The little recess in the front of the Westing hid a set of turnstiles and a gloomy tunnel. A hairy golem was perched behind a waist-high partition, locked away behind a metal grille. She looked up from her Twilight novel as I knocked on her cage. Neither of her thick eyebrows moved.
Morning, Arabella, I need to see Mrs Kerrigan.
She sniffed, marked her place in the book with a callused thumb.
Mmph. She picked up a mobile phone and jabbed at the buttons in silence. Thirty seconds later it buzzed and chirruped on the countertop. Arabella squinted at it, then grunted and flicked a switch. The turnstile clunked, the bars dipping a couple of centimetres. She went back to her book.
I pushed through into a long dark corridor with a little square of daylight at the end.
A soft, Irish voice broke through the gloom. Detective Constable Henderson?
I froze, balled my hands into fists. Mrs Kerrigan.
A light clicked on above a featureless doorway and there she was: black suit with a red silk shirt, golden crucifix resting in the wrinkled crease of her freckled cleavage. Her greying hair was piled up in a loose bun, curls escaping its grasp, waving in the breeze. Mrs Kerrigan smiled, baring sharp little teeth. Mr Inglis would like a word with yez.
Click and the light went off again.
Here it comes
I reached into my inside pocket
But no one jumped out at me. Instead, Mrs Kerrigan closed the door and marched away down the tunnel towards the Westing s interior. The whub-wheek of her wellington boots echoed
off the concrete walls. If ye d like to follow me? OK
I closed the distance, keeping my hand inside my jacket feeling the comforting weight of the Beretta. March right up to her, stick the gun in her ear and Artex the corridor with her brains. But then I d have to go back and do the same to Arabella: get rid of the witness.
And as I didn t have a silencer, everyone in the car park would have to go they d seen me walk in here. I d have to shoot Dr McDonald too.
For some reason that wasn t quite as appealing as it would ve been a couple of days ago.
The tunnel opened out at the foot of the new stands a sweeping block of concrete steps broken up into sections by lines of white railings. All the tout booths were shuttered, and an old man with a broom was waging war against drifts of damp ticket stubs. It didn t look as if he was winning.
The Westing s track was a flat-sided oval of sandy brown, with a big swathe of grass in the middle. Crumbling wooden stands wrapped around the rest of the course, gaping holes in their corrugated metal roofs, chains blocking them off from the main building.
Andy Inglis s Range Rover was parked in the middle of the grass, glistening deep-blue in the low sunlight.
I stopped. You sent someone round to my house.
Mrs Kerrigan walked on a couple of steps, then turned, smiled.
And let me guess, yez are wantin to apologize for lettin yer foul mouth run away with yez on the phone the other night?
You sent someone round to cripple me.
Did I now?
You wrecked my house.
There s a reason a man pays his debts, Constable Henderson.
You got Joseph and Francis to beat the crap out of Susanne.
A man pays his debts so he can keep himself and his loved ones free from reprisals.
I pulled my hand from my jacket.
Her eyes darted down to what I was holding, then back up again. She licked her lips. That what I think it is?
I gave her the envelope. Fifteen grand. You ll get the other four in a couple of weeks.
She ripped it open and flicked through the bills. Two and a half thousand from Little Mike s pawn shop, twelve from flogging Ethan s Mercedes, and five hundred from the grand and a bit he d had hidden under the desk in his study. Leaving six hundred for me. Enough to pay for Katie s birthday party, pony trekking, and a nice present.
Mrs Kerrigan stuffed the notes back into the envelope, then the envelope into her pocket. You mean the other six.
Four. It was nineteen grand, not
Dry yer arse, Constable Henderson: that was before ye decided to miss yer repayments. Now it s twenty-one thousand, all in, with interest.
Do it. Walk right up to her right now and blow a hole in her head big enough to shit through. Take out the gun and fucking do it.
I took a step closer.
She smiled. Last time we had a wee chat with yer girlfriend. Want us to have one with yer missus and kid?
Listen up, Mrs Kerrigan, and pin your lugs back because this is the only warning you re getting
Who the feck do yez think yer talkin
Her mouth fell open, eyes wide.
I rested the barrel of the Beretta against her forehead. In case you re wondering: it s French, there s no safety.
She shut her mouth, licked her teeth.
Your one and only warning. You ever go anywhere near Katie or Michelle, I m coming after you. There won t be any sirens, there won t be any uniforms there ll be me, and you, and a shallow grave in Moncuir Wood. And it ll take a long, long time. Do you understand?
A pause. Yes.
Fuck with my family and I ll make you beg for it.
I said I understand. Now put that thing away before you get hurt. She backed up, turned, and whub-wheeked towards Andy Inglis s Range Rover. And it s still six thousand.
The big double gates on the other side of the racetrack swung open and an ancient-looking Ford Capri rattled and banged to a halt just inside. A big man in a parka jacket followed it in, then hauled the gates shut again with a muffled clang. He dragged a figure out of the car s boot: a young man, dressed in blue jeans and a black T-shirt, hands behind his back, as if they were tied together.
T-Shirt struggled to his feet. Parka Jacket slammed a punch into his kidneys and he went down again. Then Parka Jacket grabbed a handful of the kid s hair and dragged him across the track, and onto the grass making for the Range Rover. The kid s legs kicking out behind him. Not so much as a scream.
I slipped the gun back in my pocket and marched after Mrs Kerrigan.
Ash, you old bastardo. Andy Inglis stuck his hand out. Five foot four, broad shoulders, short arms, Glaswegian accent, and a collar-length sweep of grey hair surrounding a little freckly bald crown. He was wearing a double-breasted suit in a dark-blue pinstripe: playing up to the image. How s it going?
His handshake was like a car crusher, making my knuckles scream.
I gritted my teeth and forced a smile, keeping my eyes on Mr Inglis. Not looking at Parka Jacket kicking the living shite out of the young man on the grass. Can t complain: no bugger would listen.
Mr Inglis clapped his hands together and roared out a laugh, hunching his shoulders, doing a little two step, as if the ground beneath his feet was lurching. You remember that Russian? What was his name, Mikhail Massivesonofabitchovitch? Fists like shovels?
The young man had duct tape over his mouth which explained the silence tears and blood running down his angular face, grunting every time Parka Jacket slammed another boot into his stomach, ribs, thighs, and back. He was razor-thin, with straggly brown hair and Keith Richard dreadlocks.
Thirteen rounds! Mr Inglis beamed. Man, that was a beautiful fight.
Parka Jacket staggered back a few paces, then bent double, hands on knees, puffing, breath steaming out from inside his fur-trimmed hood.
Mr Inglis popped a couple of punches into the air. Right hook, jab, jab, then that haymaker! Wham! He shook his head.
Happy days You hear he croaked it? Three weeks after he got out of hospital, bunch of guys lost a lot of money on the big Ruskie decided to recoup their investment. Used a wood-chipper.
Lovely. Mrs Kerrigan said you wanted a word?
Man, you were something special He tilted his head on one side, eyes flicking across my face. Probably taking in the bruises and the scabbed-over scrapes. Let s see them golden hands of yours.
I held them up. Wanted to drop off a chunk of cash. I know I ve been a bit behind but
Ash, what do I keep telling you? He shook his head. Sighed. Gottae go in with your elbows, not your fists. Look at these knuckles. With your condition?
I know I m a bit behind, but
See, you use this bit. He pressed his right fist into his right shoulder and threw the elbow out, head height, fast. Caught it with the palm of his left hand with a sharp smack. No cartilage in there, no joints to break, just a nice wee slab of bone to shatter the bastard s face with He frowned. Turned. Mrs Kerrigan?
She appeared beside me without a sound, as if she ran on castors. Wellington boots in stealth mode. Mr Inglis?
He hooked a thumb at the young man bleeding into the grass.
Aye, what s the story?
This little bollox needs taught a lesson in manners. Robbin off his employers.
Parka Jacket straightened up, grinned from the depths of his fur-lined hood, then stomped on the T-Shirt s head a couple of times, grunting with the effort.
Mrs Kerrigan nodded. That should do, Timothy. Break both his legs, then yez can dump him outside Accident and Emergency.
Parka Jacket got to work.
Mr Inglis turned his back on the beating. I hear you ve had a wee problem with that house of yours in Kingsmeath. Place is all flooded and wrecked?
I stared at Mrs Kerrigan. Council says it s not fit for human habitation.
Never was, Ash. Come on: enough with the hair shirt. You got to live for the day, cos Mr Time s gonnae eat you up. He curled his hand into a fist. Squeezing the life out of the air. Man like you shouldn t be living in a shitehole like that. How about I set you up in one of them executive flats down Logansferry? Dock-front property: got a whole heap of them sitting empty. Every bugger s broke.
Well, thanks, but really I can t
Nah, not another word. Be my pleasure. What are friends for?
T-Shirt screamed behind his duct-tape gag as Parka Jacket jumped up and down on his shins.
Mr Inglis, I
Mrs Kerrigan ll sort you out keys and that. He grabbed my hand again and pumped it in his car-crusher grip. Don t be a stranger, OK?
Constable Henderson? Mrs Kerrigan took my arm and led me away towards the exit. Seven hundred pound deposit, plus one month s rent payable in advance. Call it eleven hundred for cash. We can add it to the six thousand yez already owe.
But I don t want
And just so we re clear, I m needin half by Wednesday lunchtime, and the rest the week after. Mr Inglis likes yez, but that doesn t mean you can do a legger on your debt. Mrs Kerrigan stopped outside the entrance to the tunnel, the stand looming above us. She pulled out a small yellow notebook and scribbled something down, then tore out the sheet, folded it in half, and handed it to me. Let s not get back into arrears, OK? Cos if ye miss yer payment by so much as a gee hair, yez ll end up as dog food. And I will personally feed yer yockers to the greyhounds.
I don t want a bloody flat!
She pulled on a tight little smile that didn t touch her eyes. Constable Henderson, are yez really spittin in Mr Inglis s eye, when he s been nothin but the friend of ye?
I stared at her in silence.
She stared back. Then nodded. Thought not. Now if yez are lookin for a way to repay Mr Inglis s kindness, ye could think about doin him a favour. Brian Cowie s comin up for trial in a couple of weeks maybe yez d like to lend a hand gettin him off: names and addresses of the witnesses, copies of statements, that kind of thing.
It ll get yez a thousand off what ye owe. She shooed me off down the tunnel.
I stomped away into the darkness. Seven and a bit grand
Her voice came echoing behind me. And one more thing: you ll feckin regret stickin a gun in my face. Should ve pulled the trigger, Constable Henderson. Trust me on that.
I clunked back through the turnstiles Arabella still had her chip-pan face in her book, lips moving as she read. She didn t look up as I slumped past.
Seven thousand, one hundred pounds. Three and a half by Wednesday, the rest the week after. That weight was back, pressing down on my chest. Seven thousand, one hundred pounds. Everything I d done the extortion, the car, the jewellery, the cash and I still couldn t see out of the pit. And Mrs Kerrigan was merrily shovelling dirt in on top of me.
My pulse pounded in my throat, lungs fizzing, fingers tingling. Jesus
Outside the sunshine had disappeared, leaving a cold wind behind that whipped crisp packets, dust, grit, and leaves into a drunken dance. The protesters were gone and so was their minibus, but steam curled from the open hatch of Bad Bill s Burger Bar. The big man was scraping mayonnaise out of a jar and into a squeezy bottle, while Dr McDonald stood at the counter drinking from a polystyrene cup.
Seven thousand, one hundred pounds.
She looked up, saw me, and waved.
Deep breath. Straightened my back. Walked over there as if something wasn t chewing its way through my stomach.
Bill unscrewed the top from one of the brown sauce bottles.
Still in one piece, then.
I nodded at Dr McDonald. You ready to go?
Bill gave me some hot chocolate. She held up her cup. It s got marshmallows in it.
The big man poured a hefty measure of vinegar into the bottle.
Katie s been telling me what a great dad you are. She s a good kid. You re lucky my eldest is a wee shite.
I stopped. Opened my mouth. But Dr McDonald got there first.
That s what I keep telling Mum, but she never believes me. Big grin. She swigged from the cup, then placed it on the counter. Thanks, Bill, it s been fun talking to you.
He smiled, his chin disappearing into a roll of neck fat. My pleasure, darling. Good luck with university. Then he dug beneath the counter and chucked something to her. Gotta keep your strength up.
Back in the car she unwrapped the muesli bar. He s nice.
I gripped the steering wheel. You re not Katie.
A sigh. I know, but it made him happy, didn t it, and you didn t exactly disabuse him of the notion when you left me with him, did you, so I played along. It was your idea really.
She had a point. The Renault s suspension squeaked and groaned as we crossed the rutted car park. How come, with me you re this rambling gibbery wreck, but with Bill you re like a normal person?
Are you going to tell me who this Mrs Kerrigan is?
No. I took a left onto Angus Road, heading back towards Castle Hill.