Authors: Martina Cole
Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense
He was pleased with himself now as they made their way to Jack’s. Maura would pave the way for him, he was sure. At heart they had to know that whatever he might have done, he was loyal to them, would always be loyal to them, no matter what.
He was a Ryan, and proud of that fact. Maura would see him all right, she was family-minded, always had been. After all, their strength lay in the fact they were the Ryan family, the equivalent of Royalty in London’s underworld.
To the Ryans, blood was more important than anything.
Sarah made herself yet another pot of tea and a little bit of toast. She had fed the children and settled them down to watch TV. She had that dragging pain again, like the one she’d had when her son Benny had been snatched and when her Michael had been shot down in the street.
She knew that there was serious trouble afoot if that Vic had taken Sheila. She was scandalised a wife would ever be taken hostage but, as Roy said, it was a sign of the times. There was no decency left in the world any more. Little bits of girls were running round the TV screen naked, and that was just the adverts. Was it any wonder the established order had changed and people like Vic involved the women of the family in their dealings?
She nibbled at the toast and sipped the tea. She wasn’t really hungry or thirsty but it was something to do.
She had been thinking about her Michael a lot today. The atmosphere was just like it was when he’d died, and when her Benny had been taken. Her own gorgeous boy who had been her last-born son, her baby.
She pushed the thoughts from her mind. Life was hard enough as it was without creating problems before they made themselves known. But the pain was getting more insistent and she felt sick with fear.
She felt in her apron pocket and took out her rosary. It had seen her through many a crisis in its time. It was olive wood and almost worn out now, like herself. She smiled at the thought. Yes, worn away practically to nothing. Once again she blessed herself and kissed the Cross of Christ, praying for the safe return of Sheila and of all her children.
In her mind’s eye she saw them as she loved to see them, all small, all clean, and dressed for Mass on a lovely sunny Sunday morning.
The image that had always given her such pride brought tears to her eyes now and she cried for the wasted lives of her children.
All of them.
Vic already knew that the Ryans and their cronies were all over Jack’s place like a rash. It was what he had expected. However he still had a few tricks up his sleeve himself. He shook his head to clear it and pulled his Range Rover over to snort some more coke. His blokes watched him and he sensed they were worried about the forthcoming showdown.
“I have a lot of back up on the payroll I hope you lot aren’t starting to shit now?”
They hastily assured him he was wrong but he wasn’t sure of them any more; he wasn’t sure of anything. It was paranoia setting in and he knew he should never have snorted so much coke before a confrontation. But he had Sheila and they had Fatty and he had to trade for his mother’s sake, though if it was left to him he would let Justin rot. Not forgetting he also wanted his coke back and the Ryans dead. All of them, even Maura for whom he had a grudging respect now he knew the full story. But she needed bringing down a peg and he was just the man to do it.
He had once harboured thoughts of giving her one but she was a bit long in the tooth for him these days. He knew Kenny wouldn’t kick her out of bed, though. The thought made him smile. Kenny was another one who was going to get the shock of his fucking life. He was on the off list along with a few other mates who had switched their allegiance to the Ryans.
Oh, Vic had a few more scores to settle and settle them he would. He had the big guns. It didn’t matter who the Ryans mustered, he had the creme de la creme. He had people beside him far more frightening than a bunch of old lags. In fact, they were the only people who had ever taken on those ponces and won. The thought reassured him.
But first he had to convince this shower that he was in control. That he had the means and the know-how to walk all over the enemy. He could see Mickey, his most loyal associate, staring out of the window as the Range Rover sped along the country lanes. Vic made eye contact with him through the windscreen mirror and Mickey smiled back at him as he lit another cigarette.
“I have the Irish contingent meeting us there so stop your fucking arses quivering and get the weapons primed; we’re going to need them.”
The news that the Irish were involved cheered up the men no end and they all breathed a silent collective sigh of relief. No one in their right mind would take on the IRA.
Privately, Mickey Ball acknowledged that his old mate Vic was starting to worry him. He had started out so clever and focused but as time had gone on he had let his behaviour become more and more outrageous. It was not just the coke, Vic had always been a few paving slabs short of a patio. Now Mickey wondered if the patio was ever going to be built at all.
Still, they all had their own agenda today. No need to tell Vic his before he was sure how the land lay.
Vic was singing loudly as he swerved to avoid the oncoming traffic. He’d been driving in the wrong lane for the past few minutes but no one had wanted to tell him. As usual it was the theme tune to Flipper, the only song he knew all the way through.
As he sang, the men in the Range Rover looked askance at one another. Suddenly, siding with Vic Joliff didn’t seem such a fucking good idea any more, Irish or no Irish. Thank God Mickey had had the commonsense to hedge their bets.
“Vic’s on his way. I just got a text from Mickey Ball,” Gerry Jackson announced.
Garry nodded. Now Maura and Kenny had arrived the show could finally get on the road. He had placed people everywhere. The whole of the barn was covered and the filth all duly warned off. Afterwards, they would clear up any mess, and they would clear it up thoroughly. All that would be left for the filth to find would be Vic and his dead fucking cohorts.
Kenny and Maura smoked as they watched the men rushing around the place sorting out last-minute details.
A white transit appeared and screeched to a halt. Maura groaned inwardly as Benny and his mates jumped from it like conquering heroes.
“All right, Maws?”
Benny made a beeline straight for her as they all knew he would.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Garry running across the dirt road towards him, a high-velocity rifle in his right hand, and felt his bowels loosen as he saw the look on his uncle’s face.
“Where you been, you little fucker?”
Benny was terrified but he hid it well. Every man there admired him for his front. He actually looked as if he didn’t care, when everyone knew he had to.
“All right, Gal. I brought along a few boys. I have a lot of information for you…”
Garry hit him with the butt of the rifle, hard, and Benny sagged to his knees. Maura stepped in and stopped her brother from repeating the action.
“We already know everything, Benny, you daft little twonk. Do you think we are so stupid we need little boys to do our fucking dirty work?”
Garry’s voice was so low at first it was indistinguishable to the others but Benny heard him as if he had shouted in his ear. It was his father Roy’s expression of disgust that hurt him most.
“Who do you think you are, Benny?” Garry taunted.
“You disappear from a fucking nick while you are on a bought sentence and go on a fucking one-man rampage, and then have the nerve to think you can walk in here and act like fucking Clark Kent come to the rescue. Do you have any idea of the shit you are in? That you nearly put us all in?”
His uncle was bellowing now as he asked once more, “Well, do you? We can’t buy you out of this one, boy. You went too far this time. Even we would be hard pushed to explain away a daylight kidnapping, arson and three murders after a fucking severed head in the wardrobe. Are you that fucking dense you can’t see that there are some things you just don’t do?”
“I wasn’t thinking, Garry…”
“That’s the trouble with you, Benny, you never fucking do, do you? This is the south east, mate, not the fucking Wild West. What frightens me is you seem to think that it’s no big fucking deal. You chopped the head off some poor little fucker because he shagged your bird before you. Don’t you think that’s a mite over the fucking top, even for you?”
Before Benny could answer his uncle, Maura motioned to them all for quiet. Gerry was waving to her and holding up his phone.
“They’ve been seen.”
Garry nodded then proceeded to kick Benny into the dirt. He covered his head with his arms and took the beating quietly and with dignity. The watching men all admired him even as they wondered how he could be so stupid considering he came from a family that was respected for its nous. Sadly he had not inherited it, was the general consensus.
Benny took the humiliating beating in his stride, but one day he knew he would pay Garry back, and his father too, for standing there and allowing it to happen.
Maura finally stepped in and Benny saw that she was unconcerned by what Garry had done to him, and knew that as she saw it her brother was within his rights.
“They’re at the Rettenden turn-off. We need to get into place.”
Garry nodded and Gerry and Tony Dooley helped Benny into the barn. He was in no fit state to help fight a tiny baby, let alone take part in a gang war on this scale. It grieved him, but he knew he had to swallow and get over it. He couldn’t help wondering, though, what was going to happen in the next few hours, but knew better than to ask.
As he sat in the barn nursing his wounds he saw that he was with armed men and it occurred to him that they were guarding him, not just sitting with him, and that was when the fear really started to kick in.
Vic saw the three IRA men as he turned into the lane that would take him to Jack’s place. He slowed down and smiled as he did so. It was only when he felt the gun pushed at his head through the driver’s window that he realised he had been set up.
Michael Murphy grinned down at him.
“Hello there, Vic. Long time no see. Come to call on my friends the Ryans, have you?”
He felt his bowels turn to ice water and hot anger in his head.
“You fucking two-faced…”
“Get in the back, Vic.”
He was dragged from the Range Rover, searched thoroughly and pushed unceremoniously into the back. He felt the heat of humiliation as he saw Mickey Ball shaking hands with Bing Dooley, one of Tony’s boys, who had been sent to accompany the welcome party.
Vic was cornered and he knew it. But he should have seen this coming and the fact he had not even had an inkling told him all he needed to know about himself and his intake of the coca plant.
He was coming down now, and a feeling of depression after the high would hit him any second. He put his hand into his pocket and squeezed the package that would send him straight back to cloud nine.
“Need a line, Vic?”
Mickey Ball’s voice was hard and cold. Vic had to be restrained by Bing’s boys and a pair of handcuffs.
“Don’t mark him! In no way mark him. No bruises, no nothing, right?”
Bing’s voice was rich with authority and the other men did as he said without a second’s thought.
Vic stared at the rabble around him with open hatred but there was nothing he could do to help himself now.
Maura watched as Vic’s Range Rover was positioned in the narrow lane leading to Jack’s barn. There was no danger of any passing traffic because it was a private road and not used by anyone other than Jack and his visitors. Vic was dragged from his car.
Once inside the barn he saw Benny and grinned at him. Benny spat in his general direction as a sign of disrespect.
Lee was on Vic in a second.
“Where’s me wife?”
Vic smiled but didn’t speak.
Mickey Ball answered the question.
“She’s safe, don’t worry. Me two best boys are watching her and Vic’s mother. She’ll be on her way in a few minutes, OK?”
Lee visibly relaxed. He had been so frightened that someone might have hurt her and until he saw Sheila with his own eyes knew he would not feel right inside. He went to attack Vic but he was stopped by Garry and Tony.
“No marks on him, remember.”
Lee nodded but was hustled outside anyway.
Vic’s eyes settled on Maura as she walked back into the barn with Kenny discreetly trailing her. Her face was hard and he saw the tightness around her mouth.
He grinned at her, face red with anger, his bald head shining with the sweat of cocaine and exertion.
“You must think you’ve drawn the rollover on the Lottery, eh, Maura?”
She shook her head.
“We never wanted this, Vic, but as you can see, when it came down to it we were the best for everyone concerned. We have every major villain in the country on standby.”
“Well, I hope that makes you feel safer, Maura.”
She shook her head at his stupidity.
“You wanted this, Vic. You tried to kill me, and you fucking killed Roy’s wife. You had to know we would never have touched Sandra, never in a million years. You started bringing family into this, we didn’t.”
“That, Maura, was never down to me. OK, you had no part in it, either, I realised that a while ago. Bit late in the day but my fucking
Sandra dying like that… it’s hard for me to think straight sometimes, you know?”
Particularly after a hefty toot or two, she thought, noticing the shaking hands which she knew owed nothing to fear. Even now, surrounded by the Ryans’ army, Vic was completely unafraid. That suited her. She wanted him calm and cooperative if she was ever to get the full picture.
“I just want to hear your side of it, Vic,” she told him.
“Things started going pear-shaped for us six years back. The filth started feeling collars all around us, and it looked like we were gras sing our mates big time.”
“Well, you were. In a manner of speaking,” he said genially.
Maura stepped back as if he’d slapped her.