Crime story – In the Box Seat
When they said ‘cash on delivery’ Lang stood, arms clasped behind his back, waiting them out. Darcy sighed and tapped his pen against his teeth. Lang’s toenails bit into his soles. Lang hated silences and didn’t like eye contact, so Lang put an end to it.
‘You’re asking me to kill someone. You’re not buying a settee,’ he said.
Darcy’s pencil snapped on the blotter. Lang stood perfectly still, staring at the watercolours of the Lakes on the wood-panelling, waiting.
‘OK, enough,’ Lang said, turning for the door.
Bates coughed. He was stood in the corner, gloved hands clasped, shoulders rolled forward, mindful of dirtying the wallpaper. Lang waited on his move, but Darcy shook his head.
‘Half now,’ Darcy said, sliding an envelope across the desk, ‘half when the job’s done.’
Lang reached and pocketed the envelope, feeling it smooth, like shirt cardboard, against his chest.
‘We’ll want proof,’ Darcy said.
‘So we know we’ve got what we paid for,’ Darcy said.
Bates’ brogues creaked on the woodblock, reminding Lang he was there, reminding him there’d be consequences. Lang saw Darcy had nicked his throat, staunched it with a tear of toilet paper, but it had still pinked his collar. Blood on his collar, blood on his hands.
‘Don’t you want to know what he’s done?’ Darcy said.
Lang shook his head. He stared where the razor had cut.
‘Picked on you on the playground, didn’t he?’ Darcy said.
Lang gnawed at his cheek, snaring a flap of gristle.
‘Gerry said you were at school together,’ Darcy said, nodding at Bates.
Lang asked if that was all. Darcy rolled his eyes, dismissed him. Lang took the stairs two at a time, glad to be out of there, glad to be paid. He tapped out a cigarette, cupping his hands as he lit up. ‘H. Darcy’ it said on the brass plaque beside the door. Lang didn’t know what the H was for. No profession, no explanation, just a cheese-plant and a spilled stack of motoring magazines. Lang grinned, taking a deep drag, blowing the smoke through his nostrils. In truth, it was a job he would have done for free.
Lang breathed on a smear of mayo, buffing the glass clean with his elbow. He brushed pastry flakes from the bald upholstery.
‘Take your seats ladies and gentlemen as a full ticket inspection will be taking place shortly,’ he said.
Magazines and newspapers went up like windbreaks in the seats around them. Fisk insisted on taking the window seat, always did. Lang let him so Fisk could smile at the suburban semis with their rosebushes and twinkling patio lights. Fisk wanted all that one day, when he stopped scamming folk and forgetting to return Darcy’s money. Furniture was a bare light bulb in the house Fisk grew up in. When Fisk was comfortable he wouldn’t be budged, like a big, wet dog at fireside. Lang couldn’t resist patting the box beside him, drumming his fingers on the lid.
Streak of piss
Folk were still shuffling up and down the train in search of a seat, too polite to tell people to shift their arses and bags. A student in an Aussie hat hovered, clearing his throat. Rainwater dripped from the brim, spotting the threadbare carpet near Lang’s feet. Lang’s cheek twitched. His jaw tensed. He gripped the armrest until his knuckles turned white, bloodless. Lang watched the student, eyes like slits. He knew his type well enough: a streak of piss with an Adam’s apple like a ballcock and a shower of blond curls. His rugby shirt had chewed cuffs where he’d picked at them. The student made like he was checking the seat numbers. Lang waited him out, humming, while the student dripped.
‘Excuse me,’ the student said. ‘Is this seat-’
The student paused, because polite folk who’ve been brought up proper finish your lines for you. Lang turned to Fisk, humming.
‘I know his type,’ he said, nodding at the student.
Lang continued to hum. This was usually when people walked, but the student was considering his options. The student eyed Lang warily, sensing some sort of game.
‘My pal’s sitting here,’ Lang said. ‘You can see that.’
The student frowned. Lang started humming again. The student scratched the nape of his neck, staring at the window seat. His skin flushed like nettle-rash. The student hefted his bag and retreated.
‘Smart choice, pal,’ Lang said, snapping his newspaper out, business-like. He sipped the over-priced coffee he’d bought. It tasted of fillings. Fisk stared out of the window, tracing shapes in the condensation like a kid. He drew a noose and a scaffold. He dangled a stick man from the rope, legs flailing. The stick man had eyes like crosses and a downturned mouth.
‘Shrink would have a field day with you, Derek,’ Lang said.
A guy with a beard like iron filings stumbled into their carriage, sucking on a crumpled juice carton. The automatic doors shuddered and snapped on the beard’s rucksack. He looked like a stricken tortoise. Lang laughed.
The carriage was silent, save for the tinny hiss of headphones. A woman clutched her handbag inside her cardigan. She wasn’t going to the toilet, she was changing carriage. Lang sniffed and wiped his nose on his wrist. He trailed a silvery snail-slick of snot across the seat in front.
Lang drifted into sleep, remembering a time when Fisk had hurt him. They could have been back at high school. Whenever Lang pushed Fisk would gouge him or strike him or burn him. It was the same all through school. Fisk always had to take charge.
The conductor waited till folk were sleeping so it gave him half the work. He could avoid doing his job and make out he was being considerate. He shuffled along, hitching his sagging waist, glimpsing at dog-eared tickets used as bookmarks or sketchpads. He was passing them when Lang thrust out a fist clutching both tickets. He’d paid walk-up price and didn’t want folk riding for free.
‘Thank you, Sir. He’s in the toilet is he?’ the conductor said, striking a pen through the tickets.
Lang frowned, puzzled. ‘Who is?’
‘Your friend,’ the conductor said, ‘the other ticket?’
Lang didn’t answer. It couldn’t be an easy job at times and this guy was clearly brain-fried. The conductor blinked. ‘Very good,’ he said, handing both tickets to Lang.
‘Best get the luggage off the seats. We’ve still got people standing,’ the conductor said, nodding at the blue box.
Lang stared at him. ‘This is my pal’s seat.’
The conductor nodded. His shift ended with a brandy; then it was someone else’s problem. He’d seen all sorts over the years and experience taught him to let things go. Buying two tickets was hardly fraud, was it? Maybe the guy was at the on-board shop or having a crafty fag in the toilets.