The Luck Of The Devil
Toby Richards was sobbing like a scalded child. Begging forgiveness. Whimpering and whining, as usual. He was blindfolded, and naked, face down on Ania Nowak’s four-poster bed. The whip marks on his flabby back and chubby buttocks were still red. Ania had been venomously insulting him for the last hour or so and was getting hoarse. Getting bored.
She stood over him, dressed in black leather, her lipstick blood-red, her blonde hair short-cropped. High-heels accentuating her long muscular legs. She wished the asshole would hurry up and spill his seed so that she could get rid of him and have a drink. She really needed a jolt but Toby was one of those twelve step losers and he’d freak if he smelt a trace of booze on her breath. Especially so early in the morning. As she finished whipping his ass, Ania wondered if she were the higher force that they talked about at his AA meetings, but doubted it.
Still, he was a successful film director and he certainly paid well enough. He was visiting her more and more regularly these days, too and her little nest egg wasn’t so little any more. She turned the whip around, coated the handle in KY jelly and slowly inserted it into Toby’s anus. She blanked out his screams and looked out of her window as a firework exploded and filled the night sky with a cascade of colours. At the same moment, Toby made a familiar, pathetic whining sound. She slowly eased the whip out of his backside and placed it in a black bin liner.
‘Okey dokey?’ she whispered.
She went over to the television and switched it on. Sat in front of it watching ‘Lovejoy’ as Toby shuffled off, shame-faced, to the bathroom.
She heard the shower run and Toby scream with pain. Grinned for a moment and then got tired of his whinging. Tried to concentrate on Ian McShane’s latest scam. A few minutes later, Toby came out of the bathroom, dressed quickly in jeans and a hoodie and left, closing the door carefully and as quietly as possible.
Ania went over to the bedside table and saw her money and a packet of white powder. Toby was one of the increasing few of her regular clients who paid in cash these days, which suited her. Her last tax bill had been massive and she typically wondered who actually was screwing her. She walked over to the drinks cabinet and poured a large Jack Daniels. Filled the rest of the glass with Pepsi. Drank it down. Looked at the money. Felt good very quickly. Looked at the money again. Poured another drink. Breakfast of champions.
Trevor’s hot breath appeared and disappeared on the cold windowpane like a spectre. He couldn’t help smiling as he watched his kids make a snowman in the park outside. Sindy, their dog barked at them while his wife Sarah drank coffee from a tartan thermos flask. They waved and headed off across the park.
Trevor Malone felt calm for a moment. Contented. It didn’t last long, though. He looked at his Rolex and his agitation returned. He turned and glared at Bernie.
‘Where is fuck he, then? Answer me that. Where is the tosser? You know, some of us have better things to do, eh?’ said Trevor.
Trevor had been doing his best to keep calm, he really had. But is it was particularly hard there in Bernie’s office, what with the heating being switched off as usual. He had turned up the collar on his Crombie and put his flat cap and leather gloves back on but he was still freezing his nads off.
Big Bernie Carr, on the other hand, had taken off his jacket, loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves. He was knocking back the Evian and dabbing his forehead with a paper towel. Semi circles of sweat around each armpit. Looking like a reject from Miami Vice in his powder blue linen suit and salmon pink shirt.
‘I have no idea where he is, Trev, I’m not my brother’s keeper,’ said Bernie.
‘He needs a keeper, your Wurzel does,’ said Trevor. ‘One with a very big stick and a bigger cage.’
He stamped his feet on the concrete floor.
‘True enough. Monkey Boy’s been a liability for as long as I can remember but family’s family,’ said Bernie. ‘Blood’s thicker than water.’
‘Yeah, but money’s thicker than blood,’ said Trevor. ‘Especially the sort of money we’re talking about.’
Bernie snorted. He walked over to a globe shaped drinks cabinet in the corner of the half-decorated office and opened it up.
‘Too late for a snifter? Or too early?’ he said.
‘Why not,’ said Trevor, ‘it might warm me up.’
Bernie grinned and made himself a gin and tonic. He poured Trevor a double Makers Mark.
‘I take it you won’t be wanting ice,’ he said. Guffawed as he passed the drink to Trevor.
‘You’re a droll fucker, Bernie,’ said Trevor. ‘Always have been. Even at school you were a lippy twat.’
‘Best years of our lives, those, eh?’
He took a long, slow drink.
‘Naw, it was shite,’ said Trevor.
‘Aye, you’re right. Torture. If I had my time over again I’d …’
There was a loud bang against the office door and it slowly creaked open, scraping against the concrete floor.
The doorbell rang and Ania roused herself from her morning nap. She looked through the spyhole. Opened the door.
‘Early as always, kochanie,’ said Ania.
‘Bad habits are hard to break,’ said Tina. She walked into the room with two clinking Waitrose bags filled with wine and plonked them on the table as Ania switched off the television.
‘Tracey Chapman okay for you?’ said Ania, flicking through her CD collection.
‘Fine by me. I’m feeling a little mellow. Just had a snifter in The Tea Clipper.’
Ania looked at her watch. Saw that it was almost noon.
‘Anyone interesting in there?’ said Ania. She took off her leather garb and pulled on a red kimono.
Tina opened a bottle of wine and filled two large glasses.
‘Just the usual boring old farts. Expect for Pablo, of course.’ She licked her lips.
‘I’m surprised he’s still here in London,’ said Ania, frowning. ‘He’s playing with fire hanging around so long. If Boris finds out …’
She ran a finger across her throat.
‘He likes risk, as you know,’ said Tina. ‘That’s part of his appeal. And you know what they say: if you don’t risk you don’t drink champagne.’
‘I’ll stick with the wine, thanks,’ said Ania.
They both collapsed onto her sofa.
‘So, what’s the story? What’s this great news you’re desperate to share with me?’
‘I’ll tell you later,’ said Tina. ‘I need to wind down.’
She leaned over and kissed Ania.
‘Come on, luv,’ she said. ‘Not in the mood?’
‘I’m getting there,’ said Ania with a smirk.
She stood and led Tina over to the bed.
‘I haven’t changed the sheets,’ said Ania. ‘Are you okay with that?’
Tina pushed her down onto the bed.
‘I’ll take that as a yes,’ said Ania.
‘Speak of the devil,’ said Bernie.
Wurzel Carr shuffled into the room. His eyes and nose were red. He was tall, wiry. Had a dishevelled beard and wore a crumpled charity shop tweed suit. Scuffed brogues. He looked like a living Scarecrow. Always had. Hence the nickname.
‘Jesus, Wurzel, you look like shite. Even by your particularly low standards,’ said Trevor.
Wurzel plucked a pin sized roll up from his bottom lip. Smirked.
‘Seen better days, aye,’ he rasped. ‘But haven’t had better nights, I can tell you.’
He winked and collapsed into a leather armchair that was still covered in cellophane. Held out a hand, clicked his fingers.
Bernie frowned and went to the mini-bar and filled a half pint glass with vodka. Handed it to Wurzel, who took a swig. Licked his lips.
‘Breakfast of champions,’ said Trevor.
Wurzel looked him up and down.
‘Pots and kettles, Trev?’ he said.
Trevor looked at the half empty glass of whisky in his hand.
‘When in Rome,’ he said.
Bernie topped up Trevor’s glass.
‘Here’s a bit more spaghetti.’
Trevor sighed as he sat down on the edge of Bernie’s desk.
‘You got the clobber, then?’ he said to Wurzel.
‘Trevor, Trevor. Clever Trevor. Ye of little faith. I’m hurt that you even need to ask me that,’ said Wurzel.
Trevor stood up. Loomed over Wurzel.
‘Patience is a virtue, Trevor. You should try to be a bit more Zen. It’ll help your blood pressure.’
‘I’ll stick your Zen up your arse and your Ying and Tang after it if you don’t …’
‘It’s Yin and Yang actually. A common …’
‘Wurzel!’ barked Bernie. ‘He got to his feet. ‘Stop pissing about.’
Wurzel licked his ragged moustache.
‘Alright, alright. Hold your arses.’
He carefully put his glass on the floor and unsteadily stood up. Made a show of stretching his muscles.
Trevor started to chew the inside of his cheek.
Wurzel pushed a hand into his jacket inside pocket. Plucked out a small oval shaped package and held it aloft.
‘Ta dah! Viola, cello, banjo, whatever tickles your fancy,’ he said.
‘You sure that’s the real Totenkopfring?’ said Trevor.
‘For sure, Trev. The real deal, the real I am, bona fide …’
He put it on Bernie’s desk. Bernie opened the box to reveal a ring with a skull and crossbones design
‘You know, Himmler gave SS honour rings to lots of members of the Old Guard. How do we know it’s actually his personal skull ring?’ said Trevor.
‘I’ve had it checked out, authenticated,’ said Wurzel.
He handed an envelope to Trevor.
‘All the info’s in there, like.’
‘So, that’s our side of the bargain, Trevor,’ said Bernie. ‘Now it’s your turn’
Trevor picked up his briefcase from the corner of the room and put it on the desk, keeping an eye on the package as he did. He clicked it up and took out two large bundles.
‘There you go,’ he said. He handed on to Bernie and one to Wurzel. ‘Fifty-fifty. Same as usual?’
‘Share and share alike, that’s us,’ said Wurzel.
Trevor picked up the package. Peeled back the gaudy wrapping paper. A grin crawled across his face like a caterpillar. He put it in his briefcase and clicked it shut.
‘Right, I’m off to meet the wife in some twee café over Chiswick. Got to spend the afternoon traipsing around Horrids with her and the kids,’ he said.
‘Going to practice your Russian, eh?’ said Wurzel. He polished off his drink, started flicking though the cash.
‘And don’t I know it,’ said Trevor. ‘No peace for the wicked.’
He put his hands in his coat pockets and pulled out two guns.
‘Still, we all have our own double-cross to bear,’ he said as he blasted Wurzel and Bernie in the face.
Tina wiped the cappuccino froth from her top lip, carefully avoiding smudging her lipstick. She looked longingly out of the crowded café’s window at the glowing womb like pub on the opposite side of the road. Night was quickly melting into day and the street’s flickering Christmas lights were reflected in the wet pavement. Chiswick High Road was bustling. Stressed out shoppers rushed by babbling into smartphones. A drunken Santa pissed against a clamped BMW, a kebab held aloft to the evening drizzle. A black cab skidded onto the pavement and a drunken fat woman with a plastic Christmas tree staggered out of the passenger seat and fell into the gutter.
Tina caught her reflection in the window.
‘God, I look knackered, I really do. Old. Ancient. I wonder if old age is catching?’ she said.
Tina looked at Ania Nowak. Tall, blonde, late-twenties and full of herself. She was smirking. A Told you so on the tip of her dainty but sharp tongue.
‘You’re becoming paranoid. Too much of the marching powder up your nose, kochania,’ said Ania.
‘Pots and kettles!’
‘I don’t own a kettle and certainly not a pot,’ said Ania.
‘I’m serious. I even found a grey hair in my comb the other morning and attacked the hair dye so much it took me all day to clean my hands. Made sure I didn’t miss a bit. I really hate that salt and pepper thing, reminds me of my bloody mother. I blame Sebastian, I do. It’s all his fault. He’s put years on me since I married him.’
‘He’s really so bad?’ said Ania.
‘He is! I’ve pretty much reached the end of my tether. I’ve just about had enough of Sebastian ’s obsessions. His rants. His moaning. His petty gripes. The whole grumpy old man act. It was funny once upon a time, when we were sat in La Salsa a few sheets to the wind. Coked up. But since I moved in with him, I realised that he’s actually like that all the time. And the joke isn’t funny anymore, like that bloody awful song he keeps playing. If it’s not his bloody depressing music taste, it’s the crap old comedy DVDs that he plays over and over again, ad infinitum. The look of disapproval on his face when I don’t laugh at the same tired catchphrase that has been repeated over and over again like a stuck record. I never thought I’d crack so quickly,’ she said. ‘Six bloody months and I’m ready to slash my wrists and his throat.’
‘He’s more than twenty years older than you. You can’t expect to like the same things,’ said Ania, her cut-glass accent actually sharp enough to slit Sebastian’s throat. ‘Differences are to be expected. And, you know, kochanie, domestic drudgery isn’t for everyone. It really isn’t you is it? And now you know there are good reasons why it’s not advisable to fraternise with the punters outside the club. What you see isn’t always what you get. Both ways.’
‘Yes, well, I know that now,’ said Tina. ‘Honestly, if I could turn back the clock …’
A big man in a black crombie barged past her and ran out of the café. Started yelling at the drunken Santa Clause.
‘Excuse me would be nice,’ said Tina. She looked down and saw that she’d spilled her coffee over the table cloth. Picked up a couple of napkins to wipe it up.
‘Still, you could have had worse,’ said Ania. ‘Him, for example.’ She sipped her green tea as she watched the fat man start jabbing Santa in the chest, causing father Christmas to puke.
Tina chuckled to herself. Eyes twinkling.
‘Yeah, at least Sebastian is in decent nick for his age. Hung like a donkey, too. But I thought being a rock star’s totty would be a tad more exciting than this.’
‘Former rock star, kochanie,’ purred Ania. ‘Former. That is the operative word. It’s been years since his band had a hit. Though someone told me they could be due for a revival.’
‘Like Dracula,’ said Tina. She winced as Santa Clause head-butted the man in the Crombie, causing him to stagger.
Ania patted Tina’s hand.
‘Let’s be honest. It’s better than working in the club or going back to pickpocketing tourists, eh? Take it step by step. It’ll get easier,’ said Ania.
Tina knew that she was right. Ania was only a few years older than her, in her early thirties but she had been working as a high class escort for over a decade. Acted as if she’d seen it all and probably had. She was, Tina realised, the closest thing to a friend that she had though she really wouldn’t trust Ania as far as she could throw her. She was sure the feeling was mutual.
‘I couldn’t go back to the club, though,’ said Tina.
‘I doubt Boris would let you, darling. He was very hurt when you left. Sebastian was one of his best cash-cows.’
Tina finished her coffee.
‘I need something stronger. Up for a bit of a boozing session?’
‘I really would, darling,’ said Ania. ‘But I’ve a full night of flogging ahead of me.’
Outside, Santa pushed the fat businessman against the window, which shattered, showering the café with broken glass. Ania got to her feet quickly, knocking over the contents of the table behind her. The café was a cacophony of screams and wails. The barista rushed toward the fat man.
‘Are you okay, kochania,’ said Ania. She plucked a tiny shard of glass from her cheek.
‘Yes, I’m fine. In a better state than him anyway,’ she nodded toward the fat businessman. He was flat on his back, red faced. Someone was giving him CPR.
‘Let’s get out of here,’ said Ania. ‘I can’t be bothered with a long drawn out police interview.’
They both collected their belongings. As she picked up her chair, Tina noticed a small, oval shaped parcel on the floor. Pink wrapping paper and a polka-dot bow. She looked around but no one was watching her. Quick as a flash, she slipped it in her jacket pocket. As they stepped out onto the high street, snow fell like confetti.
‘Want to share a cab?’ said Tina. She put up a black umbrella.
‘You don’t live near my way,’ said Ania. Turned up the collar of her overcoat.
‘I’m not going home, am I? Home’s where you go when you’ve nowhere better to go to.’
An ambulance pulled up as they crossed to road to the taxi rank.
‘The Black Jack?’ said Ania.
‘Why not?’ said Tina. ‘It’ll kill time as much as anything.’
‘Why kill time when …’
‘When I can kill Sebastian?’ said Tina. They both burst out laughing.
‘I’m so pissed off,’ said Sarah Malone. ‘I really am. I’m super pissed off.’
She marched up and down in the hospital carpark puffing on a menthol cigarette, her long blonde hair glowing in the wind.
‘I thought you wanted the fat twat dead? Out of the way?’ said Catherine, dumpy and dowdy, nothing like her older sister.
‘Yeah, of course I did, sis. He’s well past his sell-by- date, you know that. But I wanted it done my way. Without questions. If he croaks now, someone might have a nosy into the insurance contracts. And then I’m fucked.’
‘What do the quacks say?’
‘Exhaustion, would you believe. That and boozing and pill popping in the morning.’
‘So, he’s going to be alright?’
‘Yeah, that’s not the point, though. The daft bastard has lost the ring.’
‘The Himmler ring? Didn’t know he’d found it,’ said Catherine. She popped a Trebor mint into her mouth.
‘Yeah, took him long enough but he got it. Even told Wally. And now, as luck would have it, he’s lost it again.’
‘Wally will not be pleased,’ said Catherine.
An ambulance skidded into the car park, narrowly missing Sarah and Catherine.
The band in The Black Jack really were bloody torture. A bunch of saggy BOFs. Some painful, horrible hybrid of blues rock and folk rock. Even the few songs that Tina recognised were mangled into some sort of plodding anonymity. Whisky In The Jar. Born To Run. Brass In Pocket. They all sounded the bloody same. The singer wasn’t bad but he seemed to fancy himself as Jim Morrison and he really was far too old for those leather trousers.
And there was no talent in the place at all. Just a bunch of sweaty middle aged men in supermarket jeans. The singer started moaning about how, if it wasn’t for bad luck he’d have no luck at all. Tell me about it.
She sighed and opened up the box she found in the cafe. Took out the ring. Held it up to the light. Grimaced
‘A very tasty Totenkopfring, that. I used to have one of them,’ said a fat biker who with a pin-size roll up stuck to his bottom lip.’
‘Yeah,’ said Tina ‘What’s one of them when it’s at home?’
‘An honour ring. Sometimes known as a death’s head ring. Himmler dished them out to the SS, back in the day. Bloke over Camden used to knock them out.’
‘Worth much?’ said Tina. She wondered if it was antique. Maybe she could sell it to a collector. Get the fuck out of dodge.
‘Naw, they’re ten a penny. If it was an original, yes but no chance of that.’
Tina finished her drink. Slid the ring over to the biker.
‘There you go mate,’ she said.
She got up and put on her coat, collected her bag.
‘Ta much!’ said the biker. ‘Here, darlin’, any chance of a shag as well?’
‘You should be so lucky,’ said Tina.
As she stepped outside, it started to rain, as luck would have it.