Out of Darkness
His head was obscured by a black felt hat, but Spencer would know that walk anywhere. Seven years had passed and he’d all but given up hope when Bishop strolled across the cobbles.
Spencer’s life changed on a grey, wet Monday that had promised little more than a stolen early finish. He was at work at a garden centre called Brambles, providing intensive care for wilting delphiniums. The weekends were busiest, when the coffin-dodgers came out for a jam scone and a pot of Earl Grey, but Mondays were deadly quiet. So when Dennis the duty manager slunk off early Spencer shrugged on his raincoat. Sometimes he just had to get out, to escape the bloody trellises and the hanging baskets, the incessant panpipe music.
He’d no money for the pub but had a couple of cans of Kestrel chilling in the fridge. He slumped in his chair and popped one, while kicking off his shoes. His white sports socks were lined with peat at the laces, his big toes poking through the perished cotton. He lit a roll-up, drew the smoke deep into his lungs and punched on the TV. The remote was bust, so Spencer had a length of dowelling rod he jabbed at the buttons on the set. A news reporter was pointing at a harbour. His bouffant hair was caught in the wind like chimney smoke in a child’s drawing.
It was May, but everyone was buttoned up in scarves, despite the sunshine. Typical bloody British seaside, Spencer thought. He’d suffered daytrips as a kid, queuing for burgers and candy floss in the rain or slipping two pence pieces into the shuffling shelf that never spilled the jackpot. The reporter was pointing to a strip of pebbly beach where a swan had been washed up. The caption read: Fife, Scotland, unconfirmed reports of bird flu
He was prodding the buttons and missing, in search of sport, when a familiar figure on the screen made him freeze. Spencer leapt from the chair, cranking the volume up. The set crackled and Mrs Pool next door started thumping the wall.
An unkempt figure in a wide-brimmed hat trailed a battered raincoat across the cobbles. Spencer couldn’t see beyond the straggly beard, the creased raincoat or the greasy hat. He held a white sandwich board. ‘Out of darkness’ was daubed in black paint. At a glance he was your typical lunatic street preacher, but there was no doubting it was Bishop.
‘I knew you were out there,’ Spencer said.
He glugged back the lager till it fizzed in his nostrils.
The job had been three months in planning, though Spencer would never admit it had taken him that long to work up to it. He’d never killed anyone. He guessed it was like losing your virginity: you could bluff and bullshit the ignorant, but those who’d taken a life saw the lie in your eyes.
They’d taken five grand upfront with a further twenty to follow. They met Mr Jervis at Stafford services, a little past nine on a bitter January night. Hoar frost sparkled in the fields and Spencer’s breath rose in plumes. He nursed a machine coffee, speckled with tasteless chocolate, while Bishop paced the corridor, fiddling in his pockets, rattling change. Mr Jervis didn’t eat or drink, but twisted and folded a serviette tracing sharp lines with a manicured thumbnail. He told them that Blake would have to be killed. He would require a photograph. Did he not trust them to finish the job, Bishop asked. Mr Jervis said no, he wanted the photo so a death mask could be made of Blake. Bishop asked for a reason to do it. Because we’re getting paid, Spencer snapped. Mr Jervis scratched the corner of his mouth. The hairs on his fingers were thick and wiry as steel wool.
‘Do you need a reason?’ he said.
Bishop was tearing sachets of sugar, piling the crystals with the heel of his hand.
‘Would it make you feel better about killing him if I told you he likes little boys?’
Bishop frowned. ‘Does he?’
‘If you like,’ Mr Jervis said.
Spencer kicked Bishop’s filthy tennis shoes under the table. No more questions, he mouthed. Mr Jervis slid a photo across the table. Blake was leaning on a doorframe smoking, squinting up at the sun. A slab of fat hung over his trousers, each shirt button straining over a low-strung belt.
‘Plenty to aim at,’ Bishop said, grinning.
Spencer hated him and his threadbare show of confidence.
He had no idea why Bishop had chosen Fife. He’d checked Bishop’s friends and his family, his known contacts, the blokes he’d done time with. He’d chased leads in London and Spain, kipping on mate’s sofas, but always running from Mr Jervis’s people. Nothing led to Bishop until now.
He pulled into a tight space, blinking away the ghosts of taillights and broken white lines. The services were empty. Eggs and sausage patties were warming on hot plates. A cleaner in a brown check tabard was mopping S’s across the floor. Spencer ordered coffee and a bacon roll and took a seat in the corner, ignoring a sign that said, ‘Area Closed.’ He took out a map of Scotland and smoothed it flat on the table, weighing it down with his mug and cutlery. Golf and fishing Spencer thought, staring at Fife. He doubted Bishop had any idea about either. Bishop had always preferred a claw hammer to a four iron.