I was six months in and lately, I’d been asked to help out with a few small things. Unload a truck in the dead of night. Move some coke around. No major dramas but I was getting closer to the bad boys. Figures on the periphery now had names. Some of those names would acknowledge me around the bars. One Friday night, Pete and I strolled into The Hole and on seeing us, the barman gestured behind him with a thumb.
Behind the bar, a dimly lit corridor led to a glass wash area, storage rooms and at the far end a small, corner office. It was furnished with a filing cabinet, shelving carrying paperwork, small boxes and random defunct beer tap clips. On a battered desk stood a PC monitor, a grubby, well used keyboard, unfiled receipts, a calculator and a biscuit tin, one of those big, square ones you see around at Christmas. Behind the desk, in a Captain’s chair, sat the owner of The Hole in The Wall, Kyle Goodman, known as Benny, I figured because of a fondness for Benzedrine, there being no Jazz on the jukebox. He finished a line of coke with a flourish and looked up. Local boy done good by being bad. I’d heard rumours of armed robberies being bandied about. Skinny, sallow skinned, dark thin hair pulled back in a ponytail and sporting the mandatory goatee, his favoured clothing, unrelieved black. Biker boots, jeans, t-shirt topped off with a plain, black leather waistcoat. Me and Benny had been getting along fine these past months. His were the trucks I unloaded, the drugs I moved, the guy I did favours for. We’d had deep, meaningful chats. Along with Pete and a few others, I was one of his boys. On his right, loomed Joey. A massive knuckle dragger who Benny rarely went anywhere without. Apparently too big to be of much use in a fight but I’d been told he was handy with a knife and had no qualms about using it. I stood next to Pete. Goodman gestured at a couple of ranks of coke lined up on the table top.
“Help yourselves, guys.”
It would have been rude not to so Pete and I stooped and took it through a couple of rolled up twenties.
There was the usual second or two of snuffling and nostril checking and Goodman let this subside before speaking again, staccato.
“Fuckers’ve had me over. I can’t have it. And blatant with it.” He kept his voice low, there was a bar full of rockers not a million miles away. Me and Pete knew better than to interrupt. Goodman liked an audience.
“I want it back, 2 kilos straight out of Escobar’s back pocket.” This meant it was uncut. Or at least, as uncut as it was likely to be by the time it got to Goodman.
Let me give you some figures here. On the street, a gram goes for £40. There are 28 grams in an ounce, give or take, and 35 ounces in a kilogram. Don’t blame me for how this bastardised system became common, it comes down to manufacturers supplying in metric and the U.S. dealers using pounds and ounces. So weirdly, a kilo is 1,120 grams, give or take. You turn that into money by multiplying by £40. Roughly 45 grand. But that’s before you bash it. You can cut the stuff with Benzocaine or Phenacetin. Both look the same and give the same numbing effect. A great marketing idea but both traceable and hard to come by unless you buy the cheap stuff, £12 a kilo but mixed in a Chinese bathtub and therefore dodgy in the extreme. Glucose or Powder Protein is another option, looks the part but with no numbing characteristics. But whatever agent the basher chooses or can find, once cut, depending on which pusher it’s destined for, he’ll measure it out into their preferred weight. This he then shoves into a pneumatic press turning it into a glistening hard block of ‘pure’ coke. Anything but. So, do the math. Goodman had 2 kilos of ‘pure’. If he was lucky, very lucky, this might be up to 70% coke. He’ll turn that into 8 kilos. To him, that’s £360 grand. Incidentally, by the time that gets to you, your friendly neighbourhood dealer and the guy above him would have cut it again, I don’t know what with but it ’aint gonna be wholesome. If you get 3% coke in your little baggy, you’ll be doing well.
“Nearly half a million quid.” He growled. “I want it back.”
An exaggeration, I knew, but that was Goodman. The numbers mattered to him. It was how he measured himself. I let Pete do our talking. I’m the quiet guy, remember? Pete spoke.
“Who’s got it?”
Goodman cut 3 more lines. Took one and invited us in. We rolled our twenties, bent and snorted.
“Those Peabody fuckers I reckon.”
Peabody’s. My second choice of bar when making my selection. Sartorially more elegant than The Hole but, until now at least, more dope dealers than coke. They were at the other end of town. We had the bikes, they had the jazzed up hot hatches. There was rarely any contact between the ends of the spectrum.
“How?” Pete again.
“Last night, on the Motorway services. Same way we always get it. Fast Johnny was doing the pick-up. He’d checked it, paid up and the supplier had gone. That made it mine. Fuckers beat the shit out of him, nicked the coke and were on their toes.”
“And we think it’s Peabody’s because?”
“Johnny had clocked one of their cars parked up on his way in. Didn’t think much of it ’cos you see ’em around all the time. When he woke up it was gone. And so was my coke.”
I spoke for the first time. “A bit thin, isn’t it?”
“It’s enough.” Goodman growled. “They’ve been close to treading on my toes for a while. Figured they’d upgrade. It’s time they were reminded who runs this zoo. So, right now I really don’t care if it was them or not, I ‘aint happy and someone’s gonna pay. We’ll start with them. See what happens when we shake the tree. I want that fuckin’ coke back.’’
He reached for the biscuit tin and levered off the lid. I heard rustling and his hand emerged with a robust, plastic shopping bag, he put it on the desk. It clunked heavily.
“You ’aint the only ones on this but I don’t wanna go out mob handed. You’ll work in pairs. ’Til now, the Police don’t really give a shit about us or them, as long as we aint outrageous.”
Benny looked straight at me. “You were Army?” That had been one of our deep, meaningful conversations.
I nodded. “Reserve but spent some time in the shit.”
“Then you’ll know how to use one of these.”
He pushed the bag at us. “Take ’em and you’re in... all the way in. There’s a finder’s fee. Don’t take ’em and you can fuck off and not come back.” He waited looking straight at us.
“Do they work?” I asked.
“They did the last time they had a day out. They’re clean and loaded. Full mags. Don’t be stupid. Don’t get caught. Get my coke.”
Pete opened the bag and took out two semi-automatic pistols. I couldn’t tell what brand but at first glance, they looked in good order. I’d heard rumours of armed robberies. Perhaps they weren’t just rumours after all. Pete handed me mine and I tucked it into the waistband of my jeans, in the small of my back, hiding it with the hem of my hoodie. I had my gun. Time to get the fuck out of Dodge.
Leaving The Hole in The Wall, I told Pete I needed to get back to the flat for some spare clothes. This made sense, if we got bloody, we’d need clean gear to change into. We agreed to meet back here in an hour. That was all the time I needed. I drove straight to the flat. All I needed, was my laptop. Everything else was Tom Hamilton’s crap. Not mine. There were half a dozen, well, five now, guys out there with guns looking to do some damage. If this kicked off as badly as I thought it might, local motorists were going to catch a break. The law were going to be all over this and if a name came up, it wouldn’t be Tom Hood. They’d need forensics to track me down and hopefully, I’d either kept under the police radar or wouldn’t matter enough to be hunted. Benny didn’t have forensics. I left the flat without a backward glance. All that had needed to be done here, was done.
I walked a very twitchy mile or so in the dark to a small lock up on the edge of town. It was here I kept my clean car. A big, fat, silver Mercedes. A businessman’s car, nondescript but a debadged AMG powerful enough to get me out of trouble if I needed to throw my weight around. It was time to go home. I pulled slowly out of the lock up, lights off. Leaving the car running, I got out and pulled down the shutter. A quick eyeball showed no activity or interest nearby. I slid quietly back into the Merc. I had an hour’s drive ahead of me, most of it on dual carriageways or motorways. Easy access and egress had been a priority on my search for a town with a gun in it, country roads, picturesque as they are, can be a bitch. The motorway was fairly quiet, with just a hint of roadworks and with the dark outline of trees framing a pewter night sky, the Merc thrummed along with me in its cocoon. With luck, I’d be home about 2am. I was conscious that being stopped for anything would be disastrous with what I was carrying. Looking, and very probably smelling, the way I did wasn’t typical of the average Merc owner. I’d be looked at hard if I got pulled over. I needed to get back into Tom Hood’s skin. That said, against my instincts, I kept my speed at just above the limit. Thirsty for coffee, I resisted the impulse to stop and in time, my junction came up and I slipped smoothly onto the exit ramp. Roadside lamps, roundabouts and speed cameras slowly gave way to school signs and habitation, signs of life eased as I neared home, then petered out completely. A couple of minutes down a hedgerowed lane and I was at my gate. The car told it I was home and it swung open automatically. Passing through I watched in my rear-view mirror as it closed shut. Gravel crunched beneath the Mercs tyres until ahead, my headlights illuminated the main house. More sensors spotted me and raised the garage door. Once inside, it closed behind me and the interior lights came on. Switching off the car, I sat there, listening. The hot engine ticked occasionally but that was it. The place was utterly silent. I had good reason to hang fire for a minute or two. I was no gardener, and the house had ample lawns and decorative gardens in the grounds. An old boy, Sid, took care of all that twice a week and I needed to be sure he’d kept to his brief and that the house was nice and empty. I gave it a couple of minutes but the silence was constant. No unwelcome guests. I realised I was sweating. Time to get out of character. Deactivating the security system, I opened the interconnecting door to the house, closed it behind me then leaned against it, still sweating, kinda catching my breath. I took the pistol from my waistband and shoved it in a drawer. I’d have a proper look at my trophy tomorrow. There was no milk so I had to take my coffee black. Catching my reflection in the mirror reminded me too much of Hamilton. I stripped, threw Hamilton’s clothes in the bin, took a hot shower and had the luxury of my first clean shave in months. I’d get my hair cut tomorrow, somewhere out of town.So here I was, in front of the mirror again, my hands propping me up on the dresser. It had been months since I’d seen my face, my real face. I looked tired… tired but satisfied. Since the decision to go after The Twins, this was the first chance I’d had to take stock. It was hard to believe that Phase One wasn’t just complete, it had been successful. I was never really sure of my ability or logic. But facts were facts. I’d figured out where guns were likely to be around, done my research, gone in and got one. Time had never really been a problem, finding the balls was. I’d proved to myself that I could do whatever it took. I was gradually eroding the self-doubt, lack of confidence, call it what you will but I was coping. Not bad for an ageing desk jockey. More to the point, I’d done it anonymously. Now it was over, I started to actually think about what I’d done as Hamilton. For almost a year, it had been an alien existence, one I’d thought I was ill prepared for and yet, I’d got away with it. I hoped that in shedding him, what he’d been and the things he had done, I’d be able to be human once again. My fear now, was that his might not be an easy skin to slough off. For this to work Tom Hood had needed to change but there was much of me I’d liked. Now, I wasn’t so sure. I grunted at my reflection. Ignored my reservations and went to bed. I slept like a baby.