It had been a while since I’d been in central London, but it never seemed to change; Houses of Parliament, endless commuters and even more endless tourists streaming from Westminster Tube and stopping to take out their phones and Tweet or Instagram where they were for the folks back home. I stopped for a few seconds too, content to let the crowd flow around me. I’ve got better at that since I retired. Once, long ago, I made the crowd. The eye the hurricane spun around, that was me. There was no way I could have stood here back then without crash barriers and a police presence to rival a presidents. That’s all behind me now, thank god. Very retired and enjoying it, thank you very much. I won’t be returning your call.
I had turned away from Big Ben and was walking south across Westminster Bridge when a black cab pulled from traffic and screeched up on to the kerb. Before I could move, three large men in unbuttoned suits dove from the back and bundled me inside and the car screamed away. I’m sure none of the thousand tourists on the bridge even managed to get a picture or even had time to react. Just a black cab in a city full of them.
I sat quiescent in the middle of the three goons, considering my options. The red light above the door lock cut them down to not-many; the screen between us and driver cut them down even more. I sat back and relaxed, resigned. So they’d found me, and in the space of a blink, I was back in their world again. My life had been a living hell of movement, of constant exposure and I’d vowed never to go back, and here I was, all over again, right in the middle of own little crowd. There was no point talking to these men; they would tell me nothing. Only the man they were taking me too would speak to me. I couldn’t do anything but sit back and enjoy the ride.
After twenty minutes of screwing with my sense of location – London does that to you without even trying – the cab pulled to a stop in a cemetery and the goons got out, pushing me between them. It wasn’t the first time I’d been herded like that, and none of the memories it raised were pleasant. They shepherded me forward between the headstones, then parted and stopped.
My focus dropped to the man sitting alone on a bench, watching distant London, fingers of skyscrapers scraping afternoon blue. I strode in front of him, breaking his eye contact with the horizon. He gestured at the empty space beside him, but I stood with my arms crossed, refusing to sit, and certainly refusing to break the silence.
He inhaled. “Been a long time, Jack.” His voice was exactly the same as it had been the last time we spoke, thirty long years ago.
I greeted him warmly. “Fuck off.”
“As humorous as ever, I see. That hasn’t mellowed.”
“What do you want, Will?” I asked, even though I knew the answer.
He had the grace to look down before he replied, and even before he finished the first word, I was shaking my head. “We need you back.”
I repeated my earlier expletive.
He nodded as though he expected nothing more. “Please sit anyway. It’s a great view.”
He looked to my left and said no more until I sat as far away from him as I could.
For ten minutes we sat there. I only moved when the bench began to bite into my butt cheeks. “How did you find me anyway?”
“Never really lost you, Jack. We’ve always had tabs on you.”
“Fuck you, Will. I’m retired. I earned it, goddamit.”
“I know. But the world moves on…then it cycles back. Don’t tell me you don’t miss it.”
“I don’t miss being mobbed. I don’t miss not being to walk down a street without people calling my name every two metres. I’m not a superhero, Will. I can’t do it.”
“There’s no one else quite like you, Jack. There never was.” He shrugged. “Maybe never will be. When you were out there, people wept, Jack. They wept. I was one of em for god’s sake. They loved you, Jack. And you walked away from them.”
His appeal had worked, as no doubt he knew it would and I struggled to find a reply. “That’s not me anymore, man. I’m sorry. I…I really am.” I stood up, and he nodded again as I did.
When he turned to face me, his eyes were bright and liquid and I looked away quickly at the darkening velvet of the London dusk. When he spoke again, his voice was thick with emotion. “We need you more than ever, Jack. The world needs its heroes.”
“I’m not a hero. Just a guy who –”
“Hey…hey. Never put yourself down like that, Jack. Never. You made a difference.” He cut me off so sharply I spun to face him again, unable to find a reply once more, my mouth trying to catch up with my brain.
He smiled. “I’ve got it all memorised you know. Your moves, your style. You were a god in the old days. That Grand Canyon thing…no one has ever done anything like that. Ever.”
I sat down again, defeated. I would be going back, it seemed, for one more job. “Gods are always alone, Will.”
“We’re all with you, Jack. Every one of us is there with you. You’re never alone. You never were.”
London dissolved into blurs and melting lights.
Just one more job.
“Tell me what you want from me, Will.”
“Three concerts, three nights, three locations. I’m reforming the band.”