Authors: Chris Collett
His mobile rang; it was Tony Knox.
âBoss. How's it hanging?'
âOh, you know, down and slightly to the right as usual,' Mariner said, irritated by the expression.
âYou okay for tomorrow?'
Mariner could hear the diffidence in his sergeant's voice, everyone treating him like a fragile piece of porcelain. âI'm fine,' he said, feeling anything but. His charcoal-grey suit hung on the door in its plastic dry-cleaning cover and the tie he'd chosen, one that she'd bought for him, was looped around the hanger like a careless noose. Everything ready, except for him.
âI'm picking up Millie at quarter to; we'll be at yours at about ten,' Knox said. âSee you then.'
âAll right,' Mariner confirmed. Somehow, while he wasn't looking, Knox had conspired with DC Millie Khatoon that she would drive Mariner down to Herefordshire, not quite trusting the old man to do it himself, and taking yet another surreptitious opportunity for the close surveillance that somehow he was failing to convince them he didn't need. Underneath it all though, Mariner knew that their intentions were sound, so he didn't complain. And this time tomorrow it would all be over and both Millie and Knox would need to rethink their boundaries. Mariner glanced down at his shoe, which by now was shined to a varnish-like gloss. Placing it carefully down next to its partner he picked up the remote, switched on the TV, and dropped on to the sofa in another futile attempt at distraction.
cGinley had been far from disappointed. In fact the much-awaited moment exceeded all his expectations. It was coming up to eleven when he finally heard the key turning in the lock; must have been a lot of souls to save tonight. He braced himself for what was to come. A light flicked on in the hall. There was shuffling and voices; she wasn't alone. He heard them go into the kitchen, a kettle being filled. His heart began to pick up speed. Finally her slight form, trussed up in that vile travesty of a uniform, appeared in the doorway and a sixty-watt bulb illuminated him in all his glory.
âHello Mum.' Despite the burning hatred that filled his chest, McGinley forced a smile and watched the domino effect of her facial muscles as they reacted in sequence. What was especially satisfying was the noticeable brief and transient hope that after all these years the prodigal son was returned; that he had finally come to his senses, which, in a way, he had.
âGlenn. In heaven's name â¦' she managed to splutter. But in a split second she saw what he held in his hand and realized too late that he was not here for forgiveness but for retribution, and like snow thawing and sliding off a roof, he saw optimism mutate into disbelief, and then finally the recognition of what was to come.
Another face appeared beside hers, peering almost comically around the door frame. âWhat's going on, Brenda?' A man stepped into the frame alongside her, tall but stooping, his hair straggly and grey. He was more frail than the last time McGinley had seen him, swamped by the overcoat he wore over his identical uniform. Fuck me, thought McGinley, the Major, forgot about him, dirty old bugger. Well he was going to get more than he bargained for too.
âI've got something for you, Mum,' McGinley said, ignoring him, âfrom me and Spence.' And his heart pumping with elation, McGinley raised the gun, aimed at his mother's chest and fired twice; once to kill and once for luck. She crumpled to the floor with a dull thud, and the old man moaned in terror. âYour lucky night too,' smiled McGinley, and before the Major could react, shot him twice in the stomach. The old geezer toppled like a statue, writhed for a moment on the floor while something gurgled unpleasantly in his throat and then he lay still, his eyes staring into some far-off distant place.
McGinley exhaled as with shaking hands he took out his cigarettes and lit one up, drawing on it deeply and taking great pleasure in blowing out the smoke into the uncontaminated atmosphere. In the light the place looked stark and bare, with the basic furnishings and a marked absence of the decorous frills that were commonplace in most homes these days. There were no family photographs of the two sons who had each in their way brought shame on the family. Without turning on any more lights McGinley went up the stairs and looked out of the darkened front and back bedrooms. Everything was as quiet as when he'd arrived, and there was no indication that anything he'd done had drawn special attention to number twenty-two. He would make his escape while it was still dark, but until then he had a few hours to find the rest of what he'd come for and help himself to anything that he thought might come in useful to him over the next few days.
The kitchen was stocked with the same stuff he'd grown up on, but McGinley's appetite was for bland food these days so it suited him. He scavenged a few slices of dry bread, a small hunk of cheese and half a packet of biscuits that would sustain him for a few hours.
Next he turned his attention to the sideboard in the living room. The keys to the car and lock-up were easy enough to locate, thrown carelessly into an old ash tray, and easily identifiable by the fob. Going through the sideboard drawers McGinley found a tin containing a bit of loose change and a couple of fivers, but the familiar old brown envelope was more elusive. He nailed it eventually, caught down behind a pile of papers in the drawer, the faded number still written in biro on the corner. He gave it a shake to check that the keys were there, and stuffed it in his pocket. Lastly, there were facts to be checked. Sliding back the doors of the main cupboard, he sorted quickly through the pile of old magazines and papers, including endless copies of the War Cry. One carried the headline âVengeance is mine, Saith the Lord'. Wholly unoriginal of course, but apt in the circumstances and impossible to resist. Tearing it carefully around the edges he placed the slogan beside the two bodies and it pleased him. But none of the rest of this stuff was any good, it was all too recent. What McGinley was looking for, the box files of old cuttings and mementoes she had preserved since they were kids, was gone. Maybe she finally had given up on him and had thrown it all away. A tinny carriage clock on the mantelpiece struck eleven. He'd have to watch it. His mother was not a party girl and the neighbours knew it. It wasn't ideal, but to maintain the charade of normality he was going to have to continue the search by the light of his torch.
Switching off the downstairs lights as he went, McGinley climbed the stairs and searched the bedrooms, but the wardrobes and cabinets were small and contained only clothing and day-to-day items. He was surprised to find a computer in the tiny box room that had been made over into a sort of office, but again his torch picked out nothing of what he was looking for. It was as he was crossing the landing to descend the stairs again that he thought of the one last place they might be.
Fetching a stool from the bedroom, he climbed up and released the loft hatch, sliding down the integral aluminium ladder. When the beam of light first swooped over the stack of cardboard boxes, he was dismayed by the scale of the task; he would be here all night sorting through this lot. But then it struck him that the arrangement was too neat; the boxes were proper archive boxes that were all precisely labelled in the same careful handwriting. They must belong to the Major. He would have brought them with him when he moved in; yet another way of completely dominating his ma's life. Towards the back of the loft space he eventually spotted a smaller stack; an odd assortment of cardboard grocery boxes and battered suitcases. That was her stuff. Heaving himself up through the hatch, McGinley picked his way carefully across, treading on the joists. In the second suitcase he found what he was looking for, an envelope of yellowing press cuttings, old tickets and letters, along with one short newspaper report of a death in custody, and the subsequent internal police investigation that exonerated the officers involved. A second cutting, barely two column inches, described a tragic suicide. As a teenager McGinley had once overheard an indiscreet neighbour talking about the âbad luck' that seemed to follow the McGinley family around. The Major no doubt described it as âGod's will'. But McGinley knew they were both wrong. Everything happened for a reason. This time, the reason was him.
Folding away the loft ladder and closing the hatch, McGinley was overcome by sudden exhaustion. Having found everything he wanted, he lay down on the bed in the spare room for a couple of hours' sleep. As he drifted off he thought about how weird it was that he could be so relaxed with two dead bodies lying in the hall downstairs. These days he was a light sleeper and had no worries that he would wake before dawn. But just in case, he set the alarm of his cheap digital watch for three a.m.
Mariner lay flat on his back waiting for the sky beyond the curtains to lighten. It had been after midnight when he'd climbed the stairs to bed but, like so many nights of late, his brain had refused to log off. His body felt heavy and lethargic, weighed down by the prospect of the day ahead. But when he could more or less see without the aid of electricity he forced himself to get out of bed and pull on jeans and an old sweatshirt. There were preparations to make.
Downstairs in the kitchen he brewed a mug of tea, but abandoned it on the worktop, too queasy to drink it. He'd been prevaricating, but could do so no longer. Along the hallway by the front door, Mariner unlocked the half-door that went down to the cellar. Cool, stale air wafted out, and he had to suppress an instant, though fleeting, ripple of fear. Switching on the light, he was presented with nothing more threatening than what looked like a subterranean Oxfam shop; the discarded but âmight come in useful' stuff he'd accumulated since he'd moved in here nearly twenty years ago. An old vacuum cleaner, boxes of books and old LPs, pictures and picture frames brought from his mother's house. But the biggest pile by far was of walking gear; several previous generations of boots, rucksacks and camping stoves, most of it obsolete, along with the equipment he used now. And that was what he'd come down for this morning. On the rare occasions when he was compelled to retrieve anything from the cellar, Mariner's strategy was always the same: identify what's needed from the vantage point at the top of the steps, go down to fetch it and return as quickly as possible to the hall, with one eye on the open door at all times, in case it should suddenly and inexplicably slam shut. He was well aware that his fears right now were irrational. But they were grounded in real and terrifying experiences, so recognizing that fact did nothing to diminish their power. Today two forays were enough, and stacking everything in the hall, Mariner closed and locked the cellar door again, before opening his front door on the chill morning air. It took several journeys to load everything into the back of his car bit by bit, arranging his kit carefully as he always did, like a neat jigsaw puzzle, everything in its rightful place. For the first time he allowed himself to think beyond this day. He'd tried to make his escape once before, but had been thwarted. This time was going to be different.
McGinley woke at the bleeping of his alarm, feeling groggy and sluggish. The sky was beginning to turn grey. Gathering his things and locking the door behind him, he exited the house the way he had come, emerging cautiously, just in case his presence had aroused attention. As he walked away he felt slightly heady, with what he imagined to be the satisfying feeling of revenge. This was how the old geezer at Long Lartin had said it would be. McGinley hadn't known whether to believe him at the time, but it was true, like a cleansing of the soul. âDon't go out with a fizz, go out with a bang,' he'd told McGinley. âMake people sit up and take notice of you. It's the last chance you'll get.' And this was just the start. If the rest of it worked out as planned, it was going to turn into something monumental.
Although he'd started young and had built up an impressive record, McGinley had always been small time, a tiny cog in someone else's machine. He'd snatched at opportunities as they were presented, and he'd relied on other people to create them for him. With the occasional exception of petty offences he'd never felt secure enough to go it alone, or to engage in any long-term planning, but he couldn't get over how well this was playing out â better than he had a right to expect. Now he began to wonder if, with a bit of effort, he could have been more ambitious with other enterprises. Some of this new-found confidence of course came from knowing that now he had absolutely nothing to lose. Ironically the onset of physical weakness was making him strong. No one could touch him and that feeling of power was extraordinarily potent; he felt invincible.
His only tiny regret from last night's episode was that the moment of execution had been so short-lived. It made him wish that he'd filmed it, if only on a mobile, so that he could replay it and enjoy those few seconds all over again. But common sense told him that success depended on keeping things simple. In many ways the anger had gone out of him by now, too. Ma wasn't a bad person, not in the way that some people are, but she had let them down. If she had done her job properly, things would have turned out differently, and for that she'd had to be punished. No, it had to be enough for him that she would be denied a peaceful old age. And he'd have to content himself with the images that lived on in his head.
There was more to do, and right now he had to focus and make sure his getaway was as clean as the operation. Once the bodies were discovered it wouldn't take long for the police to work out what had happened or who was responsible. But by the time they'd joined the dots they wouldn't stand a hope in hell of catching up with him. Duck and cover. He'd been learning about that for most of his miserable life. Retracing his steps along the streets, keeping to the shadows, he came to the row of lock-up garages. The up-and-over door seemed to roar and clang in the quiet night as he opened it on the old generation puke-green Astra. It was perfect; average enough not to draw attention, and before he set off he carefully checked the tax disc, plates and all the lights, reassured that she'd kept it all up to date. With luck it would be a while before there was any police interest around here, but he had form, and the last thing he needed was to get caught out and be pulled over for a minor traffic offence. The adrenalin spike was starting to flatten now and the pain in his side was coming up to meet it, but he had to keep his wits about him for just a few more hours until he could relax.