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Authors: Mark Timlin

Ashes by Now

BOOK: Ashes by Now
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ASHES BY NOW

Nick Sharman stumbles home with two exotic dancers, Sandi and Mandi (AKA Tracey and Dawn), which is fun for him until he gets a phone call from the past that ruins everything. Sailor Grant has just been released from prison, doing hard time for a crime he didn't commit.

A police officer's daughter had been found raped and murdered. Someone had to be found, so Sailor Grant the local nonce was sent down. Sharman always had his doubts, but that part of his life is over. Sailor keeps phoning and wants Sharman to help get justice, Nick tells him to leave him alone. The next day Sailor is dead and has left Sharman a note. The coppers Millar and Collier invite him to read the note, and then they beat him half to death. Lying in hospital, Nick realises that he must solve it before those close to him are killed.

So with a little help from his friends Charlie, Chas and Monkey (a burglar, who can break into anything), Sharman must find the truth about the events from his past.

MARK TIMLIN

Mark Timlin has written some thirty novels under many different names, including best-selling books as Lee Martin, innumerable short stories, an anthology and numerous articles for various newspapers and magazines. His serial hero, Nick Sharman, who appears in
Take the A-Train
, has featured in a Carlton TV series, starring Clive Owen, before he went on to become a Hollywood superstar. Mark lives in Newport, Wales.

‘The king of the British hard-boiled thriller' –
Times

‘Grips like a pair of regulation handcuffs'
–
Guardian

‘Reverberates like a gunshot' –
Irish Times

‘Definitely one of the best' –
Time Out

‘The mean streets of South London need their heroes tough. Private eye Nick Sharman fits the bill' –
Telegraph

‘Full of cars, girls, guns, strung out along the high sierras of Brixton and Battersea, the Elephant and the North Peckham Estate, all those jewels in the crown they call Sarf London' –
Arena

Other books by Mark Timlin

A Good Year for the Roses
1988

Romeo's Tune
1990

Gun Street Girl
1990

Take the A-Train
1991

The Turnaround
1991

Zip Gun Boogie
1992

Hearts of Stone
1992

Falls the Shadow
1993

Ashes by Now
1993

Pretend We're Dead
1994

Paint It Black
1995

Find My Way Home
1996

Sharman and Other Filth
(short stories) 1996

A Street That Rhymed with 3 AM
1997

Dead Flowers
1998

Quick Before They Catch Us
1999

All the Empty Places
2000

Stay Another Day
2010

OTHERS

I Spied a Pale Horse
1999

Answers from the Grave
2004

as
TONY WILLIAMS

Valin's Raiders
1994

Blue on Blue
1999

as
JIM BALLANTYNE

The Torturer
1995

as
MARTIN MILK

That Saturday
1996

as
LEE MARTIN

Gangsters Wives
2007

The Lipstick Killers
2009

Embrace your guilt.

For there your soul will grow

Jung

1

That morning, one not much different from any other, I let myself into my flat, kicked off my shoes and opened the fridge to find out what was left there in the way of alcohol.

I found a beer, opened it, sat on the sofa, lit a cigarette, and took a sip.

It was a little after nine and my head hurt.

I'd been out all night with a pair of strippers. Sorry, exotic dancers. Let's get the job description right. Sandi and Mandi they called themselves professionally. Both with
i's
on the end. Very exotic you must agree. Their real names were Tracey and Dawn. Which was Sandi and which was Mandi I never bothered to find out. Maybe it didn't matter. I'd met them a month or so previously in a drinking club in Peckham or Deptford. I can't remember which. That didn't matter either. All I
can
remember is that I'd woken up in bed with the pair of them the next day or the day after. Two hundred quid poorer, but a world of experience richer.

Don't get me wrong, Tracey and Dawn were all right as it goes. Better than any social workers I've ever met.

They were both about thirty I guess, although we didn't talk much about things like that. We didn't talk much about anything as a matter of fact.

They did a double act, at lunchtime round the few pubs in south-east London which could still get a licence for that sort of show, and in the last of the strip joints up west at night. It was a living I suppose. But then what did I ever know about earning a living?

If there were enough willing punters in the audience, or enough drunks, they'd pass around a pint pot, and when it was full of notes they'd get down and dirty on each other, and do another kind of double act. If the notes were of large enough denominations they'd let the geezers join in too. Most of them were too pissed to get it up by then, but everyone pretended they were having a right good time. It was something to tell the lads back at the office or on the dole queue.

Tracey and Dawn lived together in a ratty flat close to Wandsworth Common, and the night before they'd done the double act for me in the privacy of the drum. I just let them get on with it. It wasn't very long before they forgot I was there and really got going. I knew that was what they wanted anyway. I just left them to it, and went and ran cockroach races in the kitchen. I had quite an affinity for cockroaches in those days. I used to hate them, but I'd spent a diverting afternoon not so long ago with thousands of the little bastards, and since then I didn't mind them at all. In fact I often thought that the more I saw of people the fonder of cockroaches I became.

I'd dig a couple out from their nest in the central heating vent beside the kitchen stove and line them up for the two-metre dash. The loser got squashed and washed down the sink. Then I'd find another to race the winner, and so on. That way I figured I was breeding a faster strain of roach.

When I'd got tired of squashing insects I went back into the bedroom. Tracey and Dawn were naked on the bed. Their collection of vibrators, dildos, KY Jelly and other marital aids was scattered all around. Dawn was rolling a joint, and Tracey was cutting out a line of nose-bleed amphetamine sulphate on a plastic mirror.

‘You been racing bugs again?' she asked.

I nodded.

‘You're a weird bastard. I don't know why we put up with you. Want some of this? It's only cheap shit, but it's all I could get.'

I nodded again, sat on the bed next to her, accepted the cut down, red-and-white striped McDonald's straw she offered me, and took a hit of the speed.

It felt something like I imagine snorting ground glass would feel. Cheap shit was what it was, she'd been right about that. But it did the job.

‘Got any dough, Nick?' said Dawn. ‘We can't live on fucking air you know.'

I pulled some notes out of the back pocket of my jeans and threw them on the bed next to her. I suppose there was about fifty nicker there. She stopped rolling the joint, picked up the cash, counted it, pulled a face, tossed the money on the bedside table and went back to the spliff.

The speed started to kick in and I lit a cigarette. I knew I'd be grinding my teeth soon so I took a stick of Wrigley's off the table where Dawn had chucked the money, unwrapped it, put it in my mouth and started chewing.

‘We going out?' said Dawn. ‘I'm starving.'

I shrugged, took the joint from between her fingers and inhaled a mouthful of smoke. She'd loaded it right up, and I immediately felt the dope start to counter the speed.

‘Let's get tarted up, go and have a drink, and then some Chinese,' said Dawn.

Tracey thought about it, which took a while, but with Tracey thinking always did. ‘That's a good idea,' she said eventually. ‘You up for it, Nick?'

I nodded yet again.

‘Right,' said Tracey, and jumped off the bed. ‘That's what we'll do then.'

2

I stayed seated on the bed and watched them get ready to go out. Sometimes I think that watching women get dressed is hornier than watching them get undressed. It was with these two anyway. They were professional undressers. They were used to it. And when they did it in front of me, it was like I was just another punter. Which I was. But when they got dressed it was more intimate. I could imagine they weren't just there for the money, and the feeling seemed to get to them too. They appeared younger, more innocent and less hard. I expect it was just my imagination, but I didn't care.

Dawn put on a low-cut black bra which pushed her quite spectacular breasts up and apart, hitched a black suspender belt around her waist, rolled black fishnet stockings up her legs and fastened them tight. Over the bra she wore a thin white shirt, through which you could clearly see the outline of what was underneath. Then she struggled into a short, tight, black leather skirt and put on a matching leather jacket. She pushed her feet into high-heeled black shoes with very pointed toes, smeared pink lipstick across her mouth, ran her fingers through her blonde bouffant and was ready. She never wore knickers. Not when she wasn't working. She said she liked it better without, and who was I to argue?

Tracey chose black underwear too. A see-through bra and a tiny pair of transparent knickers under a T-shirt and snow-washed jeans so tight they needed zips on the bottoms of the legs to allow her to get her bare feet through them, which she then squeezed into white stilettos. Over the whole ensemble she wore a shiny black plastic mac belted at the waist. She slapped on some greasy red lipstick, pouted at herself in the mirror, combed her short yellow hair and she too was ready for whatever the night would bring.

Me? I was wearing jeans of that dangerous age, when one more wash might mean self-destruction, black leather baseball boots, and a white cowboy-style shirt. I took my old leather jacket off the hook behind the door, and I was ready too.

We went downstairs to the street and turned in the direction of their local. It was a big, Victorian pub, close to Wandsworth prison, called the Halfway House. Once upon a time it must have had as many as half a dozen bars, but now it just had two: a big saloon bar and an even bigger public bar, with three pool tables, a permanent karaoke set-up, and a DJ's booth perched in one corner between massive speakers and a chrome scaffold that supported a full light show.

It was only just after opening time when we arrived and the place was pretty well deserted.

We went into the saloon, and Tracey and Dawn went over to a table whilst I scared up a round of drinks. Between seven and nine on a Sunday was euphemistically called ‘Happy Hour', so I had to wait whilst the barman made up a Long Island iced tea and a Pink Lady. I ordered a pint of lager to keep me company while he mixed them.

‘How's it going?' he asked as he did the business.

Do you know, I couldn't remember?

‘Can't complain,' I said. My voice sounded strange, and I couldn't remember when I'd last spoken either.

‘Not much point if you do,' he said.

I had a horrible feeling we were going to get into cliché hell.

‘Too true,' I said, and lit a cigarette.

‘Still, could be worse,' he said.

I nodded.

He put the first of the cocktails up on the bar. ‘You seem to be doing all right for yourself.' He looked over in obvious admiration at my companions.

I nodded again.

‘Lovely girls,' he said. ‘I caught their show the other week at the Sportsman.'

‘Did you now?' I said.

‘Yes,' he replied. ‘I've always been a great admirer of the naked female form myself.'

He was about five foot two, maybe fifty-five, maybe a little older, with thin dark hair going grey at the edges, the kind of face a weasel would consider distinguished, and he spoke with a slight Irish lilt to his voice.

‘Did you enjoy it?' I asked, as he deftly prepared the Pink Lady.

‘Marvellous stuff. Marvellous stuff.' Suddenly he realised that he might be stepping on a few corns. ‘No offence meant of course, sir.'

‘None taken,' I said. ‘I've always been a great admirer of the naked female form myself.'

He smiled in relief. ‘That's all right then. As long as you didn't mind me saying so. Of course I've nothing but the greatest respect for Dawn and Tracey. A pair of real ladies I always say.'

‘That's good,' I said. ‘I'm glad you always say that. I always say that myself. It's always gratifying to find someone who agrees with me about so much.'

He put the second cocktail next to the first and totted up the bill. I paid him with a tenner, and got about enough change to keep my car on a parking meter for half an hour.

He looked at the few coins on the bar sadly and said, ‘Sure, the cost of living's going up all the time, isn't it?'

I pushed them back over to him and said, ‘Have one on me.'

His face lit up like a sunrise and the coins vanished into his pocket quicker than it takes to tell.

‘Thank you very kindly,' he said. ‘And have a splendid evening.' He looked wistfully over at Tracey and Dawn.

‘Thank
you
,' I replied. ‘I intend to.' And I picked up the drinks and took them over to the table.

‘He took his time, didn't he?' complained Tracey when I arrived.

‘If you must drink things like this, what do you expect?' I said.

Dawn looked over at the bar where the barman was still gazing in our direction.

‘He's a filthy little bugger, him,' she said. ‘He comes creeping round to see us on his day off. Sits right up the front, and he never even blinks in case he might miss something.'

She stuck her finger into Tracey's Pink Lady, and licked the sticky mess off whilst looking straight at the barman.

His eyes widened, and after a few seconds he went to see if anyone wanted serving in the other bar.

Tracey and Dawn giggled.

‘He's chicken, though,' said Tracey. ‘He only looks, don't do nothing else.'

‘I know,' said Dawn. ‘I met him down the butcher's the other day and asked him to show me his meat. He went bright red and ran away.'

‘Didn't he say nothing?' asked Tracey.

‘No. I expect he was saving his breath for when he got home and blew up his rubber girlfriend.'

Their giggles turned to gales of laughter at that example of Dawn's wit, and I began to feel a bit sorry for the poor bloke. Once these two got you in their sights you were a dead man.

‘So where we gonna eat, Nick?' asked Dawn, after their laughter subsided.

‘You want Chinese don't you?' I said.

‘That's favourite,' she replied.

‘Let's go to the Peking Inn then,' I said.

‘Great,' said Tracey. ‘Can we have the duck?'

‘Have whatever you like, love,' I replied.

‘T'riffic,' she said.

We sat and finished our drinks, and I went up for another round. The little barman avoided me and I got served by the guv'nor of the boozer.

‘How's tricks?' he asked.

Here we go again, I thought.

‘Not too bad,' I said.

‘Ask young Dawn to pop over, will you? – Nick, isn't it?'

I agreed that it was.

‘There's a bit of a do on next week. Local football club. They want a bit of entertainment.'

And a bit is probably what they'll get with that pair, I thought.

‘Good money,' he said, putting the cocktails on the bar with a wink. ‘Great bunch of lads in the team.'

‘I'll tell her,' I said, as I picked up the glasses and went back to the table.

‘Guv'nor wants you,' I said to Dawn as I sat down. ‘Got a bit of extra work.'

‘Great,' she said, looked over to the bar, and waved at the landlord.

‘Football team,' I explained.

‘T'riffic,' said Tracey.

I had to admit these girls were gluttons for punishment.

Dawn took a sip from her glass and got up and wiggled over the carpet towards the bar. I watched as she went, as did every other member of the largely male clientele who had started to fill the place. I couldn't blame them. Under the tight leather of her skirt, the movement of her buttocks was sheer poetry.

When I looked back, Tracey gave me a big smile round the edge of
her
glass. ‘Enjoying yourself, Nick?' she asked.

She was a kind soul was Trace. A bit dense, but kind nevertheless.

Dawn came back with the details of the engagement and sat down, showing off a lot of stocking top and bare thigh which got a fair amount of comment from the punters.

‘Cheeky buggers,' she said, and I had to smile. What else did she expect?

I finished my second pint of lager and looked at the sticky dregs of their drinks. ‘We off then?'

We left the place to a few more comments in their direction. They flounced out like they felt insulted, but I knew that they loved it. It was when the comments stopped that they'd have to worry.

We walked down to East Hill where the restaurant was and, it still being comparatively early, got a table with no bother.

The waiters knew Tracey and Dawn well, and brought out the prawn crackers and Liebfraumilch without being asked. How those two could sit and drink Liebfraumilch I'd never know.

I asked for a bottle of Tiger beer, and had a quick squint at the menu.

We settled for prawn and crab meat soup for three, half a crispy duck with all the trimmings, sweet and sour prawns, noodles with three kinds of meat, bang bang chicken, deep-fried beef in chilli and green peppers, and double egg-fried rice.

The food was good, the service quick, without the waiters actually snatching the chopsticks out of your mouth, and the toffee apples for dessert were extremely sweet and sticky. We all finished with Irish coffees and as the town hall clock struck ten we were back on the street and heading home.

When we got back to the flat, Dawn broke out the Southern Comfort and lemonade, rolled another giant spliff, and we settled down on the sofa in front of the late film on BBC2. I had Tracey on one side of me and Dawn on the other like a pair of book-ends, and I was certainly feeling very little pain by the time the movie ended.

Tracey was fast asleep by then, and Dawn and I were getting pretty sweet and sticky ourselves, so we left her and moved into the bedroom.

And that was more or less that for the rest of the night.

BOOK: Ashes by Now
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