“Has the day finally come,” Polly says, after she has stared at him silently for what feels like a solid minute. “Have you finally lost your bloody mind?”
There must have been a time in their lives, Tommy thinks, when she hasn’t felt the need to accuse him of losing his mind on a monthly basis, but he’ll be damned if he can remember it. Before the war, probably, which even on the best of days feels so long ago now, it might as well have happened in another lifetime.
“It’s a solid plan,” he says, which is true, and then adds, “There’s minimal risk for all us,” which is admittedly less true. The third party-involvement alone means at least fifteen additional ways in which everything could go spectacularly wrong, just off the top of his head; and that is excluding the very real possibility that Alfie Solomons might try to screw them over yet again.
“What are you telling me for, then?”
“I’m going to tell everybody,” Tommy says, but of course, Polly is already narrowing her eyes at him. She suspects that he wants her help convincing everyone else at the family meeting, Tommy can tell. Which hopefully won’t be necessary, because yes, Esme might object on principle, just because it’s London, and Arthur is going to object to the fact that the Jews are involved, but neither one will be a serious problem.
Convincing Arthur is easy, after all, it always has been – or maybe it just feels that way because Tommy is used to arguing with Polly and Ada, which more often than not entails a degree of stubbornness that is in a league of its very own. Also, Esme seems to have made her peace with London by now, if the past few months are anything to go by, which means that John shouldn’t be too hard to win over, either.
He already went with them to the warehouse, after all, so he’s going to realize that theoretically, he knows much more about this plan than anybody else, which might appeal to his pride. Can’t hurt, in any case. As far as Michael is concerned… well, he’s going to be on Tommy’s side, because he always is on Tommy’s side. Privately, Tommy is counting the days until that particular shine wears off, but it hasn’t yet and it’s very unlikely that today is going to be the day.
“What do you need, then?” Polly says, without taking a guess first, which is a bit surprising.
Polly looks towards the ceiling, like there might be someone up there who is capable of sharing her burden. Waste of time, Tommy thinks, because as far as he knows, all that’s up there is the first floor of the fucking building.
“Nothing,” she tells the ceiling conversationally, like she’s talking to an old friend. “Nothing, he says. Right. So why are you telling me ahead of everyone else?”
Tommy resists the urge to rub his forehead. It’s like trying to get a starving dog to let go of a bone, sometimes. “What,” he says, impassive, “Do you not want me to tell you things, all of sudden?”
“Get to the bloody point, Thomas, I swear to God-”
“Nothing,” Tommy says. “I need nothing from you.”
“But,” Polly prompts, with absolute certainty.
“But. The thing is. I might need Ada to do something.”
There is a moment of silence.
“Ah,” Polly says then, sounding very non-committal. She has an opinion on that, of course, because she has an opinion on bloody everything, but sometimes it’s less obvious whether it’s a positive or a negative one.
“Might sound better coming from you,” Tommy continues, trying to gauge her reaction, and puts his cigarette out in the ashtray that’s between them on the table.
“I’m sure it will.”
Will, not would, Tommy thinks, pleased. He didn’t expect her to be enthusiastic about a plan to burn down their own warehouse for the insurance money, but that doesn’t mean he wants her in total opposition. Not on this or anything really, if he’s completely honest, but sometimes other things have to take priority.
“I’m promising nothing, by the way,” Polly says. She reaches over to take his matches, to light her own cigarette. “She might tell me to go fuck myself.”
“I’m aware of that,” Tommy says, then adds with a trace of humor. “And we both know she wouldn’t dare.”
Polly snorts. “She better not.”
She wants Ada back with them, Tommy knows, because she worries about her and Karl, far away and all alone, even though she never says anything about it. Tommy’s heard her praying for them.
“Tommy…” she says now, looking at him seriously, a clear warning in her voice.
“Nothing dangerous,” Tommy says, because it’s true. Less dangerous than whatever Ada gets up to left to her own devices, in any case. It takes effort to sound sincere when he says it, even though he bloody is – he just isn’t too sure what honesty is supposed to sound like, anymore. It used to come naturally, he thinks, but somehow, at some point, it went away. So now he has to try his best and sell it, every time he really means something.
“All right,” Polly says, after a moment, when she’s finally made up her mind about whether she believes him or not. “Fine. Out with it, then.”
And Tommy tries very hard not to feel relieved, but he can’t help it – he just is.
All things considered, the family meeting goes well.
“Now, Polly here,” Tommy says preemptively, once he’s finished outlining everything – or well, not everything, but everything that is relevant at this point in time. “…thinks this is an unnecessary risk. Which is duly noted, I just happen to disagree. So. Anybody else have any objections?”
It was necessary to tell them, he reminds himself, if only to explain why they’re not going to retaliate in any way, when one of their properties was burned down.
John isn’t completely convinced yet, Tommy can tell, but he doesn’t say anything – he’s put his thinking face on instead, which is a bit worrying, because it has led to some spectacularly stupid decision in the past. John has a lot of good qualities, but being strategic isn’t one of them.
Predictably, Arthur raises his hand.
“Yeah,” he says, frowning. “This Solomons’ idea?”
Tommy has mentioned Alfie’s involvement because he had to, and it’s not like it’s a secret, anyway. He’s already come to terms with the fact that he’s going to have to keep a close eye on Arthur during all of this, because Arthur is still livid about what happened with Billy Kitchen and rightfully so – but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be productive or in anybody’s interest if Arthur tries to bash Alfie’s head in with his bare fists in a fit of rage.
“No,” he lies without thinking. “It was mine, actually.”
Arthur is not deterred. “But he’s going to be involved,” he says, which is not a question.
“That why we went to London the other week?” John cuts in.
“Part of it, yes.”
The other part… he’s not thinking about the other part. The other part was a tragic lapse in judgement – an anomaly, a strange kind of itch that needed scratching. Who knows, maybe it was temporary insanity. It won’t happen again, he thinks, trying to ignore the fact that he’s already come to that exact same conclusion once before; and how they went to London, then, and it did happen again.
“Can’t trust ‘em, Tom,” Arthur says, low and furious, with an intensity like he is revealing one of the secret truths of the bloody universe.
Tommy glances over at Polly, annoyed. She raises her eyebrows at him, perfectly aware of the fact that he knows that much, at least. He also knows Arthur means well – he always does – but hell, it’s not like Tommy is a complete fucking idiot. He doesn’t need Arthur to tell him not to trust anybody, because that’s his natural state anyway – he’s so paranoid these days, he doesn’t even trust himself.
“All right,” he says, trying not to sound exasperated. “I’ll keep it in mind, Arthur. Anybody else?”
Everybody just keeps looking at him expectantly. Then Finn clears his throat, over in the corner, and for one bizarre moment Tommy thinks that he’s going to have an opinion on this as well, but obviously he doesn’t say anything.
“Right,” Tommy says after a moment. “If nobody else wants to speak, I’m taking that to mean we’re all in agreement.”
“Fuck me,” Arthur murmurs under his breath, arms crossed.
“Arthur?” Tommy says, as patiently as possible.
“Nothing,” Arthur says, morosely. “Fine. Yes. Agreement.”
If only he knew, Tommy thinks, suddenly queasy and vehemently trying not to think about the fact that he knows what Alfie’s bedroom looks like. And not only that, a small, traitorous part of his brain adds unhelpfully, he knows what the bedroom ceiling looks like, in intimate fucking detail, too… right, he’s not thinking about that, either.
It’s not like there aren’t a million other things to worry about, after all.
That night he comes awake gradually, almost like in a daze, which is unusual – without the opium, his body seems to reject sleep almost violently and at every opportunity it gets.
For some reason, he’s perfectly aware that he’s been dreaming, even though he can’t remember the actual dream at all. The tiniest bit of light is filtering in from the outside; otherwise he’s surrounded by the still, heavy darkness that is the actual middle of the night.
He’s on his stomach, feeling overly warm and slick with sweat, face and neck almost sticking to the pillowcase; dampness collecting in his hairline, at the small of his back. He’s also fucking hard, he realizes with a start. His cock feels hot and swollen, where it’s wedged between his hip and the mattress. He makes an involuntary noise at the sudden realization and automatically stifles it against the pillow. Everything feels slow and hazy, like he still hasn’t managed to completely wake up yet.
Christ, he’s hard.
It’s impossible not to move – his body is already pushing against the mattress all by itself, trying to create some friction. A full-blown shudder runs through him at the feeling, and then he’s frantically shoving his hand underneath, tries to wrap his fingers around his cock in the limited space that is left. Doesn’t even matter, he thinks, biting back a moan, it still feels… oh. Fuck.
A hot flash of embarrassment goes through him, suddenly, thinking about what he must look like right now, desperately rocking against his own hand. Probably couldn’t even see that, he thinks, if you were standing next to the bed or sitting in the corner. All anyone would be able to see are his movements, his hips shoving against the bed, arm buried beneath his body. Probably would hear him, too, harsh breathing, the frantic little noises he can’t help but make.
They’d tell him to bloody slow down, he thinks, maybe even yank his hand away and hold him down, leave him with nothing but the mattress to help get himself off.
And he wouldn’t be able to stop moving even then, because he actually can’t, he’s too far gone for that already. He’d be rocking downwards while they’d twist his arm behind his back, so he couldn’t get away at all, telling him how desperate he was for it, hm? and how he’s going to come, just like this, because apparently he doesn’t need more than that, and how that’s good to know, how they’ll remember that in the future, because they’re gonna make him do it again and again-
It’s Alfie’s voice, he realizes in a moment of horrifying clarity, Jesus, he’s fantasizing about Alfie – how he would hold Tommy down and force him to get off like this, helpless and out of control. Fuck, he needs to fucking come. Except in his head, Alfie still has a vice grip on both of his arms, telling him in that amused voice of his about how he can do it, can’t he? it’s not that fucking complicated, yeah, he just has to really try-
Tommy grits his teeth, hissing out air on every exhale. He can’t really move his hand like this, which just fuels the fantasy; he’s cupping his cock against his stomach, tries to rub up and down with his palm, arm shaking with the strain.
What’s the matter, then – and Tommy can practically hear Alfie say it, in that mockingly innocent tone – thought you wanted to, hm? ‘cause we can keep this going, mate, no problem at all, long as you fucking need to, yeah, I’ve got nowhere else to be, so you just take your time-
Oh, Jesus fucking Christ.
He is coming in long, satisfying pulses, trying to muffle the sounds he’s making in his pillow.
After, he rolls over onto his back and pants up at the ceiling for a few disoriented minutes, feeling absolutely mortified, even though nobody will ever have to know about this. For some reason, it freaks him out more than the fact that he’s actually slept with Alfie in real life. Because it’s one thing to get off on actually having sex with somebody – physical sensation and all that – but it’s another one entirely to wake up in the middle of the night to bloody fantasize about the bastard.
It’s supposed to be out of his system by now, he thinks angrily, like some annoying fever that has to break at some point, if you just wait patiently enough. It almost feels like a betrayal. They’ve already fucked on three separate occasion, for fuck’s sake. What else is he supposed to do?
He doesn’t fall asleep again that night, doesn’t even bother to try.
The next day, he’s in a terrible mood, short-tempered and annoyed by the tiniest of details.
“Christ,” Polly says eventually, after word of his current mood has spread through the whole floor and people are doing their best to avoid him like the plague. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but do us all a favor and go do something else. No need for everyone here to be as bloody miserable as you are.”
Instead of acknowledging any of that, he says, “You speak to Ada yet?” which earns him a sigh.
“Tried calling before, but apparently, she’s out.”
Which might or might not have been true, since Ada likes to use that as an excuse to easily ignore them whenever she doesn’t feel like being a Shelby – but it’s Polly who called, so she’ll be in touch.
“Right,” Tommy says and rubs a hand over one eye, suddenly tired. “All right. Fine. I’m gone for the day.”
“Thank God for small mercies,” Polly murmurs.
He spends the rest of the day drinking at the pub, which becomes considerably less miserable once Arthur shows up to join him. They don’t talk about London, thankfully – Arthur has brought the paper, and they spend the rest of the afternoon talking about the races and some of the horses in particular. It’s a safe topic for them, tried and true, and also one of the few things Tommy finds genuinely entertaining, without the automatic impulse to weigh the pros and cons from every possible angle.
In the back of his mind, he suspects that Arthur lets him go on about it because he either noticed the mood Tommy was in earlier at the office, or Polly has sent him with instructions. He decides not to care about it for once. Arthur used to be the same with boxing, he thinks suddenly, halfway through a not entirely sober rant about thrush and the merits of zinc sulfate over ether – he used to be able to go on about techniques and individual fighters for hours, before the war. These days, not so much anymore.
“Well, s’all avoidable,” Arthur says, after a few moments of confused silence. Tommy has just been staring at him, he realizes. Fuck. He must be more drunk than he thought. “Just have to clean their hooves properly. Right?”
He doesn’t sound sober, either. Just between the two of them, they’ve gone through two thirds of a bottle of Whisky already. Which isn’t that much, all things considered, except usually John is there as well.
“Yeah,” Tommy says, reaching for his matches. “Well. No, actually, there’s the condition of the stables, too-”
He can see Arthur’s eyes glaze over. It takes two matches to actually light his cigarette, because he manages to break the first one in half, clumsy with alcohol.
“Hah,” Arthur says, amused.
“Fuck off,” Tommy murmurs good-naturedly, inhaling deeply from his cigarette. They sit in silence after that. Arthur refills their glasses at some point and Tommy stares at the mostly empty bottle in front of him for a while, drunk and tired, feeling a lot better than he did before, for some reason.
Maybe it’s going to be all right after all.
It's not all right.
He should have seen it coming, really. When they get back to the betting shop, the day is done, everybody that’s not working there gone already. Arthur, who has been complaining that he’s bloody starving for five minutes now, mutters something about bread and disappears in the direction of the kitchen.
Tommy hasn’t made up his mind yet if he wants to eat something or not, when Scudboat appears right next to him and clears his throat, looking uncomfortable.
“Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Yes,” Tommy says, wishing instantly that he was more sober than he actually is. “What is it?”
“Might be nothing,” Scudboat says, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Or could be something, I’m not sure. Some of our people told me, right, that for the last few days… well. Some of Sabini’s bookies have been back at Epsom.”
Tommy blinks at him. “The last few days?”
“Yeah,” Scudboat says. “Reason it didn’t come up sooner was that apparently, they’re getting along. The Italians and the Jews, I mean. Otherwise, somebody would’ve said something sooner.”
“Right,” Tommy says, trying to make sense of that information in his head. “All right. How many?”
“Just a few, as I said,” Scudboat says, eyeing him warily. “Still mostly Solomons’ people. Word was, they wasn’t surprised when the Italians showed up. Seemed to be getting along just fine.”
All right, Tommy thinks in his head. Fucking all right.
“I’ll look into it,” is what he says out loud. “Probably nothing. But keep an eye on it just in case, eh?”
“Can do that, no problem.”
He ignores Arthur, who’s just returned with his ham sandwich, and goes straight to the telephone to make some calls. Turns out, in the last few days, Camden Town has been expanded by a street or two – the border is shifting, or has been shifted or whatever the bloody details may be. Nobody thought it necessary to inform him right away, apparently, because everything happened very peacefully, without any fighting or bloodshed, or any disagreement at all.
Which means Sabini was fucking in on it, clearly, or the whole thing would’ve been very noticeable, even all the way up in Birmingham. Tommy hangs up the telephone very carefully. What the fuck. He needs to talk to Moss first thing tomorrow, he needs as many details as possible.
That’s what you get, he thinks resentfully, while he awkwardly fishes his packet of cigarettes out of his pocket, trying to clear his head. Fucking morons. They all take his money and insist on being fucking useless in return. And he’s not even excluding himself from that thought, because honestly…
He should have seen it fucking coming.