Enjoy part 2 of Paul's new crime thriller series...
A Dog of a Day.
I got out of the car carefully, trying not to get Tony’s blood on the wheel, seats or door. I’d taken him straight from the flats to a back street doctor who wouldn’t ask questions about bullet wounds, along with enough money for him not to go making any clever connections between my lung-shot friend and the shootout in South London that was now all over the media.
Big Trouble in Little Streatham, most of the radio news teams had been calling it, although one wit had dubbed it the ‘Tooting Shooting’.
I knew that before long the police would have the DNA of everyone who had bled at the scene, which included myself and Tony, and before that happened I needed to find the man who’d escaped and make his insides outsides.
I’d been paid up front, so I probably should have just walked away, but people shooting my friends makes me an unhappy man, not to mention the fact that I was unlikely to get a reference from my last employer and that really ticked me off.
So I’d come to the one place I knew in London that would give me a chance to find out who and where my new Russian friend was.
Scrubbing the worst of the blood from my hands onto my jeans, my fingers brushed across the butt of my Sig, tucked away under my jacket. Just knowing it was there gave me the confidence to go into a situation that was at best uncertain, at worst fatal.
Visiting Benny Kolpov was a bad idea at the best of times. He was, as you might guess from the name, Russian. He was in his late sixties, and spent most of his life bombed out of his face on vodka. That wasn’t what made him dangerous though.
What made him dangerous were the half dozen guards that he kept around him at all times, lounging around his large house in West Norwood like fleas on a dying dog. That, and the fact that last time I’d seen him I’d put three of his guards in hospital and broken his nose. He had been trying to kill me though.
Benny claimed that he was ex-KGB, abandoned in the UK when the cold war ended. It might have been true, it might not; either way he knew every serious Russian in the City, or at least knew of them and knew their business well enough that for a price he could tell you how to find them.
Dusk was turning the sky the deep purple of an ugly bruise as I approached the house on Thornlaw Road, checking about to make sure that I wasn’t being observed. Not that I thought I would be, but old habits die hard and forgetting them makes you die harder.
The house was set back from the road with a yard large enough to park three cars in front of it. Two of the slots were filled, one with a Jaguar XFS and the other with a BMW X5. Whatever Benny lacked in sobriety, he made up for in money.
I’d no sooner set foot in the yard when the front door opened and two men in casual clothes stepped out, one of them holding a hand inside his hoody.
I raised my hands and slowed.
“I’m not here for trouble, I’m here to see Benny about business. Lucrative business”.
The one on the right nodded and held up a hand. I obediently stopped while he disappeared inside, leaving me facing the other across twenty feet of cold concrete. His hand was still inside his top, no doubt resting on the butt of something as illegal as my Sig.
After what felt like a month the other man returned, waving me forwards.
“Spread your arms mate”, he said as soon as I’d stepped into the wide hallway.
I spread them obediently. “That’s a funny Russian accent you’ve got”, I remarked as he searched me thoroughly, removing the Sig and both spare magazines.
The man shrugged as my weapon disappeared into his jacket.
“Benny decided he wanted someone local to do the talking. Help smooth things over where the language barrier gets difficult”.
Despite his size and the broad London accent, he was clearly no muscle-moron, and I watched him carefully as he led me through the richly decorated hallway and into Benny’s ‘receiving room’.
It had changed little since I’d been there last, several couches strewn around with a coffee table each to rest drinks on.
On the far side of the room sat a drinks table that would have put Olly Reed to shame, dozens of bottles of all shapes and sizes neatly lined up with a stack of glasses and an ice machine nearby.
Benny himself sprawled on a sofa, his cadaverous body hidden by a large smoking jacket as he nodded along to the strains of what I thought might be Wagner coming from the stereo.
“Ah, Mr Blake!” He said jovially, waving a glass of vodka in my direction. “It has been long time”.
I nodded, staying silent as I noticed the two men taking up flanking positions either side of the door.
“I suppose you want Benny for something, in spite of our… differences last time we meet, no?” His accent, always thicker when he was drunk, was now almost undecipherable.
“Shrewd as always Benny. I assume that as I’m coming to you as a paying customer I don’t need to worry about you trying to settle the score for last time?”
The Russian waved a hand at me magnanimously. “Of course not! It was just business, and we were… opposite tradesmen at the time. Now sit, and tell Benny what you need”.
I’ve never been able to trust people who talk about themselves in the third person. It’s as if they want to distance themselves from their actions. Oh no, that wasn’t me, that wasBenny. I’m sure you get my drift.
I sat on the sofa furthest from the door, wanting to give myself reaction time if it kicked off. Not that I thought it would, but I hadn’t survived this long by being careless.
“I need to know about a Russian”, I began, setting Benny chuckling.
“Of course you do, or why else you come to Benny?”
“I don’t have a name, just a description and the place he was earlier today”.
Benny straightened a little in an attempt to look halfway sober.
“A block of flats in South London, between Streatham and Tooting. He’s about my height, thin face like a vampire”. I went on with the description, giving every tiny detail I could remember.
When I’d finished, Benny was nodding sagely. “Yes, I think I know this man. Come with me and I will check records”.
He stood a little unsteadily and weaved towards the door which one of the guards obediently opened. I followed him out into the hallway and over to a door under the stairs.
Pulling it open, he turned on a light and led me down a narrow flight of stairs that I thought would spell his end, but he gripped the railing and shuffled down step by step until he was on the hard concrete floor.
He stood for a moment, looking around uncertainly before wandering off into the gloom. “I will be back in moment. Make yourself at home”.
The darkness swallowed Benny almost immediately, the only light coming from the bare bulb that hung above the stairs. How he could see in the darkness was beyond me, but then a small lamp flickered into life about twenty feet away, outlining the stacks of shelves that filled the basement.
A creak from behind me made me turn to see the guard who’d taken my gun lounging against one wall while the rest of him filled the stairs.
Hearing Benny moving back towards me, I tried to move to keep both of them in view but the basement here was too narrow, so I turned to look at Benny instead, trusting that the guard had no reason to cause me harm.
Only it wasn’t Benny.
Instead, the man from the flats was coming towards me, both hands curled around a pistol that was aimed at my face.
Putting my hands up, I shifted backwards until my heels hit the bottom step.
“Easy lads”, I said nervously, wishing the man behind me didn’t have my gun. “This looks like a great time to do a bit of talking”.
“I wish it was, Mr Blake”, Benny’s disembodied voice floated out of the darkness, “but the man you seem to have found so easily is my cousin, Yuri”.
My heart sank. There was only one way out of here, and that was clearly in a body bag.
Yuri approached until he was just out of reach, cold eyes fixed on me over the pistol.
“You killed my good men”, he said in atrocious English, “for that you die”.
Two things happened at once.
The first was the guard on the stairs looping his arm around my throat to hold me still. For a big man he was fast, and his huge, corded muscles began crushing my windpipe before I could react.
The second was that I got angry.
Not the usual burning anger that I’d felt so many times before, but a cold, hard rage that made everything sparkle like crystal and slow down around me.
I saw, with perfect clarity, Yuri’s finger tightening on the trigger, the pad turning white as it pressed against cold metal hard enough to hurl a bullet towards my chest.
I saw, way off in the darkness, Benny shuffling cautiously towards the pool of light in which we stood.
And I felt, with a sudden smug glee, the guard’s footing shift slightly as he tried to pull away from the shot that he knew was coming.
The moment he shifted, I moved. One hand shot up, sticking a thumb in his eye as I dropped my weight, pulling forwards as my other arm grabbed his shoulder and hurled him over my now bent back.
He flew like a bird, rolling off my hip to crash into Yuri as the Russian’s eyes widened in surprise.
His finger jerked reflexively on the trigger, the sound deafening in the tight space and hiding the guard’s scream in its ringing echoes.
Before the big man could regain his feet I charged forwards, stamping hard on his throat. Blood spurted and a scream cut off abruptly as I launched myself from his throat and into Yuri’s arms before he could bring the pistol to bear a second time.
He stumbled backwards, pistol flying from his grip as I hammered an elbow into his jaw, then followed through with a knee that caught him in the stomach and lifted him off the floor.
From the darkness a shotgun roared, a flash of light blinding me as tiny balls of lead ripped through my jacket and into the flesh of my right arm, stinging like a hundred angry wasps.
Ignoring the pain I roared out my anger and charged, head high and fists up in a guard as if I could ward off the final shot I knew would come.
Except that it didn’t.
Instead, I ran into the small pool of lamplight to find Benny frantically breaking open a single barrel shotgun, trying to stuff a cartridge into the breech before I closed with him.
In his dreams. I was two hundred pounds of angry muscle and he was an old man with a skin full of vodka inside him. I hit him like a train, both hands slamming into his chest and lifting him off the floor to slam him into the wall with his feet dangling inches from the concrete.
The old man snapped the weapon shut and tried to bring it up under my chin, his eyes screaming his fear for him. He didn’t let it stop him though, and I respected him for that as I reached out almost casually and broke his neck, the crunch as his spine snapped nothing but a whisper against the slowly diminishing rage.
Dropping the lifeless body to the ground, I stooped to grab the shotgun and hurried back to the stairs, intent on having a few choice words with Yuri.
Except that he was gone.
The guard was still there, sightless eyes staring up at me in reproach, but Yuri had managed to escape. Dropping the shotgun, I retrieved my pistol from the corpse and headed up the stairs, determined to find Yuri and get some answers.
I may have lost him for now, but at least I had a name, and in London’s dark underworld someone knowing your name can be a very bad thing.
Especially when it’s me.
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