Note – Hi there. This is my first forage into Mint Royale fic, which I have recently become addicted to. However, I can't promise that this will match its predecessors – namely the mightily superior "Stockholm Syndrome" or more recently the epic genius that is "The Accessory" (these I know, if you know of any other MR fics please tell me) but I have done my best to do right by the genre, and I hope it will be enough to live up to some small expectations. Thanks for reading.

Sunday October 3rd 2003.

"For fuck's sake will everybody just shut the fuck up?"

"Claxton, there's no need to shout at everybody!"

"Moon, I swear to all that is high and holy that if you don't shut the fuck up as well I will drive my gun right through your fucking arse"

Howard Moon rolled his eyes, and glanced down at the hyperventilating little old lady whom he had in a rather unimpressive headlock. The room had fallen deathly silent since Ken's outburst, and her terrified, trembling squeaks were the only noise in the room. As kindly as he could muster with a balaclava over his head, he smiled down at her.

"Madam, I'm very sorry for any inconvenience caused, but if you would mind just calming down for us then nobody will need to be hurt"

This only seemed to scare the poor old dear further, and she whimpered, screwing her eyes tight shut. She looked like a little bird in the paws of a cat, Howard thought.

"Look, mate…" came a voice. It was one of the men behind the counter. His neatly arranged black hair was now dishevelled and his white shirt was sticking to his chest with sweat. His eyes were large and pleading. His nametag read: Hi, my name is Drew. A real peacekeeper. "We'll give you what you want, alright. Just please put your guns down and let her go"

Next to Howard, Ray grinned. "Fucking NatWest, eh?" he beamed. "All that customer service shite. They wouldn't have taken this sort of bullshit in Halifax!"

The three men lowered their weapons slowly, keeping a tight reign on the handles. Howard's hands were sweating through his black gloves. He kept his other hand around the women's neck, but let it soften slightly. She slumped in his arms in a dead faint, and he stooped to catch her, muttering "Whoopsy daisy…" under his breath as he did so.

In front of him, Ken and Ray had stepped forward towards the cashiers, who flinched with each step their assailants took. Ken stopped in front of Drew, his leg next to the plastic Duplo table where small children were crying out to their frozen mothers over the other end of the bank. Drew fumbled around with the till, his hands shaking as he went, until suddenly he stopped. Ken rapped his gun against the window threateningly.

"What's the hurry, eh, Barrymore?" he growled with a sadistic grin. "Or have you conveniently forgotten that I have a fucking gun in my hand and am more than happy to shoot you?"

"Stop shouting!" Howard called. "You're scaring the children!"

"Do I look like I give a flying fuck?" Ken yelled back, not taking his eyes off a frightened Drew. The young man shivered, and their eyes met.

"There's a problem…" he muttered into the microphone. Ken's eyes narrowed.

"What do you mean there's a fucking problem?" he snarled. Next to him, Ray held up his gun again and advanced until he was level with his partner.

"Now look here, Drew" he said, his voice mocking innocence, his Somerset accent contrasting brilliantly with Howard's Yorkshire and Ken's rough Irish brogue. "I wanted a note job, alright. Nice and simple, no fuss. Until your friend here" he motioned with his gun to a pretty blonde girl who was cowering in a corner, "Decided to call management on us. So now, we've got to do this the hard way. So just give us the money, and we'll be on our merry ways, comprendè?"

Drew gulped, and nodded. He fiddled with his tacky M&S tie as he typed a code into the computer. Ken tapped his foot. Howard glanced down at the unconscious women in his arms. The atmosphere in the room was tense. Then there was a bleep, and Drew took a couple of handfuls of notes and threw them in the curved transition box. He flipped it over, and Ken cackled with glee. He grabbed the money and threw it into the briefcase he carried.

"Thank you kindly, Drew" Ray smiled, lowering his weapon again. Drew put his hands into the air, and carefully stepped towards the door. The trio watched him, interested as to what he would do next. Then, the young man slid a piece of paper across at Ray.

"S-sign here please" he stuttered, his voice tight. Ray stared at the paper in disbelief. Then he took the small biro from the holder off the table, and scratched two words on the paper: Elvis Costello. Then he laughed at Drew.

"You're fucking unbelievable, mate" he grinned. "Some balls you've got there"

Drew smiled nervously. Then Ray abruptly stopped laughing, frowned, and shot a bullet right into the cashier's leg. Then all hell broke loose.

Drew screamed out in pain and collapsed, with a piercing wail that cut through the air as blood spewed like rose petals onto the floor. Meanwhile, all the other people in the bank began to shriek and scurry around like headless chickens towards the exit. At the same time, sirens could begin to be heard in the distance. Howard looked down at the old lady, who was now wide awake and clutching a panic button. He lowered her to the floor, and then pointed his gun at the crowd, who immediately ducked for cover. Then, with only Drew's piteous mewls and the police sirens to be heard, the three men legged it to the exit and up the stairs. The alarms screeched in their ears, and they ripped their balaclavas off as the ancient mint-coloured cab could be seen in the distance. They tore the doors open, and jumped inside. Their taxi driver turned to them and frowned.

"I think you'll find that was more like three minutes" he reprimanded. Howard looked at Ray, growled, picked up his gun and pointed it straight at the boy's head. The driver's eyes and mouth fell open, and he began to tremble at the sight of the gun.

"Just drive" Howard said quietly, slowly. "You fucking moron"

And the boy complied.

The car started with a judder, just as a group of armed police thundered up the stairs. One of them pointed his gun and fired at the car. The men jumped instinctively, but the driver swerved, and the bullet flew past the window and ricocheted off the large metal poles. Then the boy, a bead of sweat running down his petrified little neck, veered down the ramp, and hurtled through the car park and out into the streets of London.

"Thank Christy for that" Ray said, wiping his forehead.

"What the fuck was that?" Howard yelled at him, turning the gun off the driver and onto his friend. "Why on Earth did you shoot him in the fucking leg?"

"He was taking the piss!" Ray defended.

"And that's reason to shoot him, is it?" Howard shouted, amazed at his partner's stupidity. "The damn kid was doing his job, just like the rest of us!"

"Who the fuck does their job when faced with armed bank robbers?"

"And what the hell about you, Moon?" Ken barked, turning round from the front passenger seat. "You had one job – keep an eye on the hostage. And what does she do? She calls the fucking pigs on us!"

"She was a little old lady, what the fuck was I meant to do?"

"Well, what was all that I'm so sorry madam bullshit? You just tell them to shut the fuck up and they do, it's as simple as that"

"It's called compassion!" Howard snarled. "Not that you know about that-"

"Will you all just shut up in my taxi, alright?" the boy suddenly yelped. "I can't hear meself think, and as I'm obviously the designated driver, it's a bit important that I can"

The taxi fell silent. Each man glowered in his seat. It was the boy who spoke first.

"Right…" he said, shakily. "Now where am I driving to?"

"Take a left turn onto the A102" Howard muttered. "Just keep driving until we tell you to stop. Any funny business and there'll be consequences"

"Look, I just stopped you all from being shot" the boy flung back. "You might have the courtesy to stop threatening me"

"Enough of the lip, boy" Ray cut in, pressing his own gun to the back of the leather seat. "Or you'll end up with a bullet right through that pretty face of yours"

"Go on then!" the boy challenged, gazing into the rear-view mirror with narrowed eyes. There was a tense silence in which anything could have happened. Then Ray lowered the weapon.

"You little shit…" he muttered.

"Right back atcha" the boy replied wryly. Howard internally smirked. This kid was either incredible brave or ridiculously stupid. After a while, the boy leaned over the dashboard, slammed a CD down into the portable music player, and clicked play. A horrific electronic sound filled the taxi, and Howard groaned.

"What is this shit?" he snapped over the music.

"Don't you know nothing?" the kid replied, obviously not noticing the irony at the double negative in his sentence. "It's David Bowie, you bell-end"

"Oh, for fuck's sake!" the older man protested.

"What? You can't kidnap me and not let me play my music, mate"

"You know Bowie was a racist, right?"

"Nick off; doesn't mean I can't like his music"

"He has got a point there, Moon" Ken grinned. Howard raised his middle finger at him.

The boy was shivering in his seat, and Howard could see his fingers had become wan and slippery with sweat. The bravado was all an act, then. He was obviously a gifted actor, even if he didn't look like it with his sunglasses and leather jacket. After a while of daunting quiet, he sighed, turned off the player and Bowie ceased. Howard tugged his gloves off.

"How much do you reckon we got then?" Ray piped up greedily.

"How the fuck should I know?" Ken replied calmly. "Maybe…three million?"

Ray whooped with glee. He took a calculator from his pocket and typed a few numbers into it. He whistled softly. "Shit! That's around one million each"

"Really…?" Ken muttered softly. Ray pulled a face.

"So you lot are bank robbers, then?" the driver said quietly.

"No, actually, we're not" Ken leered sarcastically. "We just told you to wait in the car park and not act suspicious to go in and withdraw three million quid. Why the fuck do you think we asked you to pretend to be our chauffeur? Or are you really that thick?"

"Alright, alright…" the boy muttered. "Where do I go here?"

"Turn off onto the M2. Don't turn again until I tell you to" Howard said. The kid did so.

"What era are you from, then?" he asked, but his voice was a little higher and more nervous then he had been a second ago. "It's 2003! Bank robbers, s'all a bit 1930s; Jesse James 'n that"

"That's rich coming from someone who still has a portable CD player in his car" Ray shot back fiercely. "And I think you'll find that Jesse James was the 1800s, you idiot"

The car fell silent. The poor cabbie was obviously in shock, Howard thought. This plan hadn't, admittedly, been thought through very well. After all, what the bloody hell were they going to do with the kid once they got back? They didn't usually end up with hostages, but since the plan had gone to fuck…Ray would have no problem shooting him, but he was a sick sadistic bastard anyway. Still, they couldn't let him go, after all, not whilst he was still a liability. God knew how long it would be before the police gave up their search. Then again, now somebody had been injured (possibly fatally, if Ray hit an artery, said a little voice in his head, but he pushed it down again) they might be more thorough. Even so, a million was a pretty good haul for a day.

They four men drove in silence for what felt like an eternity, but was probably only around an hour and a half. Eventually, the concrete blocks and office towers of the capital faded to burnt suburban brick, which then gave way to green and yellow fields as they delved deeper and deeper into the country. The boy didn't speak once, but you didn't have to be a genius to notice how shallow his breathing became as he drove. Once, Howard almost put out his hand to comfort the lad, until he realised that he had every right to be terrified.

"Ok, now make a left onto the A299" he muttered, his voice smooth in the deafening quiet. It was darkening now; the October days didn't last long and at six the sky was already smeared with a rich, clotting black that spread like blood on a white shirt. The driver was instructed to turn at a roundabout, and the noise of the motorway petered out until all that was left was the silky rumbling of the car and the spots of yellow that hung on the road from the blaring headlights. They were right in the Kentish country now. Howard doubted that the boy with the strong Cockney accent had ever been this far away from home. He took his glasses off.

"You see that sign up ahead? You need to go right"

They drove down the long and winding tarmac snake that was the main road in the silence of the night. Presently, the dimming glow of a small town appeared before them. Howard wiped the hair from his forehead. "Right again"

The boy parked the car slap bang in the middle of the road next to a blue Ford Fiesta. Howard groaned with joy as he opened the door next to him and slid out, his numb feet tingling as they hit the pavement. Three doors slammed. The driver looked through the window, regarding the trio coolly, nervous anticipation in the tense stance of his body. Howard beckoned for him to follow, tapping at the coat pocket where his gun was stashed. The boy opened his door, and banged it shut. He gazed up and down the street, as if assessing his own possibilities to make a break for it. Then he took one longing look at his car, and manually locked it.

Howard stood in front of the house. It was large, looming in the darkness and casting shadows around three storeys high onto the Sea Wall below it. He fumbled in his pocket, the one without the gun, for the key. Ken and Ray huddled around him, looking up and down the street whilst keeping an eye on the kid hovering warily behind them in case he made a break. Howard fumbled with the door, and then finally unlocked it. He took a step inside, and switched on the lights. Warmth flooded the doorstep. The men followed him, Ken ushering the cabbie with a predatory grin before him, and then the door was closed on the outside world.

The cab driver gaped in astonishment as Ken and Ray pushed past him and through a door to the left (which, judging by the bearish cries of "Fuck, I need a drink!" led to a kitchen). The hallway was grand and large, unlike anything he'd ever seen. The walls were papered with an odd blue design that looked like it came with the house and the furniture was all antique and deep mahogany. There were lights on every table, which Howard was switching on. He looked up at the boy's incredulous face.

"You know, if you take your sunglasses off you'll be able to see better"

The boy jumped. "What? Oh, right…" He slid the glasses off his head, and Howard was met with a pair of large, very blue eyes which contrasted with his dyed red hair.

The boy smiled nervously, and began tapping his hands against his legs in an odd patting rhythm which was probably a tic. "Nice place"

"Thank you" Howard replied stiffly. He was not used to complements, least of all from strangers, least of all from strangers who he'd taken as a hostage.

"Not what I thought a bank robber's house would look like, though" the kid rambled. "I thought it would be, like, all modern. Not tasteful, even if you do call this taste"

Howard huffed a small chuckle. "And I suppose you meet a lot of us, in your line of work"

The young man flushed a little, the colour stark against his pale and angular face. Howard shook his head at his naivety and suppressed a tight smile. Whatever you do, Moon, he thought, don't let him know that you are human.

"Get upstairs" he muttered. The kid had been playing with a wooden ornamental cat, and he looked up at his assailant sharply.

"What?" he said. No manners either, then.

"I said…" Howard muttered through gritted teeth. "Get upstairs. You may be relying on charm alone to get out of this, but remember who the man with the gun is"

Needless to say, the boy moved quickly, skittering up the two flights of stairs like a startled beetle. Howard followed him up. The upstairs hallway was vast, navy carpet stretching like a straight river from one end to the other. Doors were locked, evenly placed and perfectly opposite each other on each side leading to a ridiculous magnitude of rooms. Howard pushed the boy up again, coming to a small white door at the top of the second flight of stairs. He fumbled with the key to open it, and herded the kid inside.

The room was at the top of the house; a proper attic room. It was similar to all others in the house in design, but sparser. There was a small single bed, a wardrobe, a table with a mirror and an armchair. There was another door in a corner which probably led to an adjacent bathroom. There was a large window at the front which would have made it well-lit and bright were it not covered with thick black blinds like blackout curtains.

"I'm going to lock you in. I should probably let you know that that window is soundproofed and locked" Howard said from the doorway. It had been surprisingly easy to get a soundproofed window with no questions asked. The salesman had been a slimy bastard, and had asked Howard if his girlfriend was really that noisy. "There's also no phone signal. And don't do anything stupid; because if you do I will have no qualms in dealing with it"

"What makes you think I'm gonna do something stupid?" the boy asked. Howard didn't reply, stunned by the reply but not showing it. The kid turned slowly. Bright blue eyes met pale brown. He cocked his head to one side and placed a hand on his hip.

"Are you gonna shoot me?" he asked.

"I just might" Howard said slowly, relishing the words.

"Oh, Jesus fucking Christy…" the boy said, and sunk onto the bed, taking his head in his hands as if it were a priceless ruby. Howard smirked, feeling a pang of something (Guilt? Crabsticks?) in the pit of his stomach. The boy swallowed, shaking, deathly pale.

"Right. Well, I aint scared" he said, and the tremor in the contours of his face and the unnaturally high pitch of his voice gave him away. Regardless, Howard held his gaze, listening to the lies. "I know you think I am, but I aint. My body's telling me that I should be, and I know I am physically, but…" he paused, choosing his words. "Once I get over this…" He held out a wan and shaking hand and clenched it into a fist. "I'll be a proper perfect little hostage, I swear"

Whatever. He still looked like death warmed up.

Howard looked him up and down. "You're getting off on this, you little bitch"

The boy tried for a cheeky grin; tremors at the corners of his lips. "So what if I am?"

"Oh, fuck me!" Howard snapped, and the kid's smile fell from his lips. Howard ran a hand over his face, ignoring the wounded expression and quickly continuing before the boy could reply in the positive or negative (and it really didn't matter). "I'm too tired for this shit. I'm going to bed"

He turned, and stalked out the room. He grabbed the handle, and made to shut the door.

"My name's Vince!" came the cry from inside.

And, somehow, that made it a whole lot harder to look the door after him.

When Howard woke up the next morning, the house was silent. It was usually quiet – this was Whitstable, after all – but today the quiet seemed stifling, like a child hiding inappropriate giggles from an adult. He sat up, and rubbed his face. He hadn't even had a shower last night, and he felt horribly hot and clammy from where he had been tangled up in the blue bed sheets. Yesterday's crumpled clothes were sprawled over the navy armchair next to the bookcase, and he could see spots of coppery blood on his black heavyweight coat. Shit. He'd have to wash those later.

Howard hauled himself out of bed and made his way to the window. Drawing back the curtains, the sun flooded into his room, forcing his sticky eyes to shut in a forced blink. He opened the big glass doors, having forgotten to lock them last night, and walked out onto the balcony, clad only in a well-fitted striped pair of pyjamas. He leant on the barrier, his vision cloudy without his glasses, and listening to the sound of waves sloping in and off the pebbled beach. It was good to be at home, he thought. Whitstable was a nice town, a clean town. You don't get bank robbers in Whitstable. He looked down at the little road before his house at the little green car, and sighed. He'd have to check on the kid – Vince – later.

He didn't bother to shut the doors again when he went back into his room, nor did he bother to get dressed, save for his glasses, before he went downstairs. When he made his way into the living, Ken and Ray were sprawled out on adjacent sofas, undisturbed by the sunlight, cans of lager on the table in front of them. Howard rolled his eyes, and kicked out at Ray's chubby ankle that dangled over the edge of the sofa. The man grunted, and his eyes flickered open.

"For a man of extreme crime, your reflexes are appalling" Howard said, sitting down on the soft armchair opposite. Ray barely moved from the chair.

"Fuck off, Moon, I've got a blinder" he groaned, closing his eyes again. Howard didn't budge.

"Look, what are we going to do about…you know"

"What, the fucker upstairs?" Ray grumbled, eyes firmly shut. "Fuck should I know?"

"Could you stop swearing in my house, please?"

"Shit off. What about you, effing and blinding away at me last night?"

Howard heaved a sigh. "I was pissed off, alright? But, seriously, what are we doing?"

Ken squirmed on the sofa, and his eyes slowly unfastened. He looked up, seemingly not affected by the alcohol, with a grin and a call of: "Morning, gents"

"Ken" Howard nodded. "We were just discussing…" He looked pointedly at Ray, who opened his eyes and glared at him. "What to do with the kid upstairs"

"Who, the cabbie?" Ken asked. "Why don'tcha just shoot his pointy face off?"

"Oh, piss off, Ken" Howard moaned. "That's not an option. We're not in London anymore, alright? I'd be found out in a minute"

"That's our man Moon!" Ken cackled, clapping his hands together with a noise that made Ray wince. "All that bullshite about compassion! I said you hadn't gone soft, didn't I Ray?"

"Look, we're off topic!" the northerner snapped. "Right now, there's a cocky little bugger in my attic room who needs to be dealt with, one way or another"

"He's your problem, Moon, you deal with it"

"Ken, this isn't my problem, because I'm not the one who shot a bank clerk in the leg"

"Oh, shit, we're still on that, are we?" Ray tutted.

"Well, in my defence, if you hadn't done that we wouldn't have had to kidnap our driver!"

"We didn't need to kidnap him; as I recall you're the one who told him to drive!"

Howard was torn between punching Ray in the face and making the bloke angry as hell or not saying anything and looking weak. He opted for the latter, for the sake of some twisted, relative form of peace. "I was improvising. Anyway, he's upstairs and he can't be there for long"

"Then let him go, for fuck's sake!" Ray growled.

"I can't do that" Howard said slowly. "Because he's a damn liability"

"Why don't you just keep him, then?" Ray whined. "Stop complaining"

Howard's mouth fell open. "I'm not keeping him!"

"Why not? I'm sure he's housebroken" Ken snickered.

"I am not keeping some Fashionista adolescent in my house!" Howard objected. "He listens to David Bowie for Christy's sake!" He gathered himself at the steely, hung-over glint of recklessness in Ray's irritated eyes. "Look, we'll give it a week tops. When the press dies down, I'll dump him on a road somewhere; make sure he doesn't talk. If he does, well…" He shrugged. "You two will be home by then, won't you? He can be yours to play with. But one week, maximum, alright? And in the meantime you two can shit off back to London"

"Sounds fair to me" Ken muttered nonchalantly.

"Fantastic" Howard breathed. "So you can get your feet off my sofas now, can't you?"

The mobsters slowly straightened, Ray whimpering and clutching at his head as he did so, until they were sitting upright. Ken mumbled something incomprehensible about tea and made his way into the adjacent kitchen, and Howard resolved to go and put on something a little more masculine than his current striped pyjama affair.

Upon opening his wardrobe, however, he felt oddly self-conscious. The kid (he couldn't quite bring himself to use his name yet) had looked like one of those hip young Londoners that he hated with a passion, with his leather bomber jacket and tight jeans and red cowboy boots. But, somehow, he found himself scrutinising his shirts and trousers with a keen eye, wondering which would impress the boy most. Not for any weird way, though. He just wondered which would make him seem the most like a normal guy to the taxi driver whom he'd just kidnapped. He ended up settling for a plain green shirt and some brown cords. Nice and simple.

When he unlocked the door, the kid had been waiting with a catlike poise by the doorway for him. At the first click he had attempted to make a break for it, but Howard had prepared for this, and heard the sound of breath striking the air when his arm met a boney torso and the small thud when Vince toppled to the floor breathlessly.

"Now, now" Howard said gently, shutting the door. "What did I say about stupidity?"

The kid glared at him. His eyeliner had run, like a flat-line under his eyes.

"You gotta give me credit for trying"

"Yeah, alright, fair enough"

Apart from the jacket that was slung over the armchair and the neatly placed boots, he was still dressed in the now-rumpled clothes he'd been wearing yesterday, having obviously slept, or refused to sleep, in them.

"What happened to you being my proper perfect little hostage, then?"

"Yeah, that wasn't working out for me"

Howard breathed, taking a moment to reassert his dominance. "We've decided not to let you go just yet, so you're going to be staying right here. Understand?"

The boy called Vince laughed dryly and fell back onto the floor. "Brilliant! Is this my room, then? Classy. I'm staying with a proper gangster, how genius is that?" He lifted himself up on one elbow and winked at his mortified assailant. "Is this like The Godfather? I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse and all that?"

"Ok, firstly, we're not gangsters, or mobsters, or the mafia, or any bullshit like that" Howard said firmly. "We're men who have guns and orchestrate bank heists"

Vince sobered, and propped himself up on his elbow, facing Howard with a critical eye. "Nah, guess you're right" he agreed. "You'd hardly pass for a Mafioso in that outfit"

"I thought it was alright" Howard remonstrated, feeling oddly wounded.

"On you, yeah" the kid defended. "But it's hardly The Italian Job, is it?"

Howard suddenly realised how completely bizarre it was to be having this conversation with the hostage in his attic. "Well, anyway, don't get too comfortable. It's only for a week"

"What're you going to do after that?" The shake. "Shoot me?"

"Well, I was planning on dumping you on the M25 somewhere, but right now shooting you seems like a much more satisfying option"

"Dumping me on the M25?" Vince questioned incredulously. "That's hardly dignified"

"It's not meant to be dignified!" Howard mimicked, exasperated.

"I think after saving you dickheads last night that's the least I deserve" the boy muttered sullenly, and then his face suddenly lit up. "Hang on…doesn't that mean that you owe me your life or something?"

"Get lost! If you don't shut up your dignity's going to be the last thing you worry about"

Vince shot Howard a glaring look, folded his arms and his face folded into a sulky pout. "Shut up. I really aint scared, even if you do want to shoot me"

Oh, God. They were back to this, were they?

"Good for you" Howard patronised. "Really, wonderful. But just to let you know, I don't care what you say, because your little act won't have any effect on me"

"Give it a few weeks" the little tit said, so full of charming confidence that it was practically oozing from his pores. "I'll be sticking to you like a limpet. You won't have a choice" Vince smiled, a radiant and dazzling smile that lit up his whole face. It was the sort of smile that would have the whole female population of Camden falling at his feet. Howard wasn't fooled.

It was the sort of smile that cried out please don't kill me I've got so much to give.

"Trust me, after one week you'll be begging for your freedom"

"Really? You don't look like that sort of man"

"Are you analysing me, sir?"

"Did you seriously just call me sir?"

How had they fallen into this easy bickering Howard had no clue, but he gathered himself quickly, refusing to let himself get sucked in. Oh, God, he'd almost forgotten why he came up here in the first place! "Yes, I did, and if you have any sort of sense about you, you won't comment on it. Now, do you need anything to eat?"

"Wow! Do I get a choice?" Vince beamed. "I bet most hostages don't get room service"

Howard shifted uncomfortably, and decided not to let the kid know that he didn't know how to handle hostages. "I'm not offering a Full English. Do you want food or not?"

"Well, now you mention it, a bit of toast would be pretty good"

"Right. I'll bring it up in a minute, so don't think you're going anywhere"

Howard quickly turned and left before the kid had any more chances to spring unwanted surprises on him. Already the week ahead was looking daunting. If he visited Vince three times a day for meals for a week that that would be twenty-one visits. Twenty-one ridiculous bantering conversations. And that was if the boy didn't insist on being obscenely irritating.

He made his way into the kitchen, took a half-used loaf of granary bread from the breadbin, and cut four thick chunks off it. He stuck them in the toaster, and poured himself a glass of orange juice from the fridge. His head already hurt from Vince's birdlike chirping, but it was certainly too early in the morning for a stiff drink. He closed his eyes and downed the juice, letting the cold acidity burn against the back of his raw throat. Maybe he was coming down with something. Maybe he was just too old for these sorts of games, if thirty five was considered old.

"Oi, Moon!" came a voice. Howard's eyes opened to see Ray glaring at him from the doorway.

"What do you want?" he asked.

"Well, just thought I'd let you know that me and Ken are, as you so politely put it, shitting off back to London right about now"

Howard frowned. "Oh. Bit soon, isn't it?"

"No reason to hang around" Ray shrugged. "We'll take the kid's car"

"Fair enough. But remember to-"

"Change the licence plate, I know" Ray sighed with a smile and a wink. "It's A214 GLP at the moment. I'll take it to Archie when we get home; get him to sort it"

"And remember to-

"Take the back streets, I know! Fuck, Howard!"

"Good man" Howard muttered approvingly. He drained the dregs of the juice, placed the glass down on the marble counter and followed his colleague through the hallway and out onto the sea wall. He leant against the doorway of the house as Ray and Ken clambered into the taxi, nodding his farewell to the uproarious cheers from behind the glass. Ken started the car, and the ancient engine hummed into life as wheels reversed across the tarmac.

It was then that Howard heard a sound, a faint clanging like someone was bashing two saucepans together with oven gloves on. He looked around at the street, but turned back to the car when he could not find the source of the sound. Ray was laughing manically, and pointing to the roof of his house. Howard's eyes followed the direction Ray's fat finger, and he swore under his breath. Vince was banging on the window with the palm of his hand, his eyes wide and wild, his face flushed from yelling. As the taxi drove from sight, Howard charged back into the house, slammed the door and snatched the gun from his coat pocket. He hurtled up the stairs, two steps at a time, unlocked the attic door and threw himself into the room. Vince turned from the window, and winced at the sight of the weapon, but remained completely still.

"What the fuck do you think your doing?" Howard said quietly. He didn't shout. He was a man who knew when to shout and when not to. "Didn't I tell you not to do anything stupid?"

"Those shitheads have got my car!" Vince bellowed.

There was a moment of tense silence. Then Howard lowered his gun.

"What?" he said quietly.

"They've got my car; they've stolen my fucking car!" Vince said, panting from exertion. "If I get a fine from the loan company I'll kill them! And you're paying"

"Hang on a minute…" Howard stated, rubbing his hand over his face. "You're up here going mental over the car? It isn't even worth a fine"

Vince gave him a tetchy look and placed a hand on one hip. "What do you mean by that?"

"It's a shit car! I wouldn't piss on it, let alone pay the fine!"

"You weren't complaining about it yesterday"

Howard paused for a moment as the situation sunk in. Then, suddenly, he began to laugh. The laughter grew, and Vince looked on astounded as tears streamed from his captor's eyes and he gasped for breath, barking out large bouts of mirth and choking on those stuck in his chest.

"I thought you were trying to escape!" Howard wheezed after a while. "I thought I was going to have to kill you…God almighty! And this is about the fucking car?"

"Yes, it is about the fucking car!" Vince griped, but a smile was twitching at the corners of his mouth as well. "You leave my car alone"

"It's an antique!" Howard snickered. "How do you drive it?"

Vince was openly grinning now. "Petrol's always good"

Howard sighed to stop his chest from shaking, and wiped a tear from his eye. "Fuck's sake. Who do you think you are?"

"I'm Vince Noir, rock n roll star"

"Are you now?" Howard raised his eyebrows. "That your real name?"

"Yeah" Vince grinned. "Fuck my parents. Gotta love 'em, though"

Howard nodded. Vince's tongue flickered over his lips to wet them: "Do you reckon you can get the car for me? Only, I'll never love again if it don't come back"

"I'll give Ray a call later; see what he can do" Howard relented, not wanting to tell the kid that within two days his friends would more than likely have drunkenly driven the car into the Thames or set it alight from a discarded cigarette. Vince still winced at his tone of voice, though.

"Alright…" he said unsurely, knowing that it was the best deal he would get. "Tell them to be gentle, yeah?"

"Yes, yes"

Howard turned, and left the room. As he was locking the door for the third time in two days, he heard Vince's voice call out to him again:

"Oi! Where's my bloody toast?"

He sighed, but a smile tugged at his mustachioed lips as he went downstairs to the kitchen.