Happy final day of the weekend, folks. And don’t ever say I’m not generous. Firstly, I’m giving away The Gamblers for free today. So grab it on Kindle here in the UK and on Kindle here in the US
Plus, here I am giving an entire chapter of The Hunters away for nothing. Please read, or don’t, if that’s how you’d prefer it, and then go and download my book onto your Kindle immediately! At 77p (or $0.99 for you US folks), I’m as good as giving it away…
Warning: contains nasty language. So if you don’t like that stuff, look away now. As for the rest of you, sit back and enjoy…
The plan came easy and stayed that way.
It wasn’t difficult to find another two men for the job. The first to come on board was Gerry Maxwell, or G-Max as he was known to his friends. He was a white boy gone black, and spoke with a patois that was part South Central and part Tees estuary. He wore his tops too baggy and his jeans too close to his knees. Every time he bent over it was almost impossible to avoid the sight of his hairy arse crack. He blacked up his skin with fake tan and his hair with fake colour. He told people that he was black, or at least part-black, and referred to everybody, white or black, as nigga. His shtick was now so ingrained it had become second nature and nobody paid attention any more. Through sheer force of will, G-Max had become black and was even treated as such by those who actually were black. Despite the fact that he was a bit of a clown, G-Max was by far the best box-man in Teesside, and there wasn’t anything that he couldn’t open.
The fourth member of the team was Big Dave Lockhart. Like his name suggested he was a big man. He stood six-feet five in his bare feet and had a naturally strong build. His nose and cheekbones were wonky from one too many fights and his ears had been thickened by years of rugby. Dave was the only person other than Jimmy Raffin, Big Bob Owden’s pet pit-bull, to put my brother down in a fight. He was as hard as a coffin nail and equally as capable of taking a beating. He didn’t talk much because he didn’t have much to say and saw no point pontificating about subjects he knew nothing about. He would help G-Max with any heavy lifting that was required.
We met at the Somerstown Coffee House, near Euston, a few days after our meeting with Rose. Despite the misleading name, the place was a fancy French themed bar and restaurant. We sat in the beer garden at the rear and I went through the plan. G-Max was the first to raise an objection with the plan and, as I’d expected, it was about money.
“Not being funny, bro’,” said G-Max, “but I’m bringing some serious shit to this table. My cut’s gotta be better than no motherfuckin’ quarter.”
I looked at him hard. He held my gaze momentarily then looked away. He hadn’t drunk enough to hold my gaze. Like most short guys in our line of business, he only really got brave when he was too drunk to do anything about it.
“This plan needs four guys, Gee. You’re right, we do need a safecracker, but if push comes to shove I’ll go down in the basement and crack the fucker myself.”
I was a decent box-man when given enough time to ply my trade, but I knew that time would not be on my side. I also knew there were plenty of safes that I would be unable to crack – possibly including McGarvey’s. G-Max was fast, accurate and, as far as I could tell, had a crack ratio of one hundred per cent. In fact, he was so good at what he did he liked to call himself the motherfuckin’ Gandalf of safecrackers.
But it didn’t mean he was getting forty per cent. I told him as much.
“This shit ain’t greed I’m talking here,” said G-Max, talking greed, “but a simple statement of the motherfuckin’ facts. I bring more shit than anybody to this table. I bring these.”
He held up his hands for all to see. He seemed disappointed when nobody looked at them in awe. He put his hands back on the table. “My safecracking skills knock yours into a hatted cock, nigga,” he said, glaring in my direction. “And you know it too.”
He had me there. I did know it, but I wasn’t about to back down now. I drew a box shape in the air and pushed my hand through it. “You see that, Gee?”
“See what?” he asked, shrugging. “I didn’t see shit.”
“That’s right, you didn’t. And I swear down that’s what your forty per cent’ll consist of if you keep this shit up.”
G-Max looked at me with his dark brown eyes. He scanned for signs of a bluff. When he realised that I wasn’t bluffing, he sat back in his chair and looked at the others. He drained what was left of his pint and looked at my face again. He put the glass down with a slightly theatrical sigh. He pointed at Dave. “I bring more to the table than he does,” he said, sounding aggrieved.
“Stop talking about what you bring to the fuckin’ table, Gee. I’m sick of it. Dave brings muscle. He’ll do the heavy lifting so you don’t have to, which is worth plenty. If some fucker comes at you with a gun, Dave’ll make ‘em wish they hadn’t whilst you’re still pissing in your boxers. Dave’s worth his cut and gets the same as the rest of us. And if you don’t like it then King’s Cross is just down the road. There’s another train back to Darlo in twenty minutes.”
G-Max gave me a look that was a mix of disgust and disappointment, the kind of look I could imagine him giving me if I’d just spit in his beer.
“Jesus, nigga, what’s eating you?” he asked.
“You’re eating me,” I said. “I brought you here to talk plans, not to quibble over fifteen fuckin’ per cent.”
He raised his hands in the air in a gesture of submission and stood up. “Fine. Quibble over.” He pointed at the drained pint glasses on the table. “More booze?”
This meant that G-Max was feeling suitably contrite, because his wallet was as hard to get into as Fort Knox and most of the notes had cobwebs. When he returned to the table with our drinks he asked: “Did you find out what kinda safe it was?”
“Rose didn’t say.”
“A brother likes to know the kinda shit he’s dealing with.”
“Why d’you care? I thought you could break anything?”
“Fuck man, I can. But not knowing means I gotta carry half a ton of clanking shit around with me. That shit ain’t right. I got history. I got a record. If the blue boys catch me with this shit in my trunk, I’m goin’ down, nigga.” Once upon a time G-Max had been sent to Durham for his sins. He was still on parole, and worried about blue uniformed bogeymen when he turned off his lights at night.
“You’re gonna hafta improvise.”
“Fuck,” said G-Max and cocked his thumb at Dave. “Then this nigga’s gonna need to carry a lotta shit.”
Dave shrugged. “Like I care. I’ll drive your car meself if it comes down to it. The pigs haven’t got shite-all on me.”
G-Max nodded. He was happy with that. I put Rose’s schematics on the table and pointed at the sketch she had drawn of the basement. “This is where the special safe is,” I said and then pointed at my brother. “We’ll go straight upstairs and deal with the card game. There are a lotta people to keep quiet, so I don’t wanna hafta worry about you two. Whatever you need to do to that safe you keep it quiet. I don’t want McGarvey to connect the dots and link ‘em back to Rose. And although he might suspect it, I don’t want him to know that the two things are connected.”
“You sure he won’t bitch us out to the po-leece?” asked G-Max.
“No. But Rose sez the money’s not kosher, that the taxman would happily tear McGarvey a new ringpiece if they knew it existed, so chances are he’ll bite his tongue. As for the Poker game – Miles and Webber won’t want anybody getting in their way, especially not McGarvey. Those cunts’ll have a contract out on us the minute we leave the building. How long d’you reckon you’ll need, Gee?”
“How long’s a piece of string, bro’? Fuck knows, that’s how long. If it’s a Fisher Price toy then I’ll crack that bitch in minutes. If it’s some custom-made piece o’ shit then you could be babysitting them all night.”
“A man who builds a safe into the floor probably isn’t gonna install an off-the-peg thing.”
“Diff’rent strokes, bro’,” said G-Max with a shrug. “Some folks get arrogant.”
“Let’s suppose he isn’t a complete twat.”
G-Max locked eyes with me. “Then you’re gonna hafta keep ‘em quiet all night.”