Jimmy finishes his fries, drops the empty carton on the passenger seat, fat/sugar/salt powering into his bloodstream. He turns up the car stereo, settles in for a drive, life good since Maccy Dees started staying open longer.
His pre-pay goes off. Carson calling.
‘You need to get up to Hound’s Gate.’
‘You telling me where I need to be these days?’
A deep breath, then, ‘Something’s happened to Karl.’
Carson’s voice doesn’t sound good. ‘He dead?’ No answer. ‘Is he dead?’
‘Dunno, Jim. You just need to get down here, okay?’
Turns out Karl isn’t dead, not quite, so Carson gets one in the gob. But Karl is critical. Can’t see him; ambulance just left. Some work colleague of his is there slumped behind a computer screen.
Jack’s there too. Greets Jimmy as he enters the room, fills him in. Jimmy goes over to the guy, who stops fiddling with shit, stands. A real Harry Potter – round-rimmed specs, striped jumper.
‘You know who I am?’ Jimmy asks. The guy nods. ‘Good. Who the fuck are you?’
‘Chris Jenkins. Karl’s boss.’
‘Call the police?’
Shakes his head. ‘Wanted to wait.’
‘And you knew to get in touch with me first.’ Pats the guy’s shoulder. ‘Don’t worry, you did okay.’
Chris practically deflates.
‘Want to tell me what happened, Chris?’
‘He called me. I couldn’t hear anything, just groaning, so I looked at the number, remembered it was Karl’s turn working late. I kept talking, trying to get him to respond. Then I came down.’
Jimmy watches Chris as he talks. The guy notices, breaks off.
‘What did you find when you got here?’
Chris breathes deep, claws his hair. ‘He was lying there against the desk.’ Regular tan wood office desk – nothing special except Jim’s brother slipped into critical while leaning against it. Jim closes his eyes, pictures the scene. Chris clams.
Jimmy opens – ‘Keep going Chris’ – closes his eyes again. Needs a lot of prompting, this guy.
‘He wasn’t moving.’
‘How long it take you to call once you got here?’
‘Maybe five minutes.’
‘Reckoned you’d know. While I was waiting I looked around. Couple of keyboards missing, shit like that.’
Chris sounds about twelve when he swears, a kid papering over his fear. Jimmy smothers a grin. ‘Touch anything?’
‘No. I wrapped toilet paper round my hands.’
Pats Chris’ shoulder again. ‘Give us twenty minutes, then call the blues.’
Jimmy tells Jack and Carson he wants partial clean up, no fingerprints. Nice and Connery.
‘And if Karl kept any of his shit here we have to find it.’
Jimmy sweeps over the room, not sure what he’s looking for. No evidence of raisins or wraps – but wouldn’t be if it was burglary. Could it be an innocent office job?
How much is there in that kind of shit?
Turns to the door; metal frame, crumbling plaster, scratches on the lock. Crowbar, most likely. Could’ve broken in using a fucking credit card the door looks so weak. The crowbar for show maybe, to cover an inside job, or maybe they brought it not knowing what to expect.
One guy? – scratch. This stuff – value in bulk – needs two or more. Plus Karl could’ve taken a loner. Say what you like, Karl was alright in a scrap. Is alright in a scrap.
There’s blood on the carpet, some desk-spatter. Seeing it, Jimmy knows for sure: two guys with a crowbar. He calls the others, wraps the search.
‘Fucking office burglary is all,’ Carson says. ‘Karl must’ve disturbed them.’
Pride in Carson’s eyes. Jimmy doesn’t like it: ‘Only if it was burglary.’
Jack: ‘Inside job?’
Jimmy pauses. ‘Maybe someone was bribed. Staged a break in, waited for him to arrive.’
Carson’s face says he doesn’t like where this is going. ‘Set up Karl? Why?’
Jack nods at Chris. ‘Him?’
Jimmy shakes his head.
Gordon Crowley: Jimmy’s biggest customer. Outgrowing the Bestwood estate, stepping on toes. Bad for business.
‘Listen Jimmy, why don’t you come to Ali’s with us?’ Jack says.
‘No, I’ll catch up.’
Jack: ‘We want to go golfing’ – sideways glance at Chris – ‘get this off our minds, yeah?’
Carson: ‘We know some guys dropping by Ali’s tonight might be good to play.’
‘Hour or so.’
‘Don’t let them leave before I get there.’
The guys disappear. Jimmy shakes Chris’ hand, leaves a wad of fifties behind.
‘Don’t forget to forget everything you’ve just heard, alright Chris?’ Leaves Chris speechless.
A drive does nothing to clear Jimmy’s head. Opens the glass door of Kebab Ali’s Southern Fried Chicken on Mansfield Road. Couple of drunks in the place stripping skin off their chicken.
Ali’s cousin Jamine manning the counter. Jimmy greets him, flips the hinged counter-top and heads to the back office.
The office is small, a sofa along the nearest wall, Ali in a revolving leather chair behind his desk, Jack and Carson facing him.
‘Ah, the man himself!’ Ali’s ballooned since the good-old when his dad died and left him the place. Beer down on desk, Ali walks over, embraces Jimmy. ‘Sorry about Karl. How are you feeling?’
Jimmy gets a whiff of body odour. ‘How do you think?’ Harsher than intended. Ali looks to Carson. Fuckers been talking about him.
‘Tell me about Carson’s friends,’ Jim says. Ali hesitates. ‘Our new golfing partners?’
‘Oh them. Friends of my sister’s son.’ – Jim rolls his eyes – ‘No, hear me out Jimmy. They’re good lads.’
‘Just how old are they?’
A knock at the door. Jamine enters. ‘They’re here.’ Leaves keys for Ali, goodnights-it and leaves.
Jim and Ali go to the front of the shop, most of the lights already off. The newbies can’t be more than sixteen. One’s black, one white: Whitey’s facial hair inbred-wispy. Baggy jeans groin-belted; exaggerated limps. St Ann’s wannabes looking to make a name.
Whitey doesn’t like what he sees either.
‘Yo Ali,’ he says, taking his eyes off Jim. ‘Fuck is this?’
Black dude sniggers. Fucking hilarious.
Jimmy: ‘Hey arsehole, I’m right here.’
Whitey eyeballs him. ‘Well, better get out of my face. I don’t deal with lackeys.’
Ali’s radiating heat.
‘You some kind of badass, right?’
Kid pulls a knife. Jim strikes with the heel of his hand. Whitey’s nose shatters. He drops the knife. Jim pulls the kid close, bollock-mashes him with his knee.
Whitey goes down. His friend has stopped sniggering, face proud, not backing down.
Jimmy likes this kid a lot better.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Jackson.’ Itching with tension but holding back; guts and brains. Jimmy likes him even more.
‘Whitey’s out. You still in?’
‘If Jimmy’s okay with that.’
‘Jimmy’s okay with it. You look a lot smarter than your friend. Got anyone to do the job with you?’
‘No one worth a damn.’
‘Should be easy enough. One guy.’ Kid nods. ‘Get rid of Whitey. Someone’ll brief you in a minute.’
‘Sure.’ Jackson grabs his friend under the armpits, starts dragging. Jimmy goes back to Jack and Carson.
Jimmy to Carson: ‘That the best you can come up with?’ Carson doesn’t respond.
Jack: ‘Black kid looks alright.’
‘Probably still in fucking school.’
‘So he gets caught, he’s a minor. He wouldn’t dare spill. Even if he did he doesn’t know who you are.’
Jack’s right, as usual. Jimmy turns to Carson. ‘Talk to the kid, give him what he needs. Doesn’t need to know he’s hitting Crowley’s guy.’
‘And if he does it?’
‘Maybe I’ll take him on. He waits until three, club’s closing, lots of people milling about, right? In close, makes it look like an argument, hits him and gets out of there.’ Jimmy turns to Jack. ‘Got a putter?’
Jack pulls a converted air pistol out of his coat pocket, hands the pistol to Carson.
Jimmy catches Carson by the arm. ‘Give him a prepay, since he’s flying solo. Give him your number to call. Don’t write it down or put it in the phone memory. Make him remember it. Don’t give him the putter till you’re on the way.’
Carson gets going.
Jack: ‘Take it easy on Carson, Jimmy.’
‘Bullshit. He brings me kids for man’s work and I’m supposed to be okay with that?’
‘Want me to check he’s briefing the kid right?’
‘Good idea. Reckon I’ll go and see Anna tonight.’
Jack leaves. Jimmy opens a Stella, swigs deep and waits for his headache to go.
Or a noise.
Somefuckingthing woke him. Wind battering the window, Anna heavy-breathing.
Creaking, shuffling outside the door. Someone about to force their way in? Groping for a weapon, his fingers find a bedside table, Anna’s long-handled nail scissors. Wedges them in his fist, blades protruding.
Slips out of bed; Anna doesn’t wake. He tiptoes to the door.
Feels like a hit.
Weighing up escape routes. Door’s the only way out. Shit, should’ve woken Anna, told her to get in the bathroom. Too fucking late now.
Door handle squeaks, starts to turn.
Door opens, an outstretched hand holding a putter nudges into the room.
Jimmy braces against the wall. Gunman senses him, turns to see the nail scissors.
Can’t do much to stop the blades slicing into his neck.
Jimmy aims below the adam’s apple, scissors in, twist-pull, tears the throat out.
Warm droplets spray his face. Gunman goes down.
Crouches, catches his breath: Jackson. Flying solo for good, brown eyes glazed.
Jimmy checks his watch: 3.10. Jackson should’ve been hitting Crowley’s guy at the club. Fuck’s he doing here? And who put him on? Crowley?
Jimmy rolls the corpse in a couple of bedsheets. Then showers. Bags up his bloodstained clothes, helps Anna heave the mummified body into the bathtub.
He picks up the putter, calls Jack with his prepay, tells him to meet at the clubhouse. Then calls Carson.
The clubhouse is a nondescript semi, tidy front and back, nothing to attract attention. Registered to a false name, cash up front every month, short-term contract: no paper trail. Thank fuck for lazy landlords.
Jack is there waiting. It’s getting light. They let themselves in.
Living room is bare. Net curtains block the view in. The room south-facing, dark despite the rising sun.
Jack: ‘Where is everyone?’
‘Got them to clear out. Crowley wants our stock, so we’ll let his guys come looking for it.’ He cradles the putter in his hand.
‘Crowley? You sure?’
‘He sent someone after me this morning.’
‘Shit,’ Jack’s face is pale. ‘What’d you do? Where’s Carson?’
Jimmy tries a calming stare. ‘He’ll be here soon.’
Jimmy’s prepay rings. Jack jumps.
‘Be him now, most likely.’ Jimmy hits answer. ‘Hello?’
‘Who is it?’
Jimmy waves Jack quiet. Grins and hits end call. ‘One of Crowley’s boys.’
‘What happened to Jackson?’
A shadow on the net curtains from outside. Jimmy: ‘Shit, that’s Crowley’s mob.’
They run upstairs, stand panting in the bathroom.
‘Maybe it was Carson,’ Jack says.
Breaking glass, low voices, a series of thumps and bangs, cupboards and drawers pulled off hinges. Jimmy grins and shakes his head, holds up two fingers. The prepay goes off again. Hits answer to stop the ringing.
Someone laughs in stereo, the voice on the phone echoing downstairs. Jimmy hits end call, shuts the bathroom door. ‘Fuckers heading this way.’
Jack’s trembling. ‘Used the phone to find us. Fuck.’
No more banging or talking; footsteps reach the stairs.
Jimmy: ‘Get in the bath and stay down. I’ll shoot when they open up.’
Jack can’t take his eyes off the door.
Jack nods, steps into the bathtub, assumes the foetal. The stairs creak with the weight of the two guys on their way up.
Footsteps reach the landing. Jimmy takes a towel, wraps it round the putter in his hand.
Jimmy leans over the bath, pulls the trigger, puts two into Jack’s face point blank.
The door opens. Carson fills the doorway, Ali behind him.
Carson: ‘How’d you know it was him?’
Jimmy wipes off the putter, checks for blood on his clothes. ‘He was the only one knew I was at Anna’s tonight, the only one could’ve sent Jackson after me.’ Chucks the towel into the tub. ‘I’m off to see Karl.’
‘Usual drill with the body?’
Jimmy nods. ‘Anna’s got one in her bathtub too.’
‘Jimmy…’ Carson struggles to get his words out. ‘Did Jack say owt about Karl? Who hit him?’
Jimmy takes a while answering.
Carson’s shoulders sag like his strings have been cut – he’s on the edge right now.
Jimmy needs to give him a focus.
‘When you’ve got rid of the mess look for another clubhouse.’
Carson nods, sets to work. Jimmy goes down the stairs, steps into the cool morning.
Almost 6.30 and the sun shines down on him. He starts humming, ‘Bring Me Sunshine’.
Maybe Karl will be okay, be able to say who did him over.