One Two hadn't thought of Handsome Bob in years.
It wasn't that he'd forgotten him. No, it was more the brain's tendency to rarely stray from the business of everyday life that had kept Bob off his mind and in his memory, together with his mum's baking, his old dog and a list of ex-girlfriends Christ better not go down that road.
The fact still stood. Handsome Bob was a friend (of course), but an absentee one that hadn't stuck his nose into London since Mumbles was a bachelor.
Rumour had it that was because the cops would arrest him on sight, but rumours tended to exaggerate.
Anyway, the point was that maybe One Two was a little shocked to run into the bastard at the pub him and the lads went to drink their woes away every Friday. Just maybe.
Luckily it was Tuesday, so no one he cared to impress was there to see the dumbstruck look on his face.
Well, except Bob.
There he was, looking hardly a day older than when they'd split the money from the Wild Bunch's very last job, knocking back shots of alcohol a colour One Two hadn't known the pub served, with a huge grin on his face.
"Look what the cat dragged in!" Bob cheered, raising a recently emptied shot glass in salute.
All One Two could do in return was gape.
This turned out not to be a problem because Bob wasn't only a bastard, he'd turned into a smooth bastard. Before One Two knew it, they were seated side-by-side at the bar, One Two with a pint courtesy of Bob in his hand and Bob recapping his life's adventures (or possibly last night's heist film marathon).
It was just fucking typical that the first thing One Two blurted out once his tongue was back under control was:
"You're not still with that lawyer poof, are you?"
Bob's response was a thoughtful frown, his expression asking a silent 'Who?'
Before One Two could either explain, change the subject or smash his pint against his head, Bob's grin returned and he answered:
"Oh that bloke! Nearly forgotten about him. Thanks for freshening up my memory – be right rude to forget the man that started me off on such a winsome career, don't you think?"
One Two meant to ask what career that was exactly, because the rumours about Bob were as many as they were contraindicative, but Bob's accent distracted him (or maybe One Two let it distract him, in case the answer to the question would be too disturbing; Bob could be a fucking escort for all he knew!). The accent sounded wrong. It'd gotten better the longer they'd talked and as Bob imbibed more alcohol, but it was still a touch too posh. All in all, it made him sound far too confident.
Bob had always had a touch of being shy and insecure (even though he'd done his best to hide that, as any good criminal would). This guy came off as if he owned the pub, the street and most likely a better part of London. He gave the impression that he was someone who knew who you owed money and that they in turn owed him a favour or five.
"Heard about your new job for Johnny," Bob then said.
Just 'Johnny'. Not Mr. Quid, not even plain Quid. Jesus!
"It pays the rent," One Two managed to mutter into his drink. It did a little more than that, but he was quite convinced money laundering for the local crime lord was stuff Bob might be bothered to do as a hobby, if at all.
The conversation quickly died after that. One Two didn't ask what the hell Bob had been up to in the past oh six years and Bob didn't offer any information.
"So what's Mumbles up to these days?"
Mumbles' girls loved Bob at first sight.
No matter that One Two actually visited them every other week – or at least had the intention to visit every other week.
No matter that Bob had skipped town before they were even in the planing stage.
Mumbles' wife seemed more sceptical at least, though she was old enough to remember Bob and the Wild Bunch and all those interesting things about her ex-boyfriend she'd found out from Bob.
Luckily she chose to resolve the issue by taking the kids to the park, to let Mumbles 'talk shop' as she put it.
The ensuing silence was...awkward.
"What have you been doing with yourself, Bob?" Mumbles asked after grabbing them each a beer out of the fridge, sounding way too calm and accepting.
One Two fought the urge to point out the obvious elephant in the room and decided to consume more alcohol – 'cuse he hadn't had enough already, right?
"Oh this and that," Bob said and grinned, leaning back on the couch in Mumbles' deceptively ordinary living room, as if to show off the decidedly not-Bob-clothes he was wearing. "Nothing you boys would want to get tangled up in, I assure you."
He paused, let his eyes sweep over the room, like he was considering moving in. "You seem to be doing fine though. Claire's not kicked you out yet."
"Yet," One Two echoed with less enthusiasm than the moment called for, but he felt he should at least try to chip in.
"My sides are splitting," Mumbles said, dryly. "Now seriously, what brings you here? You don't call, you hardly write and I never know where to send Christmas cards."
Bob shrugged while simultaneously taking a swing of his beer. "Just waiting for an associate of mine to work out some loose ends regarding a job. I was in the neighbourhood and for once unlikely to bring the long arm of the law down upon my old mates, so here I am."
The speech ended with Bob spreading his arms wide in a silent 'ta-dah', sloshing beer on Claire's favourite carpet – which already had a collection of small muddy foot prints as extra decoration.
One Two drained his beer bottle, reclaiming the pleasant buzz he'd managed to lose somewhere on the walk from the pub.
"What do you wanna do then?" was out of his mouth before he could consult his tongue on the wisdom of the word choice. "And if you say me, I'll hit you." Pause. "In the face."
Had this been way back in the day there would have been a flash of hurt in Bob's eyes before he'd laugh at a comment like that. Time apparently healed all wounds.
"I may be a sad bastard and you a handsome bastard, but I'm not that desperate," Bob said, chuckling, and deposited his empty beer bottle on the coffee table he'd been polite enough not to put his feet on – unlike One Two. "I have no clear plan and I'm only free 'til eight tonight, so the decision is up to you gentlemen."
"You have a curfew?" Mumbles said with a teasing smirk, which again caused Bob to laugh heartily.
"You could say that," he conceded, grinning far too widely for a man who'd just confessed he was kept on a leash. "Bet you're no better off with your Mrs."
One Two thanked the gods that he'd just drained the last of the beer out of his bottle, since he knew Claire would have been less forgiving of him dirtying her precious carpet.
There was a moment of silence as the bottle rolled to a halt somewhere in the vicinity of the doorway to the kitchen. Silence One Two's fucking mouth of course couldn't help but fill with:
Bob took being shouted in the face as well as he'd taken being asked about the lawyer; he just kept on grinning like the devious smooth fucker that he apparently now was.
"Good as," he answered after waiting for One Two's mouth to shut properly and for Mumbles' eyebrows to climb down from his non-existent hairline. "But I won't bore you with the details. My latest boss says I sound like a fourteen year old girl when I gush about him, so I'll spare you that. Especially you Mumbles – I'm sure you'll get enough of that in time when your girls start bringing home blokes."
Mumbles shrugged, apparently having chosen to take this in stride like everything else weird Bob had ever uttered. "I could use the practice," he said. "You already know Claire and One Two's girls never hang around long enough for names to stick."
One Two couldn't get his vocal cords working well enough to grumble at that, so he chose to give Mumbles a side-way glare instead.
"Would be nice not to be the only whipped one, so to speak."
"Ah Mumbles, how did you know I like to play rough?"
"Jesus!" One Two felt his cheeks flush as the other two laughed at him. "Warn a guy will you," he managed to say once that disturbingly graphic image was out of his head.
"I always do," Bob replied, winking.
"That's stretching it," One Two came back with, quickly followed by: "And I need no details about you stretching anything, got that? Not even sheets!"
"Aye, aye," Bob mocked him, with a salute and everything. A proper salute even, all military like. It looked disturbingly not-Bob.
Another awkward pause.
"So, where are we headed after this?"
It took One Two's drunken mind a good two minutes to catch up to the fact that he was bound, hand and foot, to a chair, with a bag over his head. It took him an additional five to recall how he'd ended up in said chair. There were still some hazy spots, but it pretty much boiled down to a short list of events:
1. Went out drinking with Bob and Mumbles, around 5 pm.
2. Got really shit-faced on something Bob insisted he should try and that actually tasted all right, even though it was glowing green.
3. Stumbled out of the bar around 7.30, since Bob said he had to head back to his little missus.
4. Got hit in the gut, got a bag shoved over his head and got pushed into a car – Mumbles and Bob most likely right behind him.
5. Short car ride, probably down to the docks.
6. Shoved into this here place, wherever the hell that was. No idea how long he'd been sitting there. Judging my the muffled cursing he could hear, Mumbles was still nearby.
He couldn't think of a seven. That was probably good. Hopefully good.
The opening of what sounded to be a heavy door narrowed his attention on what he imagined was the far side of the room.
"Good, you're still with us."
Where else should we fucking be? One Two thankfully didn't say.
"Be so good and tell us what business you had with Mr. Eames tonight."
"Mr. Who?" That was Mumbles' voice, coming from somewhere behind him. Fuck, he fucking hated having a bag over his head. Fuck, fuck, fuck...
"Don't play coy with us, boys," the voice said. The blood rushing through One Two's ears was far too loud for him to be able to make out any distinguishing features of said voice, other than it being very bad news. "Mr. Eames may be a bit above our paygrade to deal with directly, but you two have no such protection."
"And from what we've heard, he won't be covering for you," a second voice said, from somewhere close to where Mumbles had to be. "I wouldn't do him any favours if I was you. Especially favours you're unlikely to live through. What were you and Mr. Eames talking about?"
"We don't know-" The slap hit One Two right across the left cheek. It sent him and the chair he was tied to toppling to the floor. He saw stars as his head cracked against the floor.
Shots rang out. At least he thought they did. It could just as well have been his impact with the floor ringing in his ears. The wisest move seemed to be keeping still, so One Two tried to do that. The combined nausea of an approaching hangover, a splitting headache and pure terror made that pretty tricky, but he managed. Sort of managed. Well, at least he didn't throw up.
"Where are you keeping him?"
Was that a new voice? Did they really need more people getting involve here?
Running steps could be heard, as well as a few more gunshots. One Two ignored them in favour of getting his hands free. Crappy chair broke during his fall. Someone up high must like him after all.
Not being too obvious about getting the rope around his wrists away from the chair's broken back was tricky. Then again, with all the running, shouting and gunfire around him, he highly doubted anyone was paying much attention to him. He hoped no ricochets would find him interesting either.
"Tell me where Eames is and no one gets hurt!" the newest voice called out in-between gunshots.
"No one here believes that," one of the other voices said, out of breath. "Not even you, Arthur."
One Two drew in a sharp breath as the ropes gave, letting blood rush back into his aching hands. He pulled the bag off his head, still lying on his side. They were in a warehouse room of some sort, not terribly original, with a high ceiling, crates and two exits. Both exits were currently occupied by people with guns.
"Stay back and we won't shoot your associates," a person in one doorway said. She looked to be in her mid-thirties and was holding a gun One Two couldn't place. The man next to her was about the same age, holding an equally high tech gun and looking ready to commit murder. Great.
"They're not my associates," the person in the other doorway said. He was an impeccably dressed man, with rolled up shirtsleeves and also, of course, holding a gun. He looked like every assassin ever portrayed on telly. What a fucking mess.
The would-be-assassin's words caught up with One Two a second too late. "You twat!"
"Shut up, One Two!" That was Mumbles, no doubt about it. His chair was still standing.
"Mr. Eames seemed quite cosy with them," the woman said, eyes fixed on the assassin-wannabe.
Assassin-wannabe stayed mostly in cover, his back to the wall, the only part of him visible through the doorway being his head, in profile no less. Classy bloke, One Two had to admit. Probably a dead bloke soon too. Classy never got you far.
"You might not have noticed, but Mr. Eames and I are not the same person," Assassin-wannabe said. "Just tell me where he is and we can end this."
"You'll have to catch us first," the woman said. The man next to her had already split.
The assassin-wannabe rolled his eyes as the woman bolted from her doorway. Cool as a cucumber the bloke took in his surroundings, giving Mumbles and One Two less than a few seconds of attention, before striding through the room. Yes, striding. The way that bloke move could not be summed up as simply walking. Speeding bullet aiming for a head, that was the sort of walk he had.
One Two started wondering if he'd maybe hit his head a little too hard. He kept his eyes on the assassin-wannabe and made sure he wasn't about to double back, before getting up and getting the bag off Mumbles' head.
"What now?" Mumbles asked, waiting patiently as One Two untied him.
"Now?" One Two asked. "Now we find Bob."
The warehouse was huge. Beyond huge. It was a damn labyrinth. Good thing Mumbles had a good sense of direction or they would no doubt have ended up stumbling right into the crossfire of the firefight they could hear now and then in the distance.
One Two rounded a corner and crashed right into Bob. The man in question looked like he'd gone two rounds with a professional boxer.
"Jesus fucking Christ!" One Two said, not sure if he was relieved or furious. Bob laughed, the fucker.
"What's so fucking funny?"
"Just glad to see you two in one piece," Bob said. He was bracing himself against one of the walls, one arm wrapped around his left side as if to shield it.
"One piece!" One Two said, or well, he might have shrieked. A bit. "One piece he says! We've all been beaten, kidnapped and threatened with torture, but as long as we're in one piece all's fine and dandy, right?!"
"Hey, calm down One Two." Mumbles put a hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off.
"Calm. Down?!" Bob actually flinched at that, which was the only reason One Two managed to lower his voice somewhat. That, and the bangs reminding him that there were armed people shooting at each other a few rooms down. "We're barely walking the lot of us. I'm sloshed, you're no better Mumbles and we still have no fucking clue who that fucker Mr. Eames is!"
"Eh," Bob began, but this was not the moment for interruptions.
"And there's a fucking assassin running around!" One Two realized how silly that sounded two seconds after he'd said it. Shouted it. Damn.
"I believe he means me."
And just like that the freakishly neat bloke was back, as if he'd melted out of the shadows. Jesus fucking Christ!
For once Mumbles jumped just as high as One Two, which made One Two feel a little better. A little. The assassin-wannabe was holding a gun; there was only so much better one could feel in this situation.
The assassin-wannabe secured his weapon and rolled down his shirt sleeves. There wasn't a drop of blood on him. He gave Bob something between a glare and a look of relief. "You are an idiot, Mr. Eames." As climaxes to dramatic shootouts went, that was a pretty weak one.
"Sorry, darling," Bob said, looking for the world like a kicked puppy. A very large kicked puppy that most likely could take your arm off with its teeth, but that didn't make the look any less pathetic. "Just wanted to have a night out with the boys, you know."
"With Larson and White looking for you?" 'darling' said. One Two did his best to wrap his mind around that, but there is only so much you can do with a headache and approaching hangover working against you.
"Who's your friend, Bob?" Mumbles. Thank god for Mumbles.
'Darling' turned around to face Mumbles and gave a civil nod. "I'm Arthur, Robert's partner. I am also the person who'll get us out of here."
They all blinked. At least One Two hoped he wasn't the only one left blinking dumbly as the darling-Arthur-assassin-wannabe turned on his heels, pulled a mobile out of his trouser pocket and walked out of the room
"So, eh, that was Arthur," Bob said. "Love of my life, knight in shining armour and a really nice bloke when you meet him outside of kidnapping situations."
"Huh," Mumbles said, which was far more than One Two felt he could manage. "I've seen that look before. You're in the dog house."
"Definitely," Bob answered, but he smiled as he spoke.
Much later they're back at Mumbles' place. One Two had a packet of ice pressed against his head, provided by a smiling Clarie. It had been a sympathetic smile, at least.
He'd gotten the comfy chair too. Bob, the only other injured party there, had been laid up on the coach with his bruised ribs and black eye. The Arthur bloke had been fussing over him non-stop from the moment he'd gotten off the phone to whoever their second rescuers were and hadn't stopped until they were back at Mumbles' place and Bob had assured him for the hundredth time that nothing was broken.
Not that Arthur's fussing had been very loud or smarmy. It had just been jarring to see him go from robot to actual human being.
One Two moved the bag of ice to the side so he could look into the kitchen. Mumbles was helping Claire wash up while Arthur was on his mobile again. Talking to some doctor, if One Two had heard right.
Glancing to his right, One Two caught Bob watching Arthur, smiling like a loon.
"You're really in love with him, aren't you?" It had to be said.
"Guess I am," Bob said, a dreamy smile on his face. Probably the painkillers talking.
One Two watched Bob out of the corner of his eye as Bob watched Arthur. The cocky air slowly dissipated, the 'I know who you owe money'-aura fading. And for a few seconds One Two was sitting across from Bob again.
That wasn't half bad, all things considered. Almost worth the headache. Almost.