I CAME SHARPLY OUT of sleep, jerked from a dream by some noise she made as she dressed. My first view was of her standing in bra and knickers, pulling on her skirt. She’d been asleep by the time I had come up the night before, or at least pretending to be. She saw me move in the dressing-table mirror, and we looked at each other for a long moment. I saw her eyes drift down to my splinted hand, large and white on the duvet. A T-shirt covered the other bruises.

‘I tore two fingernails off, changing a tyre,’ I said, watching her wince. ‘You should see what it looks like.’

‘No thanks, Davey. I have to get going.’

It was half an hour earlier than she usually left and I couldn’t help my glance at the alarm clock. She had the grace to look away as I did, straightening the collar of her blouse in the mirror. I guessed she wanted to be out of the house before my brother was up. Sometimes I can read her too easily.

‘He’s only visiting for a day or two,’ I said.

She nodded, her mouth a tight line and pale without her lipstick. With a few more brisk movements she finished her routine and left the room, leaving just a faint touch of perfume on the air. I liked to watch the change, from sleepy tangles to smart estate agent, all polished and shining.

My brother had come up with the lie for the broken fingers. If I’d told her about Denis coming back she might have gone to the police, or worse, called the man himself from her office. She still might call him, of course, but I believed Denis when he told me she had ended it, or at least I believed his anger and hurt. Funny that. I wouldn’t have believed her.

It was a small risk, though, and we knew we would have to act quickly. Even as she closed the front door behind her, I heard my brother turn the shower on. It was going to be today. By the time she came home from work, our little problem would be handled.

I pulled on a dressing gown when I heard the shower squeak to a stop. It was an odd moment to come out onto the landing and see him there. I think the last time I’d seen him with a towel around his waist was when we were kids. He looked a lot stronger, I noticed. He wasn’t carrying any fat and he looked as if he kept himself very fit. It is easier for men with high levels of testosterone, you know. They enjoy exercise more than other men, right up to the heart attack that kills them. I folded my arms across the front of my dressing gown and nodded to him. We had planned everything, but I could feel my heart pounding at an insane speed.

‘Are you ready, little brother? No second thoughts?’ he asked me, amusement in his voice. He didn’t seem nervous at all.

‘No second thoughts,’ I said.

We moved fast after that. It was just possible that Denis might hear Carol had come back to work. For all we knew, he walked by the office every morning, or paid the secretary to pass on any news of her. It was probably just nerves, but it didn’t hurt to move things along as quickly as possible. The way my brother worked things out, we had one chance to get this right. Even with Carol knowing he was in Brighton, it would still work, he assured me. He’d been to court over Bobby Penrith and got away with it. He would again.

I sat in the kitchen with the phone on the table in front of me, just looking at it and going over what we’d planned in my head. It was all very well to work out the details in my imagination, but when I picked up that phone and dialled, it would really begin. After that it would be like stepping off a cliff – it just doesn’t matter if you change your mind halfway through.

‘Try it on me first,’ my brother demanded. It was the first sign of nervousness I’d seen from him. I shook my head, going over what we’d planned to say. It would bring Denis running, I knew it would.

I saw him pour a glass of the whisky I’d bought the night before. I jerked back as his hand moved, but most of it still caught me in the face. I cried out in anger, remembering Michael doing just the same.

‘What the hell are you doing?’ I said, holding one eye closed against the sting.

‘Now you’re ready to make the call,’ he said, laughing at my expression. ‘You were just a little too relaxed before. Go on. Do it.’

I glanced at the scrap of paper beside the phone with the number of Denis Tanter on it. One call to directory enquiries had given me the last thing I needed.

I punched in the numbers and took a deep breath.

‘WT Limited,’ it was a woman’s voice, not one I knew. A secretary, maybe. I kept calm. This was the number I’d been given.

‘Get Denis Tanter on the line,’ I said, slurring slightly. The whisky fumes helped a little, strangely enough.

‘Who is this?’ she asked. I felt acid flood into my mouth and I grimaced at the taste of it.

‘Just you go and get him. Tell him to come and clear up his messes, all right? Tell him…’

I heard the change-over going on and I was ready for it when the new voice came.

‘Who is this?’ Michael. That was all I’d wanted.

‘You bastard,’ I sneered at him. ‘She’s dead and it’s because of Denis bloody Tanter, isn’t it? You go to hell, you…’ I trailed off, snuffling drunkenly as if I were weeping, or pressing a hand against my face. Give the man a chance to respond.

‘Davey? Who’s dead? Not Carol? Davey, is that you?’ Perfect. I could hear the fear in his voice. It was just the beginning of what he had coming.

‘Pills!’ I spat the word at the phone, leaving a trail of whisky and spittle on it. ‘You pushed and you pushed, didn’t you, Michael? You and Denis. You pushed us, and now Carol’s dead. I swear, I’m -’

My brother took the phone from me and pressed the button that ended the call. His face was a study in quiet awe.

‘That was just right, Davey boy. That should bring them running,’ he said. I nodded at him, wiping roughly at my mouth.

‘We’d better get ready,’ he muttered, dropping the phone back into its cradle with a clatter. He’d brought a bag in from the car and I watched as he removed an eighteen-inch length of iron bar that I couldn’t help but pick up. It fitted the hand very well indeed. I took a swing with it and imagined it cracking into a skull.

To my surprise, the bag went on to reveal a number of other pieces of pipe and various other tools.

‘For afterwards,’ he said. ‘It explains why you had a weapon to hand in a kitchen, doesn’t it?’ With a grim smile, he opened the cupboard under the sink and showed me how he’d unscrewed the plastic tubing. ‘They’ll probably never ask, but I thought, what the hell. If they do, all they’ll find is a little plumbing job. I was in the middle of it when I had to go out and look for a place that sells another piece the same as the one I cracked so artfully. While I’m away, you have a visit from two men who have threatened you before.’

I looked at him and I swear he was calmer than I was. In just a few minutes Denis Tanter was going to come charging into my house for the third time. I pulled a carton of milk out of the fridge and drank from it to quiet my stomach.

My brother reached into his jacket and showed me a vicious-looking knife.

‘They come armed with this. It’s sold in any hardware shop in the country. Not surprisingly, you panic and swing at them with a bit of pipe. You call the police, and before they arrive I come back. We handle their questions together.’

‘You think it will work?’ I asked him.

He shrugged. ‘I don’t think it will even go to court. Two against one? Self-defence will see you clear of it, Davey. No problem at all. You just trust me and we’ll see it through, all right?’

I looked him in the eyes, and for a moment I could feel tears come. I nodded, turning away, knowing he had seen.

‘Now concentrate, Davey. They should be here any minute. You have the easy bit. You just sit down in the kitchen like we planned it. Have a drink, if you have to, just look miserable.’

As I sat down, my brother went to the front door and left it on the latch.

‘Remind me to break the lock in afterwards,’ he said as he came back to the kitchen and stood behind the door. He hefted the metal bar in his hand and I couldn’t look at him.

Outside, we heard a car engine roaring closer, being driven too fast. It screeched to a halt. I took a deep breath.