The train moved grudgingly out of Liverpool Street Station, wheels screeching, sparks showering the tunnel walls. A ponderous withdrawal. Grime had become organic to the brick and cement facades which lined the rail network, their windows staring out bleakly.
Jackson Pryde flicked a Camel out of its flimsy pack, licked the unfiltered end lightly. It hung on his dry lips. The gold cigarette lighter was heavy in his hand. He loved rolling it around between his fingers for its satiny feel. He lurched into the empty corridor, forced the security window down and blew smoke into the 5-inch gap. Tried a smoke ring, tongue folded up into a funnel. One, two, three rings, each a perfect circle before being sucked to nothingness in the metallic air.
He watched the changing cityscape which was oblivious to the steadily bolting train – drab in its mottled red brickwork; leafless plane trees struggling to survive; endless Victorian terraced houses terrorising any notion of curves, cars banked up on pavements. An occasional church spire, probably the venue of a youth club. To think he was a Londoner!. And in three hours he’d be gliding through the narrow lanes of Norfolk.
His mountain bike was securely locked up in the guards van. Soon he’d be cycling past harvest fields and up towards the Wash. He’d arrive on Big Tone’s doorstep gripping the bike’s handlebars, smiling in a self-deprecating way and saying: ‘Hello Tone, pal, here’s a surprise for you.’ And Big Tone would grasp him by the shoulders almost about to kiss him and say ‘Prydey, mate. What you doing here? Cynthia, look who’s here. Come on, quickly Cynth. Got a surprise for you. You staying Prydey, of course. Put your toe down mate – get the bike inside.’
And this would be his welcome – as ever warm and loving. Who said crooks had no heart? Big Tone had done his bit. A sort of Robin Hood. Robbed the rich – a couple of banks – which gave courage to the poor – even if they didn’t actually get the benefits of his hard work. He was a rebel, was Tone. An example to those who’d never made it. And Cynthia, well she was his support. Always well-dressed. Learnt it as a barmaid. They’d fought their way up. Done a bit inside. Now they were just an ordinary middle-aged couple living a quiet life in a quaint country village. Jackson hoped to do the same one day.
Ah, travel, walkabout. How he loved a walkabout and now he could indulge his desire. Free – he was free. No more Pamela. She’d walked out, disappeared into who knows where in the suburbs of south London. She could pluck her eyebrows to her heart’s content now and leave her toenail clippings scattered on the carpet. Only the boys left, and they were old enough to take care of themselves. Involuntarily he found himself humming a tune which matched the swaying of the carriage – ‘A life on the ocean wave. . . ‘ Blew a fresh smoke ring from a fresh Camel, this time down the corridor, and thought gleefully of his bike waiting impatiently to be mounted.