He’s working later than intended. It’s after seven o’clock in the evening now. Late enough to call it a good day’s work. Putting documents away. All into their folders, placed neatly on the shelf. He’ll be working on them again tomorrow. It’s boring work, sure, but he long ago reconciled himself to that. He’s been doing accounts for thirty-five years; you can reconcile yourself to anything in that time. Might be different if it was a bigger operation. Way back in time, when he’d had ambition, he thought he could build something exciting. Gave up on that. Richard Hardy is happy with what he has now. A one-man company. A little office in a small building where he looks after his select group of loyal customers. There are two offices downstairs; he doesn’t see the people there much. A small charity has the office across the hall from his – something for the children of the very poor. Run by two middle-aged, well-meaning women. Richard used to have a secretary, but he had to let her go. Tough times. But he’s surviving.
His customers are loyal because of the type of accountant he is. Reliable, solid, silent. Most of his clients are small-business owners, honest enough on the surface. They just want to catch a break now and then. It’s hard for them, Richard understands that. Moving money around saves some of it for the client. There’s nothing immoral about that, in his eyes. These people work hard; he helps them gain the fullest rewards. Surely the legal system has bigger things to worry about.
He’s getting his coat from the peg on the back of the office door. Cold night out. He’s not in any hurry. There’s nobody waiting for him at home. His wife died twelve years ago now; they had no kids. More her choice than his. He didn’t mind, not as long as she was there. Once she was gone, it got lonely. Would’ve been nice to have a family then. Twelve-hour working days eat away at the loneliness. His accounts have become his children. That thought makes him feel sad and pathetic.
Locking the office door carefully behind him. It’s a nice area these days. Wasn’t so quiet when he first got the office, but they’ve cleaned up around here in the last two decades. Never had a break-in, but you can’t be too careful. He has a client who develops property and rents it out. Some might call him a slum landlord, but Richard’s always thought that was unfair. People on very low incomes need somewhere to live, and they can hardly expect the Ritz. Anyway, this fellow had a string of break-ins at his office. The police figured it was something to do with his work, a disgruntled someone or other. They warned people connected with his business to be careful, Richard included. Really, though, what can you do? If people want to smash their way in, they will.
He’s the last one out of the building. No lights on anywhere else. The front door locks automatically behind him – you have to be buzzed in or have a key. There’s a little courtyard at the front of the building, with parking for a select few who use the surrounding buildings. He’s been around long enough to claim one of the spots. There are only two other cars there right now. One’s always there. Must be a company car that nobody takes home. The other one he doesn’t recognize. Ordinary-looking black saloon. He’s taking his mobile out of his pocket to check for messages: anyone wanting some late-night advice, which might require their file. He’s over beside his own car before he realizes there are two people inside the black saloon. Two men, it looks like, sitting there in the dark. As he unlocks his car, the passenger door of the other car is opening. A young man’s getting out, looking across at him. Looks well dressed. Dark coat, dark trousers, smart shoes. He’s walking briskly across, while the driver gets out to join him.
‘Excuse me,’ the young man’s saying, ‘Richard Hardy?’
‘Yes,’ Richard’s saying, a little uncertain. He has his car door half-open. He’s ready to drop in, if this turns out to be some nut, or some thug looking for information about one of his clients.
‘My name’s Detective Sergeant Lawrence Mullen. This is Detective Constable Edward Russell.’ He’s pulling his little wallet out of his pocket, holding it out for Richard to look at.
Richard’s nodding. ‘Okay. How may I help you?’
‘We need you to come with us to the station to answer a few questions about one of your clients.’
‘The station? Am I being arrested?’
‘No, no, not at all. There are documents we would like you to see. Confirm they belong to one of your clients. You’re a witness, nothing more.’ Saying it with a reassuring smile.
‘Can I ask who it is you’re investigating?’
‘I don’t think it’s wise to discuss that out here on the pavement,’ the cop is saying, looking briefly around for show.
Common sense says you don’t argue with the police. Being questioned may be damaging for his business, but it would be worse to cause a scene. Being arrested could be fatal for his business. A little bit of a panic. He’s dropped the mobile onto the driver’s seat of his car. He’s closing the car door, locking it and following the young cop across to his car. Then wishing he’d put the mobile in his pocket. Might need to call a lawyer. Too polite to ask if he can go back and get it. Too nervous to say anything.
‘We’ll try not to keep you long,’ the cop’s saying, sounding a little disinterested. ‘We’ll drop you back here when we’re done.’ He seems nice.
Richard’s getting into the back of the car. Detective Mullen is sitting beside him, the older one back in the driving seat. Starting the car. No great rush to it. The policemen both seem relaxed, and that’s relaxing Richard. The initial shock replaced by natural nerves. Richard’s not the sort of person who finds himself in the company of the police often.
‘Am I in any sort of trouble?’ Richard’s asking. It’s been a couple of minutes of silence. He feels the need to say something.
‘Oh no,’ Mullen’s saying with an impatient shake of his head. ‘You might have information that’s useful to us. One of your clients. We’ll not question you under caution. If you’d feel more comfortable with a lawyer present, then you can call one when we reach the station. It’s entirely up to you.’
He’s paying Richard no attention. Looking out the window, then looking straight ahead. The driver, he seems more interested. Richard’s seen him looking back in the mirror a few times. The driver, DC Russell, is starting to look nervous. Making Richard feel as though there’s more to this. Like maybe he is in trouble. Okay, he’s turned a blind eye to a few things. There are things he’s hidden away that should have been left in the open. Never pretended he was an angel. But, come on, that’s hardly a big deal, is it? He’s done nothing that he ought to be ashamed of, he’s damned sure of that.
‘Could you at least tell me what this relates to?’ he’s asking Mullen. He needs to hear something reassuring. Anything.
‘We’re investigating the way in which one of your clients makes his money. We believe he uses his legitimate business as a front for criminal activities. We just want to ask you a few questions. You’re under no suspicion. If anything,’ Mullen’s saying, ‘you’re a victim, too.’
The initial shock masked it. Now it’s seeping through. The feeling that something isn’t right. The cop who couldn’t care less and his nervous driver. These two want to ask him about a client. Want to ask about his money. So why take him away from the office? Richard is sneaking a look at Mullen. So relaxed, that one. Surely if there’s something they need to find out, they would have stayed at the office. They would want him to look things up. Go through his files. Check figures. That’s what he does. Can’t do it from the station. Surely they’re going about this the wrong way. He wants to say something. Wants to tell the cop they might be better doing this back where they started. Looking at Mullen again. That disinterested look doesn’t seem reassuring any more.
He’s had a vague awareness of their surroundings as they’ve been driving. Familiar streets, so he hasn’t paid much attention. Now he’s starting to look. To focus on where they’re going. This isn’t into the city centre. This is north. This is away from the built-up areas. It doesn’t seem to make an awful lot of sense. He’s looking around sharply.
Mullen’s glancing at him. ‘Won’t be long now.’
Richard’s sitting back in the seat. Pointless to complain. This is something too big for him to fight against. His life has always been about the confidence of others. Other people take command. He facilitates. It worked for him. Not a perfect life, sure, but better than many. Sit back and let other people play their games. Stay quiet. Stay friendly.
They’ve left the city behind. Richard isn’t saying anything. This might not be as bad as it looks. As bad as it feels. Maybe they just want information. They might knock him around a little. Or just take him to the scene of a crime and ask some questions. Yeah, that could be it. Certainly nothing to gain from complaining. Rarely is. Quiet and friendly. Let them do as they please, and walk away from this. Neither of them has said a word for a while now. The silence is becoming uncomfortable again. Threatening even. Richard feels a need to say something, just for the sake of politeness. It’s how he handles clients. Never let things get too cold. Keep them talking. Not these fellows – they’re not interested in anything he has to say. Not yet, anyway.
They’ve avoided the main roads. Richard’s noticed that. Maybe this is the route they have to take to get where they’re going. Certainly not something he’s going to mention. Not the sort of thing these guys would want to discuss with him. Richard’s taking another look at Mullen. ‘DS Mullen’ is what he said. He looks a little young to be a Detective Sergeant. Means he has a higher rank than the one driving, who’s obviously older. Richard’s had clients over the years who’ve told him a few scare stories about the police. They are willing to use scare tactics if they think it’ll get a response. This must be what their scare tactics look like. Scary, he’ll give them that.
Still going. Still on minor roads, very little traffic. Richard doesn’t recognize where they are. Well out of the city now, that’s for sure. Looks like the countryside. His hands are beginning to shake. Not sure why. Not sure what’s changed. He keeps telling himself that it’ll be fine. These things don’t happen to people like him. Why should they? Everything will be fine, if he just keeps quiet and doesn’t cause any bother. Tell them what they want to know. Doesn’t matter who it incriminates; tell them whatever they need to hear. All you can do is be honest. When they have what they want, they’ll let you go.
Turning to glance at Mullen. A cold look shot back at him. The young cop’s attitude has changed. More unpleasant than before. Just you wait, young man. When this is done, there will be complaints. People like you always get their comeuppance. Starting to realize why he’s become so much more nervous. The driver is slowing. Looking for something. Looking for a turn-off. Only country lanes to turn onto around here.
‘That’s it, on your right,’ Mullen’s saying to the driver. Speaking quietly. He doesn’t sound nervous.
The driver’s slowing and turning carefully. No lights on the road ahead. Feels bumpy. Not much of a road at all. More of a track. What could there be around here that has anything to do with Richard’s business? Stay calm. Don’t let them see that you’re nervous. That’ll only annoy them, and there’s nothing to gain from that. Trees on either side of them. The car’s crawling along the track. Been going for a few minutes now. Pitch-black. No sign of lights ahead. They must be into some sort of woodland. A part of the world that Richard Hardy could not be less familiar with. This is making no sense at all. Richard’s looking at Mullen. Mullen’s not looking back. He’s just staring ahead, into the darkness.
The car’s slowing almost to a stop. There’s a building there. Looks like a barn, but Richard only caught a glimpse in the headlights. The car’s stopping beside it, reversing. Turning to face the other way.
‘No, a little further,’ Mullen’s saying.
The driver’s moving the car a fraction to the right. ‘That’s it,’ Mullen’s saying now. Satisfied they’re in the exact place. Exact place for what?
The driver’s switched the engine off, but left the headlights on. Shining off into the trees. Ahead of them a circle of flat land beside the barn where they’ve parked, and trees all around. Now the driver, DC Russell, is getting out of the car. Doesn’t seem to be doing so with any great enthusiasm. He’s closed his door, left the two of them alone in the back. Russell’s walking round behind the car. Richard’s turning to look. Russell’s opening the boot.
‘Your client, Hugh Francis,’ Mullen’s saying quietly. It’s a slight struggle to hear him. Russell’s clattering about in there, taking things out of the boot that sound heavy. Something rustling, something else dropped on the ground.
‘Mr Francis, yes, the garage owner,’ Richard’s saying enthusiastically. Such a nice young man, Shug Francis. Always treated Richard well, always been loyal. Richard does his books for him. Handles his payroll. Has more employees than he ought to, and Richard hides that for him. Not a big deal.
‘What can you tell me about his financial records?’
‘Well, er, I don’t know. This would be easier back at the office with his records in front of me.’ Pausing, considering. ‘There have been times when, I guess you could say, I’ve wondered about one or two things. Some of the money he brings in, where it comes from. Why he has quite so many employees. Nothing blatant. Nothing significant, I wouldn’t have said.’ Pausing again. That didn’t sound like enough. He needs to offer them more to keep them happy. ‘Of course I’d be willing to show you the complete accounts.’
Mullen hasn’t said anything. Just a raising of eyebrows, and Richard knows what it means. Knows the cop is saying that looking at the books means nothing. Means the police know that Richard’s been subtly adjusting the figures to make Francis Autos look more legitimate than it really is.
‘I admit that I’ve . . . ensured that, er, Shug’s books add up. Perhaps I’ve broken the law. I accept that. I’ve needed to make sure that the figures add up. I basically handle his payroll. I needed to make the figures work for the number of employees he has.’ Talking more quickly as the sentences go on.
Mullen’s nodding, as if he knows all this already. It’s because he knows it that he’s here. He knows that for the last few years Richard has been making sure that all Shug’s people get paid each month.
There’s a thump behind them. The boot closing. Richard’s catching a glimpse of DC Russell walking past the car with a large bundle under his arm. Hard to see what it is. He’s walking in front of the car now. Dropping the bundle on the ground. It looks blue. He’s pulling something out. Also blue. Looks like a sheet of tarpaulin. He’s spreading it out carefully, about halfway between the trees and the car. Now he’s picking up the rest of the bundle and walking across to the trees. He’s only gone about three or four feet into them. Still in view of the car. Richard and Mullen both watch him. Each seems as concerned as the other. Watching him lay out the rest of the tarpaulin. Carefully taking out the contents that had been wrapped within it. Two shovels. Something white. Looks like a towel. Russell starting to dig. Richard’s watching. He can no longer hide the fact that his hands are shaking.
Mullen’s moving his head left and right. Trying to get a better view of his colleague digging. A sigh. Mullen’s getting out of the car. Walking round the other side, opening Richard’s door. ‘Come on – out,’ he’s saying. Still talking quietly.
Richard’s doing as he’s told. Always doing what he’s told. That’s his life. Looking across to Russell. He’s hacking at the turf with his shovel, trying to roll up lines of it and place the turf on the tarpaulin beside him. Mullen’s glancing across at his colleague. There’s a roll of the eyes and a tsk of the tongue. He’s clearly not impressed; obviously feels he could do the job better himself. Must be why he’s the senior one.
‘What’s he . . .’ Richard begins to ask and then stops himself. If they want him to know, they’ll tell him. It’s not his place to ask questions. He’s not even sure he wants to know.
He can feel Mullen reach out and touch his arm. A glance at Mullen’s hand. A moment of confusion. Mullen appears to have some sort of glove on. The sort of thin, clear glove the cleaners use when they’re working in his office. Must have put them on since he got out of the car. He’s pushing Richard gently forward. Leading him to the sheet of tarpaulin that Russell has placed in the middle of the clearing.
They’re both standing in silence. Watching Russell dig away at the ground beneath him, putting all the dirt on the plastic sheet. Grunting as he digs. Not a man who’s used to this sort of labour. He’s sweating heavily; even in this strange light you can see that. Slowing down all the time. Every now and then Richard can hear a little sigh of exasperation escape from Mullen. Subtle, but the only other noise is coming from Russell. The exasperation comes every time Russell makes a mess, misses the tarpaulin with a little mud, that sort of thing. Tiring arms flinging the mud around. Richard’s turned to look at Mullen a couple of times. Saw him look at his watch once. Other than that, he’s just watching Russell. Watching carefully, waiting for something. Presumably waiting for him to finish digging. Richard doesn’t want to think about the digging. Not entirely sure what it’s all about. Might be digging something up. There’s a little voice in the back of his mind scoffing at him. Telling him it’s entirely obvious what Russell’s digging. It’s your grave, old man.
Richard’s starting to cry. Can’t help it. Not able to kid himself any longer. This is it. This is the end. What a remarkably stupid way for his life to end. Can’t stop thinking how absurd it all is. He’s not the sort of person who should have an ending like this. It makes no sense. Part of him just wants to laugh at the whole thing. Can’t laugh when he’s crying this hard, though. Completely uncontrollable. Tears are streaming down his face, his shoulders are rocking, he’s grunting repeatedly. He can see through the blur of tears that Russell’s stopped. The cop leaning forward, hands on hips. Coughing, spitting. A sigh from Mullen. Just the sound of his own panic now. A gesture from Mullen – Richard can’t see what. Russell’s digging again, with more vigour this time. Louder, though, grunting with every movement. A touch on Richard’s back.
‘Sit down,’ Mullen’s saying, still so quiet. That calmness. God, that calmness is shocking now. Sickening.
Mullen’s pressed him down. Richard’s sitting on the tarp, leaning forward. He doesn’t want to look at Russell any more. It’s cruel that they’ve made him. Callous. Making him watch a man dig his grave. Why should he try to be nice to them? Why do what he thinks they want him to do? From now on, he’ll do as he pleases. He’ll cry. He’ll lean forward. He’ll look away from what will be his final resting place. And for what? Because of Shug Francis, apparently. Such a nice young man. Always ready with a smile. Always asking after Richard’s
health, making sure he’s content. Yes, there were questions about his business. He was up to all sorts, that boy. But this? How is this fair punishment for the work Richard did? He made numbers add up that shouldn’t. Is that so bad? Another moment of realization. This isn’t to punish him. This is to punish Shug Francis. That, somehow, makes it even worse. Dying just to inconvenience someone else.
Russell’s still digging. Slowed right down again. Mullen’s still standing next to Richard. How long have they been like this? Five minutes. Ten, perhaps. More, actually. He’s lost sense of time.
‘Bring across that towel,’ Mullen’s saying. A little louder than before, talking to Russell.
Russell climbs out of his hole and walks slowly across with the white towel. ‘It’s deep enough,’ he’s saying as he passes it across to Mullen. You can hear he’s exhausted. Leaning forward, hands on hips again.
‘No, it isn’t; another couple of feet,’ Mullen’s saying. That cold, hard voice. The sort people don’t argue with. The sort Russell doesn’t argue with. He’s going back to dig.
Richard can feel something press on the back of his head. He’s reaching up a hand.
‘No, leave it,’ Mullen’s saying. ‘Lean forward.’
There’s a moment of confusion. Richard isn’t sure what’s happening. Something on the back of his head, pressing him down. Then nothing.
They’re back outside. Glad to be out. Into the car, driving away. Should be a moment of celebration. It isn’t. Shug’s not saying anything. He knows exactly what Fizzy’s going to say. He doesn’t want to hear it. He’s going to hear it anyway.
‘You just gave it all away,’ Fizzy’s saying. ‘For what, huh? For what? So that things can carry on exactly the same – that’s what. If you’d gone to Jamieson and done a deal, you could have ended the threat. You’d still have lost just about everything, but there wouldn’t be anyone trying to kill us any more. All you’ve done is make matters worse. You’ve given everything away and pissed off Jamieson even more.’
He keeps saying ‘you’ instead of ‘we’. Shug’s noticed that. Twenty years David ‘Fizzy’ Waters has been best friend to Shug Francis, and now it’s suddenly ‘you’ and not ‘we’. Started as kids messing around with cars together. Turned it into a string of garages and the only effective car-theft ring in the city. Profitable business. Profitable car-ring. But not profitable enough. Shug wants more, and that’s why they had this meeting. Meeting with a leading figure in the drug trade to talk about attacking another leading figure in the drug trade. ‘We’re going to beat him,’ Shug’s saying. Talking about Peter Jamieson, a man they’ve been failing to beat for months. They’ve attacked him, attacked his people. Trying to take over Jamieson’s patch. Jamieson always too powerful, smart or lucky to be harmed.
‘We’re not going to beat him,’ Fizzy’s shouting, incredulous. ‘Listen to yourself, man. If Jamieson does get beat, it won’t be by us. It’ll be by MacArthur and his mob. We get the risk of leading the charge. We’ll get the glory, the man says. Fuck’s sake! Glory? We get the glory and he gets the rewards. Is that all you want, glory? Well, whoop-dee-fucking-doo. I’ll make sure they write it on your gravestone. “He had glory.”’
They both know Alex MacArthur doesn’t do things out of the goodness of his heart. You don’t lead one of the biggest criminal organizations in the city because of the goodness of your heart. You don’t last the decades at the top that MacArthur has because of the goodness of your heart. Quite the reverse. MacArthur has a brutal love of money and power. That’s what persuades him to accept the deal on offer. The chance to make some money and attack Peter Jamieson at the same time. Jamieson a rival to MacArthur. Shug attacking Jamieson. My enemies’ enemy is my profitable friend. Shug’s too desperate to see the obvious truth.
Everyone thinks of Shug Francis as this happy-go-lucky kind of guy. Mostly that’s true. But he has his moments. Fizzy’s seen him when he’s in a huff. Shug doesn’t go into a rage, scream and bawl and get it out of his system. He sulks, and it can take a while to leave him. He can hide it from most people. People who don’t know him like Fizzy does. It can make Shug reckless. Happened last about three years ago. An old man had been doing forged documents for them since they started the car-ring. He ditched them, went to work for someone else. Not doing vehicle documents; doing bank statements and the like instead. They were ditched for a twobit con racket because it was easier work. Shug was furious, demanded that the old man come back and work for them. He told Shug where to get lost. Treated Shug like the car business was a joke. Shug sulked for a few days, and then hired some gorilla to deliver a message. Didn’t kill the old boy, but it was still a stupid thing to do. Everyone knew who was behind it. Reckless. Unnecessary.
They’re back at Shug’s house now. Along the corridor and into what he calls his playroom. Office, really. There’s no real tension between them, even in this moment of disagreement. They know each other too well, trust each other too much. But they do disagree. Fizzy is still trying to chip away at him. ‘You need to end this. Find a way of backing out. Something that leaves you with a business.’
Shug’s shaking his head and slumping onto the couch. ‘It’s done now. Pull out now and we piss off MacArthur, which would be even worse.’ Took a lot of work to set up the meeting. MacArthur playing coy. Multiple meetings between contacts. Always dealing with Don Park, one of MacArthur’s senior men. It was PC Paul Greig who did most of the work for Shug. Another one Shug knows he shouldn’t trust. Greig’s a cop, after all. A man playing all sides at once, who still gets pissed off if you imply he’s bent. But he negotiated well: a 20 per cent cut of Shug’s car-ring and garages for MacArthur’s support in destroying Peter Jamieson. A fifty-fifty split of the proceeds from Jamieson’s network.
Fizzy’s running both hands down his face. This is madness. Madness born of stubbornness. They were never going to get out of this with everything intact. There’s a price to pay for failure in the criminal industry. It’s typically a high one. Escaping Jamieson would have meant paying him off with a share of both the legit business and the car-ring. Could have been done. Jamieson’s a businessman, first and foremost. It just meant accepting that Jamieson had won.
‘You show weakness and those bastards will rip you apart anyway,’ Shug’s saying. He sounds depressed. Fizzy can take the credit for that. Spoiling what should be a hopeful moment. ‘We let Jamieson in and he’ll have the whole business within two years. He’ll force us out. Make our lives a misery. How does that help us?’
He’s right. Fizzy knows it. A man like Jamieson doesn’t forgive and forget, not even for the right price. It’s about prestige. About PR. Someone challenges you, attacks your business. You accept peace with them and start working with them, just because you’re making money from it. Other people see that. Other people think it’s worth attacking you, because they can buy you off later, if things don’t go their way. It creates a sliver of vulnerability that others will seek to exploit. A man like Jamieson can’t have people think that attacking him comes with a safety net. So, yeah, Jamieson would take the deal. Then he would carefully destroy Shug and Fizzy and anyone else linked to them. Anyone watching would know that there are no get-out clauses in a fight with Peter Jamieson.
‘So selling out to him destroys the business. Doing it this way just means the bugger kills us.’
‘Not if we get to him first,’ Shug’s saying.
‘Uh-uh, not us – MacArthur. MacArthur gets to him first. He gets all the reward. Then he does to us what Jamieson would have done anyway.’
Shug’s shaking his head. ‘I don’t think so,’ he’s saying. Speaking quietly, thoughtfully. ‘See, Jamieson can’t be seen letting us off the hook. Same time, MacArthur can’t be seen to hurt someone who’s done him a service. Then nobody wants to work for him.’
It’s a theory, but not one Fizzy’s sure of. He’s shaking his head. ‘Nah, I don’t think so. He doesn’t need people to see him rewarding us. Didn’t he say that he wanted us to be the face of this? He’s going to be in the background, out of sight. So people think we took down Jamieson. Then people think we’ve tied up with MacArthur afterwards. He can do what he wants. Treat us how he likes. So it’s him destroying us, instead of Jamieson.’
The naivety of the amateur. That’s what Shug thinks of Fizzy. He forgives his friend, but it’s annoying. There are too many people working in the background for MacArthur to stab him in the back after the event. People like Greig. He works with a lot of criminals, but he’s still a cop. He still makes arrests. He commits to Shug, and it sends a message. Shug is a guy on the rise. Greig wants to be close to him. And say MacArthur does screw them over after they’re finished with Jamieson. What does that say about Don Park? One of MacArthur’s own senior men. He organized this. He set up the meeting they just came from at the engineering-company office. It would trash Park’s reputation within the MacArthur organization. MacArthur couldn’t do that to him. It would cause a split in his own business. See, Fizzy doesn’t think of these things. He still has the mindset of the small business. He needs time to grow. Or maybe this is too big for him.
Shug’s frowning, and sighing. ‘I don’t want to talk about this any more. We have a lot to plan. There’s going to be some serious action. New stuff for us, and we have to be ready for that.’
‘Jesus, Shug, will you listen to yourself ! Being led to the edge of the cliff by these fucking gangsters, and you’re just going along with it.’ Fizzy’s raised his voice. Frustration is getting the better of him.
Shug’s glaring back at him. ‘You keep your voice down. You want the whole bloody street to hear? Just you remember something, Fizzy. This is my business. It was me who set it up. It was me who got this running the way it is. If I want to gamble with it, then I will gamble with it. You were along for the ride. You’ve always been useful, you’ve always been there. Don’t go thinking that this is your business, though. It ain’t. It’s mine.’
There’s tension between them now. Real, angry, dangerous tension. Something completely new, and something Fizzy doesn’t know how to react to. He can’t remember this happening before. How long have they been friends? More than twenty years now. Never had a moment like this. Been tense times with other people in the business, and they’ve always been forced out. Shug wouldn’t allow them to stick around after falling out with them. He was always convinced those differences would resurface at some point, become an issue again. Is that what this is? Is this the beginning of Shug trying to force him out? Bloody hell, no. It can’t be. Twenty years of being best friends, practically brothers. Since they were kids. This can’t be what it feels like. This can’t be the end.
Fizzy’s getting up. Not saying a word. Anything either one of them says now is only going to make things worse. The tension’s too thick. Anything would sound like an insult, like provocation. Sure, they need to talk this through. Need to sort it out before any moves are made. But this atmosphere – damn, he just doesn’t know how to handle it. He’s walking towards the door, glancing back at Shug. Shug isn’t even looking at him. He’s just looking at the floor. Letting Fizzy go because there’s nothing left to say. Fizzy’s opening the door and he’s out into the corridor, half-hoping that Shug will call him back. Half-expecting it, if we’re being honest. But there’s nothing; just silence. A silence that says this relationship has changed, maybe forever.
It was an unpleasant kill for Calum MacLean. Whole thing feels wrong. Counter-intuitive. Dressing up as a cop and picking the guy up in the city in the evening. Taking this long with the whole damn thing. Depending on Kenny McBride to dig the grave properly, something he has spectacularly failed to do. Kenny’s a good driver, but that’s all he is. And now he’s stopped digging, just because Calum’s pulled the trigger. Now is when he should be hurrying up. Not how Calum would have done it, if he was freelance. But he isn’t, any more. He doesn’t get to decide. Peter Jamieson does.
‘Keep digging,’ Calum’s saying quietly, ‘I have this.’
He’s using the towel on the back of the head to stop the blood-spray. He doesn’t want one drop going further than the tarpaulin that Richard Hardy will be wrapped and buried in. They need to move fast. Make the assumption that someone heard the gunshot and that you’re racing against the clock.
Unlikely anyone heard it, though. Calum picked the location for that reason. This has been his go-to location for a burial in bad circumstances for a while. Long way from the road, away from any occupied buildings. He was keeping it as his place to use for a daytime killing, on the assumption that such a killing might occur. This isn’t daytime, but it is still unusual and worthy of this precaution. He came out here and found the place on the first visit. Came back two weeks later and checked the barn, made sure it wasn’t in use. Didn’t look like it, but you have to know. He broke in, which involved nothing more than shouldering the rotten side door, and looked around. Big holes in the roof, and completely empty. Not in use. A safe place, if such a thing exists. At least the location’s right.
Nothing else about this night is right. Calum’s pressing the towel down against the wound, not letting the blood flow out. Holding it tight as he presses the old man down into the tarp and rolls him gently onto his side. Going through his pockets. Car keys, a wallet and a few coins. No mobile. Calum noted the fidgety fingers letting it drop onto the driver’s seat of the car back at the office. An ageing man in a nervous hurry to help the police. The wallet and keys Calum takes, the coins he leaves. He’s lifting the tarp up and wrapping it around Hardy from both sides, creating the burial sheet. Hopeful he’s done enough to make sure that no blood escapes before Richard Hardy’s put in the ground. The tarp will serve another purpose, now that Kenny’s proven his incompetence as a gravedigger. It should keep the smell in for longer. It really doesn’t look like a deep grave, which it should be. Shallow graves are for the unprofessional.
‘Right, that’ll do,’ Calum’s saying to Kenny. There’s a last lazy swipe of the shovel from the driver, and now he’s placing it on top of the mud pile he’s created. Clambering out of the grave, not watching where he’s going. Stumbling, exhausted. He has no sense of caution. No sense that even muddy boot prints could be a giveaway. Someone walks a dog through the area, past the barn; sees the boot prints, realizes they’re fresh. They go over and poke around, see the disturbed ground where Kenny hacked the turf. It could happen. But Calum won’t criticize Kenny. Not to his face, anyway. He’s a driver. He chauffeurs Peter Jamieson, their boss, around. He delivers stuff. This is way out of his league. He was obviously shocked when John Young, Jamieson’s right-hand man, told him he’d be working the job with Calum. A little horrified. He’s done it, though. Done it to the best of his ability, such as it is. He probably hasn’t seen a hit up close before. Hasn’t been involved in something this tense. That excuses his nerves.
Kenny’s plodding across towards Calum and the body. Looking to Calum for guidance. Calum has to lead the way. He’s the one who’s been here before. The one who knows how this works. He also appears to be completely at ease. No obvious nerves. No sweating, no shaking, no quivering voice. Seems like it’s no big deal for him.
‘You take the legs,’ Calum’s saying.
Kenny’s reaching down, grabbing the tarp in his hands.
He’s starting to drag it a little. Then he’s startled by the raised voice.
‘No,’ Calum’s saying, louder than intended. ‘Don’t drag. You’ll leave a mark. Lift it up; carry it clear of the ground.’
Kenny’s doing what he’s told. Struggling to lift, the sweat running off him. But being obedient. What else can you do in this position? He’s conflicted, and it probably shows. He needs to do a good job, because he doesn’t want a bad report going back to Jamieson. Last thing he needs is to lose his job, especially now that they’re moving against Shug Francis. At the same time he doesn’t want to do such a good job that this becomes a regular thing. Please, God, let this be a one-off.
They’re lifting Hardy up now, carrying him across to the grave. Placing him down at the graveside. Calum’s starting to sweat a little now. Not used to manual labour. Burials like this aren’t common. Most of his jobs have been gun and run. This is how it’s going to be from now on. When you’re the lead gunman for a major organization there’s a lot of cleaning up. His last kill had a burial too, but he doesn’t want to think about that now. Kenny’s moving to lift the body again – Calum’s stopping him.
‘No, get in the hole.’
‘What for?’ Kenny’s asking.
They’ve been through this before. Calum explained the whole thing to him last night, but Kenny’s ignored a lot of it. You have to dig the grave carefully at the top, to remove obvious traces. You have to dig the rest quickly, to reduce the amount of time spent at the barn. Reduce the time between the victim realizing what’s happening and the kill. You have to make sure that you leave no mark away from the hole. And you have to bury carefully.
‘We have to position him in a way that takes up as little space as possible. You know this,’ Calum’s saying, exasperated. He told Kenny last night. You make the body as small as possible. You pack the soil around it as tight as possible. That way, when you roll the turf back on top, it should look just like it did before you got there. It won’t, because the turf will be a mess. Hopefully it’ll knit together before the soil pushes up. A small mound will form, but you hope that by then the turf will heal and it’ll look natural. It’s why you always try to bury on bumpy ground. Calum explained all this last night, and he doesn’t like having to say it again. Not now. A good sidekick doesn’t need a second set of instructions.
‘Fine,’ Kenny’s saying. He’s dropping carefully back into the hole. Ready for Calum to pass the body down.
Getting a grip of a dead weight wrapped in slippery material is a nightmare. This isn’t going to be dignified. Lifting Hardy, and taking a little baby-step to the edge of the grave. Ready to pass him down to Kenny, who has the easy part here anyway. He can just drop Richard and shove him into a corner.
‘I’m going to get mud on my clothes,’ Kenny’s saying now.
Bloody hell! They’ve been through this, too. ‘You’re going to get rid of every stitch you’re wearing,’ Calum’s saying, with a wheeze.
Kenny has a loose grip of the body, but it’s firmer than Calum’s. Calum’s let go, Kenny’s holding the body for all of half a second, pulling it backwards and letting it drop with a thump onto the soil. There’s a moment of relief for both of them. Familiar for Calum; a new experience for Kenny. It always comes when the body is in the grave. It’s that sense that you’ve broken the back of the challenge you faced. The hardest part done.
Kenny’s making a meal of moving the body. All he has to do is shove it over to the corner. The grave’s four feet deep at most. It’s almost circular, and not a fine example of Scottish engineering. There’s already a dent where part of one wall has fallen in. Calum’s shaking his head, preparing himself for the next part. Kenny’s oblivious to this. Trying to shove the lump inside the tarpaulin with his boot. Shoulders and arms burning from the effort of digging. Sliding the body across to the closest resemblance to a corner that this grave has. It’s the deepest point. He thinks he’s done.
‘No,’ Calum’s saying. ‘On his side. Push him right up against the wall. Flat as possible.’
Kenny’s sighing, but not complaining. He’s the junior man. The junior man doesn’t complain. He gets on with the job, no matter how bad. Get this done, go home and forget about it. That’s what he keeps telling himself. It’s a one-off. Doesn’t matter if you hate it. You’ll never have to do it again.
He’s right – he’ll never have to do it again. As Kenny’s bending over, shoving the body against the wall, Calum is taking his gun again from his inside coat pocket. He’s standing at the edge of the grave, just above Kenny. Calum’s dropping down to his haunches. Watching. Waiting for the right moment. Kenny is ducking slightly again, pressing the tarpaulin as tight to the body as possible. Now. Calum’s extending an arm. Kenny’s head is almost at knee height. An easy shot into the temple. Louder this time. Much more likely to be blood-spray. That’s the risk. Watching Kenny slump forward, face into the wall of mud. Calum dropping down beside him, pulling Kenny’s body from the wall. Laying him out and rolling him onto his side. Checking every pocket, making sure they’re as empty as Kenny was instructed to keep them. Pushing the body up against Hardy’s. Pulling the edge of Hardy’s tarp around Kenny. It needed a deeper grave for two bodies. Kenny should have seen this coming. Should have realized. This is what happens to a grass.
Excerpted from The Sudden Arrival of Violence by Malcolm Mackay. Copyright © 2014 by Malcolm Mackay.
First published 2014 by Mantle, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world: http://www.panmacmillan.com
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