Crime · Short Stories

Wrench – a crime story

They left messages

Emma had begged and pleaded and left little sticky notes on the cooker hood and pinned to the cork board above the sink. She’d left catalogues open at the right page on the kitchen table and printouts folded and stuffed in Michelle’s handbag or the dash in the car. No means no, Michelle had said, determined to make a stand. You’re thirteen for God’s sake. Emma had roped her Auntie Julia in, but Julia would agree with anything once she’d cracked open the Merlot.
Michelle went through it all in her head again. All that stuff she’d read in the papers about stalkers and weirdos and stuff happened to other people, didn’t it? Emma showed her mum the local free-sheet. She pointed to an article from the police – WE’RE WATCHING YOU – saying they were online and working hard to combat cyber-crime and grooming. Michelle felt herself wavering, blowing the surface of her tea while she bought time to consider. Emma was a bright girl and you couldn’t watch them all the time, could you? You do your best for them and you send them out into the world, Gary said, as if he’d know. He’d hit the road before Emma had left nursery.
Emma was relentless in wearing her down. All the others have got one. I’m always the one who sticks out, aren’t I? Michelle folded her arms, said her decision was final. End of, she said. But a little voice, like an angel perched on her shoulder, kept telling her: this was you once, Michelle Harvey. You didn’t want to be the odd one out either. She tried not to think of the crepe pumps she’d been forced to wear for PE and the little cord bag she had to carry with her name stitched into the side in shiny gold thread when all the other girls had the latest sports bags. She’d sucked up all that embarrassment, all that shame and here she was passing it on.
‘You’ve got a phone,’ she tried. ‘I don’t see the problem.’
Emma curled her lip. ‘Oh, big deal.’
Michelle took Emma’s hands in hers, but they were stiff and cold. She was wearing perfume, one of her own she’d been bought for Christmas though, no longer a stolen snatch of Michelle’s Marc Jacobs. She didn’t know whether to feel glad or offended about that, but her girl was becoming a woman. ‘Love you, you know.’ Emma muttered that she knew and slumped on the settee, tucking her feet beneath the cushions and ending the conversation.
‘It’s just because I care about you, that’s all.’ She might have added that she knew what men were like, but that would only bring a scoff from Emma. ‘I’m just making sure you stay safe.’
‘Dad says it’s alright.’
‘And he’s concerned about your welfare now, is he?’ Michelle had been separated from Gary for three years. He’d spent two of them at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Gary spared them no time, sent them no money. His sometime role as a parent was agreeing with whatever his daughter wanted and forcing Michelle into the unwanted and thankless role of bad cop.
‘At least he gives me space.’
Yes, twenty-three miles of it, Michelle almost said. ‘You get a lot more freedom than I ever did, young lady.’ Young lady was a borrowed phrase, one of her mother’s. Michelle caught sight of herself in the wardrobe mirror, pale and blotchy and crowbarred into her size 14 jeans, with knitted brows and tired hair that was dull and greasy. Christ, she was becoming her mother. ‘I’m sorry, love,’ she said. Funny that it was the image of her mother – what she was becoming or might become – that broke her in the end. ‘But there’s got to be some ground rules.’ She hated herself, knowing she’d lost already.
Three days later a package arrived and Emma snatched at it, tearing the tablet from the bubble wrap. Michelle was fumbling through the packaging, looking for one of those tiny instruction books in seventeen languages when she noticed Emma was halfway to setting it up, her fingertips gliding across the screen. This was her first tablet, but she didn’t need lessons. Michelle pursed her lips, tried not to think what she might have got up to on Beth’s and Hannah’s already. Emma sprawled out on the settee and took a snap of herself and shared it, squealing when the reply came back from Bethany.
You joined the 21st century at last xx
Emma sprang from the cushions, threw her arms around her mother, hugging her so tight that Michelle’s mohair sweater tickled her cheek. ‘Thanks mum, you’re the best.’
‘Yeah, I have some uses.’
Michelle made them tea, hovering in the hallway while the kettle came to the boil and messages pinged back and forth from Emma’s tablet. Each time a message popped up a little bell rang. Did she have so many friends to talk to? Emma sensed her mother’s presence and tilted the screen away. ‘I’m OK mum. I’m not hacking into the Pentagon or anything like that.’ Michelle held her hands up in surrender. She scalded the pot and leant on the worktop while the tea steeped, thinking it wasn’t the right moment but she’d have to restrict Emma’s time, ask for the tablet to be left on the mantle where she could see it, or at least turned off late at night. It wasn’t as if she was a technophobe – Michelle had a mobile phone – but Emma said it was an embarrassment. It was one of those ‘ancient bricks’ Emma said with big, clunky numbers on it for ‘coffin dodgers with cataracts.’ Most of Michelle’s friends were always online, but she wasn’t interested. After a day staring at a computer screen at the call centre, the last thing she wanted to see was another keyboard.
‘You’ll be old one day,’ Michelle said, although she was only forty-one. Later, when the bells failed to ring, she saw the screen on the tablet would light up for a few seconds, so Emma must’ve silenced it. She texted Gary, something she hadn’t done for weeks. He told her to lighten up. All the kids are doing it and you would be too if you weren’t so old. He’d put a smiley face after that as if he hadn’t meant it. Gary’s latest model, Amber, was twenty-one.
Emma was running a hot bath so Michelle microwaved her tea – she hated waste – and went online. Michelle tried to concentrate, reading what other parents were saying and doing as she sipped her tea. She didn’t sleep that night and kept tossing and turning, wrapped up in the covers, when her phone vibrated on the bedside cabinet. She squinted at the green diodes on the alarm clock, bleary-eyed. It was a little past two. It was Gary and he’d been drinking – the only time he got to thinking – if you could call it that.
Any bother with fellas you know where to come
Michelle took a sip of water. Another message pinged from Gary. Something about ‘doing time’ if any fella laid a hand on his ‘little girl.’ She turned off her phone and padded across the landing to the toilet. Unusually for a teenager Emma slept with her bedroom door ajar. She hated the dark and settled for the soft amber shade of the landing light poking through the crack in the door. Michelle peeped around the door, watching Emma just the same as she had when she’d been in her cot. Still my baby, she thought. Emma was curled up foetal and the duvet had rucked up between her back and the wall. Michelle kicked off her slippers and crept across the soft shag pile carpet. She’d almost reached the chest of drawers when she froze as the tablet vibrated, its screen bathing the white ceiling in a rectangle of soft blue light. Michelle stood perfectly still, breathing through her nose, waiting for her pulse to settle and stop thumping in her neck. Emma shuffled under the covers and turned in towards the wall. Michelle was being stupid. It’d be some automated email, she told herself. She must’ve waited three or four minutes until she was sure Emma was sound and her breathing steady. She reached across the pile of clothes Emma had kicked off and took the tablet, holding it almost at arm’s length as if it was a bomb that might go off. She inched back across the landing and closed her bedroom door with a toe, listening to check Emma hadn’t moved. Michelle made a break in the curtains and sat down on the window ledge. It wasn’t quite a full moon, but you could see its milky reflection in the windows and windscreens along the avenue. She’d seen the message, a man’s name. It wasn’t a name she knew.
Are you awake? 
She took a deep breath, muttered ‘sorry’ and swiped the screen to read.

Did Emma know she’d read her messages? Three nights had passed and Emma had hidden the tablet while she slept. It wasn’t in the bedside cabinet, wasn’t stuffed in the growing pile of laundry. Gary told her not to worry. She’s home, isn’t she? There hadn’t been much to read, after all. Whoever ‘Jack’ was he seemed to want to talk about music mostly, sometimes films.

Friday evening, a little before teatime, Michelle was stacking towels in the airing cupboard when Emma sidled past on her way to the bathroom. ‘Oh yes?’ she said.
‘I’m getting ready,’ Emma said and slammed the bathroom door, sliding the bolt across.
‘What are you getting ready for?’
Emma sighed, stepping into the shower. ‘I’m going out with Fee and Beck.’
‘You can have your tea first. We need to talk.’
Michelle was picking up socks and crumpled T-shirts when she saw the tablet on Emma’s jeans at the end of her bed. Michelle sat on the end of the bed, listening for the gush of the shower head, the creak of the copper pipes. She swiped the screen and began to read.

Gary told her to lock the doors and windows, said he was working local and he’d be round in twenty. ‘Blame me if you like. She’s going nowhere.’
‘She’s already gone.’
‘She’s done what?’
Michelle rubbed her forehead. ‘She’s not a little girl anymore, Gary. I couldn’t keep her here.’ He cut the connection. Ten minutes later he was hammering on the porch door. She’d changed the locks the day he’d walked out. He was in filthy mechanic’s overalls, with paint spattered down the shins. At least he hadn’t brought Amber. ‘Where the hell is she?’
‘She’s out with her friends.’
‘And you know that, do you?’
Michelle filled the kettle. ‘They called for her. She’s gone into town. She’ll be OK.’
Gary cracked his knuckles. ‘How do you know they’re not covering for her? How do you know she’s not with him, Shell?’
She slid his mug across the table, handed him the sugar. He still took three sugars, was still built like a streak of piss. She opened the kitchen drawer and took the tablet out from beneath the tea towels. ‘She hasn’t arranged anything. I’ve been reading their little chats.’
‘Does she know you’re doing that?’
‘No. Well I don’t think so.’
‘She’s got a password?’
‘She has to share it with me. That’s the rule. But she’d hardly be happy about me reading this, would she?’ She tapped the screen, entered the password and handed it to him. He scrolled up and down, his jaw clenched and she saw that familiar tic in his cheek. Gary shrugged. ‘He’s some dirty old man.’
‘But what if he’s her age? What if he’s just a lad?’
Gary shook his head. ‘Doesn’t feel right.’ Gary was typing. He held the tablet, frowned and deleted what he’d written before starting again. ‘That’s better. Look’
What R U doing?
They sipped their coffees. Gary said to wait. Michelle was washing up when the tablet vibrated.
‘It’s him. What did I tell you?’ Gary said.
‘What if he’s a mate, Gaz?’
Gary wasn’t listening. He typed away, grinning when replies came back. ‘Nine tonight,’ he said.
‘We shouldn’t be doing this, Gaz. She told the truth. She isn’t meeting him.’
Gary’s jaw clenched. ‘You seen what he’s been writing?’ He jabbed a finger at the screen. ‘Asking her if she’s got a bloke?’
‘Remember some of the stuff you wrote to me?’
‘That was different.’
‘How?’
‘She’s my girl. If he’s done nothing wrong, well he’s nothing to worry about, has he?’ Gary got up. ‘Catch you later, petal.’
‘Gaz, are you going after him?’
Gary gave her a wink. ‘That’s for me to know, sweets. You sit tight.’
Michelle climbed the stairs and watched Gary from a gap in the bedroom curtains. He was slinging stuff about in the back of his van. He slammed the back doors, didn’t bother to padlock them. He pulled a woolly hat down to his ears as he broke into a stride. A wrench gleamed in his right fist. What had she done?

Gary chose a spot behind the bandstand, clearing a space in the litter and dead leaves beneath a sprawling rhododendron bush. The Dingle was where he’d first met Michelle. He’d been drinking cider, couldn’t remember what he was doing there, maybe fishing. It was something her mates had fixed up. She was shy and unsure of him, the first girl who’d made him wait for a proper kiss.
The bench by the river was what he’d agreed with Jack. Now Gary was cursing himself realising there must have been ten benches by the river, stretching from the war memorial all the way to the weir. It was cool for summer and that suited him. He didn’t want folk poking around, didn’t want any witnesses. A couple of students were kissing, drumming their heels against the bandstand. An old fella was walking his terrier sniff and piss against every dandelion. Gary got to his feet when he spotted a bloke in tracksuit bottoms and a faded baseball cap hanging about under the bridge. Gary felt for the wrench in the leaves, gripping the cold metal and sliding it up his sleeve.
Gary walked along the river path, hands stuffed in his pockets and his head bowed. If this was Jack, he was no spotty teenager. Baseball cap had turned his back against the breeze to light up a fag. Smoke blew over his shoulder. He was waiting, alright. Gary jogged across the grass. Baseball cap took a deep draw as he turned. Gary let the wrench slip from his sleeve.
‘You’d be Jack,’ he said.
‘Yeah, that’s-’ Baseball cap’s eyes widened as Gary swung the wrench, socking him in the jaw. Metal cracked bone and he fell sideways, splashing headlong into the river. His cap drifted downstream, tangling in the reeds. ‘You leave my girl alone or you’re dead.’
Baseball cap floated face down, a trail of blood bubbling from his head into the muddy river water. Gary heard the shouts, but he didn’t react to them. He’d only meant to give him a scare but now Gary was panicking cos the bloke wasn’t coming up. Gary waded into the river and was waist deep when he was struck across the temple. He blacked out as he went under.

She’d left her tea untouched, wracked with worry. She was gathering the plates when the doorbell rang as she knew it would. She saw two of them through the frosted glass. They asked her to confirm her name. The taller one had a shaving rash on his neck, a speck of toilet roll dabbed to staunch a cut. ‘We need you to come to the station.’ The taller one took her by the elbow. They wouldn’t talk in the car but the taller one was driving and kept glancing back at her in the rear-view mirror. They were buzzed through a metal gate into custody and sat her down on a bench.
‘He’s here, isn’t he?’ she said. Neither of them answered. ‘I can see his bloody boots outside that cell door.’ A puddle of water had spread around the sopping leather. The custody sergeant set down his pen and beckoned her over. ‘He’s your fella, is he?’
Michelle frowned. ‘Not anymore.’
‘You understand why you’ve been arrested?’
Michelle nodded, but she couldn’t recall the words. ‘What’s he done?’
The sergeant said nothing but one of the younger officers spoke. ‘He’s just put one of ours in a coma. That’s what he’s bloody done.’
The sergeant told him to shut it. She had to sit down. She put her head between her legs as blood rushed through her ears. She heard something about fetching a glass of water. They put her in a room with a policewoman. ‘You don’t choose your men well, do you?’
‘He’s not my man.’
The policewoman couldn’t have been long out of college, but she pursed her lips and told Michelle what had happened. Jack was a young detective constable. It was a cop who’d written those messages. If Emma had turned up as he thought she would, he’d have marched her straight round to her parents and offered them advice, warned them of the dangers of grooming. It had happened to his sister and what he was doing wasn’t official police business. But he hadn’t met Emma. Instead he’d run into Gary. His skull was fractured and there was bleeding on his brain. They got the wrench from the river. Michelle said she was sorry, said they could take the bloody tablet.

Crime · Short Stories

A Head for Business

Bishop's Move

Lang’s toenails bit into his soles. Lang hated silences, didn’t like eye contact, so Lang put an end to it.

‘You’re asking me to kill someone. You’re not buying a settee,’ he said.

Darcy’s pencil tapped on the blotter. Lang stood perfectly still, staring at the watercolours of the Lakes on the wood-panelling, waiting.

‘OK, enough,’ Lang said, turning for the door.

Bonner coughed. He was stood in the corner of the room, leather gloved hands clasped, shoulders rolled forward a little, mindful of dirtying Mr Darcy’s wallpaper. Bonner was there to mind Lang’s Ps and Qs apparently. It made a change from squeezing rent cheques out of drunks.

‘Half now,’ Darcy said, sliding an envelope across the desk, ‘half when the job’s done. The same as we always do it.’

Lang reached and pocketed the envelope, feeling it smooth, like shirt cardboard, against his chest.

‘And we’ll want proof,’ Darcy said.

Lang nodded.

‘So we know we’ve got what we paid for,’ Darcy said.

Bonner’s brogues creaked on the woodblock, reminding Lang he was there.

‘Proof isn’t a problem,’ Lang said.

He noticed Darcy had nicked his throat, staunched it with a tear of toilet paper, but it had still pinked his collar. He had blood on his collar and blood on his hands.

‘Don’t you want to know what he’s done?’ Darcy said.

Lang shook his head. He stared where the razor had cut.

‘Picked on you on the playground, didn’t he?’ Darcy said, smirking.

Lang gnawed at his cheek, snaring a flap of gristle and snapping it free tasting the coppery blood with the tip of his tongue.

‘Gerry said you were at school together,’ Darcy said. Bonner was Gerry, the huge lump he used for debt collecting, minding his sorry collection of bookies and pizza parlours.

‘Is that all?’

Darcy rolled his eyes, said he wanted his fucking head and dismissed him. Lang took the stairs two at a time, glad to be out of there, glad to be paid. He tapped out a cigarette, cupping his hands as he lit up. ‘H. Darcy’ it said on the brass plaque beside the door. Lang didn’t know what the H was for. No profession, no explanation, just a cheese-plant and a spilled stack of motoring magazines coffee rimed and dog-eared. Lang grinned, taking a deep drag, blowing the smoke through his nostrils. He was earning but, in truth, it was a job he would have done for free.

*******

Lang breathed on a smear of mayo, buffing the glass clean with his elbow. He brushed pastry flakes from the bald upholstery.

‘Take your seats ladies and gentlemen as a full ticket inspection will be taking place shortly,’ the voice said.

Magazines and newspapers went up like windbreaks in the seats around them. Fisk insisted on taking the window seat. Lang let him have that at least so Fisk could smile at the suburban semis with their rosebushes and their twinkling patio lights. Fisk could dream. He’d wanted all that one day and he might’ve had it if he’d knuckled down and stopped scamming folk. Tricking old folk out of their hard-earned was always likely to land Fisk in hot water and then he’d gone and stolen Ethel’s Christmas club money. That had been his worst move yet. Ethel Darcy.

Folk were still shuffling up and down the train in search of a seat, too polite to tell people to shift their arses and bags. A student in an Aussie hat hovered, clearing his throat. Rainwater dripped from the brim spotting the threadbare carpet near Lang’s feet. Lang’s cheek twitched. His jaw tensed. He gripped the armrest until his knuckles turned white, bloodless. Lang watched the student, eyes like slits. He knew his type well enough: a streak of piss with an Adam’s apple like a ballcock and a shower of blond curls. His rugby shirt had chewed cuffs where he’d picked at them. The student made like he was checking the seat numbers. Lang waited him out, humming, while the student dripped.

‘Excuse me,’ the student said. ‘Is this seat-’

‘My pal’s sitting here,’ Lang said. ‘You can see that.’

The student frowned. Lang started humming again. The student scratched the nape of his neck, staring at the window seat. His skin flushed like nettle-rash. The student hefted his bag and retreated.

‘Smart choice, pal,’ Lang said, snapping his newspaper out, business-like. He sipped the over-priced coffee he’d bought. It tasted of fillings. Fisk stared out of the window, tracing shapes in the condensation like a kid. He drew a noose and a scaffold. He dangled a stick man from the rope, legs flailing. The stick man had eyes like crosses and a downturned mouth.

‘Shrink would have a field day with you, Derek,’ Lang said to Fisk.

A guy with a beard like iron filings stumbled into their carriage, sucking on a crumpled juice carton. The automatic doors shuddered and snapped on the beard’s rucksack. He looked like a stricken tortoise. Lang laughed.

The carriage was silent, save for the tinny hiss of headphones. A woman clutched her handbag inside her cardigan. She wasn’t going to the toilet, she was changing carriage. Lang sniffed and wiped his nose on his wrist. He trailed a silvery snail-slick of snot across the seat in front. Lang drifted into sleep, remembering a time when Fisk had hurt him. They could have been back at high school. Whenever Lang pushed his luck Fisk would gouge him or strike him or burn him. It was the same all through school. Fisk always had to take charge.

The conductor waited till folk were sleeping so it gave him half the work. He could avoid doing his job and make out he was being considerate. He shuffled along, hitching his sagging waist, glimpsing at dog-eared tickets used as bookmarks or sketchpads. He was passing them when Lang thrust out a fist clutching both tickets. He’d paid walk-up price and didn’t want folk riding for free.

‘Thank you, Sir. He’s in the toilet is he?’ the conductor said, striking a pen through the tickets.

Lang frowned, puzzled. ‘Who is?’

‘Your friend,’ the conductor said, ‘the other ticket?’

Lang didn’t answer. It couldn’t be an easy job at times and this guy was clearly brain-fried. The conductor blinked. ‘Very good,’ he said, handing both tickets to Lang.

‘Best get the luggage off the seats. We’ve still got people standing,’ the conductor said, nodding at the blue box.

Lang stared at him. ‘This is my pal’s seat.’

The conductor nodded. His shift ended with a brandy; then it was someone else’s problem. Buying two tickets was hardly fraud, was it? Maybe the guy was at the on-board shop or having a crafty fag in the toilets.

Lang looped his coat around his shoulders and wriggled down into the seat. He didn’t hear a peep from Fisk. They took turns to sleep or stare at the moonlight reflecting on the flat, wet fields.

**********

Darcy was getting impatient. They had a number for Lang but it kept ringing out. Bonner begged to be let loose, but Darcy preached caution.

‘He’ll come,’ he said. ‘He’ll want more money, he always does.’

Bonner hammered his fist into his palm, liking the slap of polished leather. He was thinking he’d plug Lang in a concrete drainage pipe or bury him head first in the forest when the buzzer sounded in reception. They saw him on the CCTV, staring up at them, bug-eyed, lugging a holdall.

‘You’ve taken your time,’ Darcy said, when Lang strolled through the door.

Lang shrugged. ‘I had to find him first.’ He set the holdall down at his feet.

Darcy stared at the bag. ‘I didn’t know you enjoyed tennis, Dennis. Ha,’ Darcy said. ‘Tennis Dennis, I said. I’m a poet and don’t know it.’

‘The rest of my fee,’ Lang said, holding out his palm.

‘We had an arrangement. Proof was required,’ Darcy said.

Lang dropped to his knees.

‘And I didn’t tell you to come here,’ Darcy said. ‘You were meant to meet up with Gerry. Have you heard of text messages, emails and things like that?’

Lang unzipped the holdall. Bonner stepped forward. He reckoned Lang was unhinged, didn’t like the boss dealing with him. Lang took out the wooden box he’d carried with him on the train journey. It was painted blue and had a padlocked clasp.

‘What’s this?’ Darcy said.

Lang lifted the lid and took out a black plastic bag. Something toppled inside, weighty and bulging against the plastic.

‘What the hell’s going on?’ Darcy said.

‘Patience,’ Lang said.

Lang produced the blade and slit the bag. He peeled back the plastic and set Fisk’s head down on Darcy’s desk. Darcy’s eyes widened. His chair screeched as he leapt back against the wall. ‘Jesus,’ Bonner bawled. Lang stepped away from the head, hands raised as if he’d finished a sculpture.

‘You’re crazy,’ Darcy said.

He stood back, keeping the desk between him and Fisk’s leaking head.

‘He owed you money,’ Lang said. ‘He owed me too.’

Darcy’s voice was hoarse, throaty. ‘You could’ve taken a photo.’

Fisk’s eyes were open, bloody and dark. His hair was matted with blood at the collar.

‘The head symbolised power for the Celts. If you take your enemy’s head-’ Lang began.

‘Take it away,’ Darcy roared.

‘I’ll kill him, boss,’ Bonner said.

Darcy shook his head. ‘I want him out of here, now.’

Lang held out his hand. Darcy snatched an envelope from the drawer, throwing it at Lang.

‘Get out and take it with you.’

Lang dropped Fisk’s head into the bag, but it tumbled out where he’d cut.

‘Get out!’

Lang held Fisk’s head by the hair, like a war trophy, pocketed the envelope, and set off down the stairs.

Crime · Outsiders

Reading Chandler in the canteen

chandlerCan’t remember where I got this copy but it looks great. I first read Chandler at university (better to learn how to drink scotch and wear a hat than study chemistry anyway).His one liners are brilliant.

A blonde, the kind of blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.

He lit a cigarette that tasted like a plumber’s handkerchief.

Just reading a few choice lines made me smile. Best of all Chandler now has a new fan and he sits just across the desk from me.  The Big Sleep – good place to start, Tim.

For now I’m following the wreckage Moose Malloy has left in his wake…

Crime

Revenge Story – Bishop’s Move

Bishop's Move
Bishop’s Move

Bishop’s Move

I’d know that walk anywhere. Seven years had passed and I’d all but given up hope when Bishop tottered across the cobbles. I’d been searching for the Blues score, some bacon crisping under the grill, when that familiar figure on the screen made me freeze. I leapt from the chair, cranking the volume up.

‘One day I knew I’d find yer,’ I said. ‘Now I’ve got yer.’ I didn’t even notice the smoke alarm shrieking as the bacon burnt.

 

We’d met Mr Jervis at Hilton Park services on a bitter January night. Mr Jervis twisted and folded a serviette scoring sharp lines with a manicured thumbnail. He told us he wanted Butcher dead. He wanted to send a message. He slid a photo across the table. Butcher 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.

I knew he was full of it and I should’ve done something about it then.

 

Seven hours on the M6 made me as stiff as an ironing board. I saw him emerge from the pub and I ducked off the street, making out I was lighting up out of the wind. I stepped out, blocking the alley. Bishop had a carrier bag scrunched in his fist. His eyes widened. ‘Meadows?’ he said.

Bishop sniffed, wiping his nose with the back of a hand.

‘OK, let’s not mess about. Where’s the money?’

‘Meadows,’ he said, trying my name out again. ‘You’ve lost weight. I knew you’d come, you know.’

‘Where is it?’ I took out the gun. Bishop didn’t seem troubled.

‘I knew you wouldn’t give up.’ Bishop scratched his chin. ‘I was on the news, wasn’t I?’ he said. ‘That’s how you found me.’

I nodded. A random news story about film stars eating at a chippie on the Fife coast had put Bishop in a village of two hundred people. He opened a roller shutter, told me to follow him inside. It stank of fish and there were coils of rusted chain, stacks of barrels. I kept away from the walls, pointing the gun at Bishop’s gut.

‘Thing is, we didn’t complete the job,’ Bishop said.

He meant we hadn’t killed Butcher, but he’d still collected half before. He took a holdall from a barrel and kicked it across the floor. ‘What’s left is yours…’

I poked it with a toe and saw a few rolls of fifties, not nearly enough. I fired a shot into Bishop’s guts and he sank to his knees, spluttering and bleeding into the concrete. I was reaching for the holdall when something struck my neck and everything went black.

 

‘What do we do with them?’ the fisherman said.

Mr Jervis nudged Meadows’s cheek with his boot, gave Bishop a kick to be sure. He pointed out to sea. ‘They’re asleep. So let them sleep with the fishes, eh?’

 

Crime · Outsiders · Short Stories

Night Turns

I was short listed and came runner up with Ideastap for a story called Night Turns a little while back. I’m publishing it in full on my blog for the first time….

Night Turns...no escape
Night Turns…no escape

Night Turns

The car stank of onion sweat and yesterday’s takeout. Den wasn’t helping things. He had the heater on full blasting out dust and fogging up the windows. The last shift hadn’t bothered to clear their burger boxes and crumpled chip cartons from the foot-wells. Blake wasn’t shifting them on principle and crushed them with his heels. Den folded his pudgy arms, rested his chin on his chest. He was two years from retirement. His reminders of how many hours and minutes he had left to serve – a ticking clock of smugness – were as regular as his tea-breaks. They hadn’t spoken since midnight, but Den’s retirement clock was beginning to tick in Blake’s head too. He was becoming like that tramp he’d read about who never wore a watch but could estimate the time precisely whenever he was stopped. Blake fiddled with the radio, turned it on and off again. It was silent. Den shook his head. It was a bitterly cold night and any Billy Burglar with a brain cell was tucked up beneath his duvet with the central heating on turbo.

Den was pink-skinned and almost completely bald, a look that brought to mind a baby emerging from a bath. Den licked a fingertip, preening his fuse-wire moustache. He had a pair of scissors he kept alongside his cuffs and baton in his utility belt and he’d get them out and trim it. Once, Dent clipped a bristle of moustache into Blake’s chicken soup. Blake had fantasised about beating Den to death for the rest of the shift. Blake drew Den in the condensation, smirking at the bristly moustache and sagging gut. Den wriggled, reclining his chair and beginning the succession of lip-smacking and throat clearing noises he always went through before sleep.

Blake stared out at the moonlight shining on the mere. Hawthorn and privet sparkled in the hoar frost. Blake resigned himself to watching the ice creep across the mere for the next three hours. It was a popular dogging spot and a fair few headlights had pitched up, seen their marked Peugeot and reversed swiftly. When he was chosen from more than seven hundred applicants and promptly went and got drunk Blake dreamed of being a thief-taker. He hadn’t pictured himself sitting with Den Drake at popular dogging spots.

Blake’s stomach churned. Night turn always upset his guts. He couldn’t hack cornflakes at teatime – the milk sloshed in his belly for hours – and could never manage pie and mash for breakfast. Den was a bin. He ate things seagulls and foxes wouldn’t touch. Den farted noisily, did a little shuffle of his hips to liberate the gas. His shirt tugged free as he shuffled in the seat exposing a white tyre of flesh, striated where his utility belt had fought a losing battle with kebabs and Big Macs. He wafted his gas at Blake with a cupped palm. Blake cracked the window an inch, rewarded by an icy blast of wind.

‘Share and share alike,’ Den said, ‘be rude not to.’

Blake’s eyes began to water. The tabloids were predicting record lows and the thermometer hadn’t finished tumbling yet. ‘It smells like something’s died in here.’

Den lit a fag. ‘Don’t know what they put in those pasties.’

‘No, I don’t mind if you do,’ Blake said, wafting away the smoke.

‘Do you ever stop moaning?’ Den said. ‘Why do you do this job anyway?’

‘I guess it’s the stimulating chat.’

Den stared at him through narrowed eyes and blew smoke at his face.

‘Lima three-zero, Control,’ Blake said, angling the mike away from Den’s interruptions. There was a pause, a little static, before Carl on Control replied. ‘Yeah, believe it or not we’re still here, Rob. We’ve got nothing for you, I’m afraid.’

Den sat chuckling. He didn’t need to say I told you so, but Blake thought he would do sooner or later. Blake closed his eyes, prayed for calls, guilty he was wishing tragedies on people he’d never met. People getting walloped with frying pans, muggings in underpasses, shoplifting at an all-night store – any of these would offer a reprieve.

The green diodes on the dash clock flashed three am. Blake tilted the headrest, rucked up his coat around his thighs and closed his eyes surrendering to sleep. He dreamt they were pursuing a stolen car, taking the islands on the ring road on two wheels, flashing him to stop. Control said the driver was wanted for murder.

‘This’ll be one hell of a collar,’ Den told him. Blake got alongside at seventy, bossed the driver to pull over. He boxed the stolen car in with skill, killed his engine, got out and straightened his hat and belt. The driver sat with his hands on the wheel, didn’t move. Blake tapped the window. When the man wouldn’t budge he took out his baton and banged the window, threatened to put it through if he didn’t get out. The banging on the toughened glass became a thud. It got louder until Blake thought he might put the window through.

‘Shit!’

‘Rise and shine, sleepyhead.’

Blake shot up in his seat. Chief Inspector Spencer was tapping the window with his truncheon. Blake wound down the window.

‘What the hell do you think this is?’ Spencer said.

‘Sorry, guv, I….’

Den was shaking his head. ‘I should’ve kept an eye out, sir.’

Spencer folded his arms. ‘Not your fault, Den. We’re running a police force not a bloody travel tavern. Sleep in your own time, Blake.’

Blake wondered why Spencer was passing a dogging spot at three in the morning. Spencer nodded at Den. ‘You could learn a lot from Den here.’

Den grinned.

‘He’s coming up to retirement, aren’t you, Den?’

‘I suppose I must be, guv. I’ve lost track of the years.’

Spencer slapped him on the back. ‘He’s still as keen as mustard. Watch and learn, Blake. That’s if you can keep your eyes open.’

 

Crime

Crime and Crockery at the Stoke Literary Festival

Discussing crime fiction at the Stoke Literary Festival
Discussing crime fiction at the Stoke Literary Festival

 

Crime certainly does pay – at least for these three crime fiction writers (sorry, the hack in me couldn’t resist that).

The latest event in this excellent first Stoke Literary Festival was a discussion and question and answer session between Mel Sherratt, Cath Staincliffe and Nicola Upson.

It was an interesting session – well chaired by the Sentinel deputy editor Martin Tideswell – and gave some great insights into writing.

First, the hard work. These three writers are enjoying increasing success – Mel has tremendous sales and Cath has written for primetime TV – but they’ve all had to work so hard.

‘For the first ten years I earned about the same as a lollipop lady,’ Cath admitted.

Success with Blue Murder (filmed with Caroline Quentin) and writing the novels for Scott and Bailey has doubtless helped her finances but it was clear that money was not her motivation. She had discussed finances with her partner and made a lifestyle choice – this was what she wanted to do. Nicola had a similar story to tell and Mel, who was made redundant from her post as a housing officer with Stoke City Council, grafted for years before breaking through. She was turned down by agents and publishers but decided to self-publish and enjoyed such success she hasn’t looked back.

The passion for telling the story was the driving force for each of them and it was great to hear their stories.