Dark clouds hang over me like a Bank Holiday weekend in Margate, and I’m worse for wear; half-a-gram of chang up my nose, half-a-bottle of Stoli down my throat, a lot of crushed Diet Coke cans in the bin under my desk. Oh, and it’s only half past four in the afternoon. The office phone bleats at me. I stare at it for a good thirty seconds before I answer.
“Constantinou,” I finally manage to say with a thick tongue.
“We have someone in reception for you, Mr. Constantinou.”
Feel like telling them to tell the visitor they would be better off leaving and finding a more reputable detective, or least one who isn’t as wrecked as me, but instead, I tell them to send the client up. Put the lottery wrap back together and slip it into my top drawer, the Stoli goes in the bottom. Wish I could smoke but trying to keep the landlord sweet as I missed the last rent payment. Stand up and pull my blazer on over my T-Shirt—never hurts to try and make a good first impression. I smooth lint that I’m only half-sure is real, from the lapels before sitting back down.
I hear the beep of the lift arriving on our floor. Adjust my collar and wish I could have another quick sniff. But then the client is walking in. I sit back and try to look like I know what I’m doing.
When the client steps in it throws me somewhat in that it doesn’t look like the usual type who walks in. It’s a black girl, about fourteen or fifteen, in her school uniform: bright blue blazer, white blouse, tartan kilt, school tie, black knee socks, and Kickers.
“Help you?” I ask.
“Are you Charlie Bars?”
My eyes narrow. Why does a schoolgirl know my street name? There’s something familiar about her around the eyes and mouth. I nod.
“That’s me. How can I help?”
“I have a case that I would like you to take.”
“Did I stutter?”
“No, it’s just…”
“You don’t get many schoolgirls in?”
“I understand. I have a case, and I can pay.”
“Really? Do you know our rates?”
She smiles and it worries me, it’s that kind of smile. She opens her backpack and takes out a wafer of notes wrapped in a bank band. They’re all pink, the fifties—my mercenary eye spots that straight off. She puts the wafer on the desk in front of me.
“Okay, so you’re serious. What’s your name?”
She pauses a moment.
I stare at her for a moment.
“My uncle Carlton said this was a favour you owed him.”
I do owe him, but honestly, Carlton MacGregor isn’t the kind of man you can say no to anyway—not if you want your knees to stay bending the right way.
“And the money?”
“I said we’d have to pay you so you’d do good work.”
“What is it exactly you want me to do?” I lean over and take the money. Check it quickly and know the notes are real from the feel. I look up at Carline.
“There’s a flasher.”
“A flasher; as in a bloke in a dirty raincoat showing his bits?”
“That’s it, just no raincoat. It’s been going on nearly six months now. Always girls from my school, before and after school.”
“You want me to find him?”
“Yes, and I want you to make him stop.”
“You got any more?”
She reaches into her bag and passes me out two manila files.
“The first one is pictures from phones and that, the second statement’s from the girls.”
“Check you, Perry Mason.”
She looks confused.
“He was a lawyer on telly, Raymond Burr. Bit before your time.” Shit, it was before mine but thank god for reruns.
“I’m going to be a lawyer, it’s part of my plan.”
“Shit, when I was your age all I was worried about was playing football, chasing girls and finding an offie that would sell me cider.”
“And look at you now…”
I look up at her, annoyed but she laughs, and I sniff it up, along with the residue of the last line sitting inside my nose.
“Will you look into it?”
I tuck the five hundred away and nod.
“Maybe lay off that stuff as well, until you have.”
I wipe my nose, but she is already up and heading for the door.
I leave the chang and vodka in my desk and head out into the dark of the night, sniff and look back thinking maybe I should bring the wrap but know that I shouldn’t, grab a cab and head south, for home. I leave the files until I’ve paid the cabbie off and head upstairs into the security of my flat.
Drop a CD, Ready to Die, into the stereo and mix myself a tall lemonade and vodka, add a splash of lime cordial. I might be able to leave the sniff alone but the booze… Sit myself down and check the file of photos first. They’re all a pretty blurry bunch, but from a quick flick, they all show the same man—blonde, middle-aged and big. More than half of the pictures show him with his cock out, stiff and blurred in the shots but a bit on the small side by my reckoning; more like a toffee hammer than a sledge. None of the pictures are quite good enough for a perfect ID, but I write up a description of him in my notebook.
I check the dates that Carline has provided for when the flasher has struck and grab a calendar from the kitchen. It soon becomes apparent that he is a man of regular habits; Tuesdays and Thursdays towards the end of the month, mainly mornings but occasional afternoons as well.
I find myself feeling too sober, coming down off a coke binge that is making me sweat and wish for my bed in equal measure; cool sheets and a pint of water is all I want. Maybe I can get a drink. That’ll take the edge off, right? Then I remember that it’s half-past eight in the morning and check myself. A couple of school girls look at me and giggle. I sigh and they walk past. From the reports, it was normally on this road that he strikes and it is a Thursday towards the end of the month. I watch a Ford Focus pull up and a big blonde guy get out. Looks like the bloke from the photos. Nice and easy I follow him as he walks away from his car. I snap a shot of his number plates as I follow him. Watch as he gets himself in between an SUV and a transit van. See him fiddling with his zipper. I step into the blindside behind the van. A couple of girls, about fifteen, are walking up towards us. Even from the other side of the van, I hear a zipper going down. Really? This is okay is it, normal Thursday morning—go and whap your cock out on kids. He steps out and thrusts his crotch at the girls, working his member as he does so.
The girls clutch at each other and one of them screams. Fuck this. I step out and walk down the side of the van.
He turns, looking shocked, and I put a straight right into his eye. He stumbles back and then roars like an animal. I stand and look at him. Without zipping up he rushes forward. I step back from his cock and he plants his hands into my chest spilling me onto my arse in the road. I get up as quick as I can but he is up and off around the side of the van. I scramble up and follow but he is halfway back to his car. I sigh and let him go. Not got the legs, or the will this morning. I spark a smoke and text the number plate to Mazza, my business partner, asking for him to get me an address.
I sit on the address for a few days and watch the comings and goings. Truth be told, I’m glad to keep busy. More time for thinking and less for sniffing. I wait until he has dropped his kids at playgroup and then I bang on his door. He opens up and stares at me. I raise my hand palm up.
I nod and he invites me inside. He makes coffee and we sit down at the kitchen table.
“What did you used to do?”
“Well, this ain’t exactly your chosen profession, is it? So what did you used to do?”
“I was head of IT systems at one of the big banks over in the Wharf until the crash.”
He stares down into his own lap. I take a swig of the coffee and it isn’t half bad.
“What does your wife do?”
Ah, things start to make sense.
“And what, you’re feeling a bit emasculated? No reason to show your knob to kids, mate.”
“Those little sluts aren’t kids.”
“Oi. You ever seen what happens to one of you lot inside? It ain’t pretty. We can do this nicely or we can do it the rough way.”
“Well? What are you suggesting?”
I toss a card onto the table.
“Her name’s Siobhan. Looks about thirteen, but she isn’t. Does the whole school uniform thing. Go and see her. You can stand in the corner and have a wank in front of her while she wears the uniform—forty quid a pop.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then I pass your name to some particularly unpleasant people and you’ll be in a shallow grave within a week once they’ve cut your balls off and made you eat them. Look, I’m sick of violence, fucking sick of it, but if you don’t do the right thing, bad shit will come down on you.”
He still won’t look at me but he nods in agreement. I finish my coffee with a smile before heading back to some nice cold sheets.
It’s a week before I know anything is wrong because Carline storms into my office; tie askew and cheeks streaked with tears.
“I thought it was sorted?”
“What else have I paid you five hundred pounds to do?”
“It is sorted.”
“Yeah? How come he did it again then? Worse.”
“Yeah, tried to drag one of my friends into his car.”
“I don’t want to hear it. Give me his address.”
I retrieve the file and write the address out on a Post-it note.
“What are you going to do?”
“Me?” She replies. “I’m not going to do anything but give that to someone else—someone who can get the job done.”
Shit. And then she’s gone.
On my way out, I bell Siobhan and she answers on the third ring.
“Last time I take any clients off you.”
“He was a nut job that’s what. Fuckin’ mental.”
“Just tell me what happened.”
“He gave it a try, stood in the corner trousers round his ankles but he just couldn’t… well, get there—you get me?”
“He started crying and saying this wasn’t right that he had to do it properly. Stormed out. Banged the doors, Charlie, and I can’t be having that.”
“I owe you one, alright?”
“Yeah you owe me two, you bastard.”
Dead the call and wonder why do I care. Let Carlton MacGregor do what he wants, not like I could stop him anyway. Put my phone away, think about heading for a pint but go home instead.
When the intercom in my flat buzzes I’m not surprised. A bottle of wine sits on the side unopened.
“It’s Two Tone.”
“Yeah, yeah come up.”
Shit. Two Tone; one of MacGregor’s watchdogs and one who doesn’t like me much due to a thing I had with his sister more than a decade ago. I open the door and wait. Need to play this by ear. Two Tone takes his time coming up the stairs. When he appears at the top he stares dead at me and then smiles.
“Charlie fuckin’ Bars. Been awhile.”
“T said he’d seen you.”
“Yeah, helped me out with something.”
He nods and I let him into the flat. He looks the place over, takes stock of the wine.
“Sweet, make us one.”
I head over and uncork the bottle, surprised Two Tone drinks wine.
“You know why I’m here?”
I pass him a wine and then pour myself one.
“Take it easy on that, Charlie.”
“We’ve got a bit of a drive…”
I’m the one who has to do the driving. The whip is a non-descript black Prius. Two Tone sits with his hands in his pockets. When he takes them out I see he is wearing a pair of blue latex gloves. I stare at his fingers as he plays with the radio. He leaves it on a station playing 90’s hip-hop.
“Tune,” I comment as the DJ drops Lost Boyz, Me and My Crazy World.
“You know that.”
“How come I ain’t got gloves?”
“Shit, you want some?”
Two Tone reaches into the footwell and pulls out a box of gloves. He holds the wheel while I put a pair on. Once I have them on he passes me a shammy rag to wipe the wheel. It makes me feel better. If he was planning to put two in the back of my head why let me have the gloves? So you don’t think he’ll cap you… Shut up. You armed? Just the cork screw, only thing I had time to pocket. If he even breathes funny stick it in his neck. I nod to myself, the little voice isn’t always wrong.
“You know what your problem is?”
Didn’t realise I had one.
“You’ve lost your place.”
“Yeah. See the way I figure it, I’m a Samurai. Loyal, disciplined, a veteran, part of something.”
“And what am I?”
“Man, you’re just a fucking Ronin now. Masterless. Alone. Wandering.”
“Good to know my place.”
Two Tone nods and gestures with his head at a cut-off from the A-road we’re driving down.
“Take the side lane.”
At the end of the lane we turn onto a dirt track and I follow it down, past a copse of trees, to a mid-sized barn; the windows are covered by grills and the doors look reinforced. Beyond the barn are a couple of smaller outbuildings. My Spidey sense is tingling double time and when Two Tone pops his seat belt I nearly pull the corkscrew. He smiles at me.
“Come. We got a job to do.”
Two Tone takes out a ring of keys and unlocks the padlocks on the doors then goes to the boot of the car and retrieves a leather gym bag that he passes to me. Guessing there’s more than just his football kit in it from the weight. He gestures for me to lead the way and I step into the darkness that lies beyond.
Hard to see anything in the gloom until Two Tone steps in, closes the doors, and flips a switch. Stark light floods the space and I see everything far too clearly. The place is dirt floored, there’s a couple of camp beds, a table and a pair of chairs—there’s also a grimy bathtub. The flasher, or what’s left of him, is hanging by his hands from an iron rung in one of the roof beams. He’s been tied there with barbed wire that has cut deep into his forearms and wrists. Someone has done a real job on him; his ears and nose are gone, teeth smashed to splinters, nipples burnt to nothing, cigarette burns and shallow knife marks cover his torso, his fingers and toes are twisted at strange angles, and between his legs is a bloody mess.
“Jesus, is he…”
“Fuck. He better be, else mans ain’t done their job properly.”
Two Tone strips off his jacket and then his T-shirt. He kicks off his trainers and comes out of his jeans. He turns and sees me staring.
“Do the same unless you want to hitch a ride back in your pants…”
I follow suit with a sick feeling growing in my stomach. When we’re stood in our pants, Two Tone opens the bag and starts taking things out. I see saws and knives of different shapes and weights.
“It’s easy to fuck this up. We want to go fast and efficient. I tell you what to do and you do it, yeah?”
I nod and he laughs.
“Shit. Charlie fucking Bars looking like he come off the teacups at Chessington or some shit.”
“What are we doing here?”
He shakes his head like I’m simple.
“Cutting a man up so the bits are easier to burn.”
“Well, it’s either that or I go back and tell Mr MacGregor how you don’t want to make amends.”
“Just show me what to do.”
Turns out, Two Tone had signed himself up for a butchery course through one of the fancy places in Borough Market. While hipsters learnt to spatchcock a pheasant and housewives were taught to stuff sausage skins, Two Tone was learning for other reasons.
Mainly, I just hold the limbs still while he de-joints them and saws them into pieces. Then I bag them up before holding the head in place while he works through the neck and spine. It’s hot bloody work, and I retch a couple of times. He opens up the body cavity and removes the organs, tossing them into a bag I hold open.
“Nearly there,” he mutters as he breaks the sternum and goes to work on the ribs.
I walk over to the desk for a bottle of water. The bottle is halfway to my lips before I see it —a school tie. Carline. I stare at the piece of fabric and start wondering.
“You helping or not?”
It snaps me out of the moment and I head back to the tub.
When we are done, we take turns in hosing each other down, looking for any errant gore or blood spatter. Then we carry the bags out to one of the out-buildings and fire up a small furnace. It smells like barbeque and the thought makes me turn away, bile rising fast. Two Tone makes me wait until the bones are cracked and blackened, then lets me loose on them with a sledgehammer. By the end, all that’s left of the flasher is a pile of black dust being grabbed at by the draught from an ill-fitting door.
After we finish, Two Tone cleans his tools. Then we dress and get back into the car. We drive back to London in silence, radio off. Two Tone drops me back at my door.
“Shit, man. You look like you need a holiday or something.”
I feel like that is exactly what I need.