It was spring, but nobody’d gotten round to telling the city. I stepped outside and the morning hit me, cold, gray and lifeless like a regional policy forum.
My back was crying bloody murder from the chair I’d been in all night, staking out one of those crazy fringe groups. They weren’t mob but the mob liked to use them for jobs now and again. Nice and deniable.
Think-tanks, they called themselves. Well I knew what I thought of that. I’d just spent ten hours staring through a dirty window at squat. You could watch those goggle-eyed freaks for ever and not see them do a damn thing.
My car was a few blocks off. I was on my way when I ran into Yvette, hauling some lowlife off to the cells. Yvette was Eddy Boy’s woman – leastways that’s how he liked to tell it. We all knew who ran that little show. She was a piece of work. Legs that went on longer than a select committee meeting and a stare that could cut through bullshit like butter.
“Looking good, Yvette. What’s new?”
“Everything but your lazy banter.”
Yvette didn’t kid around. A damn good cop but no sense of humor. But I wasn’t in her league and we both knew it, so no harm, right?
I nodded at the weasel in the cuffs. “What’s this one been up to?”
“Tried to smash up the public library.”
“So, you booked him, huh?”
She pretended not to hear. Kindest thing anyone did to me that day.
I started back on my way, but she called out: “Hey, there’s one thing. The new chief wants to see you. Better get your ass down to headquarters.”
And that’s when it all started to go wrong.
* * *
After a slug of bourbon from the flask under my dash, I’d been driving a few minutes when I saw him. Clegg, kicking his no-good heels by an alleyway, eyes full of nothing. Waiting for who the hell knew what.
For a while, Clegg had looked like he might make something of himself. But now here he was, errand-boy for the mob. He’d go off and do their dirty work, every time their laughter ringing in his ears, and every time he’d come back for more. He’d found himself a rut and called it home.
The new chief once told me about some Swedish quack who says when you’ve been held hostage long enough, and you can’t take it any more, your messed-up head makes you fall in love with the guy who’s got you trapped, just to make it feel not so bad. He reckoned that was the deal with Clegg. Well I didn’t buy that headshrinker’s tonic. I just reckoned he was too far gone to care.
Another day I’d’ve pulled him into the station to ask what the hell he was up to, or maybe just dragged him into that alley and see what I could find out that way. But not today. Today was bigger.
* * *
The new chief looked up, eyes so bright they could have blinded the sun. Nearly two years in and we still all called him the new chief. The last chief had been a brute; the one before, a prophet. After them, the chair seemed kind of empty.
He was sat in it and he waved for me to come in, like he wasn’t my boss and I was doing him a favor. He wasn’t a bad kid, just out of his depth. A keen, skinny, over-promoted college boy, all brains and no smarts.
He talked for about ten minutes before he got round to the point. When I heard what he wanted my heart sank like an exhausted rat halfway across the river.
As I walked out of his office I bumped into Eddy Boy. He was in a good mood cause he’d got a break on Osborne, the mob’s money man, a well-fed rat-faced son of a bitch who was so smug he’d started getting sloppy. Eddy Boy was jabbering about a paper trail that led to some scam with charity donations.
He clocked the look on my face and toned his glee down. But that sort of thing was only ever for show with him. Eddy Boy hearing someone else’s bad news was like the face of a kid sneaking a whiz in his neighbor’s swimming pool.
I went outside, the air thicker and dustier than a Watford focus group on a Monday night, and thought over the lousy hand I’d been dealt.
The mayor. We were gonna take down the mayor.
* * *
The mayor was mob and everyone knew it and no one cared. He ran City Hall the same way the mob ran the streets: he did what suited his people, and anything more was just for the hell of it. He didn’t give a damn about anyone else, but he had the sense to act the clown. That way, folks could kid themselves that he was OK. That there was nothing much he could do but smile for his pet newspapers and crack funny. That even if the city was sinking into the sewer, he was just shrugging along with the rest of us.
He’d be a sweet catch if we could bring him in. The mob could get by without him but maybe we could lean on him, cut him a deal and maybe get something on Camero.
Big Davey Camero had been out of the country awhile. Word was he’d been setting up gun-running deals in Asia. But pinning that or anything else on him was gonna be harder than getting a Question Time audience to understand a nuance.
Smooth talker. Put him in court and he’d ooze respectable charm till they all wanted to introduce him to their daughters. Only way to make the mask slip was to get him angry, but that had its risks too. If he turned those killer’s eyes on a jury, sure, they’d know him, but then they’d be in no mood to get in his way. Even with a judge like Humphrys, a storm in search of a teacup who’d cut you dead if you tried to get out more than twenty words in a row, you couldn’t stop Camero shooting fear across a room.
We could only bring him down if we weakened him first. Break his spell by taking out some of his cronies. Like the mayor.
And who was leading the case? Old Kenny.
Kenny had been around longer than anyone cared to remember. He’d been a big noise back in the day, even back before people had had the guts to listen. Still singing the same old tunes now, but with a voice ripped up and soured by time and booze and defeat. Hauled out of retirement for one last case. Could he pull it off?
That’s where I came in. My job was keep the old buzzard sharp, to stop him screwing up. To make sure he brought the mayor in and didn’t end up digging his own damn grave.
Now I got no delusions. I’m just another gumshoe walking his way towards a pension or a bullet. Nothing special. But I got a few tricks in me, and when I get a case I damn well work it till I’m raw. Hell, I helped bring in Liam the Fox last year. And this was the thanks I got.
Why couldn’t this be Oona’s case I was on? Oona. She shoulda been the one, not Kenny. There’s not a man in the department that wouldn’t kill or die for a glimpse of that smile and a dream of those lips. We’d have walked every last street in Hillingdon in the dirty rain for her, knocked on every door, listened to every asshole who thought he could do our job, and we’d have kept smiling and nodding because we knew she was worth it.
But instead they dig up old Kenny and tell me to cover the goddamn stink.
I lit up my last smoke and crushed the empty pack like last week’s order papers. I tossed it into the gutter and figured I’d end up there myself pretty soon. I headed for Mickey’s. There were two things I knew for sure: I needed to play dirty. And I needed a drink.