“If I’d had known it was this hard to sell a kilo of uncut,” Jack Dorsey said, “I would’ve robbed a bank.”
Small time criminal Jack Dorsey has a habit of screwing things up. Two months out of Brixton Prison and he’s up to his old tricks. Except, this time he has a loaded .9 mm revolver trying to work a quick fix to pay off his bookie. The quick fix: A lawyer by the name of Joseph Hasse. The big mistake: Shooting the woman accompanying the lawyer. When Jack hears that the woman was the wife of local legend Leo Brown, one of the most feared criminals in London, there is only one thing he can do, and that’s to get as far away from London as possible. His only problem, he doesn’t have enough cash to last him more than a week. From one bad idea to another, he heads to Brighton with a kilo of cocaine thinking he can make some easy money.
But now Jack’s problems really begin when Leo Brown hires Charlie Wylde, a retired boxer and fixer for the London mob, to sort things out before Leo’s own brother does something stupid.
Jack Dorsey tried to swallow and felt the burn inside his throat. His friend, Danny Carlisle, told him to check out the guy wearing the expensive looking suit.
“Who’s the woman with him?”
“Not sure,” Danny said, pulling the .9 mm revolver from his waistband and pressing it into Jack’s open hand. “You okay with this?”
“What do you think?” Jack said, without waiting for an answer. The way he figured it, the guy probably had it coming. He crossed the road with the revolver held at shoulder height and fired three times and watched the guy in the expensive looking suit collapse outside the County Court, dead by the time he had hit the pavement. The woman wearing the red high heels with a Louis Vuitton bag slung over her right shoulder didn’t move. She stared at Jack. Jack told himself to drop the revolver to his side and start walking. Thinking it over in his head made sense. So why couldn’t he? Because he was king-of-the-moment holding that revolver with the magazine filled with nine-mills. Not quite the standard issue SA-80 assault rifle he’d once owned as a Royal Marine, but it was effective at close range. He shifted his weight and cracked his neck checking out the Louis Vuitton woman telling him something. Shouting words. He wasn’t sure what her mouth was saying.
“Bill, you’re kidding me?” Charlie Wylde said. He sat in the Cavendish, the VIP lounge. The room overlooked the dance floor in a club two roads down from Clapham South Station. It was closed at four fifteen in the afternoon.
Bill Marshall’s face disappeared into his neck, he had fat cheeks with a receding hairline and wore a tailored suit that appeared tight in places. Occasionally he pulled at his collar to loosen his tie revealing the stains on his shirt that etched out from his armpits.
“Where’d you find this guy in the first place?” Charlie said.
“Leo’s brother, Trevor, did,” Bill said. “Maybe you know him, Danny Carlisle?”
“Uh huh,” Jack said, shaking his head. ”The name means nothing.”
“Danny the crack addict, spent nine months in Brixton Prison for attempting to rob a petrol station. The guy goes into the kiosk carrying a nine iron and whacks the cashier over the head with it. Splits her skull open. You believe that shit. If she’d had died it would’ve turned out different for him and he’d still be locked up trying to figure out what had happened.”
Charlie said, “Sounds like the guy got lucky.”
“Everybody knows you don’t rob a petrol station. You go in one of those places and you’re gonna have trouble making up your mind which camera to smile at they got so many of ‘em.”
“You go in wearing a balaclava,” Charlie said, ”and it don’t matter none.”
“Sure, but you’d do better ripping off a post office. But this guy doesn’t seem to be that bright.”
“Then why’d you use him?”
Bill shrugged his shoulders and pulled at his shirt collar. “You believe this heat. I can’t remember the last time we had it so bad.”
“Take off your tie, maybe it’ll help you breathe a little,” Charlie said, playing with him.
“My son bought it for me,” Bill said. “I told him I’d wear it the whole day because he asked me to. I like to keep my word. I say I do something and I do it.”
Charlie nicked his head at the waitress and ordered two beers. “But he won’t know,” he said, turning back to face Bill.
”Charlie, you’ve got two kids of your own. You know how it is. You tell them something and they believe you, no questions. They take your word for what its worth. I go telling him something that isn’t true and I’ll know. I’ll know and that’s what matters, you see?”
”You’ll die of heat exhaustion but you’d still be wearing that tie,” Charlie said. ”Yeah, I see where you’re coming from.”
The waitress returned with two bottles and placed them on either side of the table, smiling at Charlie as she left.
Bill said, ”You seen any arse fitter than that?”
”What, you can’t have an opinion?”
”Having an opinion is what got me some problems of my own,” Charlie said.
”I heard it was more than your opinion. How much them solicitors fleecing you?”
”I’m paying my wife’s by the hour. The last bill they sent was for three hundred an hour. Jesus, they racked up fifty hours in the last two months alone.”
”That’s gotta hurt?” Bill said.
”Well, it certainly isn’t making me smile,” Charlie said. ”You know, maybe I should hire this Danny Carlisle kid, it would be cheaper than going through a divorce.”
”It weren’t Danny that pulled the trigger.”
”He got this friend of his to help out.” Bill said, picking up his beer and twisting the bottle over in his hand. ”When did they stop serving beer in a glass?”
”You want a glass?”
”Uh huh, I’m just saying. I remember a time when drinking beer out of a bottle in this club wasn’t so fashionable.”
”Things change,” Charlie said. ”Tell me about this other guy, Danny’s friend.”
”Jack Dorsey. Danny said the guy was good for it, needed the cash to pay off some debt he had.”
”What did Leo say about it?”
”At first, nothing. Trevor’s been calling the shots on the outside.”
Charlie said, ”But now things have changed, right?”
”Sure, Leo asked me to talk to you.”
”Without his brother knowing?”
”He’s too unpredictable, you know that,” Bill said. ”Trevor acts before he thinks.”
Charlie leant back in his chair. He could see where this was heading. Leo Brown was in Belmarsh Prison whilst his brother was running things on the outside. Except, Charlie sensed things weren’t going as they should have. Charlie said, ”You planning on telling Leo’s brother, or is this just between you, me, and Leo?”
”Leo will tell Trevor when he needs to know.”
”Okay, just so I get this straight, you’re acting for Leo as if I’m talking to Leo?” Charlie said.
Bill nodded and loosened his tie with one hand.
”And you’ll pay my usual whilst I’m out looking for these two characters?”
”That’s about it,” Bill said.
Charlie watched a tall black guy with a shaved head and wearing a leather jacket with a hoodie walk across the dance floor below the VIP lounge. He figured the Cavendish was getting ready to open in a few hours. “What piece they use?”
”A Russian made Baikal IZH-79 smuggled over from Lithuania.”
Charlie smiled. “If it’s not the Romanians, it’s the Lithuanians taking over our business”
“Romanians have the cashpoint market cornered.”
“Sure,” Charlie said, “but it’s the Lithuanian gangs that are trafficking the guns. The only thing them politicians did with the Firearms Act was create a new business opportunity.”
”There’s a whole rental market just opened up,” Bill said.
“That’s some crazy shit right there. Rent-a-fucking-gun. Jesus, who comes up with these ideas?”
“You think that’s the worse of it?”
“Not even close. Who supplied Danny?”
“Danny sorted it out himself,” Bill said. “Nothing to tie us to the shooting.”
“Except, now you’re looking at the situation from another angle?”
Bill rubbed a hand over his face and sat back in his chair, awkwardly. He stared at Charlie. “We’re looking at this fucked-side-up.”
“And you want me to help straighten it out?”
“You have a way of handling these things.”
Charlie shrugged. ”You got an address for this Danny?”
Bill leant forward and pushed a folded piece of paper across the table. “Loughborough Estate, Minet Road. He lives in one of those low rises at the end.”
Now Charlie was smiling a little. “That’s a rough neighbourhood,” he said.
“Woody Harrelson,” Danny said. “The scene where he shoots that waitress with the Beretta ninety-three.”
Jack said, “Sure, I remember.” They were both in Danny’s apartment. Jack in the sofa with his feet on the edge of the makeshift coffee table: four breeze blocks and a piece of timber.
“But it was Juliette Lewis that owned that scene,” Danny said.
Jack said, “What happened to her?”
“She started a band called Juliette and the Licks,” Danny said.
“She any good?”
“What do I know,” Danny said. ”I liked her playing the psycho bitch in the movies. But you’re missing the point, that scene where he shoots that waitress. That’s you. The way you shot that guy. BAMM, no thinking about it.” Danny sucked on the joint squeezed between his thumb and index finger, taking his time. “Woody Harrelson just acted the part, you did it for real.”
Jack grinned, liking the way Danny told it. Danny wearing jeans and a tight T-shirt and standing in the middle of the room pressing his finger into his own chest showing where the bullet hit saying, “Jack the Ice-Man,” and blowing out a small stream of smoke.
“Yeah, Jack the Ice-Man,” Jack said, “and still I’m waiting here to get what’s owed.”
“It’s only been a few hours. I told you, my man is good for it. Just chill out.”
“I’ll chill out once you divorce that spliff.”
Danny sucked hard on the joint and passed it to Jack, saying, “That’s a hundred percent pure Columbian marijuana right there.”
“All the way from some tosser’s attic in Clapham,” Jack said, but thinking of something else. “You know what I don’t get?”
“Why the fuck that woman had to get in the way?”
“She was in the wrong place, that’s all.”
Jack flicked the joint at Danny and missed, knowing that Danny just didn’t get it.
Danny gave Jack the finger just as the intercom buzzed. ”Mitch is early.” Danny said, getting up and crossing the room to the hallway. He pressed down on the intercom as he leant against the doorframe. “Mitch, it’s you,” he said, speaking into the mic. ”I’ll buzz you in. No, it’s just me and Jack. Yeah, no hassles.”
Jack said, “Mitchell?”
“He’s got Donna with him. You okay with that?”
Jack shrugged. Donna was old history. He started thinking about the revolver wedged in his trouser’s waistband. The metal sticking into his hip and concealed under his shirt. Mitchell’s voice made him look up. Mitchell looking like he just stepped out of a hip-hop video with the low crotch showing his fake Calvin Klein underwear. Donna standing in the background with the tanned legs that never wanted to stop. Nice. Danny and Mitchell shook hands before Mitchell made it over to the armchair and sat facing Jack. Donna keeping herself in the background but letting Jack know where she was at.
Jack said, “You haven’t changed.”
“No, really, you haven’t changed,” Jack said. “How’d you both meet? Let me guess. You meet each other getting high on crack and shit?”
“You talking to me?” Mitchell said.
Jack smiling now but still watching Donna. “Who’re you, Robert fucking-De Niro?”
“Jack,” Danny said. “Why don’t you ease off a little?”
“You think?” Jack said, liking the sound of his own voice and wanting to see where he could take this. Danny all wired up. Mitchell trying to figure him out. Donna looking cute in her black number. Short. The legs doing it for Jack.
Danny dragged over a stool and sat down hunched over the coffee table pulling a pouch of Golden Virginia tobacco from his jeans’ pocket. “Jack,” he said, “remember how we robbed that 7-Eleven in Dulwich?”
Jack remembered. They’d walked in to get some snacks on account that they had the marijuana munchies. Danny pulled a gun on the skinny kid behind the counter telling him to open the till or he’d shoot the fucker in the head. Fuck that shit. Danny had been tripping. Jack said, “I didn’t know you were carrying until you shoved that piece in the kid’s face.”
“You freaked out.”
“You pull a stunt like that without telling me first,” Jack said, “you’re gonna think about it. Robbery gets you up to three years, armed robbery gets you a jolt. If you’re unlucky and the guy you’re with happens to shoot the guy working the shop, you can count on life. It won’t matter none who pulled the trigger.”
“You were a thinker back then,” Danny said. “What happened?”
“Life happened, you happened, and all this other shit happened.” Jack aware that Donna had started sorting her way through Danny’s record collection moving to a rhythm that only she could hear. Jack thought of asking her which tune but looked over at Mitchell instead. Mitchell placing a kilo of uncut cocaine wrapped in cling film onto the coffee table. Danny with that grin going on having just lost his poker face. The cost going up another twenty or thirty percent. Except, they hadn’t been paid yet for shooting that guy outside the County Court. Jack started thinking how a kilo of uncut would fetch upwards of seventy grand, more if he mixed it with a little Boric acid or some washing detergent. Jack smiled thinking it through and watched Mitchell. Mitchell with a swagger now telling Danny that he had another nine bricks stashed away, each one ninety-two percent pure. He could get his hands on more if he could shift what he had. Jimi Hendrix’s guitar took the edge off the room. Foxy Lady. Donna miming the words, eyes closed, head down, dancing Uma Thurman moves from back in ninety-four. Jack thinking if it had really been that long ago and realising that he would soon be forty but thinking he still looked good for his age despite the drug use. Jack the casual addict. Take it or leave it. Right now he could do with a pick-me-up. Something to coast on whilst they waited for Danny’s contact to call and their payoff to arrive. Jack looked over at Danny. Danny rolling a joint between his thumb and fingertips one handed, palming it, lighting the end and inhaling. Jack could taste the unmistakable smell of Black Gungi.
”Like I said, you were a thinker back then,” Danny said, pulling his cellphone from his back pocket.
Jack shrugged as Danny stood up and walked across the room talking into his cellphone looking back at him. Worried. Yeah, that’s the way Jack would remember it when he replayed it over in his head. Danny looking worried and flicking a quick glance over at Mitchell. Mitchell loosening his jacket. One of the hottest summers Jack could remember and Mitchell had that jacket on. Hendrix’s blues from sixty-seven played low in the background, Donna was still moving those hips of hers and smoking the joint Danny had just handed to her. She blew smoke rings at the ceiling.
Danny switched off his cellphone looking beaten.
Jack said, ”What’s up?”
”That woman you shot.”
”What about her?”
”Leo-fucking-Brown’s wife, that’s what.”
”Shit, it were a fucking accident,” Jack said, watching Danny put his fist into the wall. ”So, what’s she to your contact? He still pays, right?”
Danny shook his head. ”That was Trevor on the phone.”
”Trevor Brown’s your contact?”
”Yeah, he’s my contact.”
”And the guy I shot?”
”Leo’s brief, the bloke that was screwing around with Leo’s wife,” Danny said.
”So there’s no money?”
”No, Jack, there is no money,” Danny said.
Mitchell leaned forward. Jack took a second to think it through and pulled out the revolver from his waistband and pointed it at Mitchell’s head. Mitchell stopped with his hand on top of the kilo of cocaine. Hendrix was singing in the background with Donna still tripping and in her own world. Mitchell said, “Jack, think it through mate, yeah?”
Jack thought about pulling the trigger. ”You think?”
”You were meant to get rid of the gun,” Danny said. “That was the deal.”
”You didn’t ask me.”
”I thought you tossed it.”
“And now you know I didn’t,” Jack said, turning to Mitchell. “You think we got ourselves a situation here.”
“There’s no situation between us if you put that gun away,” Mitchell said.
Jack smiled, aware that they were all watching him and the room was suddenly quiet. “Uh huh, that’s not the way this is gonna work. The way I see it, I’m gonna need that kilo to buy me some time. ‘Cause from where I’m standing right now I don’t have too many options.”
Mitchell sat back, slowly. “You walk out without paying, and you know it’s something I won’t forget.”
Jack picked up the kilo of cocaine from the coffee table and tucked it under his T-shirt.
”So what now, Jack?” Mitchell said.
“I walk out of here.” Jack glanced over at Donna. ”You okay?”
Donna, all quiet, nodded.
”You okay with all this, Danny?” A simple question Danny wasn’t meant to answer.
Jack walked onto the beach carrying his duffle bag slung over his shoulder. It was 8:15 in the morning, the temperature already in the low twenties, traffic flowing the length of Brighton’s shoreline. Jack skimmed a pebble across the water and watched a seagull scuttle off under the pier, shrieking, polluting the air with noise. A dog sniffed at the water’s edge and jumped back whenever a wave came crashing in. The dog’s owner just watched it play out.
”You haven’t changed.”
Jack turned seeing Carl approach in one of his leather jackets and a white shirt open at the neck showing part of a tattoo he’d had when Jack saw him last. Jack tried to remember what it was but came up short. He watched him walk with that bounce of his, taking off his sunglasses and clipping them onto his shirt. Jack said, ”Thanks for coming.”
By Vincent Holland