The Range Rover s engine changed pitch we were slowing down. A trickle of sweat ran down the side of my face. It was hot in here, under the black hood, the fabric puffing out with every suffocating breath.
Blood pounded behind my eyes, swirled in my ears. Keep breathing. Deep, calm breaths.
The Range Rover purred forwards, bumped over something, then came to a halt. They killed the engine, leaving nothing but the whine of an electric motor, then a clunk. Here we go, Haggis, home sweet home.
Someone yanked the hood off my head.
I blinked. Coughed. Dragged in a lungful of cool air.
It was a double garage, big enough for the Range Rover and an Audi R8 stone walls, shelves of stuff in boxes, and a flickering strip-light.
Hairy Hands turned and grinned at me. We ready?
Why don t you go and
A sharp, stinging pain exploded across the back of my head. The world went yellow, black rushed in from the corners in jagged waves.
Couldn t move my arms and legs. Nothing worked.
Ed dragged me out of the car, holding me up so I wouldn t fall and make a mess on the garage floor. He was talking to Hairy Hands, but the words were all jumbled and out of synch.
Don t be sick. Don t be sick
They hauled me down a flight of stairs: bare wooden beams on the ceiling, more buzzing strip-lights, the smell of damp and mould.
And then everything
Gah Cold water rushed down my throat, spilled out the sides of my mouth and soaked into my shirt.
There we go. Feelin better, Haggis? Thought Ed d lamped you a bit hard there for a minute.
I blinked, spat, coughed every convulsion was like someone inflating my brain with a bicycle pump full of burning oil.
Why couldn t I move?
Shite. I was sitting in an ancient-looking wooden dining chair, ankles cable-tied to the legs, arms behind my back, fastened to the supports. So this was how Steven Wallace and Ethan Baxter must have felt: completely screwed.
It was a windowless room with a dirt floor, bare walls, and a single light bulb swinging from the ceiling. Looked as if I wasn t the only one getting screwed in here a grey dustsheet was draped over someone sitting in another wooden chair, a single bare foot poking out from the folds. The skin scuffed, bruised and filthy. The dustsheet was flecked with brown stains dried blood.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck
The dining table that went with the chairs was against the wall, right in front of me the surface stained and scratched. Hairy Hands settled back against it and folded his arms. You know the rules here, right? Or do you need me to repeat them?
I know the rules.
A nod. Why you poking about in Mr Whitaker s business?
I m not. I told you: I don t give a toss about your boss, I just want to know
Ed s fist slammed into my stomach again. At least this time I had time to clench. Still stung like a bastard though.
I wheezed in another breath.
Hairy Hands tutted. Said you knew the rules, Haggis. No porkies. Is there an investigation goin on? That why you re down here from He pulled out my warrant card. Where the fuck s Oldcastle?
The Birthday Boy s got my daughter. I need
Another punch drove the air from my lungs, set fire to my stomach muscles, made me retch.
Ghhhh Will you stop doing that!
Ed grinned. Not very bright.
So come on, Haggis, what they investigatin? Someone been talkin, have they? Tellin stories out of school?
My head snapped to the right. Blood roared in my ears, pins and needles spreading across my cheek. Like being stung by a six-foot-tall bee with a face like a dog s arse.
Not buyin it, Haggis.
The Birthday Boy s got my daughter. He got Dawson s girlfriend. Dawson saw him. He
Back to the stomach again. I curled up as far as I could and let it wash over me, breathing through gritted teeth. Call the call the station and ask.
Nah, this is much more fun.
I nodded. OK, OK. I ll tell you the truth. I m part of a special task force investigating drug trafficking in the area. The local cops are compromised so we re using out-of-towners. My movements are being monitored and they know where I am right now. The whole building s wired.
And who told you about us?
I glanced at Ed, and back again. Licked my lips. I can t tell you that.
A slow clap came from somewhere behind me. Oh, bravo. A woman s voice, soft and flowing. I loved the bit where you looked at Edward. Like you were trying not to drop him in it? Very smooth.
She walked over to the table. Tall, elegant, wearing a black dress and high heels, long brown hair spilling down to the small of her back. High cheekbones, eyebrows plucked to a delicate line, dark-red lipstick on a small delicate mouth, diamond earrings. A plain gold wedding ring on her finger. Eugene, be a darling: take the gentleman s credentials away and check them out. Oh, and while you re there, let s have the party starter kit.
No problems, Terri.
She leaned back against the wood, gave me a dazzling smile.
Dawson Whitaker s dad must ve been doing better than I thought if he could afford a trophy wife that good.
You didn t really learn about our little operation from Edward, did you. You were having Eugene on. The smile faded a little. I do so hate deception, don t you?
They wouldn t believe me when I told them the truth. I tensed, ready for Ed s fist, but it didn t come.
Terri reached over and took hold of the dust sheet, then whipped it off: as if she were performing a magic trick.
A woman was tied to the chair, in her bra and pants, her torso covered in bruises, swollen mouth crusted with blood. Broken nose and two black eyes. The hair hacked off on one side of her head.
Take Virginia here. Virginia s a post-operative transsexual, she works as an escort: the kind that negotiates optional extras. For a fee you can fuck a woman who used to be a man. Terri ran a finger along the battered woman s collarbone. Virginia flinched
Terri raised an eyebrow at me. Would you like that? Would that be something new and exciting for you?
Only Virginia isn t really a post-operative transsexual, is she? She s just an ugly whore. Terri s hand flashed out and Virginia s head rocked back. Fresh blood dribbled bright red from the corner of her mouth.
Pretending she used to be a man. Conning her clients. Taking their money and lying to them.
Paging Mrs Psycho
Can you believe anyone could be so dishonest? A frown marred Terri s smooth forehead. To lie like that
Virginia hung her head, shoulders trembling, making little gasping sobs.
Oh, stop whining you little bitch, it s your own fault. Kenneth paid you good money for your filthy lies, how could you take advantage of a man IN A FUCKING WHEELCHAIR? Face scarlet, spittle flying.
A thump behind me and a draught of cool air on my back, then Eugene Hairy Hands appeared, holding a sports bag in one paw and a cheap-looking mobile in the other. A burner. Pay-as-you-go. The kind of phone that could be used and ditched. He placed the bag on the table.
Terri straightened up, wiped a hand across her chin. Eugene?
Detective Constable Ash Henderson, Oldcastle Police, used to be a DI but got busted down cos some paedo got killed. And the Birthday Boy really did grab his daughter. My mate says it s all over the jock papers.
Finally. That s what I ve been telling you!
The frown was back, but this time it came with a little pout.
So all that nonsense about a task force and everyone knowing where you are That was a lie.
They wouldn t believe the bloody truth! What was I supposed
A left to the face, hard enough to make the chair groan beneath me. Everything tasted of blood. I spat out a mouthful of scarlet.
Yeah. Hairy Eugene dumped my wallet beside the holdall. And that s not the only thing: he s bent. Works for some local hood called Andy Inglis.
Oh, don t look so glum, Constable Henderson, we re only teasing you. Terri smiled. We ve been expecting you all day. She held out a hand.
Eugene: phone, please.
Eugene handed it over and Terri punched in a number. Waited.
Hello, Maeve? How are things up there in sunny Oldcastle? Yes That s right She looked at me. Yes, he did: thanks again for the tip-off I know He does a bit. Do you want a word? A nod. OK, here you go She handed the phone back to Eugene. Maeve would like a word with our guest.
Eugene grabbed a handful of my hair, then stuck the phone against my ear.
Are ye enjoyin the party I laid on for yez? Mrs Kerrigan.
Oh now, don t be like that, Officer Henderson. Did I not tell yez I d claim ye, ye little bollox? This is what ye get for stickin a gun in me face. Told yez ye should ve pulled the trigger.
You sent me down here for nothing? The bastard s got my daughter and you re fucking me about, wasting my time in fucking BATH?
Listen up, gobshite: Mr Inglis went out of his way to get that lead for yez. He was doin you a solid. This little hooly yer havin now? That s a gifter from me. Enjoy. She hung up.
Terri smiled. All done?
Whatever she s told you, it s a lie.
I don t think so Eugene?
He took the phone from my ear. Sorry, Haggis. Hammered his fist into my stomach again.
Terri unzipped the holdall. Maeve tells me Pitbull sent you all the way down here to talk to my Dawson. Imagine that? And I thought we d got past the whole rat-poison-in-the-heroin thing. So tell me, Constable Henderson, what did Pitbull tell you to do?
I spat another mouthful of blood. I don t work for Andy Inglis. I owe him some money, that s all.
Eugene sucked in a breath, sounding like a car mechanic preparing to bend someone over the service desk. Our mate here s got six hunnerd notes on him.
Constable Henderson: are you holding out on poor Pitbull?
I m not I You heard your monkey my daughter was snatched. Dawson saw the Birthday Boy when Brenda Chadwick was abducted, I need to know
This time the punch was hard enough to send the whole chair crashing over onto its back.
Ahhh. Fuck It was like being stabbed in the ribs with broken glass.
The ceiling was bare joists, and cables, then the floorboards of the room above. Like the one in the birthday cards.
You re awash with lies and deceit, Constable Henderson. That s not good for the soul. You need to perform an act of atonement, like Virginia here.
I coughed. Little droplets of red pattered back down on my face.
I just want my daughter back
Brenda Chadwick was a cheap whore who tried to get her hooks into my son. Only twelve and she thought she could screw her way into my family. Imagine that? Terri frowned down at the table.
You can t believe how delighted I was when Dawson came home and said she d been abducted.
He saw the Birthday Boy
Eugene: how much money did you say Constable Henderson had?
Six hunnerd. Well, five hunnerd and eighty.
Good, that s more than enough. She picked my wallet off the table and counted out a wad of cash. Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, and eighty. That s enough to rent a gun for oh, let s call it fifteen minutes.
I blinked. I don t want
Of course you want a gun. You want to be saved don t you? Back into the wallet. Eighty for the gun and twenty for a bullet. But that s not rental you get to keep that.
Edward, help Detective Constable Henderson assume the position, will you?
Ed dragged the chair back upright, then cut the cable-tie holding my right wrist to the back of the chair. He grabbed my forearm in his huge scarred hand and hauled it up in the air, as if I was asking to go to the bathroom.
He s all set, Terri.
She reached into the holdall and pulled out a freezer bag, the clear plastic kind with a zip-lock fastener. There was a gun inside, something big and black and deadly. She held the bag out. Eugene, do the honours, will you?
Pleasure. He snapped on a pair of blue nitrile gloves, then took the gun out of the bag. Bul Cherokee: nine millimetre, double action semiautomatic pistol; as used by the Israeli security forces. He drew the slide back and it stayed there.
Weighs seven hundred and five grams unloaded. He pressed a little black button on the black handgrip and the magazine slid out. Eugene caught it in his other huge hand. Magazine takes ten rounds. You get one.
He picked another zip-lock bag from the holdall. This one had a rectangle of black foam rubber in it about the size of a box of kitchen matches studded with little shiny dome shapes. He popped open the bag and dug something out of the foam: a bullet; it glittered like polished gold. Nine-mill Luger, one-twenty-four grain, full metal jacket. He thumbed the thing into the top of the magazine and slapped it back into the handgrip. Released the lock and the slide clacked forwards again. Ready to roll.
Terri smiled. Eugene likes guns, what can I say?
I couldn t take my eyes off the thing. Look: I only want to know what Dawson saw, I swear, I don t
Ed clamped his hand across my mouth, thick fingers digging into my cheeks. Eugene marched over, took my wrist from his mate and wrenched my arm down, pulling me forwards until my chest was against my knees left arm still fastened to the chair.
Ed leaned on my back, holding me in place, his other hand still clamping my jaws shut.
Bastards Struggling did nothing: Ed was too heavy.
Eugene pressed the gun into my hand, forcing my fingers around the handgrip. This little lever s the safety catch. A click. And you re good to go.
Fine I ll blow your head off you big hairy My whole arm trembled with the effort, but he wouldn t let go. He shoved the barrel of the gun over my right foot, forcing the end against my shoe.
Terri raised her arms. It s time to atone, Detective Constable Henderson.
Pull the trigger.
No way in hell was I pulling the trigger.
Either the bullet goes in your foot, or it goes in your head. Your choice.
Ed s spit flecked the back of my neck. DO IT!
Eugene s spattered against my cheek.
FUCKIN DO IT!
Your time s running out, Detective Constable.
DO IT! PULL THE TRIGGER, HAGGIS!
You ve only got the gun for another eight minutes.
PULL THE FUCKIN TRIGGER!
One way or another you re taking that bullet with you.
DO IT! PULL THE TRIGGER, OR I M GONNA SHOOT YOU IN THE FUCKIN HEAD!
Not much of a choice really, is it?
Did they really think I was going to shoot myself in the foot? Like I was a bloody idiot?
Eugene shook his head. He don t believe us. Haggis here thinks we re kiddin about.
Hmm Terri picked up the grey dust sheet and draped it over Virginia s battered body again. What can we do about that, Eugene? What can we do to convince Constable Henderson?
Eugene tore the gun out of my hand, stood, aimed, and pulled the trigger. A sharp crack boomed around the room, reverberating off the stone walls. Virginia s head jerked back under the dustsheet, the fabric billowing out behind her. Red spread like a field of poppies, seeping into the dusty material.
Jesus Right there, in front of me
Thank you, Eugene, that ll do nicely. Terri took two more tens out of my wallet. But now Detective Constable Henderson needs another bullet.
He killed her, right there
Terri sighed. Oh don t look so shocked: as if I was going to let the lying bitch live after what she did to my Kenneth.
Eugene loaded the magazine, then pressed the gun back into my hand and forced the soot-streaked barrel against the top of my shoe again.
Last chance, Haggis.
Your rental time s running out, Constable Henderson.
PULL THE FUCKIN TRIGGER!
It goes in your foot, or it goes in your head.
What choice did I have?
I squeezed the trigger.