Lord Rochdale and the Station Hop Robbery (a short story)

It is my understanding that a train is a sort of stubborn bus. I’ve never seen one myself. I stood on a station once and waited to see one, to see what all the fuss was about, but was sadly distracted by a pair of mating pigeons. I heard it go by and turned quickly to catch a glimpse but by the time I realised I had turned the wrong way, the blasted thing had disappeared.

You’re probably wondering why I’m going on about this, and who the bloody hell I am anyway? And rightly so. You should know these things. They’re important to a story. My name is Charlie. I’m a dashing sort of chap, about so high, with a passion for ornithology. So, now the formalities are out of the way, let’s get to the nub –

A friend of mine, Lord Rochdale (a dastardly sort of bloke, you wouldn’t like him), called me on the phone and asked me if I would like to help him burgle one (a train I mean, not a phone). I told him they are probably hard to steal seeing as they tend to be fixed to the tracks but I’m free next Thursday afternoon so why not. Not much else to do on a Thursday.

Jump forwards a few days and there we are; Thursday. Time to do some burglary. I arrived at the small train station just outside of Kent as agreed. I was wearing my trilby hat and trench coat, as is sensible in this weather, and there at the far end of the platform was my cohort and accomplice, Rochdale. He was staring at me.

“What are they thinking!” he shouted.

“Who?” I replied.

“The Gods!”

“I imagine they are trying to help us in any way they can.” I said, having arrived next to him. The oncoming sound of a train was already present.

“I am uncomfortable and miserable. Had I known it was going to pour down I might have cancelled.”

“It’s not too late.”

“Bugger it. We’re stealing that damn painting if it’s the last thing we do.”

“I thought we were stealing a train.”

He looked at me like a wizard looks at a clown. “Steal the train? How do you propose we do that?”

I shrugged. “Jimmy it?”

“It’s not a Fiat Panda, Charlie, it’s a bloody locomotive. You can’t just “jimmy it”.”

“Right. No, of course. What painting?”

“On that train is a young man named Percy Witherbrick. Have you heard of him?” I shook my head, “He’s a cousin on my mother’s side. He has in his possession a painting by Gainsborough, I’m assuming you’ve heard of Gainsborough?”

“Paints faces?”

“Yes. Sort of. Portraits. Percy’s father passed recently and they found one in his attic along with a whole bunch of other paintings, mostly worthless. Witherbrick is on his way to get it authenticated. At this moment in time that painting doesn’t exist. If he gets to his destination they will register it. Real or not. This is our only chance to get our hands on something worth millions that nobody yet knows about.”

“Who is the painting of?”

“Percy’s grandmother.”

There was a hiss and the train stopped in front of us. “Alright, you go in front of me. I’m going to duck behind you so he doesn’t recognise my face.”

“Right ho. This way then is it?”

“Just keep walking. He’ll be in first class. Next carriage along.”

The interior of the train was dull, lifeless, rusty, clattering. The seats were faded blue and full of street urchins and criminals (one suspects. I tried not to look at them.)

We bustled down the aisle and made it to the entrance of the first class carriage. Rochdale peered over my shoulder. His moustache tickled my ear.

“There he is. Four rows down facing us. Do you see him?”

“The man with the goatee beard and cardboard tube?”

“The very same.”

“What’s the plan?”

“We’ll casually walk down the aisle, me hiding behind you, and when we get close enough I’ll reach round and punch him in the face. Got it?”

“It’s a very sophisticated plan.”

“It’s not at all sophisticated. Let’s get on with it.”

We snuck carefully down the carriage and stopped in front of Percy. He looked up and smiled at me. I smiled back. Rochdale walloped him squarely the face. It was quite something. His head went back, his eyes closed, and he started snoring. I gently took the tube out of his limp hands and we backed back out of the carriage. People witnessed the event but didn’t make much of it. They were upper middle class people, it’s not easy to shock upper middle class people.

We ran back through the urchin carriage to the doors just as we pulled up at the next station. We jumped out and ran for the street. There was a car waiting for us on the road, prearranged by the criminal genius that is Rochdale.

We bundled in. Rochdale slapped me on the back. “Good show old boy!” he shouted. “Perry, step on it!” (Perry is the name of the driver.)

He did step on it and we hurtled down the road and away from the scene of our crime.

“Champagne Charleston?”

“It would be rude not to,” I said.

Rochdale cracked open the champers and filled two glasses. We chin-chinned and downed the contents.

“Shall we have a look?” said Rochdale.

“I think we must,” I said.

Rochdale put his glass down (which immediately fell over and wetted our shoes due to the nature of Perry’s fervent driving) and carefully removed the white cap. Inside was a rolled up canvas. Rochdale withdrew the painting. He unrolled it. We stared.

“What the fu-“ (I’m sorry for his language, I won’t include it in the story. That sort of thing just won’t do.)

“Well it’s certainly not a Gainsborough,” I said.

His shoulders sagged and his fists clenched the canvas, tearing it slightly. “You think?”

“I think it’s quite obvious.”

“Perry! Stop the car.”

The car stopped.

Rochdale got out and closed the door. And then he reacted. I’ve been looking through my dictionary to find the right would to describe his reaction. Tempestuous doesn’t quite cut it. Impassioned maybe? He let the painting fall to the ground and screamed at it. I can’t repeat all of his words here but there was something about Percy watching too much Art Attack. It all ended with him tearing off his clothes and throwing his shoes at a passing cat. He then chased the poor feline, half naked and screaming, down the street, leaving me alone in the car.

I looked out of the window at the torn and soaked painting on the floor. It was a Jackson Pollock. Pity really.

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