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Authors: Ken Bruen

London Boulevard

BOOK: London Boulevard
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LONDON
BOULEVARD

 

ALSO BY KEN BRUEN

 

Jack Taylor Novels

The Guards
The Killing of the Tinkers
The Magdalen Martyrs
The Dramatist
Priest
Cross
Sanctuary

 

Brant Novels
A White Arrest
(Collected in
A White Trilogy
)
Taming the Alien
(Collected in
A White Trilogy
)
The McDead
(Collected in
A White Trilogy
)

Blitz
Vixen
Calibre
Ammunition

 

Max/Angela Novels
Bust
(with Jason Starr)
Slide
(with Jason Starr)
The Max
(with Jason Starr)

 

Stand-Alone Novels
Rilke on Black
The Hackman Blues
Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice
American Skin
Once Were Cops

 

Collected in
A Fifth of Bruen
Funeral: Tales of Irish Morbidities
Shades of Grace
Martyrs
Sherry and Other Stories
All the Old Songs and Nothing to Lose
The Time of Serena-May/Upon the Third Cross

LONDON
BOULEVARD

KEN BRUEN

MINOTAUR BOOKS
NEW YORK

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

LONDON BOULEVARD
. Copyright © 2001 by Ken Bruen. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

 

www.minotaurbooks.com

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

 

Bruen, Ken.

London Boulevard / Ken Bruen.—1st U.S. ed.

       p. cm. s

ISBN 978-0-312-56168-0

  1. Ex-convicts—England—Fiction. 2. Criminals—England—Fiction.
3. London (England)—Fiction. I. Title.

PR6052.R785L66 2009

823'.914—dc22

2009012745

Originally published in Great Britain by the Do-Not Press

 

First U.S. Edition: December 2009

 

10    9    8    7    6    5    4    3    2    1

 

 

This book is dedicated to:

USA

Bernadette Kennedy

Ireland

Dr. Enda O’Byrne

PART ONE
SHOWTIME

 

 

 

 

I
LEARNT THIS
in prison. Compulsive is when you do something repetitively. Obsessive is when you think about something repetitively.

’Course, I learnt some other stuff too. Not as clear-cut.

Not as defined.

The day of my release, the warden had me up for a talk.

Bent over his desk, he kept me waiting. His head over papers, a model of industry. He had a bald patch, like Prince Charles. That made me feel good. I concentrated on it. Finally, he looks up, says,

“Mitchell?”

“Yes, sir?”

I could play the game. I was but a cigarette away from freedom. I wasn’t going to get reckless. His accent was from up north somewhere. Polished now but still leaking Yorkshire pudding and all that decent shit. Asked,

“You’ve been with us now for?”

Like he didn’t know. I said,

“Three years, sir.”

He hmmphed as if he didn’t quite believe me. Riffled through my papers, said,

“You turned down early parole.”

“I wanted to pay me debt in full, sir.”

The screw standing behind me gave a snort. For the first time, the warden looked directly at me. Locked eyes. Then,

“Are you familiar with recidivism?”

“Sir?”

“Repeat offenders, it’s like they’re obsessed with jail.”

I gave a tiny smile, said,

“I think you’re confusing obsession with compulsion,” and then I explained the difference.

He stamped my papers, said,

“You’ll be back.”

I was going to say,

“Only in the repeats,”

but felt Arnie in
The Terminator
would be lost on him. At the gate, the screw said,

“Not a bright idea to give him lip.”

I held up my right hand, said,

“What else did I have to offer?”

Missed my ride.

What the Yanks say. I stood outside the prison, waiting on my lift. I didn’t look back. If that’s superstition, then so be it. As I stood on the Caledonian Road, I wondered if I looked like a con, ex-con.

Shifty.

Yeah, and furtive. That too.

I was forty-five years old. Near 5' 11' in height, weighed in at 180 pounds. In shape, though. I’d hammered in at the gym and could bench press my share. Broken through the barrier to free up those endorphins. Natural high. Shit, do you ever need that inside. Sweat till you peak and beyond. My hair was white but still plentiful. I had dark eyes, and not just on the outside. A badly broken nose near redeemed by a generous mouth.

Generous!

I love that description. A woman told me so in my twenties. I’d lost her but hung on to the adjective. Salvage what you can.

A van pulled up, sounded the horn. The door opened, and Norton got out. We stood for a moment. Is he my friend?

I dunno, but he was there. He showed up, friend enough. I said,

“Hey.”

He grinned, walked over, gave me a hug. Just two guys hugging outside Her Majesty’s jail. I hoped the warden was watching.

Norton is Irish and unreadable. Aren’t they all? Behind all the talk is a whole other agenda. He had red hair, pasty complexion, the build of a sly greyhound. He said,

“Jaysus, Mitch, how are you?”

“Out.”

He took that on board, then slapped my arm, said, “Out . . . that’s a good one. I like that . . . Let’s go. Prison makes me nervous.”

We got in the van, and he handed me a bottle of Black Bush. It had a green bow. I said,

“Thanks, Billy.”

He looked almost shy, said, “Aw, it’s nuttin’ . . . for your release . . . the big celebration is tonight . . . and here . . .” He produced a pack of Dunhills. The lush red luxury blend. Said,

“I thought you’d be gasping for a tailor made.”

I had the brown paper parcel they give you on release. As Norton started the engine, I said,

“Hold on a sec.” And I slung the parcel.

“What was that?”

“My past.” I opened the Bush, took a long, holy swallow. It burned. Wow, did it ever. Offered the bottle to him. He shook his head.

“Naw, not when I’m driving.”

Which was rich, him being half in the bag already. He was always this side of special brews. As we headed south he was rabbiting on about the party. I switched off.

Truth is, I was tired of him already.

Norton said, “I’ll give you the scenic tour.”

“Whatever.”

I could feel the whiskey kicking in. It does all sorts of weird shit to me, but mainly it makes me unpredictable. Even I can’t forecast how it will break.

We were turning from Marble Arch and, of course, got caught at the lights. A guy appeared at the windshield and began to wipe it with a dirty cloth. Norton yelled,

“These fuckin’ squeegees, they’re everywhere!”

This guy didn’t even make an effort. Two fast wipes that left skid marks on the glass. Then he appeared at my window, said,

“Four quid, matey.”

I laughed, rolled the window down, and said,

“You need another line of work, pal.”

He had long, greasy hair down to his shoulders. His face was thin, and he had the eyes I’d seen a hundred times on the yards. The eyes of the bottom-rung predator. He leant his head back and spat. Norton went,

“Aw Jaysus.”

I didn’t move, asked,

“You got a tire iron?”

Norton shook his head,

“Mitch, Jesus, no.”

I said, “OK.”

And got out.

The guy was surprised but didn’t back off. I grabbed his arm and broke it over my knee. Got back in the van, and the lights changed. Norton revved fast, crying,

“Oh God, Mitch, you crazy bastard. You’re out . . . what? Ten minutes . . . and you’re at it already. You can’t be losing it.”

“I didn’t lose it, Billy.”

“What, you smash the guy’s arm, that’s not losing it?”

“If I’d lost it, I’d have broken his neck.”

Norton gave me an anxious look, said,

“You’re kidding . . . right?”

“What do you think?”

 

 

 

 

N
ORTON SAID
, “I think you’ll be surprised at the place I found for you.”

“As long as it’s near Brixton.”

“It’s Clapham Common. Since you’ve been . . . away . . . it’s become trendy.”

“Oh shit.”

“Naw, it’s OK . . . Anyway, a writer guy got into heavy schtook to some moneylenders, had to do a runner. Left everything: clothes, books . . . you’re set.”

“Is Joe still at the Oval?”

“Who?”


Big Issue
seller.”

“I don’t know him.”

We were coming up to the Oval. I said,

“He’s there. Pull over.”

“Mitch . . . you want to buy the
Big Issue
now?”

I got out, walked over. Joe hadn’t changed. He was disheveled, dirty, cheerful.

I said, “Hi, Joe.”

“Mitchell . . . Good Lord, I heard you was doing a stretch.”

I handed over a fiver, said,

“Give us a copy.”

We didn’t mention the change. He asked,

“Did they hurt you in there, Mitch?”

“Not so’s you’d notice.”

“Good man. Got a smoke?”

I gave him the pack of Dunhills. He examined them, said,

“Flash.”

“Only the best for you, Joe.”

“You’ll have missed the World Cup.”

And a whole lot more besides. I asked,

“How was it?”

“We didn’t win it.”

“Oh.”

“There’s always the cricket.”

“Yeah, there’s always that.”

 

THREE YEARS
in prison, you lose

time

compassion

and the ability to be surprised.

 

I WAS
nigh amazed when I saw the apartment. The whole ground floor of a two-story house. And it was beautifully furnished, all soft pastels and wall-to-wall books. Norton stood behind to gauge my reaction.

I said, “Christ.”

“Yeah, isn’t it something? Come and see more.”

He led me into the bedroom. Brass double bed. He threw open the wardrobes, packed full with clothes. Like a salesclerk, Norton said,

“You’ve got your

Gucci

Armani

Calvin Klein

and other bastards I can’t pronounce. Get this, the sizes are medium to large.”

“I can do medium.”

Back into the living room, Norton opened a drinks cabinet. Full too. Asked,

“Whatcha fancy?”

“A beer.”

He opened two bottles, handed me one. I asked,

“No glass?”

“No one drinks outta glasses anymore.”

“Oh.”


Sláinte
, Mitch, and welcome home.”

We drank. The beer tasted great. I indicated the place with my bottle, asked,

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