This is the fourth 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 was back in the car again, shoved in the boot where every jar and knock felt like a hundred knives working into the gaps between my vertebrae. I couldn’t stretch out or brace myself against anything with my hands tied behind my back, and not being able to see where we were going, I couldn’t anticipate bends or potholes. It was surprisingly cold, too. Obviously BMW never thought to fit a heater vent in the boot.
But at least I was alive, if only for now.
A particularly heavy bump threw me bodily against the underside of the boot lid, cracking my head on something sharp and hard. I must have blacked out, because the next thing I knew, we were stationary, and I was being hauled out into a courtyard at the back of what looked like a stately home. The fat one, Jonno, was saying something to me, but the heavy ringing in my ears made it impossible to hear. The whole thing had taken on a kind of dreamlike quality that just about made it bearable.
No doubt deciding I was beyond hope, Jonno hefted me over his shoulder as if I were already rolled up in the stained carpet, and carried me into the house. My neck muscles didn’t want to work, well to be honest none of my muscles wanted to work, so all I could see was what my head was pointing at as I was carried along a corridor lined with dark wood. Polished tiles in alternating chess board black and white covered the floor, and what looked like the legs of a couple of suits of armour swayed past. Then we turned, and the back of my head collided with a doorframe. Oddly enough this silenced the bells and woke me up. It brought back the pain too. Worse still when I was dumped onto a chair, my still-tied hands trapped behind my back so that I thought my shoulders were going to pop out.
‘So you are awake.’ It was the other one, Mr Crisp. I couldn’t see him, and tried to move my head to where I thought the voice had come from. Another wave of pain dimmed my vision for a moment, then my mouth went suddenly liquid. In that tiny fraction of a second between realisation and action, I wondered whether there was anything left in my stomach to come up. As it happened there was, though it burned on the way out. Somehow I managed to avoid my feet, throwing up over an expensive Persian rug instead. It didn’t make me feel any better.
‘You dirty bastard,’ Jonno said, and I could see through the corner of my eye that he’d caught some of the flow too. My smile was short lived, and probably only in my imagination. Something the size and speed of an articulated truck caught me on the side of the head, and the next thing I knew I was sprawled across the floor.
‘Steady there Jonno,’ Mr Crisp said. ‘We need him awake for the boss.’
‘These were new bloody shoes. Now look at them.’
‘Come off it. They cost you twenty quid from that Pikey in Romford market. Get him back on the chair and I’ll tell the old man we’re here.’
Rough hands grabbed me again and pulled me to my feet. It was still difficult to see properly, felt like I had the mother of all hangovers, and the wall lights were twin points of burning pain that made everything else dim. My legs were jelly too, which meant I wasn’t much help as Jonno danced around me, trying to get me to sit down whilst keeping himself out of the way of my mouth. He’d probably have been OK; I don’t think I had anything left to throw up at that point. Finally he dumped me on the seat, then stepped back into the wet patch.
‘Ah, horseshit.’ He rubbed his foot backwards and forwards on the expensive rug just as the door swung open and an elderly gentleman walked in.
‘Stop that, Jonno. You’re only making it worse.’ The old man’s voice was rich and plumy, with a hint of South African in it. Put me in mind of Joss Ackland, though he looked nothing like him. He walked across the far side of the room from me, and as he did, so I realised that I was in some kind of study. The walls were lined with dark wood panelling and heavy bookcases, laden with leather-bound tomes that I doubt anyone had read in centuries. Across from where I was sitting, a huge antique desk squatted beneath a large window, which had been shuttered closed against the daylight. As well as the wall lights, now dimming as my head settled down, a green-cowled reading lamp lit a square of tooled leather on the desktop.
My attention was momentarily diverted by the sight of Mr Crisp coming back into the room. There was something different about him and it took me a while to realise that he was afraid of the old man. Wary like a dog that’s been beaten once too often. I don’t know why, but that single observation lifted my mood. At least by a fraction.
‘You’ve caused us a great deal of trouble, Mr Barnes,’ the old man said after he’d settled himself down in the leather armchair on the far side of the desk. He pulled open a drawer and took out a small wooden box, flipped open the lid, selected a long, thin cigar. I watched in a kind of bemused disbelief as he patted the pockets of his velvet jacket before finally locating his cigar cutter, glanced down nervously to my side even though I couldn’t see my fingers, tied behind my back.
‘My police contact tells me that you’re nothing but a patsy. In the wrong place at the wrong time, but I don’t believe in coincidences.’
He nodded once, and Jonno stepped in behind me.
‘I don’t know anything. I…’
The blow wasn’t as hard as before; it didn’t knock me from my chair this time. But it was enough to send the room spinning for a while. I retched again, but couldn’t bring up anything. Not even bile.
‘Here’s how it works, Mr Barnes. You only speak to answer my questions. If I don’t like your answers, Jonno here will give you a beating. If you talk out of turn, Jonno here will give you a beating.’
‘I…’ I didn’t get any further before another blow rocked me in my seat.
‘If you continue to protest your innocence, or if you don’t tell me the truth. Well, then I’ll give you to Mr Crisp here.’
I looked at the old man, swimming out of the murk floating around my vision, then carefully moved my head so that I could see Mr Crisp. His eyes were fixed on me with such a longing, the look a lover gives across the Valentine restaurant table, or a dog gives the cat strutting on the other side of the fence.
‘Do you understand me, Mr Barnes? You may answer that.’
‘I…’ I looked up at the bulk of Jonno, lowering over me like thunderclouds. ‘Yes.’
‘Good.’ The old man snipped the end off his cigar, lit it and puffed heavy smoke rings into the room. The smell made me want to sneeze, but I hardly dared move.
‘Now, where shall we start? Perhaps you could begin by telling me how you first met Detective Sergeant Prowett?’
‘Who?’ I asked before my brain had time to stop me. I tensed against the blow, which just made it worse.
‘You know very well who I’m talking about. Your police chum.’
‘I… I never met him before yesterday. In that park. I wasn’t even s’posed to be there. Just looking for somewhere to eat my lunch.’
The old man sighed, but kept his gaze on me rather than signalling to Jonno to give me another beating.
‘We know you work with SOCA, Mr Barnes. That’s why you were in London in the first place.’
I started to protest, then stopped myself before I’d said anything. I could see Jonno’s hulking presence in my peripheral vision.
‘Detective Sergeant Prowett arranged to meet you so that he could give you something. It had to be small, so I think most likely a CD or a memory stick. My technicians tell me that a number of encrypted files have been read recently. I think he had begun to suspect there was a leak in his own team, which is probably why he chose you, an outsider, to meet him.’
I shook my head slightly despite the pain. Through the growing smoke, the old man raised an eyebrow.
‘Are you trying to tell me I’m wrong, Mr Barnes?’
‘I told you already, like I told the police. I’d never met this Prowett bloke before. He didn’t give me anything. Christ, there wasn’t time. He said something, but I couldn’t make out the words. I thought he was drunk. And I don’t work with SOCA. That’s my boss, Brenda. She’s on some police ethics liaison committee that meets once a month in London. Whoever’s in favour in the office gets to go with her to set up the projector. I drew the lucky straw this time.’
I fell silent, waiting for the blow that never came. The old man settled back in his seat, thinking for a while. Then he let out a thin, whiny laugh.
‘Do you know, I think I’m beginning to believe you, Mr Barnes. So either you’re a very good actor who doesn’t care much for his life, or you’re the most unlucky man in the world.’ He looked for an ashtray, then realised there wasn’t one, placed his cigar very carefully over the edge of the desk. ‘I’m going to do some checking, and you’re going to think long and hard about where your priorities lie. Jonno, take Mr Barnes to the basement. Let him know just how seriously his life is fucked up right now. We’ll continue this interrogation later.’
‘Well this is a right fucking fiasco, isn’t it.’
DCI Jonas paced back and forth across the small area of carpet in front of the drinks dispenser, turning and turning like a caged animal. He raised his hand, fist half formed as if to strike out at something, then realised what he was doing and turned the motion into a scratch to the back of his head. Campbell kept what she hoped was a safe enough distance, glad that the few collected uniforms who had been loitering about the canteen when he had arrived were now gone, scuttled away to the relative safety of elsewhere.
‘I had no choice, sir. You weren’t here. What was I supposed to do?’
Jonas stopped his pacing, fixed his stare on her. ‘I don’t know, sergeant, but telling a bunch of provincial plods all about our biggest fuck-up ever probably wasn’t your best idea.’
‘It’s the truth, though. We fucked up. Tim died. Constable Pointer died. And now Izzy Connell’s dead too, and Sam Barnes as well if I’m any judge.’
Jonas snorted out a mirthless laugh. ‘There’s hope for him yet then.’
Campbell ignored him, though she hoped he was right. ‘We still need to find him, whatever state he’s in. His phone’s missing, so I’ve got the tech boys onto tracking it. You never know, we might get lucky.’
‘Oh, so you’re relying on luck now, sergeant. Whatever happened to procedure?’
You threw that out the window when you conned Barnes into helping us, Campbell didn’t say, though she wanted to. ‘We’re still trying to keep this investigation low profile?’ She asked instead.
‘The fewer people know what we’re doing, the better. If someone’s leaking information to these thugs, then I want to keep one step ahead of them.’
‘So we’ve got minimal resources, little or no backup. What’s the superintendent say?’
Jonas gave Campbell an odd look, as if he’d heard her say something completely different. He shook his head. ‘She doesn’t want to know. Plausible deniability and all that.’
‘Brilliant.’ Campbell rubbed the sleep from her eyes, the weariness of the past twenty-four hours heavy on her shoulders.
‘Ah, stop moaning. It’s not often you get cut free like this. You can do whatever you like as long as we get Barnes back. If he’s still alive you might even get a commendation.’
And if not, then I’ll be out of a job, best case scenario. ‘And I do this exactly how, sir? I’ve got no resources, can’t let anyone know what I’m doing. You’re busy trying to find our leak and plug it, I assume?’
‘Of course I am, don’t be bloody stupid woman.’ Jonas resumed his worried pacing for a moment, then stopped. ‘You said Barnes’ phone was missing?’
‘Yeah. We found the panic button at Mr Connell’s house, but nothing else. They took his coat, phone, wallet, the lot. Maybe he never got a chance to take his coat off.’
‘And who’ve you told this to?’
‘Just you. I put in a search request on the phone number, but I’ve not told anyone why.’
Jonas considered this for a moment. ‘Good. Don’t tell anyone else. And the moment you get a hit on that phone I want to know.’ He set off for the door, leaving Campbell stranded.
‘What am I supposed to do for resources, sir?’ She shouted at his receding back. He stopped, turned.
‘Use your initiative, sergeant. DS Flass is sweet on you, perhaps you can persuade him to give you a hand.’
The basement proved to be every bit as welcoming as it sounded. The room Jonno pushed me into might once have been a wine cellar, but it had been stripped bare. The low arched ceiling and brick walls were painted white, the floor heavy flagstones. A bare bulb hanging from the ceiling by the shortest of flexes provided all the light. There was no window. Apart from a table and two chairs, it was empty.
‘Sit.’ Jonno pushed me heavily into one of the chairs, trapping my arms behind me and sending another jolt of pain through my shoulders. Facing the door, I had the delightful view of Mr Crisp as he walked in holding my jacket.
‘It occurs to me, Jonno, that we’ve not actually searched Mr Barnes yet. A most regrettable oversight.’
He dropped my jacket onto the table and started to go through the pockets. Out came the police-issue plastic bag with my phone, wallet and other rubbish in it. There was nothing else, but that didn’t stop him from patting it down as if I’d secreted a memory stick in the lining or something.
‘You won’t find anything,’ I said. ‘The police already took everything, put it in that bag when they arrested me.’
Mr Crisp held up the bag, sneered at it, and let it fall to the table. ‘His shoes, Jonno, if you will.’
‘Do I have to? He’s all covered in sick.’
Mr Crisp gave him a look, and with a grumble, Jonno bent down, pulled off my shoes and socks.
‘I’m not doing a full body search, mind.’
‘Oh, I don’t think that’ll be necessary. Besides, I didn’t want his feet bare so I could search him. We already know everything the police found. I just like to be sure.’ Mr Crisp picked up my jacket and shoved the plastic bag back into the pocket. ‘On the table, I think Jonno. Face down.’
I worked out what was happening an instant before Jonno did. Unfortunately I was in no state to do anything about it as he pulled me first to my feet and then shoved me onto the table. I tried to struggle, but I had no strength and everything hurt. My legs were tied down with a heavy strap, another one passed under the table and across my neck, pinning me helpless. Mr Crisp walked slowly around the table and out of my view, only his voice telling me where he was.
‘The soles of the feet are very sensitive, Mr Barnes. I’m given to understand that the pain when they are beaten is quite excruciating. I’ve never experienced it myself, so I’d be very interested to hear what you think.’
I couldn’t see, so I didn’t know when to tense, or even if tensing would do any good. All I knew was a pain such as I’d never known before. My feet were on fire, waves of agony spearing up my legs. I screamed like a girl.
‘That bad, is it? I had no idea. So perhaps you’d like to tell us where you hid the memory stick now, Mr Barnes.’
I didn’t have time to answer before a second blow mashed my soles. It was even more painful than the first, which until then I wouldn’t have thought possible.
‘There. Is. No. Memory. Stick.’ I panted the words out in ragged gasps, tried to bend my legs and get my feet away from whatever it was they were being flayed with, but the straps held firm.
‘Now you see, Mr Barnes, that’s not true, is it.’ Another wave of agony washed over me. Neck pinned down by the strapping, I thought I was going to choke. It was almost impossible to breath and my lungs burst with a need for air. I couldn’t talk, couldn’t answer any questions even if I knew what these people wanted to hear. All I could do was tense myself for the next blow.
‘You know more than you’re telling us. There has to be a reason why Prowett chose you; I don’t believe for a minute he’d entrust his secret to any random stranger.’
My face was wet with tears, my view of the doorway blurred. At that moment I would have given anything for the pain to stop. I’d done nothing to deserve this, nothing to these people. Why were they doing this to me? In the raging mess of thoughts and pain, I had a sudden moment of lucidity.
‘You let him escape.’
‘What was that, Mr Barnes?’ I couldn’t see the lead pipe or baseball bat or whatever it was Mr Crisp had been hitting me with, but in my mind’s eye it was poised ready to swing, stopped only by my unexpected words.
‘Prowett. You let him get away from you. That wasn’t supposed to happen. You’re pissed off at your own mistake, and now you’re taking it out on me. You don’t really care what I say, do you?’
The answer was another explosion of pain across my feet, enough to blacken my vision and force another scream out through my clenched teeth. Over the wheezing of my own breath I could hear Mr Crisp’s excitement growing. Or his anger. Another swipe to the soles of my feet and through the pain I was sure I could hear him chuckling. So definitely excitement, the sick fuck. Blow after blow crashed through my body until I couldn’t really feel anything at all. I was sure my feet must have been bleeding, toes gone, just stumps of bloody flesh and gristle on the end of my legs. Dear God, when would it ever stop?
Jonno was my unlikely saviour. ‘Ease up won’t you, he needs to be able to walk. I’m not fucking carrying him about.’
The blows ceased, and at that moment I could have kissed the big man. Then the pain caught up and I passed out.
Jonas drove down narrow lanes, listening to the annoying voice of the Sat-Nav as she told him to where to turn. He’d been to Bob Hayley’s house enough times to know the way, but that was from London. Bishop’s Stortford was a whole other fucking backwater, even if it was actually closer. He much preferred meeting in the old café on the Mile End Road. Home territory and not this wealthy pile out in the sticks.
The crunch of gravel heralded his arrival. Ex-Detective Chief Inspector Bob Hayley had done well in his retirement, advising large corporations on their security needs. The house was a far cry from Jonas’s tiny flat in Islington; three storeys, mock-Georgian, it spread out in acres of parkland as if planning regulations were somebody else’s problem.
‘George, what an unexpected surprise.’ Bob met him at the front door. Late afternoon and he was already dressed like a man not planning on going anywhere. Comfortable trousers and a dark velvet smoking jacket, if he’d had a cigar and a glass of brandy, the image would have been complete. ‘To what do I owe the pleasure?’
‘Oh you know, the usual. I was in the area, thought I’d drop by. Can I come in?’ Jonas was still on the wide stone step beneath the elegant portico that dominated the front of the building. For a moment, Hayley hesitated, as if he were thinking of the right words to get rid of an unwelcome door-to-door salesman, but then he beamed a big smile and stepped to one side.
‘Of course, of course. Come in, George. Can I offer you a cup of tea. Maybe something stronger.’
Jonas waited until he was inside the large hall and the door was shut.
‘They got Barnes,’ he said.
‘Barnes, you know. The bloke who saw Tim Prowett before he died.’
‘Shit.’ Hayley shoved his hands into his jacket pockets, started walking across the hall. ‘Here.’
Jonas followed Hayley across the hall and into a room comfortably bigger than his entire Islington flat. A huge, empty fireplace dominated the far wall, surrounded by large leather sofas and the kind of all-enveloping high-backed armchairs normally only seen in Gentlemen’s clubs. Two sets of glass doors opened out onto a patio, beyond which a perfectly mown stripy lawn gave way eventually to parkland.
Without asking, Hayley had poured two sizeable glasses of whisky from a crystal decanter. He handed one to Jonas, nodded for him to sit.
‘I asked around a bit. The unofficial channels you know.’ Hayley settled into one of the high-backed armchairs. Jonas perched himself on the edge of a sofa, unwilling to commit. The whisky smelled good, and by Christ he needed a drink. But he also needed his wits about him.
‘There’s a pair of toerags’ve been flexing their muscles in the East End. Word is they’re the fixers for a new outfit that’s been taking over the old gangs. It’s early days yet. No-one knows much about what’s going on, but as soon as I started asking questions, the pattern was quite obvious. These guys would rather cut each others throats than talk, mind you, so they haven’t got a clue what’s going on.’
‘Looks like it.’
‘And what about these fixers? You got names, pictures?’
‘Give me a chance George.’ Hayley laughed. ‘I’ve only had a few hours.’
‘Sorry Bob. It’s just all gone tits up. I’ll take anything I can get right now.’ Jonas rubbed at his face. Stubble scratched at his fingers. It’d be a while before he had time to shave again.
‘So how did it happen, then? Your man, what was his name? Barnes?’ Hayley took a slim smartphone out of his pocket, tapped at the screen like a teenager. ‘You reckon your mole told them where he was?’
‘No, not this time. That was our fuck-up. We had surveillance but it wasn’t good enough. That’s what happens when you use the local plod. Couldn’t find their arses with both hands and a torch.’
‘So what’re you going to do?’
‘They took him with them. Left his mate dead in the bath. Killed that beat cop too. My guess is they want to find out what he knows. That gives us a bit of time.’
‘What does he know?’
‘Fuck all, as far as I’m aware. Just an unlucky sod who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
‘Unlucky sod indeed. You know what they’ll do to him? What they’re probably doing to him right now?’
Jonas grimaced. It didn’t take a genius to work out what hell Sam Barnes was going through. Eventually his captors would accept he knew nothing, and then they’d show him as much mercy as they had Steve Pointer and Izzy Connell. And it was all his fault.
‘Keep digging will you, Bob,’ he said after a long silence punctuated only by the soft tapping of Hayley’s fingers on his smartphone.
‘I never stopped,’ the old man said.
I woke up in another bare room, or perhaps it was the same one, but the table had gone. I was tied to a chair, and the first thing I knew was cold, wet, drowning. Water went up my nose and in my mouth, forcing me awake in a confusing, panicking rush of sensation. I gasped for breath, shook my head to clear the water from my eyes, looked up to see Jonno standing in front of me with an empty bucket. Mr Crisp stood off to one side, a curious longing in his eyes as he stared at me. Behind them, the old man in his velvet jacket and neatly pressed trousers kept far enough back to avoid getting wet, or bloody.
I shivered from the cold, and for a moment it dulled all other sensation. But only for a moment. All too soon the ache in my shoulders and arms returned, and brought with it a low, damaged pain from my feet. I looked down at them, expecting to see a broken mess, but from above they were the same broad, slightly hairy creatures I’d seen in the shower every day of my adult life. In the spirit of experiment, I tried pressing down on the wet flagstone floor, then yelped in pain and wished I hadn’t.
‘Tender, are they?’ Mr Crisp asked. I didn’t grace him with an answer.
‘Now now, Mr Crisp. I’m sure you’ve had your fun, but Mr Barnes is our guest here. We must treat him with some small respect.’
The old man walked forward clutching a small black leather pouch in one hand. I wasn’t at all reassured by his reference to me as a guest.
‘I’ve been asking a few questions about you, Mr Barnes. It seems that much of what you’ve told us may, in fact, be the truth. However, I am by nature a careful man, so I’m going to make sure.’ He handed the pouch to Mr Crisp, who unzipped it, revealing a shiny silver syringe.
‘You’ll be aware of Sodium Pentathol, I’ve no doubt,’ the old man said as Jonno reached around behind my back and ripped up my sleeve. I tried to move away from the needle as it approached. I don’t like injections at the best of times, but this was something else entirely. It was no good; tied to the chair and held down by the big thug, I could only watch as the metal slid into my exposed arm. Its touch was cold, but warmth spread out from the point of entry.
‘Well, this is something similar my Russian friends cooked up in their labs.’
‘I don’t know anything, you know,’ I said. The old man held up his hand.
‘Of course, that’s what you believe. Why else would you endure the privations my employees have put you through?’
‘I guess because I didn’t have much choice. They came into my house you know. Killed a policeman. And then they killed my mate Izzy, poor bastard. And he’s bigger than me.’ I nodded towards Jonno. ‘I did try to escape though.’
‘Of course. But now you’re here, Mr Barnes. With me. So tell me if you will. Why did Tim Prowett choose you, out of all the people in that park yesterday?’
‘Yesterday? Was it yesterday? My how the time flies.’ I don’t know what it was that I’d been injected with, but it had magically taken away all the pain. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I was at ease. And it had taken away the fear as well. Daft, I know, but these three men didn’t scare me at all, and neither did being tied to a chair in a dungeon somewhere.
‘Think about it, Mr Barnes. You have a connection with SOCA, albeit tenuous. Don’t you think it rather too much of a coincidence that Prowett should seek you out? In a crowd of hundreds?’
‘I suppose when you put it like that, then yes, it’s damned odd. But I didn’t know him. How could I? I’ve been to their office a few times, of course. But it’s always just a bunch of suits and a couple of senior uniforms. If I’m unlucky I get to take notes. If I’m lucky then Big Bosom Brenda gives me the afternoon off.’
‘Big Bosom Brenda?’ The old man arched a white eyebrow.
‘Did I say that? Really? Gosh, that’s powerful stuff you’ve given me, isn’t it. I didn’t think these drugs really worked. But if you’ve ever met Brenda. My boss, you know. If you’ve ever met her, I think you’ll agree it’s a fair description. I mean, they’re enormous. Like two great big water-filled balloons wobbling in front of her. Must put some strain on her neck. And those tight tops she wears, Jesus. She’s no looker, mind, but you know what they say, you don’t look at the mantelpiece when you’re stoking the fire, eh?’
‘I think I get the picture, thank you Mr Barnes. So you’ve been to SOCA HQ how many times? A half dozen, more?’
‘More, I’d think. It’s difficult to say, but I reckon so. Yeah.’
‘And any one of those time you might have been seen by Prowett, or might even have been introduced to him and not remember.’
‘Well, I guess it’s possible. I mean, I’m pretty hopeless with names and faces. These two called you The Old Man, and I guess I’ll remember that ‘cos it’s so unusual what with you being old and a man and that, but usually…’
‘Quiet, Mr Barnes. Remember what I told you before about speaking out of turn.’
I did, and looked at Jonno to see if his fist was ready to strike. He was standing quite close, but looking slightly gormless, as if he didn’t know what to do.
‘Good,’ the old man continued. ‘Now we’ve established that Prowett might have recognised you. In which case it makes sense that he would have singled you out.’
‘I…’ I started to say, but Mr Crisp laid a long, thin finger over my lips. It smelled of cheese and onion.
‘But he would only have done so if he wanted to tell you something, or give you something. So tell me, Mr Barnes, and you may answer this time. What did Prowett give you?’
‘Nothing. I really don’t know why you find that so hard to believe, but it’s true. He sat down beside me, pretty much collapsed against me if I’m being honest, which I am ‘cos you’ve pumped something wicked into my veins and now I just can’t stop talking. He mumbled something, so maybe he was trying to pass on a message, but I couldn’t make it out. He was slurring his words so bad I thought he was some drunk tramp, but I guess it was because your friend Mr Crispy here had knifed him in the guts. I’d imagine that would hurt a lot. I…’
‘What did he say? Exactly what did you hear?’
‘I dunno, really. Like I say, it was noisy and he wasn’t talking properly. It sounded like ‘Tell Laura’ or ‘I’m boring.’ Didn’t make any sense at all. Then he was up and away again. He stumbled out of the park and straight into the road. Bus hit him. Splat.’
I stopped talking then, mostly because I’d run out of things to say, but also because my head was feeling very light indeed. All those words, tumbling out of me like spilled garbage. Maybe I’d forgotten to breathe. I couldn’t really focus at all, and the three men looking at me swirled around like some cheap cinema special effect. I’d probably have been sick if there’d been anything left in my stomach. As it was, despite keeping my eyes as wide open as I could manage, the lights were fading fast.
‘I think we’re losing him, sir.’ That sounded like Mr Crisp. Had I really just called him Mr Crispy? That didn’t bode well. ‘You want me to give you a shout when he comes round? We can give him a lighter dose next time. It seems to work on him better than most.’
‘Don’t bother. He’s told us everything he knows. Take him away, and everything he came here with. Make sure his body’s never found.’
Through the darkness, I thought I could see a round, white-edged face peering at me, far away and very close at the same time. The words bothered me, but I couldn’t for the life of me think why.
‘Goodbye, Mr Barnes. We won’t be meeting again.’
He may have said more, but I didn’t hear it. I was gone on a wave of couldn’t care.
‘Looks like you’re going to have to carry him anyway.’
Jonno stared at the unconscious body on the chair, then back at his colleague. Mr Crisp was smiling that annoying smirk of his, now that the Old Man had gone. Irritating little shit that he was. Barnes had flaked out far earlier than expected.
‘How much of that stuff you give him anyway?’ He nodded at the syringe.
‘The usual dose. Perhaps a bit too much, given the circumstances. I don’t suppose he’s eaten in a while, and he’s actually a lot thinner than I thought.’
‘Still weighs a fucking ton though, don’t he.’ Jonno cut the plastic ties that bound Barnes to the chair, then hauled him up onto his shoulder. ‘Come on then. Let’s get it over with.’
Mr Crisp led the way, through the basement corridor and up the stairs. The car was parked outside the back door and Jonno dropped the body heavily into the boot.
‘Careful with the paintwork, mind.’
‘Yeah, yeah. You and your precious bloody BMW.’ Jonno reached up to close the boot, but Mr Crisp stopped him.
‘Hang on. Don’t forget his stuff. Mustn’t leave anything here.’ He disappeared back into the house, returning a few minutes later; lobbed the jacket and the plastic bag of Barnes’ belongings into the boot on top of him.
‘That safe? What if he wakes up.’
‘He’s gone for a good five hours yet. Plenty of time to get to the woods, and there’s a grave half dug already.’
Half dug. That meant the other half still had to be shovelled out, and Jonno knew exactly who’d have to do that. He slammed down the boot lid with far more force than necessary. Fucking marvellous.
The first thing I was aware of was the headache. I remembered being at Izzy’s, sinking pints on an empty stomach. But that was an amalgam of memories; a scene played over too many times to separate one from the next. We’d have got ourselves stuck into a bottle of whisky at some point, but Christ had we drunk the whole thing?
And then I remembered that Izzy was dead. How the fuck had that happened?
I tried to sit up, and banged my head on something solid. It was dark, so I opened my eyes, only to find that made no difference. Moving was difficult; I seemed to be in a confined space, too small to stretch out. I did anyway, and when my feet hit the wall, a wave of pain rushed up my legs and into my stomach. Rolling onto my side, I doubled up, and was greeted with another rush of agony from my shoulders. Everything hurt when I moved, so I kept still, but wherever my small prison was, it was moving around a lot, and each little jolt took my breath away.
I must have lain like that for a while; time’s difficult to measure when you’re in a state of abject misery. Slowly the pain lessened, perhaps because I was healing, but more likely because there’s only so much you can take before you either start to ignore it or die. My confusion slowly ebbed away as more and more memories slid back into place. Whatever drug they’d given me was wearing off now, and the numbing fear was coming back. It didn’t take a genius to work out that I was in the boot of the car again, and that my captors had decided I’d told them all I knew. I’ve read the stories, seen the films. I knew well enough that meant I was no longer any use to them, and after what they’d done to Izzy and that policeman, there was no way they were going to let me live.
As gently as I could, I felt around the boot, trying to find anything I might use to defend myself. There was probably a wheel brace or something, but that was most likely underneath me and I doubted I’d be able to reach it. On the other hand, I’d nothing to lose and my life to gain. I rolled as slowly as I could towards the front, and that was when I noticed something draped over my legs. It only took a moment to identify it as my jacket, and then my probing fingers uncovered the plastic bag. I clutched it to me, ignoring the pain. I couldn’t believe my luck. My phone was still in there. I could call for help. They’d be able to trace it, surely.
Then the car hit a pothole, bouncing me bodily upwards into the boot lid. My head clanged against cold metal and I blacked out. At least I think I blacked out. Maybe I was just dazed for a moment, but in the total darkness it was impossible to tell. The next thing I knew we had stopped, and there was a curious humming, rushing noise filling the boot. It took me an age to work out that the car was being filled with petrol. If we were in a filling station, then I could make noise and attract attention. Surely there would be people about. I tensed my legs, drawing my knees towards my chin in readiness to kick out against the boot lid, then a voice stopped me cold.
‘Fucking nightmare. I thought these things were supposed to go forever on a thankful.’ It was the big one, Jonno.
‘They do. But someone didn’t fill it up the last time they took it down to Canvey Island, did they. ’ Mr Crisp sounded closer.
‘Christ I need a piss. You want me to pay?’
A pause during which the rushing noise stopped, the fuel gun clicked a couple of times and then, more faint, the clunk of it being put back in the pump. ‘No, I’ll go. Could do with something to eat anyway, and I don’t trust you to get me anything that’s actually edible.’
‘What about… you know. Him?’
‘I gave him twenty CCs. He’ll be out for another four hours at least.’
‘Right enough. It’s not as if there’s anyone around to hear if he wakes up.’
A moment’s silence, and then I heard the clunk of the car’s remote lock being activated. At the same time, close to my face, the boot lid popped up a fraction. Light flooded in, momentarily blinding me. I could hear the traffic noise, though there wasn’t all that much. Just the occasional truck roaring past on a nearby dual carriageway. I fully expected the boot to be slammed down on my head, or worse, opened up and a fist rammed into my face, but nothing happened. I inched the boot lid a little higher, peering around to try and see where my captors had gone.
It was a truck stop filling station. God only knows where. The BMW had pulled up to a very industrial-looking diesel pump, a distance away from the pumps that cars used. No doubt they’d figured it would be less conspicuous here. But it also meant that there was no direct view from the combined mini-mart, café and paying kiosk.
Hardly daring to trust my luck, I pushed the boot lid open just far enough that I could slither out. My bare feet sang with pain as they touched the cold ground, forcing a gasp out of my mouth. I clamped my teeth together against the noise and did my best to ignore the agony. Pulling on my jacket, I shoved the plastic bag into the pocket, closed the boot lid as quietly as I could, then hobbled for the darkness behind the café. Not a moment too soon either, as flushing sounds from an open window were followed by the noise of a door being kicked open. I crouched down, desperate for better cover than shadows and watched Jonno saunter back to the car. He didn’t get in, instead leant against the side and stared in the direction of the other pumps, no doubt waiting for his friend to come back from the café. I pulled further back into the shadows, then rammed a fist into my mouth as my bare, battered foot stood on something sharp. Looking around I could see a line of trucks parked up while their drivers enjoyed an early breakfast. Some looked like they had been there all night, curtains drawn around the cabs.
‘You know where we’re going?’ Jonno’s voice dragged my attention back to the black BMW, still far too close for comfort. Mr Crisp approached the car, swinging a carrier bag in one hand. I backed away, keeping my eyes on the two of them as I tried to get closer to the trucks. I could lose myself in amongst them, and if things got desperate I could start hammering on doors. Even these two thugs would think twice about taking on a dozen or more truckers, surely.
I made it to the nearest truck without being seen. Crouching behind it, I was able to breathe properly for the first time in what felt like a year. But I wasn’t so stupid as to think I’d escaped. I knew I wouldn’t be safe until I was far away from here. Preferably overseas with a new face and name.
From where I’d chosen to hide, I couldn’t see the car anymore, or the exit it was going to take back onto the motorway. I waited long minutes, wondering whether they’d left. Maybe they’d decided to check the boot, and found me gone. Even now they could be stealthily searching the area. I scanned around for somewhere better to hide and saw the next truck along. It wasn’t as big as the great articulated beasts with their metal container cargoes. The sides were just heavy tarpaulin curtains, held taught with spring straps, and one was dangling loose.
I crossed the gap as fast as my bruised soles would let me, pulled myself up and in through the gap, all the time tensed for a hand to grab me and pull me down. Or a knife to slide into my too-exposed back. Neither came, and I found myself sitting in a small space surrounded by empty fruit boxes like the ones you find lurking at the end of the checkouts in supermarkets. It smelled powerfully of over-ripe bananas, making my already sore head spin.
‘Of course I’ll be there. What d’you think I’d miss my own son’s birthday?’
I froze. They’d found me. I was going to die. Then my brain caught up with my fear. The voice was unfamiliar, and it hadn’t been talking about me.
‘No, you listen to me. I’ll be there and he’d better not. I don’t want that fucking arsehole winding everyone up OK.’
The truck shook gently from side to side. A door slammed, and then the engine fired up. Cold diesel clatter in the early morning, I had to throw myself to the floor as the truck rocked wildly, pulling away at speed. Empty boxes tumbled from the pile, landing on my head but I didn’t care. I couldn’t stop from laughing as I realised I had escaped.