This is the third part in a serialisation of One Good Deed, a thriller I wrote in 2010, and which I am making available for subscribers to my newsletter.
Please be aware that while this is a finished draft, it has not been professionally edited, or been through a copy and proof edit process. If you like what you read (or even if you don’t!) you can let me know via the contact form on this site. You’ll find links to my published works here too.
I’ve no idea how long I was unconscious for, only that I woke to a horrible pounding between my temples. At first I thought it was the booze and cursed the hangover when I couldn’t remember the joy of the drinking that had lead to it. My sight was blurry, so I foolishly shook my head to try and clear it. Big mistake. The pounding turned itself into chisels, prying at the soft stuff behind my eyes, and acid bile rose up in my throat.
‘Did you have to hit him so hard, Jonno?’
The voice sounded cold, flat. Like someone who had heard about emotions, and reckoned they were a waste of valuable energy.
‘I barely tapped him, Mr Crisp.’ That was the big one, Jonno. South Essex, estuary. The kind of voice that didn’t do a lot of thinking. I blinked a couple of times, trying to focus, then wished I hadn’t as the scene swam into uncomfortable view.
I was still in Izzy’s bathroom, sitting on the toilet with my hands tied behind my back. Judging by the numbness in my buttocks, I’d been there a while, but not alone. Jonno leant against the wall by the door whilst the other man sat on the edge of the bath. He was thin as a rake, dressed in faded black jeans and a battered leather coat, and held an evil-looking knife in one hand, twirling it around absent-mindedly. A groan from the bath was Izzy, naked, trussed up like a chicken in the supermarket, one of his own socks shoved into his mouth, his eyes near popping out of his head with terror.
‘Good to have you back Mr Barnes.’ The slim man stood up, stepped closer to me, and then bent down so we were face to face. His skin was very pale, with a grey-green tinge to it that matched his eyes. His black hair hung from his scalp in greasy rat tails, laced with grey spirals. When he opened his mouth I caught a glimpse of brown, crooked and cracked teeth, and a whiff of garbage bags put out after the bin man’s been.
‘I… I don’t know anything. He didn’t give me anything, honest. He just bumped into me.’
‘Of course you don’t know anything, Mr Barnes. Or may I call you Sam?’
‘You… You believe me?’
‘Do I believe him, Jonno?’ The thin man stood up and turned away from me, taking his sharp knife and stinky breath with him.
‘I don’t think you do, Mr Crisp. Not after all that interest the police showed in him.’ Jonno shoved a massive hand into his pocket, rummaged around a little, then pulled it out with the black box in his fingers. ‘And there’s this little thing too. Lucky we knew about it, really.’
‘Very true.’ Mr Crisp took the black box from his partner, held it up to the bathroom light as if studying it. Beyond him, I could see Izzy’s eyes following his every move, wide and staring. His face was red, the flush spreading down his neck to his scrawny, hairy chest.
‘The idea, as I understand it, is that as soon as you feel in danger, you press this.’ Mr Crisp pressed the button. There was a slight click, but nothing else. ‘And the police come running. They should be no more than a minute away. Probably closer than that. I would imagine they have a car across the road right now.’
He dropped the plastic box onto the floor, and then crushed it into the tiles under his boot. I let out an involuntary shriek. More a cry of despair than anything else, but it brought a nasty smile to Mr Crisp’s face.
‘Don’t worry, Sam. It wasn’t working anyway. Even before Jonno here took the batteries out. What? You think we don’t know all about you? Who do you think told us where you lived? Who let us know where you were going to stay tonight? Who do you suppose has arranged it so that we’re not disturbed whilst we do our work?’
I said nothing. I couldn’t think of anything to say, and the lump in my throat would have made forcing any words out very difficult indeed. It was cold in the bathroom, but I was sweating all over. Poor Izzy looked even worse. We were going to die here, both of us. And it wasn’t going to be quick.
‘Now, I think it’s time we got down to business.’ Mr Crisp sat on the edge of the bath, once more playing with his knife. ‘Sam, you tell me you know nothing. You tell me that the undercover policeman merely bumped up against you and that he did not give you a memory stick, a disc or anything else. No, you needn’t answer. I know all this from the police.’
I swallowed, or at least tried to. There was something mesmerising about the slow flick and twirl of the shiny metal blade.
‘But we have a problem,’ Mr Crisp said. ‘You see, my employer has technicians, experts in information technology and the like. And they tell him that several, how shall I put it? Several sensitive files were copied from his personal computer. We know that Detective Sergeant Prowett was very resourceful; he had to be to infiltrate our organisation. So it’s safe to assume he was behind the copying. We know that he didn’t pass the information on to his bosses at SOCA. So that leaves just you. The random stranger. So I’ll ask you once more nicely. What did he give you, and where is it now?’
‘Nothing.’ My voice was several octaves higher than normal, but right then I didn’t care. I just wanted this to end.
‘You know, I thought you’d say that.’ Mr Crisp flipped his knife around once more, in a practiced arc that left the handle clasped firmly in his hand. ‘And it is a great shame for your friend Mr Connell.’
He leant forward, grabbing Izzy’s head by the hair and pulling it towards him.
‘Look, I really don’t know anything. I wasn’t given anything. I…’
‘It’s an interesting subject, scalping.’ Mr Crisp touched the point of his knife to Izzy’s forehead, and a dark bead of red blood blossomed from the cut. ‘Everyone thinks it was invented by the Red Indians in America. Or I suppose I should say the Native Americans. That is how they like to be referred to now, isn’t it?’
Izzy struggled, but his hands and legs were tied, and he’d probably been in the bath as long as I’d been unconscious. He moaned a horrible sound, muffled by the sock shoved in his mouth, wet breaths snorting out of his nose and arcing little beads of snot through the air. Mr Crisp ignored him, keeping a firm hold on the back of his head, pinning it onto the knife.
‘But really it’s something that’s been practised by many different cultures through history. Herodotus wrote about the Scythians’ fondness for taking scalps, and there are reports of Visigoths and Franks doing it, which is obviously long before America was discovered.’
I watched in horror as he pulled the knife slowly across Izzy’s forehead, parting the skin just below my friend’s hair line.
‘What do you want?’ I asked. ‘Just tell me what you want. Maybe I saw something and just don’t know.’
‘Of course, the Indians… sorry, Native Americans, did scalp their enemies, and long before westerners came to America. But we really got into the spirit of it. The government would pay bounty hunters handsomely for Indian scalps.’
Izzy was shaking uncontrollably now, his breath coming in rapid, short gasps. A horrible keening sound escaping past the makeshift gag.
‘Stop it, please,’ I said. ‘You don’t need to do this.’
‘There’s no point trying to stop Mr Crisp when he’s in the zone, Sam,’ Jonno said. ‘And this is a subject close to his heart.’
‘But he’s killing him.’
‘I rather think that’s the point, don’t you?’
I strained against the toilet seat, but my hands were tied behind my back to the cistern, and unlike the one in my own home, this was well fixed to the wall. Izzy stared at me with eyes so wide I thought they must surely pop out any minute. He was breathing in rapid snorts, too rapid, his cheeks puffing in and out as if there was an insane drummer sitting on his tongue. Sweat mingled with the blood on his face as Mr Crisp bent to his grisly task. And then Izzy convulsed in the bath. His eyeballs slid upwards in their sockets and his arms and went rigid. He quivered like an expectant terrier for a second, then slumped back, relaxed.
A horrible stench rose up from the bath, and Mr Crisp dropped Izzy’s head back, swearing under his breath.
‘Stupid bugger. You’re not supposed to die before I say so.’
I couldn’t help noticing the heat in the words, even as I processed the meaning behind the words. Before I could say anything, Jonno had leant over and pressed a fat finger to Izzy’s bare neck.
‘Weak heart’s my guess. Ah well. Win some, lose some.’
‘But I’d hardly started. How am I meant to strike fear into the hearts of men if they just die after a single cut.’
‘Never mind. There’s always the other one.’
Mr Crisp got up from where he had been kneeling over Izzy, and turned around to face me. I could see the glistening wetness of tears around his eyes. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand, sniffing.
‘Of course. Mr Barnes. Sam. I had almost forgotten. Please forgive me. I’m afraid your friend has left before the interval.’ He hefted his knife like a butcher gauging the weight, but all I could see was the smear of Izzy’s blood on the blade. ‘Still, I’m sure you’ll want to tell me exactly what you did with the memory stick Detective Sergeant Prowett gave to you.’
I couldn’t take my eyes off the blade. It seemed to move of its own accord, gliding slowly through the air towards me and my soft, sensitive, intact skin.
‘I… I told you. I haven’t got anything.’ I spoke to the knife, but it wasn’t listening. Then a trilling sound rang out, sounding remarkably like the theme tune to the Simpsons. The blade stopped in mid air, its point shaking ever so slightly as if annoyed.
‘What did I tell you about turning off your phone when I’m working?’ Mr Crisp rounded on Jonno, who had hastily pulled a slim black smartphone out of his pocket and was staring at the screen.
‘It’s the boss.’ He thumbed to take the call. Mr Crisp rolled his eyes and sat down on the edge of the bath as a one-sided monosyllabic conversation began at the other end of the small room. I couldn’t stop staring at the knife, still dripping with Izzy’s blood. Well, it was better than looking at my oldest friend, dead because of me.
‘Got you. OK.’ Jonno tapped the screen to end the call, far too swift in my opinion, and shoved the phone back into his pocket. ‘Change of plan. We’re about to get a visit from the constabulary.’
‘I thought that was supposed to be taken care of.’
‘Yeah, well. Best laid and all that. We need to get sunshine out of here. Take him someplace quiet where we can have more of a chat.’
I looked from Jonno to Mr Crisp and back, head swivelling like one of those stupid dogs people put in the back of their cars. Something filtered through from their conversation though. The police were coming. They were almost here. If I could just get away, even for a minute.
Mr Crisp spun his knife around in his hand, then leant forward, close to my head. He reached behind me and with a swift slice, cut open whatever it was they had used to tie me down. This was my opportunity. All I had to do was elbow him out of the way – he was off-balance after all. Kick the big one in the bollocks and leg it out the door. I could be out in the street before they’d had time to recover.
But there was something wrong with my legs. They wouldn’t respond to my commands, the muscles gone beyond cramp and into some kind of numb world of their own. I tried to move my arms quickly round, ready to push myself to my feet if necessary. Surely once I was on my feet I would be able to walk. But they too were sluggish and slow. And painful. It felt like my shoulder-blades had popped out of their sockets, which had then been lubricated with sharp sand. Now they were being forced back into a place they didn’t want to go.
‘Ah, Jesus.’ I could feel the tears coming, see the blurring at the edge of my vision. It was all I could manage to keep still. Anything else was too painful.
‘Come on you.’ Jonno reached forward and grabbed me by my shirt front, hauled me to my feet in a wave of agony that dimmed my sight and made the room spin. My legs buckled underneath me, which I don’t think he was expecting. He let me drop to the floor in a heap, then took a firm hold of my collar at the back and hauled me up again.
I was dragged out of the bathroom, my last view a side-on of Izzy’s face staring up at the ceiling, eyes still wide with fear, mouth still bulging with a pair of his old socks, blood congealing around the long thin cut to his forehead. My elbow banged against the doorframe, sending a shock of pain through my arm and shoulder, and I couldn’t stop myself from thinking what a lucky bastard he was.
Detective Sergeant Elinor Campbell stood at the ugly uPVC door, glancing up and down the quiet street. She looked at her watch – half three in the morning – and then leaned on the doorbell a second time. Stupid bastard had gone to the pub with his mate, probably drunk himself unconscious and forgotten to check in. She was surprised that Jonas had forgotten too – it was pretty much standard procedure after all when a member of the public was involved. Then again, nothing about this whole fiasco was standard procedure anymore. Tim dead, someone in the agency feeding information to this mob, a pair of thugs who thought nothing of killing a uniformed officer. The whole thing was a godawful mess.
A car murmured along past the junction at the end of the road. It was a steep climb up to this house, though thankfully a short one. From what little she’d seen of Bishop’s Stortford, the whole town seemed to be built on a series of steep hills. Campbell looked up from the door just in time to see the roof light of a taxi. This time of night there wouldn’t be much else. She pushed the doorbell again, hearing the chime within, then crunched over the gravel at the front of the house and tried to peer in through the window. It was dark, too dark to see.
A narrow alley separated this house from the next, and she had to squeeze past the wheelie bin to get to the small yard at the back. Head high brick walls provided some shelter from the neighbours, but the whole area was scarcely large enough for a couple of cars to turn before being backed into the lean-to garage. The driveway opened up onto another street, parallel with the one out front, but there were no gates to stop unwanted visitors wandering in. A faint odour that she couldn’t quite place lingered in the night air. Something sharp, but almost impossible to smell.
Campbell peered through the back windows, knocked on the door, and then tried the handle. It clicked and the door opened. Not good. She pushed it wide, stepped into a silent kitchen, sniffed the air and strained her ears for any sound. Nothing moved, only the faint hum of the fridge and a slow tock, tock, tock of an unidentified clock made any noise at all. There was an odour of blocked toilet, but it was faint, as if it had been cleared up earlier. She pushed through the far door, using the light from the streetlamp outside to guide her, and found herself in a large living room.
The smell was slightly worse here, a curry-fuelled fart trapped in a room with no windows open. As far as she was aware, Sam’s friend was a bachelor, lived alone. Maybe that’s what lad’s pads smelled like.
‘Anyone home?’ she asked the silence. It didn’t reply.
Two other rooms downstairs were empty, so she figured they’d both be crashed out upstairs. Except that there was that smell, and the nagging feeling that things weren’t right. She climbed the steps quietly, reaching a landing with four doors leading off. One was open, light spilling out to reveal a toilet, seat down. Beside it, a basin with a mirror above, and in that mirror a perfect reflection of a naked man in the bath, his head covered in blood.
Campbell stepped into the room, realising at once where the bad odour was coming from. And at the same time her mind registered what that earlier smell had been, outside in the back yard. The dying wisps of a car exhaust.
‘Fuck, they were just here.’
I don’t know how long I spent in the back of the car, but judging by the way my leg and neck muscles were screaming, it was a while. Time seemed to go in jumps, each one marked with a painful jolt awake, a flood of terror first at being trapped somewhere dark and strange, then deeper fear as the memories seeped back. And finally, those memories warping into something more like a dream as I slid under again.
When I finally came to, we had stopped and I was no longer in the boot. Vague dream-memories spoke to me of being manhandled, hauled by the armpits through thick vegetation. Looking around, I could just make out the lower branches of young pine trees in the darkness. The air was thick with the smell of toilet cleaner.
‘You awake then? About fucking time.’ A figure loomed at me – the thickset man who’d punched me in the face back at Izzy’s place. Jonno, that was his name. He grabbed me by the lapels and hauled me to my feet. My head swam, and my legs felt like rubber, collapsing underneath me as I tried to stand. His hands tightened, pulling me up and holding me until I could take my own weight.
We were in a small clearing in some woods somewhere. I had no idea where. Overhead, the sky was clearing as dawn rose, and I could hear a distant roar of motorway, but apart from that we could have been anywhere.
‘What is this?’ I asked, even though I had a nasty feeling I knew.
‘This is where you’re going to be buried, Mr Barnes.’ I didn’t think I could be any more scared, but the sudden appearance of the other killer by my side had me jumping like a schoolgirl in a slasher movie. In the growing light, he looked pale and cadaverous, his eyes sunken into his face, hooded and dark. He held a shovel in one hand, pushed it towards me. ‘Get digging.’
‘What? You’ve got to be joking.’
‘Do I look like I’m laughing, Mr Barnes.’ This time he threw the shovel at me so hard I had to catch it to avoid injury.
‘Best do as he says.’ Jonno grinned, producing a gun from one pocket, a silencer from another. He screwed them together with slow, deliberate movements.
‘Why should I? You’re going to kill me anyway.’ Now that I knew it, I felt a strange, almost perverse bravado.
‘Maybe. Maybe not. You’ve still not told us what we need to know. Give us the memory stick and we might just let you go.’
I almost laughed. ‘Like fuck.’
Mr Crisp shrugged. ‘I guess you’re right. It’s pretty obvious you’re just a dumb schmuck who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You know nothing. A pity, really. But here’s the thing. Either you dig a nice hole, get into it and lie down like a good boy. Then My friend Jonno here will put a bullet in the back of your head. Quick, simple, pretty much painless, I’m led to believe.’
Jonno pointed his gun at me and mimed it kicking back as he pulled the trigger.
‘Or I have to dig the hole myself. In which case I’ll be too knackered to shoot you, and I’ll just have to leave you to my friend Mr Crisp here.’
‘Jesus Fuck! What the hell were you thinking?’
DS Campbell stood in the dirty kitchen trying to focus on her boss and not stare out the window where dawn was beginning to make the streetlights redundant. Above her, through the ceiling and into the bathroom, a team of scene of crime officers were busying themselves with whatever they could do before the coroner turned up. She doubted they’d find anything of any use.
‘What do you mean, what was I thinking?’ Her brain finally caught up with DCI Jonas’s question. ‘You think this was my fault?’
‘Well, you were supposed to be watching him. Where were you?’
‘I…’ Asleep in the staff room.
‘And what about this place? Did you check it over before you let our only witness come here?’ Jonas swept his arm over the room, and then out the back door to the short gravel driveway beyond. ‘Did you even know it had a back entrance?’
Campbell tried to hold back her growing anger. She’d done everything that was asked of her and more. No sleep in almost two days; no time to even take in the fact that one of her closest colleagues was dead; a strange town she’d never even heard of before; and a boss who was acting like procedure left a bad taste in his mouth.
‘I… Detective Sergeant Flass set up the surveillance, sir.’ It sounded lame and she knew it. Pass the buck.
‘And you thought that was OK did you? Just let the local plod deal with it all. Not as if it’s important or anything. Christ almighty.’
Jonas slumped against the kitchen table, flicked a hand through the random collection of junk mail, empty pizza cartons and unopened bills that littered its surface.
‘Why didn’t they just kill him?’ Campbell asked.
‘Oh, so you’re thinking like a detective now, are you? Well go on then sergeant. Give us the benefit of your enormous intellect.’
‘They killed his friend. I’m guessing to try and make him talk. But then they took him away, so we have to assume they didn’t get what they wanted.’
‘And what do you suppose that is?’ Jonas made no attempt to hide the sneer in his voice.
‘Whatever Tim gave him, or told him. Christ, I don’t know. Barnes swore blind there wasn’t anything, so maybe he was sticking to that. They didn’t believe him, killed his friend then decided to take him somewhere nice and private so they could work him over properly. I imagine the neighbours would wake up if someone really started screaming.’
‘You think?’ Jonas raised his eyebrows in the direction of the back door, attempted a wry smile without much conviction.
Campbell rubbed at her eyes with the heel of her hand, peered into the mug of purloined coffee – well, it wasn’t as if the poor sod upstairs in the bath was going to need it anymore.
‘So are you going to stand there drinking coffee all morning then?’ Jonas asked. ‘Or are you going to start acting like a detective?’
‘Believe it or not, sir, I’ve already got a firm lead on the car they’re driving.’
‘Oh yes?’ Jonas actually got to his feet, which gave Campbell a tiny lift. No way he’d ever actually compliment her, grouchy old bastard that he was, but she’d caught him out, which had to be a good thing.
‘Tommy… DS Flass got on to the CCTV cameras nearby. We pretty much knew to the minute when they’d left, and there wasn’t much traffic at that time of the morning.’ She glanced at her watch to see that it had only been three hours ago.
‘You got plates?’
‘No. The resolution’s crap. But we have got a black BMW Seven Series heading out of town. North, towards the motorway. We’re already expanding the search and there’s an all patrols out too.’
Jonas shoved his hands in his pockets, glanced up at the ceiling. He pulled open the kitchen door, letting cold air spill in from outside. ‘Keep an eye on this then. And let me know the moment we get any hits on that car.’
‘Where are you going, sir?’
A momentary flash of annoyance across Jonas’s face. ‘To speak to the super, try and buy us a little more time. You find Barnes alive and whole, we might just salvage our careers from this mess.’ He stepped through the door, pulling his coat tight around him, shoving hands deep into his pockets. ‘Keep on top of it, sergeant, and don’t try to blame the local plod for your fuck-ups.’
Digging is hard work.
Oh, I’m sure if you’re a professional road builder or something you’d have no problems, but I sit at a desk for a living, punching keys and herding a mouse. Half an hour of swinging the spade I’d been given and I was ready to just lie down and die anyway. It didn’t help that the ground in the middle of a forest is inevitably full of tree roots. I was sweaty and sore, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten anything I hadn’t brought up again soon afterwards. No, I could remember now. It was that bloody expensive sandwich in the park. Lunchtime yesterday. Just before everything had turned to shit through absolutely no fault of my own. Jarring the splintered wooden handle against my blistered hands with each bite into the earth, I became increasingly angry at my situation, the world in general and these two thugs who had forced their way into my life.
The tall, thin one who liked to hurt people with knives, Mr Crisp stood motionless in the gap between two trees that was presumably the path back to the car. He hadn’t moved since he’d appeared out of nowhere and shoved the spade into my hands. His colleague, Jonno, paced around the small clearing, watching me work and playing with his gun like an onanist with his first erection. The sky was light now, low clouds threatening to add rain to my misery. I could see the pattern to how the trees had been planted, although the gaps between them were narrow and mostly choked with low branches. Only the way behind Mr Crisp looked easy to pass, but opposite it, at the other end of the grave I was digging, there was a narrower gap that a desperate man might try.
I worked my way down to that end of the grave as casually as I could manage, chucking a spadeful of loose earth onto the pile before clambering out. Jonno was there already, of course, never letting me get more than a few feet away from him. But I’d been counting on that.
‘Can I take a break?’ I asked, rolling my shoulders to ease out the stiffness, shifting my hands on the shovel to centre its weight.
‘You’re only prolonging the inevitable.’ Jonno dropped the gun to his side, momentarily distracted from playing with himself.
‘I thought you’d say that,’ I said, and whacked him hard in the stomach with the handle of the spade. The air exploded out of him in a great whoosh. A clod of earth exploded at his feet with a soft ‘phit’ noise as he fired the gun. I didn’t wait for him to get a second shot off, but turned and threw myself down the narrow path between the trees.
It’s not easy fighting past pine trees. They’ve got whippy branches covered in thousands of sharp spiky needles that scrape at your skin and try to gouge out your eyes. Their roots twine around the surface, making loops for unwary feet. Worst of all, the ground in which they’re planted is criss-crossed with drainage ditches, or at least that was the case where I was running. I missed the first one by pure luck, and my terror was such that I didn’t care about damaging myself, didn’t notice the pain. All I wanted to do was get away. Far away. In my mind I could see Mr Crisp cutting open that policeman’s throat, going to work on Izzy. I could feel Jonno kneeling down, taking aim with his pistol. The bullet was racing towards my exposed back, ready to rip through me and out the other side.
Then my foot hit air, dropped down into the next ditch. I pitched forward, too startled even to cry out. The ground smacked into my chest, a tree trunk imprinted itself on my forehead. Dazed, I tried to get up, but nothing worked. My arms were useless rolls of flesh, my legs beyond my wit to command. I could taste the soil, rich with decaying pine needles and other less savoury things. Someone approached stealthily, knelt down beside me. I felt a hand grasp the back of my collar and pull my face out of the mud. Shoved hard over onto my back, I stared up at the frowning face of Mr Crisp and knew then that I was going to die.
‘Now that was very foolish, Mr Barnes.’ He reached into the pocket of his long, scruffy coat and pulled out a Stanley knife, sliding the blade out with a practised thumb. I couldn’t move, half dazed by my fall and half petrified by the light that gleamed in his eyes. He moved so swiftly, with the skill of someone who had spent a lifetime perfecting his craft. I felt the lightest of touches, then a burning sensation on my cheek. I tried to back away, but the ditch and the tree had me trapped. I raised my hands to shield my face and saw drops of bright shiny red on them. Felt my cheek and my fingers came away bloody.
‘You’ve been more trouble than you’re worth.’ Mr Crisp leant forward again and I tensed, ready for the next cut. ‘I’m going to enjoy this.’
The knife came forward slowly this time, almost playfully. Mr Crisp had a look on his face like he couldn’t quite make up his mind where to start; the fat boy standing at the head of a table laden with cakes and sweets. I wondered whether I would be able to knock his hand away whilst he was distracted, but I knew I was trapped. I could try to fight, but where had that got me so far?
A distant trilling noise broke the silence and also Mr Crisp’s concentration. He let out a frustrated grunt, slid the blade back into its holder, shoved the knife back into his pocket and pulled out a mobile phone. Flipped it open and held it to his head whilst at the same time standing and placing one boot firmly in the middle of my chest.
‘What?’ It was obvious he knew who was calling; more so that he wasn’t happy at what was being said. The pressure on my chest grew as the one-sided conversation progressed. I was finding it hard to breathe, and certainly couldn’t escape, pinned as I was on my back, with my feet stuck in the narrow ditch.
‘You’re sure?’ The words were laced with irritation. Mr Crisp looked at me with a terrible loathing that had me longing for Jonno’s silenced automatic. ‘OK then. But I don’t think it’s a good idea.’ He put the phone away, his foot still hard on my chest. Behind him, the trees shook for a moment before disgorging the shape of Jonno. He looked down at me, and then at his colleague.
‘Not killed him yet?’
Mr Crisp said nothing for a while, just leant ever more heavily on my chest. For a man who was as thin as a rake, he had a surprising amount of weight behind him. Just when I thought I was going to pass out with lack of breath, he relented, swinging back and away from me.
‘Get up, Mr Barnes.’
‘What?’ I said through gasps. ‘So I can dig my own grave again? Fuck that.’
‘Looks like he’s finally grown a pair,’ Jonno said. ‘Took long enough.’ He stepped down into the ditch, grabbed me by my shirt front and pulled me upright. The punch came from nowhere, snapping my head back. My knees gave, but Jonno just threw me round so that I sprawled onto the ground.
‘That’s for hitting me with the spade,’ he said, then kicked me in the ribs. ‘And that’s because now I’m in a foul mood. Now get up.’
I struggled to my feet, only to be pushed back through the trees to the clearing where I’d dug my grave. Mr Crisp walked on ahead, letting the branches slap back into my stinging face, but Jonno was so close behind, ever ready with a shove between the shoulder blades, that I couldn’t do much to protect myself.
‘Tie his hands,’ Mr Crisp said when I stopped at the graveside. Jonno fished around in his pocket before finding a long plastic cable tie. ‘You don’t want a go at him?’ he asked.
‘Later.’ Mr Crisp carried on walking, away from the graveside. ‘Right now we’ve got to get back to the car. The old man wants to see him. He has a plan.’