When a group of London gangsters turn up at a half-dead seaside town to take revenge upon a former hardman, they get more than they bargained for. Weston-super-Nightmare is violent and funny and also touching. A vivid Brit Grit gangster yarn full of broad humour, gaudy characters and also pathos. It’s a balancing act that John Bowie carries off with aplomb. Brit Grit Seaside Fun n Frolics and highly recommended.
Chloe left the money and took the guns. She couldn’t carry everything and she knew that cash would be a hell of a lot easier to come by than a couple of AK47s that was for sure.
‘Fuck you very much,’ she said to Charlie Grimhaven’s unconscious form.
Grimhaven was naked, bloodied and handcuffed to a radiator. She’d forced him to take few sleeping tablets along with half a bottle of Mortlach, so he’d probably be out for the count for a few more hours.
She strapped a gun over each shoulder and paused to catch her breath. She was beginning to feel her turbulent, outlaw life catching up with her.
She closed her eyes and could hear the familiar thump of a Massive Attack song from the park opposite Grimhaven’s office block. She switched off the strip light, peeled back the blinds and looked out of the window. A constellation of streetlamps lined the deserted street below. She closed the blinds and eased the front door open. She peered into the darkened corridor to make sure there was no one around.
Chloe gave Grimhaven the finger and stepped out into the corridor. She ignored the lift and took the stairs down to the underground car park. She kept in the shadows as she looked for her 2CV, banging a knee against a concrete pillar.
‘Oh, for shit …’
She limped over to her car, opened the car boot and put the guns in.
‘Shit,’ she said, feeling pain in her shoulders and knee.
Then she heard the footsteps.
High-heels clicked over concrete and stopped just behind her.
‘Is that you?’ said Adele.
Adele stood in the shadows. Apart from the footwear, she was dressed identically to her twin sister – black jeans and roll neck sweater. Chloe wore Dr Martin shoes. Adele’s hair was pulled back into a ponytail and Chloe’s was short cropped but both women wore black lipstick and nail varnish.
‘You know, the answer to that question is always going to be yes, no matter who I am?’ said Chloe. ‘You need to be more specific in your questioning technique. You’d never work in HR.’
‘Thank god for that. I’m filled with inertia as it is. Are we good to go?’ She tapped a foot impatiently and lit up an e-cigarette. Its tip glowed in the darkness.
‘Yep. Meet you at Bar Italia? I’ve had enough of Starfucks lately.’
‘No. I need something stronger. Vino vidi vici.’
‘The French House then?’
‘Yes, I need one of those too so let’s get moving.’
Chloe opened the door to the driver’s seat.
‘Are you going to drop off the machine guns first?’ said Adele.
‘They’re not machine guns, sweetie. They’re selective fire assault rifles,’ said Chloe.
She got into the car and started up the engine.
‘And yes, I will. I’ll take the guns to Crispin first and then head back to Chelsea get changed. I’ll meet you at The French House in a couple of hours, OK?’
‘Oui! Oui!’ said Adele.
‘Stop bloody saying that! I’m bursting!’
Adele slammed the door, grinning. She waved as her sister drove away and went into the building.
It was a stiflingly hot Friday evening and The French House was stuffed and stuffy. Chloe and Adele were leaning against an open window drinking prosecco. They had exchanged their black clothing for identical white linen blouses and trousers, with matching accessories though the lipstick and nail varnish remained black.
‘The things that I like about the French House are,’ said Adele. She counted off on her long fingers. ‘The wine, the food, the location, the lack of music. Oh, and the fact that people can’t use mobile bloody phones. The things I don’t like are; it’s always full on a Friday night and full of media tossers at that.’
She took a swig of her drink.
‘But you still come here,’ said Chloe. ‘Week after, week, after week …’
‘Oh, I love it. You know that. It’s part of Soho history. Frances Bacon, Derek Raymond. Real London. Well, the London we fled the sticks to escape to, anyway,’ said Adele.
She scraped away at her black nail varnish. It flaked off easily.
‘London’s changing, though,’ said Chloe. ‘Like everywhere else.’
‘And not for the better, I fear,’ said Adele.
‘Vive le difference!’ said Chloe.
‘Oh don’t start that again! I’ve just been for a slash and the queue for the toilets was bloody torture.’
‘Speaking of torture, how easy was it to persuade Grimhaven to turn grass?’
‘Not desperately difficult, to be honest. One snapped little finger and a razor blade under one of his thumbs was pretty much all it took. It’s a pity about leaving the money, though. Still, you can’t have everything. ’
‘How much dosh did you leave behind?’
‘In cash? Just over twenty grand!’
Adele took out an e-cigarette.
‘Well, if that’s how much he had in his desk drawer, can you imagine how much he could have in the office safe?’ she said.
‘Well, I really didn’t have a chance to look. I was more interested in finding out who ripped us off and getting out without getting caught.’
‘You know, I knew it’d be Sammy Lee. I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him,’ said Chloe.
‘You wouldn’t be able to throw him that far or you might damage your nails. And, by the way, sweetie, that cheap nail polish you get from Poundland won’t be doing your nails any good, either.’
Adele looked at her watch.
‘You know, Grimhaven’s probably still there tied to that radiator. I bet no one has discovered him yet,’ she said. ‘His boys are all off on that booze cruise to Gdansk until Sunday night, you know? Why don’t we pop back there and get the money? You could have crack at his safe, too. ’
‘You mean, go back to the scene of the crime? You know what mum always said about that. Like going back to relight fireworks.’
‘Yeah, but she married dad three times, didn’t she? Anyway, if there’s enough money in the safe we could piss off for a bit until all this other shit has cooled down. Go somewhere more bohemian, like Barcelona or Prague. Even New York. You always wanted to go to CBGS.’
‘I very much doubt it’s still there. It’s probably a Starbucks now.’
‘You know what I mean!’
Chloe though for a moment, biting her bottom lip. She stared out of the window. A group of city boys staggered down Dean Street singing a Coldplay song.
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Drink up. We’ve got to get back in black.’
‘Well, you were right. He’s still here. Well, his body is. His spirit has clearly departed this mortal coil,’ said Chloe.
Grimhaven’s office was exactly the same as it had been when Chloe had left it except for the fact that someone had cut Grimhaven’s throat and he was an even bloodier mess than he had been before.
Chloe closed the door behind her while Adele went over to the desk and checked out the cash.
‘It’s all still here,’ said Adele.
Chloe kneeled in front of the safe.
‘I wonder who killed him,’ she said.
‘Now, you’re not going to ask if he had any enemies are you?’ said Adele.
Chloe started twisting the dial on the front of the safe.
‘Yes, that would be too long a list, I expect. And you’d be on there too since you’ve been married to him for the last ten years,’ she said.
‘An error of impetuous youth,’ said Adele. ‘My own fault for mixing my drinks.’
She sat on the corner of the desk
‘Any ideas, though?’ said Chloe.
‘You know Charlie Grimhaven. He was probably caught with his tail between someone else’s wife’s legs and was croaked by some disgruntled cuckold,’ said Adele.
‘Well, they’re very rarely gruntled, are they? Now praise silence, please,’ said Chloe.
With one twist she opened the safe door. She peered inside.
‘Oh bugger,’ said Chloe.
‘What’s he got in there?’ said Adele. ‘The crown jewels?’
‘Not far off, if it’s what I think it is,’ said Chloe.
She took a small wooden box from the safe and put it on the desk.
‘After you,’ she said.
Adele clicked the box open.
‘Oh bugger indeed,’ she said.
Chloe slipped the box in her pocket.
‘Let’s vamoose,’ she said. ‘As soon as we get in the car, phone Crispin and tell him what we’ve got. We want to offload this as quickly as we can and then …’
‘Leave the capital! Exit this Roman shell!’
‘Yes, something like that.’
Chloe slouched in the leather armchair. Checked her plane ticket and took a sip from her half-pint of London Pride.
Adele sat at in the chair opposite. She put her coffee and Nick Hornby paperback on the table in front of her.
‘Start spreading the news,’ she sang.
‘Here’s some news. So, you know, when I opened Grimhaven safe there was black nail varnish on it and on the white rug that was in front of it,’ she said.
‘That cheap stuff that flakes off so easily?’ said Adele.
‘Yes. The very same. It’s almost as if someone was trying to crack the safe earlier and their nail polish flaked off.’
‘That nail polish is very popular.’
‘More common than popular, I’d say,’ said Chloe.
She looked at the tickets and checked the time of their flight to New York again. She was always stressed before flying.
‘Any ideas as to how that happened?’ said Chloe.
‘Well, maybe …’
Chloe leaned forward and looked Adele in the eye.
‘Continue,’ she said.
‘Well, it was cheaper and easier than a divorce,’ said Adele.
Chloe rubbed her eyes.
‘You know Grimhaven’s boys will come after us?
‘Of course. But wouldn’t they anyway? We weren’t exactly going to be on his Christmas card list once he regained consciousness. This is a clean break. Or cleaner.’
‘Have you got the new passports and ID?’
Chloe took a sip of beer.
‘Plus ça change,’ she said.
‘Oui! Oui! Oui!’ said Adele.
‘Yes, good idea,’ said Chloe. ‘I’ll go before we get on the plane. Better safe than sorry.’
Before The Moon Falls
Duffy awakes drowning in sweat. Still smothered by bad dreams. Gunshots echo through his brain. Then the sound of helicopter blades. Screams.
It takes him a moment to adjust to the surroundings; the room looks unfamiliar in the wan light. Slowly, his eyes make out the details of his sparse living room. He’s on the sofa, tangled up in a worn blanket cradling a bottle of bourbon as if it were a teddy bear. He lies for a moment, each heartbeat like the tick of a clock, and edges off the sofa. His joints ache as he stumbles to the window and peels back the blinds.
A constellation of streetlights and a galaxy of Christmas decorations fade into the distance towards Banks’ Hill. A feral group of Hoodies trudge through the snow. They shuffle through the redbrick Ace of Spades archway and into the narrow alleyway that leads to the rear of Klub Zodiak. More of Dragan’s new recruits. More cannon fodder.
Someone, somewhere nearby is whistling Hank William’s ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.’ Or maybe he’s imagining it.
Duffy shakes his head. He’s exhausted. His mind playing tricks on him. His sleep is becoming increasingly fitful the days. Spectral. Like wading through molasses. Guilt, his mother would have said. And she’d be right.
And then Duffy sees him.
Stood in the Zebra Bar’s doorway, illuminated by the flash of his Zippo as he lights a cigarette. His face looks pallid. Lips as red as a clown’s. He’s wearing a long dark raincoat, his hair long and black like rats’ tails. A chill slices through Duffy like the ice pick that took out Trotsky.
A black limousine purrs around the corner and stops. Ivan Walker salutes and gets in.
Duffy walks into the bathroom and switches on the shaving lamp. He avoids looking in the mirror, knowing what he’ll see; bloodshot eyes; dirty, unshaven face: inky black hair. His skin riddled with acne.
He coughs. Spits. Coughs again. A Rorschach test of blood splashes the white basin. He turns on the tap and tries to wash it away.
A brittle, icy morning and the air tastes like lead. Duffy glides the black BMW through The City’s cobbled streets, listening to Bessie Smith’s ‘Downhearted Blues’. Eases the car along New World Street, taking in its expensive shops, hotels, cafes and bars. It feels like the calm before the storm. It is.
A rickshaw pulls up outside the Euro – China Hotel and a couple of drunken Chinese business men tumble out. The rickshaw driver is Travis, a tall blonde Californian surfer girl. She wears a screaming red chauffeur’s uniform and a forced grin. She laughs at something the men say as she clutches the wad of notes one of them hands her. She notices Duffy as he cruises past and taps her chauffeurs cap in a mock salute. He blows her a kiss.
Dragan, crouches in the back seat, like a coiled python. He wipes a fleck of cocaine from his nose and sits up. His eyes dance the flamenco. He chuckles, lights a cigar and gazes out of the window, like a king surveying his domain. Which isn’t too far from the truth.
‘Why do you always listen to such depressing music, Duffy?’ says Dragan.
‘Not depressing,’ says Duffy. ‘Cathartic. Helps me process the wear and tear of life. Chew it up and spit it out. You should do the same. Listen to a bit of Billie Holliday. Lady Day, as she was known. Would sort you out, no worries.’
But Dragan’s not listening.
‘Remember, Richie Sharp?’ he says, gesturing toward Patrick’s Irish Pub, which spills out its early morning dregs. Puking and mewling executives. Pumped up pimps. Hairy arsed bikers.
‘Rings a bell,’ says Duffy.
‘You must remember. The fence. He used to call himself Mr Google. Said he could find anything for you. Eh? Remember ?’
‘Yeah,’ says Duffy. ‘That flabby farm boy that used to practically live in Patrick’s? The shittiest pub in The City but he loved it.’
‘Happy days, those, eh? I miss them sometimes. Don’t you?’
‘Naw. Nostalgia’s not what it used to be.’
Back in those days, Dragan was just a speed freak. A jumped up Serbian car thief. A drug dealer with ambitions. There’d been a lot of blood under the bridge since then, thought Duffy. Rivers of the stuff.
‘Whatever happened to him, anyway?’ he says.
‘Fuck knows,’ says Dragan. ‘Last time I saw him was well over five years ago. Just after the last wave of refugees swarmed into The City. He had hundreds of them working for him; dealers, whores, pickpockets, hackers, croupiers. I think he was screwing Bronek Malinowski’s wife at the time, though. So …’
‘Was Sharp the one they roasted in the pizza oven?’
‘No, that was the French guy. Journalist. They frizzled him. Who knows what happened to Richie Sharp, though …’
Duffy turns right at the Palm Tree Bar and heads down Othello Avenue, looking up at Rhino Towers, Count Otto Rhino’s grey Gothic headquarters, looming over The City like a giant gargoyle keeping danger at bay. Though not exactly doing too good a job of it.
As he turns the corner and heads toward the Central Railway Station, a big black van suddenly screeches in front of him and blocks his way. He brakes but his reactions are slow and he slams into the side of the van.
‘Bollocks,’ says Duffy.
‘What the fuck,’ growls Dragan. His eyes bulge out of his head. He grabs his Glock from its shoulder holster and opens the car door.
‘Close it and hold on!’ Duffy shouts.
He screeches the car into reverse. Dragan falls back in his seat, the door wide open. And then another van turns the corner and slams into the back of Duffy’s car, stopping his exit.
Within seconds, a swarm of massive shaven headed men dressed in military fatigues rush out of the vans. Otto Rhino’s Frog Boys.
Dragan slams his door closed. The men start attacking the car with hammers and baseball bats. A giant of a man pulls out a shotgun and blasts the bullet proof windscreen which cracks like a spider web.
‘What the fuck, is this?’ screams Dragan. The cigar falls into his lap.
One of the vans sounds its horn and within seconds the men rush back inside.
‘Who would dare? Who the fuck would dare?’
He sits back, stunned. The dropped cigar burns a hole into his lap. He looks down for a moment and brushes it away as if it is a mosquito.
Dragan slumps in the blood- red leather armchair that is jammed in a darkened corner of the office. A ghost of the man he once was.
‘So, what’s the plan?’ says Duffy, flicking through a copy of the National Geographic.
Dragan grunts. He holds a bottle of red wine in one of his hands. He disinterestedly watches as it drips onto the wooden floorboards.
‘There’s a rat in the kitchen,’ he says. ‘An informer. There’s no way that Otto Rhino would come at me like that without information.’
At a large desk, Lulu, a tall raven haired woman, uses a gold credit card to chop up a little heap of cocaine. She leans forward and snorts through an Eiffel Tower souvenir pen.
‘Ay Caramba!,’ she says, her Galway accent as thick and dark as an Irish coffee. She turns to Dragan. ‘Maybe it’s that Haitian guy? Ton Ton Philippe?’
Duffy pours himself another large gin and hands the bottle to Lulu.
‘Gin makes you sin,’ she says, with a chuckle. Dragan glares at her as she swigs from the bottle.
She turns away, retouches her make-up in a hand mirror and stands.
Duffy can see rage rumble inside Dragan like a thundercloud.
Lulu walks over to him. She looks good. She’s tall and in her early twenties with wan looking skin, red lipstick slashed across her full lips and black hair cut into a bob. She wears a red PVC raincoat and shiny black stiletto heels that click on the floorboards. Dragan takes a wad of cash from his wallet and wearily hands it to her.
‘Whatever you can find out, okay?’ he says.
‘Aye,’ says Lulu.
‘And by whatever means necessary.’
She nods. Smiles.
The James Bond theme begins to play and Dragan takes out his mobile phone.
‘Yes,’ he says and listens for a few moments before answering.
He slumps over the large oak desk.
‘And exactly how much of a bollocks is ‘a bit of a bollocks’?’ he says. His expression is volcanic.
‘Maybe I’ll go?’ says Lulu.
‘Not a bad idea,’ says Duffy.
Dragan waves indifferently toward her and she walks out of the office door, her head held down but still watching. And still listening.
Dragan smashes the bottle on the floor. The red stain crawls into the wood’s cracks and crevices. He stands up, lights a cigar and gazes out of the window.
The Old Town square is almost empty. Just the occasional little ant scuttling across the snow. Duffy can hear the sound of the music from Klub Zodiak below. He can feel the throb of the bass, thumping its message.
Dragan pulls a bag of cocaine from his desk drawer and trails a line of powder along the window pane.
‘I’ll be off, then,’ says Duffy.
Dragan nods slowly.
‘And Duffy, remember to watch out for mercenary eyes.’
He points a shaking finger and immediately looks over one thousand years old.
As Duffy blasts Ricardo’s brains across the snow smothered ground, a row of black birds, that were lined up on telephone lines like notes on sheet music, scatter and slice through the milky whiteness.
Snow dandruffs the corpse as he takes the Glock from Ricardo’s hand and pushes it down the back of his jeans. Looking at the fat heap on the ground, his scraggly beard and unkempt hair matted with blood, he is overcome with sadness, guilt. And anger.
‘You useless fucker, Ric,’ he says.
He takes out his hip flask, toasts Ricardo, takes a sip and pours the rest of the vodka onto the snow.
He grabs the cadaver by the ankles and hauls his massive corpse towards the dilapidated cottage, leaving behind a snaking trail of blood. In front of the door, he pauses and wipes his brow with the blood stained sleeve of his biker’s jacket.
He catches his breath and gazes over at a Christmas tree which is lit up with shimmering, dancing multi-coloured lights. A wind chime that hangs above the door tinkles. He smiles. Elsewhere, for a moment.
Dragan’s Harley pulls up outside the cottage. He takes off his black crash helmet and runs a hand through his freshly cropped hair, scratches his head and dismounts.
‘Well?’ he says.
Duffy, angry, ignores him. The heavy wooden door creaks as he pushes it open. Ricardo’s head bounces off every concrete step as he drags the body downstairs into the dark and dingy basement and onto a sheet of dirty green tarpaulin.
He switches on a lone light bulb, which buzzes and flickers, revealing a room cluttered with wooden barrels. A dirty, cracked mirror hangs precariously above a rusted metal sink.
‘So, what did he say?’ says Dragan, as he pounds down the stairs, the sound of his feet echoing around the basement.
There is a burning in Duffy’s chest. He bends forward, grips his knees and hikes up a wad of bloody phlegm.
‘He said nothing.’
‘He said nothing or that he knew nothing?’
‘He said that he knew nothing.’
‘And you believed him.’
‘Yes. Until then the stupid fucker grabbed my gun and tried to make a run for it. Shot at me.’
Duffy leans against the sink. It creaks and squeals as he turns the rusty tap and releases the shitty brown water. He splashes it on his face.
‘The sad fuck had nothing to lose, I suppose,’ says Dragan, ‘apart from his balls’. He snorts and lights up a large Havana cigar. ‘Idiot accountant thinks he can rip me off.’
‘Well, he got away with it for long enough,’ says Duffy.
‘Did anyone see you?’ he says blowing a perfect trio of smoke rings. ‘Any spies? Any mercenary eyes?’
‘Around here? No,’ Duffy says. ‘No. There’s no one around here. ’
‘Ha! So, you say!’
Dragan’s increasing paranoia is like finger down a blackboard to Duffy these days. He clenches his fists; digs his nails into his palms.
‘We’re in the middle of the fucking countryside. On Christmas fucking morning. Who’s going to see me? Fucking carol singers?’
‘Did he say anything else?’ says Dragan, his bullet-hole eyes bore into Duffy and show no amusement.
‘Yes. He cried for his mother.’
Dragan peels off his boots and black leather jacket and sits cross-legged on the dirty floor. He is wearing a black sleeveless T-shirt depicting Edward Munch’s ‘The Scream’, and a pair of expensive denim jeans.
He plucks a bottle of vodka from one of the wooden barrels that cluttered the room. His wedding ring glints as it catches the light.
‘You know what I mean. Did he say anything about Rhino? About Ton Ton Philippe?’
‘Ton Ton Philippe … Jesus …that’s all you talk about. I told you. He’s just a bogey man. A legend that those Haitian mobsters use to keep their protection racket running.’
Dragan turns. His face as expressionless a Golem. He pours large measures of vodka into two pink plastic tumblers.
‘Well?’ says Dragan
‘Well, okay,’ says Duffy. ‘Well, I’ll admit that it was when I mentioned Ton Ton Philippe that he did a runner. But it’s all these scare stories. All these voodoo and black magic bullshit rumours that are filling The City.’
Dragan looks lost in thought for a moment. He stands motionless and not for the first time Duffy is reminded of the robot in the film The Day The Earth Stood Still, waiting for a sign from his master. The only noise is the buzz of the light and the sound of Dragan’s breathing.
Eventually, he breaks into a smile.
‘Well, we’ll see,’ he says.
He walks over to Ricardo’s corpse and shakes his head.
‘Misguided loyalty, my friend,’ sighs Dragan.
He passes Duffy a tumbler of vodka.
‘Cheers,’ he says.
‘Up yours,’ says Duffy.
They down the drinks in one.
‘Okay, back to work,’ says Dragan, slamming his tumbler down on the table.
He digs into a darkened corner of the room and pulls out something heavy and metallic.
‘I think it’s time to sever Mr Ricardo’s contract,’ smirks Dragan as he starts up the chainsaw.
A sliver of moon garrottes the coal black sky and Duffy’s heart pounds as he stands outside Klub Zodiak. Its shimmering and buzzing neon sign is reflected in a pool of blood.
He feels the cold metal in his fist as he slams on the steel door of the nightclub until it creaks open. He pushes his way to the bar, breathing in the scent of cheap aftershave, cigarettes and booze. A sultry Femme Fatale on a Chiaroscuro lit stage purrs a torch song that roars into the abyss.
‘Bourbon?’ says Arek. Duffy nods, take off his leather jacket and drapes it over a bar stool.
‘Is Dragan here?’ he says, downing his drink in one.
‘Of course,’ says Arek ‘Where else would he be? He thinks that the moment he sets foot outside he’s a dead man. The paranoia is eating him like a cancer.’
Duffy turns toward the metal door that leads upstairs to Dragan’s office.
‘For fuck’s sake, yer man’s lost the plot, Arek; he’s away with the fairies. He’s like Hitler in his bunker up there. When was the last time he came out?’
‘At Darko’s funeral.’
‘And when was that, for Christ sake?’
‘A long time ago,’ growls Arek, his voice like sandpaper. ‘What do you think is happening, Duffy?’
Duffy stuffs a fistful of peanuts in his mouth. Chews. Arek waits.
‘It’s all that cocaine he hoovers up,’ Duffy says. ‘And that new stuff coming in from Greece. He’s mixing them. Starting the day with uppers, ending the day with downers. Thinks someone’s drugging him, would you believe! And I bet he still doesn’t know who it is that’s out to assassinate him. Mercenary eyes, the streets are full of mercenary eyes, he says. That pretty little wife of his must be ready to piss off I’m sure. And who can blame her? You should do the same thing before he turns on you.’
‘Maybe, maybe,’ he says, as he pours a large glass of whisky. ‘But where will I go? And what about you? Where will you go?’
‘When is more to the point.’
Duffy places a metal briefcase on the Klub Zodiak’s marble bar and turns to Arek.
‘It’s all there,’ he says. ‘Do you want to count it?’
‘No. He’ll probably count it himself, the way he is these days,’ says Arek.
‘Aye,’ says Duffy says.
Duffy shivers as the singer whispers ‘Gloomy Sunday’, as if it is her dying breath.
‘Great version,’ he says. ‘Best version’s by Mel Torme, though. You know what Torme’s nickname is?’
‘The Velvet Fog,’ says Arek.
‘Nice to meet a man with good musical knowledge,’ says Duffy.
It’s already past midnight but Krystyna could swim all night. She loves the Euro – China Hotel’s glass swimming pool and the floor to ceiling window that gives such a great view of The City’s skyline. High above the squalor, the sin, the vice, it twinkles and shines.
‘I’ll miss this,’ she says, as she floats on her back.
She gets out of the pool. Duffy rises from his seat and hands Krystyna the towel.
She looks stunning. A pure albino, with eyes as red as blood.
She dries her iron muscled body and goes into the changing room.
Duffy switches off the lights.
Krystyna comes out of the changing room. She’s dressed all in white, as usual. Boots, jeans, sweater as pallid as her skin. She switches on her Nokia.
‘Any messages?’ says Duffy.
‘There were two missed calls from Dragan and three SMS from him written in a mad garbled mixture of Serbian, Russian, English and Mandarin.’
She hands Duffy the phone and he tries to make sense of Dragan’s ramblings.
‘Like the last words of Dutch Schulz,’ he says, and laughs. Krystyna doesn’t.
She shivers as she plays with her loosening wedding ring.
‘He’s close to the edge now,’ she says. ‘Maybe the house of cards will tumble down quicker than we’d hoped’.
The tall men in the black fedoras and long black overcoats look like shadows as they cut through the snow smothered Old City Square.
A ghostly spiral of smoke drifts up from the husk of the burnt out car as Duffy falls to his knees, the low hum that hovers in the distance growing louder. Giovanni stares blankly at him, a red dot in the centre of his forehead. The look of incredulity frozen on his dead face.
Duffy looks up, gasping, as a plane roars overhead. His fingers buzz and tingle and the sensation spreads through his hands and up his arms. The weight of an elephant is on his chest and then he feels cold hard metal against his forehead.
‘You’re fucked, boy,’ says the tallest man, who crouches down, cradling a high powered riffle. His vowels are long and elasticated. Stretched all the way from Tennessee to The City. He plucks Duffy’s gun from where it had fallen and takes Giovanni’s pistol from his corpse.
‘Yep. Yer fucked. Fucked up the arse,’ says the squat Irishman as he presses his Doc Martin boot into Duffy’s twisted ankle.
Tears fill his eyes as pain rips through him but he refuses to give them the satisfaction of hearing him scream. He forces a smile and waits for the day to dissolve into night.
But then a clock begins to chime, loud and cacophonous.
The men look up.
‘What the fuck is that?’ says the Irishman.
First there are a couple of drops. Then trickles and then there is a flood until what seems to be hundreds of people spill out over the square, like jackals searching for carrion. The men in the black overcoats put away their guns.
‘Later, Duffy,’ the American says. As they slip through the crowd, approaching sirens scream nearer.
The crowd all head in the same direction. Men, women, children. And out of the milieu a stumpy punk rocker with a tall red Mohawk walks toward Duffy, beaming a broken toothed grin.
Shuffling into the corner of a nearby alleyway, Duffy sits down on the front steps of a butcher’s shop. Its rancid smell makes him queasy. He pulls his black woollen hat over his frozen ears and plucks a battered packet of Galois from his jacket pocket. He hands one to the young punk, sweat peeling from his acne scarred face.
The punk grins
‘No thanks’ he growls in English, his French accent as thick as treacle. ‘That shit will kill you’. The traces of a grin appear at the corners of his mouth.
‘Yeah,’ says Duffy, ‘but you’ve got to die of something.’
Duffy coughs and spits on the ground. Takes out his hips flask and drinks its acrid contents. He hands it to the punk who shakes his head.
‘Take care of your body and it’ll take care of you.’ He snickers like the dog in an old cartoon Duffy used to watch as a kid.
‘Thanks for dragging me out of … that lot,’ Duffy says. Nodding toward the town square. ‘What exactly was happening? All of those people … Is it some sort of religious festival?’
The punk smirks.
‘Sort of. If you call going to work a religion. It’s the start of the next shift at the meat packing factory. These are all factory flats and houses. All owned by Otto Rhino.’
Duffy slumps to the ground. Takes a pill from his pocket and pops it. Washes it down with the booze.
‘Your body really is you temple, isn’t it, Duffy?’
Duffy glares at him.
‘Who the hell are you, anyway?’ he says.
‘Guess,’ says the punk.
‘I have no bloody idea,’ says.
‘Well, I know all about you, Sergeant Duffy.’
Duffy automatically reaches for the Bowie knife that he keeps tucked in his boot. It’s gone.
‘Who the hell are you?’
The punk steps back and holds up his hands.
‘Relax! You’re safe. Take a chill pill! I was just messing with you. Walker sent me.’
He moves closer and places the knife in front of Duffy, along with his wallet.
‘I’m Robinson,’ he says, his accent becoming Scottish. ‘Oliver Beacock Robinson.’
‘Well, I’m no Harry Houdini, but, yeah, that’s what they call me.’
Duffy remembers the war stories about Robinson during Desert Wave. He was a legend. He could slip undercover, undetected everywhere. Anywhere. And he was never caught. Lucky bastard, he thinks.
‘I thought you’d be … cleaner,’ says Duffy.
‘And I thought that you and the Italian would be able to take out a couple of third division hired thugs without blowing up half of the town square. But you know what thought did, as my old gran used to say.’
‘Too…friggin shay,’ says Duffy, struggling to his feet. ‘Shouldn’t we be getting out of here?’
‘Follow the white rabbit,’ he says and he’s off down the alleyway.
Duffy hobbles after him, keeping his knife in his hand.
‘Like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, isn’t it?’ says Walker, as a Clockwork Orange skinhead French kisses an overweight transvestite. Then cracks a beer bottle over his head.
‘If you’re saying it’s a shithole, well, you’re right on the money,’ says Duffy.
And Patrick’s really is a shithole, thinks Duffy. The building itself is fine. Oak doors. Marble bar. Silver chandeliers. And a very tasty old Wurlitzer Jukebox. But the dregs of The City are drawn to Patrick’s like a used condom down a toilet bowl.
‘One of Dragan’s most successful enterprises, though, I heard?’ says Walker. He sips a death black espresso and turns his attention back to Duffy.
‘Well, I think you’ll find that this joint is actually owned by Mrs Krystyna Kostic, actually. Dragan’s wife.’
‘Yeah, yeah. Pull the other one, it plays Elvis songs. ’
Duffy pours the Budweiser down his throat without letting the bottle touch his lips. You never know what you might catch in Patrick’s.
‘So, who were the twats that wacked Giovanni and were ready to take me out? They didn’t exactly look like The Frog Boys. They were good too. Fast’
‘Out of town contractors. Ex- CIB. Like you.’
The cold sweat gripped Duffy like a cowl. Almost on cue, Barry Adamson’s version of ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’ started to play.
‘I thought you might have recognised them,’ says Walker. ‘Maybe you worked with them during the Desert Wave? Are you sure they didn’t look familiar?’
‘No. Never seen them before in my life. A covert group like CIB had people coming and going all the time. Government policy, so you didn’t get too loyal to each other and start up a mutiny when things went pear shaped. You know that. Colonel. You were there, too.’
‘Yes, I was sergeant. And I also know that you owe me. You shouldn’t need reminding of that. If I hadn’t got you out of that prison cell, those mercenaries would have sliced you up and eaten you for lunch. Literally.’
‘I know, I know. So what do you want?’
‘This is how I see it. Someone is trying to take out Dragan’s gang. At first I thought that they were just after him but now it looks like they’re taking out everyone around him. To make Dragan as vulnerable as possible. And now Giovanni is worm meat, there aren’t too many of your boys left.’
‘Maybe it’s Rhino, maybe? A few of The Frog Boys attacked us last week.’
‘No. I think someone gave the info to Rhino but there’s someone else behind it. I think they were just sent to scare you off. You in particular.’
‘Yep, well we’re certainly dropping like flies. And those Hoodies are no use. So? Who?’
‘Dunno. Maybe Ton Ton Philippe?’
‘Come on, Walker. Don’t talk cobblers. He’s just a scare story that the Haitian’s made up. Isn’t he? You don’t believe all that stuff about zombie henchmen and werewolf bikers, do you?’
‘Maybe yes maybe no. But, remember, we saw some weird and horrible things back in the war, Duffy. Things that we couldn’t explain. How do you think I got this?’ he scratches the pentangle shaped scar on his neck. ‘Philippe’s name keeps turning up wherever I look, these days. And as much as Dragan and you boys are a pain in the arse, this guy sounds worse. Much worse.’
And then they hear the bang.
The building is ablaze. Flames lick the sky. Crackle. Roar. Outside Klub Zodiak, a handful of Hoodies shuffle around. Lost sheep. Arek is on his hands and knees, coughing his guts up.
Walker rushes over to one of the fire engines that pull up outside the building and Duffy heads toward Arek
‘What the fuck happened,’ says Duffy.
He stands up. Wipes his mouth.
‘Dragan happened. He cleared out the safe with a suitcase full of money. Took a plane out of The City,’ says Arek. ‘I drove him to the airport. He was rambling like a madman. Worse than usual. When I came back and opened the door…boom.’
‘So the house of cards really has fallen down then?’
‘Yep, looks that way.’
Duffy hands Arek his hip flask. He stakes a swig.
‘What about Krystyna?’
‘She went with him. Her and Lulu. But neither of them seemed too happy about it.’
Walker strolls over to Duffy with a grin.
‘Well, looks like you’re out of work, Duffy.’
Duffy shrugs. Takes a Micky Mouse napkin from his pocket and blows his nose on it. Stuffs it back into his pocket.
‘Not really,’ says Arek, ‘Here. From Krystyna.’
He hands Duffy a large envelope. He takes out a wad of documents and a set of keys.
‘What is that?’ says Walker.
‘Payback,’ says Duffy and heads back towards Patrick’s.
‘Pop down to Patrick’s for a drink later, boys. It’s under new management.’
‘You arseholes could have killed me!’
Duffy is red faced as he screams at Tennessee Bob and Davy Boy Ryan, who are sat at the bar grinning from ear to ear. ‘Nearly broke my bloody leg, too.’
He half-heartedly drags a mop around Patrick’s and then heads over to the jukebox. Presses a few buttons.
‘We were just fucking with you, Duffy,’ says Bob, twirling his fedora on his index finger. ‘Had to make it look convincing to Walker and Dragan. And whoever else was watching. Had to put the shits up your old boss, eh?’
‘And it worked, didn’t it?’ says Ryan, looking around the bar. ‘You got what you wanted.’
Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’ starts to play. Duffy walks behind the bar. Checks his inky black quiff in the mirror. Takes down a bottle of Dark Valentine and three glasses. Pours.
‘You’re a pair of twats,’ he says. They knock back the drinks. Duffy pours again.
‘You going to redecorate this dump, then?’ says Ryan.
‘Eventually,’ says Duffy. ‘I’ll just change the name for now. But I’ve got big plans, boys.’
‘You heard from that Albino girl?’ says Ryan.
‘Yeah. She sent me an SMS. Her and Lulu have just got off the plane in Paris. Dragan hasn’t.’
‘She doesn’t waste much time, does she?’ he says.
‘All’s well that ends well, then,’ says Ryan. They clink glasses and knock back more booze.
Outside the day is melting into night.
‘Twilight time,’ says Duffy.
‘Indeed,’ says Ryan.
Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’ kicks in as the front door creaks open.
A dishevelled figure shuffles in.
‘Detective Dalton,’ what can I do you for?’ says Duffy.
Bob and Ryan tense.
Dalton sniffs. Looks around the room.
‘Under new management?’ he growls.
‘You seen Ice–Pick Mick McKinley?’ he says.
‘Not today but I think he usually crawls in here at the end of the night.’
Duffy holds up the bottle of booze.
‘Want to have a drink and wait for him? It’s on the house.’
Dalton’s shuffles over and looks at the bottle.
‘Why not? That strong stuff, is it? I fancy something with bite.’
‘Oh yes,’ says Duffy. ‘It’ll rip your heart out, this will.’
In the wake of the book blog tour organised by BLACKTHORN BOOK TOURS, Gumshoe Blues: The Peter Ord Yarns has garnered a hell of a lot of positive reviews – mostly 4 and 5 stars. A few more reviews have also have also popped up over at Goodreads and at Amazon.
So, I thought I’d try to do a review round up and hope I haven’t missed any.
And thanks very much to all involved. You are appreciated!
Rough Justice, Crime Fiction Lover –
‘Humour is ever present, often dark, unsophisticated and absurd. The result is a very kind of British noir, as if Jim Thompson had written his stories of doomed losers on the back of bawdy seaside postcards.’
Stephanie Jane, Literary Flits –
‘I love Brazill’s dry humour and scathing turns of phrase which contrast well with his eye for an absurd situation. All of his characters have a ring of authenticity to them with even people who only put in the briefest of appearances being utterly believable.’
Ross Jeffery –
‘The result is dark, witty, farcical and thoroughly entertaining.’
Kevin McNamara –
‘Filled with colorful characters and Mr. Brazill’s wonderful wit.’
Terry (TBC) –
‘northern grit & grim & honestly funny’
Christi M –
‘Overall, fans of gritty noir stories will enjoy this book. Characters are quirky and memorable and it doesn’t hurt that it comes with a good dose of dark humor. Also want to give props to the author for all the extremely well-thought out characters. It must have been incredibly fun to create all their backstories.’
Robert B –
‘This book engrossed me so much that I finished it in two sessions. I highly recommend it’
Isobel Blackthorn –
‘Told masterfully with tremendous wit and realism in taut, punchy prose, Gumshoe Blues contributes a work of considerable merit to the noir crime stable.’
Susan Hampson –
‘Paul Brazill is a master of one-liner dry-humour beauties that constantly roll from each page. His descriptions of people are unique, the like of which you have never heard before but it brings each character to life in its own memorable way. Yes, Paul Brazill, you are a genius in my eyes and I want everyone to read your books.’
Paul Matts –
‘Paul D Brazill has produced another collection of gritty, gutter-laden and immensely colourful characters, led by the main man himself. Plots develop and musical references abound. Really enjoyable stuff.’
Julie Porter –
‘Brazill transports the genre to England where he not only pays tribute to the hard boiled detectives but updates the genre to give it a postmodern Millennial sensibility making the hard edges even harder, the cynical detective even more self-aware, and filling it with pop culture references and technology to amuse modern Readers.’
David Burnham –
‘The pages oozed with rich, multi-layered plot progression and detail.’
Amit Verma –
‘Not a long boring, uselessly burdened thriller book, but short Quirky and interesting stuff you are going to like.’
Amy Shannon –
‘Brazill writes very well and knows how to keep the balance between dark and light, as well as humoristic satire and farce.’
Lel Budge –
‘Utter madness, with intense imagery, music references and so darkly funny. Thoroughly entertaining.’
Haley Belinda –
‘Paul Brazill is a very entertaining writer whose work flows and produces quite a lot of laughs as well. I love the dry sense of humour that flows through the book.’
Ruth Ann Garcia –
‘Great and fast read.’
Simon Maltman –
‘Hard boiled and humorous in equal measures.’
Danny Farham –
‘The author never lets the book get too dark, as it is peppered with razor sharp wit and one-liners that had me giggling like a schoolgirl.’
‘I give props to the author for his fantastic descriptions of the setting, as well as those secondary characters.’
‘crime with the feel of a shaggy dog story, complete with running jokes.’
‘Author Paul D. Brazill’s crime noir novel is a collage of characters that roll in and out of the pages. He paints with a brush loaded with dark humor, and his descriptions are what power the book.’
‘Crisp, raw-to-the-bone prose.
Andy Rausch –
‘Brazill is a writer’s writer’
Hector Duarte Jr–
Ray Douglas –
‘A gritty tale full of twists and turns, dark places and dark humour.’
‘Gumshoe Blues is a clever, humorous piece of work and in Peter Ord you have an endearing if perpetually hapless central figure who you can’t help finding yourself rooting for.’
Warren Stalley –
‘The most impressive thing about these stories are the classic one liners and dazzling word play that author Mr Brazill expertly weaves throughout the narrative.’
Welcome to a place where ethics and loyalty might rely on who bought the last round. Peter Ord is our detective/tour guide, and we are treated to an intimate peek into the swamp that is his life. Bad things happen, and Peter is one of those folks who will be around to clean up.
As long as he gets paid, of course.
Author Paul D. Brazill’s crime noir novel is a collage of characters that roll in and out of the pages. He paints with a brush loaded with dark humor, and his descriptions are what power the book. Two sentences from the first page say so much: “I was lying on a brown tweed sofa and tangled up in a tartan blanket that had seen better days and nights. I was home.”
Gumshoe Blues is a series of vignettes rather than one long case. Peter’s cases are far from ordinary, possibly due to the quirkiness of the people he knows and deals with on a daily basis. Strange cases lead to strange solutions, and the author’s wry comments keep the book funny and constantly moving forward. A character introduced in one spot might have a leading role the next week. Life is constantly moving in Peter’s world, especially when flavored with a heavy dose of noir. Quick fun read, and never a dull moment. Five stars.‘
Well, GUMSHOE BLUES: THE PETER ORD YARNS continues to garner some well tasty reviews.
At THE HAUNTED PEN, David Burnham says:
‘Brazill’s descriptive work shines as he paints a written image of the colorful, memorable characters and places Ord encounters – pubs, bars, strip joints, cemeteries, and caravan sites to list just a few. I believe that in noir the location is just as much a character as the people who live there, and the author knocks it out of the park with his descriptions and dialog.’
You can read the rest of the review here.
‘Liberally laced with black humour, with a spritz of Don Quixote laid on top for good measure, Gumshoe Blues (2019) is some kinda read. Some kinda rough, cheeky, up-yours kinda read, I should add.‘
Read the rest of the review here.
At CRIME FICTION LOVER, Michael Parker says:
‘The result is a very kind of British noir, as if Jim Thompson had written his stories of doomed losers on the back of bawdy seaside postcards.’
You can read the rest of the review here.
GRAHAM WYND says:
‘The northern setting of Gumshoe Blues offers a laconic pace which suits the humour and makes the stark failures of the impromptu gumshoe Peter Ord a little (dare I say it?) poignant.’
You can read the rest of the review here.
ANDY RAUSCH says:
‘ Brazill is a master at work here, and I for one cannot wait to see what he does next. FIVE STARS. If I could give it more, I would. It’s that good.’
You can read the rest of the review here.
And, if it takes your fancy, you can pick up GUMSHOE BLUES here.
Mark Slade says:
‘One of my favorite crime writers is back and doesnt disappoint! My man, Paul Brazill spins some great crime tales!‘
and Beth Fine says:
‘Paul Brazill succeeds with Gumshoe Blues by keeping his story focused on his main protagonist, Peter Ord, after developing his character through a series of witty encounters and flashbacks. His supporting characters move the plot forward, and frequently provide comic relief to lighten the mood, preventing the book from feeling too dark or tragic. This book engrossed me so much that I finished it in two sessions. I highly recommend it.‘
Over at THE DARK TIMES, Elgin Bleeker says:
‘Funny and noir are two words not frequently linked. But Paul D. Brazill, master of the comic crime novel and short story, pulls it off. His writing has you laughing while it leads you down a dark alley and punches you in the gut.’
And at Amazon, Robert B. Wesley II, M.D. says:
And there’s more:
“…dark, witty, farcical and thoroughly entertaining.” — Barbara F. Jones @ StorGy Books
“The adventures of this PI feel like they rolled out of a Tom Waits song — crime with the feel of a shaggy dog story” — K A Laity.
“An original homebrew with a kick. Well worth sampling.” — Mark Ramsden.
Here’s the blurb:
‘Following the breakdown of his marriage, in a booze-addled flash of inspiration, Peter Ord decides to become a private investigator. Dark farce and tragicomedy soon ensue. Peter must tackle many challenging cases, and when he comes under the radar of a local crime lord, he may have bitten off more than he can chew. With sidekicks, like boozy hack, Bryn Laden, failure is not an option – it’s compulsory.’
You can grab GUMSHOE BLUES: THE PETER ORD YARNS HERE, if you’re that way inclined.
She says it’s
‘A thoroughly enjoyable read. Brazill’s vivid imagery doubled with his noir-yet-comical style make it impossible to put down.‘
‘Born in legendary England, but having sojourned in Poland for some time, Brit-Grit author Paul D. Brazill typically pens what he calls “screwball noir.” His writing has been translated into Italian, Finnish, Polish, German and Slovene. His work has also been published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime.