The Big Boots – Part 3

Read “X Faction Soldiers”

Read “The Big Boots – Part 2”

I pull up to Aaron’s house and find him waiting on the lawn. His tie is loose and his wrinkled shirt has been hastily tucked into his trousers. I open the door and he clumsily lumbers himself into the passenger’s seat.

“Is everything sorted with Amelia?” he asks.
“She’s feeling a lot better. Shorestar lettings called her before I dropped her off, they’re dropping the case.” I smile.
“That’s good to hear, it’s difficult enough for Merit Students these days without scummy landlords trying to rip them off.”
I nod in agreement.
“I took a little walk around her street afterwards, had a look at that collapsed building.”
Aaron glances upwards at the rear-view mirror.
“I think I know the one you mean, the old student place?”
“That’s the one.”
Aaron looks at me comfortingly.
“I know you worry about her Martin, but if there were any Grimesters still in there, we’d know about it.” He says warmly.
“I don’t think Amelia’s about to shave her head and put on a pair of stomping boots, I just want to make sure she’s safe.”
“She’ll be fine,” he smiles, “She’s got you to look out for her.”
I smile at Aaron gratefully, deciding to change the subject.
“So what are your thoughts on the hijacking?”
“It’s a tricky case Martin, the Paramilitaries won’t let us onto the scene until they’ve conducted their own investigation. You know what that means”
I nod at Aaron, sighing lightly.
“The minimal amount of evidence we do find will likely be inadmissible. I imagine we can also expect to find post-mortem shot wounds in the arms and legs of the young man who was killed, and an arsenal of weapons clumsily placed in their dead hands” I say.
“I’d put a month’s wages on it,” Aaron agrees.
“We can never underestimate the Paramilitaries’ ability to misdirect an investigation. I suppose it’s a piece of luck that I was the first investigator on the scene.”
Aaron looks at me, wide-eyed and mouth agape.
“What did you do?”
I grin broadly.
“The first people on the scene were the Metropolitan police, they sealed off the area. The order came from above not to set foot on the scene. I got down there before any of the Paramilitaries could in my old police uniform.”
“You know Big Dick won’t be happy about that”
“Is he ever happy about anything?”
“I guess not.” Aaron nods, “But you’re playing with fire Martin, the Met will submit their full report to the Paramilitaries, and they’ll tell them you were there.”
I glance at Aaron briefly.
“I’m counting on it.”
He squints his eyes, “Am I going to be privvy to this great plan at any point?” he asks.
“You Aaron,” I smile, “will be instrumental in my plan.”
“Oh bollocks,” he mutters, “Will you at least tell me what you found at the scene?”
I nod, recalling the scene.
“Total carnage. We’ll have to go back over there when the scene opens up and begin our official investigation. Whatever was in that van was of immense importance to somebody. But remember Aaron, we’re not just investigating the hijackers, we’re investigating the Paramilitaries. If they’ve deliberately tampered evidence, we may be able to hold them fully accountable here. That’s why it’s imperative that we do not let Big Dick know what we know.”
“I hear you loud and clear.”
“What’s the official report from the Paramilitaries?”
“Nothing much as of yet. One of the hijackers has been identified as an MPR. Brian Harrogate”
I pull the car over to the side of the road sharply.
“Brian Harrogate?”

“We’ll take these” I say pointing to Brass, whose arms are stocked with various items of food.
“And seven bottles of spiced rum, two bottles of whisky, a couple of cartons of Black Spider cigarillos, and a bottle of dry gin.” I say grinning, contemplating how much space we actually have in the boot.
“Got a night planned have you?” The shopkeeper says anxiously.
“No no,” I smile broadly “I just have a horrible, mind-slushing addiction”
The shopkeeper looks uneasy as he takes the bottles down from the shelf and places them on the counter.
“You need some bags with that?” He asks.
“Please.” Brass says dropping a pile of food and other assorted items on the table.
The shopkeeper scans each item.
“That will be five hundred and twenty seven sterling, and forty seven pence please.” He says firmly.
“No worries.” I say, packing the items into the bags, “We’ll pay you next time we’re in. Just put it on the slate.”
The shopkeeper slams his hand down on the table.
“No, I don’t think so.” He says firmly.
I lift four of the bags off the table.
“Would you like a hand with that, Pickolas?” Brass says offering his hand.
“Why thank you Brassington!” I say beaming, as he grips the bags and lifts them up with ease.
We walk out of the door and back towards the car. I turn to find the shopkeeper running out after us.
“Oi!” He yells, “You didn’t pay for that!” He grips Brass by the shoulder, who turns around and headbutts him to the floor in one movement, before casually loading the bags into the boot.
As I climb back into the car, I look in the rear view mirror to see the shopkeeper returning to the shop. Brass closes the boot and opens the door. At once, the shopkeeper emerges from the shop with a shotgun raised high.
“Brass, get in!” I say urgently.
Brass turns to face the shopkeeper, who aims the shotgun at his head.
“Put the stuff back you little shits,” he demands, “you junkies should be locked up.”
Brass casually walks towards the man, whose nose is now leaking blood from both nostrils.
“Take my word boss,” Brass laughs, “they never lock us up”.
“The police are on their way, don’t you worry.” He growls.
“Sorry mister,” Brass says sarcastically, “I didn’t mean to head butt you” he says, tapping his forehead against the barrel of the gun repeatedly.
“I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, working nine to five just to stay alive.” he says, staring wildly at the shopkeeper, whilst continuing to head butt the barrel of the gun.
“Working nine to eleven -serving hell for heaven- hiring, firing and perspiring, you know what I mean?”
The shopkeeper scowls at him angrily, tightening his grip on the shotgun.
“Put it back or I’ll shoot you and your friends,” he says nodding towards me, “you might pull that shit in the city, but out here we don’t stand for it,” he growls, “I could feed you to the pigs and nobody would know you even passed through.”
Brass sniggers, “That’s true” he says, gripping the barrel of the gun and head butting the shopkeeper once more.
His body drops to the floor unconscious. Brass holds the shotgun up, examines it carefully, then cocks it and takes aim at the shopkeeper’s arm.
I quickly leap out of the car.
“Brass, don’t do it!” I shout.
He turns to face me.
“What?” He snaps, “I was just gonna wing him.”
“Get in the car, stop fucking about.”
Brass lowers the shotgun and walks back towards the car. As he climbs back into the car, he hands the shotgun over to me.
“At least we’ve got more firepower now.” He says, starting the engine and driving away rapidly.

“I couldn’t save him” Cathy says, dipping her head.
“You mustn’t blame yourself Cathy” I say, handing her a tissue. She takes the tissue, blows her nose into it, and sobs loudly.
“Who else then?” She asks, a hint of anger emerging in her voice, “Who else is to blame Martin?”
I take my glasses off, polishing them on the sleeve of my jacket.
“Why didn’t you tell me he was missing Cathy?” I say sympathetically, “I could have found him. You know I could.”
She sobs, unable to answer.
The question didn’t need to be answered, I already knew why. A formal investigation into Brian’s disappearance would have ended Catherine’s political career entirely. Partially from what I’d been told -and partially through my own deduction- Catherine had argued with her son after discovering a picture of him brandishing a LUGGAR brand 9mm semi-automatic revolver. His ‘Luger’, as he erroneously referred to it. After the argument, he’d moved out entirely, and contact had been lost for nearly 5 months. Catherine’s political career would no doubt be over as soon as the media got wind of this. It was just the excuse her political opponents needed to force her out of office.

Catherine had been fighting a losing battle for many years now, promoting the restoration of the human rights act, and the de-escalation of the growing conflicts with the NSR. Catherine’s influence was part of the reason that the ICC existed in the first place. Perhaps, with her inevitable removal from office, the ICC would be targeted for extinction as well.

“Culpability is an emotional outlet used to allay fear, we blame ourselves or others around us in times of tragedy, to relieve the pressure of addressing a wider societal issue” I say, putting the glasses back on my face.
“You did everything you could for Brian,” I assure her, “But we live in a world of malice, and our children are the product of hundreds of years of corruption.”
Cathy looks at me through glassy eyes.
“I kicked him out when I found that gun of his. I pushed him into the arms of those savages. I rejected him, and so he turned to the anarchists. They became his adoptive parents.”
I grip Cathy’s hand and softly stroke it with my thumb.
“I knew he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, and I always said to him –I always said- that if he was in trouble, he should find the smartest, kindest person he could, and stay with them. How did that lead him to those monsters?”

I look at Catherine’s melting eyes, “You were always his mother.” I say, “He was no anarchist, no radical nihilist”
“When I found his crack pipe stuffed down the side of his bed, I screamed at him.” She sobs, “I could have talked to him, I could have offered to help, I could have given him a hug, but I didn’t, I just screamed at him.”
Cathy drops the tissue, and I release her hand briefly to find her a new one.
“Hindsight is always twenty-twenty Cathy, I have no idea what I would do if I found out my Amelia was on drugs. We do everything we can to protect our children from the world we live in, sometimes we offer them hugs, and other times we scold them. But the world we live in a grotesque one, a world of marginalisation, poverty and corruption. Pressure permeates their entire lives, and there is only so much that we can do to shield them from succumbing to it.”

I look across to Aaron, and nod at him. He nods back, and silently leaves the living room.
“What was he even doing there? What possible reason could he have had to try to hijack a van?” she sobs heavily, “If we could have just found him and brought him home, maybe I could have…”
Cathy trails off into incomprehensible sobbing.
“I will always be here to help you, should you ever need it, never forget that.”
Cathy raises her head and looks at me through bloodshot, glassy eyes.
“The paramilitaries killed him.” She says through gritted teeth, “How did he…”
I release her hand briefly.
“Do you really want to know?”
She nods, “Tell me before they do, tell me what really happened Martin.”
I shake my head softly.
“I can’t.” I say dipping my head slightly, “I can’t discuss the details of an ongoing investigation with-”
“-He’s my son Martin!” Cathy snaps.
I look her square in the eye and take a breath.
“He died painlessly. They shot him in the head. They found a knife in his hand, but they will tell you he had a gun.”
Cathy bursts into tears once more.
“It’s not fair! It’s not fair…”
I hesitantly reach for her hand once again, this time, she grips my fingers tightly.

“Old folk, young folk everyone and each, come and see the Frenchman that has washed up on the beach!” Pyrus sings whimsically from the back seat.

“He’s got long arms, a great long tail and all covered in hair” He says looking across to Sadie, who rolls her eyes, unimpressed.
“We think he is a spy so we’ll hang him in the square!”
Eggy, satisfied that Pyrus is finished singing, leans his head back.
“What the fuck are you singing Pyrus?”
“It’s a folk song.” He says grinning.
“It’s fucking shit mate” Eggy says dismissively, rubbing his head.
“Yeah” Pyrus concedes, “But it really happened, in Darlo”
“What?” Eggy asks, “They hung a monkey? Bollocks”
“It’s true. They fought he was-”
“It’s not true” Sadie interrupts, “It’s a legend, and you’re thinking of Hartlepool, not Darlington.”
“It is true” Pyrus says stubbornly, “In the Napoleonic wars.”
Agatho turns to face Pyrus from the front passenger seat.
“It’s unlikely to be true” Agatho states firmly, “And even if it was, it could just have easily been a young boy” He continues, “Powder-monkeys, they called them. Young boys who loaded gunpowder into the cannons”
“Nobody asked you, Chemist.” Pyrus spits angrily.
Agatho turns to face away from Pyrus once more.
“And nobody asked you to sing that annoying song”
Pyrus throws a crumpled beer can at the back of Agatho’s head.
“Oi!” Eggy shouts, braking sharply. The car skids sharply, and everyone is jolted forwards roughly, “Leave him alone Pyrus”
“Or what, Egghead?”
“Or I kick your arse out on the side of the road and you walk to Darlo mate.” Eggy seethes.
“Fuck off Egghead, you know that’s not happening, you need me.” Pyrus says, tugging at the headrest on Eggy’s seat.
“We need Agatho a lot more” Eggy says, pointing to him, “That’s why he’s in the front seat.”
“And what about Sadie? Any reason she’s in the back?”
“To keep an eye on you mate,” Eggy grins, “make sure you behave.”
“Fuck that” Pyrus shouts angrily, “I want to go in the front, get out Agatho, we’re swapping places.”
“Nobody’s swapping places” Eggy states firmly, “You can’t drive, you can’t perform first aid, you can’t even fight mate. You’re a fucking liability Pyrus, so shut the fuck up!” Eggy spits, rubbing his bald head in frustration.
Pyrus lets out a deep sigh, frustrated.
“Whatever” He grunts, “Just drive, you eyebrowless fuck.”

“I’ve found a new lead on Prince Randian.” Grantson nods, as Big Dick enters the room.
“The name was given to a performer in a freak show, a man with no arms or legs.”
Big Dick peers over at the images of the limbless man on the screen.
This is Prince Randian, is it?” Big Dick says, unconvinced.
“Looks like it. He even appeared in a Tod Browning film.”
“Really? I can’t say I’ve heard of Tod Browning.” Big Dick asks, lifting up a heavy hardback book and flipping it open, “Tell me Grantson, when was the film produced?”
Grantson turns to face the screen once more, typing frantically.
“1932” He says blankly.
Grantson’s head smashes against the keyboard as Big Dick brings the hardback book crashing down on him.
“1932?!” Big Dick barks angrily, raising the book up again over his head and smashing it once more over Grantson’s’s head. The beating continues for over a minute, before the onslaught is interrupted by a young woman entering the room.
“Sergeant Heston?” She asks coyly.
Dick drops the book on Grantson’s head, and turns to face the woman.
“What?” He says, his face red with anger.
“Deboram Coney is here to see you”.

Deboram Coney struts around the office, tugging the cuffs of his shirt and brushing down his blue suit.
“I have to say Dickie, it’s terribly dusty in here. Have you ever considered doing a little spring cleaning?”
Big Dick rolls his eyes at Deboram.
“What can I do for you, Debbie?” Big Dick says, sitting casually in his chair.
Deboram leans over the desk.
“Are you staying? Take a seat.” Dick says, pointing to the chair.
Deboram stands perfectly still, focusing his glare on Dick.
“Am I staying?” He asks, raising his eyebrows, “I’d ask you the same question, Dickie”
Big Dick’s face screws up in anger.
“I mean at your age, you just never know.” Deboram grins.
Deboram lays a suitcase on the table.
“I brought you a little present Dickie” He says, opening the briefcase.
Dick looks down to see the contents of the briefcase; a single golden apple.
“What is that Debbie?” He looks up at Deboram, bemused.
“It’s an apple Dickie,” He says sarcastically, “Don’t you like it?”
Dick glances down at the apple once more.
“Well I haven’t tasted it yet” Dick says sarcastically.
“Silly Dickie, you can’t eat it, it’s made of solid gold.”
“I’m aware of that.” Dick responds blankly.
“It’s handcrafted by artisan monks from the dizzying heights of the who-the-fuck-cares mountains. It’s worth a shitload of money. Independent valuations put this very apple at around two-hundred-thousand Sterling.”
Dick’s eyes widen in surprise.
“Wait a tick, that’s… Well that’s more than you make in a year isn’t it Dickie?”
Deboram lets out a self-satisfied chuckle.
“Here, take it.” Deboram picks up the apple and holds it out to Dick.
Dick looks at the apple as it gleams in the fluorescent light of the office. His reflection in the apple is inverse and distorted.
“No thank you Debbie,” he says, waving a hand in front of the apple, “I’ve never been a man for mantelpiece ornaments. Just clutter as far as I’m concerned.”
Deboram’s face breaks into a scowl as he stuffs the apple back into the briefcase and snaps it shut.
“Where is the case?” Deboram asks firmly.
“If I knew that, you wouldn’t have come to see me.”
“Don’t play games with me Dickie.” He scolds, raising his finger.
“The van was attacked by anarchists, they took the case. I know as much as you do Deb.”
“I’m well aware of what happened” Deboram states.
“Then what do you want from me?” Dick growls defensively.
“Quite a coincidence that the case should disappear on your watch” Debbie spits, “The Party will be looking for a scapegoat for this, and you know I’m not taking the heat on this one.”
“Are you threatening me?” Big Dick shouts, standing up quickly, pushing his chair backwards.
“I don’t make threats. I make promises” Deboram states, “And I promised the Party that the case would be safe in your hands. I broke that promise. If you don’t put this right, I will break you.
Dick grits his teeth tightly, suppressing his rage.
“There were only five men who knew what was in that case” Deboram says softly.
“Now, there are only four” He continues, “and two of them are in this room”
Deboram turns to leave.
“Find that case, or there will be three.”

Martin and I arrived at the scene shortly after visiting Catherine Harrogate. It had previously occurred to me that Martin seemed to show little haste in making his own measurement of the scene. Usually a murder scene which involved the Paramilitaries and the X Faction was a mess of red tape, and frequently we had to fight just to enter the scene. Although this was our first official inspection of the crime scene, I knew Martin had arrived on the scene before the Paramilitaries, and had used his contacts in the Metropolitan police to gain access to the scene before it could be tampered with. Even so, we completed our rounds, took all of the necessary photos, collected samples and made our measurements of the events that had occurred. It was with great trepidation that the Paramilitary Investigators opened up the scene to the IIC. I expect that too was something Martin had to battle for. All too often, we’d arrive at a scene, only to be told that the IIC could not perform an investigation, and that this was to be kept in the strict and unreliable hands of the Paramilitaries.

After the tactical response units left and we were allowed in, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was no surprise that most of the hard evidence had been butchered by the trampling feet and screeching wheels of the Paramilitaries. Unfortunately -and despite our protestations- this had come to be expected of any scene which directly involved the Paramilitaries. This did not seem to deter Martin Harman. He’d been investigating crimes for years now, everything from petty crimes to top-level corruption. It was the latter which intrigued him the most, and he took a keen interest in the Paramilitaries themselves, earning himself the seething contempt of their most senior officer, Field Sergeant Richard Heston.

The rivalry between the Independent Investigatory Commission and the Paramilitaries was palpable. In the past, we’d interacted like juvenile cliques, trading insults; they’d call us weak and ineffectual, and we’d call them bumbling and draconian, but the reality of the situation was far more haunting. The Paramilitaries feared us, because we were constantly on their tails, investigating their officers and their corrupt and heavy-handed approach to law enforcement. We feared them because of their ties to the government.

After examining the scene for forty minutes, Martin came towards me. We stood at the entrance to the bridge.

“There were seven of them in total, they carried the board down this embankment”
He pointed up to the top of the grass verge, which lead to the road over the bridge.
“They parked a car up there, which they drove from a rendezvous point less than a mile away”
I nodded at him, urging him to continue.
“Two of them waited with the wooden board, whilst another waited on the opposite side. Two more waited further down, and another at the other end. Seconds before the van arrived, a number of small bombs detonated in the area, they were set to timers. The positioning of these smaller bombs –in letter boxes and bins- suggests that they were designed to distract the Metropolitan Police, drawing them out of the area, and allowing the rebels to make a quick getaway.”
“The bomb under the manhole cover was detonated remotely, most likely a mobile phone was used to detonate the device”
I look at the charred manhole in the road.
“A plate of steel,” I say, pointing to the blacked manhole, “was used to block the manhole up, and the bomb placed on top of it.”
“Correct. Ordinarily, the explosion would have been directed in the opposite way. Still, neither the nailed board nor the bomb were enough to stop the car, but it startled the driver and caused him to brake momentarily, as you can see from the tire marks in the road just here.”
He says pointing to the skid marks in the road.
“One of the men on the other side of the road left his ambush position just moments before the van arrived. He took the car from on top of the bridge, and drove it back around to apprehend the van, which he did by crashing it into the vehicle head-on.”
I look at the scattered scene, in awe of Martin’s ability to apply a chronological timeline of events from such a chaotic maelstrom of evidence.
“Why would he do that?” I ask.
“It unclear at this moment, but I can be certain that it was a different person to the one who drove the car first.”
“Really, what makes you think so?” I ask.
“Because the tire marks are far harder to trace. The first driver seemed to drive faster, and brake harder, but the second driver left far fewer tyre tracks.”
I examine the tyre tracks briefly, and see that he is correct.
“The van was attacked with petrol bombs, which forced the driver to flee. He was slashed across the back of the neck with a scalpel, and then decapitated with what appears to be a machete. He was given a revolver for protection, but it appears he discharged the bullets before the attack, as they were recovered twenty miles from here with two sets of fingerprints on them; his own, and those of Richard Heston.”
I screw up my face in confusion.
“So you’re saying that he was handed a loaded gun, and emptied it himself? Why?”

“It is unwise to theorise at this moment, facts must always come before theories. There could be hundreds of reasons. For the moment, let us focus on what we know.” Martin states.
“The paramilitaries were released from the van, one of them immediately shot Brian Harrogate in the head, killing him instantly. The boy had a knife in his hand, which he had raised above his head”
“A knife? In these pictures, he is carrying a pistol” I say in a hushed tone.
“And in these pictures,” Martin says, handing me a photograph taken earlier, “he is very clearly holding a knife.
I look at the pictures, both of which are timestamped.
“One of them was immolated with a bottle bomb, and died from smoke inhalation. Another had a chain wrapped around his neck, and was then stabbed in the throat”
I nod at him, discreetly handing Martin the photographs.
“We followed the tyre tracks away from the scene, but the getaway driver appears to have been a far smoother driver, meaning the tyre tracks he left were all but unnoticeable. I am confident in saying that the getaway driver was the same one who crashed the car into the van. Here we appear to be dealing with a more refined intellect, but not unpredictable. The only route that the driver could have taken, whilst avoiding detection from the Metropolitan police and CCTV cameras, lead us directly to an old shunting yard. This time, I was the very first on the scene. It was here I found the body of the third Paramilitary officer, he’d been beaten, tortured and then shot in the head. His body was partially cannibalized both before and after death”

My eyes widen in horror.
“Good god. They ate him?”
“Somebody did, and based on the bite marks, we’ve managed to link the attacker to the same person who killed Violet Tate-Jones, the fugitive known as Pogo the clown.”
I shake my head listlessly.
“It’s with little pleasure that I recall the CCTV footage from the murder, the way he sings gives me the chills.” I say, remembering vividly the way he sung whimsically over Violet’s screams.

Something witchy this way comes, something witchy to bite your thumbs.

“From the evidence we’ve gathered so far, we can place Pogo at the crime scene. It seems he used some of the blood of the officer to write the word ‘Space car’ on the side of the carriage. Which leads us to the question, why a serial killer so wholly erratic would be involved in such a calculated hijacking operation?”

Martin stuffs some photos into an envelope and hands it to me.
“I want you to take this. Hide them. You will receive a blank text message from me at some point in the future. When you do, I want you to take this envelope to Catherine Harrogate. I may be gone for a few days. Stay safe Aaron.”

“Where is Mr Industry?” I growl in his ear as I lift his head out of the water.
He coughs and splutters, water pouring from his mouth.
“I don’t know!” Vollo cries.
“Who else did he work with?”
“I don’t know! I swear I don’t know!”
I push Vollo’s head back into the water before he can take a breath, and stare at my watch. This time I’ll add fifteen seconds to the clock.

Mr Industry. Steel-lined bowler hat, ripped Italian suit, heavy-set, builds bombs. Could have been one hundred other grimester terrorists, but he was one of the few escapees from the raid in Brighton. I know he’s hiding something from me; I find it no small coincidence that one of the few fugitives from the Brighton raid was involved in this. There’s even some evidence that he was involved in the Portsmouth ghetto uprising.

I lift Vollo’s head out of the water again, and he violently regurgitates water into the basin.

The door to the interrogation room bursts open. I briefly release Vollo, and turn to see Grantson, frowning intently.
“Sergeant Heston” He states, “There’s a situation in the board room.”

“Why did you stop me back there? I was just gonna take his hand off.” Brass complains, “Your sympathy is gonna get you killed.”

“Bollocks.” I spit, “It’s not sympathy, I don’t give a fiddler’s fuck what happens to him,” I continue, “but a gunshot will have the boots on us in no time.”
“Bullshit.” He says tapping the barrel of the gun, “I’ve seen it in you Pick, when you shot the Bootman in the head. That was a mercy killing right? You realise that cunt would have tortured you for months on end if he had the chance. A night with Pogo would have seemed like a blowjob compared to what they would have done to you.”
“I know that Brass.” I retort angrily.
“You threw a bottle bomb at a Bootman and watched him burn alive, you hit a Bootman in the face with an Ackris bomb, you even wrapped a glass bottle over my head.” Brass grunts angrily, “and worst of all, you walk around calling yourself Icepick like your so fucking cold-blooded, and yet here we are, driving through the countryside with a crippled soldier, looking for somewhere he’ll be safe and comfortable.”
I look down at my heavily burned palm.
“You think I’m a pussy do you Brass?” I look across to him.
“Pick,” he states firmly, “I’ve seen many a pussy,” He takes his eyes of the road to look at me, “and I know you are not one of them,” he says, returning his eyes to the road, “but you’re not a cock either, and that pisses me off.”
“Why does that piss you off?”
“Because I don’t understand it, what exactly is your thing for Indy? You wanted to rush out into the path of oncoming bullets to save him. Are you fucking him or something?”
“He’s a comrade of ours.”
“He’s not your comrade, he’s your fucking friend.”
“So what if he is?”
“Because when a comrade dies, it makes you fucking angry” He sighs, “But when a friend dies, it makes you sad, and there’s no place for that shit in this game. No place at all.”

“Would you find it terribly paltry to tell you that The Prince appreciates your decision to enter into a negotiation?”
The words flash up in lime green on the screen. I type back franticly. I do not have time to delay my responses.
“We are not negotiating, and you are no Prince. You are a terrorist and nothing more.”
A few seconds pass, before more words appear on the screen.
“To one a terrorist, to one a freedom fighter, it makes no difference. All that really matters is that I have what you need.”
I snigger lightly, knowing that he is watching my every move through our internal monitoring equipment.
“And we have your fellow freedom fighters locked in cells. What are your demands? What do you want?”
“In exchange for the return of the case, I only ask for one thing. A pound of flesh.”
“You think quoting Shakespeare will impress me? I have no interest in your rhetoric. You want blood. Whose blood do you want?”
“Yours. Kill yourself right now, and this whole ugly business will fade away.”
I grin at the camera in the corner.
“I’ll never kneel to men like you. You are a coward and a murderer.”
“Then we have something in common.”
I fake a yawn before typing once more.
“I will free all of the captured rebels, and extradite them to the continent, in exchange for the case.”
Ten seconds pass.
“Do you promise?”
He wants a promise? A paltry gesture of good faith, meaningless when exchanged between foes.
“I promise.” I type, “We have a lot of your comrades here, you will save a lot of your friends lives.”

A moment passes. He is considering my offer.

“I’ve considered your proposition, and I decline. Kill them. Put them out of their misery. Captive men are worthless to me. Kill them all.”
My nose twitches slightly, and I try to repress further involuntary spasms.
“You’d have them killed?” I type.
“It doesn’t mean much to me if they live or die.”
“You want a pound of flesh?”
“It is only fitting. If you will not kill yourself or the captive insurgents, then kill one man for me, and you will have your precious case.”
Do not make any promises. For all I know, this could be publicized.
“Who do you want to die?” I type.
A moment passes before words appear on the screen once more.
“Deboram Coney. Kill him. I don’t care how you do it, just kill him. You have 15 days.”

The front page of the English Standard is a full page picture of the burned-out shell of the cash-in-transit van we’d attacked a few nights before, in thick white capital letters are the words “ANARCHISTS KILL FIVE IN BOTCHED HIJACKING ATTEMPT.”
At the bottom is a small caption, which reads “Metropolitan police discovered a burned out van under a bypass bridge in Dawton village, on the outskirts of South London. Local residents raised the alarm after numerous explosions were reported in the surrounding area in the early hours of the morning on Thursday. It is believed the van was attacked by anarchists, killing both of the drivers and two of the three-man unarmed Paramilitary police escort. The body of the third Paramilitary police officer was found nearby in a disused shunting yard; He had been shot, tortured and partially cannibalised… Read the full story on Page 7.”
“Looks like we made the paper” I snigger to Brass.
“Why do you read that shit?” Brass scowls at me.
I turn my face away from my paper.
“Why don’t you read it?” I say, folding the paper over and handing it to him.
“It’s just words Pick.” he says, batting the paper away from me.
“Just words?” I ask, “Transmission of information through language is what sets us apart from the animals.”
“What sets us apart from the animals” Indy says in a slurred voice, “Is that we don’t fling shit at each other and eat our young.”
“Bollocks.” Brass says dismissively, “We’re all animals Pick, don’t ever forget that”
“Well then” I say, unfolding the paper once more, “I suppose it doesn’t matter much whether I read the paper or not.”
I open the paper and leaf through to page 7.
“I hate that about newspapers.” Brass says.
“What do you hate?” I ask.
“The front page story continues half way through the fucking paper.” He says gripping the steering wheel tightly, “Why do they do that?”
“Because the first few pages are full of adverts” I say, pointing to a picture on page 2 of an animated squirrel selling car insurance, “You flick through them to get to the important story, and the adverts soaks into your subconscious mind as if they too are a part of the story.”
“That’s bollocks.” Brass says dismissively.
I set the paper down.
“What are we gonna do when we get to Manchester then?”
“Fuck knows” Brass grunts.
I turn my head to Indy, who is dozing with his eyes half closed, a small trickle of saliva running down his cheek.
He rolls his head away dismissively,
“Indy!” I shout, shaking him roughly.
He awakens sharply.
“What?” He groans, “I’m trying to sleep.”
“You’ve been sleeping the whole way here you lazy cunt, pass me a bottle out of the boot.”
Indy reaches his arm over the top of the seat into the boot, grips a bottle and squeezes it out through the gap, unscrews the lid and takes a heavy swig before handing it to me.
I tip the bottle backwards into my mouth and swallow two mouthfuls of the drink.
“What about Zero?” I say, turning my attention again to Brass.
“Yeah?” He spits out of the window, “What about him?”
“He’ll find us no doubt.”
“And what?”
“You don’t think he’ll be pissed off that we lost the case?”
“I doubt it.” Brass says confidently.
“What makes you so sure?”
“If he finds us, he’ll find The Prince.”
“And then?”
“Maybe this was all part of his plan, maybe he told Randian to take the case.”
“Why would he do that?”
“I’ve been thinking about it,” He says softly, “And you have a point, nobody in their right mind would leave the case in the hands of guys like Brain or Pogo.”
“Who knows if Pogo doesn’t have the case right now?” I respond, “He was nowhere to be seen the next day”
“No” Brass states firmly, “I spent four days with Pogo before the mission, the only thing that freak cares about is violence. All he ever wanted to do was fight or burn shit.”
I lift the bottle up, examining the label.
“Or he’d just sit on his own muttering to himself, he never got fucked up, hardly even ate, never washed.”
“Why’d he go along on the mission?”
“Why’d you think?” Brass frowns, “The thought of butchering the Boots probably made his dick hard.”
“So why did you go along?” I asked.
“Zero needed it done, he wanted me to lead the operation, knew I’d get it done right.” He nods proudly, “Why did you go along?”
“Because Pyrus was too scared to go.”
“Pyrus? That fucking greasy haired lanky fucker?”
“Yeah, he was supposed to be there, but he pussied out”
“So you stepped up for him too?” Brass says shaking his head in apathy, “You know you’re kindness is gonna get you killed Pick.”
“I wasn’t doing it for Pyrus, I did it for me.” I assert, “After Brighton, I’d been itching to bang heads with the Boots.” I said, pointing to my heavily scarred palm.
“They got nearly everyone, and there were a lot of us too. Berlin, Little Stones, Virus, they all got one in the head.”
“They got Little Stones eh?” Brass says, “Good fella.”
“Fuck knows how many they captured.”
“They always try to get a few,” Brass grunts, “The good ones don’t get captured, they’ll do anything to escape, or they die trying.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“You should,” Brass says nodding in my direction, “Do you know who let them in?”
“I don’t know, but if I find the traitorous fuck I’ll cut his heart out and feed it to him”
Brass nods wearily.
“Who was watching the back door?”
“There’s you’re answer.”
“I doubt it. The only reason I woke up in time was because Vollo was running towards the warehouse screaming my name”
“Why didn’t he raise the alarm properly?”
“I don’t know Brass. It was chaotic. The boots were already in the warehouse before any of us could fight or flee. I woke up to the sound of Vollo shouting my own name and a shotgun in my face. I smashed an Ackris bomb over the face of the Bootman who tried to capture me, grabbed Indy and leapt out of the window. As I fled, I saw Vollo getting gun-butted.”
Brass smirks, “You’re fucking naïve, you know that Pick?”
Indy speak up from the back seat.
“I think somebody offered to take Vollo’s watch, and that was who let the boots in. I didn’t see much, but I saw Stanley the Knife take a blast to the head in his sleep.”
“Shit.” Brass says, “Was he alright?”
I look at him with disdain, as his face breaks into a grin.
“Rosa, I don’t even know if she made it out or not.”
“Who the fuck is Rosa?” Brass asks.
Indy pipes up from the back, “Pick’s wet dream. His fucking wet nightmare.”
Brass looks across at me sniggering, “You fucking limp dick.”
I roll my eyes at Brass.
“When we get to Manchester, we need to contact Randian before Zero finds us.”
“And how exactly do you think we’re gonna do that?”
I shrug my shoulders.
“We’ll find a CrystalHub somewhere in the Sub-City, we’ll figure it out.”
“And what exactly are we gonna say to him if we do contact him?”
“We’ll offer our services. Best case scenario, he’s working for Zero. If he’s working for the IIC or the Boots, or any other fucker, we’ll draw him out, kill him and destroy the case.”
“Destroy it?!” Brass barks, “Why would you do that?”
“Because the case itself isn’t important, all that matters is that the Boots and the government think we have it.”
“What does it actually do?”
“I told you before.” I state, “It contains a piece of technology that can regulate and monitor the currency flow of an entire nation.”
“Doesn’t sound that dangerous.”
“Not for guys like us, but we barely even use money.” I explain, “But for the rest of the country, it will wholly cement the power the government have over the economy, forcing everybody into a state of absolute economic slavery.”
Brass rolls his eyes, seemingly unaware of the effects such a device would have on the country.
“Slavery isn’t a ball and chain, it’s in your wallet.” I say firmly, “Why do you think the minority at the top sit on the heads of the majority below? Because shit runs downhill and money runs up.”
I spit angrily.
“All they need to know is that we have the case, they cannot duplicate the technology” I continue, “If they did, and we have the case was in our possession, we could paralyze the whole economy, or even erase the whole fucking monetary system.”
Brass grins widely, excited by this prospect.
“They wouldn’t be stupid enough to run that risk.”

“What is your interest in Deboram Coney?”
“What does it matter to you, Dick?”
“Most men of sound mind do not kill recklessly, if Deboram dies, what do you gain?”
“You are imprudent to assume that I have anything to gain from Deboram’s death. You cannot barter with me, because I have no desire for anything you have the power to give me. Deboram dies for his part in Operation Albatross. I gain nothing from this. I am only avenging the fallen.”
“I do not know what Operation Albatross is.”
“Let me remind you Dick, that with a flick of my wrist, your whole castle comes crumbling down you. You would do well not to lie to me. You will kill Deboram and publicly state the part your men played in Operation Albatross.”
“I have never heard of any such Operation.”
“In moments you will get a call from Stephen Giatt. Perhaps he should check the fusebox.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you don’t tell them, I will. A Prince always keeps his word.”

The screen switches off, and for a moment, I embrace the darkness of the room.
I can’t possibly kill Deboram Coney. Not that I wouldn’t like to, fuck, I’m about certain I’d enjoy it. But I can’t. How would I do it? Where would I do it? It’s just as likely that Prince Randian would expose me for his murder, helping to eliminate even more of his enemies.

I remember hearing about Operation Albatross. Ugly business, but before my time. Dead veterans are glorified, but the injured are treated like cowards and burdens. The Mother Mercy blackmailings lead to a lot of political assassinations, turning the party on itself in the hope that the public wouldn’t discover the truth, but they always do. Conveniently, by the time the news got out, all of the culprits had either fled the country, killed themselves, or were tried and executed. Deboram Coney and his group of shadow men, they were behind the whole thing. But what can I do? I’ve carried out covert assassinations before, but Deboram Coney is a ghost who haunts the place as and when he pleases, before disappearing in a helicopter or an armoured car.

My phone vibrates in my pocket; Stephen Giatt, our liason to the Liverpool office. I answer to the sound of panicked breaths.
“Dick!” He pants, “We’ve had a full black out. The Iron Dome is down. We’re totally vulnerable.”
I take a breath to control my nerves.

I’m trapped between the devil and deep blue sea, and there’s only one person who can help me out.

Martin Harman.

I pace around the metal shed that Richard has been using as his office, scanning the walls for information that he may be trying to conceal, but the signs are right there in his face.
“Stop pacing Harman, sit down.”
I turn to face him.
“Mr Heston, your orders fall on deaf ears.” I say tilting my head to him and continuing to pace.
“I’ll tear your ears off if you take-”
“-It’s not wise to threaten the man you’ve called upon to help you.”
I stare at Richard for a prolonged period. His eyes betray his anxiety.
“Why would you ask to meet with me, when you don’t fully trust me? Perhaps it is for the same reason you sent Albert Sparrow up to Darlington.” I state.
Richard’s pupils dilate slightly.
“You have a spy in your ranks, either that or you’re being blackmailed by one of the insurgents, am I right?”
Richard holds his eyes closed for a couple of seconds, before snapping them open and squinting at me.
“The insurgents are blackmailing us, they took something from the van during the hijacking. Do you need me to masturbate your ego, or will you just accept a collaborative effort to find the criminals?”
I cock my head back slightly.
“I’ll help you Richard, but on one condition,” I state, “and this is non-negotiable.”
Richard stands up, stretching his shoulders back and raising his head.
“What do you want Harman?”
“I want you to fully investigate every extra-judicial killing that the Paramilitaries have carried out, every molestation, every rape, every instance in which one of your officers has killed somebody without a warning shot.”
Richard slams his fists down on the table, sending it shuddering across the ground.
“What are you referring to?!” He barks, the veins bulging on his forehead.
I calmly step towards him, and adjust my glasses.
“I’m referring to the corruption of this farcical paramilitary organisation, I’m referring to the unhindered ability to kill, maim, torture and execute whomsoever you deem to be an enemy of the public, without any regard for fair trial.” I snap, “I want you to clean up your act, I want you to serve the interests of the people, and not just those of our government.”

Big Dick tugs lightly at his moustache, as if to check that it is still attached to his face.
“And I want to know what was in the van that night.” I continue.
Big Dick begins to pace about, as I had before. He walks from one end of the office to the other, his lips moving as if he is counting his paces. He repeats this process a few times, before sharply kicking his chair.
“It doesn’t make any sense.” He seethes as the chair clatters about the metal office.
He turns to face me once more.
“I accept your terms Martin. Help me to find the blackmailer, and I’ll allow the IIC to conduct a thorough investigation into the Paramilitaries afterwards.”
I stand still, and a smile breaks across my face.
“Can I have that in writing?”
Big Dick seethes.
“I suppose you want a cup of tea too?!” Big Dick says sarcastically.
“Oh,” I say, “that would be lovely.”

“That warehouse there, you see the one?” I say, pointing to a large building in the depths of an abandoned industrial estate.
“There’s lookout points and fire exits on both sides. If it gets raided, we’ll see it coming, and we can escape into the woods in seconds.” I say, pointing to the exits, “If we keep Indy on the bottom floor, you and I can take a window at either end of the second floor to keep watch.”
Brass peers at it scrupulously
“Those tire tracks leading up to it are fresh” He points to the tracks, “That means it’s already got some residents.”
Indy pokes his head out of the window and squints for a closer look.
“Some of our boys?” He says, looking closely at the tracks.
“I doubt it” I say shaking my head.
“I’ve never heard of this squat, it could be new.” Brass remarks.
“I don’t see any petroline candles or waste, so it’s either brand new, or it’s not ours.”
Brass strokes the shotgun in his lap grinning.
“I’m sure we can think of a way to clear it out.”
“Bad idea,” I say frowning at Brass, “The last thing we need is to go shooting the place up, we need to lay low for a while, we can’t risk it.”
“So what’s the plan then?”
“I go in and parley with them”
“Parley?” Indy asks.
I turn to face him.
“It means talk
He grimaces at me.
“Well why didn’t you just say that?”
I turn back to face the warehouse.
“I’ll go in alone, talk to whoever’s in there, they might even let us stay.”
“When did you become a fucking diplomat?” Brass asks angrily
“Less war war, more jaw jaw, right?” I snigger.
“They’ll break your jaw before you’ve raised the white flag”
“I’ve got to try Brass, we’ll be here one night, then move on.” I nod, “Chances are they’re junkies or runaways, nothing heavy.”
“Or those Omerta faggots.”
“I doubt it. Not this far out.”
“Alright, get to it then”
I climb out of the door, standing tall to view the quickest route down the hill and towards the forest.
“This is the latest parley we will admit, therefore to our best mercy give yourselves,
or like to men proud of destruction, defy us to our worst”.
Brass looks at me, scowling.
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Just words Brass” I say, closing the door, “Just words”.

“I didn’t mean any disrespect Fishbone, I’m just speaking for the boys in Durham. If we say we can deliver, then that’s what we do. Joey showed up empty handed, and they wanted to take his hand off. Do you know what this means?” Astill says angrily, “Ten years ago they wouldn’t have dared cross us like that. It’s not because they’ve got more guys on their team now, it’s not because their balls have grown,” he clicks his fingers, “it’s because we never broke our promises back then, it’s because we’re running scared from a group of street-level savages.”
Fishbone stares wide-eyed at Astill.
“Astill, my brother. If it’s reparations you seek, then it’s reparations you shall have. But concessions must be made before progression can be sought. We could have kept a group of our boys in the distillery, armed them to the teeth, and you know the X faction would have run them out.”
Fishbone stands up, surveying the men at the table.
“If any of you want to take on the X faction, be my guest. In fact, I’ll give one hundred thousand sterling to any man who takes them out. It’s a safe bet, because a corpse can never collect.”
Astill slams his hands down on the table angrily.
“With respect, Captain,” He barks, “Conceding our territory to those animals without any resistance is not a concession at all, it’s a fucking surrender.”
“Watch your tongue Astill!” Fishbone starts, “You ought to know your place, and right now, your place is in my camp.”
Fishbone leans across the table, locking eyes with Astill.
“In my camp, we piss out of the tent, not into it.”
Astill removes his hands from the table, breathing deeply.
Fishbone starts to pace around the room, making his way towards Astill.
“When I took this job, I told you I’d steer the ship the best way I can, and we will not be crashing against the rocks, not for the X Faction, not for the Paramilitaries.” Fishbone grins, “The old ways, the new ways, it’s all about the same thing,” he says, “It’s about survival.”
Fishbone walks around to Astill’s seat, places his hands on his shoulders and begins to massage him roughly.
“And to survive, you must adapt, adopt and evolve.”
Astill grits his teeth, as Fishbone claws at his shoulder flesh roughly.
“If we let the savages piss on our shoes,” Astill hisses, “It won’t be long before they’re pissing in our pockets.”

A loud crack echoes through the warehouse as the doors burst open. All of the men in the room turn to face the door. Two men stand there, shotguns in hand, pointing them directly at Fishbone.
“Sorry for the rude interruption Fishbone” Little Dick grins, striding into the room arrogantly.
Fishbone stares at him casually.
“Why don’t you sit down Richie, we were just about to have a Cognac.”
Albert Sparrow slowly follows Little Dick into the warehouse.
“Nice little place you’ve got here Fishbone, much nicer than that warehouse down the road.” Sparrow mocks.
Fishbone walks towards Little Dick confidently.
“Lower the gun Richie, we’re all friends here.”

The sun is fading on the horizon and I’m beginning to feel sleepy. I look across at the medical kit that Agatho brought with him and wonder if it’s worth having a quick line of Victory to keep my senses together. I never met him before but he seems like a kind-hearted sort of guy. Not your typical insurgent, but then again it could be argued that none of us were. When you live the life of a grimester, you develop a knack for figuring people out pretty quickly. I knew it wasn’t the done thing to just ask Agatho what his story was -not unless we were at a campfire meeting- but I could make a decent guess. I’d say he was a nurse during civilian life, or maybe he became radicalised by the war, and all the ugliness that came with it. Much like the white rose.

Pyrus’ story I knew; he was a hyperactive attention seeker. He’d start fires or break windows just to get attention, and naturally gravitated towards a life of grime and destruction. He was the kind of person who would throw cold water all over a sleeping person just so that they’d notice him, or ram his fingers down his throat to make himself vomit, just for the hell of it.

I felt bad about leaving him at the side of the road. Agatho threw him a few bandages as we drove away, just to make sure he didn’t bleed out. It was his own fault that he got dropped -and I’d grown tired of looking out for him just because nobody else would- but he should have known not to fuck with Sadie. She’d been sleeping, and he tried to touch her up. Idiot. When she slashed his stomach open and kicked him onto the side of the road, I couldn’t help but grin. Still, I wondered what he was thinking, limping down the side of the road, the blood leaking down to his waist. Maybe this would be good for him, maybe he’d realise that this time he’d really fucked up.

The warehouse was in disrepair, if I could have put a date on it’s construction, I’d have guessed it had been around since the end of the Industrial revolution. Steel girders of rusted iron had begun to twist and warp, the strain of the ages taking their toll on them. Signs decorated the doors and windows, some warning potential trespassers of the danger of the structure, and others notifying them that the building was due for demolition. Signs like these were everywhere, in any place that could be used as a squat or hideout; they never deterred an insurgent from setting up camp. The building was almost certainly due for demolition, but it would be years before the crews arrived. The signs were torn and weathered, and had clearly been in place for several years.
I took some time to circle the building before considering entering, not just to check the exits, but also to get a good look at the inhabitants. Three guys, one of them blonde and the others brunette, and a spare sleeping bag, presumably for a fourth resident. They definitely weren’t X Faction. Two of them -the brunettes- were in their late teens. Their clothes were relatively clean, and they had a sizeable stack of canned goods and a gas cooker with two refills. The third one was pacing about, scratching his head incessantly and grinding his teeth. His clothes were dirty, and his sleeping bag was noticeably dusty. He’d almost certainly been living rough for longer.

I duck and squeeze my way through a crack in a wooden door which has been roughly kicked through. Climbing up a wooden ladder to the second floor, I pop my head up through the gap to the site of the three residents staring at me blankly.

“Who are you?” The blonde one asks nervously.
“Nobody you need to worry about.”
“What does that mean?” He says clenching and releasing his fists anxiously, “Friend or foe?”
“That all depends on how you perceive me” I say, walking towards him slowly, “If you say I am your friend, then I am your friend.”
I look at the two brunettes, who gaze at me in silence.
“But if you want to fight, you won’t need an ambulance, you’ll need a fucking hearse.”
The blonde man walks over to me, and begins to circle me cautiously.
“What do you want?”
“Me and my friends would like to stay here tonight, just one night” I say, holding my hands outward.
“We won’t be any trouble, and we’ll be gone by morning.”
The blonde man nods at me skeptically.
“We got here first, this is our place” He nods, “What’s in it for me?”
I reach into my pocket, pull out half a bag of Victory powder and throw it across to him.
“Are you a fan of controlled substances?”
The blonde man stoops down quickly, snatching up the bag and opening it hastily.
“That’s half a bag of victory” I say, “We’ve got Menstrual Minstrel, Saccharine Sunrise, and a five mil bottle of Virgin tears.”
“You’ll give me all that for one night?”
“No, but we’ll share it with you.”
The blonde man nods conservatively.
“How many of you are there?”
“Why do you want to stay here?”
“One of us is very sick, and needs a place to rest his little head.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“He hurt his leg.”
“Gunshot. His revolver discharged spontaneously, I told him not to buy those improvised Hackney shots.”
The blonde man looks at his friends, then tucks the bag of Victory powder into his pocket.
“You can’t stay here.” He spits.
“I wasn’t asking you.” I say, clenching my fists, “I was telling you.”
“I know what you X boys are like, you’re scum cunts. I know you.” He growls.
“If you did” I grin, “you’d leave quietly, and you’d take your friends with you.”
The blonde man bares his clenched teeth, breathing heavily.
“Nobody comes to a place like this unless their running from something right?” he grunts.
“And what are you running from?” I glare at him, “The police? Your parents? The fucking anti-christ?”
He looks back at me seething.
“Whatever it is, you’ll be running back to them with open arms if you piss us off.”
“I’m not telling you shit!” He shouts, “I’m not scared of you or your nutty friends, you’re not staying here!”
From behind me I can hear somebody climbing the ladder hastily, I turn to see the tip of Brass’ Mohawk appear through the gap. He marches over to the man with the shotgun raised, takes aim at his right hand and shoots. The blast echoes through the building as the blonde man drops to the floor gripping his bloodied hand.
Brass calmly walks over to him, pressing his boot into the blonde man’s throat.
“You heard him pencil dick, we wasn’t asking you, we was fucking telling you,” he shouts at him angrily, “consider that a warning shot, give us any more trouble and I’ll put one in your fucking skull.” Brass spits down into his face.
“Now take your girlfriends over there and get the fuck out.”
The two brunettes clamber to their feet and flee, hurrying down the ladder and out of the door. Brass takes his foot off the blonde man’s throat, who pushes himself up wearily and quickly follows, cradling his fingerless hand and whimpering. With great difficulty, he manages to climb down the ladder.
I walk over to Brass angrily, shoving him backwards.
“What the fuck did you do that for?” I shout at him.
“They’re gone aren’t they?” He says, throwing the shotgun down on the ground.
“We’re trying to keep a low profile here dickhead!” I say, shoving him again.
“Fuck that!” He says, shoving me back. The force of the shove sends me tumbling backwards, and I struggle to maintain my balance, “I’m fucking knackered and I’m not waiting for those rentboys to fuck off. Jaw jaw my fucking arse. This is our house now.”
“You shot his fucking fingers off!” I say looking at him.
“It was a warning shot.”
“A warning shot isn’t supposed to actually hit them, retard.”
“My aim was a little off.”
I sigh wearily, looking down at the trail of blood as it intermingles with the dust.
“Whatever, come on, let’s get Indy.”

After Fishbone dismisses his men, he offers us both a seat and a small Cognac, which we both refuse. I sit at the table, staring at the self-styled mobster meticulously. Richie sits gripping his shotgun in one hand, and lazily balancing it on the table, pointing it at Fishbone.

“How did you know we were coming Fish?” Richie spits, “You cleared those warehouses out fast enough, it makes me wonder if you aren’t in league with a certain Prince.”
Fishbone raises one eyebrow inquisitively.
“What Prince?”
“Don’t play dumb with my Fishbone. Lying to a Paramilitary police officer is a capital offence.”
“Yeah?” Fishbone says, “Well so is shooting an unarmed civilian,”
Richie grips the shotgun with both hands and raises it in the air, pointing it directly at Fishbone’s head.
“Is it really?” He says, “You think they’d execute a veteran Paramilitary for shooting a known mobster?”
Fishbone tries to remain still, as a small bead of sweat meanders down the side of his face. Richie cocks his gun.
“You’re not using your head here Richie.” Fishbone says shakily, “Do you really think my men would let either one of you leave here alive if you shot me dead?”
Richie smirks, “I don’t know, shall we find out?”
I look across to Richie and we exchange a brief glance. I shake my head slightly, and Richie lowers the gun.
“Alright.” Richie says, “So let’s make this easy, what made you clean up your operation in such a hurry?”
“Officially, I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.” Fishbone nods.
“Officially, I never asked. So answer the fucking question Fishbone.” Richie says through gritted teeth, “Distilleries, packed up and shunted out in a hurry. Who else could it be?”
“You’re referring to the warehouses in Hurworth and Neasham?” Fishbone asks.
“The ones your demolition company has exclusive access to.”
“Yes, I know the ones. Those buildings are highly unstable, you really shouldn’t be entering them without the proper protective equipment.” Fishbone says, “But yes, there was some unusual equipment in there, but it was there when we purchased the property, I can assure you. I had my men clear it out and dispose of it in-”
“-Do I look like a judge to you?” Richie interrupts, “Do you see a curly wig on my head? This isn’t a court of law Fishbone, I’m no judge, there is no jury, just two executioners. Now tell me what you know, or I’ll blow your fucking head off, crystal?”
Fishbone exhales deeply.
“You always have been such an impertinent man,”
Richie grips the shotgun with both hands once more.
“I was distilling vodka, the same kind that you buy from me. I kept the operation on the sly, only sold it in small towns around the North East. But I stopped it, I swear on my mother and the Virgin Mary.” Fishbone gestures with his hands to symbolise the cross.
“Swear on your brain before I plaster the wall with it.” Rich spits.
Fishbone shakes his head wearily.
“A month ago, those anarchist savages stormed one of my warehouses -the same scum that you’re supposed to be fighting against- they killed some of my men, then stole all of our merchandise. They’ve been making moves on all of my properties.” Fishbone explains.
Richie lowers his weapon.
“And you’ve never sold weapons to any of the insurgents?”
“I swear on my… I swear on my brain.” Fishbone points to his temple.
“Did you hit them back?”
“No. There’s too many of them.”
“But you know where they’re holed up?”
“Of course,” Fishbone winks, “if you’ll allow me to stand, I’ll give you all of the information you need.”
Richie nods, and Fishbone withdraws for the table, moving to a desk draw in the corner of the room. Richie raises the shotgun once more as Fishbone rifles through the draw, eventually pulling out a sheet of paper and returning to the table. Spreading it out on the table, it is revealed to be a cross section of an old mansion house. Richie and I move around to Fishbone’s side of the table to get a better look at the map.
“Lookouts are located in the north, south, east and west on the attic balconies.” Fishbone says, pointing to different points on the map.
“The man running the squat is some disgusting wretch named Fatty, who as you can imagine, is a little less pleasant than plump.”
Richie looks across to me, and I nod at him.
“If you know of the location of a grimester squat,” I say to Fishbone, “You are legally obligated to report it immediately to your nearest Paramilitary Police Precinct, otherwise you can be tried and even executed as a conspirator.”
Fishbone looks up at me.
“I’m no conspirator,” He affirms, “I just like to do my own dirty laundry.”

© JC Axe 2015

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