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Authors: Malcolm Mackay

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General

The Night the Rich Men Burned (17 page)

BOOK: The Night the Rich Men Burned
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‘You not getting a lot of work then, Alex?’ he’s asking. Being friendlier than he’s ever been to the worthless kid before. That should be enough to put the boy on high alert, but apparently not. He’s just delighted to have someone show an interest.

‘Nah. I think Marty’s done with me. Says he doesn’t have any work for me, but he’s got plenty for Oliver. Plenty for everyone else. I was hoping me and Oliver could sort something out. You know, he takes a job from Marty, I do it for him. We split the cash. That sort of thing. Helps him take more work, helps me make some money. You know,’ he’s saying, then trailing off. Aware that he’s been talking for a while, and feeling uncomfortable. He always had the impression that Arnie didn’t like him much, and that memory has suddenly come back to him.

‘You struggling for cash?’ Arnie’s surprising himself. He actually cares.

‘Little bit, yeah,’ Glass is saying, and shrugging. Looking down at the table. Looking awkward. Not the sort of thing he wants to admit. He’s always been independent. Left home when he was eighteen. Always managed to keep his nose above the waterline. Been close a few times, but he’s always been able to look after himself. Found work, earned money. Did a better job of looking after himself than his parents ever did of looking after him. Now he needs help.

A suspicion. Arnie frowning and looking at the boy. ‘You in trouble here, lad?’

Glass breathing out heavily. The truth is tempting. And maybe the old man can put pressure on Oliver to help. Getting to the point where humiliating yourself in front of this old man is the only choice he’s got. ‘I . . . borrowed some money. Shouldn’t have, but I needed it. So now I’m in a hole. I just need some work, that’s all. Just a bit to get started, you know. I didn’t borrow a lot, so I just need a little work to cover it. It’s okay. Just a bit. Oliver can sort me out. He’s well in with Marty.’

‘I didn’t know he was doing so well,’ Arnie’s saying, making it sound casual. Making it sound like he knew his grandson was working for that piece of shit, just didn’t realize how successfully.

‘Oh yeah, Oliver’s doing great.’ Thinking he’s doing his mate a favour by talking him up. Looking Arnie in the eye, across the little table. They can’t both put their arms on the table; their hands would meet in the middle. So Glass has his hands in his lap, feeling uncomfortable and looking childish. ‘He gets a hell of a lot more work than me. Actually, I think he gets more than anyone. Marty likes him. I don’t think Oliver likes Marty much,’ Glass is saying with a shrug. ‘Doesn’t go in for the lifestyle or anything like that, you know. But he gets the work, so . . .’

One thing to be relieved about. But it’s a small thing. He might not live the life, but he works the job. That’s bad enough on its own. ‘Was it going in for the lifestyle that got you into a hole?’ Arnie’s asking.

Glass is smiling. He doesn’t think about Ella as being part of the lifestyle. She’s part of his life. ‘Sort of,’ he’s saying reluctantly. Because he only met her through her work. Can’t deny that. And her work is part of the lifestyle. Doesn’t matter how much he wishes otherwise, it is and it will continue to be.

Arnie’s about to pursue the point when he hears a key in the door. Oliver home. Hears him walking along the corridor and opening the door to his bedroom.

‘Oliver, kitchen,’ Arnie’s shouting.

Oliver sticks his head round the door. Sees his friend and his grandfather. A slight frown that he manages to kill before it gives his mood away. He was happy coming in the door. Came out of that meeting with Greig about as well as he could have. The adrenalin may be fading, but he’s still a little high. The thrill, the confidence that he handled a treacherous situation well. Can’t beat that feeling. It’s going to cost him. He’s the one who’ll have to pay the cop, because he isn’t going to tell Bowles about it. Not yet, anyway. You don’t tell the boss that you got cornered by a bent copper. You pay the cost yourself. You see if there’s any way you can make it work for you. A guy like Greig could be very useful. A guy like Glass, not so much.

‘Alex. Good to see you, man. Come through.’ Nodding for his friend to follow him through to the bedroom where they can talk in private. Away from Arnie. Away from any conversation that reveals more than it should. Too late for that.

Arnie is still sitting in the kitchen. Waiting for Glass to leave and Oliver to come talk to him. Which he will, because he has to explain this Marty thing. Glass isn’t smart enough to lie about what he told Arnie. They’ve been in there ten minutes now. At one point there was a raised voice. Oliver’s, certainly. Harsh, it sounded. Almost mocking in tone. Now the bedroom door is opening. Now the front door, and someone’s gone. Glass moved along that corridor quickly, leaving in a hurry and a huff.

Oliver’s coming into the kitchen. Nodding to his grandfather. Looks grumpy, looks like he’s ready for an argument. Arnie knows the look. Oliver gets it when he’s annoyed with something, but he knows it better from Oliver’s father. There was a fellow who never let a potential fight walk casually by. Always spoiling for trouble. Always in a howler. Had to handle him carefully, just like you do his son.

‘I think that boy’s in trouble,’ Arnie’s saying. Open with agreement. Something obvious. Something that Oliver can’t possibly object to.

‘I think so too.’

‘Silly thing, to borrow money. Drags you down, that sort of thing. Never ends well. That boy needs a friend to help him out. Why don’t you give him the work Marty Jones is giving you? You can concentrate on getting the hell away from Marty Jones, like you were going to.’

A sigh for an answer. Oliver standing with his back to the worktop, looking down at the table where Arnie’s sitting. A grim look, already on the defensive and ready to defend with aggression. ‘I’ve been doing a few jobs for Marty, yeah. Just a few. Now and again. I don’t make enough money from Roy Bowles. You know how unreliable that work is. You know I don’t make enough there. So I need something else. But it’s temporary.’

‘And how long has it been temporary?’

‘Fine. You’re right. I know you are. Marty Jones is poison. You don’t have to tell me that. You really don’t. Listen, right. I’ll make you a promise: I will be out from Marty’s business within the month, okay? I’ll be gone in a month. I’m looking at another opportunity. Something better. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I did a job for Roy today. Made me realize a few things. Seriously, within a month. That enough to make you happy?’

Arnie’s looking at him. Ignoring the snarky tone. The superior tone that’s crept into a lot of what Oliver says these days. This time he meant it, but he doesn’t always. There’s been a tendency lately for him to speak down to his grandfather. Presumably because he’s working and Arnie isn’t. Gets on Arnie’s nerves, sure, but he doesn’t say anything. Why bother?

He wants to believe Oliver will get out from under Marty. He also wants to believe that when Oliver stops working for Marty, it will be for something better. Something legitimate. Wants to believe, but doesn’t. If he has plans of his own then it’ll be within the industry. What else does he know? But anything is better than Marty.

‘Fine. You get away from Marty Jones; I’ll say no more about it.’

PART THREE

1

This hasn’t gone as quickly as he would have liked. Not as quickly as MacArthur would like either. But Cruickshank can see it for what it is. Cracking a tough little nut. Once you get inside, it’ll be soft. Break through and things happen quickly. But Patterson has surrounded his business with a wall of tough employees. Loyal and hard. Also very private. Done an amazing job of keeping mouths shut, not giving away any detail they don’t want people to know. That’s a hard challenge, even with loyal employees. People speak, but not the people working for Patterson. Been difficult for both Potty and MacArthur to work out who’s who in the Patterson organization. They’ve done so well in protecting themselves. Today will change some of that. Today Potty has a meeting with a lowlife scumbag with a big mouth.

Best part of three months since Patterson got rid of Jim Holmes. Sent someone round to slash him. Left a mark for all the world to see. Lets people know that Holmes is not a man to be trusted. Which is a good thing to tell people. Helpful. Appreciated. But that doesn’t stop Holmes from being useful. At least, Holmes better hope it doesn’t. Today, he needs to be useful.

They’re meeting in the back of a pub that Potty has a share of. Little place. Reasonably upmarket, as these places go. Potty doesn’t much like pubs. Never visits. But he has to have places like this. Lots of little businesses where his money washes itself clean. Can’t justify all of the returns that his ‘finance company’ makes. Pubs are an easy sort of business to pick up these days, easy to work the books.

Holmes was early. Was here before Potty, and hit the bar while he waited. He was on his third pint when Potty’s driver dropped him off. The landlord showed Potty through to the back, made sure he had everything he needed. A big, well-lit room with a small table. A large, cushioned seat for Potty, a small chair for the other guy. They have little events in here, put out a few tables. Just the one table for this meeting. The landlord showed Potty to his seat, asked if he wanted anything to eat or drink. Then went and got the waiting Holmes from his happy place at the bar.

Sitting opposite each other. Each thinking the same of the other. What a bastard. Everyone thinks Potty’s a bastard. Principally because he is, and makes little effort to hide it. Potty thinks Holmes is a bastard for a couple of reasons. Both are that he’s a little thief. Thieved from Marty Jones. Got caught. Thieved from Billy Patterson. Got caught. Three months go by, and now he’s running to Potty, looking for help.

Potty’s had Holmes’s background looked into. Found out what he’s been up to for the last three months. Struggling, is what. Split with his woman. Left his house. Tried to run, but couldn’t make life work anywhere else. Came back to the city looking for work. Couldn’t find it. Now begging at Potty’s door. Saying he has info about Patterson that could help. The shaggy-haired, bearded, overweight prick better, because he’s on thin ice. Three strikes and you’re out. Got away with thieving from Marty. Was lucky to get away from Patterson with scarring. Piss off Potty Cruickshank and it goes further.

Don’t show your distaste. Fellow looks like he could use a wash. Hair is a little too long, beard that’s probably only there to hide scars. Clothes look scruffy, but Potty’s seen a good deal worse. You think he’s pathetic and disgusting. You think he’s the sort of person you shouldn’t have to lower yourself to meeting. But you do. Information can come from anywhere, and sometimes you just have to hold your nose to get a hold of it.

‘So, Mr Holmes, I’m led to believe that you have information you think I would find useful.’ Said in a tone that makes it clear Potty doesn’t believe him. That makes it clear he better deliver fast. Keep this conversation short.

‘I do. I know all about Patterson. Worked for him for a couple of months. I can name everyone working for him. Everyone close to him. The lot of them.’

They know a few names already. They’ve taken action against a couple so far. A couple isn’t enough. Not in three months. Especially when they’re not at the top of the tree. You have to be seen to make a sustained attack. Less than one a month is not sustained. At times, it’s felt like they shouldn’t have bothered. Should have waited until they had three or four names and gone after them all in a week. You drip-feed it like this and you’re the one who looks weak. Attacked the first guy. Beat him and set his house on fire. A little showy, but it sent out the message. Sent him scurrying off out of the business. Bought off the second guy. He was reluctant and expensive, but he took the money in the end.

‘And what makes you think I would care about that?’ Potty is saying. Throwing in the question because you have to pretend that you don’t care. Make the bottom feeders think you have a thousand plates spinning. Make them think Patterson is no big deal to you. You don’t want the likes of Holmes knowing your business, or even thinking he knows.

Holmes is watching him, mouth slightly open. Picking his answer from the short list of options running through his mind. Holmes is no fool. Been around the business too long for that. He knows that Potty doesn’t want to hear that he’s at war with Billy Patterson. You don’t say that sort of thing out loud. Not to the guy in charge. Especially when the guy in charge isn’t clearly winning the war.

‘I thought it would be useful for you to know. Always good to know what a rival’s got around him. Information, you know. Even if he ain’t much of a rival, I mean.’ Said with a shrug. Grasping for the right tone.

Potty’s smiling. He’s even more unpleasant when he smiles, but isn’t that often the way. ‘You have been around this business a long time, haven’t you, Mr Holmes. Yes, that might be useful. And what would you want in return?’

Pick this one carefully as well. Don’t trip yourself up here. A shrug to begin with. Get the tone just right before you throw the options back at Potty. And you do give Potty the options. He has to be the one that decides the reward. You don’t demand anything, because you don’t have the right to choose.

‘I’d be happy with work. Happy with payment. Whatever it’s worth, Mr Cruickshank, whatever it’s worth.’

Potty’s nodding. Holmes doesn’t expect work. Maybe doesn’t even want it. Happy to take money, bonus money. Go sit at the bar with it. He must know work’s never going to come his way from a man like Potty. You skim from one guy, you still have a chance of finding work. You skim from two and you can forget about it. Two is a pattern. Two is the end of your career. Two is the last time anyone credible looks at you as anything other than filth. And Holmes knows it, because Holmes has indeed been around the business for a long time. He was skimming from Patterson because he was going to run. Never planned to come back. But here he is. Back, desperate, and looking for money.

‘I would be willing to pay you,’ Potty is saying. ‘Information is a valuable commodity, and I’m a generous man. But it has to be the right information.’

BOOK: The Night the Rich Men Burned
13.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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