All posts by Aidan Thorn

Aidan Thorn is from Southampton, England. His short fiction has appeared in Byker Book's Radgepacket series, the Near to the Knuckle Anthologies: Gloves Off and Rogue, Exiles: An Outsider Anthology, The Big Adios Western Digest and Shadows & Light as well as online in numerous mags. and ezines. His first short story collection, Criminal Thoughts was released in 2013 and his second, Urban Decay, was published by Near To The Knuckle in 2015. In September 2015 Number 13 Press published Aidan's first novella, When the Music's Over. In 2016 Aidan collated and edited the charity anthology, Paladins for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

Domestic Disturbance

The stale stench of weed should have been enough of a warning when Gail had first looked around the flat. She’d always hated that smell, it reminded her of the dried in urine on her drunken father’s trousers when he’d occasionally return from the pub to get money or sleep before heading back out. She hadn’t liked living with that smell then and she wouldn’t like living with this one either. She should have listened to her gut, and not rented the place. But it was so cheap and she wasn’t exactly flush with cash – so she took it.
+++++What she’d saved in rent, she probably spent in scented candles, joss sticks and plug in air fresheners. She’d got the landlord’s permission to paint the place. It wasn’t just the smell she couldn’t live with – she couldn’t bare the nicotine yellow ceilings and skirting boards either. She’d made what she could of a very basic studio apartment, kept fresh flowers and put up curtains with a floral pattern and tie backs. Throw cushions printed with affirmations made her hand-me-down sofa look a little more girly.
+++++She was happy here – or she had been until now.
+++++The knock at the door had been heavy. Urgent. She’d ignored it at first. But they’d knocked again, for longer and heavier still. Gail didn’t know anyone in town and didn’t want to answer the door, but then what if one of the neighbours was in trouble? She didn’t know them but Gail held a kind heart. She’d passed a young girl with a baby in the corridors a few times on her way home from work – what if the baby was ill and they needed to get to the hospital? And there was an old man who she was sure lived alone on the ground floor, maybe he had some emergency that needed attention.
+++++Before Gail had the door fully open it was pushed from outside and two men burst in. Their clothes were made of cheap materials and bore the labels of designer brands in large print. She caught sight of gold watches and chains as they rushed at her and started yelling.
+++++“Where is he? Where the fuck is he?” Yelled one of the intruders.
+++++The other grabbed Gail by the hair and dragged her back into the flat before she’d had a chance to respond.
+++++The first man continued to yell his accent an affected cockney learnt from low budget movies. He kept repeating his initial question.
+++++“Where’s who?” Gail managed to sob through pained tears. Her head throbbed from being dragged across the floor.
+++++“You’re boyfriend. He’s had a grand’s worth of gear off of us and we haven’t seen him in over a month. So were the fuck is the prick hiding.”
+++++“I… I live alone,” Gail sobbed, “I only moved in two weeks ago.”
+++++The man that had pulled Gail by the hair slapped her across the face. She felt her cheek welt from the blow.
+++++“Don’t give us that shit, you know where he is.” He yelled.
+++++Gail sobbed. She had no idea who it was they were looking for, but whoever had rented this place before her had clearly screwed over some very nasty people – and now she was going to pay for it.
+++++She flinched as she saw him raise his hand again. Braced for the blow she looked away. But it never came. She looked back to see the first man holding the other’s hand back.
+++++“Hang on a minute mate, she might be telling the truth. Have a look around, there’s no way that scrote lives here, it’s too nice now. Looks like the fucker’s done a bunk.”
+++++As they looked around and the realisation sunk in to both men Gail sobbed, it wasn’t quite relief, more shock at the world she’d stumbled into.
+++++“Sorry about that, love.” The man that had struck Gail said. He leaned down to try to help her up. She lashed his hand away wildly.
+++++“Just get out!” she screamed.
+++++“Alright love, chill out, it was an honest mistake.” The first man said, as if he’d taken the wrong trolley in the supermarket. He reached into his pocket and dropped a bunch of crumpled fifty-pound notes on the floor next to her. “For your trouble.”
+++++The next day Gail didn’t go to work. She got straight onto the estate agent, she didn’t care how much more she’d have to pay, she wasn’t staying here.

Entry 9 – Old Farmhouse

Listen instead!
Listen instead!

Ray’s thighs burned as he crouched in wait. There was glass underfoot a long time on the floor, it crunched as he shifted for comfort. Twenty-five years ago this would have been standard procedure. Back then he’d have been crouching in an abandoned Baghdad building. He wouldn’t have been alone and it wouldn’t have been raining sheets. In Baghdad he’d prayed for rain, in that desert-land just a few drops would have soothed his sandblasted skin. He’d never thought of himself a religious man, until that was, he’d been to hell.
+++++Lifting an ear to listen for approaching vehicles all he could hear was the farmhouse roof taking a battering in the downpour.
+++++There was nothing to do but wait. Ray looked around this now desolate estate. It had once thrived with activity. This farmhouse once stood proud, now nothing more than a drinking den for youths, a place to shoot up for junkies. There was nothing else to do. Nothing left. With the loss of farming all other business caved. The shops, pubs and cafes now boarded up. So much of the community had relied on farming for income.
+++++Poverty breeds boredom and desperation, and with it, a one-man economy. It employed a couple of people – a certain type, and they were far from welcome. An out of towner, Dan Francis, set up pawnshops preying on the vulnerable as they strived to keep roofs over heads. He also sold drugs to anyone that could scrape together enough cash and those that couldn’t. Dan Francis ran credit with his customers. If they couldn’t pay he’d send someone to take what little they had, the TV, the stereo, the fucking carpet – a man with a pawnshop can shift a lot of product. And when the hollowed out addicts ran out of sellable assets he took payment in other ways.
+++++A spike ran through Ray’s chest. His mind wandered to the reason he was here. Cold, wet, burning thighs, was nothing compared with the memory of her. Broken, terrified – there had been so much blood, he’d seen horrors, but nothing left a hole in Ray like the sight of his once beautiful girl barely able to walk, tears streaking from sunken eyes. Pain etched so deep into her face you’d have thought it carved there.

Flashing lights sketched the horizon as a car turned left heading towards the farm. Ray lifted himself from his crouch. His heart raced. The car lights dipped into the valley and emerged from the other side. Ray waited. Pulling up to the old Farmland it’s slick tyres skidded to a halt. Dan Francis stepped from the car.
+++++Ray took some satisfaction in watching him slip as he slammed the car door. His over-polished shoes slipping on the rain-washed silt. Perhaps, Ray thought, Francis might save him a job, slip and fall over impaling himself on something sharp. He hoped not.
+++++‘Billy, where the fuck are you, lad?’ Francis called out.
+++++Billy’s here alright Ray thought, but he ain’t gonna answer. The hole that Ray had put in the back of his head had seen to that. Billy Young was one of Dan’s suppliers. They met same time and place every week. Everybody knew it, including the police, but no one was going to tackle it – the world had given up on this town and left it to rot. Ray was about to fight back.
+++++He’d waited hours for Billy. Fucker had taken his time. But, when he did arrive Ray wedged a pickaxe deep into the supplier’s skull. He didn’t use the gun, he wanted to keep noise to a minimum. He didn’t want Dan Francis hearing the shot as he approached and getting a heads up that trouble lurked. The rain had helped, Billy had jumped out of his car and ran for shelter in the farmhouse so he could smoke – he didn’t like the smell in the car. Ray’s axe swing welcomed him in. He dragged the body out of sight using the axe handle – which was still stuck in the back of Billy’s head now.
+++++‘Fuck Billy, I know you’re here, I’m standing right next to your fucking car, get your arse out here!’ Dan Francis called out again.
+++++Dan stepped towards the farmhouse using the roof of his Audi as an aid.
+++++Just a couple more steps, Ray thought. He watched Dan slip and stumble, one foot after the other.
+++++In Baghdad Dan would be dead already, Ray’d have shot him with his Long-Range rifle and he wouldn’t have known what hit him. That wasn’t the case here. That wasn’t what Ray wanted. He wanted the fucker to suffer and know why. It was a touch of irony that Ray would use a gun he’d stolen from Dan Francis’ own pawnshop. A quirk that would make this all the more satisfying.
+++++Dan made it to a range that Ray was comfortable with. Ray span from behind his cover and shot twice. Both of Dan Francis’ shoulders exploded as he was thrown backwards. The shots perfect, Ray took two more. This time Dan’s legs were the targets. Aimed for, and hit.
+++++Ray ran from his first floor position ignoring the burn in his legs. Outside he stood over Dan Francis. Dan wept, not such a big man when faced with the inevitability of his situation.
+++++‘I don’t even know you, man.’ Dan pleaded.
+++++Ray pulled out his wallet. He opened it revealing a picture of his daughter, before the drugs had taken hold. He held it in front of Dan’s face.
+++++‘You know her though,’ Ray replied. He slipped his wallet away and took aim.
+++++Dan Francis yelped and shook. If his arms still worked he’d have covered his face, a futile defensive gesture. Ray’s first shot hit the mud above Dan’s head, an intentional miss building fear. Dan flinched violently and yelped again. Ray smiled for the first time in a while.
+++++He shot again. This time he didn’t miss.

Condemned

Listen instead!
Listen instead!

As a church the place had stood abandoned for decades. A creepy reminder of a time long since passed. Daniel Irvin had lived in the area all of his 37 years and he’d never known it open. There was little call for a house of God around here these days the locals weren’t God fearing people. Until recently the only time anyone had paid the place any attention was last year. A fire had taken hold. When the fire crew burst in and put out the blaze they found three junkies dead from burns and smoke inhalation. The fire had confused investigators. Yes, the junkies had set a fire for warmth, but it had been on a cold stone floor. The blaze had engulfed the old church and yet there was no trace of accelerant.
+++++The church was condemned and Daniel saw his chance. He bought the place, renovated it and tomorrow he’d be opening the doors to the public no longer a church, no one would come to that. He knew the local market – they liked pubs. That there wasn’t even one objection to his planning application underlined exactly how little the locals cared for church.
+++++As the summer sun rose outside the old beams creaked and cracked above Daniel’s head. The building felt alive. Light penetrated the stained glass windows and created shadows that loomed tall on century old walls. He’d taken delivery of stock this morning. Things were starting to become real. Optics had been fixed to the wall behind the bar. Daniel fixed spirit bottles in place. As he did he saw a man approach the bar reflected in the mirror on the back wall.
+++++“I’m sorry fella, we don’t open until tomorrow,” Daniel said without turning.
+++++The man ignored him. His face had a gaunt haunted look to it that chilled Daniel. The face felt familiar and yet he knew he’d never seen this man before. Daniel turned to face his unwanted guest. There was no one there. He switched his focus back to the mirror. Gone.
+++++A shiver ran down his spine. The bottle he’d been fixing to the optic fell to the floor and smashed at his feet. He jumped, hadn’t he secured the bottle properly? Had he really seen someone? He’d barely slept in the past few weeks, maybe a couple of hours a night if he was lucky, getting this place up and running was taking a lot out of him. He put the vision down to sleep deprivation, cleaned up the spilt alcohol and broken glass and carried on stocking. Always with half an eye on the mirror.

*

The plumbers had left the toilets in a right state. Yes, they”d done the job expected of them but cleaning up after themselves hadn’t been high on their agenda. With the bar stocked Daniel took a mop and bucket to the tiled floors. The bucket’s wheels squeaked as he moved it across the floor. He stopped and started mopping, the squeaking continued somewhere off in the distance. At first he thought it was an echo, but it had a different rhythm and continued for far too long. It was as if someone was mimicking his work elsewhere in the building. He looked up and back through to the bar, there was nothing there. He felt his eyes getting heavy and knew now that it was fatigue affecting his senses. When the toilets were clean he could finally rest ahead of the big opening the following day.
+++++“Out.” A voice whispered from the walls.
+++++Daniel froze to the spot and the shiver returned to his back. He was alert now, fatigue giving way to adrenalin. He told himself how stupid he was being, he was just tired and in that place when you’re still awake but starting to dream. He ran the tap and splashed cold water on his face.
+++++He looked in the mirror and threw himself backwards, terrified. His face was running wet with blood. He scrambled across the room backwards on hands and feet and pushed himself hard against the wall as if trying to get through it.
+++++He touched his face and looked at his fingertips, there was no blood, only water. He stood slowly to look in the mirror. When he did the blood was gone, his face damp with water and sweat. Enough was enough – the toilets could wait until the morning. He needed sleep.

*

Daniel’s dreams were troubling. The three junkies who had died in the fire appeared. He recognised their faces from pictures in the papers at the time of the incident he’d never met them. They were warning him. “Get out, he doesn’t want you here,” “Leave, run, you’ll be next,” ‘You’ve woken him, get away.”
+++++He woke drenched in sweat. His eyes stung as they struggled against the light in his bedroom above the pub downstairs. The light was all wrong, it flickered orange and the sound of burning wooden beams filled his ears. Intense heat closed in on him. He couldn’t catch his breath, smoke filled his lungs, he coughed against it but it caught in his throat and he felt choked.
+++++From the flames that filled the edges of the room a man appeared. The same man that had appeared in the mirror at the bar. His face still familiar and yet Daniel still knew that they’d never met. This time he wore the robes of a priest.
+++++“This was a house of God.”
+++++The words roared from the priest’s mouth.
+++++He pointed angrily at Daniel who cowered in his bed, still choking against the smoke. Controlled by the priest’s actions the flames that filled the room engulfed Daniel’s bed. The priest disappeared into the flames and the last words Daniel heard, as he burned alive, boomed in ghostly tones over the cracking and whipping of the flames.
+++++“Get out, get out, get out!”

Taking the Fall

‘You’re a living, breathing cliché, Andy lad. Taking a fucking fall, I don’t know how you can do it and I don’t want any fucking part of it.’
+++++Cooky paced from wall-to-wall of the boxy locker room. Moments before he’d been taping up Andy O’Connell’s hands ready for 10 Oz. gloves to be laced over the top – a job that had gone unfinished. When O’Connell had whispered to Cooky that it might be worth getting someone to put a bit of cash on him to lose in the second, Cooky had bolted from his stool like he’d been zapped with a cattle prod.
+++++‘You don’t say no to Tony Ricco, Cooky.’
+++++O’Connell was stood at his full terrifying height and held his hands palms up pleading for understanding from his trainer.
+++++‘And that’s exactly why I told you to stay away from Ricco. I told you, he’s not throwing money at you out of the goodness of his heart, one day he’s going to want something in return – looks like it’s today. Well I’m done.’
+++++‘Cooky, don’t be daft mate. It’s just an undercard fight in a shitty nightclub on a Tuesday evening. No one cares about this shit.’
+++++‘Don’t you get it? That’s why I’m pissed at you! You’re a good fighter, Andy. You’ve got what it takes to go a long way. You start taking dives now you’re never going to get out from under the Tuesday night undercard fights in shitholes.’
+++++Andy looked to the door and caught the eye of the bouncer.
+++++‘Do us a favour, mate, give us a minute.’
+++++The bouncer nodded acknowledgement and pulled the door shut.
+++++‘Look, Cooky, I’m 19-years-old. I’ve got time. No one is going to remember that I took a dive next month let alone in a years time.’
+++++‘Have you got shit between your ears? You don’t think Ricco is going to let you take one dive and walk away, do you? You’re an idiot boy!’
+++++‘Tony knows how far I can go, he’s told me. He reckons if I take a dive on this one, he’ll fund me to the top. He’s not going to let me waste my talent, he’s said as much. He can get any old chump to take a fall for him, he just needs me to do it this once.’
+++++‘Bollocks lad, Tony isn’t going to let you off the leash now. And no, he can’t get any old chump to take a fall for him. He needs a decent boxer. Firstly, because it helps with the odds and secondly, if he throws a chump in there’s no guarantee they’re going to last to the required round. Yeah, Tony might throw a bit of cash your way for training, but he doesn’t want you going too far, not somewhere where he has to lose control and there are more powerful men than him calling the shots.’
+++++Cooky had stopped pacing as he made his passion-fueled statements to the younger man. It was Andy’s turn to pace. The aggression that he usually channeled so effectively in the ring showed on his face.
+++++‘You’re such a hypocrite, Cooky. You’ve been around the scene since before I was born. You trying to tell me you never took a fall? Look at that fucking nose, you didn’t get that not getting punched in the face.’
+++++‘I earned this nose, I never took a fall in my life. Yeah, I took a lot of beatings. I didn’t have half the talent you got but I stayed on my feet until I absolutely couldn’t every fucking time I entered the ring. Don’t you ever fucking insult me like that again. After all I’ve done for you.’
+++++Cooky didn’t look angry. He was hurt.
+++++‘I’m sorry, Cook. Look I can’t back out of this one, but I promise, this will be it. I’ll tell Tony, no more after today, OK?’
+++++‘No, it’s not OK, but what can you do, this is Tony Ricco we’re talking about.’
+++++‘So you’ll corner for me?’
+++++‘No, I can’t do it, lad. I’ll get you prepped, but I’ll be waiting in here.’
+++++Both resigned to what was happening Cooky and Andy resumed the positions they’d been in prior to Andy’s revelation. Cooky finished taping up Andy’s hands and fixed the gloves in place. The ritual was completed in silence. Cooky opened the door, the bouncer was still there.
+++++‘Wish me luck.’ Andy quipped as he danced on light feet from the changing room. The quip was aimed at lightening the mood but Cooky saw no humour in it. He shut the door without comment.

*

The jeers could still be heard as Andy made his way back to his changing room. His opponent had been poor and as the third minute of the second round approached Andy had had to leave himself open to a punch. The punch was poor, the dive was obvious and no one was convinced. Andy had hardly heard the ref’s count over the booing. He’d closed his eyes and waited for the 10 – he’d been too ashamed to open them. As he lay on the canvas he’d pictured Cooky ranting at him. He’d silently vowed to keep his promise, that would be the one and only time he’d take a dive.
+++++The bouncer from earlier pushed open the door to the changing room and Andy hung his head as he entered, not wanting to meet Cooky’s eyes. But meeting Cooky’s eyes wasn’t an option. Cooky lay face down in his own blood on the concrete floor.
+++++Andy scooped to speak, more in hope than expectation.
+++++‘Cooky, you alright, mate?’
+++++Before he could properly balance himself Andy was bundled against the back wall of the locker room. The bouncer from the door had been joined by another. They pinned the 200lb boxer. He struggled against them but it was futile. From the doorway the voice of Tony Ricco cut through the struggle.
+++++‘I hear Cooky here had talked you out of taking any more falls. I couldn’t have that, lad. I made good money on you tonight and I plan to again.’
+++++‘Fuck you, Tony. I’ll fucking kill you, you think I’ll fight for you again? You’re off your head.’
+++++Tony’s voice came closer. Andy felt a meaty hand restrain his head tight against the wall to stop him butting Ricco as the gangster’s spittle punctuated the menace in his tone.
+++++‘Not only will you fight for me again, lad. You’ll win and lose as I choose every time you step into the ring. Or, you’ll be picking up pieces of that pretty girl of yours and the rest of your loved ones for the rest of the year.’
+++++The hand on the back of Andy’s neck let the pressure off and then instantly smashed his head into the wall. Andy’s world went black.
+++++Ricco barked instructions.
+++++‘Wait ‘til everyone’s out and then get rid of Cooky. Lock the kid in here for a couple of days to think things through.’

Work Related Stress

‘He is such a prick, just ignore him.’
+++++Ellie put a reassuring hand on Dani’s shoulder. It wasn’t going to stop her sobbing but Ellie felt like she was doing something – the bare minimum, but something.
+++++‘How can I ignore him, this is my job we’re talking about, if he goes to Sue and tells her he wants to sack me that’s it I’m out.’
+++++‘Sue isn’t going to listen to that jumped up little knob. No one here likes him. She’s more likely to back you than go along with what he wants. Shit, Sue hates him more than the rest of us.’
+++++Dani blew hard into a tissue.
+++++‘Really?’
+++++‘Damn straight,’ Ellie confirm before calling out across the office. ‘Hey Lisa, what’s Sue think of Graham?’
+++++‘What’s that?’ Lisa had been pretending not to listen.
+++++‘Sue, what’s she think of Graham?’
+++++‘Can’t stand the poison little dwarf,’ Lisa called back.
+++++‘See.’
+++++Dani smiled through tears. A snot bubble formed and popped on her face. Ellie removed the comforting hand, she didn’t mind comforting a colleague but she drew the line at snot.
+++++‘He’s had it in for me ever since I started here.’
+++++‘He’s just a little man, with a tiny bit of power. Outside of this office he’s fuck all – a pathetic waste of skin.’
+++++‘Yeah Dani, no one around here would be too sorry if we came in to find he’d been run down by a bus, there’d probably be a party,’ Lisa had wondered over to join in. ‘And, I don’t suppose there’s anyone outside of here that would shed a tear either. He’s a spineless weasel.’
+++++The door marked ‘Graham Morris – Administration Manager’ opened. Lisa shrank off back to her desk, her face reddening with embarrassment at the thought that Graham might have heard her.
+++++‘Dani, can I see you in here, now,’ Graham’s voice was spiked with pompous authority. He left the doorway and went back to his desk in a gesture that underlined his sulky demand.
+++++Dani passed Ellie’s desk on route to Graham’s door. The snot was gone – Ellie grabbed her trembling colleagues arm.
+++++‘Remember, don’t take any of his shit, we’re behind you,’ Ellie said, she underlined her words with a firm look and nod.
+++++Dani looked across the office for Lisa who added her backing to Ellie’s with a raised clenched fist that said, I’m with you sister.
+++++‘Close the door and sit down,’ Graham’s voice could be heard from within his office as Dani reached it.
+++++Dani did as instructed.

*  *  *

‘How long has she been in there?’ Lisa called across to Ellie in a whispered tone.
+++++‘Don’t really know, it’s got to be at least 45 minutes, right?’
+++++‘Yeah, at least – can you hear anything?’
+++++‘Nope not heard anything since the door shut.’
+++++‘That’s a good sign then I guess, no shouting or sobs.’
+++++Ellie shrugged an agreement and returned most of her attention to her screen – she still had half an ear on Graham Morris’ office.
+++++When the office door finally opened Dani stood tall in its place. Ellie and Lisa’s attention was instantly pulled to their colleague. It took them a moment to take in what they were seeing.
+++++‘You’ve got to help me,’ Dani said, she was smeared in blood.
+++++Both women rushed in Dani’s direction. Lisa went to Dani, Ellie ran past her yelling out to Graham.
+++++‘What the fuck did you do to our friend you…’
+++++Ellie’s words stopped and turned to screams. Graham Morris lay dead on his office floor, Ellie wasn’t a medical expert, but the substantial bloody dent in her boss’s skull was all the diagnosis she needed.
+++++‘Oh my fucking God!’ Lisa exclaimed as she looked past Dani into the office. And then the questions flowed. ‘What happened Dani, what did he do to you? Where are you hurt? How did you get the better of him?’
+++++Dani turned and faced the room, she pointed at a blood stained business award that Graham usually kept on his desk. It now lay on the floor next to the body.
+++++‘Where are you hurt?’ Lisa repeated one of her questions.
+++++‘I’m not.’ Dani replied coldly.
+++++‘But he tried to attack you, right? That’s why he’s lying there with a hole in his head, right?’
+++++‘No.’
+++++Ellie turned and looked at Dani, confusion etched her face. Lisa matched her expression.
+++++‘Then what the fuck happened?’ Ellie asked.
+++++‘He started going on about how my continual lateness and my sloppy work was a problem,’ Dani explained vacantly. ‘He said he was going to put in a request to Sue to have me dismissed. He was going on and on, that smug bastard look across his face and I just thought about what you girls said, no one’s going to miss him. I saw that poxy award he’s so proud of sat there on his desk and decided to cave his head in with it.’
+++++Dani’s colleagues were struck dumb with shock.
+++++‘It’s fine,’ Dani continued, as if waving off the end of a relationship that had never got beyond a couple of dinners and a fumble. ‘I’ve got everything worked out. I just need you two to help me.’
+++++‘Help you! Help you how?’ Ellie asked.
+++++Dani walked back though Graham’s office and stood in front of his PC. She shook the mouse, jolting the display out of screensaver mode. Her colleagues stood in the doorway looking on in disbelief.
+++++‘Look,’ Dani said encouraging them come in and see what was on the screen.
+++++Reluctantly both Ellie and Lisa entered the room. They were both acutely aware of the corpse of the man who should have been sat at the desk.
+++++The screen displayed a note, it wasn’t subtle – but then neither was a heavy award to the head.
+++++I can’t go on, the loneliness is too much, no one respects me. I’ve felt this way for too long and have to end it all.
+++++The note ended with the Administration Manager’s name.
+++++When Ellie and Lisa had finished reading the note they
+++++looked to Dani. Dani wore a grin that in any context would have looked deranged.
+++++‘So what, we’re supposed to explain to the police that he’d been depressed for a while and then convince them that he caved his own head in?’ Ellie was letting her anger at the stupidity of Dani’s plan affect her tone.
+++++Lisa put a firm and calming hand on Ellie’s arm to remind her that, yes Dani was clearly nuts, but she was obviously a very scary sort of nuts. She’d killed someone for little more than a threat.
+++++‘Don’t be silly, Ellie. He couldn’t have done that to himself,’ Dani said, as if she believed that fact needed explaining. ‘We’re going to throw him out of the window. Make it look like he jumped.’
+++++Ellie and Lisa stood dumbfounded as Dani looked at them as if what she’d just asked them for help taking an old sofa to the dump.
+++++‘Come on,’ Dani said, the tone seemed to imply, the water’s not that cold, rather than, help me chuck the boss out the window.
+++++‘We’ll have to throw that fucking award out with him too. It’s covered in blood. He was so in love with the bloody thing, it would make sense that he’d have jumped hugging it, right? This carpet’s going to need a bloody good clean too. It’s going to be a bugger to bring up. We can do it though can’t we? There’s got to be some decent cleaning gear around here, right?’
+++++Dani’s questions were rhetorical. She wasn’t really talking to her colleagues at all. She was just filling silence with words.
+++++‘Maybe we should go and look for something to clean with before we do this?’ Lisa said.
+++++She was attempting to find a way out of being in the room. Something that was clear to Ellie.
+++++‘Yes, why don’t Lisa and I go find something to clean? You, wait here and straighten things up a bit.’
+++++Dani was pulling at Graham’s legs inching him across the floor and revealing more of the blood stained carpet.
+++++‘Once he goes out the window we won’t have long to clean things up before the police are here looking around,’ Lisa added.
+++++Dani paused. She appeared to be thinking maybe Lisa had a point. But she shook her head and continued inching Graham along the floor. Deranged determination had taken hold of her. Lisa and Ellie stood frozen to the spot in disbelief.
+++++‘OK nobody move!’
+++++The room was alive with four uniformed bodies. There was more yelling and in a blink Dani was bundled to the ground and restrained by two officers. Another two approached Ellie and Lisa with less urgency but restrained authority. Ellie trembled and fell to her knees. Eyes at waist level to Lisa she saw the phone held behind her colleagues back. The screen displayed an open call to 999.
+++++‘Which one of you ladies called this in?’ One of the officers asked.
+++++Lisa brought the phone from behind here and presented it to the officer asking the questions.
+++++‘We’re going to need to take all of you ladies down the station and clear…’
+++++‘I’m so glad you’re hear,’ Dani started from under the restraint. ‘These two don’t seem to want to help me – even though they encouraged me. I just need someone to help me throw this piece of shit out of the window and make it look like he topped himself.’
+++++The room paused everyone focused on Dani as her mania took full hold. Tears were leaking from her cheeks and she shook wildly where her body was able. She caught the eye of the officer that had been asking the questions and went still.
+++++‘Will you help me?’

Loathe Thy Neighbour

Something is off with mum. She hasn’t said anything but when something is bothering her she ain’t good at hiding it – not that she would. I try to visit with her two or three times a week but last week I had a bit of business up north and so I missed a couple of visits. I don’t like to leave it so long between visits, but in my line of work you don’t let people down – or the visits to mum might stop for good.
++++ She’s twitching in her chair and hasn’t touched the tea she made for us both – mum’s old school, still serves it in the pot and insists that the man pours. I enjoy the ritual as much as she does, but as I poured today she barely looked at me. She’s not said more than half a dozen words since I’ve been here.
++++ ‘I’d have rather been down here mum,’ I say, ‘don’t get me wrong, the boys in the north are good as gold but it’s grey, wet and cold up there.’
++++ ‘What… what are you talking about?’ Mum responds.
++++ She doesn’t really seem to be in the room – I’ve really pissed her off. I try to be a good son, drop in as much as I’m able but as soon as I miss a couple of visits she lays on the guilt. It’s always been the same. My useless fucking brother fucks off to Spain to live and whenever he’s home she’s fawning over him and declaring him a great son because, ‘he never forgets to visit his ol’ mum whenever he’s home.’ And yet I have to go away for a few days and I get treated like I took a shit in her cornflakes.
++++ ‘I had to go up north mum. I had work up there. I’m sorry I couldn’t visit.’
++++ ‘Ah, don’t worry about that.’
++++ She waves a dismissive hand at me and I realise that there is something real bothering her. And, it must be serious as apparently my trip hadn’t registered. Before I can ask what’s up she’s talking.
++++ ‘You remember little Kirsty Richards? Maureen and Dave’s girl – skinny little thing, not much to look at.’
++++ I don’t need the extra details but mum always likes to give it, I remember Kirsty just fine. She was a couple of years behind me at school and lived across the green on the estate.
++++ ‘Yeah, I remember.’
++++ ‘She got mugged a couple of nights back, right here on the estate. She’s in hospital, Maureen said it’s touch and go whether she’ll pull through. They’ve had a terrible year that family, Maureen’s mother died over Christmas and Dave himself only went eight months back, god rest his soul.’
++++ ‘What happened?’
++++ ‘Cancer.’
++++ ‘I know how Dave died mum,’ I’d been given an update on his illness every time I’d visited mum whilst he was ill, I even went to the funeral but mum’s mind isn’t in great shape these days and it wonders off all over the place, ‘I was asking what happened to Kirsty?’
++++ ‘Well she’s been doing that door-to-door catalogue selling. It’s a load of old crap, but I always try and have something off her – you know to help her out. She’s had no luck that girl, she bought a place with her fella a couple of doors down from Maureen and Dave’s, but he buggered off and left her with a kid to bring up. She couldn’t keep the mortgage up on the house so moved back in with Maureen and Dave, which has actually been a bit of a blessing to Maureen since Dave’s passing – it’s good to have a bit of company around.’
++++ I felt defeated by the insinuation in the last comment, even in someone else’s painful story mum could find a way to make it about her. I knew all about Kirsty’s situation, mum had told me about it a few times before. I decided to push mum to the point of her story.
++++ ‘So, she was mugged for the money she’d collected from the catalogue sells?’
++++ ‘Yes, thirty-seven poxy bloody quid,’ mum spat the words, ‘this estate isn’t what it used to be. It’s not safe to walk the streets anymore.’
++++ I couldn’t disagree with her there. I’ve been trying to get mum to move out for years, I’ve even offered to buy her a place near me, Sue and the kids, but she won’t leave – she says the estate is her home – our home. I can see her point, it was the first and only place she made a home for her family in and a lot of the families that we grew up with have remained so she’s got a lot of friends nearby. She says she’d feel like she was leaving dad behind if she went, feel like she was betraying his memory if she sold the house he’d worked so hard to buy from the council.
++++ But, for each positive about the estate there are at least two negatives these days. It’s not the same place that I grew up in. Every time one of the old stalwarts moves out or dies off their house seems to attract far less desirable families than the ones that went before. Don’t get me wrong, it was always a tough estate, some seriously nasty bastards grew up here – myself included. But, it was a tough estate with morals – one of which was you don’t shit on your own doorstep. The posh houses across the flyover were fair game, but if anything happened to anyone from the estate the people rallied together – we looked after our own. Crimes against the estate from within were rare to non-existent, on the odd occasion that someone did step out of line they didn’t last long before they were forced to find somewhere else to live. There was a sense of community, the kids played together, the dads drank together and the mums gossiped together. The houses were nothing special, but everyone took exceptional pride in them.
++++ Now when I visit mum I come past unkempt lawns, wrecked cars and strewn rubbish. The kids still seem to play together, but they do so at night in hoods with knives and guns.
++++ I’ve let the silence sit in the air for too long as I contemplate what once was and what has now become. Mum sums up many of my own thoughts with a few painfully real words of her own.
++++ ‘This never would have happened when your dad was alive. He wouldn’t have let it.’
++++ There’s a red moistness to her eyes that I’ve seen only once or twice before. A strong, proud woman, mum never really even cried at dad’s funeral – although I heard her sobbing alone in her room that night. I stood from my chair and moved towards her to provide comfort. It was an awkward moment – we had never been a family that hugs. Most of the time if I’d tried to hug her, she’d have pushed me away, there was no lack of love – we just didn’t feel the need to show it. Today she doesn’t push and as I hold her I feel her shoulders slowly rise and fall and her tears moisten my shirt.

***

‘Hey, Johnny Boy Winter. What’s up blud?’
++++ One of the kids that now inhabit the estate I once called home has recognised me as I stand at the door saying goodbye to Mum. He’s part of a group of three kids, all late teens and dressed in clothes so loose they look like they’re suffering from a wasting disease. My line of work comes with many hazards, one of them being that every scumbag looking to gain a reputation in front of his crew wants to be seen talking to me.
++++ I nod an acknowledgement in the direction of the group and hear some sort of celebratory sounds coming from them – I’ve made their day.
++++ ‘They’re the ones that mugged Kirsty Richards,’ Mum said eyeing the group with disgust as she spoke in hushed tones, ‘The one that called out to you, he’s the ring leader, evil little bastard.’
++++ ‘I figured – why are they still on the streets?’
++++ ‘I’m told the parents provided them all with alibis for the night of the mugging, bastards. If that had have been you and Daniel I’d have had the police take you away, give you a bloody good hiding, lock you up and then have your old man give you another one when you got out.’
++++ I have little doubt. We’d had whippings for far less – most of them deserved.
++++ I kiss Mum on the cheek, she flinches away and gives me a tap on my cheek and follows it with a look that asks what I think I’m doing. She’s in public now – the vulnerable woman that needed a hug in the living room is well hidden. I tell her to make sure she locks the door. As it shuts I wait for the sounds of the bolts sliding and keys turning before making my way back to my car.
++++ ‘Laters Johnny Boy,’ the same youth shouts.
++++ Yeah… Laters, I think as I walk away.

***

My car is warm but I take no comfort in it as I think about the Richards family, my mum and the old estate. I had driven out of the estate so that the muggers had seen me go, they waved and called out as I left – but now I am back. I’d turned the headlights of as I’d pulled into the estate and parked up on the road at the boundary edge. I am looking across the estate at the muggers, parked far enough away that they haven’t spotted my return. It’s taking all of my energy not to pop the trunk, take out the gun I’d used for the bit of business up north, walk over and put a hole in each one of these arseholes, but that would be stupid. The reason I have the deal with the lads up north is if any murders need doing it’s harder to connect the doer to the crime, I do theirs up there, they do mine down here – I can’t fuck that up by firing the gun I used up there just because I’m pissed off down here. That would fuck everything up – dots would start to be connected.
++++ After a long wait I see the group disband and head towards their houses. I keep my eyes on the one that mum identified as the ringleader. He heads towards one of the least presentable houses on the estate and lets himself in. My car engine purrs as I start it and role the car slowly and quietly towards the house. I’ve arrived outside as the lad has just gone inside and shut the door behind him. I jump from my car and run at the door. It falls inwards as my weight impacts with it and the young mugger is now lying unconscious under the door and my not inconsiderable weight. I give him a couple of punches to ensure he stays out and feel his cheekbone implode as the second blow strikes – that ought to do it.
++++ There’s a call from upstairs, ‘Tommy, what the fuck is all that fucking noise, we’re trying to fucking sleep up here,’ a man’s voice with less urgency or panic in it than you might expect after such a commotion in the middle of the night. I guess drugs have been indulged in, not just tonight but every night for quite some time.
++++ I drag Tommy up the stairs by an arm. He doesn’t come around – I’ve hit him hard.
++++ ‘What the fuck Tommy? Keep it fucking down,’ it’s the same voice that called out moments before.
++++ I drag Tommy towards the room that the voice has come from and stand in the doorway. I reach inside the room and hit the light switch – I used to live in one of these houses I know the layout.
++++ ‘Who…who the fuck are you?!’
++++ Finally some panic in the tone as the man I assume to be Tommy’s dad – but who knows these days – bolts upright and tries to back himself through the headboard and into the house next door. His wife is half a second behind him but she mimics his every move perfectly, adding a scream for good measure.
++++ ‘My name’s John Winter,’ I say, ‘and I’m a friend of Kirsty Richards.’
++++ They don’t flinch at my name, but I see them both shudder at the mention of Kirsty in a sign that I see as an admission of guilt.
++++ A look to the side of the bed confirms all I need to know about Tommy’s upbringing. The drug paraphernalia on both parent’s bedside tables paints a picture of a lad that never had a chance in life. I don’t want to, but I feel sorry for him.
++++ ‘Don’t fucking move,’ I said and walked towards the bed.
++++ Both parents look at me with terror in their heavily glazed eyes. They are younger than a first impression gives, but their grey broken skin and lifeless greasy hair is doing them no favours. I punch Tommy’s father hard and he goes straight out cold. Tommy’s mother yelps as she anticipates what’s coming next and I don’t disappoint her, putting her lights out next. I pick up a cigarette lighter from the bedside table and put flame to the duvet. The cheap synthetic material takes in seconds and the bed is ablaze.
++++ I look at Tommy still unconscious on the floor in the doorway to the bedroom. I feel sorry for the lad, but he is what he is – nothing is going to change that now. I step over him and leave him to burn with the monsters that created him.

After Hours

Mikey Burrows had spent the couple of hours since the two dodgy looking bastards had walked into his pub watching the clock. Three nights in a row these two had been in. Arriving just after nine each night and leaving 20 minutes before Mikey called lasties.
+++++But tonight things were different, tonight last orders had been called 10 minutes ago and they hadn’t moved. There were only a few stragglers left. And them. The glasses on their table were all but empty and had been that way for 45 minutes, just enough in the bottom so that they weren’t going to get collected and they’d not have to buy another drink. Either they were tight fuckers or they were keeping a clear head as they had plans after hours, either way Mikey wasn’t happy.
+++++Two nights earlier when these two had walked in for the first time, Mikey hadn’t paid them much attention at first. There was no reason to, this was a holiday town and despite The Anchor being a local’s pub, being off the track of the main tourist areas, the occasional new face wasn’t uncommon. Some holidaymakers liked to explore beyond the traditional bench front shite and find an authentic seaside town pub. However as that first night went on Mikey found his focus pulled towards these men. One in his late forties and looking like an extra from a bad TV gangster movie, all cheap suit and Brylcreem. The second man was so young he barely qualified for the title, he dressed less formally but equally cheaply. Mikey noticed that they’d hardly spoken to each other as they sat at a table in the centre of his pub. They were more interested in watching the room than having a cheeky pint. When they’d left at 10.30, neither man spoke. They just got up and left, it was like they were on a schedule. That night Mikey was extra cautious as he locked up and made sure he had a little extra security under his mattress when he went to bed.
+++++Last night it had been exactly the same routine, turn up, one pint each, nurse it for far too long then leave at 10.30 without a word. Tonight’s change of routine told Mikey to be ready, for what he had no clue. Fuck it, enough was enough, Mikey came out from behind the bar and made his way over to them. If something was going to happen he was going to force their hand, put them on the back foot from the start, let them know that he was on to them.
+++++As he made his approach both men grinned. It wasn’t the ‘Oh shit he’s coming over’ reaction Mikey had been hoping for. No backing out now though.
+++++‘You finished with these lads?’ Mikey had his shovel sized hands around each of the glasses on the table at which the men sat.
+++++‘Yeah they’re done thanks Mikey.’ Said the older of the two men.
+++++OK so they knew his name, and they knew to use ‘Mikey’ not Michael, Mike or Mick, they hadn’t just read it from the license above the door. So whatever it was they were here for it involved him. He let go of the glasses and took a seat at the table.
+++++‘Right you boys are clearly after something so how about you come out with it.’ His confident tone was not matched by the stirring in his bowels. Mikey was a big man and could take care of himself but he wasn’t stupid and knew it was best to be fearful of the unknown quantities.
+++++‘Not yet.’ The older man said looking around the room at the stragglers finishing up their drinks. The younger man hadn’t said a word and had barely moved, in fact that grin was still all over his face. He might have been mute or a statue but he was doing a fine job of putting the shits up Mikey.
+++++Mikey stood up and looked around. ‘Right you lot bugger off, I’ve got things to do here.’ He shouted out. There were a few reluctant groans and dragged feet but within a less than a minute Mikey found he was alone with his unwanted guests.
+++++The older man looked at his young friend and gave him a nod, with that the lad stood up and walked to the pub entrance. He slipped the bolts across and made his way back to the table.
+++++Perhaps Mikey was now wearing his fear on his face because the older man quickly tried to reassure him. ‘Don’t worry Mikey we’re not here to do you a mischief.’ Although the words were meant to reassure, Mikey still found the tone held a threat he couldn’t quite shake from his mind.
+++++‘So what exactly is it you want that can’t be discussed in front of my punters then?’ He was trying to be brave but if truth be known he was loading brick after brick in his stomach.
+++++‘We need a man with your special skill set Mikey.’ The young man still hadn’t spoken.
+++++‘Pulling pints and selling crisps?’ Mikey asked. He knew where this was going but he wasn’t exactly going to lay things on a plate for two blokes he’d never met. They wanted something they could come out and say it, there was no need to speak in riddles no one was bugging a little pub in Dorset.
+++++‘We were thinking more of your other profession, behind the wheel.’
+++++‘I’m in the pub game now, all that’s behind me.’
+++++‘Perhaps two grand will be enough to put it back in front of you?’ Brylcreem said. ‘The pub game isn’t exactly thriving, we read the papers.’
+++++He was right about that it had been a struggle recently, there’d been a couple of times when a can of petrol and a match were looking like they could be his soundest financial investment over the past year. Mikey wasn’t ready to show that hand to these boys yet though and as he was relaxing into the conversation went for ‘You read?’
+++++‘Very good.’ The grin was back on the older chaps face. It still hadn’t left his colleagues.
+++++‘I might be interested, but my fee is four grand.’ Mikey knew if they’d opened with two grand then there was more in the pot. ‘But I’m going to need some details from you boys first, starting with your names and who told you about me.’
+++++‘I’m Jack Francis and this little fucker is Dean Arnold, we can go to four K but that’s it and you can check us out by giving your old friend Rick Thompson a call.’ He’d said their names as if they should mean something to Mikey, they didn’t but Thompson’s did and everything fell into place.
+++++‘When do you need me?’
+++++‘Wednesday night, don’t worry we can go after closing time.’
+++++‘Right this is what’s going to happen, I’m going to give Rick a call and if he says you’re ok I’ll call you and we’ll talk about what you want me to do. But right now I’m going to bed and you’re going wherever you go.’ Mikey felt like he had the trump hand, they needed his help and if they were willing to pay 4K for it they needed it pretty bad.
+++++‘OK just let me give you my number.’ Jack said.
+++++‘Don’t bother, if Rick knows you he’ll have your number right?’
+++++‘Yeah but I can just give it to you now.’
+++++‘I’d rather get it from Rick.’ Mikey was being extra cautious, he always had been when it came to this side of his life. People probably thought he was paranoid, Jack clearly did and even Dean had swapped his grin for a look of confusion, but he’d never been caught and he was going to keep it that way. Rick might confirm that he knew Jack Francis and Dean Arnold but that didn’t mean these two were them. At least if Mikey got the number from Rick it was another check on things.
+++++‘Whatever you want mate.’ Jack said clearly confused. ‘Come on Dean.’
+++++They both stood to leave and Mikey followed them to the door, he slid down the bolts and pushed the door so it swung open.
+++++‘One thing lads.’ Mikey said as Jack and Dean stood in the road outside. ‘What was with the three nights surveillance?’
+++++‘We needed to be sure you were who we were looking for and not just the barman.’ Jack responded.
+++++These boys weren’t too bright. ‘You didn’t think to save yourselves some time and me some worry by asking?’

*

The phone rang twice before it was answered.
+++++‘Hello?’ It was a question filled with suspicion rather than a greeting.
+++++‘That Jack?’ Mikey asked.
+++++‘Mikey?’
+++++‘In one. So I spoke to Rick, you boys check out, so I guess we get to work together. What time do we need to be where we need to be and how long will it take to get there?’
+++++‘Takes about half hour from your place and it doesn’t matter what time we get there it’s a…’
+++++‘That’s enough, I don’t need to know anything but timings.’ Mikey’s paranoia came into play again. He liked to keep the information he had on a job to a minimum for two reasons, his mind was on the road and not the nasty bastards that might be chasing him as he drove away, secondly the less he knew the smaller the chances of someone offing him because he could give them away.
+++++‘As you wish.’ Jack replied.
+++++‘Right do you know the main car park by the beach?’
+++++‘The one on top of the hill?’
+++++‘That’s the one, I’ll see you boys there at midnight tomorrow.’ Mikey killed the line.

*

They were walking around the car park peering into car windows when Mikey arrived at 12.01 am. He pulled up alongside them as they over optimistically looked into the window of a new plate BMW X5.
+++++‘Yeah because that would be the subtle car of choice for a getaway driver.’ Mikey said sarcastically out of the open window of a 19 year old Ford Escort.
+++++‘What the fuck is that thing?’ Jack asked appraising the vehicle with disapproving eyes. Dean looked at the car as if he’d never seen one before and at his age it was possible he hadn’t.
+++++‘Get in.’ Mikey said.
+++++Both men jumped in and Mikey drove.
+++++‘Directions.’ Mikey demanded as he drove.
+++++Jack told Mikey where to go. Mikey stuck to the speed limit on the empty roads. He’d kept his window down to try and get a breeze through the car on a stifling humid night, there was no air conditioning and the blowers seemed to be out of order. He’d tilted the rearview mirror so that he could keep an eye on his passengers. Dean had been carrying a bag when he got in the car and he was now checking the contents.
+++++‘I’m guessing you’ve got guns in that bag there young Dean.’ Mikey said. ‘Make sure they don’t come above the window line whilst we’re on the road ok?’
+++++Dean nodded and Mikey wondered if he’d ever spoken.
+++++‘Seriously Mikey, what the fuck is with this piece of shite car?’ Jack asked.
+++++‘This piece of shite car was easy to steal.’ Mikey responded. Did they honestly expect him to turn up in a brand new Merc having gotten past its multiple security features? ‘How about you just stick to giving the directions.’
+++++‘Not far now, couple of minutes tops.’
+++++Apparently Dean took this piece of information as an instruction to pull a balaclava over his head.
+++++‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing son? Take that fucking thing off.’ Mikey said without taking his eyes off the road. ‘I tell you not to stick a gun above the window line but you think it’s ok to stick that thing over your head on the hottest night of the year. You keep that off until you’re out of the car.’
+++++Dean took the balaclava off and Mikey caught daggers from him in the rearview. His eyes said he wanted to use one of the guns in his bag to stick a hole right through Mikey. A clip with the back of Jack’s hand and a look from the older man was enough to turn Dean’s look from hate to sheepish.
+++++‘Pull up here on the right.’ Jack said outside a detached house.
+++++‘On the right? Fuck off. I’ll turn it around so we’re parked on the left, last thing we need is to plough into oncoming traffic as we drive off.’ +++++Mikey thought that was obvious.
+++++Jack did a quick 360 of the street. ‘What fucking traffic?’
+++++‘How about you boys do your job and I’ll do mine.’ Mikey replied wondering if dealing with these idiots was really worth the money. Within seconds he’d turned the car around and pulled up. Jack and Dean jumped out, each carrying an empty bag and shotguns and pulling on balaclavas. They made their way towards the house and Mikey kept his eyes on the road ready to roll when they came running back out.
+++++Mikey heard gunshots from within the house and his eyes were involuntarily pulled towards their direction. This was when he earned his money. It was all about having the bollocks to stick it out and see if it was his boys that emerged from the house or some nut pissed off at being robbed that was going to start taking pot shots at the getaway driver. He didn’t have to wait long to see Jack and Dean running back across the front garden their empty bags now full and their guns a little lighter.
+++++‘Drop those shooters there.’ Mikey called whilst reaching over and opening the passenger doors front and back. The raiders obliged and jumped in.
+++++‘Go!’ Jack screamed as he sat next to Mikey and Mikey’s foot hit the floor.
+++++‘I fucking did ‘em Jack, I fucking did ‘em!’ Dean’s voice was as childlike as his features and was foreign to Mikey’s ears. The lad was buzzing with excitement at what had just happened and Mikey could see now what Dean’s role had been in the whole thing. He was there to put people down, Jack wasn’t that man. ‘Wooow!’ Dean cried out the excitement still building in him.
+++++‘Keep him quiet.’ Mikey said to Jack, who turned and started talking quietly to his younger counterpart. After a couple of minutes Dean had calmed down, but Mikey’s glances back in the rearview let him know that the lad was still running high with adrenalin.

*

The 30-minute drive back to the car park above the beach was done in less than 20 and went without incident once Dean was hushed. Mikey pulled up the handbrake and it crunched loudly against its mechanisms. The next sound was the back windshield exploding as a bullet tore through it and made a pulp of Dean’s head. Mikey looked at Jack in time to register his shock and see his head explode into the front windshield. He paused for a moment and felt blood and tissue dripping from his face before turning to see Rick Thompson behind the car the barrel of his gun still hot.
+++++‘Don’t forget the bags.’ Thompson shouted to Mikey as the driver climbed out of the car and smiled at his old friend. Mikey through both bags in Thompson’s direction, a 50/50 split of whatever was in them was going to see him come out with more than the four grand he’d negotiated with Jack and Dean.
+++++‘You could have waited for me to get out of the way.’ Mikey called. ‘Look at the state of me!’
+++++‘We needed them in the car, if you’d got out so would they.’ Thompson handed Mikey a can of petrol and Mikey doused the car and flicked in a lit match.
+++++‘So whose money is this?’ Mikey asked as they watched the car to ensure that it caught.
+++++‘Some dealer that thought he could muscle in on my areas.’ Thompson said unzipping one of the bags and bouncing a pack of coke that he’d pull from inside in one hand. ‘There’s got to be 20 grand worth of gear here and the same again in cash.’
+++++‘When are you going to do one of those jobs yourself?’ Mikey asked with a huge grin.
+++++‘You’re a funny fucker aren’t you?’ Thompson responded. ‘Now get me out of here.’
+++++Mikey moved behind Rick Thompson and pushed his wheelchair towards a second getaway car.

The Clean Up

Looking down at the broken man cowering on the pavement, Bernard felt nothing. He had never felt sympathetic towards any of his victims, most of them had brought it on themselves, but now he was not even experiencing that rush of adrenaline he used to thrive on. He had become a joyless creature of habit.
+++++The victim had pissed himself and the stench of urine had now overpowered the alcohol that had been seeping from his pores. This along with the pleading and the tears almost made Bernard want to keep him alive. Surely killing such a pitiful excuse for a man would be doing him a favour. Bernard thought, do I really want to snatch this runt from his miserable existence? Then he remembered the insult and the anger stirred inside him again. Bernard swung his left leg back and forward to connect hard with the injured man’s midsection. His victim coughed hard and blood leapt from his mouth. The man was trying to speak, but a combination of pain and the flooding of his mouth meant he could not muster the words.
+++++Bernard bent down close to his victim’s head and grabbed a handful of hair to pull his head towards his own. The man’s face strained against the pain that ran throughout his battered body.
+++++‘You trying to talk, you pathetic little fuck?’ Bernard asked.
+++++The words still would not come and fresh tears merged with the blood on the man’s face. The menace in Bernard’s eyes had resigned the man to his inevitable fate. He knew he would die tonight.
+++++Bernard let go of the clump of hair and his victim dropped to the ground, ‘What makes you think I’m interested in anything you have to say? Last time you opened your mouth to me you thought you were the big man, didn’t you?’
+++++Bernard didn’t wait for an answer, aiming another kick this time connecting with the rib cage. Crack.
+++++‘Not the big man now though, are you? You should see yourself, crying like the bitch you are. All mouth when you bumped me in the bar and spilt my pint, no apology, just a load of bravado.’ Bernard laughed. ‘And just think all this could have been avoided if you had just said sorry, but you had to act the big man, didn’t you? Well, where is that big man now that he’s not in the crowded pub?’
+++++The victim’s eyes were glazing over, the sobbing stopped and his head started to turn away. Bernard reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a deck of smokes, placed one in his mouth, lit it, took one long pull and then bent down stubbing it out on the face of the other man. It had the desired effect of bringing him back round with a yelp.
+++++‘I’m sorry. Was I boring you?’ Bernard continued in a menacing tone that varied in pitch to match his mood, ‘See. I had to listen to your bullshit earlier today. What was it you called me? A clumsy twat? Yet you don’t find it necessary to extend me the courtesy of listening when I’m talking to you. And let’s be honest, it was you that invited this conversation, was it not? If I’m not mistaken your exact words were, if you’ve got a problem, we can take this outside. Am I correct?’
+++++The victim nodded in agreement.
+++++‘Well here we are outside lad. You’re a big lad. In fact you’ve a good 3 stone on me, don’t you chubs? I thought I was going to lose my foot in that gut of yours when I kicked you earlier.’ Bernard smiled and laughed at his own joke, he even felt a little annoyed that his victim was not laughing along.
+++++Bernard unleashed a series of kicks to the man’s head, the first one had taken the life from the body, the kicks that followed served no purpose at all.
++

***

Darren was stood at the end of the alley. He had been nursing a can of 7Up whilst he kept watch. He was there to guide people away from walking down the alley if they tried. But it was late and quiet and he had been under employed. Bernard made his way towards him, breathing heavily, shoulders heaving deeply, his face a blotchy red.
+++++‘All done?’ Darren enquired matter of factly. It was an attempt to hide his nerves. He was never sure with Bernard, whether the attack would spill over to him as it sometimes did if Bernard hadn’t extracted maximum satisfaction from handing out a beating. These days it seemed to take more to satisfy Bernard’s lust for violence than it used to and Darren often copped a slap just for being the only person available.
+++++To Darren’s relief, Bernard seemed to calm quickly and nodded. ‘Get Yuri on the phone, tell him to get down here to help us clean up.’
+++++Bernard and Darren worked as enforcers for a crime family led by a couple of old timers that had made a name for themselves back in the late 1960s: Terry Weir and Alan Castle. Tonight’s violence had not been in anyway related to that organisation. Bernard and Darren had simply been enjoying a pint together on a night off, neither of them would really list the other as a friend, but in their line of work they didn’t find themselves with queues of willing drinking partners. Darren had noticed that recently Bernard had been unable to make the distinction between work and life and whenever they’d got together for a beer, something had happened to set him off. Darren had let Weir and Castle know and they’d asked him to keep an eye on the situation, they certainly couldn’t afford to have a loose cannon bringing unwanted attention to the organisation. None of the previous incidents had ever gone this far though, a man was dead just for spilling a pint and not knowing when to keep his mouth shut.
+++++Darren pulled out his phone and put in the call to Yuri. Yuri was also employed within the Weir and Castle crime family. For the most part he was employed as a driver, which also meant he had to get involved in the odd clean up where things went further than usual. Darren explained to Yuri what had happened. Bernard had been walking back from the bar with a pint for Darren and himself and some bloke had bumped him. Bernard had insisted on an apology but the bloke that had bumped him basically told him to go fuck himself. Bernard walked away but it had simmered with him for most of the evening and after closing time Bernard caught the bloke taking a piss in an alley so decided that he wasn’t going to let him off so lightly. Darren’s tone inferred that he thought Bernard had overstepped the mark, thankfully Bernard was pacing up and down the alley and not really paying attention to what was being said, he was clearly distracted by something. For most people in these circumstances, being distracted would be understandable, but Darren knew that Bernard didn’t let a little thing like brutal murder distract him for long. Darren gave Yuri the name of the street before cutting off the call.
+++++‘Everything okay, Bern?’
+++++‘Look at this.’ Bernard was pointing towards the ground. ‘Tubby fuck has fucked up me trainees and me jeans. That shit is not coming out. Fuck! Two-hundred quid’s worth of threads and shoes and I’m going to have to have them burnt with that pile of lard now.’
+++++Now Darren understood, what else could it have been, but money. He decided to put some distance between himself and Bernard. The rage might have died momentarily but the sight of the ruined clothing was more than enough to send Bernard back into a storm of anger.
+++++Darren’s mobile vibrated in his pocket. It was on silent. He pulled the phone out, the display read: ‘unknown number’. This was not unusual in his line of work. Darren looked at Bernard who still appeared completely preoccupied with the state of his trainers and jeans. He hit the answer button and raised the phone to his ear.
+++++‘Hello?’ It was more a question than a greeting.

***

Bernard paced with agitation whilst looking between his shoes and his victim in the alley. He thought about tearing back into the alley and seeing if he could take the lardy bastards head clean off with a kick. But no, his top was clean, no point in risking fucking that up too. He forced himself to stop looking in the direction of the dead man.
+++++He fixed his gaze on Darren. Good old dependable Dazza. Always there to watch his back, help clean up his mess, take a slapping when he was angry. No. Bernard didn’t know what he’d do without Dazza.
+++++In the late night darkness, the glow from Darren’s mobile illuminated the side of his face that was turned away from Bernard. Who’s that little prick on the phone to? Bernard thought. He moved closer and tried to listen to the conversation but Darren wasn’t speaking. The soft twat was nodding into a phone.
+++++‘They can’t see you nodding, you wanker,’ Bernard taunted.
+++++Darren looked in Bernard’s direction flashing him an insincere grin and rolling his eyes. A gesture that implied he realised his own stupidity.
+++++‘Who the fuck you talking with?’ Bernard questioned aggressively.
+++++‘OK I’ll call you later.’ Bernard heard Darren say before he watched him disconnect the call and stick the phone in the pocket of his suit trousers. Why did he insist on wearing that suit everywhere? Bernard thought.
+++++‘Sorry about that Bern mate, it was Claire, she don’t know how to get the TV to switch over to DVD. Silly cow,’ Darren said nervously as if trying to cover up who he had really spoken with.
+++++‘You sound a little nervous Dazza lad. You aren’t lying to Big Bern, are you?’ Bernard had stepped in close to Darren now and stood over him, he had four inches and nearly two stone on Darren.
+++++‘Of course I’m nervous Bern. You’ve just fucked up two-hundred quid’s worth of clobber and I’m the only living thing within 100 metres of you.’
+++++‘Don’t be a prick lad. It’s not your fault, is it?’
+++++‘No, Bern.’
+++++Bernard pulled his smokes and lighter from his pocket, took one for himself and offered one to Darren. He lit both smokes and grabbed Darren around the shoulders in a gesture aimed at reassuring him but from a man of his temperament and bulk only ever came across as threatening.
+++++The two men stood silently smoking for a few moments. Waiting for Yuri to arrive. Darren was the first to break the silence, ‘I reckon we should get ourselves into the alley a bit further while we wait for Yuri. We’re a little to conspicuous stood here.’
+++++‘It’s fucking dead down here Dazza mate, all these shops are closed and that shit stinks.’ Bernard commented with a nod towards the corpse in the alley.
+++++‘I know it’s dead on the street, Bern, but who knows who’s looking out of their window from one of those places over there.’ Darren waved in the direction of a high-rise tower block that could be seen from the edge of the alley. ‘All it takes is for one do-gooder from that tower block to call the filth with a report of two men acting suspiciously outside the local shops and we’re going to end up chatting with the Old Bill in front of a stinking body with you all covered in blood.’
+++++Bernard gave Darren a look that said there was no need for the reminder about the bloodied clothing, but then surprised Darren.
+++++‘You got a point, we’ll wait for Yuri further in.’

***

Half way between the entrance to the alley and the bloody corpse, Bernard felt a sharp deep pain pass through the back of his neck and pierce his windpipe. Darren had punched a six-inch knife blade into the larger mans body. Bernard was unable to turn his head but turned his whole hulking frame clumsily in the direction of his betrayer. By the time he had turned around, Darren had taken half a dozen long paces backwards towards the mouth of the alley. At no point had he dared to turn his back on Bernard.
+++++‘Sorry Bern, that wasn’t Claire on the phone, it was Terry Weir. He told me I had to do you, you’ve become a liability with that temper of yours, you’re going to get us all in trouble,’ Darren said sounding almost genuinely troubled by what he’d been asked to do.
+++++Bernard lifted both arms in Darren’s direction and opened his mouth as if to speak. Both actions intensified the pain streaming through Bernard’s body. He lost control of his feet and landed heavily on his knees, the right one broke as he fell before he stumbled forward and smashed his face on the concrete.
+++++Darren waited a few moments and shuffled forward a couple of steps. Only the handle of the knife was visible in Bernard’s neck, the full length of the blade had disappeared inside. The dismal light in the alley made it difficult for Darren to see whether there was still any rise and fall from Bernard’s breathing. He stood still and took out his mobile phone. He scrolled through the phone book until he reached Terry Weir. He double tapped the name and the screen changed, Calling Terry Weir. The phone connected; there was no voice on the other end. This was standard whenever calling Weir; as far as Weir was concerned, you called him, you obviously have something to say, say it.
+++++‘It’s done,’ Darren said, still staring at the figure of Bernard broken into the ground in front of him, now that he had not moved for a while and was almost certain he was dead.
+++++‘Good lad,’ replied Weir, as if Darren had just scored a hat trick in the final of the local seniors cup, ‘I was fucked right off, chasing around cleaning up his mess every fucking week. He overstepped the line so many times. I should have ordered this a lot sooner. But once Yuri called me up, all indignant, whining about having to go out to clear up fucking Bernard’s shit again finally the camels back was broken.’
+++++‘What now Mr. Weir?’
+++++‘Wait for Yuri to turn up and when he does I want him done too.’
+++++Darren paused for a moment, waiting for a crack of laughter and confirmation that Weir was joking. That was absolutely his sense of humour. But the confirmation did not come. So Darren thought he should confirm for himself. ‘So, when Yuri gets here, you want me to kill him?’
+++++‘You got shit in your ears, lad? That’s what I said, isn’t it?’ Terry snapped. Darren’s questioning had clearly angered him. ‘For fuck’s sake, do you lot ever just fucking listen? Yuri bitched so much about having to come and clean up Bernard’s mess, you know, doing his fucking job. Telling me I need to do something about Bernard’s behaviour. Giving me fucking instructions. No fuck it, that little Russian prick has got too familiar so you do him.’
+++++‘Okay, Mr. Weir, no problem,’ Darren knew it was unwise to ask another question with the beast clearly stirred, he was more than aware that it would not take much for someone to arrive and take care of him too once Yuri had been dispatched. He risked a question anyway. ‘What should I do with the bodies?’
+++++There was a pause on the other end of the line. Darren listened for a sharp intake of breath, a signal that Weir was about to explode, but none came. Instead the pause appeared to be one of contemplation.

***

‘Fuck them leave them where they lay. Maybe the message will get out, there’s too much indiscipline in this organisation.’ Weir disconnected the call.
+++++Darren approached Bernard’s corpse and gave it a few gentle kicks, followed by two hard ones, just to be sure. He was dead. Darren grabbed both of Bernard’s size 12 feet and with all his effort laboured to drag the 17 stone lump deeper into the alley and hide him behind an industrial wheelie bin. Next, Darren stood with his feet on either side of Bernard’s neck and struggled to reclaim his knife, the movement of the fall and being dragged along the alley had clearly lodged the knife in places that the initial thrust had not.
+++++The mouth of the alley flickered with light as a car approached. Darren wiped his blade clean on Bernard’s clothing and stared in the direction of the light. An engine hummed low and finally the vehicle came into view. The light turned red and then brightened with white as the car was put in reverse and backed into the alley. Darren clasped the knife tightly at his side, slightly behind his right leg. The driver side door opened and Darren watched as the slight figure of Yuri stepped from the vehicle and started moving towards him arms open.
+++++‘Where’s that prick Bernard?’ came Yuri’s heavily accented voice.
+++++Darren’s knife hand twitched as he sized up the Russians neck. Suddenly Yuri’s forehead exploded and he collapsed to the ground as the gun shot echoed through the night air. The passenger side door stood open, Terry Weir was stood at the back of the car, his gun hand still aimed at the point through which he had shot Yuri. It was aimed directly at Darren’s chest.
+++++‘Why couldn’t you boys just do your jobs, keep your noses clean and your mouths shut when given instruction, always with the questions.’ Weir said.
+++++He pulled the trigger.
+++++Moments later the alley was left in darkness as the car pulled away at speed.