "I think," Cautious says, "I think we're just going to, um… listen, we haven't had lunch yet, all right? So we might go get some lunch. Someplace." They look hopefully at the guy, like they're asking permission.
He snorts and nods. "Probably safest," he agrees, and they practically bolt for the back door. Jimmy glares after them. He and Fat and Balls and Rotten sort of shuffle in place, then look at the guy. Who is no longer looking at them. He's just looking at the filthy phone he peeled out from under the bumper.
It has some sort of password lock on it. For a moment he contemplates the password lock with a look on his face like he's forgotten they're standing there, as though he's standing someplace else seeing someone else entirely. Then there's the banging slam of the door at the back of the garage and Cod and Cautious come flying back towards them, looking out of breath and sick. "Men in the alley," Cod gasps. "Suits," Cautious pants out.
The guy perks up. "Mycr…. the tall fellow with the umbrella?" he asks, looking cheered.
"I don't think so," says Cod apologetically. "He didn't look the type for gold bling."
The little guy makes a face. "No. His idea of bling is probably made from fissile materials." Jimmy's trying to work out what fissile means while the little guy lopes over to the front door, the little one that sits off to the side of the big car door. He drops down and peers under the crack at the bottom, bounces back up and runs back over to them - they hadn't quite decided if they were following him or standing still, apparently, and sort of shuffled in place. "Out front too. No other way out?" He looks at Balls, and Balls starts to shake his head for a moment before something seems to catch up with him - he nods and points at the stairs, and the door to the roof. Jimmy barely has a moment to wonder exactly how he knew this place belonged to Balls and not any of the rest of them before they're moving - apparently they are following the guy - over to the rickety stairs that lead to the joist that the tackle hangs from, and the door out onto the roof.
The guy is silent in his bare feet as he runs up the stairs; everyone else makes a noise like a dozen cars falling into a scrap heap, clanging and banging. They're out the door into the dreary drizzle, and the guy is looking around. On one side is another building a couple stories taller than their garage, on the other the roof runs down a line of connected garages like this one, all decayed brickwork and nasty old tar and gravel. There's plenty of broken glass up here. Not good for bare feet. that's something Jimmy's never really thought about before when he was up here breaking beer bottles at 2 am. He determines to be more careful in the future.
The guy starts moving down the gravel, towards the end where the garages stop because they meet the road, when Rotten makes a noise. Jimmy turns, and they see a guy coming over the side of the roof. The ladder, Jimmy thinks, stupid stupid forgot the ladder, while the guy looks up from his climb and sees them. The guy looks as surprised as they are, but that only lasts a second. Balls and Fat turn to run, Rotten shouts something angry, and the guy fumbles one-handed in his suit jacket - that really is a lot of bling, Jimmy thinks, looking at the flash of a gold necklace and watch - and the guy pulls out a gun.
There's a flat crack and Jimmy thinks someone's been shot and the guy falls backwards off the ladder, red streaming down his face, and the little guy is holding the gun. Someone has been shot, is probably dead, but it's not him and it's not the gang. Not his friends, not the good guys. "Run," the little guy says mildly when they all stand there and gape at him, and puts his words to action bolting down the stretch of roof. Good guys, we're the good guys, Jimmy thinks hysterically as he runs. He's never been one of the good guys before.
The little barefoot guy slams to a stop against the edge of the roof, leaning over and looking down. A moment later he's skittered sideways and is going over the roof. Jimmy leans over to see what's going on, and the guy is hanging from his fingertips from the edge of the roof and he drops down onto the roof of a truck that's sitting there. Mr. Urdanski's laundry buisness, Jimmy thinks. God bless Mr. Urdanski today, Jimmy's going to buy him a beer when they get out of this. Hell, he'll buy a whole case of them.
Rotten is over next, dropping down beside the guy, and Fat and Balls and Cod and Cautious and he's scrambling beside them. The truck makes a loud noise when their feet hit it and they're over the side of the truck, running down the street, following the guy around a corner when there's a flat cracking noise and a bit of the wall about ten feet in front of him sort of puffs and makes a pinging noise. And again, and again, and someone is shooting at him. He runs faster than he has ever run in his life, then. On the day Jimmy the Snake dies in the hospital of old age, there will still be bits of that run he won't remember.
After the blank bit the next thing he knows they're huddled next to a skip, all of them crouched together in a bunch by the building the skip is pushed up against. He can smell Rotten's cologne and feel Fat shaking beside him, trying to breathe quietly. "This is much worse than last time," Cautious says in a miserable voice, and Cod agrees, and Jimmy thinks - the fuck happened last time? And he twists his head and see the little guy isn't' with them. He's on the other side of the alley, standing with his back flat against a door, sort of sheltered by the frame a little but not even remotely as concealed as they all are. He doesn't look scared. He's looking straight ahead, not at any of them. Jimmy waves his hand a little and tries to beckon the guy over, but he just shakes his head a tiny bit and presses his lips together and his eyes shift and Jimmy can hear it, footsteps. Trying to be stealthy but not really succeeding.
They all get so quiet then. Breathing through their mouth. Jimmy watches in terror as the end of a gun comes past the end of the skip, right in front of him, black barrel and black gloves and black jacket sleeves and then the guy whips around and is pointing the gun at them. And falling face-first on the ground, out cold. And the little guy is standing there behind him, holding his gun by the barrel.
The little guy - "What's your name, dammit?" hisses Rotten, as the guy stuffs his gun into his pocket, then crouches down and grabs the gun the thug dropped and tucks it in the back of his pants. When he does it, it looks practical, not like how Rotten did it. Jimmy's heart is still pounding from having the second gun pointed at him in his life. This time it wasn't being pointed by his idiot friend, either. He thinks maybe he wet himself a little. And he really, really doesn't care what this guy's name is.
The little guy grabs the thug by the legs and hauls him behind the skip with them. "John," he wheezes out. He stands up, rubs his hands on his trousers. Sticks one hand out to Rotten. "John Watson." Rotten shakes the hand, looking like he unexpectedly walked into a doorpost.
"He's a doctor," says Cod helpfully.
"How the hell do you know that?" hisses Balls.
"We tried to kidnap him for drugs," says Cautious with a mournful expression, and everyone turns to stare. Cautious looks defensive. "We said we were sorry."
They turn and look back at Doctor John Watson, who is searching through the pockets of the unconscious thug. He blinks up at them. "Actually, I don't think you did," he replies. "Say you're sorry." He comes out with keys, some change, a bit of lip balm, and a knife. He immediately starts cutting the thug's jacket into strips.
"We were. Are. Sorry. Very, very, sorry," says Cautious.
"Yeah," says Cod. "Sorry about that. Hey, um, listen. Do you think maybe, you know, um, the chick?"
While they've been talking, John's got strips of what was once a very expensive black jacket and has used them to tie the guy's hands and feet together in a complicated and uncomfortable-looking arrangement. He tugs it tight and starts stuffing bits of leftover jacket in the guy's mouth. He scowls at the man as he ties a strip of sleeve tightly around the man's head, holding it all in place, then stands and looks at them. "Technically," he lectures, "you should never stuff someone's mouth full of cloth when you're kidnapping them. They could become nauseous upon waking up and choke to death on their own vomit, which would make you a party to murder. In this gentleman's case I'm not feeling particularly charitable though." He gives the thug a glare and a nudge with his bare foot, then eyes the man's shoes. After a moment of comparing his feet to the shoes, he gives up sadly and looks up at Cod.
"She's out of your league," he says, and begins walking down the alley. They trail along after him. "Best forget about her, she'll eat you alive and pick her teeth with your bones." He seems thoughtful for a moment. "Probably use the metacarpals, they're pretty small and would be most likely to splinter the right way." Jimmy exchanges a wide-eyed look with Fat. Cod does not look completely dissuaded, but Cautious looks anxious.
"I know you," says Rotten, half a street later. They're getting closer to where people live, moving away from the purely industrial and Saturday-empty part of own. John seems to be slowing down, looking around more carefully now. "John Watson. You were in the news." The neighborhood is still mostly abandoned factories, but you can tell you're shifting territories; the streets are cleaner and the buildings have less graffiti. John freezes in place, looking up - a CCTV camera, Jimmy notes - he nods at it and then turns back to Rotten.
Balls has perked up a bit. "Yeah? Wotcher famous for, then?"
John and Rotten just look at each other a moment. John's face is impassive; Rotten turns to Balls. "That detective, the one who jumped off the hospital a couple years ago. The Sun was all over it. He's his boyfriend. Some kid of writer." Jimmy looks over at Doctor John Watson, famous boyfriend of a famous scam artist, and blinks. He didn't know writers shot people.
John grimaces, looks annoyed. "Friend. Not his boyfriend," he says, as though that were the most important bit of the conversation, not the suicide, not the scam artist thing, not the bit in Jimmy the Snake's head where the guy keeps falling backwards off the ladder with a bit of red on his face. John turns and glares at the CCTV a moment, then stalks off, shoulders straight and head high. Until another thug in a black suit pops around the corner holding a gun.
"Shit!" yelps Rotten, and scrambles backwards, but there's another guy coming around the corner behind them - bigger and meaner looking than any the first lot. Rotten skids to a stop and holds his hands out. The big guy looks pissed off.
John swings his head around, doesn't' seem surprised. "Marcus," he says politely. "You caught up."
The big guy has less gold than his little blinged up thugs did - he's only wearing a fat ring on one finger. He grins, and it's a nasty expression. "I caught up," he agrees, and his accent is something northeastern European. "You don't run so good, barefoot." They all glance at John's feet. John looks stoic, as though this were expected. Marcus strolls forward, the gun he's holding looking little in his meaty hand. "Now we talk, yes?"
John smiles, and says "How about no?" Jimmy thinks he's going to be sick. Marcus looks angry again. He strides forward faster, shoving through Rotten and Cod to stand in front of John and swing his arm back in a big arc. Rotten and Cod and Fats all sort of skitter back, away from the big angry guy with the gun, but John holds still. The guy - Marcus - smashes his fist, gun and all, down, like he's going to bash John across the face. John rolls his shoulder and goes with it. Marcus comes in more, cursing something glottal and angry, kicking and whomping and all in all not entirely hitting his target as much as he ought to and then quite suddenly he's standing still and John's got him by the neck and one of John's guns is pointed at Marcus' face. Oh, thinks Jimmy as he relaxes. I guess I don't have to help out and get shot after all. And then he wonders, why was I going to jump in there? This is nothing to do with me.
But it is, it is something to do with him and he knows it. Looks at Fat and Balls and Rotten and they know it too, they're looking at this like they're on John's side, like they were ready to jump Marcus too as soon as they got their courage up a bit.
"Gun," John says in a polite tone, and Marcus swallows convulsively around where the much smaller man is holding his adam's apple between his thumb and fingers. Marcus sort of holds the gun out to the side and drops it. John doesn't look away from Marcus's face. "Pick that up please, Cod, and this time don't wave it around like an idiot." Cod sort of scuttles forward and picks up the gun. John nods. There's a noise from behind them John's back, and everyone looks over at the end of the alley.
The fourth thug is standing there, one eyebrow raised. "I am still here and still armed," he says slowly, as though they're very stupid and have forgotten this fact. He has an accent. And a gun. The gun is pointed vaguely at John, or maybe Fat, or Cautious, or Rotten. The bullet would definitely hit one of them. Jimmy had forgotten him entirely. From the look on their faces, so had Rotten and Balls and… John didn't look surprised at all. "Drop the gun please and let my boss go." There's a long moment where John just looks at him with a blank face, and then he lowers the gun and looses his grip on Marcus. Marcus straightens his jacket and scowls at John. Turns to glare imperiously at Cod and snaps his fingers for the gun. Cod's eyes flick wildly from John to Marcus.
There's the flat crack of a gunshot. Jimmy snaps his head around wildly. Did anyone get shot? Where? What? John didn't move this time. Cod is still standing there with his mouth hanging open. Who?
The thug at the end of the street is lying on the ground yelping like a kicked puppy, holding his wrist. The hand he was holding the gun with is a mangled mess. Marcus yells something angry and lunges for John, who scrambles backwards and sideways. Marcus chases him. There's a moment when they're running in a circle like something out of a cartoon, and then the alley is full of the sound of police sirens. A cop car screeches to a stop at the end of the alley by the injured thug, men in uniform pile out shouting, and Marcus reverses the chase - suddenly he's the one running away and John is chasing after him with his face scrunched in determination. Marcus has shoes, though, and despite his bulk he's getting away.
That lasts until he gets to the end of the alley. A gorgeous woman steps away from the wall. She's holding a blackberry. She raises one hand, palm out, while she keeps texting with the other; Marcus comes to a screeching halt in front of her. He stands there staring while she focuses on her blackberry for a long moment; John jogs up and stands just to Marcus's right, out of reach. After a long moment, she looks up. Her gaze is vague as it drifts across them. "John," she says, as though puzzled to see him.
"Anthea," he replies agreeably, a bit out of breath. "Lovely timing."
She switches her eyes over to Marcus. One eyebrow twitches. She's still talking to John, although she's looking at Marcus. "You got Greg a present. How thoughtful."
Marcus turns red. He snarls and clenches his fists, as though he were going to lash out; John eyes him warily and steps back. Marcus draws his fist back, and Anthea blinks slowly at him, lips pursed as though she were looking at a not particularly bright or attractive child. Something horrible is going to happen, Jimmy just knows it. Even the cops at the other end of the street know it and gape at the scene from where they're trying to work out how to handcuff someone who's missing most of one hand. It's going to end badly. Jimmy isn't' sure how, but he knows that feeling in his stomach.
He feels the moment stretch and snap as Cod lunges past them all and grabs Marcus around the neck. Cod's shouting something stupid, something like "You miserable prick you don't hit a hot twist", and bashing Marcus in the face with one fist while he hangs off his back with the other. Marcus swings wildly and grabs for the arms wrapped around his neck; he misses and grabs Cod's hair, and stumbles in a circle. Cod's so much lighter that he's swung around with the larger man, feet off the ground. Cautious bolts up and grabs at Marcus' hand, trying to pry it loose from Cod's hair. Cautious gets swatted across the face for his trouble and accidentally kicks Fat as he tries to stay on his feet. Fat shoves him back against Marcus, then lunges for the crim's other arm. A moment later Jimmy's biting Marcus on the bicep trying to get him to let go, and Balls is hanging onto one dark-trousered leg, and the whole pile of them topple onto the ground in a shouting heap. Jimmy's pretty sure it's Cod's sneaker that catches him in the rib, and he gets a much better view of Ball's personal namesake than he really wanted too.
It lasts less than a minute before Marcus is lying on the ground pinned by all of them, like some sort of unfortunately loser in a footy scrum. John and Anthea, who had both backed up a bit, come forward to lean over the lot of them and look down.
"Oh," Anthea says, looking at Cod and Cautious and Fat and Balls and Rotten. "That was… um." She looks like she's going to say "stupid", but instead she says, "Sweet." Cod blushes. He's lying on the ground in an alley half-burried under blokes, and looks like he ought to be scuffing his shoes on the playground. Jimmy lets his head thunk down on the ground, but doesn't let go of the bit of Marcus's suit he's holding.
John is looking at them all a bit concerned. "At least two possible concussions. And you, you're going to need a tetanus shot." He points to Fat, who has somehow impaled his cheek on a dirty bit of wire in the mess. Then there are a lot more faces, mostly wearing police uniforms, and they're helped up and escorted aside while a silver-haired man stalks down the alley with an aggrieved look on his face.
"John!" he exclaims. There's a wealth of emotion there; annoyance, worry, relief.
"Hullo, Greg," says John in a cheerful voice. "'Bout time you got here. You missed all the fun, though." He nods to where Marcus is being cuffed. One of the coppers has gotten enthusiastic and is trying to cuff Fat, who's arguing in a plaintive voice that he's not a criminal. Well, not right now, at any rate. Greg looks at John, who shakes his head; Greg in turn shakes his head at the hopeful copper, who looks disappointed as he puts his cuffs back in their case. Then he spots Cod and Cautious.
"You!" he says in a tone of disgust. Cod is sitting up while a copper looks at a cut behind his ear. There's blood all down his shirt collar. He looks up, wide eyed, at Greg's exclamation.
"Filth!" he exclaims. "Crap, no, that's not what I meant," he says hurriedly as the officer beside him accidentally yanks quite hard on the hair he's holding out of the way to look at the cut. "I meant it's not my fault this time. I was helping." He looks outraged and innocent. Greg shoots him a suspicious look, then glances over at Cautious.
Cautious nods his head in fast little jerks, his eyes huge. "Helping," he agrees. "Swear. We learned, we really did."
Greg looks at John, who looks like he's trying not to laugh. "They sort of were," he says to the look of disbelief on Greg's face.
Greg looks the scene over with a mulish expression. "Well, we'll get that sorted out down at the station, won't we?" he says, and there's a promise of a long night in interrogation for everyone involved there, Jimmy's sure of it.
"Ah," says Anthea thoughtfully, and steps backwards. She gives them a look of patently false regret. "Sorry. Appointment," she sighs and drifts away.
"What the hell sort of appointment is more important than this?" Greg shouts after her.
She turns and looks them over. "Hmmm. Um, nails?" She looks as though she's laughing at them; Greg snorts, and she swings back around and walks off, her heels clicking on the pavement. Nobody stops her. Cod looks as though he's just lost the lottery. John clears his throat. She freezes. Turns and looks at him.
He's got his eyebrows raised, his forehead all wrinkled, and he glances meaningfully from her to Cod and back. She shoots him a look of utter dismay. He just stands there, looking at her; she sighs, then turns and walks back over to Cod. Looks down. He grins up hopefully. She tips her head a bit back, then gingerly pats Cod on the head. "Thanks," she says. "Even if the sniper would have taken care of it." Her expression is pained. She looks at John, who nods firmly; then she walks away again. Cos sighs with bliss.
"Sniper?" says the gray-haired cop. He sounds like someone just handed him a live bomb. John clears his throat and glances at the CCTV camera; the cop scowls and makes a rude gesture at it. "Bloody hell," he mutters, and glares after the gorgeous woman. "Her boss is a menace." John snorts, and the cop flushes. "Shut up," he says irritably.
"I think she likes me," Cod says to the cop crouched beside him with a delirious grin. In answer, the cop dumps alcohol over the cut behind his ear. Cod yelps and flinches back. "Damn, a little warning?" he howls. The cop smirks.
Jimmy looks around the alley. Old bill everywhere. Marcus being hauled away and stuffed into the back seat of a car with two large, scowling rozzers standing over him. His friends sitting around chattering like they've just had a grand adventure. The silver-haired cop pointing and directing while people in uniforms stretch tape out across the alley mouth and flashbulbs go off and yell at a couple people with cell phone cameras, and the little doctor is standing there calmly in the middle of it all still barefoot. The guy meets his eyes and Jimmy doesn't know what he sees, but his face crinkles sympathetically and he limps over. They're just standing there being ignored in the middle of the whole thing.
"Why did they kidnap you in the first place?" Jimmy asks, after a moment.
John looks away. Shrugs. Jimmy isn't really expecting an answer, but John sort of sighs, and his shoulders slump. "They thought something that's not true," he says in such a quiet voice that Jimmy can barely hear it, even though they're standing side by side. "I went after them, and that's plenty that they'd have killed me, but they thought someone else - well. They didn't think I was alone." His lips twist in something that's not at all a smile. "Stupid of them, really. And egotistical; they're small fries in a bigger picture. He'd never have wasted his time, even if… but. It doesn't matter now. We got them."
Jimmy processes this for a while. Then another question occurs to him. "Why'd you go after them? What did they do?"
John nods at the question. "There was a girl came into the surgery a few months ago for broken ribs, and Sara - a friend - thought there was something odd about her. Thought it was just domestic at first but there was a bloke in there with her, Sara said it didn't look right. So I asked around a bit and found out a few things." He shrugs. "They had some girls locked up, were hurting them."
The silver-haired bluebottle has wandered back over, done directing his troops like a traffic warden directing cars. Something about him strikes Jimmy as square; his hair, his jaw, his stance. He's all edges, and he snorts at John's description. "You mean, you took the prostitute out for drinks and dinner and got her to confess the whole thing to you," he says. John - blushes, Jimmy thinks, looking at him in amazement. Actually blushes. Starts to shuffle his feet, and winces a bit.
The square cop looks down and lets out a curse. "John, you idiot. Why didn't you say?" He looks both exasperated and worried again as he waves over someone in the yellow jacket of an ambulance attendant.
John sends a dirty glare at the cop. "I'm perfectly capable," he begins to object, when the attendant arrives. The cop points at John's feet, and the medic's eyes widen. She takes his arm and steers him over to the back of the vehicle to sit, while she tries to rinse the dirt and blood away with a bottle of sterile saline water. Jimmy recognizes it because they and to rinse his sister's face off with something like it when she went to the emergency room for getting powdered detergent all over her hair. John complains in a reasonable if somewhat strident tone the whole time, and tries to take the tweezers away from the attendant when she reaches to pull something from his foot; she yanks her hand back, and he yanks his foot back. They glare at each other. Jimmy turns his back, looks at the policeman.
"I stole a car," he says.
The copper nods. "I know."
"You going to arrest me?" Jimmy feels himself trying to be brave, but it's all catching up.
The cop looks him over. Shakes his head. "Nah. Not my division," he says cheerfully. In a lower, confiding tone, he continues. "Besides, you've no idea the hell I'd catch if anything happened to that one there." He nods at John, who has acquired the tweezers from the attendant and is pulling things out of his own feet while she pours the sterile water over to rinse away the blood. The cop winces. "Anything serious," he amends.
Jimmy shakes his head in disbelief. "Good luck with that," he says, and the cop looks gloomy.
Jimmy walks over to where Fat is getting his cheek looked over. "Hey," he says, and Fat nods, then hisses out a noise as it pulls on the wire still stuck through his cheek. The ambulance attendant glares at Jimmy, who flushes. Idiot. "Gonna be a nice scar," he says consolingly to Fat, who looks cheered at the thought.
Cautious comes over and leans beside them. Looks at Jimmy. "You ok?" he asks, his voice quiet. He's the only one who's asked that at all, Jimmy thinks as he nods. Leans back and looks at the miserable cloudy sky and twitches in his jacket.
Cautious leans back too, looking up. They both glance over at the CCTV camera. It's aimed exactly at them. Cautious shudders and looks away; Jimmy sighs. "Think I'll give up boosting for a while," he says casually.
Cautious looks at him and nods emphatically. "That might be a really good idea," he says.
They're silent a bit longer.
"Think I might go to church tomorrow," he says after a bit. Cautious looks surprised.
This stumps Jimmy for a bit, before he remembers the big church down on Sharp's Lane. "That one, got a statue of a woman out front. She's pretty hot, right? Even though she looks all sad?"
Cautious nods. "Something something Theresa." He pauses, sucking on his teeth. "Knew a Theresa once."
Jimmy thinks this is a good thing, and says so. Cautious shrugs. "She got married and had three mean little kids and got fat."
Jimmy thinks a bit. "Different Theresa, then," he replies and Cautious agrees it's likely so. After a bit, he ventures the part that's actually got him nervous. "Want to come with?"
Cautious looks at him keenly, then softens. "Sure, why not," he agrees. Then he looks worried. "We probably won't catch on fire or anything," he says, and Jimmy purses his lips.
"Probably not," Jimmy replies, but there's doubt in his voice.
Cautious looks over to where Fat is arguing as best he can with half his face covered in a bandage. "Might be better to skip the whole thing though, just in case," he says. Casual-like. Doesn't want to seem like he's backing down.
Jimmy sighs in relief. "Might be," he agrees, and they share a glance. "Beer?"
Cautious nods in agreement.
Four hours, a police ride, two interrogation rooms and a cab later, they lift their pints in relief.
"To the only church that'll have me," Jimmy says, waving his pint at the pub and nearly slopping beer on the table.
"Hear, hear," agrees Fat in a voice muffled by stitches and a white gauze pad. Balls is getting another round, Cod's googling the name "Anthea" on someone's phone and Jimmy's absolutely not going to ask where he got it, and Rotten's busy chatting up the waitress. Jimmy takes a sip. Looks at his friends. Looks at Cautious. "Still never borrowing another car," he says, as though there were some debate on that point.
Cautious nods. "If you do," he replies, "I might have to shove your head in a bog and flush."
Jimmy laughs for the first time all day, and all is, if not well, then well on the way.