HE HAD watched and assessed them all but she was the first worth a closer look. He had quickly ruled out the men. Not that he couldn’t have done them; he most certainly could, every one of them, but there was no need to make work for yourself. Learn from the best. Lions in Africa don’t attack the strongest zebra, wild beast, whatever. The weak taste just as good. Junk food for lions. A woman was just as likely to have money, cards and jewellery as any man. More so.
Yeah, a lion.
He knew she’d seen him even though she’d pretended to look away. Good: let her be shitting herself. In Africa, those wild beasts, when their moment came, they stopped running and crouched on the ground, fear in their eyes, hoping the lion would suddenly take pity. Right. Let’s have a closer look at this one. Yeah. He could smell it. Even the tough guys find themselves suddenly not so tough when they find themselves looking at his steel, so it didn’t matter. He’d done men before, when he’d had to, and seen them shake with fear. She was getting closer. Skinny. Light on her feet. Good at running, maybe but not as good as him. It was a good spot. Busy, very busy, near the tube station, but a little alleyway nearby should things get a bit messy. Escape routes in four directions. Loads of people around, more than usual, but that didn’t matter as no one ever did anything. And most important, no lenses in this particular spot. The Lids had it easy these days because they could get machines and tech to do their dirty work for them. Not that going straight to video bothered him. For one, if you did your homework, you could always find a blind spot. For another, even if you did get snapped, it wasn’t exactly 1080p. He watched that programme on the TV and you could never recognise anyone, unless they got sloppy. He always watched it half in the hope of seeing himself, knowing he was the only one who was going to recognise himself. That and the fame. Best of all, it was like some sort of Open University, that programme. In fact, it was down to Crimewhatsit he was there at all. The Pol on the telly had said most of this stuff happens outside tube stations, where people are checking their expensive phones as they either come in or out. Of course these clowns would do that. All he had to do was crawl … not crawl like a … but like a lion in the long grass of those London streets until he had found a place where there weren’t any lenses and wait. As long as you don’t take the piss, you’re fine, straight to video or not. Don’t get greedy. That’s what ruins it. Be patient. Otherwise, the Lids will be there waiting for you. After tonight, stay away, tempting as it might be, a week or two, maybe three.
He knew what she was thinking. She was wondering if he was the one. Was it finally going to happen to her. Yes it was. As she got closer, he could see “girl” was being generous. Must be nearly thirty. He’d never seen old women’s tits and hoped he never did. One ambition likely to come true. In this game he’d be dead before he was 25, if he was lucky. Not lucky to live that long, but lucky not to live any longer. Might go sooner. One of these, maybe even this one, she could have anything. Gun, knife, even a comb with a handle could do it if she got lucky. In the eye. Unlikely, but one in a thousand, one in ten thousand. He was going to find that person sooner or later. Occupational hazard. But no point in doing a job if you don’t enjoy it. If it’s just the money, give it up and let someone else have a go.
He was leaning against the wall, looking cool, pretending to be relaxed. Not that he needed to pretend: he was the one with the skills and experience. It was like anything else: if you have to put new shocks in your car, you can get the bits, Youtube it, you might be lucky and get it right. Do it every day, though, 10 times a day, and it’s automatic. Even if she’d been done before, even if she was unlucky enough to have been done 20 times before, she was still a newcomer to this game, compared to him. She got a bit closer and he could see she hadn’t been done before. Not even once. He could always tell.
However, always a first time for everything. She walked past him and he stepped in a few paces behind. One of the best bits. Up to then she’d have been thinking she was imagining it. She’d have told herself she was discriminating against him by even thinking it and he was probably a student or whatever. But he wasn’t no student. When he stepped in behind her, she knew. He loved that bit. Bag over her shoulder. Just rip it off. Make sure it hurts, even if she lets it go. Down on the ground. Kick her if it feels right. A few quid. Thirty. Forty. A few cards. Bank right around the corner. Yeah, he’d been and looked. It’s all in the preparation. Diary in the bag. Address book or maybe all that in the phone these days. Do they think he’s stupid? Natalie West. Or anyone called Lloyd, Barclay. Something like that. Last four numbers of the phone number. Think they’re being clever. Three hundred quid. Three hundred multiplied by how many cards she has and he’s away before she’s even got to the first menu on customer services, and that’s if someone lends her a phone. Round here, they’re more likely to just step over her. Makes his job easy. If she fights, just whap her one. Or two, or three. If somehow, it don’t go right, show her his steel. Use it. See how she likes her pretty face now. Don’t say anything: no need. Actions speak louder than. All done before she’s even hit the floor.
He knew what she was going to do next and she did it as if she was acting out a script. The little glance over the shoulder. The little look, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, perhaps finding the direction of the setting sun for navigation. But he knew, and he knew she knew. The zebra and the wild beasts did that. And the lion looked straight back at her. Close enough now. A few people around but they won’t do anything. All over before they even know what’s happened. They’re frightened enough anyway. They’d be pleased it wasn’t them.
Then … something. Don’t know. Sixth sense. It put him off his stride. Moment gone.
Still, another one along in a minute. Something about this one, anyway. Not right. Look at the clothes: charity-shop job, at her age. She wouldn’t have much: mobile, they’ve all got that, but not a cool one. Yes, there’d be a card but she probably wouldn’t even have that three hundred quid on it. And there was something about her face. He could have done her, no problem, but why not pick an easier target?
THE commuters avoided stepping in the small space marked for buskers as if was a satanic pentagram, leaving Clem and Seb in their own little world. They were deep inside the tube station but just far enough away from the platform to not be drowned out every couple of minutes by a train, although Clem often wondered if there was a way of incorporating that sound in a song. Their connection to the outside world was the cheap plastic guitar cover Seb had placed on the edge of the pentagram into which passers-by were supposed to deposit their coins of appreciation. None had done so.
They were between songs and Seb was troubled by a cough. It was a cough of damp streets and unheated rooms and knew when it started in the autumn it would be early summer before it cleared up. Clem wanted to put that sound in a song too. Clem was working his fingers through the next number, mostly remembering the chords but having to work out one or two things as he went along. Seb watched patiently.
‘Is that a B-minor, or minor-seventh?’ said Clem. ‘I think the straight minor sounds better.’
Seb coughed again. ‘Shut up!’ he told himself. ‘That’s what we did last time, the seventh.’
‘What did they do?’
Clem tried both again, like a chef deciding how much salt to put in his soup.
‘I think the minor sounds better.’
Seb signalled his acceptance with a nod and a cough.
‘B-minor it is.’
‘Who am I to say I know better than them?’ said Clem.
‘They led us to this spot,’ said Seb. ‘It’s up to you if we look up at the stars or down at the ground.’
Clem smiled. ‘Indeed. But it’s up to us, not me.’
‘No, it’s you. You’re the man.’
There was a small space for people to stand and listen, should they wish, which they did not. It would be better in an hour, when all these people, with their mini-headphones and their free newspapers had rushed home. Then the party-goers would be on the prowl. The irony that those two groups contained exactly the same individuals was not lost on the two men. They started the song relishing the knowledge only they would hear the difference between B-minor and B-minor seventh.
A woman had appeared next to the pentangle. Clem and Seb hadn’t even seen her as they had played, so absorbed had they been in their minor/minor-seventh wrangle. Plus, she had come against the crowd. Everyone was walking one way, and she the other. When they finished the song, they looked up and she seemed to come out of her own trance and remember the thing to do was give them some money. She rifled through her bag to find her purse.
‘There’s no need,’ Clem said pleasantly. She continued to dig into her bag. Clem and Seb knew why it was taking so long. She wanted to give the right amount: to be generous, but not to let on how much cash she had on her in case the temptation proved too much for a duo who, when viewed from a certain perspective, were no better than beggars. When she had thrown the coins on the guitar case, and her offering was at the generous end of the scale, she smiled and turned to leave.
‘Stay a while,’ Clem said, adding ‘if you want’ when he saw a glimpse of apprehension on her face. ‘We don’t want anything more off you,’ said Clem. ‘Nothing that you won’t freely give up. I’ll take an idea off you, if you have one. But not many people have one of those. A good one, anyway. That and a cigarette. Anyway, you’ve bought a ticket, not that you had to, so you may as well stay for the gig.’
The woman forced a smile onto her strained face and stayed, perhaps only planning to remain for a moment. She tried to lean against the wall, but that was more uncomfortable than standing up straight so she slid down to the floor to sit alongside the pair. She wasn’t quite in the satanic pentangle, but she wasn’t quite out of either.
‘I don’t smoke,’ she said.
‘That’s okay. I’d get arrested for smoking,’ he said. ‘Conspiracy to smoke. Supplying. Quite apart from the damage it would do to my friend.’
Seb coughed, through a smile, to confirm it.
‘Any other crime you can commit at will,’ Clem carried on, waving a hand at the passers-by, ‘corporate fraud, turning yourself into a shop dummy, whatever. Rudeness, the greatest crime of all. You get a million-pound bonus for that. But smoking, killing myself, off with the old nut. They don’t let go, let me tell you.’
‘Shop dummy?’ she said.
‘Sorry,’ said Seb. ‘He has his own language. He’s talking about his audience.’
‘The walking, sometimes talking, but not very often, and when they do it’s not worth listening to, shop dummies you see here tonight. Not a thought in their heads.’
‘The worst crime an artiste can commit,’ coughed Seb, pronouncing the word “artiste” as if he was teasing a cymbal, ‘trashing the people who people who pay your wages.’
‘Shop dummies,’ said Clem. ‘Well, one thought in their tiny minds. How crowded the train is going to be. That’s it. Nothing else gets through. Music, ideas, nothing. Not you, though. You’re different.’
She smiled. ‘I’m not so sure about that.’
‘If someone walks past in a suit and throws us a couple of quid because he’s trying to impress his girlfriend,’ said Seb, ‘show that he’s down with the kids, what difference is it, to us, to the person who stops and listens, gets it, and gives the same amount?’
‘All the difference in the world,’ said Clem. ‘You understand, don’t you?’
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘I’m Clem, by the way. This is Seb.’
Seb was about to say hello but that cough came back and engulfed him once more. However, years of practice had taught him to incorporate his cough in whatever he was doing at the moment it struck and he still managed to convey a greeting.
An alarm went off at some distant point in the station. Clem noticed that it seemed to hurt her; as if someone ringing a bell right on her head. But at least she had noticed it: everyone else in the station simply carried on.
‘When people die in fires,’ he said with an evil little grin, ‘it’s because they ignore fire alarms. Funny that, isn’t it?’
‘I don’t see you making a run for it,’ she said. ‘Starting a stampede.’
‘Me?’ he said, as if surprised she was referring to him. ‘Oh me, I make the most of it. What note is it, Seb?’
The two of them fingered their guitars for a moment.
‘F,’ said Clem. ‘Definitely F. We might as well tune up to it. If they’re going to offer something to us, we might as well take it.’
The pair tuned their guitars. ‘We’ll do something in C, to take advantage of the harmonies,’ said Clem.
The woman seemed to relax. ‘Why do you play for them then?’ she said. ‘If you call them shop dummies.’
‘Who says I’m playing for them? And what’s your name, by the way? ’
‘I was playing for you,’ he said. ‘I knew you’d come along eventually, Emma, and here you are. Right on cue. Well, a little late actually. About 10 years. Where’ve you been?’
He didn’t bother waiting for an answer; his attention was back on his guitar. ‘The heaters down here, and then the blasts of cold, it plays havoc with the tuning. Make yourself comfortable as you wait for the next song. It may take a while. We’re just lucky the whole station is a tuning fork.’
‘Cheap guitars,’ said Seb.
‘This one’s okay. The neck’s good,’ Clem said as he fine-tuned.
‘It’s all in the playing,’ said Emma.
‘Precisely,’ said Clem, smiling at her. ‘Couldn’t have put it better myself.’
‘But he’d take a Martin or a Gibson, if one came along,’ said Seb, who was fingering his own guitar, going through another song, wondering if Clem would have better chords than the person who had written it. Clem turned to him, smiling.
‘Right! Ready for the next one? Watcha got?’
‘What do you want to do?’
Clem turned back to Emma.
‘He probably knows more songs than anyone. Yet he just sits there, going along with me or anyone else he plays with. What do you think about someone like that? Modesty. A great quality, but the immodest will kill you for it.’
‘I know about songs,’ Seb said to Emma, ‘but he knows about music. There’s a big difference.’
‘I think you’re both pretty good,’ said Emma.
‘Don’t,’ said Clem. He was smiling, but he was also serious. ‘Really, don’t. If you’re in a building and you’re on the third floor, you might think I’m doing okay, because there’s people on the ground, first and second floors and I’m above them. I know there’s a fourth floor, because it’s obvious, and I can see the stairs, but is that the top? Don’t be fooled. If you’re smart, you’re aware of the possibility that there might be a five, six, a hundred floors. It’s just you can’t see them yet. So no, we’re not “pretty good” at all. No one is. However much you know, there’s always a lot more you don’t know.’
‘I apologise for my friend,’ said Seb. ‘He talks in lyrics. Just nod and pretend you understand. Come back tomorrow and you’ll hear him sing it. It’ll make sense then. Maybe. If not, it doesn’t matter, because who pays attention to the lyrics?’
‘I do,’ said Clem.
‘The sounds, maybe, the rhythm of the words. The meaning? Unimportant,’ said Seb.
‘I listen to the lyrics,’ said Emma. ‘Sometimes. And I know exactly what he means. But you can always get the lift right to the top.’
‘Can you, though?’ said Clem. ‘Maybe you have to earn that right, by walking up, seeing the different view from every floor. And what if that lift’s broken? Third verse, that. What about you, anyway, what are you doing here?’
She shrugged. The answer was obvious, if feeble. ‘On my way home from work.’
‘I didn’t mean that,’ said Clem. I meant, what are you doing. What are you really doing?’
She opened her mouth hoping an answer would come out but nothing did. She tried again but was relieved to be saved by another man joining the group.
‘Hi!’ interjected a different and harsher voice. He carried a large case, which Seb and Clem knew held an electronic keyboard. It was only that which identified him as a musician. He was more smartly dressed than them and lacked the three or four days’ beard growth they seemed to sport every day of their lives.
‘How’s it going?’ said Clem warmly.
‘Good,’ the new man said. ‘Been here long?’
‘A while,’ said Clem, still with the smile on his face. ‘Nice case. Got something nice inside?’
The man liked the compliment and set his case down. He opened it.
‘Wow!’ said Clem.
It wasn’t just a keyboard, it was a whole electronic musical box, with stand incorporated. He proudly assembled it as Clem scrambled up to look over his shoulder and admire the features.
‘Nice. Really nice,’ said Clem.
‘Anything much going on tonight?’ said the man.
‘Always plenty going on,’ said Clem, ‘just maybe not what anyone was expecting.’
The man looked at him, half-suspecting he was talking about something completely different.
‘Plenty of people around,’ said Seb. ‘I call them people. They look like people, sound like them—.’
‘Shop dummies,’ interjected Clem, but it only confused the newcomer.
‘Are you going to be here for a while?’ the man said.
‘We thought we’d hang for a bit,’ coughed Seb. ‘Wait for the commuters to put their party clothes on.’
‘It’s a good spot,’ said the man. ‘Plenty of through-traffic.’
‘The acoustics are good, too.’
‘Right.’ The man had completed his assembly work and proceeded to select a sound from the thousands the machine could offer him.
‘Nice,’ Clem repeated. ‘You can programme in drums and that?’
‘Not just drums,’ said the man. ‘Bass, whatever you want. A whole backing track. Play the whole thing for you, if you want.’
The man stopped his work for a moment and looked at Clem. ‘By the way, I don’t see your licence.’
His tone, always a little strong for the circumstances, had suddenly become harsher.
‘What?’ said Clem. He looked confused but he knew exactly what the man was talking about.
‘A registered busker’s licence.’ The man took his own from the case and hung it around his neck.‘You have to be registered to busk in this particular spot. Look. See the signs?
‘Yeah,’ said Seb. ‘We see them. And?’
‘I take it you’re not registered, then.’ The man took out a cloth to wipe the keyboard where Clem had looked at it.
‘Registered what? Blind? Insane?’ said Clem.
‘If you’re not registered, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.’
‘Is it really that important?’ said Clem.
‘It’s fair to everyone.’
‘What’s it got to do with you?’ said Emma.
The man turned to her. ‘What’s it got to do with you, I might ask. Fact is, there are rules. Do the audition, and if you pass, you can play in the registered spots. No licence, you have to leave when someone with a licence comes along. Lover boy here clearly hasn’t bothered. Or failed the audition. I’ll get the station manager if I have to. I get this all the time.’
Seb, so furious he couldn’t even cough, lifted himself onto his knees and started to pack up. He was used to falling foul of authority, and didn’t fight any more. But Clem wasn’t ready to give up just yet. ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you play with us? However good the guitar sound on that thing is, it can’t beat the real thing. Set yourself down and join in. Everyone’s welcome. What do you want to play? What’s your type of music?’
The man looked at Clem, stopping himself from saying the guitar sound on his keyboard was far superior to anything Clem had ever imagined. ‘Who gets the money?’
‘Do you need it?’ said Emma.
‘Do you?’ said the man, facing her again. ‘Take the audition, lads. And lady. Nico, here. Until then, you’ll have to leave. Sorry. But that’s the rule.’
‘You can have the money if it’s that important,’ said Clem. ‘I’ll take a packet of cigarettes, if we get enough, but that’s it.’
‘If you don’t mind,’ said the man, starting an electronic backbeat that reverberated through the hallway. He left the case open and rummaged in his pocket, throwing a few coins in to give the passers-by the idea.
‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘Rules are rules.’
Seb wasn’t as resolute, or argumentative as the others and he stood up, indicating he was giving up. It took the fight out out of Clem and Emma.
‘Let’s go down to the park,’ said Seb as he set off towards the tube platform. ‘It’s better there, anyway.’
Clem had no choice but to follow, and Emma tagged along behind. Seb turned to listen as the newcomer started his first song. ‘Listen to that,’ said Seb. ‘Fucking High Street Ken’s not even playing it, he’s just switched it on. It’s doing that on its own.’
Clem stopped and shop dummies almost piled into him from behind. They seemed to have some sort of computer guidance system so even though no one looked him they all managed to swerve around at the last moment without hitting him. Clem listened for a moment, still hoping to hear something he liked, or failing that, something created by a human being. His face showed his disappointment.
‘Come on,’ said Seb, who hadn’t bothered to listen. ‘There’ll be a few down at the park.’
‘Coming with us?’ Clem said to Emma.
‘The park. It’s a place where a few people go … and you don’t need a licence. It’s good. You’ll like it.’
Seb told her.
‘I’ve got to—’
‘Oh, you know, stuff to do.’
‘Come with us, and you might find out what you are here to do in your life,’ said Clem. ‘It’s probably not that “stuff”, whatever it is. How about it? Make a decision you weren’t planning to make. Live dangerously. On the edge. Interesting things happen. This might be the moment. You might go off in an unexpected direction. Who knows, one day you may remember tonight as the start of your real life.’
She looked down and smiled but Clem could see she wasn’t going to come to the park with them. She said something about going there some other time, and with that she was lost in the crowd, along with the sound High Street Ken and his machines were making.
MATT TYBURN congratulated himself on a job well done. He had timed it to perfection, and not for the first time. Most of these mugs, he told himself, have no idea.
He’d won on the District-Piccadilly lottery. The game was this: commuters heading home to certain parts of the west London suburbs had a choice to make. The District and Piccadilly lines ran alongside each other for a stretch of 12 stops. That’s 12 stops on the District; only six on the Piccadilly. If your final destination is Ealing Broadway, on the District Line, you can play safe and wait for a District back in central London, which is more comfortable, less crowded but slower. Lots of people do that. But if you’re a risk-taker, a gambler, someone who trusts in your own ability, you can take the Piccadilly, overtake a District between Hammersmith (which is where you would have been waiting), and Acton Town (which is where you change anyway), and save yourself five minutes of life. Five minutes you’ll never get back.
If you don’t overtake the District, it doesn’t matter, because the time you wait at Acton Town you would have been waiting at Hammersmith anyway. It was like a gambler getting his money back on a non-runner. Sometimes, just once in a very long while, you lose. Those superfast Piccadillys have a habit, especially in the rush hour, of log-jamming just short of Acton Town. There can be a queue of three or four of them. And then, and this is the nightmare scenario, a slow, sluggish District may just creep past you. A District you could have been on if you had waited for it at Hammersmith. But that’s the nightmare scenario. The tortoise may beat the hare in fairytales but in real life it’s the other way round. On average. Over the course of a commuting life.
Today, it had all worked out in Matt’s favour. He had overtaken the District on his Piccadilly, and was standing on the platform at Acton Town waiting for it to arrive. Perfect end to a perfect day. Well, no day is perfect, but it hadn’t been bad. He’d done a couple of valuations, which he was confident about, and there’d been a bit of banter in the office. A sale he was working on seemed to be proceeding well, although these things can always fall through, and he was seeing Scarlett tonight.
He wasn’t the only person on the platform; it was quite crowded. He had taken the opportunity to scan the District as he had overtaken it, and there were one or two seats available, depending on which carriage you got on. Experience told him where to stand on the platform to have the best chance of that.
The train arrived, and there was one seat available. People were standing in the way and he was going to have to move quickly to get it. A woman, youngish but not a kid, seemed to have her eye on it as well. Fat chance. He moved quickly, expertly and before she knew what had hit her Matt was sitting comfortably, turning up the volume on his music.
He shut his eyes to block out the world but a minute or so in, he felt the urge to take a closer at her.
He knew her type. Office worker, for sure. Educated to degree level, but definitely the didn’t-know-what-she-wanted-to-do-in-life type. Philosophy defined by never getting out of bed until three in the afternoon; until recently that is, when she found university didn’t last forever and she had to get a job. The product of an affluent, productive and happy society: she’d had it so easy she’d never been forced to find her own way and make her mark, and so hadn’t done it. The Oyster Card generation.
She was perfectly okay-looking though, in that lefty, eternal student, secondhand clothes kind of way, which he always found strangely attractive given his own politics and background. The hair was lightish but not quite blonde, attractive only because it made her look like she too naive to dye it. Perhaps he should have let her sit down.
As much as Matt was trying to look her without her seeing, he knew she was doing exactly the same with him. In the odd moments when he was looking elsewhere, or allowing his eyes to close, he could feel her own piercing eyes burning into him. If he looked up, she glanced away, but he knew. Nothing wrong with that. Not the first girl to find him extremely attractive.
THE NOISE was so faint it would not have been heard at all during the day. But at two in the morning every creak of a floorboard and apparent footstep of a burglar is amplified by the silence.
Emma’s room was on the ground floor and therefore at the front of the queue to be broken into. For that reason, she never opened the window. She didn’t know what was worse: the thought of someone climbing in to rape her or being choked in a stuffy, sweaty room.
The noise, if you could call it that, was a sort of shuffling, scratching, or flapping: it was so faint she couldn’t quite work out what it was. Emma didn’t know where it was coming from: the ceiling, the wall, maybe being blown in on a vague breeze. Perhaps it wasn’t a noise at all, but the imaginings of an insomniac. It might be a mouse or a rat. Emma’s home was in one of those once proud London family homes now divided into numerous bedsits: the only creatures that lived there through the generations were on four, six or eight legs. Emma strained her ears, knowing as she did she was giving up on any hope of sleep. She still could not work out where the sound was coming from.
That faint noise was drowned out by a louder and more familiar one, although Emma was not any happier to hear it. The Clinking Glasses Brigade had started up again. They were the couple in the house next door. Every night they would talk, shuffle around, laugh, giggle, sing, and above all clink their glasses together. An endless train of part-time Brigade members would come and go. It wouldn’t have been so bad if there had been the occasional argument: that would have made them human. It was all laughter, joviality and that incessant clinking of glasses. Emma did not know anything about them at all: she did think she had seen them outside the house once or twice but it might not have even been them. This was London: you live within a couple of feet of someone, separated only by a thin wall, but you don’t even know what they look like. The Clinking Glasses Brigade lived in a different world: one where people had friends, laughed, socialised, did not go to bed early and always seemed to have a good time.
After a few minutes they quietened down, as they always did, but Emma did not allow herself to be fooled into thinking they had settled down for the night: give it half an hour and the glasses would start clinking again. She’d fallen for that one before.
Emma often wondered what their story was. Did they actually have the mundanity of employment to deal with? She had made up a background for them: they were a rarity in that street in that they were owner-occupiers. They were doing very nicely, thank you. He was in the crystal trade, which explained all those clinking glasses, and she was a party planner. It was as good a story as any and partly explained the late nights: it might even be true.
With the clinking of the glasses quietened, the silence came roaring back and with it all sorts of unwelcome thoughts. Things which are drowned out in daylight by cars, television and idiots knocking on the door trying to sell you something. An unwanted image pushed its way into her mind. That of the man who had taken her seat on the tube at Acton Town earlier. She could see his slightly spotty face as if he was in the room with her. She wondered why she was thinking about him: it had been a moment’s encounter on the tube, not particularly pleasant; however, something that happens every day, and should have been forgotten as soon as another seat became available. But she couldn’t get his ugly face out of her mind. In fact, his mug wasn’t all that ugly, but that wasn’t the point. Nevertheless, she would never see him again, so forget it. If anyone’s face should come to her now, it should be that busker. What was his name? And the other bloke. Seb was the other one. Clem. Clem. What a world for someone to like him to live in. How could his music get through to people like that git who had pinched her seat? It wasn’t even that she had wanted to sit down. It had only been only two stops.
Don’t think about him. Think about Clem. Think about something positive. Impossible. Wide awake. Whatever time it was, wide awake. She dare not look at the clock.
And there it was, right on cue, that noise again. What if it was a rat? A dirty, disease-ridden rodent. Not that Emma knew anything about the subject but whatever it was seemed to be making rather a lot of noise for a rat. Maybe there was more than one of them. Again, she tried to locate the sound. She could not be sure, but it seemed to be coming from behind the fireplace. That had been a very fine feature of the room at one time, in the days before the focal point of every home became the television. She wondered if a rat could have fallen down the chimney. A squirrel, maybe. Squirrels were noisier than rats. It must be a squirrel. Rats with tails, someone had called them.
Twat. A man who made sure he got the only seat on the train, without even thinking if there was someone who needed it. He’d get his comeuppance before long, if you believed in fate, not that Emma did. She would be doing the world a favour if she killed him.
Wow. Where did that come from? She’d never thought of killing anyone before.
She relived that moment when he had ran onto that train and taken the seat. She saw herself snatching those headphones from around his neck and strangling him with them. Imagine how that would be received. Mystery woman throttles man with his own headphones. Panic on the underground. When will she strike again? If only she had seen him on the platform: she could have pushed him under the train. Twat. Twat on the train. No, she mustn’t call him a twat. Think of its meaning. How could a woman call someone a twat? People used these words, but they say more about themselves than the person they are describing. Twit. No, that wasn’t strong enough. Twat. Twat on the train. It was just a swear word, and a mild one at that. Twat on the train.
What did that spell? T-O-T-T. Tott. That’s what his name was. Twat On The Train. Tott. Totty.
Tott would own five work shirts, one for every day of the working week. Three blue and two white. Every Saturday morning, he would take them to his mother for washing. If he saw someone being mugged in the street, Tott wouldn’t get involved. He’d leave them there to die. He probably worked in computers. They all work in computers these days.
She had to stop thinking about this sort of thing. She’d never get off to sleep this way.
She took a deep breath and imagined herself on a beach. Thousands of miles away. As far as possible. India, Thailand. God, those were the days. In her naiveté, she had assumed, as she was lying on that beach at the age of 23, that this was just the start. How wrong was that.
A couple of years later, and now her horizons never stretched beyond Zone Four. However, she had to concentrate on the positive. She told herself this was a phase in her life, not the whole thing. It was a case of making the most of the situation. She had the tools for it, or at least the most important tool of all: money. But her mum wouldn’t want her spending that money on something trivial, something that wouldn’t last. Emma’s mother had spent her whole life saving up, and Emma just couldn’t spend it like it was her own. Emma had to do something important with that money. It sounded a lot, £10,000, but that would hardly provide a deposit on a flat. And as for just going back to Thailand and just spending it … no. Her mum would want her to do something much more useful. The solicitor had advised that she should not rush into anything. Give it a few months, carry on with what you are doing, and when you’re over the initial shock, then do what you really want. She’d added to it with some savings of her own, quite an accomplishment given how little she earned. The one good thing to come out of not having a social life. At least she wasn’t throwing it away on excessive rent. This room was expensive enough for what it was, but at least it didn’t take all her money. Things would get better soon, they had to. If only she had her mum to talk to again. No, no. She could feel the tears welling up in her eyes. Don’t think of those things now. Leave them until it’s daytime.
She shut her eyes and tried to go back to Goa. For free. A perfect summer’s day … no, not summer, spring, when everything is new and fresh. A gentle breeze coming in off the sea. She’d just had a swim and now was going to lie down and have a nap in that very pleasant beach house. A warm outside shower to wash off all the sand. Nice tiles. The towels felt good. Upstairs to the bedroom, away from the insects, the sunlight, the other people. Pull the shade down and it’s dark enough to keep everything out. Another swim later, maybe, and then a meal with friends. People she hadn’t seen for ages. They would all be delighted to see her. No recriminations for not getting in touch, just happy she’s there. Yes. This was working. Emma could feel that sleep was coming. Good, but don’t think about it. Beckon sleep on and it will back away. Just let it happen. Drift off. A group of people having a drink at a nearby bar. Nothing wrong with that. Let them enjoy themselves. But they might keep their voices down. Why do they have to … clink their glasses together!
In a moment, Emma wasn’t on the beach any more. She was back in her rented bedsit, on the old and uncomfortable bed. It wasn’t comfortably sunny, it was uncomfortably dark and cold, yet sweaty as well. And the Clinking Glasses Brigade were at it again. Stop them. Can’t.
Another unpleasant idea came at her through the darkness. How many people in the whole world cared for her? Never mind the imaginings of a beach party filled with faceless friends, how many real ones did she have? Out of all the billions of people on the planet, how many of them knew her, felt for her, sympathised, empathised? Emma did what she always did when this came at her: she started to count her friends. It was a desperate thing to do but the only way she could fight off the darkness. It wasn’t a very long list: friends of the moment, people she could rely on in London … she searched her mind for a name. People in this house, neighbours: the Clinking Glasses Brigade. That showed the hole she had fallen into. What about people from work? Her colleague, Melanie. Melanie was dreadful. Emma fell even deeper into that hole for allowing herself to think it, but there it was. Melanie was a good soul: she was always inviting Emma to social occasions. But … she was Melanie. Nevertheless, Emma counted her as a friend.
That was one.
The boss, Reg. Emma liked him. He had always been very friendly.
She searched her mind for a third friend in London. Clem the busker.
But she didn’t know these people. Not really. All right, people from home. Yes, she had friends there. She may not have spoken to them recently, or replied to their emails, but they were friends. When she had been on that long trip, Emma had a mailing list of friends, mostly from childhood, whom she had written to with updates of her travels. She got the impression some of them had not even bothered reading them. However, for the purposes of the list, friends. Double figures. Family. She wasn’t sure whether she was allowed to count those.
Whatever, that list was one shorter these days.
How many was that? Not many. But some. That thought gave Emma strength to clamber out of that hole, for the moment at least.
Clem almost counted double because he wasn’t a relative, a work colleague or someone from school. They had just clicked. She knew she would never see him again: this was London. But it showed she wasn’t alone. If there was one person, there would be others.
Tott. Don’t put him on the list. If anything, he would have a minus effect: he wiped out Clem’s double points.
If only people like Tott could see what they were doing; that behaving like he did was wrong. If it could be demonstrated to him, if he could be taught, anyone could learn.
What could she do?
That faint noise. A bit louder. It wasn’t a rat: it had to be a burglar trying to get in the window. Emma knew she had to get up. Make a racket, turn the light on. That would deter any burglar. Don’t think about it being someone who would not be put off. Just don’t let your thoughts go to the extreme. Burglars always take the easy option. That’s why they are criminals: if they were hard-working and diligent they wouldn’t be in that particular job; they’d be estate agents, journalists, IT workers. Any half-intelligent burglar would almost certainly turn his attentions to a room where the person was definitely asleep. Plus, Emma did not have anything worth stealing. She owned none of the latest gadgets. No one is more of a conformist than a burglar; they are not going to take a punt on something being more valuable than it looks.
Unless he wasn’t just a burglar.
Don’t move. It’s probably nothing. Emma had locked the door. Had she? Of course. But it wasn’t a particularly strong lock. She had spoken to the landlord about it and he had said he would consider a new one. Consider and reject. People had said use some of that money to get yourself a decent place to live. But that would have wasted it. When it was gone, she’d be back in a bedsit. It would give you the opportunity to get back on your feet. What do you mean ‘back’, Emma had thought. No, she told them. She was going to do something with that money. What, they had asked. If only she knew.
The window was definitely closed. No need to check but she crept over and did so anyway. Fully awake now, she knew she wasn’t imagining the noise. He was fiddling with the lock. She should have got something. A gun. Where do you get a gun? Join a gun club. Raised eyebrows. ‘Why does she want to know how to use a gun?’ As long as you target the right people, nobody would care. A burglar gets shot. Police involved, yes, but sensible people would cheer her. It could be the making of her.
Tott. She could shoot him.
No, forget that idiot. He had certainly forgotten about her, if her very existence ever got through to him in the first place. Whatever, he had disappeared into the crowd at the end of the tube journey, never to be seen again.
The scratching noise again. Definitely someone trying to get in.
A gun. But where do you get a gun? She’d go to a shop, miles away, in Manchester say, and pay cash. You can’t get guns. What about an airgun? She didn’t know if she could get one of those either, and even if she could, if it would serve her needs. And she would have to practise. A dartboard on the back of the door. Ideal. Put it on the exact spot the intruder would be as he came in. If he’s tall, double tops. Average height, the bullseye. Shorter, it’s double or treble three. If he leans over to one side, she could practice on nine, or thirteen.
Still that noise. Flapping. He wasn’t exactly hurrying, this intruder. Trouble with a gun, he might be more used to firing it than she … no.
Forget it. It’s nothing. It’s not even a noise at all. Go back to that beach house. India. Nice beaches in India. Find the right place and it’s like paradise.
The CGB started up again. At least it obliterated the sound of the burglar. He would hear that and run off. Use that airgun on them.
Was it ever okay to kill someone? Some people think it is. Driven to it. Terrorists. All done in the name of God. What about God? What would he, she, it or them, have to say about it? Did God care? A deity creates the world, puts people in it: us, of all people. Gives us free will to do what we want, and then eternally punishes those who don’t do exactly what the God says.
This burglar was certainly taking his time getting in. But he could; he had all night. As quietly as she could, Emma crept over to the door. If she was going to be killed or raped, she might as well go down fighting. Open it quickly. He’ll probably crap himself. A work acquaintance had once been burgled, and had come home to find the toilet full of shit. The police had said the burglar was obviously house-trained, as they often do it on the floor. Nothing like a little adrenaline, mixed with fear, to get the bowels working.
A tremendous pain in her shin and a clatter of metal. She had stumbled over her bike. She had to keep her bike in her bedroom to stop it being stolen. She’d bought it on eBay to avoid the Tube, but then she had got a puncture and that was the end of that. Emma felt the pain sear through her leg. She almost kicked it again but remembered she didn’t have any shoes on. Her burglar could hardly have missed that. Even the CGB would have heard. Perhaps her body had done it deliberately, overriding her mind to do the smart thing and spook the burglar. Emma continued to the door and with a swift move turned the key in the lock and opened the door violently.
No one there. Emma looked down the corridor but there was no sign of a quickly departing burglar. Having already taken one positive move, it was easy to take another. She turned her room light on, strode purposefully to the window, making sure that this time she avoided the bike, and pulled the curtain back. Once again, nothing. She felt foolish. Emma thought for a moment that she might indeed be asleep and this was all some horrible nightmare. She turned the light off and got back into bed.
The sound was still there. It wasn’t quite scratching, though. A little louder now and she could hear where it was coming from now. The fireplace. Behind the fireplace. Someone was coming down the chimney. No, of course not. Burglars don’t come down the chimney any more than Father Christmas. For one thing, there’s a gas fire in front of it. A mouse. A squirrel. It must be a rat. No. It’s not scratching. More a sort of … flapping.
Even worse. No doubt now. A bird had fallen down the chimney. Not enough room to spread its wings and fly back up. Destined to die there. Knowing it could not escape. Like being stuck at the bottom of a well, except there’s no one looking for you, no fireman coming to your rescue. Just flap, flap, until you die. A few days. A week. Every night, all night every night, Emma would hear its desperate scramble. Until it went quiet. And then … then it would be even worse. It would start to stink. Then the rats would arrive for their dinner; and stay. And the bird, it wouldn’t even know what had happened to it. She could try to help it. She could move the fire, and when the bird came out flapping madly she direct it towards the window or the door. But the window didn’t open.
No chance of any sleep now.
Twat on the train.
IT WAS a miserable day, grey and sort of raining but not quite and Emma didn’t want to be knocking on people’s doors any more than they wanted to answer. They didn’t know that; they just put her down as a chugger, or worse still someone selling dual fuel. Another thing they didn’t know was that from her point of view, the best thing they could do was slam the door in her face. That way, she could put them down as a refusal, which meant she wouldn’t have to go back to try again later. More importantly it was an authentic entry on an official form, which proved she had been there, sort of, and justified the hours she was going to claim on her timesheet.
The house, on whose doorstep she was standing, was divided into six flats. She had rung all the bells at the same time, knowing it was extremely unlikely six people would come to the door, and not caring if they did. One man finally opened it and looked out suspiciously.
‘Hello,’ she said, trying to smile, but failing. ‘Sorry to disturb you. My name is Emma O’Leary. I’m from the council. Electoral registration. We don’t appear to have had the form back that we sent to this address. If you give me your name, I can put it on the electoral register so you can vote if there is an election.’
She was pulling her lips back and creasing her eyes but it wasn’t working: whatever the look on her face, it wasn’t the enthusiastic smile she had been hoping for. If it sounded like she was reciting a speech she had made hundreds of times, that was hardly surprising.
However, all that didn’t matter. Someone had answered the door, for the first time in an hour. When no one was in, she couldn’t put anything down on her form, a tick or a cross. While she was paid by the hour and technically it didn’t matter whether anyone answered the door or not, in reality it wasn’t like that. Reg wasn’t stupid. If she returned her timesheet saying she’d worked three hours and not found one person at home, Reg would ask questions. Conversely, if she had an afternoon when everyone was in and she got dozens of ticks and crosses, she could, if not exactly fiddle the timesheet, then massage it a little. He would expect it. She’d hardly be the only one doing it. All he cared about was his precious electoral register.
So this was good. She didn’t care if this man registered to vote or claimed he was ineligible because he was certified insane: all she wanted was a tick or a cross. Therefore, slamming the door in her face was a perfectly legitimate response. It would save time.
She knew exactly what this youngish and not totally unfanciable man was thinking. If he had had nothing to hide, he would have returned the electoral registration form when it arrived in the post. Emma’s job, and that of the other canvassers, was to chase up those who had not. Therefore, he had some reason to keep his whereabouts unknown to the authorities, be it for avoiding council tax or something more serious, and nothing she could say was going to make a difference.
Either that or he thought it was some sort of elaborate ruse to get him to buy a teatowel. So he might as well slam the door in her face right off and they could get on with the rest of their lives.
She wished she wasn’t doing this. You do a job to put you in a position to get a better one, but that never turns out as it’s supposed to, and 50 years later you wonder why you never did anything with your life. It wasn’t even as if she needed the money, at least in the short term, but that was the problem: her mum’s money wasn’t quite enough to be life-changing.
She remembered what Clem had said: take a risk, do something, be someone. But what?
‘Eh?’ The man had spoken. But Emma knew what that ‘Eh’ meant. She’d heard it all before. He was playing for time. He was pretending he had not understood while he was thinking of a good-sounding excuse. She felt like telling him there was no need: she’d heard all the stories in the two months she had been doing the job, and she’d much rather he just slammed the door anyway. But she had to play the game.
‘Electoral registration. We didn’t get the form back. We need the names of everyone over 18 living here.’
‘Why?’ he said.
‘It’s the law.’
‘Just the law. The government law.’
‘The suffragettes didn’t obey the law.’
‘No, but they died so everyone could have the vote.’
‘So send me to jail. For not voting.’
‘You don’t get sent to jail for not voting,’ she recited, ‘but you could be sent to jail for not registering. Well, not sent to jail. But you could be fined up to £130.’
‘Is there an election coming up?’ he asked.
‘The register is valid a year,’ she said. ‘An election can be called at any time.’
‘Yeah I know that, but we had one last year. We’re unlikely to get another one so quickly.’
‘That was a general election. There’s local as well. Referendums.’
‘Are we having local elections? Those come at set times, don’t they?’
Just shut it, thought Emma. Shut your mouth and the door, in that order, and she could put a refusal on the form.
‘Jury service as well. It’s a requirement your name is available for selection.’
‘I asked if there was a local election next year.’
‘There might be,’ she said.
‘Let me tell you, there won’t. I know that, even if you don’t. What are you really going to do with this list? Pass my details on to the council tax lot?’
Now they were getting down to it. Why he couldn’t have said that straight off, and proceeded at pace to the door-slamming, she had no idea.
‘No. I’m from electoral registration. Here’s my ID badge. It’s just for the register. So you can vote.’
‘But anyone can look at the register. And not just the council tax lot. Criminals, direct mail companies; they’d all have my name.’
It had taken him long enough to work that one out. She glanced around, as if to check that no one was watching her, ridiculous of course, but body language is often like that.
‘Look,’ she said. ‘I asked for your name. If you don’t give it to me, I’ll have to come back.’
‘I still won’t give it to you.’
‘Let me rephrase. Give me a name. I didn’t say it had to be yours.’
‘Oh that’s lovely. You want me to dub my friends in.’
‘No—’ she said, her frustration boiling over. ‘I asked you for a name. If you were to make one up, for example, how would I know? I’m not going to ask for identification.’
He was a bit slow on the uptake, this one. Emma could almost see the cogs in his brain whirring round.
‘You’ll have to try a little harder than that.’
‘ D. Duck.’
It was obvious why he was at home in the middle of the afternoon.
‘Look, just try something a little more believable.’
Like a breaking dam, she could suddenly see it coming. He slammed the door in her face.
‘Fuck you too,’ she said as it closed, hopefully loud enough for him to hear it, but only just, and deniable if he opened the door again. He didn’t.
She cast another furtive glance up the street. No one was watching. Reg was nowhere to be seen. Actually, that fear was not as paranoid as it may have seemed: the electoral registration manager had been known to turn up on the street himself, to do a bit of canvassing to keep his hand in, as he put it. Everyone knew why he was there.
She stood on the doorstep wondering what to do next. One of the flats in this building would go down as a refusal but as she had rung all the doorbells at the same time, she had no idea which flat the man had come from. It was a horribly cheap block of six doorbells, 1970s-style, totally out of keeping with the late Victorian house. Each bell had space for a name alongside it and while some were empty and others indecipherable, there was only one neatly typed. David Stonehouse. If the top bell was Flat One, which as far as Emma was concerned it was, that made this Flat Four. She wrote the name on her form. David Stonehouse. Good enough for the money they were paying her.
It was close to seven o’clock and even though people were arriving home and she should be starting her work rather than finishing it, she decided to call it a day. A refusal and a name at the last house: she could put down half-seven on her timesheet.
She was fairly near South Kensington tube station, so she decided to walk there. At least it was a safe part of London. Relatively. That was because it was wealthy, but that didn’t make it any more pleasant. There were still crowds of people who didn’t care; it was raining slightly and all they worried about was keeping their hair dry, shutting out the world, and trying to get home as quickly as possible.
Emma saw a figure looking in a shop window. Oh no, not Melanie. Emma was blessed with at least one skill: she had an antennae which told her who was nearby before the other person saw her. Emma had put Melanie on that list of friends the previous night, but that was just because there wasn’t anyone else. Melanie, with all her bullshit about the lottery and folksy philosophy. When they talked, which was as infrequently as Emma could make it, Melanie would always give her the benefit of her take on life: that there was nothing anyone could do apart from buy another lottery ticket.
Emma crossed over the road. Melanie was looking in a shop window, no doubt deciding what to buy with that lottery win, and if Emma was on the other side of the road she might as well have been on the other side of the world.
All Emma had to do was make sure she crossed soon enough so that if Melanie did see her, she could say with some chance of being believed that she had not seen her. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with Melanie. The two of them had even once been for a night out: a new bar Melanie had seen advertised. What a desperate night that had been: putting the two of them together only multiplied their loneliness, threw light on the fact that there were no men in their lives. At least Emma told herself she didn’t care; Melanie could only wallow in her self-inflicted inadequacies.
Emma knew everything about Melanie’s life: her two brothers, the almost certainly fictional relationship with a clerk in the housing department, and most of all, the lottery. The lottery, the lottery, the lottery. Four million. That was Melanie’s lucky number and the amount she was going to win. How four million had been identified as Melanie’s lucky number was something Emma had not dared to investigate. The number seven, or 13: they came up in everyday life from time to time and you could kid yourself one or other favoured you. But four million? If Emma had a couple of hours to spare one day, she would ask.
Emma had once tried to explain to Melanie that winning the lottery would probably ruin most people’s lives rather than improve them, but it was the most ridiculous thing Melanie had ever heard in her life. Emma came away thinking she had been the weird one.
She hadn’t told Melanie, or indeed anyone, that she had inherited that £10,000. They wouldn’t understand why she was still working in Electoral Registration, for one. Melanie would have advised her to take a long holiday, and if Emma had replied that if she did that, she’d be back in the same job in 12 months time, Melanie simply would not have understood. Not that Melanie had ever asked much about Emma: a conversation with Melanie led to you soon knowing everything about her but not having a chance to tell you anything about yourself.
Thankfully, Melanie did not see her. Emma did not want another trip to an overpriced café and a lecture on how the numbers four, fourteen, and a few in the forties were going to net Melanie four million pounds in four days’ time.
The crowds around the tube station were big but Emma didn’t even notice. There was a rare lightness to her step as she skipped down the Piccadilly escalator. She listened, but the fact she couldn’t hear yet didn’t mean anything. The noise of the crowd, silent as its constituent parts were trying to be, the whirr of the escalator, the buzz of the lights and the trains themselves drowned out any other noise. As she got to the bottom, the heaviness returned. The pentangle was empty: not even the devil himself, High Street Ken, with his auto-music. At least he would have been a familiar face. Disappointed, she fell back with in with the crowd and eventually bundled, or was bundled, onto the Piccadilly platform. No chance of a seat tonight, nor a square foot of personal space. Mice scuttled about underneath the tracks: at least they had room to move. She thought about the conundrum of the District or Piccadilly: tonight she just wanted to get home as quickly as possible. She’d take a risk on the hare. If she lost, she would deserve it. She got on the Piccadilly as if part of a vast flock of starlings, moving as if it was one mass rather than a collection of individuals. She didn’t get a seat, or even a good position, but it didn’t matter. Only three stops, then at least she’d be in the open air.
Tonight, she was lucky. There were no delays as the Piccadilly emerged from its underground tomb into what passes for daylight at Barons Court.
And then she saw him.
That never happens in London.
In London, as everywhere else, you look at someone on the train and think: ‘I like him, I don’t like her.’ You imagine every detail of their life and then you never see them again. Forgotten in a minute. But there he was.
Tott. Twat On The Train. More than a twit, for sure. And he was clearly planning to repeat his little trick from the night before. He was waiting for the first seated person to move, and he would be in there, come what may. He fiddled nervously with his headphones.
He had already manoeuvred himself into a position where he, and he alone, had some personal space. He was near the glass panel between the standers and the sitters and had about a foot of space in front of him; not enough room for anyone to squeeze in. He was clever, this Tott. In all decency he should have pushed right up against the glass to make room for more behind; this way, however, he had what little space there was in front of him. Emma was left rubbing armpits with others near the door.
He was genuinely awful, there was no doubt about that. He had the white shirt on today, just as she had predicted. Different cheap suit as well, although you would to have had to look closely to tell them apart. She wondered if he was wearing the same underwear. Clean and respectable on the surface but shit-stained and stinking underneath, that was Tott. At the following station, a studenty-type stood up to get off. An elderly woman was the obvious candidate for his seat. Before Emma even had a chance to speculate on whether Tott was going to do the dirty deed, he had done it. He was in there, down, legs crossed, sitting back, the music turned up and the eyes shut. The elderly woman looked around to see if there were any other seats. She wasn’t offended or annoyed: this was normality. A middle-aged woman stood up for her. It was always a woman, Emma thought. All these men here, quite apart from Tott, not one of them even noticing that a person actually needed to sit down.
There he was, in all his glory. Tott. She tried to catch the elderly woman’s eye, to show her that she sympathised, and to form an alliance with her against Tott. Their eyes did meet for an instant but the woman looked away. No one looks at anyone on the tube, not even grandmothers.
The train made its way westwards. Emma was to change at Acton Town, and she knew Tott would as well, because that was where she had seen him last night. Thankfully, the Piccadilly went straight through the signals and she didn’t have the agony of seeing a District overtake. But she still had the agony of seeing him. They switched trains at Acton Town, with Emma keeping a close eye on him. The District had plenty of seats available: Tott took one, Emma did not. As the train approached Ealing Broadway, Tott stood up to get himself a prime position by the door, just as he had done the night before. This would enable him to avoid the queue as he left the station. This time, Emma was right behind him. The doors opened and Tott pushed his way through with a ruthlessness that surprised even Emma. She followed him in the same way as an alert motorist can follow a speeding police car through traffic. In double-quick time, they were out on the street. A couple of times he almost got away but Emma was as determined as he was. Once out of the station, it was a little easier. She could follow at a distance of about 30 metres, a bit closer at junctions. He turned right out of the station and crossed the green. Emma felt the weight lift from her shoulders as they walked away from the crowds and the rush hour. There were even trees along here. At the top he turned right and soon disappeared into a house. Emma waited for a few minutes. Enough time for Tott to get his coat off and phone for his pizza.When she was sure enough time had passed, Emma went up to the door.
Three doorbells. A one in three chance. She looked at the building and saw the lights on in one flat. She tried to work out which was the right bell, bringing her experience as an electoral registration canvasser into play. She was standing in front of his door and about to ring the bell. She could make out she was an electoral registration canvasser in Ealing. He wouldn’t check her ID card. Even if he did, she could come up with something. They do it as a London-wide thing, one borough helps out another. She could say that. She’d have his name. She might even ask his mother’s maiden name, for security purposes.
But no. What was she thinking? There was no need. She had his address. All she had to do was look on the Ealing electoral register. Then she’d have his name. And it would start from there.