‘So what have you heard?’ Grey asked.
She was sitting in her car with the window open trying not to puke from the rancid stink oozing out of her passenger.
At eleven at night it was dark and cold parked in the lay-by on the A4500 close to the Great Billing turn. Grey was meeting her snitch from the eastern district. Professional shoplifter, glue sniffer, rough sleeper, long term universal credit claimant, Ronnie had been feeding her for years with occasional snippets that were usually reliable. And he was cheap. Grey could tempt him with just a few pounds which she guessed kept him in nail polish or whatever was flavour of the month for his nose at the time.
Unfortunately, her small rewards had never been enough for him to invest in soap and water. Ronnie was a walking biohazard. His clothes were ripped and torn, filthy with ground dust, and infested with more bugs than the average landfill. Grey guessed he changed them annually, probably on the anniversary of the inventor of solvents. Ronnie’s face was like burned leather, brown, cracked, gaunt with vacant eyes, but brightened by yellow eyebrows, a moustache, and a goatee that was threatening to grow into something more mysterious.
‘About what?’ Ronnie asked.
‘Drugs Ronnie, that’s what we’re talking about tonight, drugs.’
‘There’s always plenty going on there.’ He said off handedly.
Grey sighed in frustration. Ronnie was being difficult. ‘So, who’s dealing?’
Ronnie turned towards her, releasing a short blast of a particularly pungent cocktail of ammonia and urea. Grey turned her head away towards the open window and took a deep breath. ‘Where are the local dealers operating from? Anybody new on the block?’
Ronnie scratched his nose, sniffed, and said. ‘There’s a place in Faracre, cuckoo nest I reckon. Used to be an old lady lived there, a bit doolally by all accounts, but she ain’t there no more. Young bloke lives there now. No relation. I reckon he’s dealing. Lot of activity.’
‘Interesting’, Grey said. ‘Notice anybody new?’ She asked.
Ronnie shook his head.
‘Nah not really. Old Mumtaz at the newspaper shop has started dealing, but he’s been small scale for a long time. Used to rent porn movies from under the counter in the old days, but I s’ppose that’s all gone now. He’s expanded a bit in recent weeks.’
‘Any idea who’s supplying him?’
Ronnie chuckled, but it sounded more like he was clearing a particularly stubborn blob of phlegm from his throat. Grey winced. ‘Nobody knows. Probably some king somewhere, sitting on his high throne, driving a Ferrari.’
‘Yeah but I’m not meaning that high up the food chain. I’m interested in who’s controlling this district. There must be a name.’ Grey said.
Ronnie was not completely brain dead yet. He recognised an opportunity when he saw one. ‘That might cost extra, on account of the risk and that.’ He said, straining his negotiating skills to their limit.
Grey sighed. ‘Have I ever let you down Ronnie? Come on I need a name.’ Grey insisted.
‘Word is it’s a frog, name of Boucher.’
‘Boucher,’ Grey repeated. ‘New to me. Ever heard the name Markovic mentioned?’
’That’s the bloke who got the Glasgow necktie ain’t it?
‘That’s the one.’ Grey confirmed.
‘Used to see him about. He was a runner. Operated out of Faracre.’ Ronnie said.
‘Who’s the dealer at Faracre?’
‘Not sure, bloke called Baz as far as I know.’
‘Did Markovic have any known enemies?’ Grey asked.
‘Nah, he was known round here, but I didn’t hear anything special. Came as a bit of a shock to be honest.’
‘Did he have any dealings with Mumtaz?’
‘Don’t reckon so. Mumtaz has his own runners.’
‘Any sign of a turf war between this Boucher and Mumtaz?’ Grey asked.
‘Not yet but it’ll come soon. Mumtaz is treading on Boucher’s toes. He’s bound to react.’
Four hours later, long after Grey had called it a day, a tall figure dressed in black climbed out of a blue Transit van that he had parked in the small car park outside the shopping precinct in Bellinge. On his feet were rubber soled back sneakers. In his hand was a gallon can of unleaded. In his pocket was a cotton rag and a box of matches.
Earlier Riley had made his report to Boucher and the response had been inevitable. Remove the problem.
But removing the problem had a special meaning for Boucher, one that Riley understood very well. He had discovered that Mumtaz lived in a flat above his shop, along with his wife. Perfect as far as Boucher was concerned. They could both pay their taxes at the same time. It would give Boucher a chance to redeem himself, show strength, discourage others, regain the respect of his peers. Riley’s instructions were to make a show.
The job was a simple one, pour the petrol into the shop, light the rag, feed it through the letter box, and wait for the show to begin. In theory the fire should spread too fast for anyone to escape, but just in case he carried a lightweight Glock handgun as insurance. Mumtaz was going to die, either by fire or bullet, it really did not matter much to Riley. What was important was the message, not the delivery method.
Next door to the newsagent was a launderette, and next to that a Pizza takeaway. Farther on was a hairdresser and baker. None of them carried much stock and they were what were known in economic circles as Mom and Pop stores. Family owned and run with the sole purpose of providing a living for the owners. No real thoughts about selling them on, they typically stayed in the same family for decades. And they were positioned lateral to the newsagents which meant they faced onto the car park.
Unbeknown to Riley the hairdresser was security conscious, protective of his speciality chairs and equipment, although he had never asked himself why anyone would want to steal a barber’s chair. One of his aids was a digital CCTV camera with a wide-angle lens capable of capturing everything the length and width of the precinct. It was clearly visible, but not obvious. It had a red light blinking several times a minute to warn of its existence, but it was fixed at the junction of the roof guttering and the front wall. Not obvious but easily seen if anyone cared to look hard enough. Riley missed it; he was too preoccupied with the task at hand.
It captured him clearly when he strode towards the newsagent, recorded him soaking one end of the rag in the petrol before attaching a spout to the can and emptying it onto the shop floor, picked him up when he struck the match, lit the rag and pushed it through the letterbox. Watched him silently, red warning light oscillating, as he hurried back to the van to watch the show.
Riley did not have long to wait. The petrol exploded in a fury of white light and within seconds the shop was ablaze. He watched for movement upstairs but saw none. Lights were still off. That was good. Riley sat in the car for as long as he dared, conscious a fire crew could turn up at any moment, but he hung around long enough to see the display window explode and the roof cave in. No way Mumtaz and his wife could survive that, Riley thought. He drove away, satisfied with a good night’s work, ignorant of the all-seeing camera.
First thing the following morning Boucher was on the phone to Kubric. He was pacing back and forth along the length of his lounge in his house in Ecton. Constructed in the late eighteenth century from Northamptonshire stone, Boucher had purchased it two years earlier when his business began to take off. Four bedrooms, half an acre, in the centre of the village, it was comfortable to live in and conveniently located for his business.
Boucher sounded enervated. ’McVey is trying to move in. It’s not acceptable. My man saw Cameron yesterday, talking to a dealer outside the shop owned by the bastard who has been undercutting me for the last month.’
Kubric knew why Cameron had been there but did not want to share the knowledge with Boucher. ‘Tell me about this shopkeeper.’
‘He’s history and his fucking family! A small-time wannabe who thought he could just walk all over me.’
‘You’ve dealt with him’?
‘Oh yes and I’m going to deal with the greedy little Scottish alcoholic later today, but first he must pay the fine. I can’t be held responsible for his ambition.’ Boucher was talking about the penalty Kubric had imposed to compensate for the shortfall.
‘I don’t want him touched.’ Kubric said with a hint of menace, ‘until I’ve had time to talk to him.’
‘I still haven’t found out who was supplying him.’
‘Not our chain, I checked.’
‘Well somebody was. I will get to the bottom of this.’
‘Wait a few days. I will talk to McVey, but I don’t want him hurt until I find out the facts. Am I clear?’
Boucher was silent for several seconds but eventually sighed deeply and said. ’Clear.’ He was fearful of what Kubric was capable of, even without Maric.
‘Good. I will let you know about the fine after I’ve spoken to McVey.’
Kubric rang off, smiling. He imagined Cameron had been there on his instructions, and he had no intention of speaking to McVey. What he really wanted to understand was why Markovic had been killed, who had killed him, and who had been supplying the newsagent. It did not bother him at all if McVey was trying to expand, his own trade would not be affected one jot. He felt comfortable. He had Cammy on the ground asking questions, so he expected some answers soon.