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Authors: Malcolm Mackay

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

The Night the Rich Men Burned (9 page)

BOOK: The Night the Rich Men Burned
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‘Ah,’ Glass is saying, and tilting his head with exaggerated sympathy. ‘Well, it’s harder to keep them than get them. Some of us have that gift, some of us do not. Mine’s still lying in bed, happy and waiting for a cup of that stuff.’

Just a little too smug to go unchallenged. ‘Of course they’re harder to keep than to get. They’re prostitutes. That’s the point. You’re not supposed to keep them.’

‘Hey, it’s not like that,’ Glass is saying. A little angry now. Peterkinney can be caustic when he wants. Has a habit of knocking down other people’s good moments. Putting Glass on the defensive, because he knows he’s smart enough to keep him there. ‘Me and Ella were just talking about it.’

‘Ella?’

‘Her. The girl.’

‘The prostitute?’

‘Fuck off. We were talking about it. Look, it’s not the way you think it is. They’re not like hookers or anything. They go to parties. That’s it. They go to parties and dance along with the guys. Keep them happy. That’s it. It’s not as bad as you’re making it out. It’s not.’

‘That’s not what you were saying yesterday,’ Peterkinney’s arguing. Keeping his voice down so the girl doesn’t hear. He’s incredulous at his friend, but he still has some manners. ‘When Marty said we could go to the party after the job, you said we were on a promise. You said it was guaranteed. You said the girls had to. That’s their job.’

‘I said, I said, I said. The hell are you listening to me for all of a sudden, Captain Snarky. I said that yesterday when I didn’t know. I was just going on the rumours and shit. Now I know. I’ve spoken to Ella and I know.’

Peterkinney isn’t saying anything. Getting out of Glass’s way so he can make another two cups of coffee. Seems pretty obvious that Glass knew better before the party. He said it was guaranteed and he turned out to be right. Apparently evidence isn’t worth as much as a naked girl’s point of view.

By the time Glass has finished making the coffee, she’s come into the kitchen looking for him. She’s four years older than Glass, but she looks and acts younger. Peterkinney can see the difference between her and the silent girl straight away. The silent girl was mature enough to see the misery in what she was doing. To see how it will all end if she keeps doing it. Not this girl. Not Ella. She only sees the potential upsides. Blind optimism.

‘Here you go,’ Glass is saying, passing her the cup.

She’s wearing what she was wearing last night. Last night a short skirt and tight shirt open three buttons down was appropriate. Worked well in the club. Here it looks ridiculous. She’s taking the mug and sipping from it.

‘What are you guys doing today?’ she’s asking Glass. Glancing at Peterkinney to politely include him, but focusing on Glass. Talking sweetly to her new favourite person in the whole wide world.

‘Uh, don’t know really. Probably go see Marty,’ Glass is shrugging, looking at Peterkinney. ‘See if he has any work needs doing. You know, make ourselves useful, get some cash in our pockets.’

‘So you work for Marty?’ she’s asking. She seems impressed by this. What’s so impressive about it, Peterkinney can’t guess.

‘Yeah, we do,’ Glass is saying. There’s pride in his voice.

Peterkinney is looking at him, but not saying anything. If these two want to be so impressed by Marty, let them. Their mistake. They’re all being used by that snake, only Peterkinney can see it. It’s depressing to think that the other two aren’t smart enough to see that. Fine, whatever, let them circle the drain hand in hand.

‘I work for him too,’ she’s saying. Said with an enthusiasm she doesn’t get to use often regarding work. Smiling at Glass, at this thing they have in common. The bond of working for the same guy, and not telling people what they do. The secret of success. Like working for Marty is a ticket to wealth, health and happiness that only they know about.

Where the hell is this pride coming from? What’s to be proud of? Peterkinney’s draining the last of his mug in one scalding gulp. Marty Jones is scum. Even Marty Jones knows that. The entire population of the world that doesn’t know it is now concentrated entirely within this kitchen. A place Peterkinney doesn’t much want to be any more.

‘It was nice to meet you, Ella,’ he’s saying. ‘I’d better head home. I’ll call you later,’ he’s saying to Glass.

Ella smiled politely and nodded to him, but she could see he was faking the smile he gave back. He didn’t like her, but he was leaving. Now she’s turning to smile at Glass instead, because his smile is real. Glass is shouting to make sure he does call as Peterkinney pulls the front door shut behind him. He doesn’t always call. There isn’t always a reason to call. No guarantee that last night will change that. They did a bad job well enough. They got Marty what he wanted. Doesn’t mean that Marty has any intention of using them again.

10

Arnie is sitting in the kitchen when he hears the key in the front door. He’s sitting and waiting. Don’t rush the boy. Don’t start pelting him with questions. He doesn’t like it. Always been thin-skinned and bloody-minded. Doesn’t like being asked a question he doesn’t want to answer. Never afraid to show you that he doesn’t like it.

He’s closed the door, coming along the corridor. Where he goes first is usually a good indicator of his mood. Into his bedroom and he’s in no mood to talk. Nope. Past his bedroom door and along the narrow corridor to the kitchen.

‘Hey Grandpa,’ he’s saying, giving an ironic twang to the word ‘grandpa’. Knowing Arnie isn’t thrilled about feeling his age.

‘Funny hour of the morning to be coming home at night,’ Arnie’s saying.

‘Yeah, good one. I stayed over at Alex’s.’

He’s getting a chocolate biscuit from a cupboard. That’s breakfast out of the way. Now he’s making his way out of the kitchen. There’s hardly enough room for the two of them in here anyway. The old yellow cupboards dominate the space. There’s a fridge-freezer, a cooker and a little table that’s been there for over twenty years, always folded. You can sit a person on either side of the table when it’s folded like that. Just enough. Arnie always sits on the far side, where he has a view of the door out to the corridor. Where he’s sitting now. And that’s it. That’s all the furniture the kitchen can hold, and it still leaves not quite enough floor space for two people to avoid elbowing each other.

‘I have some news,’ Arnie’s saying, calling him back. Not looking at him, because Oliver won’t be thrilled about his grandfather sticking his nose into his business. Got that from his father. He had no business worth sticking your nose into, but he protected it jealously. Too bad, it’s for Oliver’s own good. ‘I spoke to a friend of mine last night. Said he might have some work for a smart young man. If a smart young man is interested.’

‘He is.’ Peterkinney junior is standing in the doorway, looking down at his grandfather. Wary of what crappy job might be available to him. But enthusiastic, because a job is a job. A job is money, and money is a place of his own. A car. A life. Money is the one thing he’s never had in his life, and has always wanted. Strange tone in the old man’s voice. He hardly sounds thrilled with his achievement. ‘Who’s the friend?’

‘Man named Roy Bowles. You ever heard of Roy Bowles?’

‘Don’t think so, no.’

‘No. Well, that’s because he’s too smart to be known. Roy is . . . Well, Roy’s not a good person. I used to work for him, so I know. I’ve seen it all with my own eyes, what becomes of it. Listen to me, Oliver. If you go work for him, I want you to promise me something. I want you to promise that you won’t stop looking for a proper job. Something you don’t have to hide from people. What Roy does is rotten. Rotten from end to end.’

‘Jesus, what have you set me up with?’ Said as a joke, but the smile isn’t entirely light-hearted.

‘He buys and sells guns. Not legally, obviously. The stuff he’ll want you to do, well, he’ll want you to do donkey work. Go pick things up for him, that sort of thing. You’ll have to be smart. And discreet. Very discreet. It’ll only be now and again he uses you, so you ain’t getting rich off this. You’ll make something, and that’s a start. But not riches. Hopefully, that’ll keep you looking for something else.’

‘Okay,’ Oliver’s nodding. Actually sounds like it could be useful. Occasional work, but the pay won’t be bad. Something like that, there has to be decent money around. Come on, guns shift for good money. Could be little work with decent pay. ‘When do I go see him?’

‘Today. Afternoon. I’ll write down his address for you. And the first thing you’re going to do with any money you make is get driving lessons. You’ll need a car to be taken seriously with something like this. You don’t want people thinking you’re just some kid.’

Watching his grandson leave the room. That felt wrong. It felt like he just kicked the boy into a hole. But what else could he do? What’s the other option? Let him wander round the streets with Alex Glass, trying to impress people like Marty Jones? No fucking way. Not a chance. This is better than that. Has to be.

A shower. Struggling to get dry in a flat damper than he is. Finding some decent clothes to wear to go visit Roy Bowles. This is a chance. Then the phone’s ringing out in the hallway. Arnie’s out. Gone to the shops, as he often does. Goes out and gets a handful of things. Never just buys the week’s needs in one go. He says it’s about saving money. Oliver thinks it’s about having an excuse to get out of the flat more often. Can’t blame him. Picking up the phone.

‘Hello.’

‘Is this Oliver Peterkinney?’ There’s a slightly mocking tone in the voice, like the name is just too funny to say normally.

‘Speaking.’

‘This is Marty Jones. We should talk. Come round to the club, be here at twelve.’ And he’s hung up. Presumptuous bastard. Calling it the club, like he owns it. His brother is the manager, that’s it. Neither of them owns that dive.

A look at his watch. He can make it for midday and still have plenty of time to go see Roy Bowles. He’s out of the flat and running. Drenched in sweat is not the best way to turn up at the club, but he doesn’t have time for a stroll. Marty obviously thinks Peterkinney has transport. That he can get to the club at the drop of a hat. Thinks he can even afford a bus fare, which he can’t. Not without thinking long and hard about the other things he needs the money for. Oh boy, this amateurism is going to have to change.

He’s got to the club before midday. Taking a few minutes outside to catch his breath. Let the panting stop. Hoping he looks halfway presentable. Then stopping. Chastising himself. Wasn’t he just pissed off with Alex and Ella for fawning over Marty like he was a somebody? How is this different? Fine, this could be important. Could be a warning about last night. Could be something he really needs to hear. But the difference between five minutes early and five minutes late should be fuck-all to him. Get your head together. Remember who this is. Remember how little you care.

Into the club. Through the foyer and marching past the door to the dance floor. He knows where the office is.

‘I help you?’ someone’s shouting from behind him. Gruff and deliberately unfriendly. It’s a where-the-hell-are-you-going-without-my-permission offer of help.

‘I’m here to see Marty. He’s expecting me. Oliver Peterkinney.’ Talking to some guy sticking his head round the door from the dance floor.

‘Fine. Go on.’ His tone making it clear that he doesn’t care much either way. If you’re here to help Marty, good luck to you. If you’re here to stick a knife in him, hey, good luck to you too.

Through the heavy door and down the corridor. Knocking on the door. Hearing a shout to enter. Going in to find Marty sitting behind the desk. His brother nowhere to be seen. Marty looking at him and leaning back in the chair.

‘Close the door, kid,’ he’s saying. Kid. Marty’s thirty-three years old. He calls people kid because he heard it in a movie and thought it sounded cool. Made him feel senior to talk down to people. Starting to wonder why the really senior people don’t talk that way. Starting to think that maybe he shouldn’t. But it’s a habit now, and habits are hard to break.

Peterkinney’s closed the door. Standing in front of the desk, looking down at Marty. Quite happy to stay standing. Hoping this is going to be a short conversation. Thinking of his interview with Roy Bowles. Quite enjoying looking down on Marty.

‘Jesus, take over a seat, man,’ Marty’s saying. ‘Standing there like a fucking schoolboy.’

Peterkinney’s giving him the kind of look Marty doesn’t get often. A look that tells him he shouldn’t be talking that way to the person in front of him. Peterkinney doesn’t even know he’s doing it. More a glance than a look. Instinctive and unrecognized by Peterkinney. Spotted by Marty though. Recognized as something rare and valuable. Peterkinney’s going across and getting the chair, putting it down in front of the desk and sitting. Looking at Marty. Straight at him, holding eye contact. Keeping a cold expression.

‘So you and your mate want to do more work for me?’

‘If the work is right, yeah,’ Peterkinney’s saying. Shouldn’t be putting in conditions, but he has that Bowles interview coming up. And he doesn’t like Marty. And he’s still pissed with himself for running to get here. There’s a lot of reasons for the contempt that dripped off that sentence. Trying to establish some authority of his own is another, although that’s subconscious. He’s not thinking about authority over someone he doesn’t want to work for.

‘That’s big of you,’ Marty’s saying. Saying it with a smile though, because he likes this. Doesn’t hear it often enough. It’s amusing. ‘How would you feel about doing work alone?’

‘Without Alex? This was all his big plan. He’s the one that wants to work for you. If you’re only looking for one guy, he’s the guy you’re looking for. He’ll do whatever work you want done.’

‘And you?’

‘And I’m a little fussier.’ Making it clear that he considers himself more discerning. Maybe too discerning to work for someone like Marty.

Marty’s nodding. Impressed by the balls on this one. Talking to Marty like he’s his equal. Hell, talking to him the way people in charge talk to him. That cold tone. People like Peter Jamieson and his right-hand man John Young use it all the time. Like they don’t want to be in his company, but they’ll suffer it. Stuck-up bastards. They’ll take his money though. Oh yeah, you can bet on that. Real quick to take their cut, but don’t want to hang around with him. Don’t want to give him the opportunities to step up to bigger things that he’s earned.

BOOK: The Night the Rich Men Burned
9.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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