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A Barrow Boy's Cadenza

A Barrow Boy's Cadenza

Book excerpt

Prologue

London, just off Pall Mall, one of the classical white stucco, terrace buildings, appearing from the outside as it had done since Georgian times, but inside, stripped out and modern.

Silence, just after midnight. the House rarely sat late these days, so the MP could be there, along with the PM’s Cabinet Secretary, Head of Armed Forces, and a man known only as Pomerol, as in the ruby red wine he brought to these meetings. As tradition dictated, they sipped the robust wine from crystal goblets, sat around the large conference table, a single central, powerful light, punching a glare onto the highly polished surface, distant walls lost in the peripheral darkness.

The light on the table surface flared and reflected to the faces of men, silent, driven politically and idealistically, their course set, wine savoured, waiting. The appearance of severed heads of Olympian Gods, suspended in the heavens. Not Gods, though not far off how they viewed themselves. Faces did not respond to the delicate tapping on the distant door. Opened, the room flooded with light for the briefest of moments, plunged back into halo and gloom, a whirring and gentle snap as the electronic closer did its job.

A harsher tapping of footsteps on the polished hardwood floor, blakeys, metal corners on shoe heels; click, click, eight steps, a chair drawn back, only the hint of a scrape; hallowed halls. Len took his place at the table, part filled his goblet that sparkled refracted light, swirled the ruby liquid, looked at it through the light, sniffed, sipped, and made the obligatory mmmm of approval. He put his glass down, his hands flat on the table in front of him; he was ready.

 

* * *

 

The dog was dead when they took it from the harbour; a savage beast who had in turn been savaged. They chucked it back, ‘Strewth, what’s that, the seventh this month?’ He was just a crane operator, so why should he care; the Ministry of Defence Police Inspector did.

 

* * *

 

Colonel Horrocks insisted they accept his resignation, ‘The Chief Constable position is not for me. The job is not what I thought it would be. I suggest we get the previous Chief back,’ he told the committee.

‘Colonel Horrocks, you are our man and I suggest you think long and hard before you say no.’ The ramrod Colonel of the Marines was making himself clear to Horrocks, his body language portraying a pointed aggression.

This was not what retirement was meant to be like Colonel Horrocks, nicknamed the General, thought to himself as he clanked out of the Board Room on his tin legs, out of the Royal Naval Officer's Club, onto the street. The salty mist off the nearby sea did little to settle his stomach; what should he do? His options were clear, the consequences of saying no, certain; this was not a game. He could think of only two people who could help him, but would they?

 

* * *

 

Jack settled the banker into the palatial safe house, a jewel in this part of leafy and posh Southsea. ‘I’m not sure I can do this Inspector. You have my affidavit, can that not be enough?’

‘Enuff to bang the bastards away, not to save the economy, stupid,’ Jack said, striking a presidential pose, wishing he had a mirror. He did, however, feel a tad guilty, this would be dangerous, took balls, and he thought merchant bankers had none. Just goes to show, he thought, ‘The ‘ouse is nice…’ he said to reassure the uncomfortably plump, clammy banker, ‘bit ‘Ansel and Gretel for me, all that flinty stuff, but nice garden for you to stay out of,’ he chuckled. Aware of the gun running, Jack Austin didn’t want this banker popping his clogs, just yet.

 

* * *

 

A message on DCI Jack Austin's phone, which he studiously ignored, read;

 

Well done BatBat and Dobbin

I’m in Jack

List of those involved on its way

Those bankers need to be on the naughty step.

Shall we go gunning for them?

Mor.

Chapter One

‘I’m dying.’

 ‘Again?’ She sighed, it would not be the first time he had died on her. A little over two months ago he had been shot rescuing children held by a paedophile ring on a Solent fort. He had died and been brought back. She carried on.

The voice from the bed stirred, a suggestion of delirium, she could not miss it; he had a forceful voice even in his weakened condition. ‘I see a fairy at the bottom of our garden, sunlit water, dappled pixels of sunlight, it speaks to me…’ he said, in an ephemeral, cotton candy voice, ‘…don’t go to work. Take Amanda off to a world of tranquillity, beauty, and seafood…escape as two lovers. You’ve done your bit.’

This did make her stop, and she looked over his prone form in the bed, beads of sweat on the raised wrinkles of the puckered skin that sank into the void of his right eye socket, refracting the early morning summer sun that penetrated to the back of the bedroom: strong, blinding, punching through the crack in the curtains. The vertical scar that ran from his forehead to an inch or so onto his right cheek, was raised a brilliant white, an iridescent reminder of a most horrific historic injury. Mumbling incoherent frontier gibberish, his good eye closed, he was unaware she looked at him. Sometimes, it was as if she had never before seen the disfigurement. She returned to her work.

‘Retirement is like dying…listen, like only the dying can,’ he called out like a poncy Larry Olivier, and Mandy stopped her flurry of housework, this fragmented sentence catching her attention. They’d spoken about retirement and whether they could hack it? She had this romantic notion of just taking the ferry, he called a fairy, out of Portsmouth and going on the missing list in France.

Jack became aware of the sudden inactivity and opened his good eye. His vision was blurred. He saw not a ferry but a more traditional fairy, in a knee length silk nightdress gently lowering herself onto the bed and sitting beside him, he gave up an involuntary gulp. She stroked his brow, picking up sweat, and leaving a residue of fairy dust and microscopic household mites as she looked into his one, unfocused, good eye. He responded with a throaty, rumbling groan to her soothing and gentle touch, a death-rattle? He sensed her breath in his ear, shuddered, and despite his failing health, was excited by the proximity of her radiant beauty.

‘Shut the feck up Jack, you are not dying, you have a hangover. Getting pissed with Alexander Petrov and Milk’O. Now, get up and give me a hand.’

Oh, the savage cruelty of the fairy world. He was awake now and any thoughts of a day off in bed were gone, uncomfortably reminding him of his own childhood, his Mum would say if he was ill, “Ask the teacher if you can rest yer ‘ead on the desk”. Other kids had days off. Groaning and expelling his sour breath into the dusty atmosphere, he replied to her clenched nose, ‘Ooooh Amanda, you can be so insensitive. What’re you doing anyway?’ He propped himself and twisted his aching body, so his good eye could face her without having to turn his painful head. His neck hurt, could be menintitearse, and he had a mild panic attack; how can he ask Mandy to put a glass on his skin and check?

Familiar with his hypochondriac hysteria, his getting words wrong, and speaking of his thoughts, she replied, ‘I’m picking up my clothes, where you threw them last night, and your tutu, which is covered in mud and grass stains, it's meningitis, get your own glass, and help me get the flat ready for Liz and Carly who are coming to stay for a week while they look for somewhere to live.’

 ‘God, I thought that was next week,’ he said, his vision clearing. Was this the clarity you sense before death?

She stood, grasping a bundle of clothes to her chest, predominantly stiff pink netting, ‘I appreciate you have your head full of the important things like Millwall feckin’ football club, Bernie having a cheese sandwich when you asked him what he wanted to drink, and the overthrow of the Government, but I thought there may have been a little room for a modicum of domestic information.’

He thought that was it and began to relax, but it wasn’t, she stayed, and appeared to be looking for an answer. What could it be she wanted to hear? What was the question? ‘What are you doing with my tutu?’ Nice save he thought.

‘Putting it in the wash,’ she replied, standing up, and sitting immediately back down as he tugged her hand. She fell across him and he planted a kiss, she noticed his eye was better focused and the Stratford upon Avon moment appeared to be over. ‘That’s nice,’ she said, and he kissed her brow. ‘Come on, let’s have coffee, they’ll be here soon.’ Mandy offered a token struggle, enjoying the warmth of this irritating man, raised her head just in time to see a cheeky thought make the tortured journey across his ravaged face.

‘Have I got any clothes here?’ he asked.

It made her think, a hint of a chuckle at his imminent embarrassment. ‘Crikey,’ she said, ‘there’s your old shirt I wore that time, when I had nothing at your house.’ She was thinking of clothes but Jack was recalling how beautiful she was in his shirt, reminiscing how in the sixties, as a young man, the screen sirens were often seen in just a man’s shirt and it affected him as much now as it did in his non-spotty youth. In fact, this woman had ignited a desire in him he thought may have been totally extinguished, and not just because he would be sixty in a few days. He had lost his lust for life and the lust for anything else after Kate, his wife, had been killed in a car crash a little over three years ago.

‘Just need some round the houses then?’ he said in his spiky, cockney accent. People didn’t really know what Jack’s accent truly was as he bounced from estuarine, cockney, Jane Austen English, and anything else that entered his mind at any prescribed time, especially Cod Irish.

Mandy went to the wardrobe, grabbed the shirt, and tossed it to him, ‘Let me think on the trousers, as revolting a thought as that is, get up and we'll have breakfast, and please, not too much Stratford upon Avon, eh?’

‘What?’ Jack said, mainly through force of habit, although he was a tad deaf, as he raised himself from the pillow, and with only a modicum of groaning, a token really, he got out of bed. He found his boxer shorts on his face, and as he lifted them off, Mandy was smiling. He acknowledged the accuracy of her throw and she held the shirt open for him. One arm in, he spun into her arms and embraced her, ‘Amanda Bruce, I love you.’ She was about to reciprocate when the phone went. ‘Leave it, it’s bound to be the Nick.’

You see, she thought to herself, he can be so irritating, so why do you love him? She had no answer; it was a mystery to her and everyone else. ‘Jack, you are a DCI, and I am a detective superintendent. Half of Portsmouth was blown up last night; you were there. We stopped a battle between Crusading Knights Templars and Saracens; you were there as well, and both times dressed as Angelina Baller-fucking-rina, so I think our colleagues may want us in today?’ To mollify the strength of her rebuke she applied her syrupy southern belle smile that he saw as a special treat for him. It made him think of the porridge his Mum used to make, and sometimes, for a treat, she used Golden Syrup, not that he thought Mandy looked Scottish; a ginger beard would not suit her. She leaned over to pick up the phone, not taking her eye off him, and again it appeared as if she looked to him for an answer, he sensed as he always did, a feeling of mild anxiety. What to say? Twice this morning, not good for his apolloxy which he was convinced he had, along with Oldtimers and Florets, and now, menintitearse.

‘You were going to say something?’ she asked.

The cavalry came over the hill and something occurred to him, ‘What about Connie, dressed in her Yoga stuff?’ and Mandy roared a laugh into the telephone receiver.

On the other end of the phone, Detective Inspector Josephine Wild, known as Jo Jums or Mumsey which had become Ma’amsie since being promoted to DI, reacted, ‘Mandy, you have just deafened me.’

Mandy walked with the portable phone, her eyes following Jack who had taken advantage of the distraction to beat a strategic retreat to the loo, a pit-stop, before the kitchen. She watched him getting his mocha pot ready. ‘Sorry Jo, Jack was remarking on Connie’s part last night, saying she was dressed in her Yoga kit.’ She stopped talking to Jo Jums and turned, reacting to Jack’s cry having dropped his pot. The coffee strainer and metal pot had fallen onto his bare feet, and she watched the pot explode, the shattered black handle, skitter within a cloud of coffee grounds, across her formerly clean floor. Shaking her head, she still managed a smile at his reaction to the pain and described the picture to Jack Austin’s long-standing and long-suffering colleague, who just “derred”.

 ‘What?’ he said, as he scrambled around the floor, mentioning he may have a broken foot, as he used the toe of that broken foot to push the coffee grounds to God knows where, hoping they would miraculously disappear, Mandy supposed.

‘Ninja, she was dressed as a Ninja.’ He’d not heard, often didn’t when he didn’t understand something. He did have poor hearing, but Mandy thought some was selective.

 ‘The ‘andles broke, and who’s ginger, are we having Golden Syrup?’ he called from the floor.

Mandy returned to the phone, not understanding a word of what he said, ‘He’s okay, thanks for the call, we’ll be in for the not the nine o’clock briefing, about ten. We want to call into the hospital to see Father Mike; they kept him in the Assessment Ward last night.’ She carried on listening on the phone whilst looking at her man scrabbling on the floor, trying to pick up the coffee grounds with his hands and looking to see if the handle would magically reaffix itself. ‘Jo, get the commander to sit in, save time. I will handle the press conference later, set it for five, I have a feeling lover boy will need an early night, and me too if I’m honest - see you later.’

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