Authors: Erin Kelly
Tags: #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Fiction
‘No,’ she said quietly. ‘He was always very controlled, but never controll
. Clearly I never aroused such passion in him. That’s the worst of it.’ She gasped at what she had just said. ‘Oh Jesus, Luke, what’s wrong with me? He half-killed you and I think I’m
Both parking spaces in Temperance Place were occupied, so Vaughan had to bring Grand to the door and leave him with Luke while he looked for somewhere to accommodate the Bentley. Luke offered Grand his arm but he hobbled in on his gold-topped cane. Unevenly he crossed the kitchen to examine the new back door. He gave it a kick that wouldn’t have opened a cat-flap and pronounced the job a good one.
A few days’ beard did a poor job of disguising Luke’s swollen face but if that was observed, it was not commented upon.
He poured boiling water over teabags. While it brewed, he busied himself with his notes, prepared his phone to record and set it down next to the plate of Hobnobs.
‘Kathleen used to get them little pink wafers in for me,’ said Grand. His voice was weaker than usual today, little more than a whisper. Luke made a mental note to add pink wafers to his shopping basket next time he was in the supermarket, optimistically endowing them with the unlocking powers of Proustian madeleines.
‘It must be strange coming here and seeing me, not her,’ he ventured.
‘I’m getting used to it. It wasn’t a shock when you opened the door just now, which is a first. Every Wednesday for forty-odd years I’d come here and take tea with her. Never missed a single one, unless she was on holiday.’ Grand paused to recover his breath.
Luke thought back to his brief encounter with Michael Duffy. He had got the impression that the son had believed the relationship to be a fond but formal one, an unusually benevolent landlord and his oldest tenant. From this you could infer two things: one, that some force – shame, or pride – made her hide their involvement from her family. Two, that whatever form Grand’s feelings had taken, they were unrequited, and he had not been as significant in her life as she was in his.
Knowing that he had to ask the questions did little to take the edge off Luke’s nerves. When he asked Grand about his professional past, he had the feeling he was scratching at hardened scar tissue; when Kathleen’s name came up, he felt himself to be digging around in an open wound. Luke kept forgetting the power she had held, still held. She was, after all, not just the reason Luke and Grand had met but the reason Grand had agreed to talk.
‘How did you actually meet Kathleen?’ he said, wondering if his internal quiver was perceptible to Grand.
‘All in good time, boy. I thought we was doing this in chronological order.’
‘There’s no reason to stick doggedly to that though, is there? The more I get a feel for who you are now, the more it helps me ask the right questions.’
‘You can be a right little smart-arse sometimes, can’t you?’ said Grand, but the accompanying grin made it a compliment.
ask you about Kathleen?’
‘You can ask me about whatever you want, son. I don’t have to answer, do I? I’ll save how I got to know her for another day, though.’
There he went again, playing tug-of-war for control of the conversation. Luke felt the rope slip through his hands.
‘Fair enough.’ He forced a smile. ‘OK then, how about her family? You didn’t know them, did you? Or you’d have known about her passing. You’d have been at the funeral.’ Without warning Grand’s face collapsed. Luke, worried that he’d blown it before he’d even got his first real answer, placed cups on the table, sat down and let a low voice soften the blow of his next question.
‘Why didn’t she want them to know about your relationship?’ he said, as delicately as he could. ‘What I said at your house, about her being a widow. Was I on the wrong track there? Was it . . .’ he cleared his throat, knowing he wouldn’t have had the guts to ask this if Vaughan had been in the room. ‘Was it that you knew her before her husband died?’
Grand’s eyes were lasers behind the glass. ‘I don’t appreciate what you’re insinuating.’
‘I’m sorry. I’m honestly not trying to insinuate anything. It’s obvious she meant a great deal to you.’
Grand made a whistling noise through his teeth. Luke couldn’t tell if it was deliberate. He fished about in his cup, pulled the teabag out by its string and placed it on the saucer. ‘You make a shit cup of tea compared to her.’ His tone tried to force the subject closed, but Luke held his nerve and Grand’s gaze.
‘You loved her, didn’t you?’ he said. The old man’s head was on the downward stroke of a nod when Vaughan knocked on the door, two dull thuds that shook the windows in their frames. Luke held eye contact with Grand for a few seconds longer, but their fugitive intimacy was gone.
Vaughan carried one of the silver canisters that Luke had seen the nurse loading into the car outside the Dyke Road mansion. Long clear tubes protruded from it and up close, Luke saw it marked with O2 for oxygen. Grand’s eyes narrowed at the sight of it, but Vaughan looked at him sharply and then meekly he let Vaughan wrap the tube once around his head and insert it up his nose. Grand took a long drag of oxygen and his features slackened in obvious relief. This wasn’t just asthma.
‘Let’s pick up where we left off last time, shall we?’ said Grand in a new voice that rose from his boots. It was freighted with the authority of a lifetime’s power and anchored by the other man’s muscle. With Vaughan in the room and breath in his body, Grand was a villain again. ‘You got your tape recorder thingy turned on?’
Luke tapped the screen to show him. ‘Ah, we’d just got to your time in Parkhurst,’ he said.
‘Ah, my island retreat,’ said Grand. ‘Parkhurst wasn’t that bad, you know. I liked it in some ways. But I was always jealous of Jacky only being up the road in Lewes. My mum couldn’t travel much by then, so she went to see him and not me. I was over the moon when they transferred me for the last few months of my sentence. It wasn’t before time, either. Jacky needed me.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘He had no discipline when I wasn’t around so he hadn’t managed very well without me. I had my work cut out for me when I arrived, Jesus. It was a right old mess. First thing I did was get him working again. That was the thing with Jacky, if he wasn’t working, he got a bit out of control.’ Grand looked rueful. ‘He’d never have got like he did if they’d sent us to the same place to begin with.’
‘When you say working . . .’
‘We set up a little betting syndicate. Mainly horse racing off the telly but other things, too, like wing football matches, basketball games. Everyone inside was so bored we didn’t even need that much muscle to enforce it.’
‘So you were making money while you were in prison?’
‘Not cash as such. The currency was always tobacco, so we both decided to stop smoking while we was inside. It made us more powerful because we controlled the currency, we wasn’t controlled by it. Do you know what I mean? We’d use tobacco to buy credit off of the other lags, the money you earned working in the canteen or what have you, and send more than its value to their family on the outside, so everyone was happy – and that way, the families had us on side, too, and we knew that would count for a lot when they got out.’
‘Did the screws know what you were up to?’
it. It kept everyone happy and quiet. We was doing their job for them. I was only sorry I couldn’t work out a way to take a cut of their wages.’
‘And it was in Lewes that you met Dave Rosslyn.’
‘He was Jacky’s cellmate for the last month or so,’ confirmed Grand. ‘In for demanding money with menaces. Fucking hell. You’ve never known anyone love the sound of his own voice like Dave Rosslyn. The older ones didn’t want to know, they’d walk off if he approached their table at dinner, rather go hungry than get buttonholed, but me and Jacky couldn’t get enough of him.’
‘We was like a couple of sponges, soaking up everything he had to say. Dave had a franchise going with the fruit machines, which had sort of blossomed into a low-level protection racket. He told us how the machines worked. I don’t mean the mechanical side, I mean the pounds, shillings and pence of it. That they took sixpence a game, but you could make a hundred quid a week on them. That would’ve been reason enough for me and Jacky to want a piece of the action, but what really sold us was this: that they got you into a club, bought you a relationship with the owners. You weren’t controlling the door, exactly, but if you had a name for yourself, they’d start to depend on you for protection. He picked the wrong people to tell all this to: I mean, our eyes must have been
like fruit machines.’ Grand laughed wheezily. ‘And from then, it was just a question of waiting until we got out. That’s when we decided that the way forward was to get a legitimate front for our businesses; that you should hide the violence behind the business, not the other way around.’
It was one of the longest speeches Luke had ever heard Grand make. Even with the oxygen, he was struggling.
‘I think that’s the end of our session,’ said Vaughan. ‘I need to get Mr Grand home now.’
‘But we’ve barely started—’
‘You’ve got your little story about the fruit machines. I’m sure that’s given you enough homework to be getting on with until next time.’ Luke was disturbed by the unexpected insight into his methodology.
Vaughan’s robot voice softened to a human one when addressing his boss. ‘Sir, I’m parked around the corner, bear with me for a few minutes.’
He ducked and squeezed through the narrow cottage door, leaving Luke and Grand alone.
‘Vaughan seems very good at knowing what you need. You’re lucky to have him.’
‘He’s a good boy,’ agreed Grand.
‘How long has he been working for you?’
‘Since his twenties. He’d got himself caught up in an armed robbery, sat in the van like a mug while the real villains done the job. He come to us looking for work, and he was upfront about his form. I respected him for that. I couldn’t see him letting flats – I mean, you couldn’t send a single female into a flat with him, she’d be terrified – but at least I knew he could drive, eh?’Grand flashed his perfect false teeth in a fleeting grin. ‘He reminded me of someone else. I suppose I was trying to make up for . . . I mean, if someone had done that for us when we was released, we might have gone straight a long time earlier. He’s my longest-serving member of staff now. More like family really.’
‘Well, it’s nice that you’ve got someone to . . .’ he checked himself at the last second and replaced ‘leave it all to,’ with ‘share it with,’ but Grand had noticed the hesitation.
‘Vaughan’s not in it for the money,’ he snarled. ‘As far as he knows, there’s nothing in my will for him when I’ve passed.’
‘As far as he knows?’ said Luke, sensing dirt.
‘Oh, he’ll be well provided for, very well provided for,’ said Grand. ‘Not that he’ll hear about it from you.’
It was an order. Grand’s physical authority might diminish when Vaughan left the room, but he held over Luke’s head something more terrifying than any torture; one wrong move, one impertinence too far, and he could withdraw his cooperation completely, aborting the embryonic book.
‘Of course not,’ said Luke. ‘But why the secrecy?’
‘The last thing a rich man needs is to surround himself with people who stand to gain by his death. If you do that, where’s their incentive to keep you alive? Much better that Vaughan stays in the dark about his inheritance. That way I know he’s with me out of real loyalty, loyalty I’ve earned.’
The Bentley reversed to a smooth halt outside the window.
‘I’ll get the door open for you,’ said Luke, and rushed out to intercept the driver. ‘What
wrong with him? Is it lung cancer?’
Vaughan acted like he hadn’t heard him.
‘I won’t say anything,’ pressed Luke.
‘Too right you won’t. It’s got fuck-all to do with you.’ Vaughan took a chamois from his pocket and gave the silver door handle a quick buff. His reflection in the paintwork locked eyes with Luke’s. ‘He’s not going to die on my watch. Not if I have anything to do with it.’ Determination set his face like clay. Luke suddenly felt so sorry for him that he almost wanted to tell him about the consolation prize that awaited him on the other side of Grand’s passing, but he bit his lip.
When Luke called Maggie, she was cautiously enthusiastic.
‘Sounds intriguing,’ she said. ‘Although alarm bells are ringing: if it’s such a good story, why doesn’t this book already exist?’
‘I’m not the first writer to try,’ he admitted. ‘But something to do with this old woman dying means he’s ready to talk now when he wasn’t before. And he’s not well. I mean,
not well. He can’t breathe on his own. If it’s not cancer it’s something else pretty nasty. He’s 81 now and at this rate I’ll be surprised if he lives to see 82. Maybe he knows it’s now or never.’
‘Riiiight.’ She still didn’t sound convinced. ‘When will you have something to send me? An opening chapter and a couple of samples from further in would be perfect.’
All Luke had set down so far was Sandy’s confession and his draft of the Zammit attack, but he had screeds of notes on Grand’s childhood and an introduction would not take him long to write. He relished the thought of a few days at the keyboard.
‘I can get you a proper proposal in the next few days,’ he said. ‘End of the week at the latest.’
‘Great, I’ll look forward to it. And do try not to let this one get away.’
Luke winced at the reminder. ‘Don’t worry. This one’s a world away from Len Earnshaw. He wants to share his story through vanity and guilt. He’s certainly not in it for the money. At least if he fucks me over, it won’t be to take the story to a higher bidder.’
‘Glad to hear it,’ she said, and then concern crept in. ‘Luke? I know you’re a big boy, and you know what you’re doing. But you will be careful, won’t you?’
The English Channel churned pewter and the rain darkened the cream, brown and grey pebbles to a uniform slate. The Fortune of War was a different place entirely after summer had blown out of Brighton. The beachfront furniture had gone and Luke, Charlene and Viggo were drinking in the vaulted, cramped interior. Rain hurled itself at the windows. A stone’s skim away on West Street, Aminah was doing her soundcheck in an empty club she was expected to fill that night. The lone bartender was reading the
. A keychain hanging from his belt buckle bore the gold JGP fob. Charlene stuck her tongue out at it.