These are the opening four chapters of Heads You Lose, which is the sequel to Lifting the Lid and the second book in the ‘Lifting the Lid’ series.
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For details of Lifting the Lid (Book 1 in the Lifting the Lid series), click here.
Careful now, Trevor. Careful. You know what’ll happen if he sees you. — Pain. That’s what’ll happen, Trev. And I’m not talking about the brain-freeze kind of pain you get from eating ice cream too quickly. No, Trev, I’m talking about the kind of pain that you probably never even imagined that one human being could possibly inflict on another. The kind of pain Dustin Hoffman felt when Larry Olivier drilled through his front teeth in Marathon Man. — Maybe even worse. It’ll be like passing kidney stones and giving birth at the same time. Have you ever known anybody do that, Trev? Have you? — Well, okay, maybe not at the same time, but that’s the kind of pain you can expect if he sees you, Trev. You mark my words.
The voice in Trevor’s head was starting to get seriously annoying and was only adding to his already off-the-scale anxiety level. One good clean shot was all he needed, and then he was out of there. But first he had to get his hands back under control. And not just his hands either. His whole body had developed a sudden and severe attack of the shakes, and the night was nowhere near cold enough to blame it on impending hypothermia. It was fear that was giving him the jitters. And who in their right mind wouldn’t have been afraid? The guy was enormous. The guy in the knee-length black leather coat with the upturned collar on the opposite side of the street who’d just come out of the Pontiac Club. The guy that Sandra had persisted in calling “the target”.
Ethan “Mountainman” Machin was a recently retired heavyweight boxer with a reputation for swinging his fists almost as often outside the ring as in it. This had resulted in a couple of periods when he’d been detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, and according to most of the pundits, it was these interruptions to his career that had prevented him from making it to the very top of his profession. Still, he’d done pretty well for himself in terms of prize money, and judging by the way he was chatting and laughing with the young woman he currently had his arm draped around, he didn’t appear to harbour any regrets.
She must have been a good fifteen years younger than Machin and was well over a foot shorter. She was wearing one of those creamy-grey fur jackets that ended above the waist, and the blue silky dress underneath was cut low at the front. The hair and the eyes said she was probably Japanese or Chinese, but Trevor couldn’t remember the rhyme about how you tell the difference. Not that it really mattered. Sandra would no doubt have given him a bollocking for being politically incorrect anyway.
Machin stuck out a dinner plate hand to hail a passing cab, but it failed to stop. If he got lucky with the next one, Trevor would have missed his opportunity. Another wasted night — the third on the trot — trailing round after a retired boxer when he’d much rather have been at home watching the telly. He’d come close the evening before, but at the very moment he’d had Machin and his girlfriend crystal clear in his sights, some bloody autograph hunter had stepped into the firing line and stayed put until they’d disappeared inside yet another of Mountainman’s favourite watering holes.
Trevor took several deep breaths to try and steady his nerves and braced his elbows against the frame of the open car window. Now or never, Trev. Now or never.
He rested the tip of his finger on the button and focused, but a sudden tremor made him apply a little more pressure than he’d intended, and there was a loud “click” and a burst of white light, which momentarily illuminated the entire area.
‘Oh, bloody Nora,’ he said aloud, realising that he’d forgotten to turn off the flash before taking the photograph.
He fleetingly considered firing off another couple of shots but decided against it. Mountainman Machin had obviously clocked the camera flash, and it didn’t take him long to figure out that he and his girlfriend were the photographer’s unwilling subjects. He’d already set off across the street, and given the length of his stride, he’d be on top of Trevor in seconds.
Trevor dumped the Pentax onto the passenger seat and turned the key in the ignition. There was a dull, whirring noise from the engine but nothing that even faintly resembled a throaty roar. He tried again, but the engine merely churned in chorus with his own stomach. He stole a glance to his right. Machin was more than half way across the road by now, and if it had been a sunny day, his huge frame would easily have created its own eclipse.
‘Come on, you bastard,’ said Trevor, and at the third time of asking, the engine fired into life.
He slammed the Peugeot into gear, but before he could let out the clutch, a tree branch of an arm had thrust itself through the open side window and what felt like a steel claw had grabbed him by the front of his padded anorak. Trevor’s foot slipped off the clutch pedal, and the car lurched forward, coming to an abrupt halt six feet later when it smashed into the back of a parked BMW. Machin staggered and fell but was back on his feet again inside a count of two and had yanked open the Peugeot’s door before Trevor had time to even think of backing up and making his escape. The Mountainman had to bend almost double to bring his face in front of Trevor’s and was about to speak when he suddenly snapped himself upright again at the sound of a voice from behind him.
‘Excuse me.’ The voice was public school, loud and indignant, but Trevor couldn’t see who it belonged to through Machin’s vast bulk.
‘You just tap me on da shoulder?’ For a man of his size, Machin’s voice was curiously high pitched. A couple of octaves higher and only dogs would have been able to hear him. And either he had a very bad cold or his nose had been broken so many times he’d lost the ability to pronounce his dental fricatives.
‘That’s my BMW you just smacked into,’ said its invisible owner.
‘Beamer, eh? Well, ain’t you da lucky boy den,’ said Machin and was beginning to resume his bent double position when there was another tap on his shoulder.
‘I’m going to need the driver’s insurance details.’
‘No, man. I dink you gonna need da casualty department before dat.’
Trevor heard a loud crack and then briefly caught his first sight of the BMW owner as he catapulted backwards and bounced off the bonnet of the Peugeot and onto the ground.
‘You!’ There was no escaping who it was that Mountainman was addressing now since he’d stooped down again and was staring into Trevor’s face. ‘Outta da car unless you want some o’ da same.’
Trevor definitely didn’t want “some o’ da same” or something that even vaguely resembled it, so he did as he was told. It was a fairly safe bet that he was going to get “some o’ da same” whether he got out of the car or not, but for now, compliance was probably the better option. Machin had left him little room to carry out the manoeuvre, however, and he stood with his back pressed against the doorframe of the car and his nose almost touching the Mountainman’s barrel of a chest. A strong smell of whisky drifted down from above.
‘You takin’ pictures of me?’
Trevor craned his neck upwards, but the overhang of Machin’s Desperate Dan chin made any eye contact impossible. ‘Pictures?’
‘You pepperoni creeps really piss me off, you know dat?’
Trevor assumed he meant “paparazzi” but decided against correcting him. ‘No, no, I’m not… one of what you just said. I’m a er…’
Come on, Trevor, think. You’re a what? You’re working for a private detective agency and you’ve been paid to get divorce snaps of the guy hanging out with his latest floozy? Yeah, that ought to do it.
‘I’m er — I’m putting together a book. Photographs. Coffee table sort of thing, you know? Hundred best nightclubs from all around Britain. That sort of thing. And you just happened to be—’
‘So show me.’
‘All dese pictures of all dese nightclubs you got on da camera.’
Trevor swallowed. ‘Well, obviously I haven’t got all the—’
The larynx-crushing grip around his throat prevented him from completing the sentence, and his feet lost contact with the ground. For the first time, he was able to look into Machin’s blue-black, red-rimmed eyes, and as far as their being the windows to the soul was concerned, things weren’t looking too promising.
‘Show. Me. Da. Camera,’ said Mountainman, emphasising each word by ramming Trevor’s back against the side of the car.
Trevor felt himself being slowly lowered back down to the ground, and fighting to get some air back into his lungs, he reached in and grabbed the Pentax from the passenger seat. It was a big, expensive piece of kit with a telephoto lens, but in Machin’s hand, it looked like a compact.
‘Nice,’ he said, holding it up to his face and pointing it towards the club entrance across the street. ‘Gimme a smile, honey.’
Trevor shifted his head to one side and peered round him. The Oriental-looking woman struck a pose that was more like Rodin’s The Thinker than anything you were ever likely to see at a Kate Moss photo shoot. Then there was a “click” and a flash, followed by half a dozen more, and for every shot, Miss Japan (or China) came up with a pose that was equally as absurd as the first. But all the time Machin seemed to be enjoying himself, he wasn’t bothering to check through the pictures Trevor had taken and discover he’d been lying. The great lummox probably didn’t have a clue how to do it anyway, and Trevor certainly wasn’t about to offer him a tutorial.
‘Hey, Kazumi, I got an idea,’ the lummox shouted. ‘Get your cute little butt over here, yeah?’
‘What for?’ came the heavily accented reply.
Machin’s tone hardened. ‘Just do it, yeah?’
Kazumi gathered up the skirt of her silky blue dress and stepped off the pavement, only narrowly avoiding being crushed by a passing black cab.
‘And watch da damn road,’ Machin yelled over the blare of the taxi horn.
She looked left and right and then hobbled her way across the road, her forward movement impeded by the pencil skirt of her dress and the height of her stilettos. The whiff of an expensive scent heralded her arrival, and Trevor could see that she was even better looking than she’d appeared through the viewfinder of his camera. In fact, she was a stunner and could very easily have made it as a model if it wasn’t for her rubbish posing ability. Her features reminded him of the woman in that Green Lady print which used to be all the rage back in the seventies, except her complexion wasn’t in the least bit green or even blue.
‘Quit your gawping and take holda dis,’ said Machin, thrusting the Pentax at Trevor’s chest. ‘You gonna dake some nice pics of me and my girl.’
Trevor took the camera and waited while Mountainman threw his arm round his girlfriend’s tiny waist and pulled her close. How very odd, he thought. He’s actually ordering me to do exactly the same thing that a minute ago he was about to batter me to a pulp for.
He raised the camera and framed the happily smiling couple in the viewfinder. Focusing was tricky, though, as his hands were trembling even worse than before.
‘Hold da ding steady for Christ’s sake,’ said Machin. ‘I don’t want dese comin’ out all blurry.’
Trevor took another deep breath and tried to reassure himself that there was nothing to be anxious about. Surely what this meant was that Machin had changed his mind about inflicting any actual — or quite possibly grievous — bodily harm on him? He clicked away while Machin and the woman alternated between gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes and beaming into the camera lens. There was even a couple of shots of the pair of them kissing. Sandra’s going to be well impressed with this, he thought. Not to mention Mrs Mountainman — although for rather different reasons of course.
‘Okay, dat’s enough,’ said Machin, his joyful smile suddenly transformed into a glower which he no doubt usually reserved for the boxing ring.
Trevor lowered the camera. ‘If you give me your address, I can send you prints if you like.’
The glower intensified.
Bit too cocky with that one, wouldn’t you say, Trev?
Machin held out his hand. ‘Gimme da camera.’
Trevor handed it over.
‘Get in da car and take da handbrake off.’
‘Wh—?’ Trevor didn’t even finish the syllable. Machin’s raised eyebrow and slight inclination of his head towards the open driver’s door was enough to freeze it on his tongue.
He got into the car and released the handbrake while the Mountainman crouched down and then uncoiled himself just far enough to make eye contact with Trevor, the Pentax no longer in his hand.
‘Now reverse,’ he said. ‘But slowly.’
Trevor braced his ears for the inevitable sound of splintering metal and plastic as he rolled the car backwards. Less expected was the sharp hiss of air from a newly punctured front tyre.
‘Oh dear,’ said Machin, his tone dripping with insincerity. ‘Now nobody’ll get to see any o’ dem lovely pictures. Still, da main ding is nobody got hurt, right?’
‘So no hard feelings den, yeah?’
Machin held out his gorilla paw of a hand, his grin not even close to the beaming smile he’d worn for the camera a couple of minutes earlier. Trevor hesitated but realised he had no choice but to reciprocate.
The pain was immediate and excruciating as Machin mangled and crushed his fingers with no more apparent effort than most normal people would use to squeeze a tube of toothpaste. A reflex howl of agony only made it halfway up his throat before the Mountainman wrenched him from the car, and when Trevor glanced down at what was left of his hand, he caught the briefest glimpse of Machin’s right fist thundering up towards his face. An explosion inside his head. Then blackness.
Contrary to the old proverb that a watched pot never boils, Jackie Summerfield had been staring at the electric kettle from the moment she’d turned it on, and it had long since come to the boil and switched itself off. But she was far too busy rehearsing her lines to notice. Today was the day. She couldn’t put off telling him any longer. He’d make one hell of a fuss of course, but that was nothing out of the ordinary these days. Only yesterday, he’d kicked up a right old stink just because she’d suggested he ought to wear a hat if he was going to sit in the sun for much longer. Then there was the time when—
‘You making tea?’
Her husband’s voice snapped her out of her contemplation, and she let go of the marble worktop and turned towards him. He wasn’t even looking in her direction but was rummaging through the contents of the cupboard beneath the sink. The patch of skin amongst the greying brown hair on the crown of his head was definitely getting bigger. At least twice the golf ball size it had been the last time she’d noticed, although she couldn’t remember when that might have been.
‘You seen the insect spray?’
Jackie added one of her own. ‘What’s it for?’
‘Bloody great hornet in my study. Can’t get rid of the bugger.’
‘You’ve tried shooing it out of the window?’
‘Of course I— Ah, here it is.’
Simon pulled himself upright, clutching a large aerosol can and shaking it next to his ear. As he did so, his sunglasses dislodged themselves from their perch on top of his head, and he grabbed them as they fell. ‘You told him yet?’
‘I’m just taking him his breakfast,’ said Jackie and flicked the switch on the kettle to reboil it.
‘We can’t leave it any longer, Jack. I mean there’s all the—’
‘Did you know we were out of honey?’
‘What? — Oh yeah, there was only a bit left. I had it with my yoghourt.’
Jackie sighed and put two slices of white bread in the toaster, then crossed to the other side of the kitchen and took a jar of raspberry jam from the fridge. She was aware that Simon was watching her every move and wondered why he was still there.
‘I thought you had a monster hornet to deal with,’ she said, returning to the fridge to fetch butter and a carton of milk.
Simon looked at the aerosol can in his hand as if he was surprised to find it there.
‘Yes indeed,’ he said. ‘Let battle commence.’
He held the can aloft as if it were the aerosol equivalent of Excalibur and set off across the open-plan living room, his flip-flops flip-flopping against the pale grey marble tiles.
Chirpy really didn’t suit him, thought Jackie, but she knew exactly why it was. There was a shitty job to be done, but this time there could be no argument about which one of them would have to do it. It was entirely her responsibility, so Simon was completely in the clear for once and loving every minute of it.
* * *
Not for the first time, Jackie recoiled at the smell of pee and stale cigarette smoke when she opened the door to her father’s bedroom. In the gloom, she could just make out his tanned and heavily lined face above the top of the bedclothes, and as far as she could tell, his eyes were closed. His breathing was deep and laboured, almost as if he were snoring, but more than likely he was only faking it. It was something he often did, probably because it gave him something else to shout at her about when he pretended she’d woken him “at some godforsaken bloody hour” for no good reason.
She set his breakfast tray down on a low wooden chest at the foot of his double bed and opened the blinds of both windows. Her father groaned and hauled the bedclothes up over his head when the bright sunlight blazed into the room, and Jackie would have smiled to herself at the repetition of the daily ritual if it hadn’t been for her anxiety over what she was about to tell him.
‘Morning, Dad,’ she said, returning to the tray and collecting a tumbler of water and a small plastic cup which was almost full with a dozen or so tablets of various colours, shapes and sizes.
‘Bugger off,’ came the muffled reply from beneath the bedclothes.
Jackie moved to the head of the bed, taking care not to trip over the metal stand of the catheter bag and its nightsworth of cloudy urine.
‘Pills first, then breakfast,’ she said, looking down at the gnarled and nicotine-stained fingers which kept a tight grip on the bedclothes, the only parts of him that were now visible.
There was no response, so she used up a few seconds mentally rehearsing the bombshell she was about to drop.
‘Dad?’ she said when she felt she’d got the words clear in her mind.
‘You need to take your tablets.’ Yes, better to get them down him first and then tell him.
‘I thought I told you to bugger off.’
Jackie put the glass of water down on the bedside table and took hold of the bedclothes with her free hand. After a brief tug-of-war, which her father won easily, she deposited the tablet cup next to the glass of water and resumed the battle with both hands. For a man in his early seventies, Marcus Ingleby was much stronger than he liked people to think, but he was still no match for his daughter’s two-handed assault on the bedclothes.
She avoided the venomous glare she knew he was giving her by turning away and picking up the tablets from the bedside table.
‘You want to sit up now?’ she said, taking him gently by the upper arm.
Ingleby brushed her aside. ‘I can manage. I’m not a bloody vegetable.’
He hoisted himself up into an awkward approximation of a sitting position and snatched the plastic cup of tablets from Jackie’s hand, almost spilling the contents in the process. He tipped a few onto his palm. ‘Water?’
She passed him the tumbler and strolled over to one of the windows. It was tempting to throw it open to let some fresh air into the room, but she knew he’d throw a fit, and this was no time to upset him any more than she had to. Instead, she folded her arms and stared down at the reflection of a single small cloud on the mirror smooth surface of the swimming pool.
She cleared her throat. ‘Simon and I have been thinking.’
There was a loud grunting sound from the bed behind her.
‘The thing is,’ she went on, ‘we’ve got a few things we really need to do back in England, and we can’t put them off any longer.’
She waited for the expected tirade, but none came. Either he was thinking over what she’d said or he had a mouthful of pills. She glanced over her shoulder as he glugged back the last of the water and screwed up his face in distaste.
‘Breakfast?’ he said, unusually articulating the word more as a request than a command.
‘Do you need your teeth?’
‘What is it? Rump steak?’
‘Then, no, I don’t need me sodding teeth, do I?’
Jackie transferred the breakfast tray from the chest at the foot of the bed to his lap.
‘It might even be for a few weeks,’ she said, ‘but obviously we’d get someone in to look after you while we’re away, and we’d—’
‘Where’s the honey?’ Ingleby was holding a triangular piece of toast between forefinger and thumb and eyeing it’s generous covering of raspberry jam with deep suspicion.
‘We’ve run out. Sorry.’
‘Jesus,’ said Ingleby and took a large bite out of the toast with his few remaining teeth. ‘This is Greece, for Christ’s sake. Whole bloody country’s awash with the stuff and you run out?’
Jackie ignored the remark in the interests of resolving the real matter at hand. ‘So what do you think?’
‘I think it’s bloody incredible. That’s what I think.’
‘I mean about Simon and I going to—’
‘D’you know,’ said Ingleby through a mouthful of toast, ‘that when bees find a good place to get pollen — or whatever else it is they make honey from — they do this little dance inside the ‘ive which tells all their mates where to find it? Amazing thing, Nature.’
He grinned up at her, chewing the toast with his mouth wide open.
‘The thing is, Dad,’ said Jackie, undeterred from her course of action, ‘we need to get someone in that you’re going to be happy with. Somebody who can do all the cooking and stuff and make sure you take all your medicine on time and—’
‘Oh dear.’ Her father’s grin morphed into an expression of palpably insincere embarrassment.
‘What is it?’
‘I think maybe…’ Ingleby began and then lifted the breakfast tray from his lap. ‘’Ere, take this, will yer?’
She took the tray from him, and he raised the bedclothes to peer underneath.
‘Oh yeah. Seems like me catheter tube got disconnected somehow,’ he said, then shifted his gaze upwards to meet Jackie’s, his grin back in place and spread even wider than before. ‘Oops. Bit of a damp patch, I’m afraid.’
Someone had hammered a blunt chisel into the centre of Trevor’s forehead and then poured molten lead into the hole so that it channelled its way to every part of his brain. That’s how it felt anyway.
Okay, so he’d be the first to admit he had an exceptionally low pain threshold. He couldn’t even bear to watch hospital dramas on the TV in case his synapses started to over-empathise with whatever body part happened to be under the knife at the time. His ex-wife, Imelda, used to tell him he was a wimp or an attention-seeking wuss or something equally unsympathetic whenever he complained of being unwell or in pain. But what did she know? Two-faced, deceitful cow had had the bedside manner of Vlad the Impaler’s more evil sister.
But surely even she would have been forced to concede that what he was going through now was about as excruciating as agony could possibly get and way beyond the point where even the likes of Rocky Balboa would have thrown in the towel and begged for mercy.
He stared up at the ceiling and contemplated reaching behind him to adjust one of the three pillows which had slithered down to a less than ergonomic position just below his right shoulder but decided that such a movement would almost inevitably slosh the molten lead to some other part of his head that it hadn’t yet explored. Sighing was also out of the question since this seemed to cause the ball bearings in his neural pathways to run amok with their own particular version of pinball croquet.
And where the hell was Sandra? She’d promised she’d call in on her way home from work, and it must be at least… He swivelled his eyeballs sideways as far as they would go, but there was no way he could make out the clock on his bedside table without turning his head.
‘Bollocks,’ he said and instantly regretted the involuntary sigh which followed.
It was mostly her fault he was in this state in the first place. If she hadn’t have got him to—
The front door opened, and Sandra’s voice drifted up the stairs: ‘You still in bed up there?’
‘Yes.’ — Course I’m still in bed. I’m in a serious amount of pain in case you hadn’t noticed before.
‘Yes.’ The effort of increasing his volume made his brain rattle.
‘I’ll be up in a tick. You want a cuppa?’
He wasn’t sure.
— Oh God, I don’t know. Stop asking me these questions, will you?
He closed his eyes but opened them again when he heard footsteps on the stairs.
Sandra appeared in the bedroom doorway with a kind of mocking grin that Trevor considered highly inappropriate. More annoying still was that the grin accentuated her already prominent cheekbones and added a sparkle to the intense electric blue of her eyes. In his present mood, the last thing he wanted was for Sandra to be looking quite that attractive. It had been a source of no little regret on his part that in the eighteen months they’d known each other, they’d become nothing more than very close friends. They saw each other on an almost daily basis, working together, socialising together and even occasionally bickering as if they were a long-married couple, but nothing could have been further from the truth. And now here she stood, smirking and looking… well, perhaps not quite making it into the “drop-dead-gorgeous” category but definitely worthy of something slightly less life-threatening. There was something else about her too. — Yes, that was it. She’d had her hair done. A bit of a trim to keep it an inch or so from being shoulder length and a shade more honey-coloured than her usual blonde. So that was why she was late.
‘It’s a tossup, I know,’ said Sandra, ‘but I have to say Ralph Fiennes did it for me rather more in The English Patient – even with all the bandages.’
‘Oh yeah? Well, I’ve got more plasters and bandages on me than he ever did. — In fact, I’ve got more plasters and bandages than Tutankhamun’s mummy.’
‘Not sure they actually had plasters in the days of the pharaohs, but never mind. How you feeling?’
Her tone was still much too chirpy, but there seemed to be real concern behind the question.
‘Bad,’ said Trevor. ‘Worse if anything.’
‘Oh.’ Sandra approached the bed and held out a brown paper bag. ‘Here. I got you some grapes.’
He felt himself go almost cross-eyed as he forced his eyes downwards to peer into the bag without tilting his head. ‘Seedless?’
‘Not sure I can.’
‘Eat anything. Everything hurts. When I move.’
Sandra scanned the room. ‘Where’s Milly?’
‘Washing her hair, is she?’
‘Wouldn’t stop jumping on me and licking my face—’ He tensed rigid at the sudden blaze of fire somewhere near his frontal lobe. ‘So I shut her in.’
‘Pity. They say dogs’ saliva is a very effective antiseptic.’
Trevor didn’t respond.
‘She’s being incredibly quiet,’ said Sandra, taking off her cream cotton jacket and dropping it onto the bed. ‘Normally she’d be—’
‘I gave her one of my sedatives.’
‘You did what?’
‘She’ll be fine. She’s had them before.’ He made a half-hearted attempt to reach one of the wayward pillows behind his shoulder but gave up with a scowl.
‘You want a hand with that?’ Without waiting for an answer and ignoring his yelps and groans, Sandra managed to ease his upper body far enough forward so she could drag the pillow up behind his head.
She stood looking down at him for several seconds, and Trevor saw that the chirpiness had vanished from her expression. She perched herself next to him and took hold of his hand. ‘You don’t… blame me, do you?’
He summoned the courage to raise an eyebrow.
‘For what happened?’ she added.
Trevor thought about it. — Well, yes, I do blame you actually, but only in a round about sort of way, I suppose. You didn’t exactly force me to become a partner in your private investigator business, and it was the luck of the draw that I’d got the job of tailing an ex heavyweight boxer to try and get evidence that he was, as Mrs Mountainman Machin put it, “throwing a few jabs outside the ring”. And, to be fair, it was probably my own fault that Machin had spotted me with the camera and used my face for pummelling practice.
‘So you obviously do blame me, or you wouldn’t need so much time to think about it,’ said Sandra after he’d failed to answer straight away.
‘No, of course I don’t. It’s just that I don’t know if I’m cut out for this kind of work, that’s all.’
‘You’d rather go back to Dreamhome Megastores, would you?’
The very thought of working at that shrine to mind-numbing tedium gave Trevor the sweats, but at least nobody beat the crap out of you there. Not physically anyway.
‘They made me redundant if you remember.’
Sandra helped herself to a handful of grapes from the bag. ‘Thing is, Trev, unless the trade in jealous spouses picks up, you might have to. Look for another job, I mean. If not Dreamhome, then somewhere else. Me too.’
‘Eh?’ He knew that they’d been subsidising the detective agency with what was left of the cash from the Harry Vincent business, but he’d assumed there was still plenty left in the kitty. ‘What about the Vincent money?’
She shrugged. ‘Down to the last couple of grand.’
Trevor gave a low whistle, but he cut it short when his teeth started to throb. ‘Maybe we need to… What’s the word? Diversify.’
‘Into what exactly?’
It was Trevor’s turn to shrug. ‘Perhaps we could…’ he began but tailed off when all that came to mind were phrases like “thinking outside the box” and “horizon scanning” which he’d picked up when he’d been forced to endure those godawful training sessions at Dreamhome Megastores. In any case, thinking even inside the box made his brain hurt, and talking sent spasms of shrieking pain to every part of his body from the knees upwards. From now on, if he needed to communicate, he’d use mime for the simple stuff and paper and pen for anything more complicated.
‘Well, oh wise one?’ said Sandra. ‘I’m all agog to hear this earth-shattering idea of yours.’
Trevor drew an imaginary zip across his lips and then pointed to his face before holding his palms close to the sides of his head and moving them back and forth several times. He’d always been rubbish at charades, but Sandra seemed to get the message.
‘Oh great,’ she said. ‘So now I’ve got Harpo Marx for a partner. — I may as well go and put the kettle on.’
She got to her feet and was almost at the door when the opening bars of Mamma Mia blared out from her mobile. Trevor’s instinct was to cover his ears to blot out the din, but he knew the agonising price he’d have to pay for such a rapid movement, so he waited patiently while Sandra came back to the bed and fished the phone out of her jacket pocket. She checked the display and then waved the mobile in his direction.
‘Aha,’ she said — which was kind of appropriate, given her choice of ringtone. ‘What you were saying just now about diversifying? This might be precisely the sort of thing you were on about.’
Eric took off his heavy-rimmed spectacles and huffed and puffed on the circular lenses before polishing them with an immaculately pressed powder blue handkerchief from the top pocket of his jacket.
‘It’s like when you see funerals in films,’ he said, returning the spectacles to the bridge of his nose and staring fixedly at the massive wooden gates of the prison through the persistent grey drizzle. ‘Always pissing it down. — Or snowing. Sometimes it’s snowing. Never in bright sunshine though, are they? Like prisons. They just don’t look right if they’re bathed in sunlight, do they?’
He waited a few seconds for his granddaughter to answer, and when she didn’t, he turned towards her. She was still reading the magazine that she’d propped open against the steering wheel when they’d first arrived nearly an hour ago. Since then, she’d hardly spoken more than a couple of words. It wasn’t that she was sulking exactly, although this was one of the rare occasions when she’d made it abundantly clear she wasn’t happy about giving him a lift somewhere. No, not sulking. Not like her mother. Her mother could sulk for England and never did anything for anybody unless she could see some benefit in it for herself. Physically though, Kate had inherited almost every aspect of her mum’s good looks. The long, sleek black hair. The pale, flawless complexion. The ever so slightly upturned nose and those grey-green eyes that could wither or delight you, depending on how she felt at the time.
He wiped a patch of condensation from the windscreen with the back of his hand and turned his attention back to the prison gates. They were still only just visible through the film of rain that had settled on the outside of the glass.
‘Give the wipers a dab, will you, sweetheart?’ he said. ‘Don’t want to miss him, do we?’
Without even looking up from her magazine, Kate switched on the ignition and let the windscreen wipers run for a few seconds before turning it off again. She flicked over a page. ‘How much longer, d’you think?’
‘Should be any minute now. They’re usually fairly prompt.’
Eric had scarcely finished the sentence when a door in the prison gates opened and out stepped a grey-haired man with a ruddy face and a belly the size of which his long, shabby overcoat couldn’t disguise. The door slammed shut, and he dropped his canvas holdall to the ground and pulled his coat tighter around him.
‘There he is,’ said Eric and threw open the car door.
He hurried towards the man in the overcoat, who spotted him immediately and came to meet him, limping heavily and walking with the aid of a stick.
‘Frank, you old bugger,’ said Eric, throwing his arms out wide as the gap narrowed between them.
The two men hugged, and then Frank took a step backwards.
‘Eh up,’ he said. ‘You’ve not turned queer, have yer? I had enough o’ that malarkey in there.’
Eric laughed. ‘What, you?’ he said, giving Frank the once-over. He was in his early seventies — a couple of years younger than Eric — but his time inside clearly hadn’t been kind to him, and he could easily have been taken for nearer eighty.
‘Aye well, ‘appen I’ve let meself go a bit lately, but I weren’t a bad looker when I went in.’
‘Didn’t need a walking stick either, as I recall.’
Frank raised his stick and eyed it with contempt. ‘Fookin’ arthritis. Knee ‘urts like buggery some days.’
Eric pulled a sympathetic face, and Frank tilted his head to look past him. ‘You got a motor ‘ere or what? I’m getting bloody soaked out ‘ere.’
‘Your carriage awaits,’ said Eric with a flamboyant gesture in the general direction of Kate’s car.
Then he picked up Frank’s holdall and led the way across the rain-soaked parking area, listening to the tap-tapping of the walking stick behind him and wondering whether Frank was actually going to be of any help at all with the task at hand.
END OF FIRST FOUR CHAPTERS
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