“I don’t work for pimps.”
And I don’t. I hate ponces, one step up from the pond life on the seg-wings.
“Ain’t like that, Charlie,” wheezes Vlad the Inhaler before he takes another hit on his blue plastic asthma pump.
“What it is like then?”
“I’m not looking to get some girl brought back. Well, I want her back – but not like that.”
Mouthful left in my pint time to finish this up.
“Get to the point, Vlad.”
“Look, I drop her to this job, right, wait in the car. Decent hotel and I’m pals with the night manager and guy who works security. Nothing bad should happen, we got a code and shit. Anyway, an hour goes by – I ain’t worried. Another twenty minutes. Nothing from Shells. If the punter wants extra time he has to pay and she lets me know. Another twenty minutes and then I have to go and find her, like. Make sure she’s alright.”
“Protect your investment.”
“Exactly. My mate on the desk says no way is he letting me up to a guest’s room. But then he says the geezer has checked out!” Vlad shakes his head “So I ask if Shells was with him and he says no…”
I fight against it but he’s piqued my interest now.
“And what is it you want me to do?”
“Find her. Make sure she’s alright.”
I wouldn’t risk a fiver on it but I swear it looks like Vlad almost cares. But could be more to do with lost merchandise than human emotion.
“Alright. I’ll look.”
A roll of money crosses the tabletop to me. It looks like pimp money; worn, dirty, tenners.
“Two hundred, Charlie. Same again when she’s back.”
I find myself sat in a glorified broom cupboard with a guy in a white polyester shirt and a B.O. problem. He has some tapes for me.
First off, the punter arriving, picture’s grainy but I can pick out general bits about him; late-forties, tall, average build, balding, glasses. He’s wheeling a large case from the lifts to the room like he’s in for a long stay.
“Got the timings down so you ain’t gotta watch the boring bits.”
The timestamp shows three hours have passed. Out of the lift comes our second contestant – Shells; mane of thick hair, long coat, nice little walk in her three-inch-heels that even on bad video I can appreciate. She knocks and goes into the room. The video moves on. The punter comes out the room after twenty minutes. Wheels his case to the lift.
“He order anything to the room?”
“No, but drank the mini-bar dry of Johnny Walker red-label.”
“Cheers.” I tip him a pair of score notes, always good to cultivate new contacts and I know Vlad’s a cheapskate.
I get my business partner, Mazza, running down the address and name that the man gave. Got a funny feeling it won’t be that simple. Stare at the pint in front of me and try to think. The girl must’ve been in the case, my only real question is whether she was dead or alive. Dead –she’ll turn up in a left-luggage office or floating in a canal.
But alive, that’s a different kettle-of-fish entirely.
Turns out it was as simple as that. Guy had used a skud I.D. to book the room and paid in cash but when he checked out he had to pay for the Johnny Walker. He used a card in a different name. Guess he didn’t think that a pimp could have contacts in the hotel or that we’d be able to track him.
I’m outside a rundown house in Holland Park; gated, covered in ivy, dark-looking place, and stinking of money despite the appearance to the contrary. Gloves on, cap brim shadowing my face, thumb a scarf over my mouth and go over the wall.
The garden’s overgrown and I see a sun dial amongst the weeds. Must be a camera up somewhere as a side-door opens and a guy steps out. Hirsute to the level that if he shaved at nine the five-o’clock shadow would be back by ten.
“Do I look like I care?”
I watch his hand slip behind his waist and come out holding a wooden cosh. Smile. The hammer drops out my sleeve. He swallows hard then swings high but I duck and go low; rattle his ribs, then clock him in the eye with a straight left. He drops like I’ve cut his strings. Step over him.
Inside it stinks of more incense than a Chinese massage parlour. Walk through the fugue and listen. Moans and groans coming from upstairs. Take the stairs two at a time. Stop on the landing and listen again. Turn a door handle and step inside. The house might be dark but this room is light and plush with hung silks. In the centre of the room there’re mattresses, futons or whatever, and bodies cavorting on them. I’ve not seen this amount of naked flesh since the last time I looked at a news agents top shelf; I count at least half-a-dozen-women plus the man from the hotel. He’s dressed in lilac robes with a gold band around his head. Shells lies in the middle of it all laid out like an offering; glassy-eyed, vacant, hair damp with sweat, naked.
Another nude woman, an angular faced brunette, wraps herself around my legs and moans. Look down at her; her eyes look almost as glassy as Shells. Bang, a fist catches me from my blindside. I throw a backhand into the woman who punched me, enough that she feels it but nothing permanent. Show the rest the hammer and they draw back. The man stands and reaches for a curved knife on a low table.
They never listen. He comes at me with the blade held high and obvious. Block his wrist with mine on the downward swipe and then jam the hammer into his jaw, hard. He stumbles away spitting blood and bits of tooth. I stalk after him and the women scream. Throw a blow into his lower back and when he arches away from it. I hit him in the back of the head, not as hard as I could but enough to lay him out. The women swarm to him cooing like a loft full of pigeons and Shells goes to follow. I grab her by the top of her arm and lead her to the door.
“Time to go.”
Vlad sits opposite me.
“Well what?” I reply.
“Where is she?”
He sits back, a bad look creeping up his face but then I’ve stood nose to nose with real bad men and Vlad ain’t one of them.
“Didn’t tell me Shells surname did you…”
“What’s that got to do with the price of shite?”
I leave that hanging. Everyone around here knows the Donnelly’s. They aren’t players as such but there are a lot of them, old Irish docker stock, and they don’t take shit from anyone – especially jumped up little ponces like Vlad.
“Nah, she ain’t one of them Donnelly’s…”
“Why don’t you hang about. When I got her straightened out I dropped her home. Her family were well pleased. Vernon, you know – her dad, he was so pleased he said he wanted to buy me a pint,” check my watch “should be down anytime now…”
Vlad comes out of his chair so quickly he almost leaves his shoes behind.
“The other two hundred?”