Nick takes a break from novel writing with the...
Devil In His Heart
Danny counted the money. Nodded to the BMW driver.
‘Quick hand job?’ the driver said.
Danny had heard the joke too many times. Just nodded and took the money. He threw soapy water onto the car, chased it around with his sponge. Danny glanced at the driver. He was on his mobile. It was like Danny didn’t exist. He hated dealing with people who think their own lives are so busy they don’t have the time to wash their own cars. They’ve plenty of time to drive out to this miserable industrial estate to watch me do it for them, though, he thought. He tapped the driver’s window, got his attention, and told him to drive forward. They were done. Danny watched the BMW drive away. Hated the man, even though he didn’t know him. But a job’s a job in this town. Especially when the town is a dying seaside resort. Even Hull was too far away to get to every day. Not that there were any jobs to be had there, either.
‘What time do you call this, man?’
Danny looked and nodded. Sheldon. ‘Just about done for the day,’ he said to him. Danny checked the time on his phone. The phone he wasn’t supposed to have on him when he was working. It was nearly knocking off time. Just needed the Latvians, or whatever they were, to turn up.
Sheldon sat down on one of the deckchairs next to him, passed him the newspaper. ‘Seen this? Is it that mate of yours?’
Danny read the report. A body had been found in a cave to the north of the town. Police were on the scene. The body had been there a while. It made sense. It was an isolated spot. You weren’t going to stumble across it by accident.
‘Here we go,’ shouted Sheldon, pointing to the Latvians. ‘Watch out, Ant and Dec are here.’
Danny stood up and passed them the keys. ‘Don’t forget to lock up when you’re finished, lads.’ They nodded back. They never spoke a single word.
‘Coming down the arcade for a bit, then?’ Sheldon asked.
‘Why not,’ said Danny. They left the industrial estate behind and walked down the main road towards the sea front.
‘Keep you away from Keeley for a bit, won’t it? Let her clear the mess up, I reckon. It’s her kid after all.’
‘It was a decent party, though.’ Jo-Jo’s seventh birthday. Danny had loved it. It had been a great morning. Pass the parcel and all the other games he’s played when he was a kid. It was a shame he had to leave to go to work.
‘If watching a load of screaming kids running around the place is your bag, it was alright,’ Sheldon said. ‘Couldn’t wait to get out of there.’
‘It’s called growing up. It can’t always be about you.’
Sheldon laughed. ‘It’s always about me.’
‘Can’t believe Jo-Jo was dressed up like that, though.’ Danny said. False nails and make-up on. Seven years old. Who does that to a kid? ‘I nearly said something to her.’ If Jo-Jo was his, he’d have drawn the line. You’ve got to have standards. Not that Keeley would have listened to him.
Mid-October. The sea front was desolate. Only the hardcore were left in town. Even the residents had more sense and stayed indoors. Even the faded soap-stars had packed up and left the crumbling theatre now the summer season had finished, no doubt touting for panto work by now. Most of the shops were shut, mothballed until next year. Only a handful of arcades and fast food places stayed open to entertain the local kids. All that was left was middle-aged couples walking their dogs on the beach. And even the dogs looked bored.
Danny and Sheldon walked into ‘Big Fun Arcade’, Sheldon’s place of employment. Danny looked around. It was quiet. Groups of teenagers huddled around the machines, watching each other play, but always keeping an eye on what was going on around them. One of them eyeballed Danny. He turned away. Didn’t need the bother.
‘Don’t worry about them,’ Sheldon said. ‘They’re looking for me.’
Before Danny could reply, the arcade owner appeared and took Sheldon aside. Vince Taylor, or Violent Vince as he was known around the town. Danny watched as they spoke out of earshot. Sheldon nodded his head, agreeing with what was said. Once Violent Vince had left the arcade, Sheldon beckoned Danny over. Danny watched him get set up in the money changing booth. People would give you a pound coin, you pressed a button and it came out in silver of copper. Your choice. It wasn’t much of a job. But it was a job.
Sheldon smiled. ‘Thinks if he clicks his fingers, I’ll come running.’
‘He’s your boss.’
‘In his dreams he is.’
Darren knew you didn’t mess with Violent Vince. Not in this town. Everyone knew that. Even Sheldon knew that.
Sheldon raised his eyebrows, signalling to Danny that he should leave. Danny turned around. One of the teenagers had wondered across the room. Taking the hint, Danny stepped aside and watched as Sheldon took the money. A ten pound note. No money was handed back. But a small package was. What else was there to do in this town? The teenager shuffled off back to his gang.
Danny walked back to the booth. ‘I thought you’d stopped all that?’
Sheldon shrugged. ‘Need the money, man.’
‘Vince will go mental.’
‘He’s too busy making money elsewhere. He won’t care. Besides, I don’t sell to the tourists, do I? It’s only a couple of joints being sold to kids, isn’t it? Look, give us a fiver.’
‘Just give us one.’
Danny rummaged around in his pocket. Took the note out. Last one until payday. Still three days away. Keeley was whinging this morning that there was nothing in the house. Like it was all his fault. He did his best. He’d taken the job at her Dad’s car wash. He was making the effort. Maybe less time and money spent dressing the kid up like a doll and more spent looking for a job herself and things might be different. He handed the fiver over to Sheldon.
Sheldon pressed some buttons, handed the coins back to Danny.
Danny counted them. Ten. He looked at Sheldon. Sheldon pointed to a fruit machine, right at the end of the arcade. ‘Have a go on that one. I’ve got a feeling it’s your lucky day.’
‘What makes you say that, then?’ Danny asked.
Sheldon just smiled. ‘Give it a go.’
Danny walked over to the machine. Sheldon left the booth and followed. Danny put the first pound coin in. It lit up. ‘Look,’ he said, laughing. ‘I was right. Who'd have thought it?’ He walked back to his booth, shouted ‘We’ll share the money. You need to get out of that car washing business, mate. Waste of time. Leave it to Ant and Dec. It’s for mugs. This is where the money is.’
Danny waited for the end of Sheldon’s shift. Spent some time just walking, the cold air from the sea slapping his face as he walked. He liked that. Cleared the head and no mistake. It was grim, but it was home. He’d used some of the fruit machine winnings to buy a burger. What Keeley didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. He sat outside of the arcade until Sheldon joined him.
‘How much did you make, then?’ Sheldon asked.
They started walking. Danny took the coins out his pocket. ‘Jackpot.’
Sheldon took half the coins out of his hand. ‘Told you, didn’t I. The leisure and tourism industry is the one to be in. Suits me right down to the ground.’
They turned down a small road, behind the arcade. A cut through back to the town. Danny stopped and let Sheldon move ahead. The transit van was in place, back doors wide open, engine running. Violent Vince stood at the side of the van. ‘I think we need a chat, Sheldon,’ he said. ‘Get in.’ Sheldon got in.
Danny nodded to Vince. A job’s a job in this town. You’ve got to do what you can to do to earn some extra. Especially when you’ve got a kid at home who’s seven going on seventeen. He zipped his coat up and shuddered. The caves were probably cold at this time of the year.
Nick Quantrill is a crime writer from Hull. His debut novel, 'Broken Dreams', was published by Caffeine Nights, March 2010. For more information - www.hullcrimefiction.co.uk