Authors: Erin Kelly
Tags: #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Fiction
‘What did you employ him as?’
‘My driver. I never liked being behind the wheel myself, and Jacky was always too pissed to drive. That’s the mark of a man, not to have to drive his own car. And sometimes we . . .’ He looked almost bashful for a second, ‘Sometimes you needed a third party to drop a man off at a hospital when things had gone too far.’
Luke thought again of those leather seats, already, conveniently, the colour of dried blood, and shuddered.
‘Was that when you bought the Bentley?’
‘Outright. Cash. Showroom up London,’ nodded Grand, unable to suppress his pride even after fifty years. ‘Not bad for a first motor, eh?’
‘Not bad at all,’ agreed Luke. ‘And at that age, too.’
Grand all but purred as his ego was stroked. ‘It was a natural progression that we established our own drinking den after that, gave men somewhere to go after the pubs shut. We’d often get raided for after-hours drinking, but really the licensing laws was pretty slack in them days and all you needed to do was move a few doors down, give the place a new name, and start all over again. I learned to budget for it; even allowing for fines we was still making a hundred quid a week. But we was ambitious. We wanted in on the casinos, where the real money was.’
‘The Alhambra?’ said Luke. Grand nodded.
‘I told you that we never took on the general public, and we didn’t, but the Alhambra opened our eyes to a whole new layer of society: greedy bastards who wanted a bit of the glamour. We’d invite the big rollers down from London, let them run up massive debts using their homes or whatever as security. The things we got! Cars, furs, jewellery . . .’ Grand absently straightened his gold cufflinks and Luke wondered if they were someone’s heirloom, kept in an aristocratic family for generations, then seized as a gambling debt. ‘They was
to the corruption. They was either proper toffs who had only ever known the straight world and got bored with it, or self-made men who wanted some of our glamour to rub off. They weren’t crooks as such, but they come to us, so they was asking for it. We was rolling in money. Thousands, some weeks. We sank the lot into Le Pigalle.’
Grand shifted uneasily in his seat.
‘Are you OK?’ asked Luke.
A slight flush warmed Grand’s grey cheeks. ‘That tea’s gone straight through me,’ he said. ‘I need a piss.’ He looked at the steep staircase. ‘Have you kept the outhouse in good nick?’
Luke had only ever been in it once, the night he climbed onto the toilet seat and fumbled about in the ceiling, the night he had met Caleb, his head wound in a floss of cobwebs. The place must be pretty grim, his footprints still in the dust and grime on the seat.
‘I don’t use it. The one upstairs is much cleaner.’
‘I’m no match for them stairs. Vaughan?’
Vaughan supported Grand with one arm, picked up the oxygen cylinder with the other and led him through the little kitchen and into the yard, ducking under the back door that so easily accommodated his boss. Through the kitchen window, the picture had the air of a mother guiding her child. The logistics of what they were doing momentarily distracted Luke from the interview. Did Vaughan have to
it while Grand . . . ? Eugh. Whatever this secret inheritance of Vaughan’s was, Luke wished him well. He’d earned every penny, all the more so if he didn’t even know it existed.
In the garden, a chain flushed and the door squealed open. Footsteps dragged across the yard, and Luke and his thoughts had company again.
‘You know, the only time I really fell out with Kathleen was when I insisted on putting an indoor bathroom into this place,’ said Grand, dropping awkwardly back into his chair. ‘I converted the back bedroom when her youngest boy left home but she wasn’t happy about it. She thought that having a toilet in the house, where you washed and cooked, was disgusting, really foul. I think she was still using the outhouse right up until the end. She certainly kept it cleaner than you do.
her flowers are all dead. Don’t suppose you’ll be weeding that garden?’
‘I’m not really a green fingers sort of person,’ said Luke. He shifted through the notes on his lap until he came to the picture of Grand, Nye and the sprayed champagne.
‘Let’s have a look at that,’ said Grand. As he reached forward, the tube delivering oxygen to his nose popped out. Dignity, and the interview, were suspended for a few moments while Vaughan replaced it.
The paper shook in Grand’s hands as he studied the photograph. ‘Gawd, it’s some years since I’ve seen this. That fucking place. It was supposed to be the jewel in our crown but it turned into the nail in our coffin. Look at Jacky, he was in his element there. He loved the glamour of it, the famous faces. But do you know the
key to our success?’
‘Tell me.’ Luke settled wearily back for another homily about business acumen.
,’ said Grand with relish. ‘Men wanted somewhere to bring their girlfriends, somewhere glamorous and respectable. Say what you like about the Alhambra, it was still a boys’ club. We had it all done up to appeal to the birds: paid a fortune to have the alcoves in the wall painted up with murals, Parisian scenes, can-can dancers, all Art Nouveau. The women loved having somewhere to dress up for, and the men’d buy twice the drinks, cocktails, all the stuff with the expensive mark-ups.’
Luke saw his chance for a trick question. ‘Did you ever take Kathleen there?’ Internally he was on high alert. A yes would give lie to Grand’s insistence that they hadn’t known each other until October 1968: Le Pigalle had never reopened after Jacky’s death. A paroxysm shook Grand now, his whole body convulsing. Luke looked to Vaughan in panic. He had never seen anyone have a fit before, but Vaughan’s inaction told him that this was no medical emergency and Luke slowly recognised it as laughter.
‘What’s funny?’ He was mystified.
‘Gawd, Kathleen wouldn’t have set her little toe in somewhere like Le Pigalle.’ Grand lifted his glasses to wipe a watering eye. Naked of its lens, it suddenly appeared twice its usual size. ‘My little Irish widow in a nightclub. Oh, the very
of it. No, boy.’
‘It’s just . . .’ Luke could almost hear the crunch of eggshells beneath his feet, but Grand had invited this. ‘You said – I overheard you say – that she was the only one who knew, and I suppose part of me presumed that she was the only one who remembered your, uh, glory days. I’m not judging you: just because you turned your back on crime doesn’t mean you can’t go down memory lane every now and again. I can see the appeal of wanting to be with someone who knew the old you.’
’ Grand’s face darkened with anger and his lungs rattled. Shit: he had pushed it too far. Luke quailed to see Vaughan towering over him, but Grand gathered himself, palmed the air downwards and the driver dropped into his chair with the obedience of a marionette.
‘How can you think that, when you know what Kathleen was like? You couldn’t be more wrong. I didn’t love Kathleen because she knew I was bad. I loved her because she was the only one who knew I was
‘Kathleen was innocent to the point of ignorance,’ said Grand into Luke’s bewildered silence. ‘She must have been one of the few people in Brighton who’d never heard of Joss and Jacky. She hadn’t grown up here, remember. She had no idea who I was. I mean, she had no idea about my reputation. But she
me all right. When I say she was the only one who knew, I mean, she was the only one who knew the
me. She was the first person I ever met where my name wasn’t poisoned by his.’
‘Hang on, hang on,’ said Luke. ‘Let’s backtrack a bit here.
‘Look, I had a lot of moments I’m not proud of, and I don’t deny I was a greedy little bastard. But I was never out of control. I’ll hold my hands up, I was in it for the money, but Jacky . . . Jacky was in it for kicks.’
‘Was in what for kicks?’
‘Violence, boy. Brawls, beatings, torture, you name it. I saw it as a necessary evil, in the early days at least. He would’ve done it for free.’
This was taking denial to a new level. Luke tried to let his frustration simmer in silence, the better to see where Grand was going with this.
‘Jacky never understood, right, that once we was at the top of our game, we had to change the way we played it. After a certain level of power, you have to
from violence. Or at least, you leave it to the footsoldiers. The very action that earns you respect in the beginning undermines it once you’ve made it. You can’t be having a bloke drive you around town in a Bentley and you’re still roughing up kids in clubs. But Jacky couldn’t stop.’
Luke took a deep breath. ‘With respect . . . this is a complete contradiction . . .’
‘Yes?’ challenged Grand.
‘This goes against everything you’ve said so far, and everything I’ve read about you,’ said Luke.
‘Or does it just go against everything you’d
‘It’s the same thing,’ said Luke. ‘Everything I know about you comes from our interviews and the research I’ve done.’
‘Crap you read on the internet.’
‘Reports I read in the archives.’
Was this stalemate? Luke looked hopelessly to Vaughan but he was as impassive as ever.
‘Ian Foxlee, Bill Bennett, Robert Wilding,’ said Grand.
Luke was thrown. ‘What? Who?’
‘Write them names down.’ He waited while Luke flipped to a clean page and spelled each name out. ‘OK, now go to your precious archives and look them up. They all served time, common assault, affray, demanding money with menaces. All men with records who done time for things that Jacky had done. It was an industry in itself, taking money for his crimes. They earned more money for taking the rap for the job than we’d ever have given them for actually doing it.’
Grand was almost convincing as he gave Luke a mesmerist’s stare.
‘But that truss you used to tie people up. You admit yourself
invented that. You told the police you did.’
Grand sagged in his seat and a wave of shame washed his features clean.
‘That fucking truss . . . follow me around for ever, it will. Make you right, I did come up with it, but I did it to
him. Well, to put the brakes on. That’s why I got so pissed off when they called it torture.’
‘But . . .’ It was a struggle for Luke to make his point without seeming too bold. ‘I’d call leaving someone tied up in the same position for hours while you interrogate them pretty torturous.’
‘No. No. In fact it let you
on the violence.’ Grand took a few deep breaths. ‘It was the
that mattered. The tease, the threat of it. The acid drop that burns a hole in the floor, the razor that catches the light. Let them glimpse that for a bit while they were already tied up, and they’d agree to our terms, or tell us what we wanted, and I wouldn’t have to let Jacky loose on them. Not that it always stopped him.’
A thought came to him. ‘But what about Zammit? That was all you.’
‘Oh, of course it wasn’t,’ said Grand. ‘Jacky got stuck into him, didn’t he? That’s why I had to send him home with those films, just to get him out of the way. It was like dangling your car keys in front of a baby to stop it crying. Jacky would have killed him otherwise. I done it to save the man’s life. I was just the one they found, that’s all.’
‘But I don’t understand. If he did the beating, why did
take the blame for it?’
As he spoke, his old theory nudged at his thoughts. You were more likely to take the blame for a lover than a friend, weren’t you?
‘Because I didn’t think they were fucking well going to nick him, too, did I? What was the point of both of us going down?’ Grand was growing impatient, as though this was something that he’d already explained several times. This seemed convincing enough; Luke dismissed his theory again. ‘Actually, if you don’t believe me, you’ll have the proof somewhere already. It’ll be in those notes. It’s been staring you in the face the whole time. I’m surprised it wasn’t the first question you asked me, to be honest.’
‘Look at our time in prison,’ said Grand conclusively.
‘Yeah, but . . . I would have thought that your conviction for torture versus his for theft would prove
point, not yours.’
Grand shook his head. ‘Ignore the sentences we was
. Look at the stretches we
Luke flipped through his notes to the spreadsheet he’d made, the timeline that compared both men’s movements from birth. They had been sent down in the same month, May 1957, and released just as they had been born, a week apart, in April 1960. So what? They did everything together. That wasn’t news.
‘I done three years of a six-year sentence. I kept my head down, done my time, got out early. Model prisoner. Jacky served his full three-year-term, to the day. Who does that? Who serves a whole sentence without remission?’
Realisation crashed over Luke. Grand was right. For all that he’d written those dates down time and again, he hadn’t bothered to see what they were telling him because he was only looking for things that confirmed what he knew. What he
he knew. Confirmation bias tripped up even the best reporters.
‘Someone who gets into trouble on the inside,’ said Luke.
Relief and triumph were layered on Grand’s face. ‘He picked one fight after another,’ he confirmed. ‘Assaulted the guards, arranged riots, brewed moonshine: any trouble you can get into in prison, he did. He’d have served over and above his sentence if I hadn’t been sent to Lewes to calm him down. I don’t know if you can access the prison records but they’d show you that his time for the things he was done for in nick were longer than for the things he’d done outside. What’s up with you, catching flies?’
Luke clamped shut the mouth that had fallen open.