This book or any portion thereof may not be used, reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any manner or form without the express written permission of the author.
It is licensed for personal use only, and may not be re-sold.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to person or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
It was time. Danny Roper dug the toolbox out from beneath the kitchen sink and placed it on the counter. Carefully, and with reverence, he emptied it of the rusty tools that had once belonged to his late grandfather, revealing the twenty gold sovereigns hidden inside. For almost three years they had lain there. Out of sight, but never quite out of mind.
He wasn’t a rich man. Far from it. His fourteen grand a year job paid the rent, the bills, and even the occasional night out with colleagues, but there was precious little left over at the end of the month for the creature comforts his peers enjoyed. No car. No foreign holidays. His TV was the same 21’’ plasma his parents had given him for his childhood bedroom. His laptop was the obsolete, seven-year-old clunker that had seen him through uni. Life would have been easier if he’d only sold a few of those coins. But he knew that was never an option.
Just like the tools, they had been his grandfather’s. A part of a much larger collection that had taken a lifetime to build. Part hobby, part investment, they were intended for Danny and his two cousins at some distant point in the future. But it didn’t work out that way. His grandfather was both fit and healthy right up until the end. He wasn’t supposed to have died at the hands of his own grandson.
Danny would never forget the moment he found the body. It was in the garden, face down in the mud. There was a cut above his left eye, but the cause of death was a heart attack brought on by shock. An elderly neighbour had spotted Danny’s cousin, James Cahill, running from the scene. It didn’t take long for the police to declare him their primary suspect. His motives were obvious. More than two hundred gold coins had been squirrelled away in the house, and all but twenty were gone. Danny found the last few on the day his family handed the keys back to the letting agency. Hidden inside a fake electrical socket in a bedroom wall.
He never told anyone about his find. His grandfather’s will had already been read. His few remaining belongings, shared between his two children and their families. The coins should have been declared, distributed evenly with the rest of the estate, but Danny had needed them. Not for game consoles or new clothes, but for something far more important:
He placed the coins into his trouser pocket and slipped out the front door. He neither knew nor cared how long he’d be gone. His life had been on hold these last few years, and now that he had a lead, he was willing to spend however long, and do whatever necessary, to see the man responsible behind bars.
He used a hand to shield his eyes from the afternoon sun as he walked the mile and a quarter to the train station. It was the middle of June, and the streets were full of holidaymakers and locals, out enjoying the pleasant weather. The station’s platform was similarly heaving, with dozens of people waiting alongside the track. One of Danny’s work colleagues was amongst them, standing next to a self-service ticket machine. There was obvious recognition in his eyes as they faced each other, but neither was interested in starting up a conversation. They exchanged polite nods. No words. Not even a smile.
Danny walked past his colleague, then the ticket machine and entered the office. There was only one person in the queue, so it wasn’t long before it was his turn to approach the man behind the desk. ‘A single to Redruth,’ Danny said.
‘That’s twenty pounds, thirty pence,’ said the station employee.
Danny had no money except for the coins, and each of those was worth more than twelve times that of the ticket. But he wasn’t there to haggle. Value didn’t matter beyond the purpose for which they had been saved. He placed a coin on the counter.
‘What’s this?’ the man said.
‘A gold sovereign.’
The man picked it up, turned it over in his hand to reveal first the image of Queen Elizabeth II, and then a mounted St. George slaying a dragon. ‘You’re kidding?’
‘No. I want to buy a ticket. There’s my payment.’
The man studied the coin some more. ‘Is it real?’
‘How much do you want for it?’
‘The price of a ticket.’
The man paused. Licked his lips. Clearly not an expert, he had only Danny’s word that the coin was real. But for just a twenty pound stake, the potential reward was great.
‘It’s got to be worth a hundred quid,’ the man said.
Another pause, but only a short one, and the man reached into his jacket pocket for his wallet. He pulled out two folded ten pound notes, then dug into the coin compartment for a twenty pence piece and two fives. He placed the money into the till. Pocketed the gold sovereign. ‘Anything else I can help you with, sir?’ he said as he handed over the ticket.
Danny shook his head.
Nineteen sovereigns left.
He walked to the platform and glanced up at the electronic board. There were five minutes until the train was due. He spent the time thinking back to the uncomfortable conversations he’d had with his cousin’s parents and sister. They were in denial of course. Unable to believe their little boy, Jimmy was responsible for such a crime. Evidence, such as the neighbour’s statement and the bloodstained t-shirt found at James’ flat were ignored. The police knew their man all right. Of that Danny had no doubt. They just couldn’t find him. Many believed he had left the country and was living a life of luxury on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain. The woman that had phoned Danny that morning had said otherwise.
The train pulled up with a screech and Danny got onboard.
The woman was Sally Maddox; a once pretty girl who had lost her way after James had introduced her to hard booze and even harder drugs. Her phone call was short on detail, going only as far as to say she could lead Danny to his cousin. The price: a mere five hundred pounds. Danny had briefly considered passing the information on to the police. They had seemed eager to help in the early days of their investigation, but had moved on to other things as time passed.
It was no use. Even if they put a detective on the case, they’d never agree to pay Sally for her information. James would find out and disappear again. Maybe forever this time. No, Danny would do the legwork himself. He’d discover where his cousin was hiding, and then, and only then, would he get the police involved.
Thirty minutes later, Danny left the train and checked into a family run bed and breakfast just off Redruth’s Fore Street. The rate was forty pounds a night. Danny only needed the one, and the owner-receptionist gladly accepted a sovereign as payment.
Eighteen sovereigns left.
The room was small, but adequate. A single bed lay flush against the rear wall, next to a bedside cabinet complete with pen, notepaper and Gideon’s Bible. A small window was to its left, with a view that looked out on a town well past its peak. Redruth was once at the centre of Cornwall’s tin mining industry, but with the closure of the mines, now found itself searching for a place in the world. Not unlike himself.
With three hours to go before his appointment, Danny lay on the bed and closed his eyes. Not for sleep. His mind was far too active for that. But to try and imagine what was coming next. He knew the ultimate goal. There was no doubt that justice had to be served. But the details surrounding his long-awaited reunion with his cousin were less certain. He had spent hundreds, likely thousands of hours planning out the next few hours. Attempted to cover every conceivable scenario. But nothing would fit perfectly. He tried piecing scraps of old ideas together, coming up with new ones that he knew would eventually have to be tossed away. He became frustrated.
Danny was up and pacing the room long before it was time to leave for his meeting with Sally Maddox. At 9.53 he could stand it no longer, and so left the hotel for the prearranged meeting place behind a Chinese restaurant. Although the afternoon sun was pleasant, it had long since fallen and the air had cooled. He cursed himself for not having the foresight to bring a jacket. So much for planning. Luckily, any thoughts of personal discomfort were short lived, becoming forgotten as he refocused on the task at hand.
He arrived at the Golden Duck ten minutes later, then walked down a side road into an empty car park. He was early by the best part of an hour, and so once again settled down and waited.
11 o’clock came.
It was almost 11.30 by the time a nervous woman in her early twenties poked her head around the edge of the building. A bottle-blonde, with a slim figure and good cheekbones, she would have been pretty if it wasn’t for her unnaturally pasty skin and wasted eyes.
‘You, Roper?’ the woman said. She walked towards Danny, her bruised arms wrapped tightly around her chest.
‘Yes,’ Danny said, dragging out the word as he recognised her from all those years ago. They had met a few times, including at a barbecue held for his grandfather’s seventieth birthday. But there was no sign of recognition in her eyes. Which was strange. The physical similarities between Danny and James were obvious. They were both 5’10’’, similarly built with slim frames and narrow shoulders. They shared similar chins, had hair the same light shade of brown. Even their eyes were the same unusual green. They could have been brothers instead of cousins. Danny put the lack of recognition down to the drugs.
She nodded, and then using the sleeve of her jacket, wiped her eyes. ‘Have you got the money?’
‘Then hand it over.’
Danny knew how she’d spend it. Her appearance was proof enough she hadn’t kicked the habits James had introduced. Maybe she hated him for it. Perhaps it was the reason she was so eager to sell him out. But was that justification for using her? There was a time when Danny would have refused to give her anything for fear of the harm it would do her. A gift, even for the right reasons, would surely make him responsible if she used it to fuel her habit.
It was surprisingly easy to push the thought out of his mind.
‘Information first,’ Danny said. ‘Where’s James?’
‘Where in Newquay?’
She looked away. Something wasn’t right.
‘Sally, where in Newquay will I find him?’
She stepped towards Danny, shoved her hand into his pocket. ‘Give me the money. I told you what you wanted.’
He pushed her away. ’I need an address. Something more specific.’
She wiped her eyes a second time. ‘All I know is that he’s with my brother, Nick.’
Made sense. James and Nick had been friends since secondary school. In fact it had been Nick who had set James up with Sally in the first place. ‘And you know where Nick is?’
She nodded. ‘8 St Petroc’s Road. Flat 5.’
‘And they’re roommates?’
She shook her head. ‘No, but they work together.’
It didn’t take a genius to work out what that meant.
‘Here, take this,’ Danny said, handing her three coins.
Sally looked down at the reddish-yellow metal. ‘What are they?’
‘They’re gold sovereigns.’
‘What am I supposed to do with them?’
‘You sell them. There’s bound to be some place around here where you can exchange them for cash.’
She lurched towards him. ‘No, this isn’t what we agreed. You said you would give me five hundred quid.’
‘This is worth more. Easily two hundred and fifty each. That’s seven hundred and fifty pounds.’ In truth he wasn’t exactly sure how much they were worth. He hadn’t been keeping an eye on the recent value of gold any more than she had.
‘They are worth seven hundred and fifty pounds?’ Sally said, her face lighting up.
‘Okay, deal.’ She was beaming as she scuttled away.
Danny tried convincing himself that he was wrong. Maybe she wouldn’t use the money for drugs. Perhaps she’d clean herself up and get off the streets. It was a nice thought, but no more than that. He couldn’t fool himself. Not really. There was no hiding from the guilt he felt for using her.
Fifteen sovereigns left.
It was approaching midnight. The sensible choice would have been to head back to the hotel and continue in the morning, but sense was playing very little part in his decision-making. He needed to get to Newquay as quickly as possible. It didn’t really matter how.
The train would have been his preferred option, but even if a service was running, it was inconceivable someone would still be working the ticket office at that late hour. And he was yet to find an automated ticket machine that accepted gold.
Danny wasn’t a fool. He’d considered exchanging the coins for cash many times over the years. It would have made spending them a lot easier, avoiding the kind of situation in which he now found himself. But finding reasons against were surprising easy. The fact that gold was harder to spend than cash worked for him in the early days. It helped him resist the temptation to spend them during those hard days at the end of the month, when his pay packet had run out and there was no food left in the cupboard. He had also wanted to avoid the attention he’d get by suddenly showing up at a coin dealer with a pocketful of gold sovereigns. After all, his own grandfather was killed for the rest of the collection. He couldn’t have the police thinking he was involved. But neither of those logical reasons was the one that swayed him. He chose not to cash in the coins because they were his grandfather’s. It was only proper that they were spent finding the justice he deserved.
Rightly or wrongly, he was stuck with the gold, and with the trains out, he had to find another option.
And he just did.
At the side of the road was a battered red Peugeot 306. The same model his grandfather had used to teach him to drive when he turned seventeen. Old, but not a classic, it was a miracle the owner had kept it running so long. Danny took a closer look. The chassis had heavy rusting. There was a huge dent in the passenger-side door. But the hand-written advert on the front windshield claimed eleven months MOT. And the fuel metre on the dashboard – assuming it could be believed – showed quarter of a tank. All this could be yours for the low price of two hundred pounds.
There was a number on the advert, but Danny was willing to bet the owner could be found in the terraced house immediately behind the car. The lights were still on, so he walked up the short pathway and knocked on the door.
A dog barked. A big one judging by the sound. Thirty seconds passed, then a minute, and eventually he saw the shape of a woman through the frosted glass. Danny prepared his words.
‘Geoff, there’s a man outside,’ the woman shouted, her voice still clear through the wooden door.
‘See who it is,’ a man – presumably Geoff – shouted back.
‘No way I’m going to the door this time of night. It could be a nutter.’
The woman disappeared, leaving Danny to consider whether it would be better to give up and try something else.
He was about to leave when a second shape appeared. A good head shorter than the first, and of significantly smaller frame, Danny at first thought it was a child, only to be proven wrong when the door was flung open a few seconds later by a man in his forties. He stood back from the door, holding a bull terrier by the collar. Was it for protection? Danny kept his eyes on the dog.
‘What do you want?’ the man said.
‘Is the car outside yours?’ Danny said, pointing at the Peugeot.
The man glanced from Danny to the car and back again. Rolled his eyes. ‘Come back tomorrow.’
‘No you don’t, Geoff’ the woman shouted from the hallway. ‘You’ve been trying to flog that old wreck for the last year. If he’s stupid enough to buy it, then you’re going to listen to him.’
Great sales technique.
Geoff sighed, stepped outside and closed the door behind him. The dog was thankfully left behind. ‘What do you want to know?’
‘Will it get me to Newquay?’
‘Then I’ll take it. Will you accept one of these?’
Geoff took the coin, turned it over time and again in a similar way to the man at the train station. ‘Is it gold?’ he said.
‘Yes, a gold sovereign. Worth about two hundred and fifty pounds.’
‘I only have your word for that.’
Danny handed him a second. ‘Take two.’
It was steep considering the car’s value, and his resources were limited, but Danny valued time more highly than anything else right then. The man had a deal.
They shook on it, coins were exchanged for keys and Danny slipped behind the wheel in preparation for the fifteen or so mile drive to Newquay.
He typed the address he’d gotten from Sally Maddox into his phone’s navigation software. Placed the key into the ignition and turned. It took several attempts before the car would start, and for a while he was worried he’d flooded the engine, but eventually he was off and heading north.
Twelve sovereigns left.
The journey started smoothly. Sure, the brakes were a little spongy and the steering pulled dangerously to the left, but with a little concentration, Danny was approaching the outskirts of Newquay in about twenty minutes.
Then disaster struck.
He lost control on a bend, his attempts to compensate thrown out by a combination of tiredness and the car’s preference for the left. It barely slowed as it ploughed through a stone and earth hedge, coming to rest ten yards into a field. The initial shock of the impact turned Danny’s world black, but he was soon jolted awake by the sound of the car’s horn screaming out into the night.
He needed to get out of there. Even if the crash had gone unnoticed, it was only a matter of time before someone spotted the damaged hedge and wrecked car. Naturally they’d want to help. Any right-thinking person would. But Danny couldn’t afford the added delays that came with a checkup at a hospital, or perhaps even an interview with the police. Not when his cousin was so close.
A stabbing pain shot up his spine as he shoved the door open. He closed his eyes, tried willing the discomfort away, and eased himself from the wreck. He was able to stand. As far as he could tell, no bones were broken, and the only blood was a small gash above his left eye. Not too bad, all things considered.
With the beginnings of a light shower developing, Danny once again found himself wishing he’d thought to bring a coat as he trudged back to the road. It was a relief to see no one had yet noticed the mess he’d made of the hedge, and so he set off towards the town.
He didn’t see the blonde woman approaching the car from across the field.
Danny and James had been close as kids. They were the same age. They had lived in the same village. Most evenings and weekends were spent either at their grandfather’s house, or out exploring the fields and carns. They may have drifted apart in their teenage years, but Danny had never forgotten the good times. And yet here he was, battered and bruised from the crash, marching headfirst into a confrontation he may not survive. Sure, he had spent years visualising this moment, but until now he had never really processed the reality that James wasn’t the boy he’d known. He was a killer, a murderer, and Danny realised he had neither the authority of the police nor any form of training that would allow him to defend himself. What in the world made him think James would go quietly to the police station?
It was a sobering thought.
He entered East Street, and despite it being a little after 2am, Newquay was still bursting with people who’d committed to a long night of alcohol and dance. Newquay was a party town, attracting the youth from all corners of the United Kingdom to its clubs and bars.
Which meant it also attracted the less savoury aspect of British society.
He needed protection. It seemed so obvious that Danny kicked himself for not thinking of it earlier. He placed a hand into his pocket and subconsciously ran his fingers over the remaining coins as he searched the streets for someone who could help.
Shouting from a nearby pub drew his attention. There was a crash, more shouting, and an enormous man in his thirties was bundled out by half a dozen patrons. He was at least 6’5’’ and had a build somewhere between a bear and a gorilla. Perhaps it was the stresses of the situation, but in the moment he seemed the perfect choice for a bodyguard. But the man wasn’t interested in the post, and was lobbing abuse before Danny could even finish his pitch. Disappointed, but unwilling to give up, Danny continued his search for questionable looking individuals, briefly considering a pair of New World Disorder bikers that were drinking beer outside a petrol station. But better sense won out.
It was no good. The kind of people willing to help him confront his cousin were the same people who’d rob him of his grandfather’s sovereigns. The answer wasn’t to hire someone to protect him. It was to find a way of protecting himself. He saw a man standing in the shadows between a bar and a beach shop. About twenty, he was dressed in a dark blue hoody and torn jeans. His hands were in his pockets, and from what Danny could make of his eyes, he was searching the street for friend and foe alike. A drug dealer almost certainly, but perhaps something more.
Danny walked towards him, but diverted at the last moment when a policeman appeared from around the corner of a building. It seemed a close escape; however any worries he had that the policeman would interrupt his plans were short lived. He was clearly more interested in the young women in short skirts and high heals than Danny or the drug dealer. He quickly moved on and Danny continued on his original path.
‘Morning,’ Danny said as he approached the man in the hoody.
The man eyed Danny from head-to-toe. ‘What do you want?’
‘To buy some merchandise,’ Danny said.
‘Yeah, what type? I got it all.’ If he was worried about the proximity of the policeman, he hid it well.
‘Should we go somewhere less out in the open?’
‘Nah, that fool has an eye for the ladies. You can kill a man out here and he wouldn’t notice.’
‘I’m looking for a handgun. Something simple.’
The mood changed. ‘I’m not in that business.’
‘But you know someone who is?’
The man shifted his weight nervously. ‘Maybe.’
Danny held out a coin. ‘Take me to him and it’s yours.’
‘Is that gold?’
‘Yes. Twenty-two carat.’
‘That must be worth a thousand quid.’
Danny didn’t correct him. ‘So, do we have a deal?’
The man shook his head, started to walk away. He stopped. Turned back. ‘You sure you’re not a cop?’
‘I’m not a cop.’
‘How do I know?’
‘What kind of cop pays with gold?’
The man thought on that for a moment. Nodded. ‘Come with me.’
Eleven sovereigns left.
They crossed the street and walked down a short pathway that ended with a row of Victorian houses. Nothing out of the ordinary, they appeared just your typical family home. The man knocked on the first door, and then turned to Danny.
‘Smudge will set you up. Anything you want.’
‘You’re not staying?’
‘Nah, I’ve got product to shift. Grade A stuff my competitors would kill for.’
Those words brought home the events of the last few hours. Danny felt scared. There was no denying it. He wasn’t normally the kind of man who interacted with drug and gun dealers. He didn’t entirely understand how he’d gotten himself into this. He turned away from the door and took several deep breaths.
‘You okay?’ The drug dealer said.
Danny nodded. Looked up.
On the far side of the street stood a blonde woman. At first Danny thought it was Sally Maddox, but the straight posture and confident way in which she held herself were different. No, it wasn’t her. But who was it?
The door opened, drawing Danny back to the moment at hand. In front of him stood an elderly man with white hair and moustache. He was dressed in a thick dressing gown and carried a glass of golden rum in his hand. ‘What is it, Robert?’ He said.
‘This bloke is after a piece.’
It was the old man’s turn to consider the situation. He stared at Danny for a good thirty seconds, as if trying to read his soul. ‘You’re not a cop.’
‘It wasn’t a question, son. I can tell these things. There’s too much fear in your eyes.’
‘I’m not afraid.’
Smudge laughed. ‘Best we head inside. No point in conducting our business out in the cold.’
With the drug dealer scuttling off, Danny turned back to the street in the hope of seeing the woman again. He didn’t have any luck. She was gone, and Danny felt an unexplainable sense of disappointment.
‘Can I get you a drink?’ Smudge said.
‘No thanks,’ Danny replied as he followed him into the house.
They walked down a narrow corridor into a snug living room that had been filled to overflowing with a lifetime of trinkets and knick-knacks.
‘Take a seat.’
Danny fought to control his nerves as he slid into a threadbare armchair. He had never been in a criminal’s home before, let alone tried to buy one of his guns.
‘I don’t normally do business with someone off the street,’ Smudge said. ‘Robert is a good lad, despite his manner, but I’m not in the habit of trusting his judgment.’
‘Then if you don’t mind me asking, why the drop in standards now?’
Smudge poured himself another glass of rum. ‘I’m 83 years old. My wife died six months ago. I have no children. No reason to care what happens to me anymore.’
‘Don’t be. I’ve had a long life and enjoyed it more than a man in my profession should. It’s about time I got a little reckless.’ He looked thoughtful. ‘Besides, I’m pretty sure the damage has already been done.’ He stared at the contents of his glass, lost for a moment in another world. ‘A very charming young lady…’ He threw back his drink. ‘No matter. I’m sure you’re not here to listen to my troubles. What will it be?’
‘Would a Glock 19 be acceptable?’
‘Yes,’ Danny said, vaguely recognising the name from the movies. He reached into his pocket, retrieved four sovereigns. ‘I don’t have any cash. Will these do?’
Smudge took the coins. ‘I’ve always been fond of doing business in gold. A remnant of a more civilised time that is sadly no longer with us.’ He pocketed the coins then unlocked a cabinet next to a bookcase. ‘Have you ever fired a gun?’
Was it that obvious? ‘No.’
He showed Danny a matte-black pistol, turned it on its side and pointed at the body. ‘No thumb safety. It’s all in the trigger. Just point and shoot.’
He loaded a magazine into the handgrip and gave the weapon to Danny.
Any thoughts Danny had that the gun looked like a toy were lost when he felt the weight. It was reassuringly heavy.
‘You’re going to need something to carry that in,’ Smudge said. He disappeared into the corridor and came back with a long overcoat. ‘Here, try this on for size.’
The coat fitted perfectly, and the pistol was placed inside one of the large side pockets. ‘Thank you.’
Smudge nodded. ‘Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have preparations to make.’
Danny didn’t ask what those preparations were. His path was now set.
Seven sovereigns left.
The rain was falling heavier now and Danny was thankful for the coat as he checked his phone’s map for directions to St Petroc’s Road. It was a little over a mile away. Westward, towards the coast. Two years of waiting, searching for the justice the police couldn’t provide were about to come to their conclusion. He was nearly set. He had everything he needed except the final piece of the puzzle: the exact location of his cousin. Something Nick Maddox would provide.
He moved quickly, covering the mile in no time. But it wasn’t the exertion that made his heart race as he entered Nick’s driveway. He took a deep breath then approached the communal door and pressed the buzzer for flat five. He could hear his heart beating and his hand went to the pistol in his coat pocket. Would he be willing to use it on Nick in order to get to his cousin? The thought came from nowhere and disgusted him. He was not a killer. The gun was only there for protection. He fully intended never to use it.
There was no answer from inside.
He pressed it again.
A third time.
Fourth. He was sweating now.
‘Who is it?’ a voice said over the intercom.
‘Is this Nick Maddox? Sally’s brother?’ Danny said.
‘I need to speak to you.’
‘Your sister,’ Danny lied.
‘Is she okay?’ Nick said.
‘Let me in and I’ll explain.’
There was a buzz as the communal door unlocked and Danny entered the building. He breathed deeply, tried to take in his surroundings. There were three doors on the ground floor. Nick was number five. He grabbed the banister rail and climbed the staircase up to the first floor, arriving just as one of the doors opened.
Nick was just as he remembered him. He was tall – at least six inches bigger than Danny – and had the build of a heavyweight boxer. Danny’s fears rose. Nick could snap his neck like a twig. Panicked, Danny pulled the gun from his pocket. ‘Get inside the flat.’
Nick backed into the living room. ‘Danny? How did you…? What have you done with my sister?’
‘Nothing. I’m looking for James,’ Danny said as he shut the door.
‘Your cousin? I haven’t seen him in years.’
‘Do not lie to me. I know the two of you pull jobs together.’
‘Yes. Breaking into houses. Selling drugs for all I know.’
‘I’m not into any of that. I’m a stonemason.’
He was lying. He had to be. ‘Where’s James?’
‘I told you I don’t know.’
Danny lifted the gun, pointed it directly at Nick’s face. ‘And I told you not to lie to me. I know you’re working together. Your sister told me.’
‘Where is she?’
‘I ask the questions.’
Nick shook his head. ‘I’m not giving him up. Not after he’s done so much to sort his life out.’
‘He killed my grandfather!’
‘I’m sorry, Danny, but that was an accident.’
‘An accident? He was an old man.’
‘Your grandfather came at him with a kitchen knife. Cut him right across the chest.’ Nick drew a line from his right shoulder down to the bottom rib on his left side. ‘What sort of man would do that to his own grandson?’
‘James was robbing him.’
‘That isn’t enough reason. Jimmy tried to get away, but your grandfather went after him. Like you said, he was an old man. He couldn’t take the strain. Jimmy didn’t know about the heart attack until he saw the news on TV the next day.’
‘Don’t defend him.’
Danny jammed the gun into Nick’s forehead. ‘Last chance. Tell me where he is.’
Nick Maddox remained silent.
Frustration gave way to rage, and in a moment of madness, Danny slammed the gun into the side of Nick’s head. There was a sickening crunch; a splash of crimson, and the lifeless body fell to the ground with a thud.
Danny stepped backwards.
What had he done? He stared in disbelief at Nick’s body. The blow was hard, but was it enough to kill him? He could just about see the rise and fall of Nick’s chest.
All other emotions gave way to panic. Danny spotted Nick’s phone on a table, next to some keys. He grabbed his hand, and using a finger, unlocked the screen. Danny scrolled through the names and found the one titled Jimmy.
There was an address. It was only five minutes away.
‘Why did you have to make this so difficult?’ he shouted at Nick’s body.
There was no answer.
Danny reached into his pocket, grabbed six sovereigns and let them fall to the ground. It was a small gesture, meant as compensation for the pain he’d suffered.
Just another lie.
One sovereign left.
Without looking back, Danny left the flat, descended the stairs and stepped out into the night.
Then he heard a sound. It was something mundane. Something he’d heard a thousand times. Yet strangely at that moment it was so foreign that it took several seconds before he realised it was the sound of his own phone ringing. He looked down at the screen; saw the number was unknown and rejected the call. Of all the times to receive a wrong number…
He was about to put the phone back into his pocket when it buzzed a second time. Same number, but unlike before, this time he’d received a text message:
ANSWER THIS TIME
The phone rang again. Danny’s finger hovered over the reject button, but at the last moment he changed his mind and accepted the call.
‘Why have you bought a gun, Danny?’ a woman’s voice said.
‘Who is this?’
‘You can call me Abbey.’
Danny looked again at the screen, tried to find some familiarity in the number. ‘I don’t know any Abbeys.’
‘It’s not too late to rethink your choices.’
‘You don’t know anything.’
‘You’d be surprised.’
He stopped. ‘Who are you? The police?’
‘One of James’ friends?’
‘Not that either. I’m just someone who wants to stop you doing something stupid.’
‘You don’t know me.’
‘Danny Roper. Born 14 April 1993. Only child. Your mother is Ruth. Your father is Frank. Do you want me to continue?’
‘Where did you get that information?’ He started walking again.
‘The usual databases. I’ve been reading your file, and the funny thing is that before tonight you were completely clean. Never put a foot out of line. It makes me want to ask: why would a man like Danny Roper buy a gun?’
‘You wouldn’t understand.’
‘I haven’t got time for this.’
‘That’s where you’re wrong. This phone call may just be the most important few minutes of your life. Now if I’d have to guess, I’d say it has something to do with your grandfather’s murder. Tell me if I’m getting close.’
‘James needs to face justice.’
‘Not at your hands. Leave it to the police.’
‘They haven’t helped.’
‘And you’re willing to kill him?’
‘If I have to.’ The words came as a shock. Up until then he’d only had a vague plan of seeking justice. The gun was supposed to be a last minute addition for his own protection. Had he really fallen so far that he’d kill another man? Kill his own cousin?
There was a pause on the other end of the line.
‘Oh, Danny. I’ve just gotten word of an attack on Nick Maddox. He’s never done you any harm.’
‘He was hiding him.’
‘This is escalating out of control. If you give yourself up now, the courts may be lenient; however, if you do anything to James…’
‘I’ve come too far to give up now. He will disappear the moment he hears about his friend. This is my one chance to get revenge for what he did to our grandfather.’
‘I see you’re almost outside his home.’
Danny stopped a second time. Looked for the woman. ‘Are you tracking me?’
‘Your phone’s GPS and CCTV. Look, I’ll be there in a few minutes. Wait outside and we’ll talk.’
Danny tossed the phone over a garden wall. He wasn’t going to wait for anyone. He was under no illusions. He knew he was already looking at several years behind bars just for the act of possessing a gun. How many more would he get for the assault on Nick Maddox? This was his only chance to stop James.
There were no lights inside the house. Like a lot of the homes in the area, the building was old. The door was made of a thin wood. The lock thirty or more years old.
There was no time to mess around.
He lifted his right foot, and with one powerful kick, slammed his boot into the lock. The sound of the impact was deafening. Even over the wind and rain. The door flung backwards, crashing with a second thud against the internal wall. Danny legged it up the stairs and into the master bedroom.
James rose to meet him, throwing an instinctive punch at Danny’s head that would have connected if he hadn’t ducked the blow.
It wasn’t planned. Wasn’t intentional.
James fell back onto the bed. Blood poured from a wound in his left arm.
‘You killed our grandfather!’ Danny shouted. Reason lost to adrenaline and rage.
‘Danny?’ James shouted back. ‘It was an accident!’
‘He never did a thing to hurt anyone, and you butchered him for some stinking gold.’
He flung the final sovereign at his cousin.
‘I didn’t know,’ James said.
Danny squeezed the trigger.
‘Danny! Stop!’ A voice cried from the hallway. Without taking the barrel off his cousin, Danny turned his head to one side.
It was a woman. Average height, she wore jeans and a brown leather jacket over a white t-shirt. A small silver cross was attached to a chain around her neck. Not the police. She didn’t have the uniform or the look. A girlfriend? A neighbour perhaps? No. It was none of them. It was the woman from outside Smudge’s house. The one on the phone.
‘Hi, Danny,’ she said.
Danny and James exchanged confused looks. Each searching in vain for an explanation in the other’s eyes.
‘What are you doing here?’ Danny said.
‘Trying to stop you ending both your lives.’
‘Who are you?’
‘I said you could call me Abbey.’
‘I mean who are you working for?’
‘Unfortunately that question requires a long and complicated answer. Not something for today. All you need to know is that I don’t believe you’re a killer.’
Danny’s attention went to his bleeding cousin. The enormous scar on his chest. The gun in his own hand. ‘He charged at me.’
‘You brought a gun into his house.’
‘He needs to pay.’
‘I…’ It was never meant to go this way. What had started out as a need to confront his grandfather’s killer had spiraled out of control.
‘The police are coming,’ Abbey said. ‘Someone would have heard the shot.’
‘It was an accident.’
‘I know, but the armed response unit heading this way don’t. They’ll shoot you, Danny. No negotiations. No chance for you to give your side of the story. Your only chance is to give me the gun. You don’t want to be armed when they arrive.’
What little resistance Danny had left drained away. He handed her the gun, and watched like a frightened child as she went to check on James.
‘Thank you,’ James said. He tried to rise. ‘Help me up. I want to show that…’
Abbey plunged a needle into his neck. He fell backwards onto the bed, immediately out cold.
‘What did you give him?’ Danny said.
‘Something that’ll make caring for his wound a little easier.’
‘You stopped him hurting me.’
Danny watched the rise and fall of his cousin’s chest. ‘Is he going to be okay?’
‘I think so.’
The news came as a relief. ‘What now?’
Abbey fired the gun twice into the ceiling. Danny ducked to the ground.
‘That’s in case the neighbours mistook the first shot for thunder,’ she said. She threw him some cable ties. ‘I need you to tie yourself up with these. Sit on the floor in the corner. Ankles first, followed by wrists.’
Danny did as he was told, then watched as Abbey ripped strips of material from the bed sheets and used them to tie off James’ wound.
‘What will happen to him?’ Danny said.
‘He’ll face trial for what he did to your grandfather. I suspect he’ll spend many years behind bars. You can take comfort in that.’
‘A lot will depend on how you handle yourself in the next few minutes.’
Danny could hear distant police sirens.
‘I’ll be leaving now,’ Abbey said. ‘My relationship with the police is… complicated.’
‘Me too. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get to you sooner. You seem a decent bloke at heart.’
With those final words, Abbey walked out of the room. He never saw her again.
The mark laughed as he opened his overstuffed wallet. He selected a crisp twenty-pound note for the girls’ drinks, then folded it back up and shoved it into his back pocket. He was barely twenty, maybe six foot tall and clearly a hit with his new friends. He had knocked back drink after drink, and the booze was beginning to affect his judgment. The girls were distracting him. The wallet was half-hanging out of his pocket. This would be easy.
Mick Faulkner finished his Black Velvet. Placed the glass down on the wooden bar. The adrenaline was flowing. His senses were at their sharpest. The mark didn’t see him, or hear his approach over the pounding dance music. One of the girls grabbed the mark by the back of the head, stood on her toes and gave him a passionate kiss. He didn’t feel the wallet slip free. It was in Mick’s pocket in seconds.
It was so quick, so perfectly timed that it could only be described as a work of art. The cash, credit cards and personal items were just strokes on the easel. Mick was the third son of a high-profile member of parliament. Material things had always come easily, and ultimately provided little interest to him. This was all about the frill, the all too real danger that he’d lose everything if the old man discovered the true reason for his late-night partying.
His father was a ruthlessly hard man and strict disciplinarian. He had forged his life, family and career with little thought for the free wills or feelings of others. He expected his wife and children to follow his instructions with the same mix of awe and fear he demanded from his aids. Mick’s life had been a carefully planned out series of events. A brief childhood dominated by endless study, followed by a top university and more recently, his first job. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d finally broken free of the old man’s grip, but the job was selected for him within the company of a political ally. Mick’s days were more controlled than ever.
For a long time he had tried living up to the expectations heaped upon him, but twenty-two years of disappointed glances and open rebukes had broken him down. He could never live up to his father’s standards, so why even try?
Rebellion came easily.
For a man who cared only for reputation, a wayward son was an inconvenience he would not allow. Mick had tried drink and scandal, but the public excesses of youth were met by threats of disownment. There was no doubt the old man would go through with them. An act so public would do nothing but hurt himself. He needed the frill, but not the notoriety. Pickpocketing seemed the perfect answer.
But Mick was no fool. He knew this wasn’t something he could go into unprepared. He’d need the best training from an expert in the craft. Finding the right tutor wasn’t easy. It took a long time and even more money; however, there was something satisfying in knowing it was his father’s own wealth that was funding the deceit. His father would kill him. If only he knew.
‘Never push your luck,’ his mentor had said. ‘Find your mark, strike, then get out of there as fast as you can.’
Mick had listened at first, but with every success he’d felt his confidence rise to new heights. This was a packed nightclub. He’d taken more than one mark before. He saw no reason not to do so again.
He spotted a pretty redhead. Eighteen, maybe nineteen, she was old enough to get by the bouncers, but still young enough not to have lost that wide-eyed look of naivety that often came with youth. She tapped excitedly at her mobile, texting a boyfriend, or perhaps her parents for a lift home. It wasn’t an expensive phone, but the girl’s dyed red hair, red dress and equally red lips made her stand out. The phone would be his.
For almost five minutes, Mick watched as she typed message after message, pausing only for a few seconds to read the replies. The girl was addicted to the little glass and plastic box.
Mick thought about the stolen wallet in his pocket. She had to be done soon. He couldn’t hang around too long or the man would discover it missing.
The girl typed another message, showed the screen to her giggling friend. This was ridiculous. Why bother going out if all she was going to do was play with her phone? Mick was about to give up when the girl made a show of pressing the power button then dropped it into her handbag. Finally, Mick thought.
He returned the smile of a random brunette dancing nearby, touched her bare shoulder and encouraged her to dance with him. She accepted readily, attracted by his confidence. She had no idea he was only using her as cover. Like the other kids, she was there for a good time. Mick maneuvered her towards the redhead; tricking her into thinking she was the sole focus of his attention. They passed by the second mark, brushed by her in the usual nightclub fashion.
The phone lay in his pocket.
More than seven minutes had passed since he’d made his first lift. Judging by the eagerness in which the first mark had thrown back his drinks, it wasn’t going to be long before he’d be looking to buy another. It was time for Mick to make his exit. He kissed the brunette on the cheek.
‘Fancy a drink?’ he said.
‘Sure,’ the girl said.
‘You go ahead. Got to go to the loo, but will be with you in a minute.’
She did as she was told, even glancing over her shoulder at one point to give him a sweet smile. She didn’t make it to the bar though. The music had caught her before she’d even made it halfway. Mick and the promised drink were quickly forgotten. That was fine with him. His next stop was the nightclub’s door.
He had almost made it when he became the victim of the same magnetism that had attracted the dancing girl.
She had shoulder-length blonde hair. Her skin was tanned and free from both natural and man-made blemish. Her knee-length blue dress was a little modest compared to those worn by many of the other girls, but she carried it off with so much confidence, grace and style that she outshone them all.
Mick knew he should ignore her. It was only a matter of time before one or both marks realised they’d been robbed. But a stronger, more primal instinct overcame the cries of his rational mind. He took a chance, walked up to the woman and flashed her his most charming smile. She stopped and he stepped in close so his voice could be heard over the thumping music.
‘Hi,’ he said. ‘Can I buy you a drink?’
Her eyes were blue, clear and full of warmth. The scent of her perfume was sweet. Mick had been in hundreds of nightclubs, smelled every concoction created by man, but there was something unique about this scent. It was more natural, less overpowering.
Then she smiled.
The drone of the nightclub faded away. For a moment, it could have been just the two of them, standing together, alone.
She placed her full lips next to his ear.
Mick’s feelings were a mixture of disappointment and relief as he watched her walk away. He had already risked too much by staying as long as he had. There would be no later. Not that night at any rate. The opportunity was gone.
For the first time since he’d stepped down the path of rebellion, Mick found himself doubting his choices. Nothing major. Not yet. But he started to wonder if the temporary frill was anything more than a child’s game. He tore his eyes away from the blonde woman, redirecting them to the doorway at the far end of the dance floor.
There was no more time to mess around. He started towards it.
Weaving through the crowd of sweating bodies was difficult and slow. He banged his shoulder against the back of an intoxicated girl. Was tripped by the outstretched heal of a kid out to impress his friends. But the exit was in sight.
A large bouncer, overweight, head-shaven and ugly stood guard. Watching for the first sign of trouble. Mick tried looking natural. There would be no danger as long as he didn’t bring attention to himself.
Then he saw the redhead he’d robbed.
She was walking towards the bouncer, urgency in her step. Mick stopped, using the last few dancers as a shield as he watched her. Was this it? Was his father going to find out what he’d done, disown him and cut him off for bringing shame to his precious family name?
The girl turned, walked into a relatively clear area to the bouncer’s right and pulled a phone from her handbag.
Mick’s jaw dropped. It was the same girl. He was certain. She had the same bright red hair, the same red dress and lips. And yet, somehow she had a phone. Maybe it was her friend’s? Mick checked his pocket, but found no phone inside.
That was impossible. He looked around; saw the kid that had tripped him, the drunken girl. Had one of them taken it? No, that couldn’t be it. He put his hand into a second pocket, realised the wallet was also gone. He felt fear, panic. A fast flow of sweat ran from his hairline, stinging his eyes. He should have headed for the door. He should have walked away. Instead, he found himself walking back into the club. His eyes scanned the faces of those around him, looking for something. He wasn’t exactly sure what.
Then he saw the first mark. He stood next to the bar, the once-stolen wallet back in his hand as he paid for another round of drinks. Nothing made sense.
Two stools to the man’s right sat the blonde woman in the blue dress. She was laughing with the barman, placing an order.
Mick walked towards her.
‘Hi,’ she shouted above the music. ‘Nice to see you again.’
He just stared at her.
‘Would you like to discuss the weather?’ she said, and then paused for a moment. ‘No? Okay, how about favourite films? I recently watched the Martian for the first time. Absolutely brilliant, although I admit I’ve always been a sucker for anything to do with space.’
Mick pulled up a free stool and sat down. The anger was at the point of boiling over as he leant closer, his eyes black, and his forehead mere inches from the woman’s own. Most people would have backed away. She didn’t. There was even a smile on her face.
‘You took them, didn’t you?’ Mick said.
The barman placed two glasses on the table. One was a Coke, the other his signature Black Velvet.
‘Yes,’ she said, took a sip of the Coke.
Mick glanced at the other glass.
‘You’ve been watching me.’ It was a statement, not a question.
‘I don’t like thieves.’
‘So you returned their things?’
‘I know all about you, Mick,’ the woman said. ‘Been reading some very interesting files.’
‘What files? Are you with the police?’
She laughed. ‘No, nothing like that. I got the files from a friend who’s sadly no longer with us. He kept records on people like you.’
‘What does that mean? Are you a private detective? Did my father hire you?’
‘No. Don’t worry. He knows nothing about this.’
‘Then who are you? Why are you here?’
‘My name is Abbey Pengelly.’ She reached into her handbag. ‘One moment…’
She pulled out a smartphone, showed him several photographs. One had him standing by the bar. Another showed him lifting the wallet. A third had his hand in the redhead’s handbag.
‘Then this is blackmail,’ Mick said, the last word sticking in his throat.
She shook her head. ‘No, not exactly.’ She cocked her head to one side, thinking. ‘Actually, I guess that kind of depends on how you define it.’
‘I have money.’
‘So do I. Fifty-two quid at the last count. I only ask that you stop these games before any more people get hurt.’
‘Yes. If I see or hear of you doing this again, then the pictures go straight to the newspapers and your dad. I don’t think he’ll be happy.’
‘He’d cut me off.’
‘There’s your incentive.’
She finished her Coke, placed the glass on the bar.
‘Why are you doing this?’ he asked.
She shrugged. ‘It’s what I do.’
His eyes went to the pair of interlocked gold rings in her hand.
Who was she?
‘Whoops, I almost forgot.’ She took a leather wallet from her bag.
‘Thanks for the drink,’ she said, handing him back his wallet. ‘And don’t forget: there’s always someone better.’