King’s Cross, Three Slides from True
The pub is battened down with railway sleepers and a single vast sign that despite the dents and heat blisters still advertises Pears Soap. We’re drinking tea from a tin mug and every third sip Peter Griff takes another from a bottle he keeps like a book in his coat pocket. It’s too cold for April. There’s not a cloud to be seen yet everything is damp with a dead man’s sheen across the road from an oil spill that runs all the way down to the Caledonian Road. Peter’s been loading and removing the five bullets from his revolver since we got here, lining them up and looking down the barrel where it breaks like a shotgun as if to spy who-knows-what. It’s a miserable day but we’re packed to the ears with egg and sausages thrust upon us by his aa further south. Peter’s ma is from an Ealing comedy. Something from the 40s or 50s, bright as burning gold, the mother everyone wished they had.
Every time I take my hands from my pockets they freeze. Every time I put them back after taking the hot mug they feel colder. We’re here to change the world for the better, something Peter’ll be good at if he’ll only let himself. It’s good to see him, I’ve been worried. He has to walk with a stick after misjudging a jump to the ground from a zeppelin, and I wasn’t surprised to hear him tell the story because on the list he doesn’t like (of the things he does well) then having a pair of big bold ones is probably somewhere near the top. Probably half the trouble.
I make some passing jibe at people we both once knew and he laughs, because it’s probably nice to be in some company where people want to. I’ve got a cushy life really. Wife, kids, I honestly don’t even look at other women. Seems like the people I know still that we knew together are in the same place whereas those likewise he still sees are competing to see how far up shit street they can live. We both look round when the flatbed goes by, slowing to take a corner with some trouble. In the back twenty spotty idiots in black glare at us, kids with lightning flash armbands.
“Don’t give ‘em an excuse,” I say.
Peter doesn’t hear, just stares at them until the lorry in a stink of a diseased engine vanishes from sight and towards the station. He puts his Webley away. He asks me, “You armed?”
I’ve got a sten gun in the bag, but it’s a piece of shit and say so.
“Pub’s’re open,” he says to change the subject. He can see I’m uncomfortable with the current one.
“Not that one,” I nod over the road.
Then, “Where’s this mate of yours? This ‘Collector’?”
He’s on his way. Last I heard he was likely to be delayed, and is. There’s a shop in Paddington that sells memorabilia and he’s heard that there’s a first edition Book Of Enoch to be had there. I’m not concerned even though this London is what happens when a war leaves behind socialism and ends up years later in something in quite the other direction. The young hate the old and we’re both of us here not looking the sprightly youths we once were. Peter says, “I’ve spoken to a few people, this idea of yours...”
“Oh aye?” there I go betraying my time up north.
“He likes it.”
He looks happy, if wary. You can be a good person that’s done some bad things, you just have to look forward. To see what life can be. And he deserves it because if you judge a man by those that love him then having met his ma then I doubt I’ve ever met anyone more deserving.
Distantly we can hear the thub-thub-thub of a dirigible. French almost certainly, and set to drop bombs on the docks. It’s a right miserable Slide this one and next time I’ll drag him to a better one. There’s poison in the air, and the milk is always sour.
So we drink our tea black and amuse ourselves with the metaphor.