Note – And we're back! I apologize firstly for taking so damn long to get this up – most of you will probably understand the hardships this time of year brings. I have been writing this since I published the last chapter of TJATT, but it might take a little while for regular updates, so sorry about that. Thanks for your patience, and enjoy.

Sunday 20th December 2003

"Howard, I don't think I can do this…"

"I know, love. I'm sorry. We don't have any choice."

"Yeah. You're right. I know, I'm sorry, I just…"

"Do you want me to do it?"

"Yes please."

Howard sighed, and gazed out at the still body of water that lay ahead of them. It was murky and grey, stained with plastic sheets of oil on the surface. The sky above them was grey, threatening rain. He turned his gaze to look at Vince, shivering on the bank. He'd given his partner his thick corduroy coat, even though it made the little man look like a bisexual Doctor Who, but even so the wind was bitterly cold. Howard's fingers were raw and red from it, and his cheeks stung. Vince's hair was tangled and messy, somewhat deflated; there was a spattering of stubble ringing his neck and the sweet odour of coconut shampoo had been forced to give way to the more human scent of the unwashed over the last week. Howard didn't say anything because he knew that he was almost exactly the same, but it troubled him that Vince hadn't once complained about the appearance that was so important to him. He obviously knew just how unimportant it was, in the face of things. His eyes looked duller in the cold.

"Are you ready?" he asked. Vince bit his lip, and grabbed Howard's hand.

"I don't think I can watch this."

"Ok. That's fine."

With a deep breath, Howard leant in through the window of the mint-blue taxi, and turned the ignition key. He leapt back at the machine rumbled into life, smoke billowing from the exhaust. Vince turned inwards, and pressed his face to Howard's chest, grabbing onto his shirt. The older man placed a comforting hand on the greasy black hair as the car coughed, stuttered, and drove forwards towards the reservoir. Like an otter, it slid into the water with a dramatic splash and then sunk into the dusty depths below. The surface of the resevoir calmed.

Vince turned around and gazed at the water.

"It had to be done, didn't it?" he muttered, more to himself than to the man next to him. "We didn't have a choice. It's not even mine, is it; it's the fucking loan company's. Still…"

"I'm sorry, Vince. It's too much of a risk."

Vince shook his head slowly, and then he turned back around and placed a kiss to Howard's neck. "It's alright. We're alive, ain't we? We're alive and together; s'all 'at matters."

Howard sighed and wished that that were true.

He had Thursday's newspaper in the camping bag that sat alongside Vince's by a tree a couple of feet away, having not been able to get a more updated copy since then. His name was splashed carelessly over every front page in Britain. As per usual, he had opted for a Guardian. He'd read the article so many times he literally knew the first paragraph by heart:

EVASIVE THIEF IDENTIFIED by Dixon Bainbridge, Crime Correspondent. After a series of bank robberies stretching from the mid-Nineties to the present day, the ringleader of Britain's most elusive crime group has been identified. Howard Moon was found in his house by Whitstable police; he then went on to shoot six officers and escape with an unknown accomplice…

His memory got a little fuzzy after that. He knew that the article went on to describe how he'd fooled his work colleagues into believing a false name, but the hospital records used to identify his face from the security camera photos had been in his real one; how the other gang members had not at present been identified; how he was on the run and his location was still unknown.

Howard stroked Vince's hair again. "Come on," he said. "We've got to keep moving."

"Where are we meeting this guy, anyway?"

"Somewhere near Macclesfield, I think. It's not too far a walk."

"Yeah, last time you said that we ended up in that muddy field trying to get a phone signal. These shoes…" Vince gestured to his soiled red Chelsea boots, "Are completely ruined."

"Sorry about that."

"It's alright. I got them cheap down Camden Lock. There's always more shoes."

For one thing, Howard was amazed at how little Vince complained about things. Despite the whole heap of pig-shit they'd got themselves, Vince hadn't once whined about his appearance or how far away they were travelling.

Even Howard had to admit, they'd come a hell of a long way from Kent. When they'd got to London six days ago, they'd camped out in a Travel Lodge, just before the shit hit the fan and their names were splashed over the papers. Neither man had slept well that night, eyes shut but their whole bodies keening towards sounds of approaching footsteps and banging doors. Vince had cried in his sleep. They'd driven off at four the next morning, and then Ken had phoned them. Get out of London, you dumb fucks. Get to Rusholme. Rusholme, Manchester, where Ken had invested in a second home to use as a hideout. It was difficult, though, to trek up from London to Manchester without being spotted by cameras, so they'd had to drive in short bursts of distance, and that had made the journey stretch out to a week. Most of the time, they'd slept in the car, parked in thick woodland, Vince stretched out on the back seat and Howard sat up in front. They'd eaten little else but sandwiches and coffee bought from service stations at early hours in the morning when the sleepy cashier wouldn't think twice about their mottled appearances.

Vince was slowly patching himself together. He became tense when he slept, presumably plagued by dreams, and sometimes looked distant. But most of the time he was himself, and the sparkle had gradually returned to his eyes until it was the same blinding shine it had always been.

Howard, for one, felt ill when he thought about people using his house as a crime scene.

He hoisted his bag over his shoulder and passed the other one over to Vince.

"C'mon. Let's get moving."

Vince grabbed his hand and pulled himself forward so that he was in step with the Northerner, and then let ago to adjust the bag on his shoulder. The small, dense patch of woodland quickly cut out onto a main road, barren of cars and lined either side by green foliage and empty fields. The two of them stuck to the edge of the road, listening out for the faint rumble of cars.

"So how do we know that we can trust this bloke, anyway?" Vince piped up.

"He's a mate of Ray's, I think," Howard mumbled. "Not that that's much consolation."

"A fellow criminal, I suppose," Vince shrugged. "Not really reassuring, is it?"

"I know…" Howard laughed grimly.

"Ah well….oh, fuck. That better not be rain up ahead!"

Howard looked up at the bruised and ripe clouds that rolled wetly overhead. He wished, for about the millionth time that week, that he was safely at home. He wanted nothing more than to be wrapped up in his duvet with his other half watching the rain cascade down onto a pearly sea, nursing a cup of tea and laughing at the people stupid enough to have gone out without an umbrella. But then he looked at Vince, smiling at the face of every crap turn his life took, and his heart gave his mind a sharp prod.

Vince was smiling, and he giggled. "I should've brought some shampoo, eh? That looks like one hell of a shower!"

Howard laughed as well, just at his lover's eternal optimism. "Might mess up your hair!" he cried, in mock-horror. Vince shook his head, and ran a hand through his hair. He grimaced.

"M'not sure my hair could get any more disgusting than it is now."

"Don't worry; you still look gorgeous."

Vince beamed, radiating light. "Really?"

"Absolutely. Anyway, I'll love you no matter what you look like."

"Even if I wake up tomorrow and I'm covered in massive spots?"

"Even then, little man."

Vince pondered this for a moment. "What if you woke up and I'd turned into a cheese?"

Howard barked out a laugh. "A little more abstract, there. Er…it would be problematic, but I'm sure we could make it work somehow."

"Love you, Howard."

"Sentiment returned, you prize Muppet."

They walked along the road in an amiable silence for a while. Howard hoped they looked a little like hitchhikers, and for one dizzy moment considered the possibility of hitching a ride to Macclesfield. Then he shook his head at his own sheer stupidity, and they carried on walking, along an endless road of nothingness. Vince hummed to himself to break the quiet.

After maybe half a mile or so, Vince pointed up ahead. "Is that it?"

Howard lifted up his head from where he had been watching his own footsteps. Vince's finger was trained like a sniper at a small petrol station up ahead. Howard squinted through his glasses.

"Yeah, I think so."

"Thank fuck; this bag's killing me."

"It wouldn't be killing you if you hadn't insisted in putting all your CDs in there."

"What, I was just going to let them drown with my car? Piss off! What if that had been Charlie Mingle in the glove box?"

"Mingus. You'd have let them drown if it was jazz."

"Too right I would. That stuff's an insult to music."

"Jazz is pioneering stuff, Vince. It began the whole of music as we know it today; without jazz, none of your electro-crap would even exist."

"Oh, no you don't. Do you hear Bowie using trumpets?"

"I'd prefer not to hear Bowie at all, thanks very much."

"I'm going to buy you a Bowie album for Christmas. You'll have to like it then."

"I'll bloody shoot myself if you do."

Vince giggled. "That's alright, then I can play it at your funeral. Imagine that: your coffin being carried down the isle and the stereo's going ground control to Major Tom…" he paused for a moment, frowned seriously.

"You alright, little man?"

"Yeah, just…" Vince sighed, "Don't die, will ya?"

"I wasn't planning to any time soon."

"Don't think I'd know what to do if you did. I'd probably join you. You'll need someone to keep you company; God knows you're useless on your own."

Howard stopped as a leaf crunched under his foot. He bent slight to peer into Vince's rock-pool eyes. "Hey. What's with the sudden morbidity, eh? That's not our dynamic."

"I'm sorry, Howard. I can't help it. Our lives are so fucked up right now. I can't help thinking about shit," Vince protested.

"We're going to be fine, Vince. We'll get through this, I promise you. And then I'll buy you a fucking huge house next to TopShop, yeah?" Howard smiled.

After a moment, Vince smiled back. "By the sea? Do you get TopShop by the sea?"

"I'll build you one. A seaside TopShop."

Vince took his hand. "Cheers, Howard."

Before long, they had reached the petrol station. The place was deserted, and there was a small junkyard around the back which looked a little like a mechanic service. Howard led Vince through the maze of twisted metal, and frowned at the apparent emptiness of the place.

"Hello?" he called softly. There was a responsive grunt, and a man came around the back of a car, covered in oil. He had tiny, squinty eyes and a matted beard, and he leered at them.

"Er, hi," said Howard. "Nicholas Jones. We're here about the car?"

"Oh, right. Ray's friends," said the man. He spoke with a rusty American accent, and he held out a hand, dripping with petrol. Howard tentatively took it. "Name's Jack."

"Nice to meet you, Jack. Now, about that car?"

"Oh, yeah…" But Jack was staring quite intently at Vince, who had scampered over to an older car model and was lovingly stroking the bonnet.

"Look at this, Nick!" Vince called out. "It's well retro!"

"Purdy young thing you got there," Jack smirked.

"And so God help me if you touch him I will shot your balls off individually," replied Howard, in a conversational tone that was as pleasant as if he were offering tea. "About the car?"

Jack gulped, and pointed over to a Vauxhall that sat unassumingly by the exit. It was a bright, electric blue, but slightly battered. It had the appearance more of a family car than an escape vehicle, and for that reason alone it was perfect. Howard clambered into the front seat, and started the ignition working. It hummed agreeably under his hands.

"It's all in working order for you, Mr. Jones," said Jack. "Ray called me up last week, said I needed to get something ready."

"It's great. How would we get to Manchester from here?"

"You need to take the A523. It's a coupla miles up thataway."

"Thanks. We'll take it," Howard said, clambering out and throwing his bag (and Vince's, where the man had discarded it on the floor) into the boot. Vince came jogging over, and with a cheeky grin at the dealer scrambled into the passenger seat. Jack smiled back nervously. Howard took a couple of notes from the back and handed them over.

"Nice doing business with you, sir," he smiled, and then he got in and drove out of the gates, leaving the perplexed American behind them.

Vince let out a swooping sigh. "Wow. It feels nice to be back in a car again."

"We only dumped yours half an hour ago, you lazy sod!"

Vince settled back into his seat. "Still. How far is it to Manchester?"

"We're just coming into Macclesfield now. Maybe…half an hour?"

"Could you be a little more specific…?" Vince muttered, already rifling through his collection of CDs. Howard glanced at him, and sighed.

"Er…thirty five point nine minutes?" he guessed wildly.

"I hoped you'd say that," the child-man grinned, holding up a nondescript CD.

Howard groaned. "Oh, no, what is it?"

"Don't worry; it's only The Kinks. I feel like modding out a bit."

"That's not even a word."

Vince slipped the CD into the player, and immediately the strains of Waterloo Sunset filled the car with its melancholic drowsiness.

"I reckon we should make a cover of this…" Vince muttered. "As long as I gaze at Whitstable sunset, I am in paradise…"

He yawned, and Howard was suddenly reminded of the lack of sleep they'd both had the night before, when the December cold prevented them from doing so. They'd curled up together, limbs twisted in the back seat of the now-deceased cab, but to no avail. He remembered, at some point in the night when both were pretending to slumber, hearing Vince mutter to himself: "Numan lied. This ain't the only way to bloody live…"

Vince stayed awake, though, remaining subdued and silent. They drove quietly on, through Macclesfield and onto the motorway. Howard's heart didn't stop thumping until they were firmly out of reach of the prying, Orwell-esque speed cameras and safe in the dingy backstreets of Manchester. The car curved around the streets, and he saw Vince's face begin to curl inwards in distaste as the flash glass-and-marble urban areas made way for the grim suburbs: spray-tanned houses and more and more concrete. Howard felt a pang of longing for even London; it was an ugly city but at least it wasn't so monotonous. Here, there seemed to be miles and miles of the same orange-bricked buildings stretching on to eternity. He'd seen it all before, of course, the few times when Manchester had been the safest option for them after a particularly brutal robbery and they'd had to go to Ken's second home, chosen for it's sheer characterless "charm". This time, it all seemed a little more sinister.

Vince had been following the signs with his eyes. "Rusholme…" he muttered quietly to himself. "That's where we're going, isn't it? Rusholme?"

"That's the one."

Vince didn't speak again after that. He'd pulled up his legs onto the seat and was gripping his knees in a tight embrace, gazing mindlessly out of the window. When Howard pulled up outside the house, he stretched out, turned to Howard and smiled at him.

"Is this the place?"

"Yeah. This is the place."

Vince grinned to himself, almost shyly, but Howard wasn't quite sure why.

"What is it?"

"Nothin'. Just déjà vu."

Howard shook his head fondly. He looked in the rear-view mirror to check the road. There was nobody there; it was almost deserted. To his left there was a small park, but there didn't seem to be anybody in there that was noteworthy; just a couple of mothers with small children and one or two people with scruffy little dogs. To his right there was the house. It was still a vulgar neon orange, but compared to some of the other places it looked almost majestic, with its stone-framed windows and three-storey grandeur. But that didn't matter, and Howard still hated it.

He got out the car and slid quickly over to the front door. The doors slammed behind him, and he glanced behind to see Vince looking around at their surroundings in a way that was probably supposed to be casual but just looked conspicuous. The man was still wearing the thick cord coat over his dirty black trousers. The wind whipped up his hair.

There was a large pot of earth by the door, and to any passer by it would have looked like a plant had recently died there. Howard sighed, and dug his hands into the soil, rifling through it until his fingers came across warm metal, and he pulled out the key. With a triumphant smile, he unlocked the door. The two men crept inside, and shut the door behind them.

"Fucking hell…" Vince whispered. "Tensest thirty seconds of my life."

He hugged Howard then; threw his arms around the Northerner's girth and breathed strangled breaths into his jumper. Howard pressed his cheek to Vince's head.

"It's alright, little man," he muttered. "We're safe now, yeah?"

"Yeah," Vince said, pulling away. "Let's get a scenic tour of the house, eh?"

Howard bit his lip, knowing that Vince would only be disappointed. The house was reasonably well-sized, but nowhere near as spacious as he would have liked. Vince tutted when he saw the bathroom and the lack of space for his products, before realising that he'd left a fair few of them back in Kent, and then his face had fallen to his ankles. The house was dusty from disuse, and Howard resolved instantly to clean it. The master bedroom was nice enough, with a view out onto the park outside and a small TV in one corner. Ken had obviously not bestowed the fancy technology or furniture on this house, as most of the items looked either second-hand or relatively cheap. There was no food in the fridge, and the heating switch was stiff from disuse.

"Fuck this. I'm going to get supplies," Vince resolved, after opening yet another empty kitchen cupboard in search of lunch. "Pass me your glasses."

Howard frowned at the odd request, but complied. Vince slipped them on his own face, blinking fiercely at his altered vision, and then rummaged in his pocket, drawing out an elastic band. He grimaced, but used it to tie his hair up in a ponytail.

"What are you doing?" Howard ventured.

"S'a disguise…" Vince muttered, with a grin. "They won't be able to recognise me like this. They'll just think I'm some weird hippy."

"You're brilliant."

Vince reached up and pecked his boyfriend on the lips. "I know."

Then he sauntered off through the doors and off into the wild wilderness of Rusholme.

Howard went upstairs, and emptied their suitcases into the chests of drawers, sighing at the thin piles of material that were the only clothes he and Vince had managed to fit into their bags. They barely took up any space in the chest of drawers. He left the can of hairspray, straighteners and hairdryer by the sink, and dumped the shoes in the hallway. The house was quiet, far too quiet. He put the kettle on and boiled two mugs of tea, wrinkling his nose in distaste when the only mugs he could find in the cupboards were chipped and full of dust. He shot a puff of breath into the base, and leapt back when the fragmentations of dead skin leapt at his command and swirled in a dance around his face. He sighed, and rinsed them into the sink. Then he systematically washed the plates and cutlery, similarly grimy, and wiped the surface of the counter with a rag-cloth he found under the sink next to a bottle of cheap bleach.

Howard glanced up at the clock. It had been half an hour, and the shop was only down the road; they'd passed it on the way. Vince should be back by now.

He took a deep breath to calm himself down, but the seed of doubt had been planted long since in his mind and now it had exploded into bloom. What if, heaven forbid, Vince had been caught by the police - his face was visually memorable, and his camouflage had hardly been elaborate. What would he say to them? What if he hadn't been caught, but had decided that he'd had enough and was turning himself in? No. Howard had more faith in Vince than that. But, still, he was worried.

He was about to go out and look for Vince himself when the doorbell rang. Of course, he was standing on the doorstep, grinning and holding up a plastic bag like it was the Olympic torch. As soon as he saw Howard's face, his smile plummeted.

"Whassa matter?"

Howard swallowed, and shut the door behind him, locking it. He was embarrassed now; ashamed of his mind. "No, nothing. My imagination was running wild. Just, you'd been gone a while. What took you so long?"

Vince's face took on an expression of sudden realisation and regret. "Oh, shit. Have you been sitting here worrying about me?"

Howard coughed, mortified. "No, no! Not in the slightest. I just…"

"You're sweet," Vince smiled. "Sorry I took a while. I got a bit confused and forgot the way back. My memory for direction failed me."

"It's fine. I've made some tea, if you want some. There's no sugar, though."

Vince sighed; shook his hair out of the ponytail and gave the glasses back to Howard. "Genius. I'll take it up with me. I just really, really need a bath right now."

"I know how you feel."

"Do you wanna go first, Howard? 'Coz, no offence, but your hair won't take so long, will it?"

Howard smiled, relieved to be back in familiar territory. "What's wrong with my hair?"

"Nothing's wrong with your hair. It's just a bit thin, that's all. It's like brown smoke." Vince spoke the words with soft acquaintance.

"Always having a poke at my hair, aren't you…" Howard sighed. "No. You go ahead."

"Cheers, love."

"What do you make of it?"

Howard sighed, rested his head in his hands. "It's an absolute disaster."

He picked up the paper again, and scanned it hungrily:

KIDNAP TRUTHS REVEALED by Dixon Bainbridge, Crime Correspondent. The disappearance of London Taxi driver Vince Noir is now thought to be connected to the series of bank robberies fronted by fugitive Howard Moon, police say. Suspicions were raised after Leroy Royle, 31, recognised his friend and flatmate from the photographic evidence. Police now believe that Noir was kidnapped on the events of October 3rd when Moon and his unnamed accomplices fled a London NatWest with £3,000,000 of taxpayer's money, with Noir's car used as the getaway vehicle. London police are currently investigating the disappearance, with which no connection was made before now. If anybody has any information about the whereabouts of either Moon or Noir, please contact the Metropolitan Police hotline…

Howard threw the paper down angrily onto the coffee table, Vince regarding him with sympathetic but still slightly wary eyes. He carefully rested a comforting hand on Howard's back. The older man stared at the floor.

"Fucking hell…when did this all go to shit? I was done; I was fucking done with it all!"

"I know, Howard, I know. But, look, it'll all blow over soon."

"But what if it doesn't, Vince?" Howard groaned, his pessimism returning. "If I get caught, I'll be done for murder, manslaughter, about fifty counts of armed robbery, theft and now kidnap."

Vince was quiet for a moment, and Howard sighed deeply.

"I'm sorry I dragged you into this mess."

"Howard, c'mon, it's not like I went kicking and screaming, yeah?"

There was a pause.

"Well, maybe at some of the later points, eh?"

Howard couldn't help but laugh. "You tart."

"Whatever. Truth is, Howard, it might not have been my first choice for a day at the time, but I wouldn't change a thing. I've had more fun in the last few months that I've ever had in my life, even when we were running from the police I fucking loved it."

He paused, and took a deep breath.

"Which is why I should probably go…"

The words stopped in midair, as if horrified that they'd even been uttered. They waited there tensely, and they grew so large that the room became suffocating. Howard turned his head and looked right into Vince's eyes.

"What?" Howard croaked, hoping that Vince would go "aah, got'cha" at any moment.

"Look, I know we just got here and it all sounds crazy," said the mod, "But I've been thinking about it since I saw that newspaper article. I don't want to leave, but I know it ain't safe for us to stay together, right? My whole family reckon I've been kidnapped, and I know there's no denying that the bloke in the photo is me, but…if I went back to London, and went to the police, I could defend you, yeah? I could say that I went with you willingly, and that you shot those guys outta self-defence, and I'll say…I'll say that you let me out at a roadside somewhere and so I came back, or something. But I can't sit here and do bugger all, Howard. I can be an asset, I swear."

For a brief moment, Howard was reminded of a moment in a pub on a shoreline back in October. Just gimme a chance. I know I could do it…

His head was swimming. "No, Vince…"

"It makes sense, Howard," Vince said reasonably. "I wish it didn't, but it does. I mean, otherwise we're just gonna be stuck 'ere, waiting for something to happen, but I can go back to London and make something happen."

Vince's hair was dribbling onto his bomber jacket, and Howard thought he could see the beginnings of brown roots peering through the forest of black.

"What if you slip up?"

It took him a moment to realise he'd said it out loud, but Vince didn't look hurt. Rather, he offered a crooked smile.

"Have a little more faith in me that that, small-eyes. I'm an alright actor."

"Are you?"

Vince's shoulders slumped. "Not really, no…" Then he grinned, "See, that was me acting."

Despite himself, Howard laughed. "When were you thinking of going?"

Vince shifted on the seat. "Not right away. Tomorrow morning?"

A warm, clean hand found his; delicate fingers traced patterns on the flat plains of his skin and over the mountains of his protruding veins. Howard grasped it, and briefly thought back to a time where the mere thought of someone touching him made his skin crawl. Even now, he flinched whenever Ray or Ken got too close for comfort. That had all started at his first, botched attempt at a robbery, when sweaty hands had pulled at the bullet lodged in his chest and he had lain on the floor and shivered at the smell of blood. Somehow, it was different with Vince.

They watched TV, not really paying attention, and went to bed. Howard awoke the next morning, encased in cold, clammy (and slightly sticky) sheets, to see Vince scuttling around the room like an anxious squirrel, quietly packing his things into the bag again. Unlike the older man, Vince was an untidy packer; he scrunched things up and shoved them into the depths of the rucksack like crisp packets in a dustbin. He glanced over to the bed, and smiled fondly at Howard.

"You should have your hair like that normally. S'all rugged and sexy."

Howard ran a hand over his scalp and Vince grimaced: "Nah. You're ruined it now."

"What time is it?"

"No idea," Vince shrugged. "Probably about nine."

"Are you going already?"

Vince bit his lip. His hair caught the light from the window and shimmered. "I reckon so. I don't know how long it'll take me to get back."

"I don't want you to go…" Howard muttered. He was aware of how petulant he sounded, but didn't really care. Vince laughed and pushed his Bowie t-shirt into the bag.

"Don't wanna go either, love. You won't be able to cope without me."

Sensing an invitation for banter, Howard replied: "I was doing a fine job before."

"Yeah, but that was before," Vince dismissively muttered.

"Before what?"

"Before you realised I was a gifted child! With genius hair to boot."


Vince stepped over and ruffled his hair, much to Howard's dismay. The kid laughed.

"I'm gonna fucking miss you, you jazzy freak."

Howard didn't reply.

When he kissed Vince goodbye a short while later, the man's lips tasted like cold tea and toothpaste, and the smell of shampoo and something unnameable clung to Howard's clothes like cigarette smoke. Vince clung to him for a moment like a monkey.

"I'll be back before you have a chance to miss me. I promise."

"Are you going to be alright?"

Vince shrugged. "M'gonna have to be, ain't I? Anyway, you shouldn't have given me your number, coz I'm going to be calling you twenty-four-seven, even if it's just to ask you stupid questions like: are the black bits in bananas tarantula eggs."

Howard chucked lowly.

"I mean it. I'll come back. They won't be able to keep me away. I'll sort it all out, I swear."

And then he picked up his bags and opened the door. The cold air flooded the hallway. Vince gazed out for a moment onto the street, and then he turned and smiled at Howard, and Howard suddenly wanted to pull him back shut the door again so that the world could never hurt him.

"Bye, Howard."

Vince walked across to the bright blue Vauxhall, his Chelsea boots clacking against the pavement. He opened the door, and got in. He waved once, and then started the car. He reversed, and then drove off down the road, turned the corner and vanished from view.

Howard took a deep breath, and shut the door again.