Authors: Martina Cole
Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense
He was smiling as he said it and Benny, high on his own adrenaline, laughed heartily.
“You could say that. Want a sandwich?”
“Go on then, I missed me lunch as usual. Sheila has been a right pain of late and the baby is getting to her. Moan, moan, fucking moan. She always liked being pregnant before. This time, though, all she goes on about is how fat she feels. I can’t say, “Well, you would feel fucking fat because you’re in the club.” Obviously, as you can imagine, she ain’t in the mood to hear nothing like that, is she?”
Abul and Benny grinned at his words. They knew how much he loved his wife and his constant bitching about her was just a joke.
“How is she, Lee? All right?”
Jamie’s friendly voice could have been a gunshot so quiet did the other three men become. Lee walked over to where Jamie was sitting on the floor and kicked him full force in the face. His head exploded with pain.
“You having a fucking tin bath? Do you think this is some kind of bastard game, you treacherous little ponce?”
Jamie was lying quite still; his brain was on autopilot and telling him not to antagonise them further. This was serious, really serious, and he knew then without a doubt that he was a dead man.
There would be no deals done here today unless it was to make them promise to kill him quickly, so that was what he would do. He would ask them to shoot him or something. Get it over with as fast as possible. In return he’d tell them anything he could. Realising the amount of shit he was in, he began to cry. The other three ignored him and carried on eating and chatting.
Jamie listened with all his might to what they said, trying to gauge what was to be his fate. He hoped Maura decided to come in fact he prayed that she would; she was the voice of reason among this load of Loony Tunes and he needed her. Christ, how he needed her.
Suddenly Benny stood up. Throwing the crust of his sandwich away, he picked up the cattle prod and walked towards Jamie.
Jamie was trying to delay the inevitable. Benny, hitting him with the cattle prod in the legs, laughed as his body jumped off the floor.
“Strip him, Abul.”
He did as he was bidden, dragging and ripping the clothes from Jamie’s person. Then he hosed him down with freezing cold water.
This brought Jamie around enough to realise what was happening to him.
His face was roaring with pain, as was his leg. He could see the two burn marks where the prod had touched and burned through his jeans on to his skin. Lee was standing over him as well. Jamie was trying to hide his crown jewels with his hands.
“Hold him down.”
Benny had the Airfix glue out now.
“Please, not that, Benny! Not that…”
He said nonchalantly, “Oh, shut up, you fucking tart.”
Jamie was pleading now.
“Please, Ben, I am begging you, mate…”
Benny bellowed, “Shut the fuck up! You should have thought of this when you decided that Vic fat cunt Joliff was to be your new best friend. Did you honestly think we wouldn’t be a little bit miffed? That we would go, “Oh, all right, Jamie. Fuck all we’ve done for you …” Use your fucking head! You brought this on yourself so take what’s coming and take it like a fucking man. Now, will you two hold his fucking head still?”
The screams as his eyes were glued shut were deafening but Abul and Lee just ignored them. They knew from experience that the noise would be much louder before the day was out. Sightless eyes were always guaranteed to put the fear of Christ up people. It was not knowing what was going to happen and when it was going to happen that was worst. Then Benny stripped off himself and snuck up on them, and the prod touched their skin and they got a double shock.
Jamie felt as if he was already dead. He had no feelings in his arms but a crushing sensation like a slab of ice was lying heavy on his chest.
Suddenly he thought of Danielle and the kids and was sorry for everything he had ever done to them. He saw his old mum, always trying to get him out of trouble when he was a kid. Saw his father, drunk as usual with his wide leather belt clutched in his hand. Saw his sister and her army of boyfriends who all seemed to give her a baby and then fuck off. Saw her bright face and pretty hair before she left school and discovered that if you fucked the boys they stayed around for a while. Then everything went mercifully dark.
“He’s passed out, look!”
Benny was laughing once more but he was annoyed. His games had not even started properly yet. They wanted to know all about Joliff and where he was, what he intended. They had another beer and then hosed Jamie down once more. He didn’t move. Lee and Abul were getting worried now.
“Is he breathing?”
Lee’s voice was low and fear was evident in it. Abul took his pulse then shook his head. He was biting on his lip, unable to say the words out loud.
“Is he dead?”
Benny sounded so affronted, as if Jamie could only have died of fright deliberately to annoy him.
“The fucking little tosser! He died? He had the nerve to die on me, did he?”
“Maura will go fucking ape shit
Lee was voicing all their fears.
Benny was hanging his head like an errant schoolboy.
“He must have died of fright.” Abul said the words loudly.
Suddenly the three of them started to laugh.
“Maura will go mad, won’t she?”
They all laughed again, and that was how she found them ten minutes later, making up silly jokes about the corpse in front of them. As if it meant nothing to them. Which of course it didn’t.
Vic was still snorting coke and trying to explain to Kenny why Maura Ryan and the rest of them should die.
“But she had nothing to do with Sandra’s death. How many times have I got to tell you that, Vic? You were the one who had her fucking car blown up. You or your associates, only you won’t say who they were. What did you expect her to do, swallow that? I know for a fact it had nothing to do with her about Sandra and my Lana. That was whoever was behind you, stirring things. Why the hell won’t you come clean about them?”
Vic stared at him.
“Haven’t you guessed yet? Hasn’t no one on the street guessed who it was? I have been waiting and wondering how long it was going to take that shower of cunts to find out who pulled that stroke.”
“Who was it, Vic?”
Vic could hear the desperation in Kenny’s voice and wondered if he should tell him. The man was entitled, after all. But once he spilled those beans he’d have to make all his moves at once. And to do that, to tie up all the loose ends, he needed reinforcements. Now he had the money to pay for them but for some reason he was having trouble recruiting and wanted Kenny’s backing.
“Smithy, I ain’t as green as I’m cabbage-looking, but for the moment it suits me if people think I’m on a mission to revenge my Sandra. Not that I’m not, don’t get me wrong, but once I start opening my trap I’m in twice the danger. I need to get to these people, and I need a mob with me. Help me out here, Ken. You know everybody.”
Kenny slowly shook his head.
“You got a cheek, Vic, you know that? I’m a go-between, not a fucking recruitment agency. Find your own bodies I’m strictly impartial.”
Vic winked at him.
“Not when it comes to one lovely lady client, eh? Well, will you do just one little thing for me then? Take a message to Maura Ryan. I want a meeting with her, on her jacksy. Just me and Maura, setting the world to rights.”
Kenny looked at the man before him: the nerve jumping in his cheek, the way his hands shook all the time, slopping tea out of his cup till his saucer was swimming in it and he didn’t even seem to notice. Kenny knew that if he put this request to Maura she’d probably agree, and he realised he couldn’t face the thought. There was bravery, and then there was stupidity. With Vic in this state he could do literally anything.
“I can’t do that, Vic. I ain’t getting embroiled in something so risky.”
“Probably for the best anyway. I could feel myself getting a bit soft for a minute there. Tell you what. If you won’t carry a message, will you pass on a threat then?”
Then Kenny knew he’d been right. Vic was so volatile he could turn on a sixpence. There was no way he and Maura could have set things to rights head to head.
“Tell her I’ve a couple of scores to settle first but she’s definitely on me list. I’ll be seeing her soon. Pass it on, will you?”
Kenny nodded his head reluctantly. Neutrality be blowed. He would say something. The Ryans were good clients and it was Maura who kept that show on the road so it was in his own best interests to speak up.
“Good boy, Kenny, and it’s not as if it’s a hardship for you, is it? Speaking to her, I mean.”
He didn’t know which was more galling: running a madman’s messages for him, or having him look straight through Kenny’s calm professionalism to the man beneath. The man who cared rather more than he should about keeping Maura Ryan out of harm’s way.
Maura was so incensed that the three men just stood there like naughty little boys while she screamed at them. And scream she did. When she walked in and saw the body on the floor she felt such a sickening sense of deja vu that it almost made her pass out. It was Sammy Goldbaum all over again. It was Michael’s boyfriend Jonny all over again. It brought back memories she would much rather forget.
“I cannot leave you lot to do anything, can I? If I leave you alone for one minute someone is fucking well dead!”
No one answered at first.
“It was an accident, Maura, we didn’t mean it,” Benny protested.
“Course you didn’t. You lot couldn’t set up a fucking prayer meeting in a monastery.”
Their collective looks of embarrassment made her even angrier.
“Did you glue his eyes shut, Benny Ryan? I expressly told you not to do that to him, didn’t I?”
He didn’t answer her.
“I asked you a fucking question!”
Benny looked at her sheepishly and it occurred to her that he was to all intents and purposes a fucking maniac. At this moment in time she could just about control him. But for how long? Even Roy, before he decided to blot out the rest of his life with Prozac, had wondered about that and he was Benny’s father.
Her nephew answered her with more spirit than she liked.
“I didn’t do it deliberately, did I? Like I said, it was an accident.”
Maura stared at the three of them; they looked like they were outside the headmaster’s office after being caught smoking. Yet they had killed someone. Someone was fucking dead.
And none of them gave a flying fuck about it.
She knew it was an occupational hazard in their line of work, but needless killing was what this was and that to her was worse than anything. Benny got too much pleasure out of what he did, that had been evident for years. Even as a kid he had shown signs of his true nature. He was smothered by his mother and grandmother when all he had ever wanted was to be a man. From a small boy Benny had wanted to be a man. If only he understood what it took to be a real one, she would be able to walk away from them all. Looking at them now, she despaired of ever being free to do it.
Benny and Lee were smirking and this annoyed her even more.
“It ain’t funny.”
Abul and Lee looked at one another and burst out laughing; this in turn caused Benny to crack up and as she stood in the cool of the cellar and watched as they all indulged in high raucous laughter, Maura felt as if she was on some kind of hallucinogenic drug. She felt, like so many times in the past, as if she had accidentally stepped into someone else’s nightmare.
Jamie was lying on the floor, his eyes glued shut and his lifeless body twisted at an impossible angle. The pain he’d felt before his death was written all over his face and for some reason he was clutching his balls.
It was a sorry scene, a sad and sorry scene, and she was ashamed that she was a part of it. Somehow when Michael was alive she had not felt the same guilt as she did now, because now the buck stopped with her. Jamie was a prat, had sold himself to the highest bidder. He was a gambler and they were always unreliable. Ponce that he was, though, he did not deserve this. The hardest part was going to be telling his wife and trying to make sure she was provided for in the future. Whatever Jamie was to them, Danny at least had loved him. He was the father of her children. He meant something to somebody, no matter how misguided they might have been about him.
She looked at the men. The laughter was wearing thin now and she knew they thought she was making a mountain out of a molehill, that this was not really that big a deal. She was as usual over-reacting Benny’s favourite expression lately.
Maura tried to calm herself down. Fuck Jamie Hicks, he was history. She needed to know about Vic. That was the object of this exercise. What Jamie had had to say was really the most important thing for the family at this moment in time.
She sighed heavily, her tiredness and anger still evident. But it was futile being angry with them, they didn’t give a toss about any of it.
“What did he have to say for himself before he died then?”
Her voice was bored-sounding now. Low. Once again they went all sheepish and quiet on her. They looked like they would all rather be anywhere but in this cellar in North London, and she mentally agreed with them in her head. At this moment in time she would cheerfully be anywhere in the world but here. Looking at a dead Jamie Hicks. Wondering how to break the news to his wife without causing her to drop the kid there and then.
“Well, come on then, out with it. I ain’t got all fucking day.”
Benny shook his head.
“Nothing?” Her voice was rising again and she tried desperately to lower it.
“What the fuck do you mean, nothing?”
Benny shrugged now; he was getting pissed off with it all.
“What I fucking say. Nothing. Fuck all.”
The insolence was back in his voice.
Lee looked at her as he said, “He died more or less straight away, Maws. We hardly touched him, did we, lads?”