I go back to the office, put in a couple of hours, make a lot of apologies and check the proofs for Thursday’s paper. Then I wait till everyone has departed so I look truly repentant, lock up and head home. I have a lot to think about and I don’t want to think in public. Someone might be watching, waiting to catch my drift. I look around cautiously as I emerge from the office, but there’s no-one suspicious hanging around street corners so I set off at a steady run.
I’m pretty certain no-one follows me but it’s still with a sense of relief that I open the door to my apartment, stumble across the threshold and turn the lock behind me. For a moment I’m tempted to pull a cupboard across the doorway but I resist.
I’m what you might describe as seriously troubled. Top of the list is a question. How long have I got before I get another invitation from Mackie? Two days? Three days? Ten minutes? Mackie doesn’t strike me as a patient man and, sooner or later, he’s going to want results and if I’ve nothing to offer him except a cup of tea he’s not going to be pleased. I don’t need a vivid imagination to picture the outcome. I just think of Thomas Oldfield in his hospital bed.
To add to my worries, I’ve just unleashed Simon Walsh and he’s not famed for subtlety. I don’t know what he’s going to find but I do know he’ll turn every fucking stone he sees. It feels like I’ve levered a boulder down a hillside, and soon I’ll be running after it, shouting ‘Stop!’ But there’ll be no stopping it and who knows what damage it might cause. What if he turns a stone and finds Mackie underneath? What if he finds something bad about Oldfield?
There’s nothing I can do about Mackie until I see Wayne, so I take a deep breath and phone Tina to tell her about my meeting with Simon, because honesty is best, right, and if she’s going to kill me, no time like the present. Get it over with. Only she’s super chilled about it and I’m momentarily struck dumb.
‘It’s okay, Phil. We’ve got no choice. Wayne might be charged with burglary, aggravated burglary and GBH, you’ve been threatened by a local hoodlum, my dad’s in intensive care and my mum’s being blackmailed over some mysterious package which dates back to before I was born. Things can’t really get much worse.’
I think I crave reassurance.
‘We’ve nothing to hide, and we need to find out what’s going on. We have to put a stop to it before someone gets hurt.’
That’s the reassurance I need. Before someone gets hurt – me.
‘How’s your mum?’
‘In a daze; I’ve persuaded her to look after dad and leave everything else to me. Then I phoned my dad’s solicitor and told him to represent Wayne. He went down there this afternoon; it didn’t take him long to tear their evidence to shreds.’
‘So, Wayne’s back home?’
‘Yes, a couple of hours ago.’
‘Will you see him later?’ I ask.
‘I can’t. I’m going back to the hospital. Mum’s been there all day.’
‘Okay, I’ll go and see Wayne; we’ve some catching up to do.’
I check my watch and it’s already half seven, so I prepare a micro-waved supermarket meal and take a shower. Then I sit down and relax for twenty minutes. It’s about eight thirty and I’m ready to leave when there’s a heavy knock at the door. I’m pretty sure it’ll be Wayne so I unlock the door and open it without giving the alternatives much consideration. It isn’t a pleasant feeling to see two men standing there, blocking any hope I might have of a speedy exit, especially when one of them looks like a bare-knuckle fighter.
Squeezed in beside him is this official looking guy with sleek, grey hair and round glasses. He has a dark jacket which matches his briefcase and shoes. He reminds me of a film I once saw about Nazi interrogators. I imagine him drilling into my teeth.
They push past me and close the door. The big guy stands with his back to it but he needn’t have worried. Any thoughts I may have had about fleeing the scene have crumbled into dust. The interrogator takes a seat at my table and indicates a chair.
‘Do sit down, Mr Tyler,’ he says, as if he owns the place, which, for a while at least, he does. Possession is three parts, right? He flicks a hand towards the seat opposite. ‘Let’s see if we can avoid any unpleasantness, shall we?’
‘Well, I’m right with you there,’ I tell him, but now he’s looking in his briefcase. ‘I hope it’s a bribe you’re looking for,’ I say. ‘Money works really well on me.’
He looks up. ‘And violence?’ he asks, without a hint of a smile.
‘Oh yeah, that too,’ I nod, ‘but money’s my favourite.’
He looks up.
‘I think you can leave us, Mr Flynn,’ he says to the big guy. ‘I think Mr Tyler is going to be reasonable.’
‘But the boss said...’
The look the little guy flashes at him gives a pretty clear indication where the power lies in this relationship.
‘I think our employer will trust my judgement in this matter, Mickey, don’t you? Wait in the car.’
‘Mickey Flynn?’ I murmur and flash a sweet smile. ‘I guess your parents had a good sense of humour.’
If they did, they hadn’t passed it down to their son. He turned a look on me that could have melted the defence shields on a Star Ship. I shrug.
‘Put it down to defective genes, maybe.’
I’m pushing my luck and I know it, but Mickey turns his back and makes an exit. The granite wall which constitutes his face fails to crack. I think I can hear his knees creaking as he goes down the stairs.
‘Mr Flynn is not renowned for the delicacy of his humour,’ my visitor says. He still hasn’t looked at me. His eyes are focused on the inside of his briefcase. I try to picture it full of cash he’s going to offer me. ‘He has other qualities.’
‘I can imagine. Now what exactly do you want, Mr...?’
He picks a card and hands it to me. It’s a neat business card with what looks like a small coat of arms at the top, and a name beneath – Maximillian Studley-Brown. Apparently, the coat of arms is the insignia of a law firm.
‘I’m Max Studley-Brown,’ he says. The hand I shake is weak and damp; it’s the sort of handshake you want to wipe off.
‘To what do I owe the honour,’ I begin but he looks up sharply, and the eyes are not to be messed with.
‘Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? The clients I represent believe you may have an item which is of interest to them or, at the very least, have the capacity to acquire it. The issue I have been commissioned to settle is a simple one. What do you require in order to return the item?’
‘I don’t know what item you’re talking about.’
There’s a flicker of a smile, just a flicker.
‘Come, let’s not be foolish. You are well aware of the item to which I refer.’
‘What makes you so sure? We could be talking about different things. Maybe I think you’re looking for a receipt for some building work or a recipe for a fudge cheesecake.’
He looks at me through those round glasses, his little, black eyes like marbles, dead like a shark’s eyes.
‘JAYDEE,’ he says.
‘Who’s your client?’
‘That, Mr Tyler, is irrelevant.’
‘Not to me,’ I tell him. ‘There’s a queue of people looking for that package, and I need to know where to place you in the line.’
A small, dry laugh breaks from his lips. ‘Oh, I think you should consider us as holding the very top position, Mr Tyler. You’ve met Mr Flynn, but let me advise you, he’s the very least of your problems.’
‘I’ve met George Mackie too, and he’s got two trained apes to your one. I think he outranks you.’
‘Mr Mackie is just a thug. You have more important things to worry about. But let’s not get into a bidding war. My client requires a package which he believes you either possess already or have the means to acquire. He is willing to pay handsomely for this package. He has authorised me to offer £2000 for its safe delivery and for your discretion. I think you would agree this is a most generous offer for what must amount to no more than a few minutes work.’
‘I don’t have it.’
‘If Mr Keech hasn’t given the package to you, I must assume he has retained it or hidden it or handed it to a third party. Either way, I’m sure you have the power it from him. I’ll return in ninety-six hours which should give you more than enough time.’
Ninety-six hours? That’s chillingly precise. I can hear a clock ticking.
He removed a small wad of notes and snaps shut the case.
‘Take this as an indication of our good will,’ he says, placing the wad in front of me. ‘There’s £500.’
‘I don’t want it,’ I say.
‘Take it, please. My client will consider it a friendly gesture, a sign that you’re willing to cooperate.’
‘I still don’t want it. Besides, what if Wayne doesn’t have the package?’
‘Don’t be naive, Mr Tyler. If he doesn’t have it, he has the means to acquire it.’
‘Why don’t you ask him yourself?’
‘Can I assure my client that you’ll co-operate and avoid the need for any unpleasantness?’
At this moment I’m tempted to take the money and force it down his smug, self-satisfied throat. But I resist. Some things are easier done in imagination. He stands up and holds out a limp hand. ‘Take the money, Mr Tyler,’ he says.
‘I don’t want it.’
‘Give it to your favourite charity if it makes you feel better.’ He lowers his hand. ‘You have ninety-six hours, Mr Tyler. You have my phone number in case you locate the file earlier.’
The door closes slickly behind him. I listen as his footsteps echo down the stairs and now I’m alone and there’s nothing but silence and the hum of the central heating system. The money lies on the table like some ugly creature watching me.
‘I don’t want you,’ I murmur. I can see it looking up at me through dull, uncomprehending eyes. I can’t even bring myself to touch it. Besides, my hands are trembling too much.
It really is time to find Wayne. There are questions I need to ask, answers I need to hear, documents I need to locate - soon.
Christ, that’s five minutes gone already.