The Larcenist Brigade
Finn Joyner, Year 12
And in that moment, like a swift intake of breath, the rain came. Dark storm clouds invade the sky like white blood cells fighting a virus. The dim lit lane came to a dead end. As I hop off the horse, I begin to wonder whether he’d given me the right address. The thunder and lightning sending shivers down my spine, reminds me of being back in Gallipoli fighting off the Turks. Through the thick rain I can make out a small candle, maybe a lantern. Is it him? I ponder to myself, knowing full well the answer. Nobody else would dare be out in the roughest neighbourhood of South London at this time of night, particularly with all the drunken war veterans trying to drink away their sins. The harsh sounds of the beast’s hooves mould the wet dirt into place. As I approach, my lips begin to quiver; is it nerves or just the brisk rain? The horse stops in its tracks.
“Thomas? Is it really you?” he shouts above the rain.
“Aye it is; good to see you Henry!” I reply anxiously.
He suggests we move inside the pub to escape the rain and leads the way without me answering. The door creaks open, as if it had been left untouched for years. I move ready to catch it as if the hinges would pop, but it lasts another day. We remove our top hats and trench coats and place them on the hook ourselves. The Knights Inn was certainly not a classy joint, with just a single bartender behind the bar. He barely looks up through his fogged-up glasses as we approach. Henry goes to order while I glance around. Barrels of wine off to one side, with polished oak tables on the other.
The last time I communicated with Henry was in the nurse’s office back in 1918. We served in the 119th platoon together, until a surprise ambush put us out of action. I still remember that day so vividly. It was the first time all twelve members of our squad was singing together as we marched the Germans out of France; however this probably gave our position away. Similar to this day, the rain unforgivingly poured down, having no mercy. Suddenly, grenades and bullets came from every direction. Many were injured, few survived. As Henry and I lay in our hospital beds, he handed me the address for this pub. We both made it safely, and it was now time to trade.
“So did you bring it?” I ask pedantically.
“That was the agreement. And you?” he answers.
“Of course.” We both reach into our satchels and reveal a small, but heavy bag. I place mine on the table and take a long sip of my bitter drink. A small fireplace burns in the corner, sending embers of heat in every direction. I close my eyes and feel the inferno blast against my face, just like that day. I snatch the bag which Henry presented and he does similarly. I swear the room turned a shade of gold as I open the bag, the flash blinding me. An array of jewellery, coins and other priceless gems beam, like the sun on any day but today. Henry looks over his shoulder to make sure the owner isn’t watching before emptying his loot on the table. I quickly follow. “Imagine if the others knew. What if we get caught?” he asks, a slight tremble in his voice as his question echoes around the empty room.
“Everyone was doing it. Better in our pockets than those Germans behind us! It’s barely stealing, we did them a favour,” I answer. Henry calms down.
We both start rummaging through the belongings of dead or injured soldiers. Their lives were now nothing but a broken watch or expensive cigarette can. Under the thick stack I notice a folded-up canvas painting of a medieval castle. Knights, Kings and Queens stand proud upon their tower behemoth. As we’re both fixated on our riches, the bartender makes his way over to our corner booth, eyes locked. He’s holding a rusty .44 magnum pistol in his hand, but I see the fear in his eyes and know that he’s never fired a shot. But he’s armed and we’re not.
“Leave now!” he yells, mistaking us for some sort of criminal. As we quickly pack up our winnings, he follows with, “Leave it behind…..” All our hard work and hiding for nothing.
We make our way for the door, rain still thumping down. The brisk winds and heavy rain force me to conceal my body, tucking my pale hands deep into my pockets, like bread into an oven. I feel a sharp piece of paper, pulling it out while making sure the rain doesn’t ruin it. It’s the painting of the castle! I turn it over and notice that it is signed by an artist, A. Hitler. Never heard of him, I think as I toss it in the gutter.