Wayne is busy tidying his flat when I walk in the door, putting the last of his books back on the shelves. He holds the book out to show me, its spine broken and the pages falling from the binding.
‘It tells you a lot about people,’ he says, ‘the way they treat books.’
He slips it back on the shelf, dusts his hands and walks to the kitchen to make a coffee.
‘Why did you go to the Oldfield’s house the night of the burglary?’ I call through to him.
‘Did I?’ he calls back.
‘You were seen.’
I can hear the kettle rising to the boil and a teaspoon clinking in a cup. The fridge door opens and closes.
‘Come on, Wayne. I’m in no mood for games. In the last twenty-four hours I’ve been dragged off the street by Tyrone, knocked about by George Mackie’s henchman – a really nice guy called Denny - and I’ve had a knife thrown at me. I’ve been visited by the ice lawyer and his pet gorilla, offered a choice between money or a lengthy period in hospital, and generally scared half to death. And I have no fucking clue why it’s happening, except it’s to do with some package from the Oldfield’s safe which they think you took. And then....’ I’m about to tell him about the blackmail demand but I think better of it. Maybe I’ll save that for later. If I tell him now he’ll go haring down to see Tina and I’ll get nothing from him.
‘I hope you took the money.’
He emerges from the kitchen with two mugs of coffee and sets them carefully on mats on the table. Like I said, he’s meticulously tidy, almost OCD. He falls back on the sofa and lays his head on his hands, but he seems no more willing to shed light than a black hole.
‘So?’ I ask him.
‘So, are you going to tell me what you were doing at the Oldfield’s on the night of the burglary?’
’Who says I was? The police tell me I was seen on the street outside. No-one mentioned being seen in the house.’
‘Stop pissing about, Wayne, and tell me.’
Suddenly he’s serious. He sits up and looks at me.
‘You’ve seen Tyrone?’ he asks, as if I’ve only just mentioned it.
‘He invited me to George Mackie’s club for a little chat. It was one of my less pleasant experiences.’
‘I can imagine. What did they want?’
I tell him about Mackie and about Studley-Brown and Mickey Flynn (he doesn’t even laugh). I wonder if he knows how infuriating he is just now.
’You’ve no idea how reassuring that is. Come on, Wayne, they think you burgled the Oldfield’s and took a package from the safe, and they want it.’
‘What’s in the package?’
‘I’m fucked if I know, but it must be serious.’
‘Didn’t they say?’
‘It must be something incriminating.’
Yeah, I suppose so. I still think it’s all bluff. I mean, what good would it do to beat you to a pulp? You don’t know anything, do you?’
‘No, I don’t. The more important question is, do you?’
‘Not a fucking clue, Phil.’
My temper is fraying. I can tell by my language, which deteriorates as my temper rises. It’s fast approaching the gutter.
‘What’s going on, Wayne? You know something and you’re not telling.’
‘Tyrone’s working for Mackie then? Well, I shouldn’t be surprised. At least he’s keeping away from me.’ He pins me with that stare again. ’Do you think I burgled Tina’s house?’
‘Of course not.’
‘Well then, answer my fucking question. Why were you there?’
‘I told you. No-one saw me in the house. Who’s this Studley-Brown representing?’
‘I don’t know. Are you going to tell me or not?’
He picks up his coffee but doesn’t drink it. He swills it slowly round the mug and stares at it.
‘I can’t,’ he says. ‘I promised.’
‘Who did you promise?’
‘I can’t tell you,’ he says; then he laughs, ‘I promised that too. I’m sorry, Phil,’ he says, and suddenly he’s deadly serious. ‘If I could tell you, I would, but other people are involved. I just can’t.’
‘Christ, Wayne, this is no time to go mysterious and enigmatic on me. I’m in a whole heap of trouble and the only person who can help me is you.’
‘God help you then,’ he says. ‘But you don’t believe in God, I forgot. Tell me about the package.’
‘It has JAYDEE written on it – a word, not initials.’ I spell it out for him.
‘Do you know what it means?’
‘Only that it’s a business Thomas Oldfield obtained back in the nineties. Mrs Oldfield told me.’
‘Not much then.’
‘I’m looking into it.’
‘It’s probably better not to know.’
For a moment I see a flicker of concern in his eyes, but he subdues it and turns away.
‘I’m still going to look,’ I tell him.
‘Is that wise?’ he asks which, coming from him, should be ironic but it isn’t; he’s deadly serious. ‘If it’s that important to some unpleasant people, maybe you should back off; you don’t want to go looking for trouble.’
‘I’ve got ninety-six hours before I get a return visit from Studley-Brown and I’m anticipating a visit from your brother and his ugly mate at any moment. Either I find the package or I find out what’s happening or I start to bleed. Doing nothing isn’t an option.’
‘I see what you mean, but I still think....’
‘You think they’re bluffing, yeah.’
I wait a moment, anticipating something more constructive, but Wayne doesn’t speak. He sips his coffee and grimaces. ‘No sugar,’ he says and goes back through to the kitchen.
‘What are you going to do?’ he asks when he re-emerges, but his voice is too casual even for Wayne. Suddenly I get the feeling he’s looking for information, that he has an agenda all of his own and that maybe I’d better keep a few cards back to play later.
I decide not to mention Simon Walsh.
‘I’m going to talk to a few people. I thought I’d start with you.’ My words are weighted with sarcasm like lead on a fisherman’s line, but he doesn’t notice, or maybe he just ignores it. ‘Tina and her mother have no idea what’s going on.’
‘You’ve asked them?’
Now’s the time to mention the blackmail letter so he knows how serious this is, but I’ve only just started when the phone rings and he leans backwards to scoop it off the window sill.
‘Hi Tina... Yeah, Phil’s here. Yeah, he’s been telling me... Okay, okay, go on.’
The news is obviously bad. He sits forward and listens intently and his hand goes to his head. ‘Jesus, Tina, I’m so sorry,’ he murmurs. ’Yeah, I’m on my way round. Yeah, right now, I’ll be with you in half an hour.'
He closes the phone.
‘I’ve got to go. Tina and her mother are at the hospital. Thomas has taken a turn for the worse. The doctors don’t think he’ll make it. They’ve told them to prepare for the worst.’
I’m numbed into silence for a moment. I just watch Wayne reach for his wallet and then his coat. Then a thought hits me like a lump of space debris.
‘If he dies, you could be charged with murder.’
And suddenly I’m back there again, in Wayne’s old house, and Stevie is lying on the floor and blood is spreading slowly outwards like a tide and the ripples will never, ever stop.
‘Shall I come with you?’
‘No, I’ll phone you. Too many people, you know… ’
It’s only as I’m walking back to my flat that something else strikes me.
‘Wayne called him Thomas, not Mr Oldfield. What the fuck is going on?’