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Authors: Malcolm Mackay

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

The Night the Rich Men Burned (5 page)

BOOK: The Night the Rich Men Burned
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Gary is Gary Jefferson. Everyone calls him Jazzy, but not to his face. Gary, like Potty, has a strict understanding of professional respect. Unlike Potty, Gary Jefferson can see the benefit of Billy Patterson. Potty buys debts at 75 to 80 per cent of their supposed value on a safe debt. It varies, of course. Some debts are less likely to be paid than others. Some can be collected, but will cost more in manpower to recover. But Potty’s always been a good buyer. He’ll take on the bad debts as well as the good, just to keep his sellers happy.

‘I know it’s late, Gary. I appreciate that it’s late. I can see the time as well as you can. I have a watch on my wrist. What you do not seem to appreciate is just how important this is. This could have a serious effect on your business, Gary. A serious effect on our professional relationship. I don’t want that, and I really don’t think you do either.’

That was much more of a threat than intended. But it’s true. Say what you want, history suggests Potty is right. Doesn’t change Gary Jefferson’s point of view. He can sell 70 per cent of a debt to Potty or he can sell 90 per cent of a debt to Patterson. People like Marty aren’t in this equation. A jack of all trades, lending and collecting. A specialist lender like Jefferson wants a long-term, specialist collector. And he wants the one that will give him the most of his money back.

‘That’s all good and well, Gary, but you’re not looking at the bigger picture.’ A pause. ‘Yes, I do know it’s late. You have already pointed that out, thank you. Fine, I will speak to you tomorrow.’ He’s pressed the button on the phone to hang up. Pausing with the phone in his hand, bouncing it slowly up and down. Now throwing it across the room. Not with much force, not at anything in particular. It’s clattering against the wall and falling to the thick carpet. It’ll be fine. It’s made that journey before.

Not easy to get up. He’s meant to lose weight for years, but there’s so much else to do. He’s busy. That’s his excuse. Too busy to avoid eating badly. Too busy to exercise. Getting up in stages from the low cushioned chair. His second wife furnished the house. She picked what was attractive to her, rather than convenient for him. Potty’s walking in a small circle. Doesn’t know where to go. Doesn’t know what to do next.

Target Patterson. That goes without saying. Doesn’t need you to tell him that. But what do you use? How do you get at him? There have been others in the past. People who were brutal and ambitious, same as Patterson. Something’s changed. Maybe Patterson is different from the others. More ruthless. Certainly done a good job of surrounding himself exclusively with hard nuts. Hard to remember a collection service run by such a collection of tough guys. No weak links near the top of that business. Or maybe it’s Potty that’s changed. Second divorce. No kids from that marriage. No relationship in his life like the one he had with his uncle. Nobody looking up to him. Nobody to pass it all on to.

He’s growling loudly at himself and walking with what little pace he has. Through to the kitchen. To the fridge. For a bottle this time, as a matter of fact. A beer, and sitting at the large kitchen table. Sitting proudly at the head of a long table that only he ever uses. Tapping the bottle on the top of the table, and thinking. Plan every move. Better to be meticulous and dull than sloppy and dead. Another lesson passed down from Rolly Cruickshank.

There’s a grim expression across his face as he makes his way to bed ten minutes later. A bedroom with flowery wallpaper and an oversized bed for his second wife to hide from him in. All the different strategies that have served him well have been considered and discarded. The go-to options that require nothing more than instinct these days. Patterson doesn’t have the weak spots needed. He’s been allowed to grow for too long. Growing in the shadows, nobody stepping in to slap him down. Well, whose fault’s that? There’s no worse anger than the one pointing towards you. Now that Potty needs to stamp on Patterson, he can’t think of a way. Get help from someone else? Done it before. Use someone who isn’t a threat to you. Nobody who could benefit from stabbing you in the back. But who? That’s a tough one. Who?

5

The house is in darkness. Bavidge is ringing the doorbell anyway. It takes less than ten seconds for the door to open. Billy Patterson looking back at him. Short, skinny, shaven head. There are a lot of things you think when you first look at Patterson. Clever and ruthless are not necessarily two of them. That’s part of his success. He’s built a reputation as being relatively harmless. A tough wee fellow, a stereotype of the little hard man with lots of anger and little brains. Nothing the big movers need to worry about. Persuading people not to worry about you is quite a trick to pull.

Nobody would believe he cultivated that image for himself. None of the established collectors could believe that anyone would deliberately play themselves down. It’s invariably the other way round. People come into the business, exaggerate their power. It’s a way of attracting business. You convince people that you’re bigger than they are. Convince them you’re big enough to fear. Patterson was too smart for that. Why draw attention to yourself? Why invite rivalry? Let people think you’re small and they leave you alone. While they leave you alone, you contact their debt sellers and do some deals. That’s Patterson’s genius, the ability to grow in shadow.

He’s stepping aside to let Bavidge in. Walking through to the back of the house. A dim little lamp on in a spare room at the back of the house. The curtains shut, keeping the little light in. There’s a small round table in the middle of the room for card games, a couple of seats around it. This is where Patterson has his business conversations.

‘So?’ Patterson’s asking.

‘They kicked the fat guy down the stairs. His girlfriend scared them off. No bloody wonder. Just about scared me off too. Beast of a woman. It was for Marty Jones. They named him. Couple of kids. Just need to find out what suckers he has working for him now. They come and go though, so . . .’ All said in the sighing tone of a man who couldn’t give a shit.

Patterson’s nodding. He knows Bavidge doesn’t see a lot of potential in Holmes. There isn’t a lot, to be fair. But there’s some, and you have to take the little opportunities as well as the big ones. Ten little ones can add up to stronger business than one big one.

‘What was his reaction to being kicked down the stairs?’

‘Got a little pissy about a lack of protection. Well, the girlfriend did. He didn’t want to rock the boat. I don’t know, I don’t think they’ll say anything about it. Never know.’

Patterson’s nodding again. Mulling over his next step. He could go down the tit-for-tat route that Bavidge is suggesting. Find out who these kids were and give them a kicking. It’s what people would expect him to do. It’s what Marty will be expecting. That’s probably why he used the kids, because he doesn’t care if they get battered senseless. They’re not important enough to care about. So it would be no punishment to Marty if they went down that road, just PR for Patterson. And Patterson has never been about PR. Growing in the dark. Never predictable in his responses.

‘What do you think we should do next, Alan?’ he’s asking. A slight smile, because he knows what the reaction is going to be.

Patterson does this all the time. He asks you a question he’s already decided the answer to. Sometimes it’s to buy himself time to think of a way of explaining it to you. Sometimes it’s a test to see if you agree with him or not. With those he doesn’t know, it’s a test of their judgement. With Bavidge, who he knows so well, it’s a game. Let him whine about how he doesn’t care and how he’ll do whatever Patterson wants him to do. Let him get all that out of his system before they talk about what’s actually going to happen. What they’ve both known for some time was going to happen.

‘I think if you go after the kids, this just keeps happening. I think I’m fed up of chasing little arseholes around the city, just to give them a kicking. I’m not kidding, Billy, I’m sick of it. I can find these kids if you want me to. I can kick the shit out of them if you want me to. I can kill them if you really want me to. But where does that put us? Marty Jones still has a queue of spotty-faced, snot-nosed little pricks banging at his door. You’ll never scare them away from the life he’s offering them. You knock two over, another two spring up. We need to do something decisive. We need to make bigger moves.’

Patterson’s leaning back in his chair. The ferocity of the answer has surprised him. It shouldn’t; he’s known Bavidge has felt this way for a long time. Just didn’t expect it to all come pouring out like that. That concern he has about his friend is being washed away though, replaced with contentment. Bavidge sees it too. Sees the pettiness of moving against these kids. They need to do something bigger. Now Patterson’s nodding, and smiling. Now he can share the answer he already had to the question he asked.

‘You’re right about the kids. There’s nothing to gain from going after them. Not if we can go after a bigger target.’

‘Marty?’

‘Maybe not Marty. Not if he still has protection from Jamieson. We’re not ready to go up against that. Jamieson would crush us, if he could be bothered. Actually, I don’t think Marty’s even the right target for us, protection or not. We go after him, after those kids, what difference does it make? Amounts to nothing. As long as we keep chipping away at Marty, he’ll get bored and go back to his hookers.’

Bavidge is grimacing. ‘How sure are you of that? Everyone thinks he’s flaky, but he didn’t make money out of his women by being soft. Don’t underestimate him, is all I’m saying.’

‘I don’t,’ Patterson’s saying. A little quieter. A rare warning has quieted him. ‘I don’t underestimate that he’s tough and smart. And I don’t underestimate what Jamieson could do. I just don’t see him as the right target.’

‘So?’

‘So we need to look somewhere else.’

‘This is Potty Cruickshank again, isn’t it?’ Said with another grimace. Not necessarily arguing, but obviously not a cheerleader for the idea either. Potty still seems like too big a target to Bavidge. His history, his strength in this business, doesn’t get wiped out quickly. It wouldn’t be a battle to defeat him, it would be a war. They’d be smarter growing their business more before they turn their aim towards that sort of competition.

‘Yes. Potty Cruickshank. We need to move against him, because he’s going to move against us.’

‘I’ve seen no sign of that. His people haven’t made any move against us . . .’

‘I got a call just before you got here,’ Patterson’s saying, raising his hand. ‘Jazzy Jefferson. Seems like Potty found out about my offer. Someone’s been telling stories. Probably someone working for Jazzy. Potty tried to talk him out of it. Did a piss-poor job by the sound of things. Jazzy’s still up for the deal, seemed a bit pissed off at Potty, but he needs reassurance. Needs to see we can handle Potty if things get nasty. I told him yeah, course we can. You leave that to me. I’ll put Potty in his place.’

Bavidge is leaning back in his chair. He doesn’t like the sound of this. This sounds horribly like the start of a war a lot of people won’t survive until the end of. The very war Bavidge has been hoping to avoid. The key to their success has been picking their fights carefully. This is throwing caution to the wind. The start of a new era.

‘This is the way of it, Alan, we both know that. Can’t keep creeping around forever. This stuff with Holmes and Marty. That’s baby stuff. We both know that. You can’t live off that forever. Eventually you got to step it up. It’s either that or stay as we are now. Well, we’re going to step it up, because I don’t want to stand still. I’m not saying we go after Potty personally. He’s still too strong for that. But we weaken him around the edges. Do the sorts of jobs that make Potty vulnerable. If we take him down, we have the whole industry in our pocket. I’m telling you, Alan, we take down a Cruickshank and we’re it.’

Bavidge is nodding. Nodding because it’s true, and because it is ultimately what he wants. But all he can see ahead are the pitfalls. The risks. The fact that they’re woefully untested at this sort of thing. There’s a comfort in knowing you’re good at what you do. Knowing that you will be successful. They’re about to shed that comfort. Take a walk down a dark path where they can’t see what lies ahead. It’s easy to see that Patterson’s excited by that. Not Bavidge. Patterson lives this life because he enjoys it. Bavidge does this job because he’s reluctantly good at it.

‘Look, Alan, go home, get some sleep. You’re working too hard anyway. Forget about Holmes, I’ll get someone else to handle him. He’s not worth this much of your attention. Sure as shit not worth as much of mine.’

Bavidge is nodding, getting up from the little table. Can’t argue with any of that. ‘Let me know about Cruickshank. We don’t want to hurl ourselves into this until we’re ready.’

‘Course I will.’

Bavidge is up and walking out of the room. Patterson’s sitting back, watching him go. There’s a creeping feeling he gets, watching his friend. Only known Bavidge for about three years. In that time he’s become the person he trusts the most. An honest man, for this business. Intelligent way beyond his years and experience. And willing to do whatever it takes, no matter how much he hates doing it. But there’s something about him. A feeling Patterson always gets when he’s in Bavidge’s company. The feeling that Bavidge is a man doomed.

6

Oh, it’s a party all right. This is what they thought it would be like. What they hoped it would be like. Girls, basically. Let’s not pretend they were looking for anything else here. The drugs they can get anywhere. The club is a dive. The music is one long headache with a faint hint of rhythm. Most of the other men at the club are in the industry in some capacity. All of them are more senior than Glass and Peterkinney. None of them are paying the young men any attention at all. Which is fine. Better to be ignored than looked down on, which is the other option.

Glass thinks he recognized a footballer at one of the tables, but he’s not sure. Might have been. Only two kinds of celebrities stay in this city: gangsters and footballers. The former always happy to get their claws into the latter. They’ve ignored that table and sat at a quieter one. More sense than to impose themselves on others. Not really knowing what to do next.

BOOK: The Night the Rich Men Burned
12.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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