Getaway Driver - a short story
Miss Simms made a request. The governor accepted. Under supervision, under protection along Victorian gangways she used the Leica. She gave the inmates a lecture. She informed them briefly of Daguerre and Fox Talbot. But mostly she took the Leica to the cell of David May. He held the Leica in his hands and weighed it in his palms.
-My appeal comes up next week he told her
-Good luck she said
As she left she felt the continuance of life inside and out. She breathed the air. She stepped through the door. David May was reading the stories and poems of Al Kadir.
The getaway had been clean, save for the memory of celluloid, his face framed behind the wheel in front of three other heads dark and shadowed. His face was detailed by the sun. He looked interested.
The picture is blown up large, mounted against the back wall. The small pictures on the flanking walls lead the people’s feet. A small crowd gathers in front holding champagne murmuring chatter. Laughter cracks the tone.
Miss Simms flashes her smile and shakes the hands of the people. The Standard art critic hovers. Her friends support her – grainy, gritty, great. Amongst the pictures between zebra crossings, a back lot of disused traffic lights lean, some hooded like condemned men. Waterloo’s facade looms large above the balding pates of commuting businessmen. David May is pictured at the basin of his cell, droplets suspended in the air, a halo after his brown curls and holding the Leica mirrored and standing in line towards steaming vats in the kitchens and his profile silhouetted black against the brilliance of the outside sky, framed by the small square meshed window and finally on his bunk reading the stories and love poems of Al Kadir.
-Do you think he feels exploited? some voice asks.
-You could have stopped the car and got the camera, said Miss Simms.
Harry, Joe and Bill sit in the car businesslike, two in the back, one in front, jaws set firm, full of their importance, in the wings ready to go on stage to perform. They drive past familiar things, high street shops, the slow crawl of traffic punctuated by buses red and high, an orange pelican crossing. They turn off the high street and slip past the back of a supermarket, a ten tonne lorry is delivering toilet rolls and pasta, to a road of privet hedges, a newsagents, a red pillar box, a row of parked cars.
Bill in the back reads the Times Property supplement. He reads aloud – Luxury apartments from £500grand Westminster. You could live right next to the judge. Says it’s got a menu, maids, valet parking, health spa, laundry service. Criminal! Bill throws the paper down in disgust.
Ahead a Securicor van comes into view.
-That’s it shouts Harry
They follow safe in their intent, unexpected.
David May puts his foot down. The car picks up speed and smoothly runs aside the van. In a moment, the van is stopped, the car angled in front. The men are out in an instant shouting commands and pointing guns. Up ahead walking down the road, Miss Simms stops.
They start to getaway, a sports bag of money between their knees. The two security guards are splayed on the ground, unmotivated to perform any heroics for cold cash. They drive past Miss Simms. David May glances towards her, she looks lovely, has brown curls, big eyes, dressed nice, holding an object to her face. He turns his face towards her as she takes the photograph.
-How much we got?
-Reckon about 50 grand.
-Dave, you carryin’ a shooter then?
-Nah need my hands for the wheel. Never touch those things.
-I shot you with a Leica. It’s a beautiful thing. Here, take a look. The workmanship’s stunning. She hands him the camera.
It was in all the papers that David May escaped, jumping out of the police van on his way to the Appeal Courts, rolling on the tarmac like a stuntman, slipping through the crowd at Elephant and Castle, disappearing on a Northern Line train bound for Edgeware. ‘Houdini’ said the papers.
The cars slew and skid across the roads, from the helicopter camera the impression of speed is diminished. The camera inside the police car jerks and pulls the camera to and fro, the brake lights of the car in front flash and turn out of view, through an estate, and a grassy verge is gouged by tyre marks. The reflective material of signs shine out for a moment and then disappear. Harried into a dead end the pursued flee their vehicle and run in white trainers, mounting garden fences. The helicopter tracks their getaway their bodies in the night by a grey luminescence. Their race across gardens caught in a centimetres adjustment of a camera lens. On the TV screen an urbane presenter says
-This time, only by a miracle, no one was hurt.
-Amateurs mutters David May
From the drawer he fetches the box and puts the cassette in the machine. It whirs as he settles in the chair. The Dover Cliffs appear on the screen and a young man’s face in close up – white, marked dark by a mop of hair, straight eyebrows and eyes defiant, hurt, and accusatory. His green coat hangs as straight as his drainpipe trousers.
On the screen the world is familiar, full of redbrick houses, greasy spoon cafes, language and jokes. David May watches through the betrayal – the great Face and hero is a bellboy in tight britches, his love’s a tart, his pure feelings unshared.
His cigarette in the ashtray is burnt ash to the butt. He sits in silence watching the blank screen until the tape hits the end and starts to rewind. The house is silent, an occasional car passes along the road outside and fridge gently hums to itself. He picks up a book and begins to read the Stories and Love Poems of Al Kadir.
His hands on the wheel in racing car gloves – the smell of plastic, the engine idling and his racing heart on a High Street in a suburb. His eyes fixed on the Post Office door, then fixed on the space in front. The bonnet is long and painted copper gold. From the post office door a flurry of movement from the three men wearing black. He leans across and opens the passenger door and pulls down the passenger seat. Breath and scrambling enter the car and urgent commands merge with the engine. The car lurches forward and takes a small side street. The men remove their balaclavas, not a word said, watchful. Nearby at the back of a row of shops the car crawls up a dirt lane between two sets of garages. The car is backed into a garage and they take a van from the other garage.
In the van one lights a cigarette, one turns on the radio and Harry starts to count the money in the back, tipping out the bundles from a red post office bag. David May drives turning onto the motorway drifting past the towers of Slough. Bill counts an amount and tidies the notes into an envelope. He leans over the seat and offers the cash to David May.
-Trust me? Asks Harry
-Must be joking replies David May, You’ve just robbed a post office. People like you can’t be trusted.
The men chuckle. The eyes of David May are fixed on the road ahead. The motorway traffic moves at a steady pace as if one body connected. Beside their van the chrome of a scooter’s mudguard reflects the sun. The machine is immaculate. The rider wears a long green coat. He sits up at the handle bars as if sitting up for Sunday roast.
-You ever seen Quadropphenia? Asks David May.
-Yeah, replies Harry. My little brother was a rocker. He had a few punch ups in Brighton.
-What’s that? Asks Joe
-It’s a film about a bunch of Mods on scooters. They go down to Brighton for a punch up on the beach with the rockers.
-Everything goes wrong for the main character who commits suicide off some cliffs – near Selsey Bill or somewhere. Says Harry
-Silly prat, states Joe
-No, it’s just the scooter. At the start you see him walking away from the cliffs, just the scooter goes over the edge, says David May.
The chalk walls catch the fluorescent glare of the dock lights, softening and adding a blue. The white cliffs of Dover are grey blue in the night. Ships are lights in a black sea. The air is fresh. Cars line up to shuffle along the queue to the ferry, clanking on the ramps.
David May had £80,000 sewn into the lining of his leather jacket. He has a false passport with details arranged by a man who knew how. He has a French phrase book and an address in Paris. He watched the cliffs recede, leaning over the rails of the ferry. A dog-eared book sticks out his jacket pocket – The Stories and Love Poems of Al Kadir.
Miss Simms stands beneath the Eiffel Tower, directed there by letter.
-Where’re you going to next? Miss Simms asks.
-I’m gonna look for someone.
-I ain’t saying.
She looks up and points the Leica taking the iron girders criss crossing smaller into the sky.
-So d’you know anywhere to ear round here?
-How much do you want to spend?
-Well, you could say I’m flush at the moment.
She points the Leica and clicks the shutter.
-That one going in the gallery?
-Won’t be able to will I?
-Not unless you want trouble.
She approaches him and asks him how he escaped from the police van. He smiles and says – secrets of the trade my dear.
-Why am I here?
-You’re just after some rough, he says, pulling her close.
-So you can make a living with this? David May points to the Leica sitting on the starched tablecloth.
-Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.
-Are you good?
-Sometimes. How about you.
-Me, I’m getting better all the time.
From the bathroom she approaches the bed to smooth the sheets left crumpled from their bodies but she stops and takes the Leica from the side and snaps the contours angling the bedside light to deepen the shadows. She leaves for London.
The photographs hold colours from another world, on a kitchen table blemished by coffee cup rings. David May is standing holding the reins of two ponies, one loaded with blue wrapped bundles, behind them stretching up above the mountain shine with pure colour like a tinted postcard. His face is tanned and stubbled.
The package contains a tatty paperback marked with a note on a slip of paper – Read this. Gone camping. She reads:
Love like the colours at the roof of the world suspends men’s hearts on a string drawing them to summits such as these. To climb is a risk at each step, to cut the cord is a submission to the earth – who knows how far the fall? To escape the sky and the earth is the art of love, to live between soaring like a hawk.
I never studied. Haven’t read a book in donkey’s years but I like this. I don’t know why. It doesn’t make much sense.
She looks at the cover and reads – The Stories and Love Poems of Al Kadir.
More short stories...
- Football story - Dada, our Shakespeare of the globe that rolls
O Journal, December 14, 1961. This is where he came from: Santiago de Consumpo sits like a grey overcoat under occasional blue tropical skies. Car exhausts are amplified by the humidity and the dust...
- Crab fisherman
A short story of rags to riches and the consequence.... A crab fishermen worked and lived on a beach. He had little but his hut and clothes. After a fierce storm he found a shipwrecked man. He helped the...
- Kite Man
A short story - a teenage tourist photographer and kite making father encounter dreams and unexpected generosity. The tourists ride the cog-train up the side of Corcovado through the tropical undergrowth to...
- Short story - Busker
A short story about change. John Paul was tall and gangly. He was pale, even in summer after a holiday in Greece. It was something in his genes on his mothers Irish side. We met at work. John had...