Cold, uncaring eyes stared out from the Polaroid pictures on the wall. Davison, Ingham and Tomma all had their mug shots up there. Joined by a number of arrows and black lines. The eyes were no colder in the Polaroid of Nick Couzens lying, blood covered, on the pavement.
D.I. Carter was a confused and worried man. “I don’t see how it works. We’ve got two dead bodies and one burnt-out house, but nothing to link them to Davison other than the fact we know they must be. Davison is in competition with Ingham and Nick Couzens worked for Davison. Ingham is in the protection business but couldn’t protect his own home. Davison’s never made a move onto Ingham’s patch before, so I don’t see why he would start now. It doesn’t make sense.” He shook his head. “Couzens died in a pub brawl. Unfortunate, but hardly pre-meditated. I would have thought he’d have moved on from that sort of stuff by now. Then there’s this joker. He pinned another photo to the board. Why did he choose to kill himself now?” Carter picked up his paper cup and took a swig of coffee. “Urghh! It’s cold.” He threw the cup in the waste paper basket and headed to the door, grabbing his coat on the way.
“I’m going out, see if I can get anything out of Davison’s wife. If nothing else, it might shake him up a bit.”
As Tomma opened the door he could hear the theme music from EastEnders coming from the television.
“All right mate,” he shouted through to Jamie.
He didn’t get any response so popped his head through the door. The television was on, but nobody was there. He walked through to the kitchen and filled the kettle. It was still warm. Tomma took a walk upstairs, the toilet door was open, the bathroom was empty. He knocked on Jamie’s door and walked straight in. He wasn’t expecting the sight he was greeted with. Sat on the bed were Ingham and two henchmen, all three brandishing shotguns.
“Good evening Mr Thompson, I think me and you need a little chat.” Ingham pulled back the barrel on his gun. “We helped ourselves to a cuppa, hope you don’t mind.”
“No,” Tomma was still attempting to take it all in, “what do you want, what have I done?”
“I think you know the answer to that one, Tomma. The small matter of a failed delivery.”
“But I delivered the parcel to Cullen yesterday, like you said.”
“Yes, you delivered a parcel to Cullen just not the one we were expecting. It was a little light if you know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t know what you mean, you mad bastard.”
“Now there’s no need for foul language, tell us where the money is, and we’ll think about letting you keep that filthy tongue of yours.”
“Why have you come to me? Why haven’t you gone to Cullen?”
“We have and after we conducted extensive enquiries we are satisfied he is not the culprit.” Ingham raised his eyebrows.
“What do you mean, extensive enquiries?” Tomma looked worried.
“We removed each of his nails, one by one, starting with his toes and then moving up to his fingers.”
Tomma felt sick.
“When that didn’t produce any answers, we got a little bit nasty, sticking knitting needles where you wouldn’t want knitting needles to go. Do you understand now?”
Tomma retched and threw up all over the bedroom carpet.
“Now you are really beginning to annoy me. Where’s the money?” Ingham was now standing with his gun pointing straight into Tomma’s face.
“I swear it was all there. Nick counted it, every last penny it was there.”
“Why the fucking hell is Nick Couzens counting the money?”
“He wanted to make sure that we weren’t being stitched. You can never trust anyone these days.”
“That’s exactly my point. It appears that Mr Davison and friends are trying to have my pants down.”
“I swear, I’m not involved.”
“Glad to hear it, but it’s all a little convenient, isn’t it? Someone attacks my family and then a delivery turns up short and the one person you put in the frame is now dead. That is why I don’t believe your little story about Nick Couzens.” Ingham smacked the butt of the gun in Tomma’s face, knocking out one of his front teeth. “If Couzens was involved, it was through direct orders from above. He’s greedy but not stupid. He wouldn’t try it on without back up.”
“I swear I know nothing about it. You have to believe me.”
“I don’t have to do anything. You’re lucky I haven’t killed you already. I’m going to do some more investigating before I visit our mutual friend Mr Davison. If you breathe a word of this conversation to him, I’ll kill you. I trust you know not to take any holidays in the near future, I wouldn’t like to come looking for you.” Ingham headed for the door, but first he launched a fierce kick into Tomma’s groin that left him doubled up in his own vomit.
“See you soon.”
Carter knocked on the door and waited. He avoided the doorbell as he knew it played the theme from the Godfather. He waited patiently and eventually Claire came to the door. Her hair was scraped back in a ponytail and she wasn’t wearing any make up although she did have on a pair of dark glasses.
“Hello, Mrs Davison. D.I. Carter, Southwick. Mind if I come in for a few minutes? I’ve got some questions I’d like to ask you.” He moved to get past Claire, she blocked his path.
“Got a warrant?” She knew the drill.
“Look, I’m not after anything. Can I call you Claire?”
“Mrs Davison is fine.”
“I’m a little worried about your husband. He seems to have been under a lot of stress recently.”
“Nice of you to be concerned. This community policing has come a long way.” She didn’t normally speak to the police, she left that to Kev and she couldn’t be bothered today. “If you want to know anything about my husband I think you had better ask him.”
“I would, but as I said, he seems to be under a lot of pressure. Are things okay at home?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business, do you?” She went to close the door, Carter placed his foot in the way.
“I wouldn’t ask normally, it’s just I couldn’t help noticing the glasses. Had a little accident, have we?” There was no point in denying it; the bruising had spread far enough for it to be obvious.
“Walked into a door.”
“As I thought. The thing is, there have been a lot of people having accidents recently. I have two dead bodies on my hands; both of them linked to your husband. Now I’m not suggesting for one moment that he is involved, but he could be in danger. Has anything changed, is there anybody new on the scene? Is there anything at all that you want to tell me?”
There was only one new face, but he wasn’t involved with Kev.
“Not that I know of. I don’t get involved in his business. Like I said, you should speak to Kev.”
“I will, don’t worry about that. I just hope I get to him before somebody else does. If you do think of anything at all, please give me a ring.” He handed her his card.
“Goodbye, constable.” Claire closed the door.
“Detective Inspector,” said Carter. Claire threw his card in the bin.
Claire read the newspaper; Mr Burns was on the front page. She hadn’t liked him at school, but it was sad that he was dead. The paper said it was suicide; he had hung himself. She wondered if this was one of the bodies that Carter had referred to. Kev had his faults, but he could hardly have been involved in a suicide.
She remembered the invitation that Pete had given her. Maybe Burns had been involved in some sex game that had gone wrong. She looked in the mirror as she poured herself another glass of wine, hoping that the bruising had gone down by the time she went to the reunion. She didn’t want to field any awkward questions.
Claire picked up the flowers that were in a vase on the sideboard. Kev had sent them. He always did when he had hit her; he thought it made everything okay. She moved them into the dining room where she couldn’t see them.
Noticing Pete’s number on the post-it note by the phone, she considered ringing him for a chat, but she knew Kev would be in soon expecting to be fed. She didn’t know what she would say if she did ring.
Claire placed the pan on the hob for the pasta and started chopping the vegetables, the onions making her cry.
“Alright, love?” said Kev as he came into the kitchen. He glanced at the paper and put it down again. “What’s for tea?”
“Pasta.” She couldn’t be bothered to make anything else. He wouldn’t care either way.
“Good. Been up to anything today?” He took the orange out of the fridge and took a swig from the bottle. She handed him a glass.
“Had a visitor earlier.”
“That’s nice, who was it?” He was looking in the fridge for something to eat while he was waiting for his pasta.
“Tea will be in a couple of minutes. Don’t eat anything now; you’ll ruin your appetite.”
He grunted and closed the fridge door.
“It was D.I. Carter from Southwick,” she said.
“What was?” said Kev.
“My visitor today.”
“What the fuck did he want?” Kev slammed the glass down and moved towards Claire. She edged backwards towards the bench. “You know not to let anyone in here unless they have a warrant.”
“I didn’t let him in. He just wanted to talk.” Claire eyed the pan of boiling water and wondered if she could reach it.
“How many times do you need to be told woman? You never talk to coppers.”
He was now standing right above Claire pinning her into the corner. She had nowhere else to go.
“He said he was worried about you. He wanted to know if there were any problems at home.”
“And I suppose you told him that I did that to you?” He pointed at her face. His voice was getting louder, more aggressive. The water in the pan was beginning to bubble over.
“I didn’t tell him anything, but I could hardly hide this could I?” She pointed at her eye with her left hand, with her right she had found the knife.
“What did he say exactly?”
“He said there were two bodies, said that you were connected to them.”
He punched the cupboard above her head as the water sizzled on the hob. Claire clenched the knife.
“He has no right coming around here saying things like that to my wife. I’ll kill him.”
“He thought you were in danger. Said you had to be careful.”
“Do you not think I can look after myself, think I’m turning soft?” He raised his hand.
“Take one more step and I’ll kill you. I swear I will.” Claire pulled the knife from behind her back and pointed it at Kev.
“What the fuck do you think you are doing?” He took a step back.
“I don’t know what your involvement is with these deaths and I don’t want to know, but I’m warning you, if you ever raise your hands to me again, yours will be the next body he’s looking at.”
“Okay, okay.” He edged back another step. “What bodies was he talking about?”
“He didn’t say, just said you were connected. I’m scared Kev. I think Mr Burns might be one of them.”
“From school, remember? He’s dead; it’s on the front of the Echo.” She lowered the knife as he picked up the paper. He read the story slowly and then threw the paper across the kitchen.
“It was suicide. How could I be involved in a fucking suicide? They know who the killer is already.”
“I just thought you were connected to Mr Burns even if you weren’t responsible for his death. Maybe that’s what he meant.”
“I don’t know any more. Whatever it is he means I’m still going to kill him if he ever comes around here again without a warrant.”
Kev suddenly made a lunge for Claire and grabbed her right arm. He squeezed it tightly until she dropped the knife.
“And I swear if you ever threaten me again I’ll kill you, you stupid bitch. That’s one murder he will be able to solve.” He stormed off towards the door. “I’m not hungry any more, I’m going out.”
Claire shook as she took the pan from the hob, she no longer had an appetite. She sobbed as she knelt to pick up the knife.
The whole house shook as the door slammed, making the windows rattle as if in the beginnings of a Los Angeles earth tremor. Gilbert was trying to ignore the row that was coming from indoors. They had become more frequent recently and however hard it was for him to do so, he tried to switch off. He created a little hole with his trowel and lovingly took the flower from its pot and placed it in the soil.
The clouds were gathering, and he wanted to get this finished before the rain started.
He surveyed the garden, his garden. Gilbert had been working here for nearly two years now and he was proud of his work. He knew he was never going to win Mastermind, but when it came to gardening, he had few equals. Yes, this was truly a great garden and it was all his creation, except for the fountain and the lions, of course. They were Kev’s idea, then again, he who pays the piper and all that.
Gilbert took a step back and took a photo with the camera he always had around his neck. Maybe one day he would get it into one of the gardening magazines. He only bought them for the pictures although Claire sometimes read the articles to him. She was good like that. She hadn’t changed that much since school, despite what other people said.
He heard the crash and saw Kev storming through the door, slamming it behind him and nearly taking the glass out.
“What are you looking at? You fucking retard.”
Gilbert had grown used to the insults by now. After all, he’d been getting them since school. Best just to say nothing. Kev was coming towards him now, his face scarlet, the vein that ran across the top of Kev’s head was now more prominent than ever. Gilbert hadn’t seen him this angry in a long time.
“I said what are you looking at?”
Gilbert realised he was staring and averted his gaze. It only succeeded in making him off guard when the blow came. The punch knocked him clean off his feet.
“Think you’re better than me, do you?” Kev aimed a kick at Gilbert’s stomach. Gilbert’s mind was racing now, confused as to what he had done.
“I don’t know what possessed me to employ a fuckwit like you in the first place. Look at the state of this garden. Flowers everywhere. Are you saying I’m queer or something? Do you fancy me? Is that it?” Kev ripped out a handful of roses, the thorns piercing the flesh of his hands, and threw them at Gilbert.
“I’m having the fucking place concreted over. I should put you beneath it. As from now, consider yourself unemployed.”
Kev ripped out a young tree and thrashed Gilbert with it; blood was now seeping between the fingers of Kev’s right hand and down the bark of the tree.
Gilbert realised he hadn’t done anything wrong at all. This was normal Kev behaviour. Something goes wrong and he blames anyone but himself.
“Fuck you, you arsehole.” Gilbert wished he could say what he was thinking. He now realised he was in pain as well. He wasn’t sure whether his jaw was broken; he couldn’t or didn’t want to move it. Kev was now systematically destroying the garden, Gilbert’s garden. That hurt more than anything else.
“What’s this for? You haven’t got any family you haven’t got any friends. Why do you need a camera?” He ripped the camera from Gilbert’s neck and threw it against the fountain where it smashed into little pieces. Gilbert forced back the tears.
“Retard.” Kev jumped into the Shogun and reversed, full speed down the drive, hitting the gatepost and knocking one of the lions to the ground.
“Gilbert? Are you all right, Gilbert?” He didn’t want to turn around. He didn’t want Claire to see him crying.
“Don’t take it personally. It’s me he’s angry with not you.” Gilbert picked up the remains of his camera and limped towards the gate. The tears were now rolling down his cheeks.
“Why did you have to marry a prick like that?” he thought.
“Take care of yourself, Gilbert.”
He could tell Claire was also crying. As he passed the fallen lion, the rain started to come down again.
Big, heavy raindrops lashed the windscreen as I drove along the seafront. Two minutes ago, the sun had been shining and then the black clouds appeared, and the heavens opened.
“It seems to have done nothing but rain since I came home,” I thought.
Through the rain I could make out the blurred figure of a man walking in the middle of the road. “Who’s this idiot?” I was about to beep the horn when I recognised the walk, shoulders hunched against the rain, and the black, biker’s jacket. I pressed the button, lowering the electric window.
“Gilbert?” I got no response. “Gilbert, it’s me Pete.”
“Fuck off.” His jaw wasn’t broken but it took a lot of effort to speak.
“Not the most stimulating conversation I’ve had recently.”
“Don’t take the piss, I’ve had enough of it.” Gilbert winced at the pain.
“Sorry, I was joking.”
“Yeah, just like everybody else.”
“I’ve said I’m sorry. Now are you going to get in the car? It’s pissing down.” I noticed the blood on Gilbert’s face.
He opened the passenger side door. “Nice car.”
“Thanks. Are you getting in?”
“I’m soaking now. I’ll mess up your seats.”
“Sod that. Get in.” I leant over and opened the door. We didn’t speak for about five minutes then I broke the silence.
“What happened to you?”
“You look like you’ve been run over by a train. Nothing to do with your illustrious employer was it?” I handed him a handkerchief.
“How did you guess?” Gilbert wiped the blood from his face.
“Some things never change. Are you all right? What was it about?”
“I’ve no idea. Like you say, some things never change. When Kev’s in one he always takes it out on someone who can’t fight back.”
“What if you could fight back? What if he couldn’t push you around anymore?”
“I wish.” Gilbert stared out of the window.
“You never know,” I said, “I might just know someone who could help. What’s that in your hand?”
“A camera; well at least it used to be. I saved for ages to get this and now that pig’s ruined it.”
“What do you take pictures of then?”
“What do you care?”
“I’m your friend Gilbert, I’m showing an interest. That’s what friends do.”
“Nobody’s taken an interest in the past, except Claire. But she’s the only one.”
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
“Anything really,” he said, “people, places, anything that catches my eye.”
“Sounds like it means a lot to you.”
“Yeah, it used to.” We pulled up outside Gilbert’s house.
“Why don’t you take this? Get yourself a new one.” I took a handful of notes from my wallet.
“No, I don’t want your charity. You can keep it; you’ve clearly worked for it. Smart suits and flash car. You must be doing well.” Gilbert went to open the door. “Thanks for the lift.”
“All right. If you don’t want to take charity, as you call it, how about selling me a couple of photos?”
“I’m assuming you’re good.”
“What would you want with my photos?”
“I’ve recently bought the old lighthouse. I’ve converted it, but it’s still lacking something. I was hoping you had some pictures to make the walls a little less bare.”
“Fair enough. Do you fancy a coffee then?” Gilbert seemed quite excited at the prospect of being a professional photographer.
Kev drove around the streets not knowing where he was going. Tomma sat in the passenger seat beside him.
“What do you think he knows? He was talking about two bodies.”
“I don’t know, Kev. You never liked Burns, nobody did. They can’t pin that on you.”
“What about the other body though? How does he know it’s us?”
He pulled into the parking space at the end of the pier and looked out to sea. He had to think quickly. He had killed Nick, it was the only way, but nobody could prove it was him. He deliberately did it where there were no close circuit television cameras to capture the act. Tomma was the only one who knew, and he was part of it, so he couldn’t say anything.
“Carter’s guessing; he has to be. What does he mean about you being in danger? We would know if someone was trying to move onto our patch.”
Tomma was as confused as Kev. Whilst he was happy that Nick was out of the way, the last thing he needed now was a turf war. He wanted to get away with as little fuss as possible. He was sure that Kev had nothing to do with the attack on Ingham’s house. He wanted to tell him about Ingham’s visit but knew he couldn’t.
“I could lie low for a few weeks and let it all blow all over.” Kev looked out to sea.
“If somebody is looking to make a move on you, the last thing you should be doing is lying low. They’ll walk all over you.”
“I could take the money and run. I’ve got enough tucked away to last a long time. I don’t need the hassle anymore.”
He ran this over and over in his head trying to think of a reason why he shouldn’t leave. He would take care of Claire; she could keep the house. He knew that Claire would never leave with him; he had already lost her.
But Claire wasn’t the only woman in his life, she was the only one people knew about. The other one brought a whole new set of problems that he didn’t want to confront.
“I’m staying put and acting as if nothing has happened.” Kev had made his mind up. “If someone wants to have a go, then let them try. If there’s going to be bloodshed, then so be it.”
The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.