Blood Money

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
When he gets out of prison Jackson is determined to pick up his criminal activities exactly where he left off. But the town he left has changed and not for the better. There is a storm coming and he's right at the centre.

Submitted: January 16, 2014

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Submitted: January 16, 2014

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The taxi dropped me off outside the pub. As soon as I got out of the cab one look told me the place had gone to the dogs. It had been a cosy little ale-house last time I was there. Now it's name and everything else had changed. The Cemetary used to be like a second home. Everyone knew everyone else. Walking in there was like walking in your front door. Good crack with the lads. Okay so we weren't what you'd call law abiding citizens but who was?

Now the place was owned by a cheap and tacky pub chain. It called itself  The Horse and Applecart but may as well have been called the wino and the under-age drinker. When you get out of prison it generally tends to one of two ways. Some people decide to turn things around and go straight. They have that smug self satisfied air usually reserved for born again Christians. These ex-cons see release as a fresh start, a new beginning.

I fell into the other category. Prison was a break but I was out. I was back. It was time to pick up where I left off. Don't get me wrong I was no Ronnie Kray but let's just say I'd gone off the rails since my days as an altar boy.

I served four and a half years of a six year sentence. I might have been out sooner but I always did have a wicked temper. I couldn't help seeing red over certain things and found it impossible to bite my tongue and keep my fists to myself. This meant that when it was time to meet with the parole board I had about as much success with the board as Bury Football Club has in the F.A. Cup.  I would give this line about hoping to turn over a new leaf, given the opportunity.

The parole officer, a real bank manager type, would look at me over his half moon reading glasses. I can hear him now.

“Ah, yes, that's all very well and good, Mr. Jackson, however,” he rifled through the files on his desk “I refer to your recent conduct.”

He would then go on to list every screw and con I had assaulted. What could I say to that? Oh yeah, sorry! And back to the block I went.

Eventually I managed to keep my nose clean. I controlled my temper, held my tongue. I even made frequent visits to the prison chapel. I was a reformed character who with the grace of God would go on to become a functional member of the community. Yeah right. The parole board bought it. I pulled it off. I was a free man.

 

Taking a deep breath I pushed open the door to the pub. Fuck, I thought, they've really paved paradise with this one. The only thing that hadn't changed was the basic shape of the room. Fruit machines were dotted all over the place. Track-suited, baseball capped scallies pumped their dole money into the slots. More of them played or stood around pool tables and congratulated each other in single syllable words as they potted little balls into big pockets.

Dance music screamed out of speakers the size of TV sets mounted on six foot high poles in each corner of the room. How the hell you were supposed to dance to this racket was beyond me. The place was packed. As far as I could tell everyone was drinking the pound-a-pint strong lager. Posters for the stuff were plastered  to every wall and behind the bar.

I made my way to the bar. My progress was slowed by the number of people in the place. They were stood around tall tables or seating in the booths which lined the walls. With each step my shoes stuck to the carpet. The bar area was as packed as the rest of the place. Those wanting to order drinks fought to get past the defensive wall of drinkers propping up the bar. I squeezed  between two blokes dressed in their tribal burberry and waited to get the attention of one of the bar staff.

I ordered a pint of lager and the barman reached for a pint glass. He didn't half look familiar. He was around five-ten with a dated Vernon Kay hair style and was in dire need of a shave. I took my drink and handed the guy a fiver. I was just about to tell him he could take his own then a name flashed in my head.

"Joe Winters? That you?" I grinned.

"Stone me! Jackson! Good to see you, pal. They let you out then? Or did you dig out from the shower block?"

I told him it was all above board and we shook hands. He was clearly busy so he asked me to wait behind at last orders. I patted his arm twice, nodded, sure.

I downed a few pints and tried to take in exactly how much my own Cheers bar had changed in my absence. I felt as though I was the cement holding things together and when I went away the wall came crashing down.

Last orders rolled around soon enough and I sat at the end of the bar while the other boozers finished their last drinks and drifted out of the place. Once the place was empty he told a woman called Lucy that he'd lock up. He came over carrying a bottle of Southern Comfort and two glasses. Taking the stool next to me he poured us both a hit of the hard stuff.

"Hey, what's it like to be back, man?"

"Back? This ain't the place I left, man!"

"Okay, everything changes, bound to happen. What are you gonna do?"

"What happened? Where have all the old faces gone? I thought it'd be like a welcome home party coming here."

 

Joe Winters was what we'd call a stand up guy. If you were a mate of his he'd do anything for you. I'd known him since primary school. Back then it was the two of us trying to pull a fast one on the rest of the world. I was the villain of the two of us. He was just a bit mischevious, going along for the ride. When we were twelve we held up the newsagents that we used to deliver papers for. Don't ask me what we were thinking. Naturally it was my idea.

The tiny shop was cluttered with boxes of those cheap Space Invader crisps and ten pence chocolate bars. A kid's dream. All the newspapers were placed on the bottom shelf of the magazine rack so if you didn't get one delivered you could come to the shop to claim it. One afternoon when we went to collect a batch of the evening papers to deliver the shop was full. There was a queue of people. They all formed an orderly queue and handed over what to us was a ridiculous amount of money for their paperbill.

There must have been pound-signs in my eyes like on those old cartoons. The following morning we charged into the shop and demanded the guy hand over all the cash. He came around the counter and beat the shit out of us. He then called our parents who came down and also beat the shit out of us. Mrs. Winters ordered her boy to stay away from me in future. She hissed something about me having the devil in me.

As the years went by a few more people began hanging around with us. It wasn't a gang or anything. If any of us got into bother then we were on our own, there was no great gang mentally we were just all on the same wave-length and enjoyed the crack with each other. By the time we were in our late teens we were hanging out at the Cemetary. There was ten of us by this stage. We were like minded guys who would do anything for a few quid whatever the risk and regardless of the consequences. Like I said, I was no Ronnie Kray and we were certainly no Firm but we used to gather in the boozer and have a great time.

 

"A while back it would have been, Jackson. It would have been like New Year's Eve you getting paroled but now-"

"Things have changed?" I suggested.

"Afraid so mate. All the old guys have moved on. The guys are gone. Some, like Edwards and a few others, met girls and settled down. They moved out of the area. This ain't the kind of place to raise a kid."

I nodded. Sipped my Southern Comfort.

"A couple of the lads, Hilts and Carling, joined the army. They're seargants now apparently. And those left behind saw their town slowly turn to shit. And so one by one they moved away. The place is full of scum these days. Scallies who would sell their own grannies for a quid. We never went that far, did we?"

He grinned. I forced myself to return his smile.

"What about you, Winters?"

"Me?" he shrugged "I run this place. I'm pretty much legit these days."

"So, your old lady was right then? I was the bad influence."

I drained my glass and Winters topped me up.

"Where are you staying?"

"I dont know. I didn't think that far ahead. I headed straight for the Cemetary."

"There's a room here. I'll be pretty tied up running the bar but you're more than welcome to take the spare room. Rent free, of course."

"Winters, I couldn't-"

"Mate, I insist. C'mon, I'll show you where it is."

We finished our drinks.

I had nowhere else to go. I was on my own with no ties to keep me but with no real inclination to leave town either. What the hell, I thought, may as well hang around and see what happens.

Winters flicked the light switch to reveal a bog standard spare room. Single bed, bedside cabinet with chintzy lamp, and a tall wooden wardrobe. He tossed me a set of keys and told me the room was mine as long as I wanted it. I nodded, thanks, and closed the bedroom door.

You could say the room was large but only if you were describing a cupboard. The wallpaper peeling off the wall suggested the room might have been an Indian restaurant back in the Seventies. I threw myself down on the matress. I went over what had happened that evening. I wasn't normally a nostalgic person but seeing what the Cemetary had become made me yearn for the old days. The glory days, I wanted to be back there with the old faces getting up to no good. I could feel my eyelids coming down like a theatre curtain after the last act. I gave in. I closed my eyes and sleep washed over me.

 

When I went downstairs the next morning Winters was already up and about. He was in the hall signing for a delivery of something or other. I nodded good morning and let myself out the back door. I didn't want to impose on Winters any more than necessary. I walked up the road and took breakfast in a cafe in town. There's nothing better to set you up for the day than a full English. In this instance it was served with lashings of brown sauce and a dirty white mug of strong tea. As I ate I thought about my next move. I wouldn't be running a pub that much was certain. I watched the rain getting blown around the street outside.

Before I could do any business I was going to need some cash. With the cholesterol from my breakfast running around my system I threw on my three quater length black leather coat and stepped out into the rain. I called into two of the banks in town. I emptied the accounts I had. Needless to say the accounts which I'd stashed my ill-gotten gains were not in the name I was Christened with. My nest-egg had been waiting for my release like a loved one. It wasn't a massive amount but I planned to put what there was to good use. It would help me earn a few quid.

Next stop was the car hire place. I rented a red three series BMW for a month. I didn't know what was going happen today so a month seemed like an eternity. I paid cash and thew my sports bag containing my cash in the boot.

Two hours later I had purchased a significant amount of class A narcotics. They too went in the boot. Now I had to find people who would take the stuff off my hands for a tidy profit. Dealing drugs is all about nerve. It's about sticking your neck out and taking risks. The prison term dished out for drug offenses depends on the amount. If you only have a small amount you can claim it was for personal use and you'll only get charged with possesion instead of intent to supply. The knack of dealing is to buy in bulk at a cut rate and take the risk that you can shift it without attracting the attention of the Law to those who would take a slice of the action at a marked up price. There were those that would mix things into the stuff to make stretch further therefore increasing the profit made. I wasn't into all that. Any time I got involved in dealing I simply bought off one person for a low price and sold to others for higher rates. Purely a business transaction. For me I may as well have been selling antiques.

I spent the afternoon cruising around town. I wasn't your average door-to-door salesman and it wasn't super mops I was peddling. I had been around enough to spot those interested in purchasing a little class A. I called into pubs, bookies and snooker halls. I had quiet words with shady characters and made a sale more often than not. I was doing more sales than the Trafford Centre in the January sales. I was raking it in.

I managed to sell all of my gear and by eight o'clock that evening I was back at the Horse and Apple. I rented a garage five minutes away from the pub and  offloaded my cash there. It was the garage that locals used instead of risking parking on the street. They were in blocks of four with lifting metal garage doors built into the grey brick work. At the back was a tool bench so you could use the lot at a workshop. I placed my now extremely bulging sports bag at the back of the unit under the toolbench. I peeled of a decent wallet's worth of notes out of the bag and left.

Time for a pint. My mouth watered at the prospect of a cold pint of lager. Taking my seat at the bar I set about quenching my thirst. Winters was behind the bar with Lucy. He came over to serve me. The place was quiet but I expected it would get busier later on. Just a guess but I didn't think the majority of the bar's clientel would have to get up for work in the morning. I downed a few pints and started on the whisky.

By ten thirty I was nicely drunk. You know, the sort of drunken state of where everything is beautiful and perfect and you feel like you have the secret of the universe in your back pocket. I waved my empty pint glass in the air in an attempt to get served. Lucy came over. I ordered a pint and a whisky chaser. She pulled my pint.

"So, you're an old mate of Joe's then?"

"Oh yeah. We go way back."

"He's a good bloke."

"True, not sure many'd say that about me!"

"I don't know," she smiled "you seem okay to me."

Placing my drinks on the bar in front of me she told me what I owed for the round and added 'sweetheart'. I wasn't the best at reading women but even I got the impression that she was into me. She was a good looking girl, early thirties at a guess and around five-four something like that. Her eyes were ocean blue, the colour of Spanish swimming pools in the brochure and she had a cracking smile. And her figure, she had curves in the right places, let's leave it at that. I handed her a tenner and told her she could keep the change. She thanked me and winked. With that she went on with her bar maid duties, serving the people who had started to fill the place and doing all  the other things that went with the job. I sipped my pint and chaser and watched the scallies getting out of their faces.

I'd had my fill. I was getting very drunk. Mind you, I hadn't been in a pub for a few years until the night before. I finish my drinks. I went over to where Lucy and Winters were pulling pints next to each other. I told them I was going for something to eat and that I would see them later. I winked at Lucy. She smiled and a slight blush crossed her cheeks. I was well in there. In like Flynn.

I left the pub and decided a curry would be just the ticket. Nothing goes better than a skinful of ale and then a curry. They go together like Lennon and McCartney. I was drooling at the thought and my stomach growled in agreement. The day's rain had stopped and there was a chill in the air. I strolled down towards the Bay of Bengal. This was a run-down little curry house which served the best Indian food this side of Madras.

As I passed a side street I heard someone call my name. I turned ninety degrees to face the voice. In a deserted street lined with terraced houses, insuffiiciently lit by sickly yellow street lights stood three men in suits and overcoats. They were staring straight at me.

"Yeah?" I asked.

"We need to have a little chat." said the boss.

He was clearly the boss. He was standing with the others on either side of him. He had a false tan and slicked slightly greying hair. He was what you'd call thick-set. Overweight but the way he carried himself hinted that it was accompanied by agility. The other two were the muscle. Let's just say I didn't think they were hired because of their qualifications or the amount of words they could type in a minute. One of the guys stepped back and opened the back door to the silver Rover behind them.

"C'mon, let's take a ride." the boss said.

"Nah, my mother always told me not to get into cars with strange men." I grinned and half turned away.

The boss pulled a pistol from inside his overcoat. He pulled back the hammer. Click. If I walked away I'd be shot in the back. I hadn't been out of prison twenty four hours so the prospect of being shot in the back was not something I would relish.

"You know, come to think of it, I'll take that ride after all."

 

The two pit-bull like bodyguards hauled their substantial bulk into the two front seats. The boss shoved me in the back of the car and climbed in after me. The car pulled of and rolled down the street. He turned sideways in the seat to face me.

"My name's Meadows." He said it like I should know it. I shrugged.

"I own these streets. D'you understand?"

"You into real estate?" I smirked.

I had a big mouth. He leaned over me and grabbed me by the throat. His eyes wide. He was livid. I realised that people tended not to talk to him that way. I wasn't 'people'.

"Watch-your-fucking-mouth!" he growled.

He returned to his side of the back seat and barked at the driver to put his 'bastard foot down'. The driver did as he was told. Ten minutes later we came to a stop out side a terraced house. I was taken through to an upstairs room. An office. It looked like this was the place Meadows ran 'his' streets from. I was told to take the seat in front of the desk. Meadows took the seat across from me. The room had the desk, a filing cabinet, and a settee against one wall. On the walls archive boxing programs were displayed in frames. I knew nothing about boxing but this guy had a signed program from the 1965 Ali - Liston fight. Even I was impressed. The two henchmen sat down on the settee with the kind of vacant expressions that were usually reserved for nightclub doormen.

"I'm a business man, Jackson. I control this town. A lot has changed since your day." he pointed at me and went on.

"I run the prostitution, the protection rackets and the narcotics. Someone robs the post office then they'd better have my approval and give me a take. I understand when you started dealing on my turf you didn't understand the way this are now, fresh out of prison and all. So I'll let it go. Pay me my take and tread more carefully in future and I'll think no more of it. I'm nothing if not fair." He shrugged as if to say 'see what a decent guy I am'. His hoods nodded, 'see what a decent guy he is'.

"No." I said.

"No?" he looked shocked and annoyed.

"No dice, Meadows. You'll get no fucking pocket money from me. Now, if there's nothing else-"

 

I went to stand. From the corner of my eye I saw his hand move. I felt his fist crack against my jaw. I fell back in my seat. The next thing I knew I was on the floor trying to protect myself from three sets of feet all intent on sticking the boot in. They were all around me. I writhed on the floor. I tried to sheild myself, tried to find some sanctuary from the blows. It felt as though pain was a volume switch being turned up and up in different parts of my body. Swinging foot after stamping boot made contact. I rolled over on my back just in time to see the sole of a raised shoe. Everything went black.

 

I opened my eyes slowly. I was shocked by a brilliant white light. I was unsure whether it was because of the brightness of the light or if it was because I was unadjusted to the light. It was like when you put the light on in the middle of the night and it stuns you for a second. After squinting a little my vision cleared up and objects flooded in to view like a tap had been turned on. I was in a hospital ward. It took me a minute to figure out what the hell I would be doing in hospital, in bed, wearing fucking pyjamas. I couldn't recall being diagnosed with anything.

All of a sudden I had a flashback. A subliminal flash or something, like those pop-ups that slow you down when you're trying to surf the net. I saw the three of them kicking the living daylights out of me. At exactly the same time I felt pain. It ran through the whole of my body. I couldn't feel my arms or legs or my chest; only the pain. I could feel each blow again and again. It seemed like I was back there on the floor of that office trying in vain to fend off the next attack. I closed my eyes and raised my arms across my face.

It must have only been for a few minutes but it felt like hours. As quicky as it came the pain faded. It settled down to a more tolerable level. It was a whole lot more than an ache but was a papercut compared to the initial agony. I opened my eyes once more. Winters was sat in the chair next to my bed. He looked tired.

"Hey pal." he said.

"Winters! How's things? What do you know?"

"Well, you got one hell of a kicking. We found you lay on the steps of the pub. You must have been dumped there. Any idea who did this?"

"Meadows. Didn't like me doing business on 'his' streets apparently."

"He's a bad man, Jackson. You should let it go."

"Joe, you know me. I can't walk away from this."

"I know."

He shook his head and massaged his face with both hands. Like he couldn't figure out how his oldest friend could wind up in this state. We went way back but we were miles apart. He had gone straight and looked well on it, I had gone the other way and a day after my release was laid up in hospital after being beaten black and blue.

The hospital ward was like any ward in any NHS hospital in the country. Beds were against the walls in the open plan room. There was a real mixture of people occupying the beds. A few old people, mainly overweight men attached to breathing equipment with worried wives at their bedside. There were some younger people who looked deathly pale. I couldn't tell what ailled all these people but none of them looked like they'd been given a going over. If any of these could hit back at what had put them in hospital I reckon their reaction would have been the same as mine.

"The doctor reckons you'll be in here for three weeks." Winters continued  "You've took a real pasting. You'll find you are very weak. No serious damage, a few bruised ribs an' that. Anyway, I better get back to the pub. I'll pop in again when I can. Lucy sends her love. Says she'll see you when you're fit and well."

I smiled. Told him to take it easy and that I'd see him around. I held my hand out and winced as he shook it. Fuck, I was really weak. A simple handshake made me want to vomit in pain. After Winters left I closed my eyes and forced myself to sleep. I would need a ton of sleep and even more rest. I would have to be tip top once I got out of this place. I don't know if you've ever been in hospital but the thing that got me was time. That was the killer, time moved at a painfully slow pace. You think you've been awake for hours and hours. You think to yourself that it's got to be nearly dinnertime yet the clock on the wall says nine twenty-six. Time moves so slowly. It's more mind-numbing than an airport departure lounge. It was more soul destroying than doing jury service. Not that I'd been on a jury. In front of a few though.

I drifted in and out of sleep. I slept, I ate, drank a little water, slept, and then it was time for bed. The next day I had a visit from two of the people who had put me in hospital. They stood on either side of me, in suits and overcoats. They paused to admire their handywork. Upon seeing them half of me was anxious. The last time I had seen these two they were with their boss giving me a good going over so I guessed they hadn't come with grapes and to see how I was feeling. The other half of me wanted to jump out of my bed and rip their throats out regardless of the pain I was suffering.

"Hello darling. How are you feeling?" one of the rottwiellers asked.

"Oh, been better, y'know." I managed to utter.

"We're really sorry to here that, aren't we, Squire?" They exchanged tickled smirks.

"My heart bleeds, Simmo, it really does. Inside I'm crying."

They chucked to each other. Inside I was smiling. These two hoods would not have been hard to track down after I got out of here but they had made the job easier by giving me their names. Brain surgeons they weren't. They went on to say that they knew I was due for release in three weeks. They said Meadows had given the order that upon my release they were to collect me from the ward. I would be taken to the office and given one last chance to pay the boss his take of my earnings.

"We would love to stay longer but I am afraid business calls. You, get well soon. See you in three weeks."

"Yes," I answered "you will."

 

For three long weeks I fumed in my hospital bed. Asleep and awake night and day I dreamed of the retribution, the vengeance I would have. Nurses and doctors came and went, took my temperature, tended to my wounds. Slowly, it felt like forever, my body grew stronger. My mind grew sharper and focused on the task. Medical science has always been shocked by the resilience of the human body and the super-human ability of will power. I was on the mend, my body was repairing itself and my mind was concentrating on my release. Pictures of what had put me in my sick bed and what I was going to do to those concerned when I was good and ready ran through my head. It was as though I was training for a prize-fight against a heavy weight champion or something. These boxers always study tapes while preparing. Mentally I was doing the same, and I suppose physically my body was trying to condition itself.

One of the porters was I face I recognised from the old days. Mickey was a guy I'd sold the occasional bit of stolen goods to. We weren't best friends but if we bumped into each other in a pub we'd buy each other a pint. When he saw the state I was in he looked shocked. This expression changed to one of sympathy. This was what I needed.

"If there's anything I can do-"

"There is actually. There's something I need."

I told him I needed a handgun. Nothing fancy, just a point and shoot pistol. I said that I had no money on me. He nodded, told me it was 'his round anyway'. The next day he came to see me. He reached inside his navy uniform and produced a handgun. Giving me a serious look which told me to be careful he tucked the gun in the back of my bedside cabinet. I had sorted out some problems in the past with a gun. I was no Mr. Big but a gun sometimes came in handy. It told people you were serious and not to fuck with you. It sent a message out. I hoped it would prove enough to save my skin once again.

 

The time ticked by. By the time my release came I was itching to get started. The hour had arrived.

The day for my release was a Thursday. The doctor always visited the ward at eleven thirty and those well enough were allowed to leave there and then. Once the doctor had seen you that was it, done and dusted. I knew someone like Meadows would have checked what time the doctor would be doing his visits. By that logic Squire and Simmo were due at  the same time. I didn't want to be caught on the back foot so by eleven twenty-five I was pulling on my shoes, my jeans, my burgendy shirt and my leather coat. I tucked my gun into my coat pocket. I wouldn’t be waiting for the doctor. Getting the correct discharge from hospital was the least of my worries.

The day was like any other for the other patients on the ward. Business as usual. For me it was the opposite. I felt the same rush I felt on my release from prison. Let's go to work. I made my way towards the stair well at the end of the ward. The sign said exit and car park so I thought that would be favourite. There was an almost suffocating smell of disinfectant. Maybe I hadn't notice earlier because of the state I was in or maybe because I was flaked out in a bed and not on the move.

I went through the double doors at the end of the ward. One concrete stairwell flight wound up to more wards and theatres and various hospital rooms. The other flight wound down to the exit and the car park. I could hear familiar voices. Meadows' donkeys had come to collect me. They were coming up from the car park, chatting in loud, arrogant voices about the previous night's conquests. I went halfway up the flight to the upper wards and held back so I could see the ward doors I'd just come through. I had a clear view of the entrance. The hoods would be expecting me in bed waiting for the doctor like a good patient so I was safe in my vantage point. I would be able to see them and they wouldn't be looking for me. A second later, right on cue, I saw tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum come up the stairs and swagger through the ward doors.

I raced down the steps towards the exit. I would have to be quick. As soon as the two goons realised I was gone along with all my clothing and belongings they would be after me. I wanted them after me but I would need a head start. I flew down the steps two at a time and burst through the exit door into the car park. I stood to the left of the exit. I would only be visible if you were stood on at the door and looked to your left. Anyone in a hurry would not notice. The hospital car park was the same size and detail as your average supermarket car park. There were cars cluttering up the car park. It wasn't the Trafford Centre on the last Saturday before Christmas but it wasn't deserted either. It was a cold, clear morning. The winter sun gleamed a orange beam across the tops of the cars.

I pulled my pistol from my pocket and held it behind my back. To an innocent bystander I was waiting for someone at the hospital car park. If they saw the gun in my hand they would read my presence differently. They would be right to. I heard footsteps. Two sets of footsteps, it sounded like they were hurtling down the stairs. They came crashing out of the exit and stopped a few feet in front of me. They scanned the car park for any sign of me.

"Looking for someone?"

They turned around to face me. I grinned and showed them my pistol. They swore in unison.

"It's okay, lads. Meadows wants to see me and I want to see him. Everyone's happy. Go and get your car and I'll wait here. You two in front."

They looked at each other then at me. I had them and they knew it. I could have taken them out the minute they came outside and still could. They went to get the car. A few seconds later the silver Rover came across the car park and pulled up in front of me. They were in the front as told and the drivers window was down. I climbed in the back. I sat in the middle of the back seat and held my pistol out in front me. I told them I needed to make a pick up on the way to see their boss. I told them it was in their bosses interest if we did. Not that they had any choice but the fact that it might please Meadows made them a little more likely to do as they were told. And the fact I hadn't touched them despite the kicking they gave me.

I directed them into a disused industrial estate. The car crunched its way into the gravel car park. All the units were boarded up at the doors and windows. Some had ancient for sale signs mounted. The car stopped. They exchanged glances.

"I'm gonna need a hand with this. C'mon. Out!" I waved my pistol in encouragement. The three of us climbed out.

I told them to follow me and went over to one of the units. They did as they were told. As we got close to the brick work of the unit I ordered Squire and Simmo to stand against the wall. They resisted and didn't move.

"Now!" I yelled.

They jumped and went and stood next to each other with their backs to the wall. I stood in front of them. I could feel a maniacal grin distort my features. They were shitting themselves.As I raised my pistol at arms length Squire pulled a knife and charged at me. He slashed like mad with the blade. I knocked his knife hand, the right, away with my left foot. As I landed all my weight back on the left leg I caught him with the butt of my pistol to the side of his head. Blood washed all over my hand and he went down. He was out cold. My hand felt like I had dipped it in a basin of warm soapy water. I shook the excess blood off my hand.

At that moment Simmo decided to try his luck. As I was shaking his friend’s blood off my hand he lunged right at me. As I fell I lost my grip on the pistol and it slid across the ground. We hit the gravel. He was on top of me. His fist connected with my jaw. I started to have flashbacks again to the other night. Now though, I told myself, it was one on one. Good odds.

I dug my head into the ground underneath me before flicking it upwards. I connected. My forehead caught his nose with a crack. Result. His hands went to his face. I made the most of it. I hit him with a couple of blows to his ribs and threw him off me. We both got to our feet. He was bent over trying to stop the blood running down his face. I made a dive for the pistol and made it. Simmo had taken his eye off the ball. He tried to rush me. I was on one knee. I turned and put a hole in his forehead. He had been running towards me. The shot made him fall backwards. I stood up and dusted myself off. I went over to where Squire lay and put one in his head. I climbed in the Rover and pulled off the car park.

 

I parked Meadows’ Rover in its space outside the terraced house I’d been brought to before. I was ready. My performance with his two goons had proved that. I was primed. Meadows was going to get what was coming to him. It wasn’t about the money. To be honest I doubt if I knew what it was about. I had always been the same. I was a thirty-something teenage tearaway. I was reckless but when backed into a corner I found something hidden inside, some raw untapped resource or something. I can’t explain it.

It’s like the time when I was inside when these guys started throwing their weight about. They pushed me about, three of them, massive guys. Bullies the lot of them. They trashed my cell. A pool cue and I put them in the sick bay. I didn’t have any bother from anyone after that. Maybe I would never grow up. Who knew? All I was concerned about then was settling the score with Meadows. Maybe I blamed Meadows for what had happened to the town. Maybe I blamed him for me missing out on those years I spent inside. I just knew that I couldn’t settle till I had brought him down a peg or two.

I knew Meadows would be in the office. That’s where I was going to be brought to. He would be sitting there behind the desk waiting for the goons to bring me to him. I kicked open the front door to the house. I pulled my pistol and ran up the stairs. I gave his office door a kick. The door flew open to reveal Meadows behind his desk.

I stepped into the office. He remained seated, staring at me.

“You wanted to see me?” I said.

“Where are my lads?” Meadows barked.

“They took early retirement. You better put an ad in the Evening News.”

I could almost hear his brain ticking over, purring like your car when you switch the engine off after a long journey. There was a thousand thoughts a second going on behind his poker face. He stroked his chin slowly, pensively, looking at me all the time. Maybe he was wondering whether he would suit a beard. Somehow I doubted it.

“Tell you what I’ll do for you, I’ll wipe your debt. Forget about what you owe me. And the guys on my payroll you took out. Forget about it. Call it a welcome home present.”

“Woah, hang on a fucking second.” I waved my hand in the air, one of them still held my handgun.

“What I owe you? Debt? Where the fuck do you get off?” I screamed.

“Easy, son!”

I stormed over to where he sat and grabbed his throat with my free hand pushing the barrell of the gun against the side of his head. He titled his head away from the gun. I yelled in his ear questioning if the streets were his. He didn’t answer the question.

“Look, you’ve already killed two people today. What’s this going to be? You’re bloody hat-trick? Walk away now and that will be an end to it. Close the door behind you. Close the door on the whole thing.” He was breathing heavily. He was clearly panicked. His tone was pleading.

From my position I had my back to the door. I had left it open. I now heard it shut with a click. This worried me. The second click I heard really worried me. It was the click of a hammer being drawn back on a pistol. Shit!

“Jackson.” Shit! I glanced over my shoulder to see Joe Winters holding a pistol on me. The rat bastard.

“You double crossing sonofabitch!”

“C’mon Jackson. Did you really think you could do what you wanted because you have been away for a few years? This place has changed, you know?”

“You’re telling me! So you work for this cunt now do you?” I dug the barrell of the gun hard into Meadows’ head. He winced.

“Jackson. You give me no credit do you? Oh no, Meadows works for me. The streets are mine!”

I felt like I had been hit by a freight train. The room began to spin slightly. I shook my head. This was just too much to fucking take in. Nice-guy Joe Winters, one of my oldest friends and boss/drugdealer/pimp/gangster Joe Winters, could they be one and the same? My head was swimming. I had been gone an absolute age.

“What about the pub? You run that place. You’re not a gangster.”

“It’s a business. It’s a front. Don Corleone was an olive oil importer.” He smirked.

I let go of Meadows. I straightened up. My arms hung limp at my sides.

“What happened to you, Joe?”

He shrugged his hands by his sides now. Neither of us held our gun on the other.

“Nothing, you always had me down as the good lad gone a little bad, didn't you? I wasn’t always following your lead, you know. I just wanted everyone, you included, to think that. I got away with murder. I could do no wrong. Talk about under-estimation. And you couldn’t so much as sneeze. Everyone always on your case. I was always smart. Years went by, you went away and this place changed. When the hoods left town there was a massive opening. I stepped in and appointed myself as king of the hill.”

“I was no bad influence, you evil bastard!” I spat.

I raised my hand and fired a number of shots into his chest. His body shook as each clip pounded into his body. The gun he was holding dropped to the floor with a thud. A second later he did the same. I turned my attention back to Meadows. He had tears in his eyes and was white. I forced the nose of my gun into his mouth. He shook his head and mumbled 'no'.

"I've just had to kill my oldest friend and you want me to spare you? After the kicking you gave me? What do you think?"

I pulled the trigger and put a hole in the back of his head. I left the building closing the doors behind me.

 

I think that was the moment it really hit home that the place I grew up in was gone. It was history, gone for ever. That was also the moment that it didn’t seem to be a bad thing to have put things behind me. I walked the streets. My head spinning like a roulette wheel. I stared at my feet, at the traffic passing by, at the sky, and at the buildings. I needed to leave town. I had to go. I was lucky to still be around and figured I would act on it.

I called into the Horse and Apple. One lose end needed tying up. I marched up to the bar. There was no-one in the place. It was a bit early to be drinking even for the scallies. Lucy was sorting out the bottled lager.

I rapped my knuckles on the bar. She turned to face me.

“I’m leaving town.” I said.

“Are you okay? You look exhausted. What happened to you?" She looked upset by my condition.

 "Somebody tried to finish the job they started. I had to stop them. It’s over now. I am leaving town. Come with me.”

“What?” It wasn't a no.

“Fancy a fresh start? See what happens? Take a chance on me. What do you say?"

She paused a second. It wasn’t the first time that day that I could almost hear the whirring of grey matter. She flashed that magical smile. She nodded. She lifted up the hatch to the bar and hugged me.

Twenty minutes later she had packed a siutcase full of clothes and everything else she would need. I had my bag of cash and a good feeling about things. We got to the train station and boarded the train sitting at the platform. Throwing the bags in the overhead rack we sat down. The train rattled out of the station.


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