“I wouldn’t ask, but…”
I should have known the second I answered the phone. That soft shaky voice that sounds like she’s about to burst into tears. She used to use it to get her way all the time when we were married. How much is it this time, a grand? Two grand? Don’t suppose I could just offer her one of the two-for-one CoffeeGo coupons I was handed today by some guy dressed like a giant mug of coffee. What a mug! Ha, I bet he never gets tired of hearing that.
“How much do you need Leanne?” I ask bitterly.
Brace for impact…
“Just a thousand. It’s really not much.”
If it’s not much, why can’t you afford it?
“-and you know I’ll be able to pay you right back, as soon as my new job starts, I’ve already asked for an advance on my first pay check.”
You’ve not even got the job yet and you’re already asking for an advance? You really should not work in credit management.
“You know Leanne, you’re so bad at managing your finances, it is nothing short of a miracle that you’re even able to keep food on the table for yourself, let alone our kids.”
A pause, followed by a sniff, followed by another pause.
“The ones we could have had, if you’d managed your finances better!”
The conversation ends, the sour taste lingering in my mouth of having given my ex-wife yet another £300, with the reluctant promise of more, should another case come through. I guess that Island escape with my ill-gotten gains just got a little further away.
Fuck, life is futile. Sure, I’ve been burying my nuts all summer; and by that, I mean saving money, not getting laid. Fuck, the last time I used an erection it was to piss over a wall. But other than the odd bottle of bourbon, I’ve barely spent anything. Of course, it’s not saving the money that’s hard -once I get it, I shove most of it into an offshore bank account and drink the rest away- it’s earning it that’s the real challenge. Since I lost my job as a detective when one of my suspects mysteriously came down with a case of broken face whilst under my custody, it’s been difficult to earn a crust. Of course, breaking faces isn’t my only talent. I had some pretty sharp senses back in the day, I’ve probably numbed every last one of them with alcohol, but I can still carve myself a piece of the pie here and there, however dirty, rotten and ill-gotten that pie may be.
I tip the glass back, and empty the bourbon into my mouth, ice cubes and all.
“Does that not make your teeth cold?” Roache asks.
“It’s ice.” I say, crunching the cubes, “Of course it makes my teeth cold.”
Roache shakes his head, “Listen John, I need your help with a case.”
I swallow the slushy ice and bourbon in one go, and let a burp out, then thumb out a Dark Spider cigarillo and light it up. Roache has an ornate, swan shaped crystal ashtray on the table, which is completely clean and sparkly. I wonder how much he spent on that. How much is too much to spend on an ashtray? I mean, it’s just a bin for cigarette butts, seems a bit pretentious to spend a lot of money on a crystal swan for what is essentially a miniature bin.
“What’s new?” I ask, flicking ash into the crystal swan.
“It’s a young girl by the name of Emily Fairfax, eighteen years old.” Roache explains. “She ran away from home three months ago, but nobody’s heard from her in days.”
“Look John, I’m not doing this for the force. Steven Fairfax –her father- is a close friend of me and Linda. They’re worried John, they think something awful might have happened.”
Yeah, it usually does when a young girl runs away from home.
“Eighteen year old girls don’t just run away for no reason Roache, maybe it’s the father you should be be talking to. I mean, why wait until now to track her down?” I ask.
“He’s been trying –I’ve been trying– but nobody we’ve spoken to has seen her in over three days.”
“So why do you think it will be any different when I look?”
“Because you can look in places we can’t John, you can get rough with people. You know how it works.”
Yeah, I know how it works. If the book doesn’t work, bring out the crossbow and fire it into the playground. I’m the balls, and Roache is the Cock. Ha, Cock Roache. That’s gold.
Roache reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small box, which he lays out on the table beside the crystal swan. He pops the lid off to reveal a small sealed bag of brown powder.
“They found this in Emily’s room before she ran away.”
“Heroin?” I ask.
“Not just any heroin,” Roahe says, pointing to the bag. “It’s Belgian Blue. We suspect it’s the remnants from a batch seized in Liege last month. It’s about eight percent Noscapine, and can be identified by the small blue crystals that sink to the bottom of the bag.”
I pick up the bag and examine it closely, shaking it slightly before returning it back to the box.
“How much what?” Roache asks.
“How much fibre should I really be getting each day?” I say, flicking Roache in the forehead with my index finger, “How much money, idiot?”
Roache furrows his brows and rubs his forehead, tips his head back and scratches at a scab that has formed in a long thin scratch across his neck.
Well fuck me sideways. Looks like the island escape might just be back on.
“Twenty.” I say in a serious tone.
Roache looks back at me, his eyes widening.
“I’m just fucking with you Roache,” I snigger, “Ten will do just fine. What did you do to your neck, by the way?”
“Don’t waste time on this John,” Roache says, raising a finger, “I’ll give you two grand now, but I want you to find her in three days or sooner.”
No problem, and how about a solid gold unicorn that shits your name in rainbows too?
“Three days?!” I ask.
Roache looks at me.
“Just find her John,” Roache says wearily, “And find her fast.”
I drive home from Roache’s place. The journey takes forty minutes; it should take twenty, but Roache insists I meander through the streets to avoid detection, and park at least quarter of a mile away from the house. Real James Bond shit. Except 007 didn’t drive around in a Ford Focus with one of the wing mirrors hanging off, and I’m pretty sure his dashboard was littered with buttons that did cool shit –like fire missiles- and not just cigarette butts and crushed beer cans. I open the door to my house and walk inside. The house is dark, but I like it that way. This is the part of the story where an assassin jumps out and throws a knife at me –when really it would be far more effective to use a gun- but somehow I manage to overpower my assassin and torture him for information, but he just munches on a cyanide capsule before he talks.
I look around my sparsely decorated bedsit. I guess it wouldn’t happen tonight. Shame really. Still, a clever assassin would use that cyanide pill to poison the half empty bottle of Bourbon I’ve been keeping next to the fold out bed. I sit down and grab the bottle of bourbon.
Emily Fairfax. Missing for a week. Runaway. Heroin addict.
I’ll get to the bottom of this if it takes me all night.
And by that, I mean this bottle of bourbon.
It sounds exciting being a detective. It probably sounds even more exciting being an off-the-books cash-in-hand detective, working for a corrupt DCI; but for the most part, it’s not. What detective dramas don’t show you is the hours we spend looking through document after document, or the time spent sat in a car fifty yards away from a house staring intermittently at the window, flicking up a pair of binoculars every time somebody brushes past the curtain.
I take a sip from my hipflask. Fuck this is boring. It doesn’t look like anything’s going on at the Fairfax house. That’s usually the first place to look in the case of a missing person. Most of the time, it’s a family member or somebody they know; but it’s not like I can go bashing the door down now is it?
Excuse the 5o’clock shadow and the bourbon breath sir, I’m here to ask you a few questions about your junkie runaway daughter, may I please come inside?
I tip the hipflask back and finish the last of the bourbon, thumb another cigarillo out of the packet and spark it up. If Roache wants her found in three days, I’m gonna have to step this up a notch.
I may not have seen anything at the house, but I did notice one thing; a hooded young man a few doors down who seems to have an awful lot of different visitors this morning. Strange how none of them stay for longer than ten minutes though. He’s just left his house, and is talking to someone on the phone.
I pick up the pace, following the hooded man as he takes a left down a back alley, still with the phone to his ear.
“Excuse me?” I shout after him.
He turns to face me, telling the person on the phone that he’ll call them back.
“You dropped something back here my friend, looks like a small bag of… Brown sugar?”
I look down at the ground, pretending that I’m looking at the non-existent bag.
The hooded man walks towards me, “You tryin’ to be funny mate?”
I look up at the man as he briskly steps towards me. He grips me by the jacket roughly, pulling me towards his face.
“Not at all.” I say in defence.
“Good.” He says, releasing me, “Now fuck off.”
I back away from the hooded man slowly, before turning a corner back on to the street. When I am sure I’m a suitable distance away, I reach into my pocket and pull out the phone I took from his pocket.
I’m not a man of many talents –especially outside of the bedroom, wink wink– but picking pockets and breaking faces are the two guns in my holster that I carry with me at all times.
I flick through the drug dealer’s text messages. Crudely disguised meetings and transactions -with absolutely no regard for the proper use of punctuation- populate his entire inbox. After reading through the texts of the past few weeks, I notice that up until seven days ago, most of the dealings occurred at place affectionately referred to as “The trap”.
I reach for my hipflask, then throw it across the dashboard after shaking it and realising it’s empty. I start the engine; time to give the gentleman his phone back.
I drive down to his house and pull up outside. I may need to make a speedy getaway this time. I walk up to the door and knock on it three times. After a moment, the door opens about six inches, with the chain still on. The hooded man –now unhooded- pops his head out.
“Hey, me again. We met in the alley before, and you looked like you wanted to kiss me. Anyway, you dropped your phone.” I say, holding the phone up in front of him.
He reaches out through the opening to take the phone. I grip his arm and pull it tightly through the gap, pressing his face up against the gap in the door.
“What, no reward?” I say.
The man wrestles against my restraint, shouting at me to let him go. I lock his arm with my shoulder and hand, and use my free hand to slam the door against his arm.
“Where is the trap?” I shout at him.
“Get off my fucking arm! Who the fuck are you?” He shouts, as I continue to slam the door on him.
“Where is the trap?” I reiterate.
“It’s a warehouse up the road. It’s boarded up. No-one goes there after the police raided it last week.”
I stop slamming the door and grip the man by the wrist with both hands.
“Where is Emily Fairfax?” I ask.
“I’ve never heard of her!”
“Wrong answer.” I say, twisting his wrist.
“Where is Emily Fairfax?”
“I don’t know who she is!”
I twist his wrist even further, until the man is screaming in pain.
“Where… Is… Emily… Fairfax?” I say, twisting further with each word, until his wrist begins to crack.
“I don’t know! I’ve never fucking heard of her!” He wails.
Shit. He really doesn’t know.
I release his arm, and he falls to the floor whimpering.
“Your phone.” I say, throwing the phone through the opening in the door.
“What have you found?” Roache asks desperately.
“I’m on to something. A place up the road called ‘the trap’, I’m heading there now to have a look around.”
“The old warehouse on Smith street? We cleared the place out a week ago.”
“Well, I’m heading there now. I’ll report back what I find.”
“Thanks. Don’t use this phone again.”
I take the battery out of the phone and throw it into a nearby bin. Buying pre-paid phones is the bane of my life. That’s another thing they’d never show you in a detective dramas; me visiting every goddamned Tesco in England just to buy a different £10 pre-paid phone. Of course, most real detectives don’t have to deal with this shit like I do. They get lovely offices with Newton’s cradles and little water features and all that other unnecessary shit to distract you from the tedium of the job.
So, this must be the trap. I must say, of all the former squats I’ve seen, this is must be the ritziest. Dusty pull-out sofas, a seatless toilet, even an old gas cooker to cook your skag on. I cut my foot open kicking through one of the boarded windows. I hadn’t expected the pane to still be intact and to break around my shin, but I guess you live and learn.
I scope around the place; looks like it was emptied out in a hurry. Some of the occupants didn’t even have a chance to pack their needles away. I walk through the main room, then, finding a room at the back, obscured by an old wooden door, I make my way towards it with my torch in hand.
As I open the door, a pungent smell invades my nostrils. I look down to see a small bag of Belgian Blue on the floor, right next to a crystal swan ashtray, and the cold body of Emily Fairfax.
What the fuck is this?
I look down at the body, the sunken eyes staring vacantly up at me, the bruising around the neck, the flies dancing around her eyes and nostrils. But what stands out is the needle in her arm. Based on the lack of bleeding, it looks like it was placed there post-mortem. This is a murder, clumsily disguised as a drug overdose.
Siren bells start screaming in my head, rising up into a crescendo. This is a set up. That fucking shady fuck has set me up. And I’m right where I’m supposed to be, at the scene of the crime. The ashtray, the bag of heroin, the window that broke on my shin; these were all planted here, waiting for me to arrive. The sirens in my head are getting louder, and that’s when I realise, those are police sirens.
I race back into the main room. Need a plan, and need one quick. Fire. Everything can be solved with fire. I move to the south eastern corner of the room, gripping the gas cooker I’d seen earlier. With any luck, there may still be some gas inside. I turn the knob, and to my relief, hear the hiss of gas. I light up the gas cooker and rush to the South Eastern corner of the room. I lift up a plank of wood, as the sirens become louder, and press it into the corner of the room. I place the gas cooker behind the plank, so that it cannot be seen from the other side of the room, and turn it upside down. The flames lick the sides of the gas canister. Fuck knows how long I’ve got before it explodes, but it should buy me some time to escape.
I run to the North Western corner of the room, crouching down behind the pull-out sofa, as the screech of tyres and the thumping of boots informs me that the police are here. They’ll have to find a way in, but that won’t take long. They’ll most likely file through the window I kicked through, although knowing my luck, the canister will explode and burn the place down before they get in, and I’ll be trapped in the blaze. Death by fire -now that would be my least favourite way to die- although there aren’t many ways I would like to die. Still, given the choice, it would be for some cause –you know- for some honourable purpose or some shit. Not burning to death in a factory, forever remembered for a murder I did not commit.
Two policemen charge in. I look at their faces, but they do not see me. Neither one of them is Roache, but I’ll bet anything some anonymous witness just reported a man of my description entering the trap and looking shady. I wonder what words Roache used to describe me; tired, unshaven, ruggedly handsome? I hope so.
Suddenly, a whooshing sound comes from the gas cooker, as a plume of flame shoots out diagonally from the corner of the room. The officers begin to retreat cautiously. The gas canister explodes, and one of the officers stumbles to the floor in shock. In the panic and confusion, I leap out of my hiding place and sprint across the room, leaping headlong through the window I’d kicked through, scraping my hip on a jagged piece of glass. I land on the gravel outside, climb to my feet and run for my life.
This is it. I’ve prepared for this day: The day everything went to shit. I don’t have long to leave, but I wait until nightfall and make my way to my storage unit to get my emergency bag. The police will be looking for me, which is why I rent this storage unit under a false name. It contains a beard trimmer, which I use to shave my head and face; a change of clothes; a pair of shoes which are two sizes too small and hurt like fuck to wear, a pair of thick leather gloves, an X26 Taser, the best forged passport money can buy, and of course; a bottle of bourbon that’s older than most trees. I’m like Mary Poppins, if she was an alcoholic fugitive planning to flee to Brazil. Although she probably wouldn’t need to board a plane, she could just fly there on that umbrella of hers. Also, who would frame her for murder?
I’m nothing like Mary Poppins.
I jump on the motorbike I keep in storage, and drive straight towards Roache’s house. One last stop off, before I check out of this game forever.
Roache’s house is surprisingly nice for the area he’s in, with a big lovely garden surrounded by all manner of trees and bushes. It’s almost too easy to sneak in. I’d been to Roache’s house many times, he’d always insisted I make myself inconspicuous, and that’s exactly what I’d be doing tonight.
I sneak around to the back door, burying myself in the bushes next to the kitchen window. I reach for a rock on the ground, and hurl it towards the fence at the back of the garden. Immediately, I can hear the sound of Roache’s Yorkshire Terrier yapping. It won’t be long before he comes outside to investigate.
I listen for the muffled sounds of Roache reassuring his wife that he will be back shortly, followed by trepid footsteps heading down the stairs. The door opens with a creak, and a bead of sweat forms on my head as Roache surveys the garden. He does not see me, and takes a tentative step forward, raising his gun. That’s when I hit him with the taser. His entire body tenses up, and he falls to the ground, dropping the gun. I switch the taser to drive stun mode -not because it’s incapacitating, but because it hurts like fuck- and press the taser against his arse for about fifteen seconds, watching him flop on the ground like a fish, before releasing him. I grab the gun and put it to the back of his head, my gloved hand placed gently on the trigger.
I hear the sound of Roache’s wife calling out to see if he’s okay.
“Get up.” I whisper, “Tell your wife you’re fine, you just tripped.”
A look of panic spreads across his face, as he realises I have the gun, and clumsily rises to his feet.
“I’m fine dear,” He calls through heavy panting, “Just a little fall.”
I aim the gun firmly between his eyes.
“You set me up, you murdering fuck.” I say in a hushed voice, “You fucking Cockroach.”
Finally, I get to use that line.
“John, whatever you think is happening, I promise it is not true.” He trembles.
“I guess I made for an easy target. Alcoholic ex-detective, suicidal tendencies, discharged for beating a suspect until his face looked like a Picasso painting, and not a single shred of evidence leads back to you. Except for one thing, of course.”
“That scratch on your neck. I bet Emily Fairfax gave you that before you killed her. And guess who took the fingernail clippings off the recently departed Emily before he fled from your little ambush?”
Roache’s eyes widen.
“I’ve looked at it under the microscope Roache. There’s blood under there, and how much would you bet that blood belongs to you?”
“Please,” Roache pleads, “It was an accident. I’ll do anything you want.”
“This may be your lucky day then Mr Roache, because it happens that there is something I want.” I say grinning.
“Anything.” He says.
“The black money. The money you’ve been paying me with all these years. I want all of it -every penny- transferred to this account.” I say, shoving a piece of paper in his chest with an account number written on it.
“If the money is in there within the next three hours, I leave the country, and you have enough reasonable doubt to get away with murder, should they find anything else linking you to the crime. If you decide to renege on our deal however, then it’s mutually assured destruction. I go to prison for interfering with a crime scene –along with all the other shenanigans we’ve pulled over the years- and you will go to prison for murder. Though, I don’t think you’ll be in there for long. You know what they do to police officers in prison, don’t you?”
John Lennon airport is a lonely place; perhaps one of the loneliest places in my world. It is the only place in the city where people from all over the world are constantly passing through, but nobody ever stays. Well, it looks like I’m staying here, for another three-fucking-hours. It seems like airlines have no respect for fugitives trying to flee the country any more.
I sit on the bench in the carpark, smoking the last of my Dark Spider cigarillos. I hope they serve bourbon on the plane. I hope they come in those miniature bottles. They make me feel like a giant. Ah, if only I had more time in England, I could have finally lived my dream of going to a model village with a bunch of miniatures, drinking and stomping on the model houses like a shitfaced King Kong.
Maybe they have model villages in Brazil, and those bottles of tequila with miniature sombreros on them. Or is that Mexico? I guess I’ll find out when I get there.
I remember going to Rio de Janeiro with Leanne many years ago, back when I was a better man. We’d crossed Sugarloaf mountain by cable car, walked down the beach in our bare feet, and did all the other tacky romantic shit that only seems tacky through the lens of bitter hindsight, reflecting upon a time and place that has long passed.
I stub my cigarillo out, as a car pulls into the long term car park. Silver Honda Civic. I recognise that car. That’s Roache’s car. That slimy fuck is trying to leave the country.
I march towards the car, trying to get there quickly, but without drawing any attention to myself. It seems all detectives think alike, which is why he came all the way to John Lennon airport, rather than just going to Manchester. I’ll bet he’s trying to get on the same flight as me as well. Imagine if we’d ended up sitting together, wouldn’t that make for an awkward fourteen hours.
I wait until he’s climbed out of his car before holding the gun to his ribs, out of sight of the cameras. Yes, I kept his gun -and yes- I brought it to the airport. Stupid I know, but I was planning on dropping it into a bin before I went through customs, and I didn’t want to let my guard down. I had to make sure the money had been transferred before I left, and I knew that Roache could have come for me at any moment. In hindsight, it’s a good thing I kept it.
“Going somewhere Roache?” I say, standing behind him.
He turns slowly to face me.
“The same place as you, I expect.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“I transferred the money -just like you said- Forty thousand pounds, you can check for yourself.”
“So why then are you fleeing the country?”
“For the same reason you are, John. I’ve no assurances here. You could send those fingernail clippings at any time, from any place, and I’ll be indicted. I can’t live with that fear hanging over me. I’ve had to leave my wife, my children. This hasn’t been easy for me John.”
“Oh you poor thing, would you like a tissue?”
“I didn’t mean to kill Emily. You have to understand, she loved me. She wanted me to leave my wife, said she’d do anything to tear my family apart. One day she tried to kiss me, when I rebuffed her I-”
“-Accidentally strangled her to death? Great story Roache, let’s hope the jury believe you as much as I do when they hear it.”
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean Roache, is that I’ve had a change of heart. You’re right, I really could fuck you from pretty much any corner of the globe -and what’s more- I think I will. But I’m not completely heartless, so I’ll give you the chance to turn yourself in right now. I’ve already got your money, I’ve already got your gun. What more do I need from you? So here it is, confess and get a reduced sentence, or try to flee, and watch my dick stretch across the continents and fuck you in the mouth.”
Roache turns to face me, a smile begins to crack across his face.
“You really are an idiot John, do you know that?” He sniggers, “You’ve always been a loser. That’s why Leanne left you, that’s why you got kicked off the force, and that’s why you’ve lost this little game of ours.”
I press the gun firmly in his chest.
“I don’t feel like such a loser with a gun in my hand.”
“Go on then John, shoot me. Shoot me dead. In front of an airport, in front of a hundred cameras and security guards.” He laughs, “Mutually assured destruction John.”
He has a point. I’m taking a big enough risk just carrying this thing, let alone discharging it.
“So here’s what’s really gonna happen. You’re gonna get on your plane. I’m gonna get in my car, and you’re gonna hope that by the time I’ve gotten to Manchester airport, I haven’t reported you.”
Roache leans forward into my face.
“We’ll part ways. This is what’s best for everyone.”
“Is it what’s best for Emily Fairfax?”
Roache stares into my eyes with a piercing glare.
“If I’m arrested before I get on my flight, I’ll show the police those fingernail clippings.”
“And I’ll show them all the evidence I’ve collected on you over the years. Every single crime scene you’ve interfered with, every suspect you’ve beaten, every house you’ve broken into. Who’s going to believe you Johnny? I’m a respected detective, and you’re a washed up drunk.”
Roache draws his head back, then slams it forward, head-butting me in the nose. Blood bursts from my nostrils, as Roache climbs back into his car and drives away, leaving me in the car park alone.
I let the blood run down the front of my jacket as I walk out of the carpark and away from the airport. After twenty minutes of walking, I find a park and sit on a bench, looking up at the aeroplanes crisscrossing the night sky.
No more bourbon, no more cigarillos.
I reach into my pocket and call Leanne. The phone goes through to voicemail.
I click the phone shut.
There are many bad ways to die, but many worse ways to be remembered. Nothing so bad as being remembered for a murder you didn’t commit.
I wonder if Roache will make it to Manchester airport in time to catch the next flight to Brazil. I wonder if he’ll report me to the police. I wonder if he’ll realise that I never had any fingernail clippings.
I wonder what Leanne will say when she realises I had Roache’s money transferred into her account.
I wonder what Roache will say when he realises I swiped his passport from his pocket.
I wonder what the police will say when they find my body lying face down in the park with a bullet in the back of my head.
I wonder what the police will say, when they find Roache’s fingerprints on the murder weapon.
I wonder how Roache will fare in the showers at Strangeways Prison.
I pull the gun out of my pocket, press it against the back of my head and pinch the trigger so that the gun won’t stay clasped in my hand.
I close my eyes and bite my lip and…
Mutually assured destruction.
© JC Axe 2016