SERGEANT DOYLE HAD his feet up on a stool. The station was quiet and he wasn’t anticipating trouble. Football was on the telly so the hordes would be indoors. He’d nicked a danish from the canteen and had been looking forward to it all day.
He opened The Sun and was about to bite into the danish when the phone rang. He took a fast chomp and picked up. A man’s voice said:
‘Might I suggest you tape this call?’
‘All calls are taped as a matter of form.’
A piece of the pastry had lodged in his bad back tooth and he used a finger to try and move it. The man said:
‘I don’t feel I have your full attention.’
Doyle sighed and said:
‘I’m fascinated, trust me.’
‘You will be. A bomb is due to go off in… three minutes. This is not really a warning, more of a wake-up call. Do you know the Paradise Cinema?’
‘Off Waterloo Avenue? Is that where the bomb is?’
A loud bang went off in Doyle’s ear and he instinctively pushed the phone away. When the noise had subsided he asked:
‘Was that it?’
He heard a low chuckle, then:
‘Whoops, the timing was a little off but we’ll be working on that. What you have to work on is getting three hundred grand together to make sure we don’t bomb again. I mean, that’s not a huge amount, is it? So you get started on that and we’ll try not to blow up anything else in the meantime. We’ll give you a bell tomorrow and see how you’re progressing. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the movie playing at the Paradise was a Tom Cruise piece of shit so we kind of did the public a service. You be good now.’
Doyle kept the phone his ear, clicked the connection and set about alerting the necessary departments. The pastry had already caused his tooth to hum and he said aloud:
The Paradise Cinema was a recent addition to the area’s cultural landscape. It catered largely to local residents and usually attracted a respectable crowd. The bomb had been placed in one of the toilets and nobody had been hurt. Panic and fear had spread quickly and the crowd had piled into the street, pushing and shoving each other, afraid that another bomb could go off. The Bomb Squad arrived and cordoned off the street. Superintendent Brown was on the scene, ordering officers to hold back the crowd.
He shouted at Chief Inspector Roberts to get every available man out canvassing the area and see if anybody knew anything or had seen anything. He asked:
‘Where’s Porter Nash and that crony of yours, Brant? Where’s he when he’s wanted?’
Roberts had no idea and said:
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘Some bloody copper you are. This better not be terrorists.’
‘I don’t think so, sir. The tape asked for money. I think it’s straightforward extortion.’
Brown looked like he’d have a coronary and ranted:
‘Straightforward? When the bloody hell was extortion straightforward?’
Roberts wanted to shout back, you stupid prick, you know what I mean, but settled for:
‘I don’t think it’s an international deal.’
‘That puts all our minds at rest, then – the great detective has spoken.’
The Bomb Squad commander came out of the cinema and Roberts was saved from having to reply. Brown asked him:
‘What have we got?
The bomb guy said:
‘You’re talking bottom of the barrel here.’
Brown took a deep breath, asked the Grand Designer of the Masons for patience, said:
‘Could you put that in words I might understand?’
The bomb guy exchanged a look with Roberts that said:
‘This asshole’s your boss, you got my sympathy, pal.’
Out loud he said:
‘Couldn’t be simpler, two sticks of dynamite and a cheap timer. Any idiot could put it together.’
Brown was staring at Roberts’ shoes. They were heavy brown Oxfords with a high sheen. Two questions came into his head:
How did he afford them?
Who’d the time to polish shoes to such a degree?
Pulling his eyes back to the bomb guy, he asked:
‘Any idea who the idiot could be?’
‘Stick a pin in the phone book.’
‘That’s a fucking help all right.’
A smile from the bomb guy and he was gone. Brown turned to Roberts, asked,
‘Where did you get those shoes?’
‘Are you deaf?’
‘Oh, right… ahm, at a sale, at Bally.’
‘Bally!’ Then: ‘How the hell can you afford them?’
‘The house was sold.’
‘That’s an answer?’
‘The only one I’ve got.’
Brown gave the shoes a last look, then:
‘I expect a report on my desk tomorrow morning and keep Brant away from it.’
He strode off, muttering darkly. Roberts was tempted to shout ‘God Bless’ but knew it would be pushing it.
PC Falls had yet again failed the sergeant’s exam. She didn’t take it well, said:
‘Fucking racist bastards.’
Porter Nash, recently promoted to detective inspector, approached, tried:
‘Next time, eh, for sure?’
Falls was the wet dream of the nick but over the last year, she’d acquired a fearsome rep. Despite her pretty face, athletic body, the guys were avoiding her. A rumour had circulated she might have offed a cop killer.
Not a clean offing.
No, the guy had been literally hammered to bits. The Forensics team had found body parts all over the room. His nose was stuck to a widescreen TV. Well, part of the septum at any rate. What they finally decided had to be his left eye was floating in the toilet bowl. Teeth were strewn across the wide bed. When word of the butchery leaked, the possible culprit was definitely assumed to be a cop.
In the frame were:
Of course… Brant. He topped the list of any wrong doing: he was your ‘given’. No decent odds ever on him.
Next, as a rank outsider, was Porter Nash because in his Kensington days, he’d dished out personal justice to a paedophile.
Falls was not seriously considered at first but, over time, speculation and rumour had moved her to top of the list.
Number one with a bullet.
Sergeant Brant had long been the bête noire of south-east London. Villains and cops alike were united in their fear of him. He relished and encouraged his status as ‘an animal’. The accidental death of the Clapham Rapist was attributed to him. This outlaw justice was secretly admired by most ranks. Over the years Superintendent Brown had tried unsuccessfully to get rid of him. Despite his disappointment, the senior officer still cherished dreams of discrediting the sergeant.
Falls, turning on Porter, put her hands on her hips, tried to bite down her bile but it wasn’t working. She spat:
‘Next time? You condescending prick, have you any idea how often I’ve sat that bloody exam?’
Porter glanced round nervously; the other cops were getting an earful and hoping for more. He put his hand out, touched her shoulder, said:
‘Let me get you some tea.’
She stormed off and Porter, at a loss, stared at her back. The desk sergeant, an obnoxious bollix, gave him the thumbs up. Porter sighed and took off, just in time to see her disappear into the Cricketers pub. When he entered, Falls was already at a corner table. He approached, asked:
‘What’ll you have?’
‘I’m getting it. I ordered for you too.’
Porter looked towards the barman. He thought he imagined it but did the guy wink? Jesus.
Porter sat down and Falls asked:
‘You still smoking or has your promotion put a stop to simple pleasures?’
He reached into his jacket – a smart leather job from Gap – and placed a green pack on the table. Falls snorted, said:
‘Fucking menthol! How gay is that?’
She extracted one, smelled it, managing to add a note of sensuality to the gesture, then snapped her fingers, said:
He wanted to reach over, smack her in the mouth but suppressed it, fired her up. She did that annoying thing women do, took two drags, stubbed it out. Well, stabbed it twice in the ashtray, leaving it to smoulder. He reached over, burnt his fingers as he tried to extinguish the glow. He saw a flicker of a smile touch her lips. The barman breezed over, a tray held aloft, a riot of crisps and peanuts on it. Falls asked:
‘What’s the deal on the snacks? I didn’t order them.’
Chuckle from the barman, he nodded towards Porter, said:
‘Experience, darlin’. Been as long in this game as I have, you know your punter who’s going to want his salt ’n’ vinegar. This way I save a trip.’
Falls took the glasses, handed one to Porter, said:
‘He’ll need paying.’
It was twice what Porter would have guessed; he didn’t figure on much return from his twenty. The barman was back at the bar when Falls shouted:
‘Pack of B&H.’
Got the look.
Porter sniffed his drink, asked:
‘Vodka? At those prices, they must be doubles.’
She nodded and took a hefty slug, Porter couldn’t drink it neat and shouted towards the bar:
‘Bottle of tonic… slimline.’
When the barman sniggered, Porter realised he was sounding like Arthur Daley which would never be a good idea. When the tonic and cigs came, the barman glared at Porter. As he left, Porter asked:
‘What was that about?’
Falls was opening peanuts, said:
‘Ah, come on, you’re saying he knows I’m gay?’
Falls eyed him and, with little affection, a shard of granite across her pupils, said:
He let it slide. There’d been a time when he and Falls had been best mates. Almost from the off, they’d bonded, went dancing, drinking together. Then she’d bought into a shitpile of trouble. A skinhead she’d been friendly with was murdered and her life began to spiral. Porter’s promotion had sealed their separation. He was worried by the speed of her drinking. Her trouble with the booze had definitely worked against her attempt at sergeant. He asked:
‘How are you and Nelson doing?’
This was a detective from Vauxhall who’d saved Falls’ job then had begun a relationship with her. Porter had only met him a few times and found him to be aggressive and worse, dull. Vital qualifications for the Met. She signalled for another round then answered:
‘Nelson? Nelson is history.’
She let her face show major surprise, gasped:
‘Oh, you knew him?’
Now her lip curled and she snarled:
‘Then why the fuck are you sorry? For all you know, I’m well shot of him.’
Porter stood up, shrugged his shoulders
‘I’ll leave you to it.’
A young cop came in, saw them and came over, said:
‘Sir, you’re wanted, it’s the bombing.’
Porter looked at Falls, asked:
‘I’m getting bombed here. You run along, do senior officer stuff.’
About Ken Bruen
Also by Ken Bruen:
The Hackman Blues
A White Arrest
Taming The Alien