Jewellery Quarter

The instructions were clear: Get off at the Jewellery Quarter and head for the cemetery. You’ll get a call. We’ll tell you what to do. Drake stood from Snow Hill, gripping the hand rail as the train squealed across points. It was a damp, chill, October morning. Mist hung in a waist-high band where concrete and brick was broken by canal or wasteland. A window was open in the next carriage. An icy blast of air found Drake as they rattled through the tunnels. He shuddered and ducked his chin into his jacket.
He grabbed the holdall, testing its weight in his palm, and stood at the door. A guy with a white stick got off, tapping the platform and stairwell. Drake popped a gum and waited. Blind people gave him the creeps. When he was a kid a fat guy with gummy eyes would stand in the Market Square and whistle Amazing Grace. The guy had a greasy trilby jingling with coins at his feet. People thought the blind guy was strange, irritating. One afternoon a boy had whistled and danced a jig and put the blind guy off his tune. He was chased by two men. Drake saw them slap him. The boy sank against a wall and cried. No one liked the blind man, but you didn’t say it.
Drake climbed the tiled stairs. The station seemed to be built into a deep gorge. Drake stepped into the sunlight, blinking. He spat his gum into the gutter. Outside the station was a cast iron urinal you might see in France. There was a sculpture of watch parts made from metal. The metal had been shiny, but was fogged by diesel and grime. He turned right, fishing in his jacket for his Marlboro Lights. He took a cigarette and lit it, cupping his hands, despite the lack of breeze. It was all part of the routine; a chance to check he wasn’t being followed. A white van shot past with a Blues bumper sticker. The driver chucked on the anchors and angled into a tight spot. Drake crossed and ducked under a sycamore. The grass was sodden. Clumps of loose turf stuck to his boots and trousers. At his feet were lilies and tulips. A small spray had been arranged in a container resembling a giant pepper pot. The headstone read: In Loving Memory. Emily Frances McKay died January 23, 1907. Drake doubted anyone would remember him. His mobile sounded. Drake’s palm was slick with sweat as he gripped the phone.
‘Yeah,’ he said.
‘Abrupt and to the point as ever.’
‘I’m here. Where do you want me?’
Harley coughed.
‘You’ve got the bag?’
Drake said he had.
‘And it’s got-‘
‘Everything is in there,’ Drake said.
‘I want you to walk to the catacombs.’
A council workman in a fluorescent orange vest was watching him. Drake sat on a bench, patting the holdall. He stretched back in the seat, making expansive gestures with his hand as if he were talking to a friend.
‘I’m surprised you didn’t check the place out first,’ Harley said, ‘you’re losing your touch.’
Drake frowned. There was silence. He could wait.
‘You’re at the top of the cemetery,’ Harley said, ‘behind you is a line of parked cars and beyond that a row of shops. Turn around right now-’
Drake did as he was told.
‘You’re looking at Regency Jewellers.’
Drake shook his head. Harley was watching him, then. He scanned the trees, buildings. There was no movement, no shadows in any of the parked cars.
‘Don’t waste your time,’ Harley said, ‘Now; walk straight ahead.’
Drake set off along the gravel path. Stones scraped beneath his boots like sandpaper. He smelt a distant bonfire. Fallen leaves had pulped to thick mulch. He wondered about those catacombs. He was five minutes from the middle of Birmingham, not Athens or Rome.
‘Keep walking. Now tell me: what do you see?’
Drake scratched his scalp. The phone was hot where he’d held it against his cheek.
‘I see graves. There are plenty of dead people.’
‘What else?’ Harley said.
Drake shrugged. There were marble angels, granite tombs, Grecian urns draped in fabric. On the horizon he could see high-rise flats, white against a graphite sky, and a hospital chimney.
‘Keep walking then.’
Drake stopped suddenly. There was a black, metal railing mounted on a stone wall. Beyond, the ground gave way to a drop of maybe thirty or forty feet. Drake stood at the base of a horseshoe. The shape had been carved out of the natural slope in the land. Below him were three tiers of arches; each a little doorway built into the stone walls that shored up the bank.
‘Didn’t expect that, did you Drake?’
Drake didn’t answer.
‘They were built by the Victorians. They’re pretty impressive, eh?’
Drake sighed, dreading a local history lesson. Harley’s story was well known. His family was broke. He had an alcoholic father and three kid brothers to feed. Harley’s solution: to cut his dad with a razor and start loaning cash. He bought clubs and pubs, even a dog track. But what Harley had really wanted was an education. Drake moved the phone to his other ear.
‘What now?’
‘There’s a granite slab, name of Thomas Guest.’
‘There are a lot of slabs.’
‘Look at the arches. One’s blacked out.’
Drake saw the only arch that hadn’t been filled with mortar. It stood out like a rotten tooth.
‘Leave the bag out front, behind the bush.’
The line went dead. Drake hefted the bag onto his shoulder and walked the slope between levels. He stood in front of the granite slab, dropping the bag at his feet. The sun was rising over an obelisk tomb high above the catacombs and burning off the last of the mist.
‘I’ve got the five K,’ Drake said.
He chuckled when no one responded. What was he expecting: a zombie to reach out of the tomb and grab it? He stooped to slide the bag under the weeds sprouting from the tomb.
‘Thomas Guest you’re five grand richer,’ he said.
‘Oh and there’s another little something for you. I’ve put a little surprise in there-‘
Drake reached for his mobile. He hit speed dial. The phone rang out. He cursed when DI Dalton didn’t answer. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Drake didn’t see the shift in light or sense the rushing air. If he had, there would have been no chance to move. A coping stone scraped free of its mortar and dropped from the top of the catacombs. It felled Drake at the neck and shoulder with a dull thwack. The blow brought darkness. Drake slumped to his knees, rocking forward as if in prayer. Above, Sparrow lit a cigarette and puffed into the frosty air.
‘Did you get that, Ant?’
Ant was wearing a Russian hat and a donkey jacket. People said he was stupid and backward because Ant had a faint trace of a smile that never left his lips. Sparrow let Ant hang around because Ant did what he was told. Ant gripped the camcorder and gave Sparrow the thumbs up.
‘I got him. Just the bloody ticket, eh?’
‘Come on then, kid. We’ve got work to do.’
Sparrow stubbed his fag on the wall. He trotted down the gravel path as if he were fetching the papers on holiday. Recent heavy rain had scorched trenches in the path. The council had propped up the far end of the wall where it had begun to give way.
‘There’s no one round here, Sparrow. But I wouldn’t hang about.’
Mick Sayers was leaning on a rake. He’d put on weight and his orange council vest was two sizes too small, bulging against each press-stud. Sparrow had been through high school with Mick. He’d helped him out with money, so Mick owed him.
‘We’ll be twenty minutes,’ Sparrow said.
Sayers fingered his chin.
‘Don’t worry, Mick. Go and get a cup of tea.’
Sparrow felt under Drake’s collar. There was a faint pulse. He shook his head. That slab could have felled an ox. Sparrow spat at Drake’s feet. He turned and kicked out sending a wire bin tumbling across the path, spilling withered roses and spent, crumpled cans of Special Brew and super-strength cider. A used condom trailed a snail-slick across the grass verge. Sparrow bent at the knees and dragged two sandstone blocks from the front of the tomb.

‘Go on then.’
‘No way,’ Ant said.
He was gnawing at his fingernails.
‘Sooner you do it, the sooner we can bugger off.’
Ant’s eyes widened. Sparrow sighed, pulled a clutch of notes from his shirt pocket and began counting; licking a fingertip each time he turned a note. Ant eyed the notes greedily, dropped to his knees and tugged at Drake’s sleeve.
‘I’ll help you. You’ll never shift him like that.’
They took an arm each and dragged Drake to the opening of the tomb. Ant’s knees cracked as he got to his feet.
‘What are you playing at?’ Sparrow said.
Ant sighed and shook his head.
‘I can’t.’
Sparrow took two twenties, folded them and patted them into Ant’s jacket pocket. Ant swallowed, nodded and crouched down next to Drake.
‘He’s still alive. I don’t like it,’ he said.
Sparrow shook his head.
‘The pulse carries on for a bit. He’s dead though.’
Ant stared at Sparrow, searching for the truth. He bit his lip and edged into the tomb backwards. He took Drake’s arms and dragged him into the darkness as Sparrow pushed. As Drake’s legs and feet entered the void Sparrow took care to film the scene on Ant’s camcorder.
‘It’s captured for posterity. Weddings, parties, anniversaries and premature burials – we do the lot,’ he said.
Ant crawled out of the tomb, patting his jacket down for dust and insects. A thin shaft of sunlight lit the soles of Drake’s trainers.
‘You ready then?’ Sayers said.
He held a black bucket in his left hand. He handed Sparrow a pointing trowel. Between them they pushed the sandstone blocks into place and began to cement them.

‘Do you always bring your girlfriends to graveyards?’
Finch smiled. Greta was winding him up. He draped an arm over her shoulder. He was past the stage where he had to pretend to yawn before doing that. Greta wore a long black velvet dress cut like spiders’ webs at the hem and a purple embroidered waistcoat. Finch stretched for the top button, unpicking it expertly.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’
Greta stared at him, so Finch shrugged.
‘I didn’t tell you to stop.’
The lads in his year said Greta was too fat. Finch didn’t mind she was carrying a few extra pounds, because Greta would put out. She was the grateful type. Greta slapped his hand.
‘Not here. Over there,’ she said.
She tugged Finch’s hand, crossed the path and ducked under a dripping yew. Finch grinned, watching Greta perch on the edge of a tomb. She pulled her knees up and hitched up her dress.
‘Here?’ Finch said.
Greta patted the tomb. It was speckled with moss.
‘Have you got any?’ Finch said.
Greta sighed and reached into her bag. She held out a Durex.
‘There you go, Extra Safe just like you.’
‘There’s no need to take the piss.’
Finch looked up at the walls. He couldn’t see anyone. But people did come here for a coffee or a pasty at lunch. You could see the greasy bakers’ bags and crumpled cups dumped in the grass. He’d bet local history types brought cameras here too. Finch didn’t fancy his hairy backside being caught on someone’s Nikon.
‘Are you coming or what?’
Greta lifted her top, flashing her breasts. Finch felt stiffening in his trousers. He heard a low moan.
‘What was that?’ he said.
Greta scowled.
‘I can see I’m wasting my time. You prefer to talk.’
Finch put a finger to his lips. The moan came again. This time both of them heard it.
‘What the hell was that?’
Finch moved toward the sound.
‘If you’re messing around it’s not funny,’ Greta said.
‘I’m not a frigging ventriloquist,’ Finch said, cursing his luck as Greta hitched up her knickers.

‘Was he dead or was he alive,’ Harley said.
Sparrow bit his lip.
‘I’m not a doctor.’
‘You’ve bricked him up alive.’
Harley picked at his nails with a metal file. He found something he didn’t like, frowned, and flicked it to the carpet.
‘Where’s the bag then? Where’s my fucking money?’
Sparrow swallowed.
‘Do I have to bring that idiot in?’
Ant was sat outside, his feet tapping out a rhythm on the tiles.
‘I don’t know,’ Sparrow said.
Harley got up and walked to the window. He pulled the blind back with a pencil.
‘I suggest you go out and find my money pretty fucking quick.’
Sparrow didn’t wait for Harley to turn round. He tapped Ant’s shoulder and they took the stairs two at a time.

Drake squinted till they turned down the lights. The doctors seemed pleased with him. They’d shone torches in his pupils, tapped his knees and tickled the soles of his feet with ballpoint pens. His speech was slow, mumbled.
‘You’re concussed, but you’ll be alright,’ the doctor said.
The police sat at the end of his bed and waited, despite Sister David warning them he wasn’t fit for interview. Drake had shaken his head and mimed it was OK. He couldn’t talk so they handed him a pad. It hurt to grip the pen, despite the warm fuzziness of the painkillers. He scribbled the outline of a bag; a rectangle really, with two handles.
‘It was with you,’ Inspector Dalton said.
Drake wanted to know why Dalton hadn’t answered his mobile, but that would have to wait for now. Dalton walked around the foot of the bed.
‘The bag’s with the lab. I trust we’ll find Harley’s prints?’ he said.
Drake grinned. His tongue was furry and his mouth tasted like copper. Dalton’s men had arrested Sparrow and Ant when they’d returned to the scene. Harley’s dabs were all over a two-kilo bag of coke. Drake knew he’d been stupid to trust Dalton. The police should have been there with him, but then they’d wanted Harley’s men and the bag. He’d let his life hang on a mobile phone call. Dalton’s head began to blur in the daylight. The bed was perfectly still, but he couldn’t escape the sensation of movement. Clouds scudded across a bruised sky. A helium balloon offering cheap car insurance was anchored to an old chimney. Drake felt weightless. He sank back into the mattress. Dalton had placed an armed guard outside. Drake would be very useful to Dalton. He would tell them where the bodies were buried, because he’d almost been one.
Jewellery Quarter


About richlakin

I write about things that interest me
This entry was posted in Crime, Short Stories and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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