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Authors: Malcolm Mackay

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

The Night the Rich Men Burned (26 page)

BOOK: The Night the Rich Men Burned
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It’s only the third time he’s seen him since he moved out. Three times in, what, over six months. Didn’t expect to see his grandson every bloody day. Glad of a little space, to be honest. The tiny flat has felt more like his home since the boy moved out. Not having to make room for the lad, not having him hear every conversation. The walls have always been paper-thin; a little privacy is worth a lot. But he didn’t expect to have to track him down like this. Didn’t expect that his grandson would avoid him the way he has.

Everyone says he’s changed. They say he’s become tough, a little schemer. Everyone who knew him before and knows him now. Aren’t many of those. Oliver seems to be doing his damnedest to ditch anyone who knew him before. Arnie isn’t so sure about this great change. Oliver was always sharp. Always wanted more for himself than he could get. He wasn’t the toughest kid, but he was never what you would call sympathetic. Never emotional. Kept people at a distance. That’s probably what makes his work so easy for him. Doesn’t think of people as people. Arnie blames his parents. Always did. Ditching the kid like that. Feckless pair of bastards.

Now he’s running this business. A business that benefits from his way of thinking. Creating a completely new life for himself. Know what? Arnie would be fine with that if it was the right kind of life. There’s something admirable about a young man striding off into the world and building a new life for himself. If he felt he needed to cut old ties to do that, Arnie would respect it. A young man, just gone past his twenty-first birthday, and he already has his own little company. His own flat. His own life. But it’s a rotten life. And that’s why Arnie’s tracking him down.

Arnie knew what Oliver was doing. He knew he was debt collecting. Scraping the bottom of the barrel. Arnie sat in his little flat every day and felt disgusted. Felt ashamed. But he did nothing. Did nothing because he hoped it might not be true. Hoped that maybe it was a short-term thing. That happens. A kid making money. Then the kid finds another way to make some dough. A better way. Maybe a more glamorous one. Less risky. And he moves away from the dirty side of life. But that’s six months, and the stories he’s hearing keep getting worse.

There’s a middle-aged woman who lives in the next block of flats along from Arnie’s. He doesn’t know her, but he knows of her. Friends of friends, that sort of thing. Anyway, this woman borrowed money. Stupid thing to do, let’s be honest. Arnie despairs of people who would borrow in the first place, given what happens. Always ends badly. Mind you, moneylenders can advertise on TV now. See it all the time. It’s in danger of becoming acceptable. They’re letting the sharks play in the swimming pool.

So this middle-aged woman, Kirsty something or other. She borrowed money and didn’t pay it back. Couldn’t, at the rates they were charging. The lender sold the debt to a collector. The collector sent someone round to intimidate her. She still couldn’t pay. You can intimidate someone as much as you want; fear doesn’t make money. So they started taking her stuff. Furniture, that sort of thing. She tried to stop the two thugs who had barged into her flat. So they beat her up. Not life-threatening or anything like that, but they knocked a couple of teeth out of her head. Left her all cut and bruised. Just about scared the life out of the poor woman.

Arnie heard the story and he shook his head. What kind of people would do that to a woman? Two days later he heard the story again, and it had grown a few hideous details. Grown to include the name of the collector who had sent his men round to steal her furniture. Who sent another one round when she was back from hospital the day after the beating to warn her to keep her mouth shut. They were saying it was Oliver Peterkinney.

Shame? He’s never felt anything like it. His grandson sending nasty bastards round to beat up women. Never felt so humiliated in all his life. Let’s make no mistake about it: he’s done some things he’s been ashamed of in his time. Things he wouldn’t admit to, to you or to anyone else. But they were minor compared to this. The boy he helped raise, doing a thing like this. It’s a humiliation. He knows it, and so does everyone else.

Which is what’s brought him here. Walking across the road and towards the entrance of Oliver’s office. His own little office building. Been here a while. Established, is what they call it. Beyond the point where he’s a newbie who might fail at the first hurdle. Nope, he’s past that hurdle and halfway down the running track. He’s established now. That means people take him seriously. Fear him. Huh.

Arnie didn’t want to come here. Would rather have met Oliver anywhere but here. Wanted to meet him at his flat, but he’s moved again. Got a new address that he didn’t bother to share with his grandfather. Moved again about a month ago. Moved to another flat in a more upscale part of town. Going up in the world, and obviously wants his home to show that. Bringing in a lot of other people’s money. Wants the world to see how upwardly mobile he is. Wow the world with his success, like it’s something to be proud of. Didn’t bother to tell his grandfather where he was going.

Couldn’t turn up at his flat. Called the office and got fobbed off by that nasal little lickspittle he employs. So this is the last resort. Turning up at the office and giving the boy no option but to talk. Because, by God, he is going to talk. He is going to explain himself. If he can’t explain himself very well indeed then he is going to listen.

Arnie’s across the street and opening the door. Stepping into the little office. Small place, but that’s all you need when your job is intimidating the vulnerable. That doesn’t take much space, does it? But they won’t be here long. Arnie would bet on it. They’ll stay in the area because people associate them with this area. But they’ll get somewhere bigger. Somewhere they don’t even need. To look big and clever. Intimidate people with their growth. And to cover their tracks. How much of this money has to be laundered? What other filthy practices do they use to get that done?

The two of them are in the office. Oliver behind his desk, the other fellow taking something out of a filing cabinet. Jesus, they almost look respectable. A pair of office boys. The other one’s looking at him without a hint of recognition. Oliver’s slumping back in his chair. A look of displeasure on his face. Rolling his eyes to the ceiling and then glaring back towards the door. Doing his best to make his own grandfather feel unwelcome.

‘Can I help?’ the other one is asking, sliding the drawer of the cabinet shut.

‘Not you, son, no,’ Arnie’s saying.

‘What do you want?’ Oliver’s asking him. ‘You should have phoned. I don’t have time for catching up. I’m busy.’

‘Phoned, that’s a laugh. I phone here and all I get is this wee bugger telling me you’re not in. You’re never in for a phone call. Disappear on the first bloody ring. I figured the only way you were ever going to be in was if I was in with you. No pretending then. So we can talk. Because we need to talk, Oliver. We do.’ Trying to sound reasonable. Started with an irritated tone, but worked hard to calm it before he stopped talking. He doesn’t want this to turn into an argument any earlier than it has to. Inevitable that it will at some point, but he has to try.

‘Listen, I need to go out and . . .’ But Peterkinney’s trailing off, because Arnie’s already turned round to look at Kilbanne. He’s standing behind his desk on the other side of the room now.

‘You can go make yourself scarce. Get lunch. Get lost. I don’t care. Just get yourself out. This is a private conversation. Family talk.’ Not bothered about being polite with him. The amount of times he’s been lied to by this snivelling bastard, he hasn’t earned politeness.

There’s something remarkably intimidating about an angry old man. Arnie’s not that big, looks unhealthy and sounds a little wheezy these days. But when he points and barks at you, you pay attention. Kilbanne is looking across at Peterkinney. Waiting for instructions from the boss. Maybe Peterkinney doesn’t want to be left alone with this old guy.

‘Go. Come back in fifteen,’ Peterkinney’s saying. ‘This won’t take longer than that.’

Kilbanne’s leaving. Arnie still standing in front of Peterkinney’s desk. Looking down at his grandson. Looks a little fuller in the face than he did. A little older. A little more rugged. Like he’s lived something of a life now. Yeah. And at whose expense? Arnie’s shaking his head.

‘Why haven’t you been willing to talk to me?’ he’s asking quietly.

‘I’ve been busy. Working, you know.’ Said with a hint of sarcasm. Pointing out the fact that Arnie hasn’t had a job for some time now.

Oliver still hasn’t asked him to sit down. Not that Arnie wants to. He wants to stand over the boy when the argument starts. Feels like a position of strength. But he’s noticed Oliver’s making no effort at being welcoming. He still doesn’t want to talk. Doesn’t want his grandfather to be a part of his life any more. The man who took him in. Gave him a home. Did his best, such as it was, to raise him. Don’t throw that at him though. That’s not the way to win this argument. Oliver clearly feels no sense of debt.

‘I know what work you do.’

‘Uh-huh. Not a secret.’

‘No, it isn’t, is it? Everyone knows. Everyone’s talking about you. Talking about how you had your thugs beat up some woman along the street from me. That you don’t give a shit about the law or anything else. Tough little bastard, you are. That’s what they say. How tough you are. Hiding behind your thugs. Stealing money from the weakest people you can find. Yeah, everyone’s talking about you all right. Tough little nut, uh? Very scary.’ Damn it. Didn’t want to go off on a rant this soon. Wanted to make a persuasive argument, not an aggressive one. Just couldn’t control it. Months of knowing what his own flesh and blood was doing. Months of doing nothing about it. His own embarrassment at not doing this sooner was to blame. There was just too much locked away in there that needed to come out.

‘You here about her? I heard about that, already reprimanded someone for it. It was a mistake. An accident. Shouldn’t have happened. I’m sorry, okay? We done?’

It’s a funny thing. Really is. You live with someone for a few years and you get a pretty good handle on the sort of person they are. You lose track of them for six months. Catch up with them again and they’re someone else. Completely different person. Oliver was distant, and he could be cold. He wasn’t always an easy boy to love. But he was respectful, because he understood that that worked best. He was never a dismissive, arrogant little shit. He understood what it meant to be a good person. He could be morally hazy, sure. Arnie wasn’t going to judge him for that. Anyway, he was a kid, a little bit immature. All kids make mistakes. Follow the wrong path once in a while. Didn’t make him a bad person, not at heart. He was a decent person, when push came to shove. Now look at him. He’s someone else.

‘It will kill you, you know,’ Arnie’s saying. Saying it quiet. Saying it with genuine regret. A sadness that catches Oliver out.

He’s looking up at his grandfather. A puzzled look. ‘What?’

‘This. All this. The work you’re doing. The life you’re living. It’s going to kill you. You won’t be the first one, oh no. It’ll destroy anyone innocent first. That’s what it does, this life. It kills the good people first, then the bad. This life of yours is poison. That poison will catch up with you. It will. Has to. You mark my words, boy. It will catch up with you and it will kill you. I’ve seen it. People being murdered. Or getting into drugs. Some stupid thing. And I’ll have to go. I’ll have to go to your funeral and stand over your grave and know that I didn’t stop you. Couldn’t stop you from doing it to yourself.’

He’s stopped talking. He was rambling and he knew it. His voice was quivering with emotion and Arnie isn’t the kind of man who likes to hear that in himself. Old school. He came here to be strong. He didn’t come here to be emotional.

‘I think you should go.’ Oliver sitting there, looking up at him. There’s a look of shock on his face that he’s doing a poor job of hiding. Never heard his grandfather talk like this before. Never seen that sort of emotion from him.

Arnie’s looking down at him. Scowling to cover the emotion. Shaking his head, because he just can’t think of anything else to say. Wishes there was something convincing to say, but there isn’t. He’s turning and walking to the door. Pulling it open, but stopping. Looking back at Oliver. Just looking at him, because he’s scared he might never see him again. And leaving, because he can’t help a man who doesn’t believe he needs help. Who won’t realize until it’s too late.

2

Furious. Actually, furious doesn’t begin to sum it up. If he had the mobility, he’d be bouncing off the walls. Potty Cruickshank has never been so angry. Never in forty-eight angry years. Six hours ago he was arrested. First time in his life. Some detective and a couple of plods turned up at his house and arrested him. Led him out into the street for all the neighbours to see as they loaded him into the back of a police car. Deliberately embarrassing him. Suspicion of laundering money, they said. Took him away to the station. The thing he was most angry about? They were right.

He’s always been so careful with his money. That was hammered into him by Uncle Rolly. The money is the easiest way for the cops to get you. You always hide it away. You take every last precaution to make sure it’s well out of view. Someone grassed. Someone who knows about his systems went to the police and spilled their guts. It’s the only way. They couldn’t have known what they did without inside info. So now he has to find out who.

They haven’t charged him yet. Questioned him for a few hours. A lot of questions he genuinely didn’t know the answers to. He doesn’t know every exact detail about every penny that gets hidden. He hires people to handle that. He has deniability on the details of it. A few questions he did know the answer to. Those he chose not to answer anyway. It did give him a few clues about timing. They only seemed to be asking about money that was moved within a certain period. About a year ago until about six months ago, give or take. That’s interesting. That’s a place to start investigating.

BOOK: The Night the Rich Men Burned
12.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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