On the Run

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
Manchester detective Jake Squire is hired to find an escaped convict. He becomes embroiled in the dark underworld of the city gangland.

Submitted: January 16, 2014

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Submitted: January 16, 2014

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'I need your help, Mr Squire.'

I didn't think the young lady had called into my office to chat about last night's Coronation Street. I didn't say anything, just nodded and folded the newspaper I had been reading. She was wearing a black knee-length skirt and a white blouse which looked more like a men's shirt. It looked smart though, like she'd just stepped out of Court Six. And all this was topped off with sensible flat shoes. Polished too.

As she sat in the chair across the desk she fidgetted with her black, leather handbag. I was no body language expert but I could make out she was nervous, nervous and worried. Her eyes were slightly red, like she'd either been upset recently or was trying out a new contact lens solution.  Her dark brown hair was tied up and strands hung down at her ears. Her features were average. I could see nothing particularly distinguishing or striking about her, not attractive but not unattractive either. Chocolate brown eyes and high cheekbones. The bags under her eyes told me she'd not been sleeping too well.

I put my newspaper aside and leaned forward. She had my undivided attention. I cleared my throat. The young lady shifted slightly in her seat.

'What can I do for you?'

'It's my husband. He's gone missing.'

'When did you last see him? What's his name? And yours?'

'Well, my name's Jayne. Jayne Gilmore. I visited my husband Lee two weeks ago. He's in prison. He's done five years of a six year sentence. Yesterday he went missing, escaped from prison.'

I nodded.

'Why was he in prison? Any idea why he escaped?'

'He always said he was in prison because he got caught.' She smiled and continued. 'He robbed a post office and was arrested a few days later. We'd been married eighteen months and I took my vows seriously. I still do. For better or worse.'

Ninety minutes later Jayne Gilmore left my office. She'd answered all my questions the best she could, going into all kinds of detail. Basically she was a concerned wife who wanted someone other than the police to try and find out what was going on. The police, after all, were simply looking to arrest her husband.

She wanted to hire me to find out why her husband, after being a model prisoner for years, decided to throw it all away by escaping. An act that would only lengthen his sentence, the sentence he had patiently served out for the past five years. She couldn't understand why he had decided to escape now after all this time and so near to his release date.

I couldn't understand it either but I was going to find out. I assured her that I would investigate and take care of it. For my usual daily rate plus expenses. She had nodded and looked as though she had just signed her life away. I told her I would keep her informed and asked her to let me know if she heard from her husband or remembered anything she thought might be useful. Once she had left my office I made myself a strong cup of tea and went back to my newspaper. As I scanned the bold headlines I drank my tea and let it all sink in.

The daylight from the window behind me spilled into the room. Even with my back to the window I could tell it was overcast. Typical Manchester weather. I picked up my brew and went over to the window. Looked out my first floor pane through the letters painted in black on the glass. The letters told the world J.Squire Private Detective.

I could see people passing below. The sky was a miserable gun metal grey colour and drops of rain fell on the busy people hurrying along and tapped gently on the glass in front of me. I gulped my tea and let my mind wander. The conversation played through my head. Lee Gilmore escaped from prison yesterday. Fact. Jayne Gilmore hadn't heard from him. I decided I had to take this as a fact. I believed her and could see no reason why she would hire me to find someone whose whereabouts she knew.

I knew exactly wherre I would head in my search for the escaped prisoner. The police had contacted his wife and would be watching her home. I didn't know which park bench he had slept on but I had an idea about one of the places he would visit. An escaped prisoner, or anyone on the run, is a tortured soul. Their initial reaction is to flee, to get themselves as far away as possible from their persuers. But they are also drawn to people on the outside that they have left behind. So far he had resisted the urge to visit or contact his wife. He wasn't that stupid. If he was he would have been back in his cell by now. There was one place he would go to. I was sure of it. He would feel it was safe there and be pulled there emotionally.

I threw on my overcoat and hit the street. Fifteen minutes later I was sitting in my car watching the gates of Mayfield Cemetary. Rain drops splattered my windscreen but didn't obscure my view of the wrought iron gates. It looked like a real morbid place. I was sure the weather didn't help, it wasn't exactly a cheerful back drop. The fence surrounding the grounds were falling apart and made the whole property look like something the Munsters would be proud of.

According to his wife Lee's mother had died days before he was arrested. He had been allowed to attend the funeral but had been distraught and assaulted the two guards who had tried to take him back to prison. He was the only child of an only child, single parent. His mother had been his only living relative. If he couldn't see his wife I was sure he would visit his late mother's grave.

I pushed my seat back and made myself comfortable. I was parked about four or five feet down from the gate. I had a good view of the road in front of me and one glance in my rear view mirror told me what was behind. All under the most depressing sky I had seen in ages. The drops of rain continued to blot the windscreen.I leaned back and lit a cigarette. The comforting smell of fresh cigarette smoke filled my car. Rested my head on the head rest with my eyes fixed on the enterance to the cemetary.

Being on a stake out is like waiting in an airport departure lounge. You need patience. If you turn up expecting to board on time and have your flight called straight away you can only be disappointed when this doesn't happen. If you turn up resigned to waiting and get comfortable and prepared for the long wait and your plane takes off on time you are laughing. If it does not go to plan and you wait for hours then you've expected it and you're comfortable, reading the paper and having a brew. No problem.

This situation was the same. I was acting on instict, going with my gut feeling and was I had been told by my client. This was no American cop show where the hero was always right and almost had a sixth sense. I could be here all day and have nothing to show for it. I took a long drag on my cigarette. Blew the smoke out. Like the old advert used to say, I thought, here's to waiting.

Over the next few hours only a handful of people visited the place. There was a few elderly people on their own. They were probably visiting the graves of their spouses. There was a couple of families wearing thick coats and serious expressions. If they were lucky they were visiting the graves of parents or grandparents. If they were unlucky they were visiting that of children or siblings.

The hours rolled by slowly. I watched and waited, smoked cigarettes. A funeral procession passed by and went through the gates. About half an hour later it came out again and the cars disbursed, some turning left out of the gate, others turning right. No-one visited the place for ages after that. The weather was bad and it would be going dark soon. It was coming up to three thirty so I was left with only an hour or so of daylight, if you could call it that.

As soon as I saw the figure I was sure it was him. He was walking quickly. This was a man in a hurry. He wore a serious expression and needed a shave. Fists stuffed into the pockets of his black donkey jacket. Blue jeans and dated white trainers. He reached the gates and turned sharply disappearing into the cemetary.

I hopped out of my car and jogged through the rain to the gates. If the place looked depressing from the outside the inside was downright suicidal. Gravestones of grey and black dotted the grass all around like sheep in a field. The wide tarmac path going straight ahead divided the graveyard into two halves. I looked at the graves to my left as I walked. I could see no-one. I turned my attention to those on my right. I saw the man standing over a grave.

I left the path and headed towards him. The grass and mud was soft beneath my feet and stuck to my shoes. I moved slowly towards the figure. Shoulders hunched, back facing me. I crossed and threaded between the graves. The gravestones couldn't all be ancient but you'd never tell by looking at them. They all looked in bad condition and at least a hundred years old. The grim daylight did them no favours at all.

I stopped short of the guy. He was ahead of me, slightly to the left, just over arm length away. He still had his back to me. Shoulders slouched. He wasn't crying but his body language told me he was far from it. I could make out the name on the headstone. The grave in question was that of Teresa Gilmore.

He was shorter than my six foot and his dark hair was thick and curly. Looked like he needed a haircut. Maybe the prison barbers weren't up to much. Through the thick jacket I could see his figure was average, not thin and wiry nor heavy set. He hadn't been spending his time away pumping iron. It seemed to me that a lot of people serving a long stretch either find Jesus or the gym. Maybe the love of a good woman had kept him going. Who knew?

Rain drizzled on the two of us. Droplets soaked into his hair, made him look like he'd just stepped out of the shower. I breathed in. Eyes fixed on the figure in front of me.

'How you doing, Lee?'

 

His head jerked back like he'd been caught by a Michael Brodie right hook. He spun around to face me. He looked rough. As well as needing a shave there was the bags under his eyes which would have been too heavy to travel as hand luggage with any airline. He had a fierce look in his eyes, like a wild animal that had been snared by game hunters.

He stared at me as he tried to figure out who I was and what I wanted. I could almost see the cogs moving in his head. I couldn't be a copper otherwise there would have been screeching tyres, flashing lights and more than one person. He didn't have me down as a villain for the simple fact that I hadn't attacked him yet. If I'd been a gangster after him he'd either have a baseball bat to the back of his knees or a nine millimetre hole in the back of his head.

'My name's Squire. I'm a private detective. Your wife hired me to find you. Come on, let's go get a cup of tea.'

He nodded. Resigned.

 

We strolled to the greasy spoon café round the corner. He was quiet as we walked. The only sound was that our footsteps made on the pavement. We ordered two All Day Breakfasts and two mugs of tea. Took a table in the window. The place was empty which made things easier. Gilmore looked like he should have been dining in a soup kitchen. We talked as we ate. He piled his fork high and gobbled his food. He obviously hadn't been eating properly while he was on the run.

'What's going on, Lee?'

He sighed. Shook his head.

'I was doing alright. Sitting out my time. Looking ahead, you know? I read a bit. Wrote to the Missus. Wasn't exactly happy but not as miserable as some of the other guys. For some blokes each day was a fresh torture. All they could think about was what they were missing. I tried to concentrate on the future, what I was gonna do when I got out. I kept my nose clean. Got on with it. Early parole and all that.'

I finished my breakfast and slid the plate to the empty space beside me. Across the table Gilmore did the same. I offered him a cigarette. He took one. I took one myself and lit his first. Maybe he started smoking inside, it wasn't unknown.

'So what happened?'

'I was a year away from release when a guy called Richards was moved onto the wing. The guy was a real arsehole. Right nasty character. He make everyone's life a misery. He used to throw his weight around worse than the screws. There was one time I was sitting there having my tea when he came up and told me I was sitting in his seat. Real playground stuff. I told him the seat was taken and went back to my meal. Next thing he's flung my plate across the room. I shot to my feet. It would have been easy to wrap a chair around his head but I managed to control my temper.

'He told me I'd keep. When I got back to my cell the guy I shared a cell with had been giving a real going over. Looked like he'd gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. He told me Richards had given him a pasting to give me a message that I'd be next if I didn't learn some manners. I was livid. My cellmate was inside for fraud or something, a bookworm, so Richards, ever the coward had picked on him.

'Later than evening I burst into his cell. I'd been fuming all day and was really worked up. I kicked his cell door open. He was stretched out on his bunk reading the paper. I told him to stand up. He swore at me and leaped up off his bunk. He rushed across the cell at me. Teeth clenched like a guard dog. The red mist came down.

'I reached over and grabbed the glass on the table and smashed it against the cell door. I held the base of the glass, shards like blades. I drove it into his face as hard as I could. Blood ran out of his face and down my hand. He dropped to the floor, hands mopping his face. He was screaming. As I left his cell he was yelling that he was gonna kill me.

'He was taken to the infirmary and I cleaned myself up. I paced up and down my cell. Then it was lights out. In all the comotion with Richards I managed to hide in the showers and made my escape. Since then I've slept where I can. Anywhere out of sight. Park benches, deserted bus stops. I can't go back to prison. I also don't know who's after me. The police is one thing but maybe Richards got word to the outside. There could be a hundred villains looking for me right now.'

At that moment the door of the café opened. We both turned to face the door. The glass was steamed up but I could make out the figure of a tall man. Gilmore pushed his chair back, legs scraped against the cheap lino, his eyes wide. A builder in a lumberjack shirt and hi-vis vest stepped into the café. Gilmore sighed. He looked wired. On the edge.

I reached into my inside pocket and pulled out a business card. He looked at it then looked at me.

'Go to this hotel nad tell them I sent you. Stay there till I come for you.'

He held the card of the Windermere Hotel like it was an ancient artifact that held great power. I stood and pulled a couple of twenty pound notes from my trouser pocket. I tossed them onto the table in front of him. He clawed the notes of the table. I nodded and left.

 

At one o'clock the next day I was sitting in the visiting room at Forrest Bank prison. Across the battered and chipped wooden table Richards' freshly scarred face stared back at me. The room was the size and shape of a doctor's waiting room. I suppose it was a waiting room of sorts. Waiting for release. I lit a cigarette and offered Richards one. He took two, tucking the second in the pocket of his denim shirt. He lit his cigarette with a match from a value pack of matches. In this case value meant cheap.

He cocked his head back and blew smoke out above his head. He had wavy, unkempt dark hair. He had thick bushy eyebrows which met in the middle. This guy was ugly before the scarring, like a boxer who never learned to keep his guard up. I didn't think Lee Gilmore was the first person to give Richards a beating.

'Tell me what happened with Lee Gilmore.'

'You a copper?' he pronounced the last word like it was a foul taste in his mouth.

'Do I look like a copper? Let's just say I'm an interested party. I want to know what's going on.'

He shrugged and smirked like he had just been dealt a Royal Flush at the Flamingo in Las Vegas.

'Was that it? Just a playground bully who got what's coming to him? Shame, bet you were a real lady killer before he did you over!'

In one quick movement I flicked my cigarette at his face and jumped to my feet. My cigarette bounced of his wounds and he swatted it away like a fly. He swore at me, fire in his eyes. I grinned and winked at him. Turned and walked away.

'Gilmore's a dead man. He better watch his back. Just because he's out don't mean he's safe.'

I wasn't sure what I'd hoped to gain from Richards but I was satisfied with his admission that Gilmore was still in danger.

 

On the way back to my office I ducked out of the rain and grabbed a pizza from one of those pizza chains. These places were about as authentic as the McDonalds in Red Square. I slouched behind my desk and opened up the pizza box. The smell filled my office. Melted cheese and pepperoni. As I reached for a slice the door opened. I let go of the pizza.

Two guys in shiny tracksuits bowled into my office. They wore vacant expressions which I was sure they intended to come across as menacing. I didn't think they had been in the military but from the severe buzz cuts you could have been forgiven for thinking they were halfway through their basic training.

'What can I do for you, gentlemen? Don't tell me! You just called in for pizza?' I grinned.

'Where's Gilmore?'

'Don't know who you mean.'

One of the guys was a bit larger than the other one. He had a couple of inches on his mate. He reached over and with both of his large hands threw my desk and my lunch at the wall to the right of me. There was a crashing sound as my desk hit the filing cabinet. Melted cheese dripped off the drawers of the metal cabinet and small paper clips littered my floor like confetti. This wasn't my idea of rearranging my office furniture.

I bounced to my feet and hurled the chair I'd been sitting on at the head of the larger of the two primates. He tried to duck but one of the legs caught him on the forehead with a crack. He groaned and slumped to the ground. I pulled my pistol from the waistband of my trousers and waved it at the guy still on his feet. He looked angry. I guessed they weren't used to being treated like that. His eyes told me he wanted to kill me. I could almost see the fury building up in him.

He swore at me and told me he was going to rip my head off.

'What's stopping you?' I growled. 'Apart from the fact that your mate's snoring and also the fact that if you so much as take a single step I will put a bullet in your head.'

He didn't move. I stepped towards him across the debris strewn office. Still didn't move. He believed my threat. This was a good thing. I might get him to talk. He was right to have taken my threat at face value. If he'd have charged at me I'd have taken him out. No question.

I pushed the nose of my pistol under his chin.

'Who sent you?'

Silence.

'C'mon, you two no-marks didn't just decide to call in and ask about Gilmore.'

Silence. He wasn't going to talk.

'In that case you're gonna have quite a headache.'

I swung my pistol out away from him and drove it back into the side of his head. It was a quick movement and he went down. I went through their pockets and took their wallets. The big bloke was called Bacon. That tickled me. He was a little overweight and I'd have put money on his nickname being Bacon Butty. The other guy was called O'Keefe. I held on to the wallets and dragged their unconscious bodies down the stairs to the street.

Hailed a black cab and piled the two bodies in the back. These two would be out for a while.

'Had a bit too much to drink!' I told the cab driver.

I doubt he believed me. They both had bruises on their heads. The guy looked like he worked on doors when he wasn't driving his cab took the fare anyway. I tossed him the two wallets. Told him to take them to Glasgow and take the money out of the wallets when he got there.

'Are these two Scottish then?'

'No!' I replied with a wicked grin.

I slammed the taxi door shut. I watched the taxi pull away from the kerb and drift off into the traffic. I was still grinning to myself as I climbed the stairs back to my office. Those two heavies would probably come round on the way to Glasgow and demand the cab driver take them back to Manchester. Which he would do, for the full fare of course. I bloody loved this job.

I tidied my office, pushing my desk and chair back. I slumped back in my chair and lit a cigarette. Blew the smoke out across my office. The phone rang.

'Jacob Squire.'

'This is Jayne Gilmore. I need to see you. Could you call by the house?'

'Yeah. I'll give you an update then.' I glanced at my watch. 'I'll be there in half an hour.'

Twenty-six minutes later and with a tuna and mayo sandwich inside me I turned into the street Jayne Gilmore lived on. It was like any terraced street. Cars lined both sides of the street with the occupants trying to get their vehicle as near to their front gates as they could. There was nothing unusual about the street at all. Apart from the police tape across the road and the police vans and cars parked at angles. This was not a good sign. The police vehicles had their blue lights flashing and the light pulsed across everything. People stood at their front gates chatting nervously.

I didn't want to hang around. One of the reasons I was so good at my job was because I liked to go unnoticed. If I could get away with it I tried not to draw attention to myself. That wasn't always possible. Usually when I had to knock heads together. This was not one of those times. I did a slow turn in the road. Cruised my car back the way I had come.

I left the crime scene and the neighbours who circled like vultures. False concern masked their nosiness. I could almost hear the oh, I do hope everything's alright when what they really meant was I hope it's something I can tell my friends.

Later that afternoon I made a call to a friend of mine. I had known Den Kershaw for a few years. We didn't hug or buy each other birthday presents or anything but we helped each other out where we could. It was a mutually beneficial relationship. He was quite a high ranking police officer. You'd never see him on the News at Ten but he knew what was going down. And of course he always threw something my way. I returned the favour by doing the odd thing that needed doing but couldn't be done by a man in his position. Not in this day and age anyway. Maybe in the past when it was taken for granted that the police did whatever they could to get the job done. He was an old fifty three and looked haggard like the cops you see on television.

'Den Kershaw.'

'Den, it's Jake. How's things?'

'Don't ask!' Always the same question, always the same answer.

'What can I do for you?'

 

I went on to tell him about what I saw at the Gilmore's street earlier. I hinted that I was interested in the Gilmore case. I mentioned Richards but skirted around things. He knew better than to ask for details. He told to leave it with him and that he'd get back to me. I had no doubt.

At seven o'clock that night I was sitting in the Rising Sun, an old fashioned kind of pub whose only concession to the modern age was bottled beers and a big screen for the football. Positioned comfortably in a booth I sipped my pint and smoked a cigarette. Felt the effects both were having on me. Felt myself relax and unwind. The ringing of my mobile phone brought me back to earth. It was Den Kershaw.

He told me in short sentences that Jayne Gilmore had been found battered to death that afternoon. I had already guessed what was coming next. The police had named Lee Gilmore as prime suspect and he was now sought more than ever. Before I hung up I thanked him and told him to let me know if he found out anything else. He told me it was a sure thing.

There was nothing I could do that night so I decided to play the waiting game. I spent the rest of the night getting nicely drunk on draft beer and malt whiskey. I pondered on what had happened and tried to put all the pieces together. The pub was busy. The sound of glasses being emptied and drunken conversations filled the place as much as the cigarette smoke which slowly yellowed the wallpaper.

I tried to get it straight. Gimore hurts Richards and goes on the run. Richards, livid, sends his people after Gilmore. When they can't get to Gilmore they kill his wife instead. Textbook revenge. Attack the thing your enemy loves. Gets to them more than being hurt themsleves. I just had to wait and see what would happen next. I would be hearing from Lee Gilmore that much was certain.

 

I was dreaming about Ingrid Bergman when my mobile phone rang. I rolled over and checked the time. My bedside clock told me it was four am.

'Yeah?'

A voice swore down the phone. A voice I recognised.

'Lee? Calm down.'

'I gotta see you. We gotta sort this out!' His tone was as murderous as I guessed his intentions were.

I told him I was on my way. I threw on a shirt and jumped into my jeans. Jogged down to my car. Gilmore was close to the edge. He wanted to lash out, strike back.

I pulled my car across the gravel. My headlights lit the way ahead. I could make out Gilmore pacing up and down the canal bank. As my headlights reached him he flicked his cigarette into the black canal water behind him. Leaving my engine running and my headlights on I crossed the gravel towards the panicked convict. His eyes met mine and he nodded. I nodded back. He looked terrible. I could see this was killing him. He had almost a full beard and still had purple bags under his wild eyes.I pulled a cigerette packet and lit one. I offered Gilmore the pack. He shook his head impatiently like a drug addict wanting his next fix.

'I want revenge! Richards has got to go for this!'

I simply nodded.

'I mean it.' he pointed a shaking finger at me. ' He crossed the line. Way over. What did I do to warrant that?'

Tears filled his eyes. He swallowed hard.

'I'm gonna kill him.'

'I ain't know cop. Way I see it he had it coming.'

'Damn right.'

'I'll do what I can to help. I'll see what I can do.'

 

It went exactly how I'd expected it to. The person Lee had been living for was gone. He had nothing to lose now and he would make damn sure that the person responsible paid dearly. I couldn't blame him and would help him any way I could. Other guys in this line of work would have been horrified but this was one of those grey areas as far as I could see. This was not about the law. This was about right and wrong. I wasn't gonna take anyone out myself but if I could help the newly widowed Gilmore get revenge then I would do anything in my power.

Maybe the job had changed the way I looked at things. Maybe I wasn't a civilian any more, more like the characters I came across than the person I once was. Who knows, I might have reacted differently on my first day on the job. Not today, not now. And as far as I was concerned nothing else mattered apart from the here and now. Maybe it was like those cop shows on TV.  They show the cop working on the case but also the case working on the cop.

As I crossed the city on the way back to my flat I had a feeling in my stomach. I wouldn't call it E.S.P but I had an incling that something wasn't right. A sense of foreboding or something. I had no idea what it was but there was something. A nasty little something, and it was in the post that much I was certain of.

I didn't manage to get back to sleep. Had too much going round in my head to sleep. Ingrid would just have to wait for me. I drank strong tea and watched bad films on TV. At nine o'clock the following morning I showered to freshen myself up. I hoped it would convince my body into thinking I had just woken up after a full night's sleep. As I stepped out of the shower I heard the doorbell. Pulled on my woollen dressing gown and strolled to the front door. Unlocked the door and pulled it open.

Den Kershaw was standing on my doorstep. He wore his usual ragged coat over a grey shirt and stained tie. His greying hair badly needed cutting and curled around his ears. He stared at me, his expression serious. Just what I needed after the interuption during the night. I sighed to myself and told him to come in.

Once in the kitchen I put the kettle on and waved for Den to sit down. He nodded and wearily took a seat at the dining table. I sat down facing him with two mugs of tea. Handed one to him. As he took it he spoke.

'Richards has been found hanging in his cell.'

I swore

'We're looking into it, working with the prison authorities. I know you've got some angle on this, Jake, so I'll level with you. I've done some digging and found out something quite interesting.'

I could shake him. He had the missing piece of the jigsaw and was being as painfully slow as he always was. There was no urgency about the man at all. Eventually he got to the point.

'Gilmore and Richards knew each other. They used to knock about together years ago. In fact, their used to be three of them. Gilmore, Richards and a bloke called Phil Elkins. They were proper delinquents. Minor stuff but always in trouble. You know the kind of thing, shoplifting, car theft, burglary.

'They happily went along scrapping, shagging and nicking anything they could get their hands on. And getting pinched a few times too.'

'So what happened? What changed?'

'One night three unidentified men broke into an office in the city centre. After computers and petty cash boxes probably. Anyway, they triggered an alarm and the police turned up. The men fled and the police gave chase. Two of them escaped but the third, Elkins, was cornered by two officers. He had a machete and lashed out at one of the coppers. He made a right mess of the guy. Poor sod bled to death. The other copper managed to get the knife off him and made the arrest.'

My head was spinning. I grabbed a bottle of whiskey and poured us both a measure.

'The police were sure there was three of them involved but couldn't I.D. the other two. They questioned Elkins but he refused to rat on his mates. He was old school. The police were seen as the enemy and were to be told nothing. Code of Silence and all that.

'Of course when questioned Gilmore and Richards said they were nowhere near and had been playing pool all night. Elkins went down for it.'

'Where is Elkins now?'

'Still inside as far as I know. Does any of this help?'

'Yeah, thanks for that, Den.'

I handed him a fifty. He nodded, finished his whiskey and left. Once dressed I made a couple of calls to contacts I had in the prison service. I found out two things. Firstly, that foul play was suspected in the Richards hanging. Not a shock but I just wanted to be sure it wasn't suicide brought on by a guilty conscience. Secondly, Mister Philip Elkins had been released from prison six weeks ago.

Apparently while he was inside Elkins had fumed to other inmates about taking the rap for everything and swore he'd get the two judas' who'd let him take the fall. The guy I knew on the inside told me that Elkins was not a man to cross lightly. He had a very short fuse and flew of the handle easily. When he was angry he would get a crazed, maniacal look in his eyes.

Elkins had obviously reached out and got Richards snuffed out. After being in prison for such a long time he was bound to know someone who could get to Richards. Inside if you had the money or the influence everything had its price. It would have taken a word in the right ear or silver to cross the right palm and

Richards was as good as dead. That's why prisons these days have safety nets between the balconies and the concrete floor. Too many prisoners would plunge to their deaths after 'falling' over the balcony. Of course there would be no witnesses.

I jogged out to my car and made my way to the hotel where Gilmore was staying. It was a mild morning for the time of year. The winter sky was light blue and cloudless. I pushed on through the traffic as quickly as I could, cutting up commuters and mothers on the school run.

Dumped the car outside the hotel and dashed through the front door. The young girl behind the reception desk stared at me. She was short, blonde and pretty. I wished I had more time.

'Have you got a Mr Chandler stopping here?'

'Yes, room twenty-seven.'

I knew the owner of the hotel and he always used the name Chandler for anyone I sent to him. Maybe he was having a pop at me. Maybe he was trying to tell me he thought I was trying to be a fictional fifties detective. Who knew?

'Thanks love.' I called as I climbed the stairs.

I knocked on the door and told Gilmore to open up. The door slowly opened. He looked worse than the last time I'd seen him. I pushed the door wide open and slammed it behind me. The room was a mess. I crossed the room stepping over chip wrappers and recent newspapers. I pulled open the window. The room stunk. I had to let a bit of air in the room before I did anything.

I motioned for him to sit on the bed and I took the chair near the window.

'Your mate Richards is dead. Found hanging in his cell.'

'What? I don't understand.'

'Why didn't you tell me you knew him from way back?'

'I-I don't know. It didn't seem important. Didn't think it mattered.'

'Well, it does!'

Silence. Gilmore's hands were shaking.

'Tell me about it.' I lit a cigarette.

'We used to hang out together. Getting in trouble together. There was me and Richards and a bloke called-'

'Elkins. Go on!'

'Yeah, El-Elkins. Anyway, one night we robbed this office. Just for whatever we could grab. As we were leaving I gave Elkins my machete. Don't know why. Something just made me give him my knife. I told him he might need it.

'The alarm goes and the police turn up. We scarpered. Jumping fences, running down back entries and all that. Next day I hear that Elkins has been arrested but not before killing a cop. With a machete. The one I'd given him.'

'What then?'

'He kept his mouth shut like a good boy. Gets sent down. Me and Richards wind up inside years later, occupational hazard. And now this.'

'Looks like Elkins is after you. Apparently while he was away he swore he'd get you back. He's more than a little crazy too.'

'I heard he'd gone a bit deranged while he was inside. Prison does that to you, and Elkins was always a bit crazy to begin with.'

'Crazy enough to have Richards wiped out and when he couldn't get to you make you a widower instead. Not that he will be satisfied with that. He'll want you dead. Years of brooding and dwelling, bottling it up till his chance came. Well, it's come alright.'

He nodded. His eyes moved from side to side like he was reading the words I was saying.

'And' I continued 'he must have back up because he sent a couple of guys to me to find out where you were hiding. Mind you, on the inside you make friends, don't you?'

'Did you tell these guys where I was? What am I going to do?'

'Hey,' I raised my hand 'I told them nothing. I cracked their heads together and sent them packing. At the time I thought they worked for Richards. And as far as what you're gonna do, that's up to you. Way I see it you got two options. One, you can run. Disappear. Two, you can make a stand and sort this sorry mess out once and for all.'

His hands were still shaking. The skeletons in his closet had caught up with him. One in particular. Tears ran down his face. Tears for his wife, tears for himself. I gave him a minute. I finished my cigarette. Time's up.

I stood and hit him with a right hook. Not hard enough to break his jaw or do any real damage but not a light slap either. It did the trick. He snapped out of his stupor and leaped to his feet. He swung a quick right hook of his own. I was quicker. I caught his right fist in my left hand. His eyes blazed, pure anger.

'What are you gonna do? Run? Or are you gonna make those who killed your wife pay? These guys will be coming for you anyway.'

'They're gonna pay.' he whispered.

 

It looked to me like he was backed into a corner. He had the police after him. And a homicidal maniac who wanted to kill him. With a hand like that there wasn't many ways he could play it. If he decided to turn himself in then he'd be a sitting duck and would no doubt end up like Richards. If he ran he would always be looking over his shoulder until either the police or Elkins caught up with him. As far as I could see he didn't have a choice. He had to sort it out with Elkins. I told him I was going to help him take care of things. He nodded. I told him to shower, shave and change his clothes and that I'd see him in the car.

 

After thirty minutes of listening to the radio and drumming my fingers on the steering wheel Gilmore appeared. He looked like a different person. The weight on his shoulders wasn't lifted but he looked a lot better for having decided to do something about it. The shower and shave made him look fresher and more awake. And the clean clothes, blue jeans and check shirt was the icing on the cake. His expression told me he was ready to face his demons.

I lit a cigarette and tossed him the pack. He lit one and glared out the windscreen.

'Let's go.' I said and pulled away from the kerb.

The plan was to try a few of the old haunts from their youth. Chances were that Elkins had headed for familiar surroundings. Even if we didn't find him the fact was that Elkins was also on the look out for Gilmore. The first place we tried was a bookies. The three of them used to frequent the bookies before hitting the pubs and bars. Gilmore figured it would be a good place to start. I agreed.

The place was full of dead beats. Punters in filthy clothes watched various races on small television sets on brackets at head hight. All hoping their luck was in. The floor was littered with losing tickets and the gamblers clutched current slips with hope. Gilmore's eyes peered through the smoke at all the faces and shook his head. I went out the door and he followed. As we walked to the car we heard footsteps behind us.

We both turned quickly, eager to see who had followed us out of the betting shop. It was one of the guys who had trashed my office. The bruising on his head looked sore. I grinned.

'Elkins is looking for you.' he told Gilmore.

'I'm looking for him. Where is he?'

'I'll take you to him. Follow my car.'

He climbed in a white Ford Sierra that looked like it had seen better days. Started the engine. We ran to my car. The Sierra pulled out slowly and we trailed behind. I had no idea what reception we would get once we arrived. Elkins will have had prior notice from his lackey. He will have called ahead, booked us an appointment. We headed out of the city and out into the countryside. Up ahead I could see cottages, green fields and blue sky.

The Sierra pulled off the road and pulled up outside a farm building. The driver got out. I pulled up along side and we stepped out  onto the gravel driveway. The farm house was a low, rectangular red brick building. The windows were either smashed or were boarded up. Slates were missing from the roof. At the front door there were broken pieces of wood where entry had been forced. Just a guess but I didn't think Elkins owned the place.

The other meat head came out of the front door. He had a purple mark on his head. It was the shape of a chair leg. I was impressed by what a good shot I was. Both of the guys stood in the doorway.

'Elkins want to see you.' he pointed at Gilmore.

Gilmore nodded and stepped forward and went inside. I stepped forward.

'Not you!'

'No?' I glared and pushed my way past the pair of them.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw the two tracksuited heavies returned to sentry duty on the door. I followed Gilmore into the main living room. The large window had cracks running through it and a hole the size of a fist at the bottom left corner. Sunlight filled the room, across the bare floorboards and an ancient three piece suite. The pattern and the colour of the furniture was totally shrouded by dust.

A man was sat in one of the armchairs. I assumed this was Elkins. He had a bald head and a scowl. He looked a little like a bad guy in a James Bond flick. The kind of guy who wanted to take over the world. On the arm of the chair was a silver pistol. I hung back and leaned on the wall just inside the door. Just kicked back and watched the show. This was between Gilmore and Elkins. None of my business. Unless it got hairy. Then I'd make it my business.

I was with Gilmore. Not just because the Gilmores had hired me but I also sided with Lee Gilmore. I didn't know the ins and outs of it but from where I stood Gilmore didn't deserve what was coming. Elkins was bound to be angry at getting sent down but to hold the others totally responsible and to resort to murder for pay back was lunacy.

Gilmore stood staring at Elkins. He still had the fire in his eyes. He was raging. He faced his wife's killer. Elkins slouched in the chair returning the glare with a look of contempt. He wore tracksuit bottoms and a sports vest. The vest showed off his arms. He had clearly been working out inside. His biceps bulged and his triceps were like muscular horse shoes.

'Well,' Elkins said 'here we are!'

His eyes never left Gilmore's. He was playing games and it was obvious the guy was insane. Where was the anger? He was willing to kill to get back at his former friends but was totally calm. It was chilling.

'All this because you got caught and we didn't? You really are a few cans short of a six pack, my friend.'

Silence.

'You think it was fair that I went down while you and Richards got away with it? The judge upped my sentence because I wouldn't rat you out, you knew that!'

'I appreciate you saying nothing but the judge went harsh because you killed that copper!'

'You owe me.'

'You killed Jayne!'

'Yeah,' grinned Elkins. 'I did.'

I heard the gun shot before I realised what had happened. Gilmore held a smoking pistol. I had no idea where he'd got it from. He wasn't wet behind the ears so I should have guessed he'd be packing. Smoke fumed from the barrel of the gun. Elkins was slumped far back in the chair. There was a bloody hole on the left side of his forehead. Blood, dark red, ran down that side of his face.

I heard footsteps from outside. I turned, my own pistol drawn. The two hoods burst into the room. The first thing they saw was their boss, bloody, pale with eyes glazed over. Panic distorted their features. They froze for a second. The next thing they saw was the pistol I pointed at them. They both remembered the incident at my office. They'd both finished second. I could see on their faces that they thought I was gonna kill them.

'Relax lads, we got no beef with you. You're unemployed now, that's all. Now, do one!'

I pulled the hammer back on my pistol and shrugged. I'd called their bluff before and I'd delivered. They decided to run. They flew out the door as quickly as the could. I heard their steps pounding the gravel as they raced to their car. Gunned their motor and took off.

'We need to go, Lee. Come on!'

I practically had to carry him to the car. I started the engine and pulled off onto the road. Two police cars lights flashing tore down the road towards us. One of the cars swerved off the road to the farm house and the body. The other came after us, sirens screaming.

Those two guys must have called the police. School boy error! I should have made them leave their mobile phones behind. As it was they'd obviously opted for the ol' anonymous tip off. One cop car gone to find the body, the other on my tail. Only one thing for it. I moved up a gear and slammed my foot on the accelerator. Faster and faster. All I could hear was the sound of my engine and the wailing sirens.

Glanced in the rear view mirror. I swore. The police car couldn't have been closer if I was towing it. I noticed a dirt track coming up on my left. My heart was pounding like a battering ram. I gripped the wheel tight. Looked at Lee. He was white and perfectly still. I dragged the steering wheel as hard as I could. The tyres screeched as the car swerved off the road and onto the dirt track. The wheels dug into the ground beneath us. It slowed the car right down. The cop car followed.

The track ahead was gradually ending, running into the field. Nothing but long grass in front of me. Nowhere to run to. It was game over. Literally the end of the road. I eased off the gas and slowed the car to a stop. This seemed to bring Gilmore round. He looked at me. Eyes scared, face gaunt.

'Why've we stopped?'

'It's over, Lee.'

He nodded.

'Wait here' I told him 'and I'll go and speak to them.'

 

The police car was parked a foot away. I climbed out to face the officers who were already out of their vehicle.

'On your knees!'

'Wait-' I had to tell them that Lee was in a bad way. That all of this had messed his head up. That they should go easy on him.

That was when I heard another gun shot ring out. I turned to face my car and I knew what had happened before I saw it. Maybe I even knew before I got out of the car.

Lee Gilmore had avenged the murder of his wife. He had passed his own sentence on Elkins and carried it out. He had taken care of business but now I guess he had nothing left to live for. He had lost his beloved wife. It looked like she was the one keeping him going. Now he was a murderer and an espcaped convict. I suppose he just couldn't take the inevitable incarceration. He had no light at the end of the tunnel any more so the tunnel wasn't an option.

 

I spent the next twenty four hours answering questions at the local police station. I span them a line about Gilmore holding me hostage and forcing me to help him. I didn't think he'd have minded. Around two o'clock the following day I was released. They bought my story and Den Kershaw vouched for me so I was free to go.

I was starving. I went to a greasy spoon cafe for a full English breakfast and some strong tea. The food was hot and felt good going down. I was tired, in dirty clothes and needed a shower and a shave. As I ate my food I couldn't help thinking that there had to be a better way to earn a living. Maybe I could get an education. Become one of those mature students. Maybe learn a trade. My thoughts were interupted by my phone ringing.

'Hello?'

'Is that Mr. Squire?'

'Yeah.'

'I need your help. I'd like to hire your services.'

'Be at my office at four.'

I hung up.

Oh well, maybe I wouldn't call it a day just yet.


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