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"Fuck off," says Bob, without malice. "All other considerations aside, this week's been a fucking shocker, and I'd like to get laid without you clutching your fucking pearls."

"I've told you already-" One Two begins, indignantly.

"And the message has been received, One Two," says Bob. "Loud and clear in surround fucking sound. But I meant that I'll be fucking some of the many other men in London's fair city, alright? The less uptight ones."

"You're a fickle beast, Handsome," remarks Mumbles, and picks up another card.

"Well, I'm not going to pine away while One Two decides if he's gonna give me his flower or not," says Bob, grinning. "Besides I've always fancied being a kept bit of rough, and Bertie-"

There's a chorus of catcalls, and Bob says with a lisp, "-is ever so keen."

"I thought we'd got everything we needed out of Bertie," says One Two, and Mumbles looks at him pityingly. "It's a good job you're pretty, Mr One Two, 'cause you're not too bright, are you? Big-shot Bertie couldn't want Bob's cock more if it were made of solid gold."

"Might as well be," says Bob, slouched over his cards.

"Yeah, yeah," says Mumbles, rolling his eyes at the rest of the table. "We know; the amount of boys that turn up here after you've fucked and run is horrible. How do you have the fucking stamina?"

Bob grins conspiratorially at his hand. "Clean living?"

"Clean liv-? Fuck off!" shouts Mumbles over the table's raucous laughter. "You've been a filthy devil since you were fourteen, mate; don't think we don't know. And Bertie's desperate for you to bend him over the nearest surface and make him beg."

"Leave it out," says Bob, pleasantly. "You're embarrassing One Two."

"Fuck off, Bob," says One Two, automatically. "I'm not embarrassed." Although he really, really is. He's known Bob forfuckingever; they've been best pals for the last- Jesus, four years? Five? They've done everything togeth- and One Two's thoughts stall, reverse, and then negotiate carefully around that particular mental obstacle. They've done nearly everything together, but it's like Mumbles is talking about a completely different fuckin' history to the one he'd thought they'd all shared. How has he fucking missed all of this? One Two has never considered himself one of the most sharp-minded operators in London town - leave that sort of thing to the big-time rocknrollas like Archie - but he'd thought he'd kept his eyes open, had all the information he needed to run the Wild Bunch's schemes and keep them all safe and sound tucked away in his brain. How the fuck has he missed something this big? And if he's missed this, what else has he missed? That worrying thought is the icing on top of the cake of doubt and panic with a thin, jammy layer of smugness (he's not gay, but he's still fucking got it right enough if fucking Handsome Bob wants his arse). He might, might, have to have to talk to Mumbles about this, but he's fucked if he's gonna do that sober, or anywhere near the rest of the Wild Bunch.

"Anyway, Bertie's longing to get fucked by Bob is a fucking gift; we'd be the only outfit in town to have a brief in our back-pocket for free. Never a bad idea in our- precarious line of work."

"Bob's taking one for the team," says Fred, grinning at One Two sharkily, and then pushes his glass of milk over the table to Bob. "There you go, son; that'll keep your strength up."

One Two decides not to comment on Fred's obvious and inflammatory tactics, and instead appeals to the Speeler at large, "Well, where the fuck am I gonna go? Archie's lot cleaned the place up before the Old Bill got called in, but the neighbours are not fucking happy with me at all and the whole place still smells like Russians."

"Weeeell," says Bob, surveying his cards. "If you're that desperate, you could always see if my mum could put you up for a few days. Just till you get yourself sorted."

"Jesus Christ," One Two groans. "Is this what my life has come to? Come on, somebody else must be able to let me sleep on their settee for a few days."

"Sorry, mate," says Fred, looking anything but. "Thing is, we've just had the guest room done, and I'd prefer it didn't have to get redecorated 'cause you can't keep away from psychopathic tarts, d'you know what I mean?"

"Come on, Fred," says One Two, with his most charming and trustworthy smile. "You know Dolly's not my type."

"You cheeky cunt," Dolly says without rancour, leaning on the bar and exhaling a plume of smoke from one of her endless Benson and Hedges. "Just for that, I'm not even gonna let you kip in the back with the dog."

There's a moment of silence broken only by the slap of cards being put down, and the slurp of tea, and Cookie sucking his teeth in a tell he fondly believes isn't an instant giveaway to the rest of the boys.

"I'll ring my mum," says Bob, much too gleefully, "and tell her to expect us for tea then, shall I?"

"Bollocks," sulks One Two.

"Now don't be that way, One Two," says Mumbles reprovingly. "Handsome's doing you a favour here. Play your cards right and maybe Joyce'll put the Star Wars duvet cover on the bed for you. That teeny-tiny single bed in the room right next door to hers."

"And bring you a cup of tea every morning," Bob adds, not even trying to hide the malicious grin he's got going. "Fucking amazing sense of timing, my mum. Always manages to walk in with a cuppa and a smile as you're trying to have a wank. Something to look forward to, eh?"

One Two makes a pained noise and bangs his head off the card table.

"Watch out," says Fred, injured. "You'll spill my tea."

"I wish the Russians had fucking killed me," mourns One Two.

************************************************************

It's Wild Bunch policy not to ask what every one else in the gang does with their cut ever since Cookie had answered the question with horrible honesty, showing the Speeler two bank statements and a home-made DVD as evidence. One Two hadn't even been able to look at him for a week afterwards.

It goes without saying though that a large part of Handsome Bob's take goes toward making sure his mum wants for nothing. When the Wild Bunch had first started taking serious jobs rather than just yanking cash machines out of shopping centres and stripping the pipes out of derelicts, he'd moved her out of the Hackney flat they'd lived in since Bob's dad had done a moonlit flit when he was two, and up to Maze Hill. One Two stares blankly out of the car window as they turn into her road; it's all green and leafy and Georgian houses and oh Jesus fucking Christ there's a crocodile of primary school kids all holding hands as the teachers take them to the fucking park- just fucking kill him now.

"Christ, One Two," says Bob, glancing over as he pulls the motor into the driveway. "Don't look so fucking bereft. The fleshpots of Clerkenwell will be still be there in a week."

"Just tell me there's a pub, Bob," One Two begs. "Don't leave me broken and sober."

Bob snorts and swings himself out of the car. Ducking back down, he says through the open door, "My mum started wine-tasting classes two months ago with some dodgy old cove she met at bingo; the house is like a fucking Oddbins. Now come on, when she heard you were coming round, she got all excited and started cooking for the five thousand."

Despite himself, One Two grins and crawls out of the car. Joyce is blunter than a cosh to the back of the head, but her touch with pastry is light as a fucking feather. "Is there pie?"

"Of course there's pie, darlin'" Joyce calls from the front door, beaming and resplendent and incongruous as ever in a Laura Ashley pinafore and a pair of what look like plastic Disney princess mules. "Come in and let me take a look at you."

Joyce's looks entail a close examination, at least ten minutes of maternal clucking, and thank God, the largest glass of red wine One Two's ever seen shoved into his battle-scarred hand.

Bob deflects his mum's swoop with the wine bottle, claiming the drive back to Clerkenwell, and goes out to haul what's left of One Two's possessions out of the car boot.

"Now, darlin'," says Joyce, comfortably, having shoved One Two into a kitchen chair as she stirs something that smells fucking amazing on the hob, "what the fuck did you get my boy into this time?"

"Ah," says One Two and takes a hefty swig of Merlot. "I'd like to state for the record, Joyce, that it was in no way, whatsoever, my fault that this entire thing went tits-up, and we all came out of it alive, and that I didn't make Bob do anything he didn't want to. Also, once again, for the record: not my fault."

Joyce cackles and sips at her own wine before pausing thoughtfully and then slugging half the glass into the saucepan. "Don't be silly, One Two, my love; you don't have to tell Bob to do anything. He's a grafter, that boy. Besides that, where you go so does he, as well you bloody know."

"It all turned out right in the end," says One Two, and tries to bury himself in his wineglass and avoid Joyce's gimlet eyes. "Lenny Cole's out of the picture and Archie's gonna be too busy fixing up the empire and the little prince to take much notice of us. And without Lenny around, we won't have to worry about being dumped in the big house every time he gets windy. Everyone wins."

"Oh, I do hope so, darlin'," Joyce flutters. "Have some more wine."

But One Two is not fooled. Joyce brought Handsome Bob up to be a blinding fucking human being, and she is a lovely woman, no one would ever say otherwise, but you put her boy in danger and she will want to know why. She will be very insistent about it, and her righteous indignation will come down upon you alongside her frying pan. Cookie's nose wasn't always that shape, but he never offered Bob drugs again after that. Resigned to the inevitable inquisition, One Two takes another glass of wine. In fact - fuck it, he thinks, and just starts drinking straight from the bottle.

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