He was tough, young and fit.
He might just, he thought handle the
two that stood either side of him, but he wasn’t all that sure about it; they
looked as if they could handle themselves: they wouldn’t be working here if
they couldn’t. But he knew he couldn’t handle the one that was staring at him
from directly in front, because he’d never been able to beat him in any on the
fights they had: playful, semi-playful, half-serious and once, thanks to that
slut Mary Gibbons, real. Sweat prickled on his brow as he searched his
brother’s face for some sign of recognition or softening; there was absolutely
none: he had never, ever seen Dave look like that; he was staring at him as he
would a complete stranger that he wanted to hurt. He knew that, because he’d
helped Dave hurt a few and had tried to copy that look because it terrified the
poor bastards. Now it was on him.
He was tough, young and fit. And he
was scared witless.
Behind Dave, he knew, was the desk and
the bloke sitting behind it: small, fat, bald, bloody half-ancient: could have
swatted him with two fingers. But Dave had acted as if he’d been Big Ron
Thompson, who ran the gangs who ran the drugs in the high-rise slums they’d
been born in, he and Dave. You didn’t mess with Big Ron; the name was enough to
scare people, with good reason. And Dave had cowered and grovelled to the
squirt just like he was Big Ron! Now he heard that voice again; it didn’t
belong in that body: if you heard that voice without seeing him, you saw
someone… well, like Big Ron. It was a deep voice, powerful, commanding.
“Get on with it,” it said.
Dave’s eyes flickered for a moment,
but that was the only warning he got. The fist caught him just below the
breast-bone, driving the air out of him. He’d been ready, he thought, tensed
for just such a blow, but the speed and power of it caught him unawares. He
started going down, his brain whirling even as he sucked, desperately for air.
Don’t go down! Stay on your feet! Dave had taught him that, and he’d seen the
sense in it more than once when the suckers had gone down and curled up: they
were a perfect target for the boot.
‘Dave!’ his brain screamed. ‘Don’t!
But Dave wouldn’t, he knew, not with
that look on his face. He was still going down, time compressing as his arms
hugged his belly, elbows in protectively. Breathe! Don’t go down. He looked up
just in time to see the back-hander coming, the ring glinting in the light. It
exploded against the side of his face and he knew that he was going to hit the floor.
No breath, no power in his legs: don’t go down! Forget protection; grab the one
that’s standing on that side. Why weren’t they joining in? Just Dave doing
this; grab, but the bastard’s skipped away. That was quick, he thought: good
mover. Don’t go down!
He was on hands and knees, just about
the worst position there was. Tuck; roll, get up! Get up! Can’t fucking
breathe! Move, you silly bastard; you’re a target! Too late! Thank God Dave was
wearing shoes and not bovver boots. In the ribs. Christ! Something cracked.
Pain! Dave! Get up! Get up!
‘Dave!” he croaked, using breath that
would have been better used otherwise. The sound was appeal, accusation and
bewilderment in one syllable. But Dave wasn’t where his eyes went; he’d moved
fast, somewhere. Where? A foot thudded into the other side of his chest: that’s
where. Get fucking up! Then hands were at his arms, dragging him up. Thank
fuck! But they pulled him up and held him, and nothing he could do because he
couldn’t breathe! Breathe, for fuck’s sake! Where’s Dave? Dave, it’s me,
Charlie! Stop, for fuck’s sake! Where is he…….?
Agony tore through his as the first
drove into the kidney. There was no thought as his head snapped back, mouth
gaping as he howled his agony. His knees buckled, but they held him up. Thought
returned to that horrible pain the engulfed him. He heard someone moaning. Him,
but he couldn’t stop it. Don’t let them know you’re hurt, Dave had said. But
you couldn’t Dave; not with that sort of shot.
“The other side,” said that deep voice.
Other side? What other side? Was that
“Dave…” he moaned. And then Dave hit
him in the other one and the world bloomed into an agony so unbearable that he
couldn’t stay in it.
The man behind the desk looked up into
the agonised face of the man who’d just administered that short but intensely
savage beating to his own younger brother.
“You knew the rules, Mr Reynolds,” he
said. “And so did he.”
There was no accusation in the eyes of
that craggy face, just, possibly for the first time in his life, regret at the
violence he’d performed. Now he nodded as the sprawled figure on the floor
behind him groaned; he didn’t turn.
“I’m very sorry, sir,” he said. “It
won’t happen again.”
“I sincerely hope it doesn’t, Mr Reynolds.
Because if it does, you know what you will have to do, don’t you?”
The big man swallowed, beads of sweat
appearing on his brow. He nodded again, jerkily. “Yes, sir.”
“And where that will put you, Mr
Reynolds, as the sponsor of a failure?”
The man’s lips tightened. “Yes, sir.”
There was a relaxation in the stern
features; the voice softened. “I’m very sorry that you had to do that. But I
had no choice, you understand.”
Reynolds’ face didn’t change. “The
silly little bastard’s always been cocky, sir,” he said. “I thought I’d got through
to him when I talked to him about this. But I was wrong, sir. But I swear that
he’ll straighten out: he’s not a complete bloody idiot, despite what he did.”
“I very much hope you’re right. Are
you a principal at the moment?”
The mouth tightened. “No, sir.”
“Then you lose a month’s access. I’m
being lenient with you. Mr Reynolds, in view of the fact that he’s your
The mouth tightened a little. “Yes,
sir. Thank you, sir.”
A hand waved dismissal. “Get him to
hospital. You know which one?”
“Bixby Private, sir?”
“Precisely. They’ll be expecting you.”
He came to as they were driving
through the streets of West London. Reynolds knew he was awake because the tone
of the groans changed. He’d been driving in circles waiting for this to happen;
now he pulled the Jaguar in to the kerb, switched off and turned slightly
sideways to look at the white, drawn face of his younger brother.
“You awake, Charlie?” he asked.
“Yeah. Oh, fuck! You really worked me
over, Dave. Jesus, man; I think…. Fuck, I’m in agony!”
“You’re lucky to be feeling anything,
you stupid fuck!” cut in the older man, his voice suddenly vibrating with a
fury that stopped even the groans. A white face stared at him, illuminated in
shades of yellow by the sodium glare of the street lights. “Listen, you fucking
cretin! That’s the best job in the world, back there. And you had to go and
fuck it up! I told you and told you, but did you fucking listen? Of course you
didn’t! Because you’re Charlie Reynolds, prize fucking arse-hole!”
“It was only a quick fumble,” groaned
his brother. “Oh, fuck; I think you done my kidneys!”
“Fuck your kidneys! Only a quick
fumble!” mimicked Dave. “That quick fumble made me do that to you, idiot! That
quick fumble cost me a month’s access to some of the best screws in the world,
you fucking little bastard! These are people who make Big Ron look like a
bloody traffic warden! These are seriously serious people, you fuck! I told you
that a dozen fucking times! And if you so much as think about doing anything
like it again, Charlie-boy, do you know what’ll happen to you?”
The white face stared. “I’m sorry,
Dave,” groaned the voice, suddenly that of a hurt child. “I was…”
“I know what you were doing,” said his
brother, the anger suddenly gone. “Just what you’ve always done: do it first,
think later. But you do it again, mate and I lose two years bloody seniority; I
go back to the start again. My number will be ninety fucking nine! You want to
know what you’ll lose, Charlie?”
“You’ll lose about seventy fucking years,”
said, Dave, reaching forward to start the engine. “Because I’ll have to shoot
you, Charlie. And I’ll do it, sunshine, brother or no brother. Just bear that
in mind next time you want a quick fumble.”
She was frightened, despite trying to
control it, which was unusual for her: she’d faced, without too much fear the
toughest cross-country obstacles, a runaway horse and a couple of over-amorous,
half-drunk stable lads. But then she hadn’t been standing with a loose bag over
her head, her hands handcuffed behind her, with a rope or chain running from
the linking chain to somewhere above her, so that she could move around, but
only in circles.
The bag or hood was of some soft
material that hung in folds over her face, its contact a constant irritation.
She felt that she had to keep blowing at it to remove the contact; she’d done
it a couple of time and actually moved the stuff, but it had come back within a
few seconds, so she’d given that up. The worst thing was being unable to see:
it made things so bloody disorientating.
What had happened was clearer. It was
obvious that she had been abducted, but to what end? Blackmail? Well, there was
plenty of money in the family, but father had always refused to pay in the
past, even when it had cost him Peter’s Choice, that lovely horse that was
favourite for the Derby. They’d found the poor thing in bits; couldn’t be the
same people, though, because the ones who’d done that had been in prison for
the past four years, with another eleven or so still to do: the judge had been
There was, of course, another
possibility that she had to face: she was twenty and bloody good looking: she
didn’t need the men that flocked around like flies to tell her that; or the
magazines, television and radio people who fawned over her. Or the bloody
newspapers with their God-awful headlines, like: ‘Society Belle Rules the
(Show)Ring’. Cretins. But she was good-looking; no, better than that: she was,
as one of those stable-lads had said: ‘A crackin’ bit of stuff with tits like
melons and an arse like two footballs in a tight sack’. It had amused her at
the time, though she’d rather objected to the ‘melons’ bit: they weren’t at all
like melons: they were big, but perfectly shaped. Melons, indeed!
But that had her worried. Kidnap was
ransom was one thing: the other was a different proposition. What the hell had
happened to Henley? Wasn’t he supp… Oh! She felt herself flush. She’d given
Henley the slip, hadn’t she? She gave the poor chap a hell of a time, she knew,
but she didn’t want him with her almost everywhere she went: she needed some
elbow room. So she’d gone to the ladies room and slipped out almost immediately
when his back was turned. He was probably still waiting at the door! She would
have giggled at that, but she really didn’t feel like it just now.
They couldn’t expect to get away with
it, could they? Hers was one of the best-known faces in the country, after all.
And father would be on the phone to the Home Secretary as soon as he realised
that she was missing. The police would be searching everywhere for her. She
shivered. Of course, if they got too close, the people who’d got her might just
decide that she was too hot to handle. Perhaps they didn’t know who it was
What time was it? The place was utterly
silent; not the faintest hint of a noise; no background hum of traffic, no
birds, nothing but her movements and breathing. That was disconcerting, too.
She wanted to sit, but she knew she couldn’t; she’d tried. It might just have
been possible, she supposed, but she’d be sitting with her arms up at the back
in a position so uncomfortable that she’d regret it in seconds. If she didn’t
dislocate her shoulders in the process, that was.
At least they’d left her her clothes,
or she assumed they had: she couldn’t see, but she was certainly still dressed
in what felt like her own clothes. If anything had been taken off, then it had
been replaced immaculately. And she couldn’t feel anything in the places where
she might expect to if she’d been mauled. That was some comfort, at least. Why
didn’t something happen? It was so damned quiet!
What had happened, anyway? She’d given
Henley the slip at King’s Cross. And jumped on the train that was just leaving.
It had said York on the departure board, so that was all right. She’d thought
that she could find herself a nice, quiet seat in fist class and have a
pleasant couple of hours to herself without having to listen to his
excruciating small talk. The carriage had been empty, hadn’t it? No, not quite:
two men, a couple of dishes, too. They’d come in after even she had; she
remembered thinking that they’d cut it fine. They’d smiled and so had she; they
sat opposite. But despite the fact that they were good-looking, she’d turned
away: they’d probably turn out to be a couple of vacuum-cleaner salesmen or
something just as unsuitable.
She remembered thinking that she’d
listen to their conversation, if she could. If they turned out to be the right
sort and not too pleb for words, perhaps she’d have a little flirt. But not
just then: she’d wanted to enjoy solitude for a little while; after being
nannied non-stop a bit of privacy was practically priceless. And that was it.
No, there was something else… The train had pulled out and was going through
that series of tunnels that you get for the first two or three miles. One of
them had got up, probably for the toilet. She remembered him smiling at her,
but he’d stumbled. Awkward sod, she remembered thinking, because it hadn’t been
points or anything. Bloody awkward sod, because he’d missed the back of the
seat and grabbed her shoulder.
“Oh, you silly cow,” she said into the
hood. Her voice, despite being muffled, sounded un-naturally loud in that
un-natural silence. That prick! No, not the man: the prick she’d felt when his
hand hit her shoulder! It must have been bloody fast-acting stuff, because she
couldn’t remember anyt…. Yes, she could. He’d slid into the seat beside her.
The other one was getting up, too, moving across. And that’s when she’d flaked
out. And it was why she had that foul taste in her mouth and the trace of a
headache. Clever, that; the ticket collector comes along and they’re all
sitting together: ’our sister/cousin/companion isn’t feeling too well; perhaps
we’d better get off at the first stop…’ But planned?
Not for her, surely. Getting on that
train had been sheer impulse, part of her little game to torment Henley and
annoy father. Yes, she was going to York anyway, but she was booked on a later
train. So it was probably just opportunism; but bloody well organised opportunism.
She felt an icy shiver: if they weren’t looking for her especially, then this
was a sex thing. Oh, Christ! She’d seen the papers and TV: it had been going on
for the last three or four years, hadn’t it: woman vanishing; always young,
always good-looking and very often upper class. ‘Police Baffled’ was the
headline that never seemed to alter. They never found them, either.
“Oh, fucking hell,” she said.