Blue Mail

Nobody likes a crooked copper.  It didn’t matter that I wasn’t crooked before I went to prison, it was enough that I’d been crooked since.  With a single exception my former colleagues despised me more than my former enemies, which was how I came to be walking along the cobbles of Fore Street in St Ives.  I could see the shop I wanted up ahead, through the throngs of holidaymakers enjoying what passed for a British summer at the seaside.  It was gone six and ‘Elliott and Son, Gentlemen’s Outfitters’, was closed.  I knocked anyway.

Nothing, nor could I make out any sign of life inside.  I banged the glass door again, harder this time, and double-checked my Tag Heuer.  Someone should still be here.  I raised my fist again, but stopped when I saw a small man limping towards me.  He was short — five and a half foot at the most — and bald on top, with a white tonsure and tash, both neatly trimmed.  I guessed he was around fifty-five, but I couldn’t be sure because his little round face had a weather-beaten look, from too much sun and wind.  As soon as he had the door open, he smiled, revealing a sparkling set of false teeth.

“I’m sorry, sir, we’re closed.”  His eyes fixed on my Ungaro suit, worn without a tie.  “Not bad, but a tailored double-breasted jacket would look so much better, particularly for a gentleman with your physique.  Perhaps you could come back tomorrow and I can show you what I have in stock?”

I’m only five-eight, but I weigh two hundred and ten pounds and not much of it is fat.  “Are you Brendan Elliott?” I asked.

“I am.”

“My name’s Farrow.  Mr Swingewood sent me.”

“Ah, yes, of course.  I should have realised; how stupid of me.  Please come in.”  He locked the door behind me.  “I’ve sent all my staff home, so this is the best place to talk, if you’ve no objection?”  I shrugged and he led me across the shop floor, through a door marked ‘private’, and into a small office at the rear of the premises.  “I was just cashing up.  Would you like a glass of whisky?  It’s Jameson.”

There was a bottle and a near-empty glass on the desktop, along with cash, receipts, and a counting-machine.  “If you don’t mind, I’d rather get straight down to business.  Mr Swingewood seems to think that you need help and that I’m the right man for the job.”

I had an uneasy alliance with Royston Swingewood, a Hackney villain, and did some of his legitimate work for him.  All he’d told me about his cousin was that he was from the straight side of the family.

“Yes, I certainly hope so.”  Elliott had a slight lisp.  “I have a son,” he said, as if that explained everything.  “Not a bad lad, but this isn’t the first time I’ve had to bail him out of trouble.  He’s an actor — done quite well for himself on the stage and in TV — and he’s busy filming his first Hollywood feature.  The first of many, we both hope.”

Elliott paused again, but I said nothing.

I didn’t give any of those encouraging non-verbal cues either.

He gulped down some whisky.

“Yes, well.  He met a young woman a couple of months ago, they had a brief affair, and then last week she sent him a photograph of the two of them together — on the nest, one might say.  She wants twenty-five thousand pounds for the full set of photos.”

“Is he married?” I asked.

“No.”

“I don’t get it.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“That’s what I said.  Your son isn’t a celebrity yet.  Who gives a shit if he gets photographed on the job?”

“Well, the problem is that the film is The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’, the next Narnia.  It’s for children,” he added in response to my blank look.  “My son is concerned that if he appears in the flesh in the News of the World the director might drop him, seeing as he can be replaced.”

There’s always a career in porn, I thought.  “Do you have the money?”

“He sent it to me.  It is, in fact, exactly what he’s being paid for the film.  His lady-friend knew what she was doing.”

I whistled.  “I hope she was a good shag.  What do you want me to do?”

“Meet me at the bank when I draw the money and keep me company when I do the exchange.  The lady in question appears to be in league with a man named Murrin, from Camborne.  He’s small time by your London standards, but he pretty much runs this part of Cornwall.  I’m meeting him outside the Engine Inn, in Nancledra, at noon tomorrow.  Could you meet me at the Barclays Bank in Bedford Road at half-eleven?”

“Yeah, I’m at Tregenna Castle if you need me.”

***

I was five minutes early, but Elliott was already waiting in the foyer of the bank, with a slim leather briefcase clenched tight in his right fist.  He hung on to it as he limped up the hill to his car, a grey Jaguar XJ sport.  Once we were both inside, he handed me the case and I put it on the floor between my feet.  We were silent as he negotiated the traffic up to the Penzance road.  It took ten minutes to leave the town, but then our progress was quicker.  A few hundred metres beyond the hamlet of Cripplesease, Elliott pulled into the car park of the Engine Inn.  There were have a dozen vehicles there already, but not the one we were expecting.

“Do you want me to make the exchange when they turn up?” I asked.

“No, I’ll do that, but I’d like you to get out of the car and…well, I don’t know, just look tough.  Perhaps you could put your hands inside your coat as if you’re armed.  Something like that.”

“I am armed.”

“Oh.  Er, good.”

Five minutes later a dark blue BMW drove in at speed and skidded to a halt about fifteen metres away.  There were two occupants, both giants.  They looked at us, made the connection, and switched off the engine.  I did what Elliott had asked, walking around the driver’s side of the Jag and leaning against the bonnet.  I folded my arms and watched the two Cornish pasties pour from the B-M.

They were enormous, both over six foot and three hundred pounds.  Fat fuckers, but you still wouldn’t want to get up close and personal with them.  One was young, mid-twenties, crew-cut, and clean-shaven; the other ten years older, balding with a goatee.  They were both wearing long leather coats, which seemed ominous given that it was another bright and blustery summer’s day.

I reached around to the small of my back where my Taurus .38 Special was sitting snug in a holster clipped on the inside of my belt.  I put my right hand around the rubber grip and my left on the bonnet, so it looked like I was propping myself up.

Fat Boy and Fat Man stood either side of the B-M, facing us.  Fat Boy glared at me and mumbled something to his mate.  Fat Man opened the back door of the car and reached inside.

I tensed and drew the Taurus out of its holster, keeping it out of sight behind me.

Fat Man straightened up with a briefcase in his hand, a chunky black one.  He waved at Elliott.  “Come on, then.”

Elliott cleared his throat and walked across the car park.  He exchanged briefcases with Fat Man, who absolutely dwarfed him, and then came back.  Fat Boy followed him.

“You’d better check the goods,” I said.

“I know.”  He popped the boot and went to the back of the Jag.

I wanted to put the Taurus away so I could use both hands if Fat Boy turned nasty, but the problem with inside holsters is that you have to take them off to put your weapon away.  As the revolver only had a two inch barrel, I kept hold of it, slipping the front into my trouser pocket and concealing the rest with my hand.

Fat Boy had both his hands in the pockets of his flash coat.  He stopped about a foot away from me.  “The fuck are you?”

Several witty rejoinders came to mind.  “Someone you’ll never see again.”

“Dunno about that.  You’re keeping the wrong company cos this aint over.”

I heard the boot slam shut and Elliott’s voice: “That’s it, we can leave.”

“Not till we say so,” said Fat Boy.

I glanced at Elliott, who sat back in the car.

“Where you from?”

“Lots of different places,” I replied.

Fat Man shouted from the car: “Tommy, leave him.”

Fat Boy glared at me one last time, hawked, and spat on my right shoe.  Then he walked back to the B-M, which sunk closer to the ground when he squeezed in.  Fat Man reversed, hit his brakes, and shot off into the road.  His passenger flipped me the bird.

When they were gone, I resumed my seat next to Elliot.  “You got the photos?”

“All there.”

“And the negatives?”

“Everything.  You were perfect, thank you.  How much do I owe you?”

“Nothing.  Mr Swingewood’s taking care of it.”

Elliott started the car and we set off back to St Ives.  “Something wrong?” he asked.

I shook my head, but I was wondering about Fat Boy.  Was he another sociopath in the making or had someone ruffled his feathers prior to our meeting?  I decided to stick around instead of going straight back to London.  Swingewood had paid well, Tregenna Castle was lovely, and one of the other guests was the spitting image of Kiera Knightley.

***

Twenty-four hours later, I was soaking up the sun in a recliner, in my swimming trunks and a pair of dark glasses.  The majority of the residents had made the most of a rare idyllic day by relocating to the beaches; a few of us preferred the poolside.  Regrettably, there was no longer any sign of Kiera, but I had a cold lager on the table next to me and I was reading a T.E.D. Klein anthology, so it wasn’t all bad.

A shadow fell over me and the man blocking my sunlight said: “Farrow.”  He was in his mid-forties, tall and heavily built, with a short grey hair and a neat moustache.  He was wearing a lightweight leather jacket, open-necked Oxford shirt, chinos, and expensive shoes.  He slouched with his hands in his pockets and his head cocked at a strange angle.

“Yeah.”

“My name’s Murrin.”

I pulled the back of the recliner up and said, “Make yourself comfortable.”

He took a seat in the shade and placed a pack of Regals and a gold zippo on the table.  His hands were huge.  He lit a fag and blew the smoke into the sea breeze.

When he said nothing, I asked, “What can I do for you, Mr Murrin?”

He laughed and had another pull on his fag.  “If you know who I am, why do you think you’re still alive?”

I reached for my pack of Gauloise and fired up.  “Because I’ve not done anything to piss you off?”

“Funny.  You’re still here sitting in the sun smoking those disgusting cigarettes because: one, I know who you work for; and two, I know who Elliott is.  You follow?”

I didn’t.  “No.”

“You winding me up?”

“I’m well aware of who you are.  I did Elliott a favour at Mr Swingewood’s request, made sure your boys didn’t lean on him too hard.  He got what he was after, you got your money; I don’t see the problem.”

Murrin threw his head back and laughed loudly.  A couple of loungers stared.  “You do stand-up?” he asked when he was done.  “Cos it’s gonna be fucking impossible to stand when my boys’ve taken hacksaws to your feet.”

A line of sweat broke out across my forehead, but I don’t like being threatened.  “Is this how you do business in the sticks?  You’ve got your twenty-five grand — what more do you want?  You going to steal the photos and blackmail him again?”

Murrin stubbed his fag out and stared at me.  “You really don’t know, do you?  I thought you had more brains.”

“Know what?”

“That little bell-end was blackmailing me.”

“He said his son was an actor and –”

My son is filming in California.  My money got him there and my money would’ve kept him there if it weren’t for Elliott.  He’s too greedy.  The agreement was a quarter-mil for the lot, but he only gave me fifteen photos.”

A quarter of a million pounds.  I sucked on the Gauloise in an effort to appear calm.  “There are more?”

“Your man Elliott doesn’t realise I had a word with the cameraman.  It was difficult to hear what he was saying above the noise of the Black & Decker, but when he stopped screaming he was positive he’d taken twenty-two photos.  My boys let their enthusiasm get the better of them sometimes.”

“You want me to get those photos for you.”

“Yeah, but I don’t like being cheated, so I want my money back as well.”

“Sounds fair.  Where and when?”

“Same place and time, tomorrow.”  Murrin stood, put his fags and lighter away, and slid his big hands into his trouser pockets.  “Don’t get any ideas, cos I’ll be sending two car loads of boys this time and they’ll be tooled.”

“I’ll be there.”

***

At six o’clock that evening I was standing outside Emmanuel Gallery, smoking a fag, and watching Elliott and Son.  Two men left the shop at five-past, but I waited another ten minutes before repeating the previous day’s performance.  I’d just begun my second series of blows when a familiar figure limped into sight in the shadows of the shop.  He looked surprised to see me, but he smiled and opened the door.

I stepped in, shoved him back with my left hand, gently closed the door with my right.

He staggered, swayed, and collapsed on the floor.  “For fuck’s sake, I’ve got a prosthetic leg!”

A bit late for sympathy.  I turned the keys in the lock and pocketed them.  Then I grabbed Elliott by the collar of his jacket and shirt and dragged him away from the windows, behind the till.  I left him on the floor, found a shelf with gentlemen’s accessories, and picked up a pack of three silk handkerchiefs.

Elliott pulled himself to his feet.  “What do you think you’re doing.  Wait till I tell Royston, he’ll –”

I hit him in the jaw with a left, catapulting him backwards.  He bounced off the wall and landed on his arse.  I dropped the pack of hankies on the floor next to him, took my lock knife from my pocket, and thumbed it open.  As Elliott straightened up, I gripped his left wrist with my left hand, slammed it flat on the counter, and sliced off his little finger.

He screamed.

I let him have the rest of his hand back.  While he threw up, I held the severed finger by the nail and sliced it in half so they couldn’t sew it back on at the hospital.  Then I walked over to a chair, sat, and waited.  Two minutes later, he regained some kind of control of himself.

“You’ll want to bind that so you don’t pass out.  Use the hankies.”

There was blood and vomit everywhere; Elliott was ghostly pale.  He fumbled with the box, clamped the wound, and leant back against the wall, panting and sweating.

I walked over and put the knife on the till; there was too much blood on the counter.  “You thought you could get away with blackmailing a local bad boy because your cousin’s a gangster?”

“Wait till I tell him what you’ve done.  You’re dead meat.  Dead fucking meat.”

“Tell him what you want because I don’t think he’ll take too kindly to being taken for a mug.  Knowing him as I do, I reckon he’ll send me back for the rest of the hand.  Now, to more pressing matters.  I need seven photographs and two hundred and fifty thousand pounds and I need them yesterday.”  He snarled.  “Chop, chop.”

Elliott was already minus one leg below the knee and one finger at the first joint and was obviously very attached to the rest.  I bound his hand to stop him bleeding everywhere, wiped my knife clean, and followed him upstairs to the safe.  The briefcase was there along with five manila envelopes.  I opened the case and counted the money.  When I was done I pointed to the envelopes.  Elliott took one and placed it on top of the money.  I reached for another and he started to shut the door of the safe.  I bent my elbow and backhanded him across the face, sending him sprawling across the floor again.

“Honestly, Brendan, you’ve got to quit that.  Someone’s going to do you some permanent damage one day.”

I removed all four of the remaining envelopes and opened the first: a dozen photos of a fat middle-aged man having a whale of a time with an unspecified number of young women.  In addition to the photos, there was a memory stick and a floppy disk.  I tried the next: a very attractive natural redhead and a bloke who looked like a male model; another memory stick and another floppy disk.  I put the four enveloped in a separate compartment and closed the brief case.

Elliott was curled up in a ball.

“You’d better hope I don’t come back.”

***

I took a taxi to the Engine Inn, arriving a good twenty minutes early.  I ordered a pint of Stella, sat at a table facing the door, and stashed the briefcase underneath.  I’d just swallowed my first gulp of lager when it occurred to me that I’d better double-check the magic envelope.  Last night I’d had quick look at all four of them, then destroyed the four I didn’t need.  What I hadn’t done was make sure that all of Murrin’s photos were accounted for.  I cursed my stupidity, set the case on the chair next to me, and opened it a crack.  There were only a couple of other punters in the pub, both of them chatting to the barman, so no one paid me much attention.  I opened the envelope and pulled the photos out, making sure no one else could see.

I vaguely recognised the actor, but couldn’t be sure because it might just have been that he was a younger, slimmer version of Murrin.  I looked at the woman…

I was nearly sick.

There was no woman, only a girl.  I don’t have kids, but even I could tell she was no more than eleven.  I tried the next one, more of the same.  All seven of them.

I stuffed everything back into the envelope, slid it back into the briefcase, and asked the barman where the nearest post office was.  Nancledra, a few minutes’ walk away.  I bought a marker pen and sticky tape and asked the bloke at the counter for the address of the nearest police station.  Then I paid for special delivery and returned to the pub.

Five minutes later two BMWs pulled up outside.  I put the briefcase on the table, and the Taurus in my lap.  Fat Man, Fat Boy, and yet another fat fucker poured out of the first car and headed for the door.

I let them come.

END

 

Rafe McGregor has published over one hundred and thirty short stories, novellas, magazine articles, journal papers, and review essays.  His work includes crime fiction, weird tales, military history, literary criticism, and academic philosophy.  Find out more on Google+.

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