As much as I try I cannot come to a conclusion about what happened next. I mean, the facts are simple enough, but they do not make any sense, not to me. Especially not what I did. But I must admit, given the circumstances, I cannot imagine making a different choice.
Picking that pocket was stupid, no two ways to see that. I still had over 400 quid from Queen Mum and from Frank the tout. The mark didn’t even do anything to deserve it, other than carry a visibly bulging wallet in the back pocket of his jeans. Probably full of fading receipts and ancient parking stubs I figured. I did it out of sheer boredom. For the heck of it, you know.
It must have been around nine in the evening, the sun had just set. Not long before it had stopped raining and the clouds were breaking apart in a blaze of blood, peach and salmon. I had eaten a slice of take away pizza and was still holding the piece of cardboard they had served it on. I folded up the cardboard until it had roughly the dimensions of the wallet. Then I shadowed the mark for a while until I saw that he was about to enter a small, incidental crowd.
I quickly walked up behind him, close enough to be jostled against him by the peeps around us. One hand pushed up the wallet and – while it toppled into the other – slipped in the folded-up piece of cardboard. This was the exact grift that got me sent to Plötzensee. But I was curious if I was still up to it. And I was bored. And lonely. Maybe I just wanted to touch somebody.
The lift went beautifully, the mark never noticed anything. But I was caught again.
I saw right away that the girl wasn’t a rozzer: White, gold-trimmed trackies, Adidas trainers, no older than 17. But her face left no doubt that she had made me as she grinned at me from between two overweight shoppers. We were on a small plaza surrounded by department stores. The girl belonged to a group of scallies loitering around the statue of a fat man carrying a beer barrel. She must have been waiting for me to make this mistake. I decided not to stick around to find out the back-story.
As soon as I made a break two blokes from the group took up pursuit. They chased me through an opening between a shopping centre and a departments store and on through a green churchyard. When I came out on another street on the far side a bloke in a black Nike tracksuit came at me from my left, forcing me to turn right and run down the hill. My legs were pumping like pistons, soles slapping the rain-slick asphalt. I picked up speed. Faces of elderly pedestrians flashed by, snapshots of disapproving fearfulness. Before I could reach the open crossroads at the bottom of the hill, another bloke came my way out of a street to my right. As I dashed around a corner and past an American pool hall to avoid him I could see that he wore a handless mobile phone in his ear and was shouting something. The answer came in the form of a fourth runner straight ahead. But instead of tackling me he kept to my right cutting off another exit there. The bastards were coordinating their hunt, herding me.
The chase ended on a car park between an inner city motorway and another small green space. My breath was going ragged, nothing but adrenalin propelling me onward. I tried to get to a narrow walk way between two grassy knolls when the door of a car opened directly in front of me. I didn’t have the time to even slow down, ran into it full tilt. It completely knocked the air out of me. The ground came up behind me, gave me a hard slap on the back and smacked me once roughly across the back of my head. Six pairs of trainers formed a circle around me, the faces blacked out by the fading purple light in the cloudy evening sky above.
“Poaching, are we, love?” a husky girl’s voice asked, as soon as she had caught he own breath. The same white and gold Adidas I had seen in the plaza kicked me painfully into my thigh. “Take him to the pit.”
Two pairs of hands grabbed me by the arms. One of them had melanie tattooed across the knuckles of the left. The hatchback of the car opened. It was a Nissan Silvia, the colour of brushed steel with a matte black roof and hood and a showy rear wing. The boot smelled so strongly of lubricant, solder, and naked metal that it made my tongue tingle. I struggled when they stuffed me into it, earning myself a sharp jab of the tattooed knuckle to my shoulder, right on the knob of bone there. My howl of pain was cut off by the hatchback slamming close.
Ten minutes later I was pulled out again, deafened and disoriented by the wide bore exhaust and a weapons grade subwoofer. Dusk was getting on. The Nissan stood in a dead end street. Red brick terraced houses all around, the sort with artificially tarnished wrought iron bars in front of the ground floor windows and doorbells disguised as brass knockers, meant to look posh but only looking naff. Screws crooked, so that you could rip it all out with one, two good yanks. Even the red bricks looked fake somehow.
A lanky, crop-haired bloke in a vile electric purple tracksuit, the one who had cut me off while talking on his handless phone, flicked out a switchblade and pressed its point under my chin.
“Try to run again, and I’ll cut your throat.” His Yorkshire accent made that roon and cout. He was joined by Melanie’s boy and two other blokes.
Before I could say anything a gate was opened in the wall at the end of a row of houses. A stocky West-Indies girl in blackcamo tank-top and trousers stood in the small garden behind the gate.
Purple boy grinned happily. He pressed the tip of the knife deeper into the soft flesh under my chin, deep enough that a small trickle of blood began to run down the blade and onto his hand. He took the knife away from my throat for a moment and licked the blood off his fingers. “Go on, scream, run, fight,” his eyes said. “I dare you.”
At the end of the garden was a chain-link fence with another gate in it. Behind that lay a narrow gorge with a sunken railway line at the bottom. The slopes were steep and wooded, the sort of area where people dump their old washing machines and broken bicycles, and where torn plastic bags flutter in the branches like the ghosts of last year’s birds. Crumbling concrete steps lead from the chain-link fence to a litter strewn path by the railway tracks.
Bridges crossed the gorge every few dozen meters, and set into the base of one such bridge, covered in twenty years worth of tags spray-painted over each other and half-hidden by blackberry brambles and a thicket of nettles, was a steel door. The black girl did the super secret knock. The door was opened from within and sulphur yellow light spilled out into the darkness under the bridge.