Chapter 24

for the next couple of days as that cold front sweeps down across the north-east of Scotland, bringing snow and sleet with it. Steve?

Thanks, Davie. You re listening to Sensational Steve s Breakfast Drive-Time Bonanza, and we ll be back with another bonkers wind-up call right after these words from our sponsors. Grating honk, cheesy trombone noise, and then the adverts.

Have you had an accident in the last five years, and it wasn t your fault?

I turned the rusty Renault onto Lochview Road, the steering wheel juddering on full lock. A screeching noise came from somewhere inside, even though I can t have been doing more than five miles an hour.

Lochview Road wasn t bad a tree-lined street of sandstone buildings, iron railings, bay windows, Mercs and Beamers parked outside. Small front gardens with a flight of steps up to the front doors. Classy. The kind of place that hid behind the curtains when Jehovah s Witnesses came round, instead of telling them to fuck off. think I m crazy, but there s an additional twenty percent off this weekend when you buy a new sofa!

Ethan s house was down at the far end. I parked as close as I could. Checked my watch: five past eight. Should have got here twenty minutes ago, but the Renault wasn t exactly in rally-fit condition. And having to drop Dr McDonald off at her aunt s place hadn t helped.

With any luck Ethan would still be bumbling about inside: where s my keys, is the toast burnt; have I got everything; don t want to be late for work; hurry, scurry, hippity hop. Not quite as good as three in the morning for catching someone off guard, but it would have to do. and nothing to pay for eight months! That s right, nothing to pay

I killed the engine and climbed out of the car.

Wind ripped through the street, shivering the trees naked branches, slamming into my chest like a cold fist. I gritted my teeth, stuck my hands in my pockets, and marched down the road towards Ethan s house.

There was a clunk behind me and Rhona s voice cut through the groaning wind. Guv?

Shite.

I stopped, turned, the tails of my jacket flapping around my waist. Thought I told you

Don t worry. She didn t even bother trying to cover her mouth, just yawned like a hippo, showing off those large beige teeth. He got home at half seven yesterday evening: hasn t moved since.

You ve been here all night?

Said I d keep an eye on things for you, didn t I? She produced a pair of black leather gloves from her pocket and pulled them on. Besides, you re going to need someone to hold him down.

I closed my eyes, rubbed at my forehead. Rhona, you can t

What, he s going to open the door for you? Guv, soon as he sees you through the peephole he ll barricade himself in and call the cops. You need a nice approachable female face to put him at his ease, make sure the place is wide open for you.

She had a point. Well

And anyway, I read the wee bugger s file. He deserves whatever he s got coming.

A smile pulled at my cheeks. OK, you re in.

Rhona grinned back at me. You ready?

She rang the doorbell again, leaning on it for a good five or six seconds long enough to be really annoying. Then turned and gave me the thumbs up.

I ducked back down behind the silver Mercedes parked outside the house kidding on I was tying my shoelace, in case any nosey neighbour was looking.

Clunk.

Rhona put on her official police officer voice: Mr Baxter?

A man s voice, slightly bunged up and jowly. Look, is this important, because

Mr Ethan Baxter? Oldcastle Police, can I come in, please?

I haven t got time for Hey, stop pushing! You can t

Clunk.

I popped my head over the bonnet. The front door was closed, no sign of a struggle. Say what you like about Rhona, she did a good forced entry. I pulled on my own leather gloves, then strolled around the car, up the stairs and in through the front door. Closed it behind me, shutting out the groaning wind.

The hall was full of polished wood and things in frames.

Muffled struggling noises came from the other side of a half-glazed door at the end of the hall. It opened on a huge kitchen the kind with a range cooker, prints of farmyard animals, and a wall packed with cookery books.

Ethan was sitting in a wooden dining chair, gagged with a tea towel, his hands cuffed behind his back. Soon as I walked in his eyes went huge above that squint nose of his. Mmmmmmmmph. Mmmmmmphngn mmmphn!

He d let himself go: chubby cheeks flushed and shiny, a pot belly hanging over the waistband of his suit trousers. His hairline was quite a bit higher too, but for some reason he d decided that the best way to compensate was to grow it long. Not a good look on an overweight, middle-aged man.

Rhona stood with her back against the range, smiling. Nice house, eh, Guv? These architect bastards must be raking it in.

I settled into the seat on the other side of the table. Flexed my black-leather fingers. Stared.

He blinked a couple of times, then looked away.

Silence: I let it thicken.

Mmphhmnnngh

You ve been a naughty boy again, haven t you, Ethan?

He kept his eyes on the kitchen floor.

You were in Tesco on Wednesday night, the big one in Logansferry: clothes department, remember?

A pause then he nodded.

I leaned forwards. Up close he smelled of aftershave and old garlic. Michelle was there too.

His eyes widened. Mmmmmph! Mmmmnnghph!

She says you were watching her. Says she was in the changing rooms with Katie and when they came out, there was good old Ethan Baxter: lurking.

Mmmphnnghmm

Rhona whistled. They hand out restraining orders for a reason, Baxter. Did you really think you could sneak up on a woman you beat the shit out of for six months, and she s not gonna recognize you? You re even thicker than you look.

Mmmgn mnnnph!

I gave him a big theatrical sigh. Ethan, Ethan, Ethan Rhona s right: you re not a very quick learner, are you? Thought you d actually got it last time, but obviously I was wrong. You need a refresher.

He clamped his eyes shut, head bowed, shoulders shivering.

She leant over and spoke straight into his ear. Nah: I know what he needs, he needs taking out and

Rhona, do me a favour and go keep an eye on the road. Don t want someone popping past unannounced, disturbing Ethan from his lesson.

You sure I shouldn t

Now, Rhona.

She pursed her lips for a moment, then nodded and wandered out, hands in her pockets, whistling a jaunty tune.

I stood, closed the kitchen door, then went around all the units, opening the drawers and rummaging about inside. Tea towels. Coasters and mats. Assorted bits and bobs. Nice place you ve got here, Ethan. Very swish. Cutlery I pulled out a steak knife and a fork. Next drawer: cooking implements. Helped myself to a heavy wooden rolling pin. There was a little blowtorch in the last drawer, perfect for making cr me br l e.

Ever heard of DIY Dave? Killed about eight people so far. Tortures them. I arranged everything on the table in front of Ethan. We call him DIY because he never brings anything to the scene, just uses whatever his victims have lying about the house.

I picked up the steak knife and stabbed it into the table top; when I let go it stayed upright, quivering.

Mmmmmmphmmmph!

Yeah, thought you d say that. I took out my own set of handcuffs: shiny stainless-steel hoops with a rigid plastic handhold in the middle. I fastened Ethan s right arm to the chair, then unlocked Rhona s cuffs on one side, so they dangled from his left wrist.

I grabbed the rigid plastic bar and hauled his arm up onto the table.

Mmmmmph nnnph! His fingers spidered on the wooden surface, as if his hand was trying to get away. Which wasn t a bad idea.

The rolling pin was nice and weighty. I tapped it against his wrist. You re a southpaw, that right, Ethan? A lefty?

Mmmnngh His eyes darted from the rolling pin to me then back again. Little drops of sweat beaded his forehead, making it shine. The smell of old garlic got stronger.

So, when you re fantasizing about how you used to beat up my wife, this is the hand you wank with. I raised the rolling pin. What did I tell you last time?

He stared up at me, eyes glistening with tears. Mmmn gnndnnn nnnnngh mnnngnnng!

I slammed the pin down on the back of his hand. The jolt radiated all the way up my arm to my shoulder. The bang echoed around the kitchen.

A small pause.

Then Ethan screamed behind the gag, jerking back and forwards in the chair unable to go anywhere.

Didn t blame him: must have broken a few bones.

You promised last time, didn t you? You promised me you d never go anywhere near Michelle and Katie again. Another go with the rolling pin.

Another scream.

Curl your fingers up. Now.

Mmmmmph! Mmmmmph!

CURL YOUR FUCKING FINGERS!

His hand trembled, the fingers fluttering and twitching, then he dragged them into a loose fist.

Bastards like you are all the same: you think women are gagging for it, don t you? Think you can do whatever you like and it s OK, because you re so big and special. Think they ll love you for it. Right?

I smashed the rolling pin down on his raised knuckles, hard enough to knock the fork and blowtorch off the table.

MMMMMMMMMMPHNNNN! Tears streamed down his face. The scuffing sound of feet scrabbling on the tiled floor.

MMMMMMMMMMPHNNNN!

You know what, Ethan? Looks to me like you re gagging for it. One more go, putting my weight behind it.

MMMMMMMMMMPHNNNN!

I dropped the rolling pin, let it clatter on the table top. His hand was already starting to swell, the skin a deep angry red, blood oozing out from what was left of his knuckles.

Mmmmmmmmmmnnnph Mmmmmmmmmmnnnph Head back, eyes screwed shut, tears running down the sides of his face, breath whistling through his broken nose.

I let go of the handcuffs, and he curled his shattered hand against his chest, rocking back and forwards.

I filled the kettle and put it on the range to boil. Waited for Ethan to stop sobbing.

Michelle s still got the scars, did you know that? Three mugs from the cupboard, one tea, two coffees. Boiling water made a plume of steam in each. I saw the photos in the case file. What was it, a cigar? Too big to be a cigarette.

Mmmnnph Voice small and low, as if he wasn t really trying any more.

The only reason you re not mouldering away in a shallow grave right now is Michelle begged me not to do it. Can you imagine that? Didn t want your blood on her hands, even after everything you d done. The fridge was one of those fancy American double-door ones I sloshed milk in the tea and one of the coffees.

I wanted to carve you up like a Sunday roast. I mean, it was bad enough you moved into my fucking house, you had to pull that shit too? And I don t give a toss who your dad is: if I thought you d laid a hand on Katie, all the begging in the world wouldn t save you. Understand?

I pulled out the chair opposite and sat back down. Two coffees, one tea. I lined them up on the table, not bothering with coasters. Knew Ethan wouldn t mind.

You re going to give me your car, Ethan. You re going to tell me where the registration documents are, and you re going to sign the Merc over. Then you re going to tell me where you keep your cash. You ve got cash here, don t you Ethan?

He slumped forwards in the chair, folded around his hand. Mmnnnph

Yeah, I ll bet you do. Jewellery too. You re going to throw that in too, and you re going to be grateful I took it off your hands. Well hand.

Ethan s eyes narrowed above the gag, pink flushing his cheeks.

And in case you re thinking, Why should I give this bastard anything? Why shouldn t I call the police? I reached into my jacket and pulled out the gun. Surprisingly heavy for something so small. Only took a couple of minutes to put it back together last night. Doesn t look like much does it?

The hissing sound stopped he was holding his breath.

I hauled back the slide, racking a round into the chamber. Click, clack.

Ethan s eyes went very wide.

Beretta ninety-two G. It s French. I pointed it at his face. You want to see how it works?

Mnngh, mnnnghmmmphnng!

You re going to hand over everything, aren t you?

A nod, quick, jagged, never taking his eyes off the gun.

And you re never, ever, ever going to bother Michelle and Katie again.

He shook his head. Mnngh!

And if I think you ve breached the terms of our little agreement, you know what s going to happen, don t you?

His Adam s apple bobbed up and down. Mmmnph.

Good boy.

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