To Sarah and Brandon Byrne the North Lincolnshire village of Scawby seemed like a rural hell. They had been moved to The Grove from their home town of Rotherham. The reason they had been removed from their home was their secret. The care staff at The Grove were not allowed to have access to this information, it had been deemed too sensitive by senior social workers in Children’s Services. They had promised each other not to tell any of the other kids at the home their secret. The Grove was a converted country house and was set in its own grounds and gardens. But it was a world away from the Yorkshire town of Rotherham. A world away from their comfort zone.
Brandon and his sister stepped out of the taxi that had transported them from their home town. They picked up the one shared bag from the boot. All of their possessions were contained in one small holdall. A figure appeared around the corner and walked towards them. The figure was a tall man, older. Brandon thought maybe fifty years old.
“Hello” the man called to them.
Brandon and Sarah stood together and looked at each other. They did not reply to the man. Another stranger in their lives.
“I am Matthew” He smiled and spoke with a friendly confidence.
Neither Brandon nor his sister replied.
“Come on then let’s go inside it’s nearly time for tea”. Matthew reached forward to try to take the bag for the fifteen year old Brandon. Brandon stood back and refused to hand it over to him. “Ok, it’s Ok” Matthew’s easy smile returned.
He turned and started to walk towards the door. Brandon and Sarah followed behind him. They walked together but with a larger gap between both of them and Matthew. He led them into the home and into the dining room.
A large table was set for them with five other children and two other care workers sat at it. This was intended, by Matthew to make the brother and sister feel welcome. It made them feel anything but welcome. They felt that they were under scrutiny and on show for the other kids and staff to examine. Both of them bristled defensively.
They took their place at the table beside each other. Under the table and unseen by their audience they held their feet and lower legs together. They sought their comfort where they could, where they had done so many times before, in each other. The only people they could ever rely on.
School was an easy transition for them both. They had been round a fair few schools in their educational history. The last, Brinsworth Comprehensive was pleased to see them leave. Brandon had exhibited very ‘challenging’ behaviour. This had included confrontations with fellow students and with teaching staff. The school valued its inclusiveness, almost as much as it valued the Byrne’s pupil premium extra funding. Sarah had been of equal but more subtle concern to the educational authorities in Rotherham.
It seemed natural for Brandon to fit straight in with the lads at his new school that were most like him. The lads he sought out were the members of the Acheron Street Crew. He fitted in with them well. They felt they ran the school and he liked that. He felt an affinity to the two Latvian lads, Mikhail and Ludviks Skuja. They were dispossessed and far away from their home. He was away from his family, they weren’t, and he felt that made him more desperate.
He walked into the town after school. Sarah would get the transport back to the grove as she was supposed to. Brandon didn’t. He liked to go into town and run with the guys from the group. He liked the older lads and they liked him, he thought. He knew the language, the youth culture pseudo gangster speak.
Really Brandon was a lost boy, he wanted to fit in wherever he could. He had nothing in his life but his sister. The boys in the Acheron street gang made him feel like he belonged to something. He could be someone with them. Behind his façade of tough and cool he was alone and afraid. More vulnerable than he could imagine. Behind his blue eyes he was a child.
Kharon Khan returned to his house on Acheron Street. His uncle had asked him to come home. When he went in his uncle was sat in the lounge drinking tea from a small glass. The tea had been served in what had become a traditional way. Strong, with condensed milk and plenty of sugar. Kharon didn’t like it much. But his Uncle Abdi liked to have his tea like this.
“Hello uncle.” Kharon spoke quietly and diverted his eyes as a mark of respect away from the older man.
“Hello Kharon, sit down.” Although this was Kharon’s house and his home he deferred to his older uncle. He had stood and waited for the invite from his uncle. Kharon knew that his mother would be in the kitchen. She also knew how to behave properly and when a senior male member of the family came into the house she made her way into the kitchen.
“Lets’ talk about business Kharon”. Said Abdi.
“Yes uncle”. Kharon looked towards Abdi, he had been working hard to keep things going, keep things expanding.
“What happened to the last girl that went to Sheffield?”
“She took too much heroin and died, uncle”. Kharon did not know where this was going.
“Yes she did and you know what? That was a waste. We could have been supplying her heroin and crack for years and years whilst we creamed off her money on the streets, but you let her die?” Abdi looked hard and clearly at Kharon and then continued. “I hear good things from both Tariq and Abdul about your improving and increasing business acumen. But you need to learn from this and not let it happen again. Do you understand?”
“Yes, uncle.” Again Kharon had diverted his eyes and looked down at the ground.
“What can you do to stop this happening again?” Abdi had given him the opportunity to show his intelligence, had trusted him to use his own initiative.
“I have been thinking about this a bit, uncle. In future when a girl comes back from one of the parties in Sheffield we could have one of the more experienced whores look after her. If we tell the older one that they can give the girl her heroin that will make sure the young one won’t over dose, the older one will no doubt short change the young one. It will be in the interest of the old whore to keep the young one working. What do you think Uncle?”
He looked at the face of the older man and sought his approval. He got it. “Yes, Kharon, I like it. That will keep them close. It was an idea that I had been toying with, I am glad that you have had the same thoughts.”
The young man grinned, he beamed with pride. This was the approval he sought. He sought to exploit his advantage. “Uncle, it is important that we control the supply of the drugs to the kaffir whores. I have been thinking about having one of the older ones and their boyfriend hammered by one of the boys. Then we can tell the others that we had heard she was getting her gear from someone else. If we go for one of the older ones it doesn’t matter too much how damaged they are because they don’t get many punters anyway.”
That made Abdi smile in turn.
He knew that Kharon was starting to really grasp the business side of the business now. Abdi also aspired to step up from the operational level and become more of a manager to the people working for him. He had spoken at depth about how to best develop the lad with Tariq and it seemed that now their plans had started to take shape. It was also important for him to impress upon Kharon that he would be working for them and them alone, that he was also just a small part in the business empire that he and Tariq worked for.
“We can’t have another white whore die like that, not only will it lose us money but if the police investigate it properly it has the potential to expose a number of senior people in the community.” Abdi spoke to Kharon intensely again.
“What do you mean, Uncle?” Kharon looked at Abdi.
“Think about it, if the pigs took DNA from her …”
“Yes, Uncle, I see. They could trace where she had been and half of the men that she had been with. Those men might tell the pigs about who organised it”.
Kharon shuddered at the thought. He knew the repercussions of such a thing. He knew that if it had been caused by his own foolishness it would result in his sudden ‘return to Pakistan’ a euphemism for an unexplained disappearance and subsequent murder. He knew that there were some serious people involved in this business. He knew that they would make him disappear in the blink of an eye.
“This is how it works, you need to do something. We don’t trust you, white boy, we don’t know you, white boy.” Kharon turned to face Brandon.
“So what should I do then Kazzy?” Brandon sought his acceptance from his new family.
“There is an old bitch that needs showing who the boss is.” Kazzy saw this as a chance to get a new member initiated.
“She has been getting her gear from someone else. I don’t want no other fucker muscling onto out patch”. Khan continued, he was gesticulating with his hands, smacking one fist into his open palm and then changing over and punching the other palm. The slap of the punches punctuated his speech.
“Ok, what do I do?” Brandon was a puppy dog willing to please.
“Show the kaffir whore who’s the boss, I want you to go and own that bitch”
“Yeah, no problem Kazzy”.
Brandon felt his stomach lurch with anticipation and a little fear. He had been involved in fights and aggro before. But never had it been so calculated and never before used as a means to increase business. This wasn’t like a fist fight with another lad. This was a planned beating.
“If you go down there with Ishan and Mikhail, they will point her out to you. She is a dried up whore. When you do it you need to shout out about getting her gear from the other fuckers. We own these fucking streets and we need to show them that they can’t do what they want.” Still the repetition of the slapping of fist into palm.
“Does he have a boyfriend?”
“Yeah, but he is a burned out junky that needs a smack if he starts anything”.
Brandon, Ishan and Mikhail walked together down West Street. They were quiet, the conversation was not full of the bullshit and bravado that Kharon had shown them earlier. They knew they were going to do a job. They turned onto Gurnell Street.
This was where the old prostitute, Maureen Slight would be plying the oldest trade in the world. She liked to work here because the town’s CCTV cameras gave good coverage. She wanted the punters that used her to be captured on film in case she was ever attacked.
As the boys rounded the corner onto the street. Ishan pointed to her and said “That’s her the old one”.
“Fuck me people pay to fuck her?” Brandon asked.
“Not as many as used to, she doesn’t make much money for us anymore. You can smash her junky face in. We want her marked. Wait until I have got to the other end of the street Miki will stay here. Take her down the alley way. There are no cameras there” Ishan was calm and relaxed, for him this was normal business. He wanted a lieutenant and he thought that Brandon might be ideal. For sure, Brandon talked a good fight, they would see if he had what it took to hand out a kicking.
Brandon’s breath was shortened as he felt the adrenalin had started to course through his veins. There were other whores on the street but Maureen was the oldest, the thinnest and most drug damaged. He needed the others to see the kicking and hear why it was given. He felt sick with anticipation. He knew he would have to exhibit a high level of violence to make sure that he found the approval he sought so badly. He saw that Ishan was now in position. Mikhail stood still. The whores on the street herded together, the boys were obviously moving into positions around them, with look outs posted at each end of the street. The women looked to each other with frightened eyes.
Brandon stepped into the mouth of the alley way behind the school. The five women watched him as he stepped into the alley way and he turned to look at them. They closed until they were almost touching each other against his circling menace.
“Maureen, I have something for you” He called out to them.
“What is it?” Maureen looked at him, the others looked away. Her blue watery eyes fixed on him and her sunken, hollow cheeks sagging. Her lank, greasy blonde hair rested on her shoulders.
“It’s something from Kazzy.”
She knew that the heroin she depended on came from New Mo. But she had guessed that it originated from Kazzy Khan. This was not what she was used to. But she knew that she had been working hard, giving what she had earned to the Acheron street gang. She had supplemented her tomming money with shop lifting. She had been getting here gear only from New Mo.
The palpable relief swept over the others. It was not their turn today. It was Maureen’s turn.
Maureen walked slowly into the mouth of the alley way. Brandon stood with his left hand extended with his fingers closed as if to pass something to her. Maureen wondered if he actually had bought her some gear. Maybe in reward for her shop lifting. As she got close to him he could smell her. The cheap perfume failed to mask the body odour, despite the quantity that she had clearly used. She extended her cupped right hand to receive whatever this lad had for her. She watched with entranced attention awaiting a small foil or cellophane package full of her tonic, her nemesis, heroin to be dropped in. Her addiction had been her fate for the greater part of her life. Now it was an all-encompassing darkness.
No package dropped into her hand. Instead an arcing punch from the right hand of Brandon Byrne crashed into her cheek, the concussion of the blow was instant and she would have collapsed had Brandon not reached forward and grasped her by the front of her hoodie. He held her on her feet and pulled her close to his face. The daze of the concussion blurred his words. Maureen could not hear him. A wave of sounds overwhelmed her and rung in her head. She was barely conscious when he shouted within inches of his face the boy’s saliva showered her face.
“You get your shit from us!”
He let her drop forward and as gravity took her down he swung a short and chopping uppercut into her face. The crunching of the bone was audible as her nose was smashed and split across the bridge. Maureen’s head snapped back and she started to fall back backwards the last threads of her consciousness slipped away. The boy grabbed her hair and stopped her from falling.
“You buy your fucking gear from us, you fucking dirty bitch!” again he shouted at the unconscious woman.
The other prostitutes looked on and watched down the alleyway. They understood that a statement of intent and a declaration of ownership was being made.
Brandon let Maureen drop to the ground. He stood over her prone collapsed form and aimed a savage kick into her midriff. Her body absorbed the impact and was rocked back, almost lifted from the ground.
“All of you fuckers listen and fucking listen good. We run this place, you come to us you dirty fucking cunts”. Brandon was shaking now.
He kicked the woman again. Her breathing had deteriorated into a low gurgling rattle. He turned to the women huddled looking down the alleyway, spat on Maureen, and shouted. “Get back to fucking work filth!”
Brandon stepped over the unconscious woman. He walked away leaving her lying in a pool of her own blood. Bubbles of frothy blood emerged on her lips as the jagged points of her ribs pierced her lung. Her life hung in the balance.
Later the same evening in the Acheron Youth Centre Kharon met up with Ishan, Abdi and Tariq.
“How did the new white boy do?” asked Kharon.
“He was good, he gave that bitch a real beating”. Replied Ishan.
“Mmm good, will they know what it was about?” Abdi, as always was very business focussed.
“Yes, he made it very clear.” Ishan reassured Abdi.
Tariq looked towards Kharon, “Kharon, we need to send another bitch.”
“Yes, uncle, I know. The new boy has a sister, she is younger than he is. I will have her by the end of the week.”
“Well done, Kharon, and the one you have promised to me? What are you doing about her?”
“Uncle, she will soon be ours, she is more difficult but soon, she will make a good video, she is spirited and disrespectful”.
“Good, that will make us very good money”. Tariq was pleased with this and Abdi nodded his approval.
Kharon picked up his mobile telephone from the coffee table.
Kazzy: You did good.
Brandon: Yeah, thank you.
Kazzy: Come into town tomorrow.
Brandon: Ok, Kazzy.
Kazzy: Bring your Sarah I will get pizza
He turned to Tariq, yeah we will have you a bitch for the weekend no problem.
Tariq in turn took out his mobile phone
Tariq: We will have what you want for the weekend.
Uncle Ranjit: My associates will be very pleased, you are doing well.
Brandon sat on his bed at Scawby. His knees hugged to his chest. His face buried in his knees. He curled up. His shoulders shook as he sobbed. Sarah sat beside him. Her hand on his shoulder.
“Who was the text from Brandon?”
“It was from Kazzy, he was pleased with what I had done for him this afternoon.”
“Good, you have some friends there.” Sarah stroked the back of his neck with her fingertips.
Brandon lifted his face up and looked at his sister. His face was red and puffy from the tears he had cried. His eyes blood shot and red rimmed with sadness.
“She was like an old woman and I kicked the shit out of her.” He looked pleadingly at Sarah, she did not know what he wanted from her. She could not offer him forgiveness for what he had done.
“Bran, you had to do it. If you want to be in with these boys you have to do what they want.”
“I know, they want us both to go into town tomorrow night and they want to buy us a pizza because they are pleased with the work that I did.”
“That sounds mint,” Sarah said excitedly. She was also lost and without friends in Lincolnshire.
“Let’s go straight after school, I will take my stuff in my PE bag” The girl planned.
“Yeah, that sounds good.” The beating of the old whore faded away as the promise of pizza became more prominent in his.
Sarah’s fingers continued to tease the hair on the back of his neck. She leaned towards him and placed a delicate and gentle kiss on his neck. Then another. He moved his head to one side to expose the length of the side of his neck and allowed her to kiss his shoulder, his neck and up to the ear. She nibbled the bottom of his ear and whispered “I can make you feel happier”.
He turned to face his sister and lay back on his Buzz Lightyear quilt cover. She kissed him hard, urgently on the lips. She pushed him down onto the bed.
The next evening as planned Brandon and Sarah did not take the transport back home to the Grove. They walked into town together. Sarah was excited about meeting the boys from the Acheron street crew. Lots of the kids at school talked about them. It seemed that since Brandon had started to hang with them he had been afforded a really high level of respect by the other kids. Brandon no longer queued for his lunch. Because Brandon was treated like this it meant that Sarah was also elevated in status.
“What is this Kazzy like? He sounds nice”. Sarah asked.
“He is ok, he runs the show really. I think he is the main man around here”.
Sarah, hummed as she walked along with her brother, her slight and boyish frame filled with exuberance and excitement about her brother’s new friends. Between them they had earned some money working with the street gangs in Rotherham. She thought she knew how to handle people, especially men and boys.
They turned on to Frodingham road and walked down in the alleyways towards Acheron Street. She felt a little less confident along here. The voices she heard spoke in foreign languages that she did not understand. The alleyways, she knew, provided an alternative highway for the people that did not want to use the main roads, people that had something to hide or someone to hide from. She watched where she was walking, there was filth all over the place. Dog mess, spilt rubbish, fast food laying around amongst the detritus of the town’s poorer areas and poorer people. Hidden, like those people.
Brandon seemed to grow an inch as he walked down the alleyway. His walk changed from a purposeful and direct stride to a languid swagger as they approached the small basketball court at the top of Acheron Street. This was also the court of Kharon Khan. The brother and sister emerged into the open area and joined the gang. Kazzy was standing in the centre surrounded by his entourage. New Mo was with him as was Ishan. They were the inner circle. Brandon saw the two Skuja boys chatting with another lad he did not know. They were talking in a language he didn’t recognise but thought might be Latvian or Russian. As he came into the group Kazzy stopped talking to Mo and turned to Brandon.
“Yo, nigger. How are you doing blood?” He greeted Brandon with a clenched fist knuckle punch.
“It’s proper mint man”, replied Brandon. Sarah thought this way of speaking was ridiculous, but all of the boys liked to do it. They thought it made them sound tough and like gangsters. She thought it made them sound like idiots.
Kazzy looked at Sarah and turned to Brandon. “Who is this hot little bitch, blood?”
Brandon replied “My little sis bro.”
Kazzy continually stared at Sarah as he continued to talk to Brandon. He looked her up and down, he paused at her hips and at her breasts. She felt the colour rise in her cheeks as she blushed with embarrassment. She was flattered and instantly felt attracted to Kazzy.
Kazzy recognised this. He was not attracted to this skinny, weak looking white bitch, but he had successfully made her thing that he was. That was his intention and the first step of the plan complete.
“Bran-dog, man, the Ishan man tells me you were the fucking business with the old whore.”
“She had it coming Kazzy, no one fucks with your crew.”
“Yeah Bran-dog, you fucking right on. Do you want to be in our crew? We have a place for you in our team.” Kazzy rested his eyes on Sarah, as he spoke he reached up and touched her arm and turned her so she was facing away from him. He squeezed her arse, like checking a lamb before sending it to market.
“Blood, that would be so mint!” Brandon replied.
“Go with the Ishan man, you will work for him, he is our muscle. He will talk about our business and talk to you about your part in it he will get you a pizza. I am gonna take this little honey for a special treat.” Kazzy had not taken his eyes off of Sarah.
Brandon was quite confident that his little sister would be ok. She knew her way about, she certainly knew her way around men. She had plenty of experience to fall back on.
Ishan motioned for Brandon to go with him and they walked down to West Street. The girls were working the street already. Punters drifted by, faceless, nameless men in cars looking to buy a piece of sanctuary from their worlds.
“Bran-dog, we run this bitches” Ishan boasted.
“All of them?” Brandon was surprised.
“Yeah, when a new one comes along we make sure that she gets the message that we run the street. Sometimes their blokes try to pimp them. That’s where we come in. You and me, we give them the fucking they deserve. We make sure they know the score.”
Brandon looked down at Ishan’s arm which was still in a sling following his encounter with Hicks. “Yeah, we are gonna make the white cunt pay for this.” Ishan said, he was conscious that his arm had put him on the back foot and was pleased to have Brandon with him to help regain the initiative.
They walked along the road and saw whore after whore. As they approached the tall blonde woman working near the memorial gardens Ishan said to Brandon, “This is Nadia, she can be a bitch, and we need to take her down a peg or two.”
Brandon looked at her, she was a tall and good looking woman, she didn’t have the husk like appearance that most of the girls did. “But we can’t mark her up too much, Kazzy won’t like that. She must earn us good money”.
“You are a smart guy, you are right this is all about business and she is one of our assets”. The real intellect of Ishan was obvious to Brandon. Brandon made s choice that Ishan would not be a good person to cross.
It was the first time that Sarah had ever been out for a meal and at the restaurant she was awe struck when Kazzy took her into the Bengal Raj on Frodingham road. When he entered and the waiters called him sir and bowed to him. She watched as the waiters rushed around him and treated him as if he was a local celebrity, a football player or a rap artist. The waiters bought out the meals that Kazzy had ordered in Urdu. They bought out wine for Sarah. As they ate their meals she looked into his eyes and thought she detected some kind of sadness that held them in common. She felt emotion inside her, she really liked this boy, he knew how to treat her and he clearly respected her for who she was. Why else would he have taken her for a meal? The other men that had her before never treated her like this.
“I want you, Sarah.” He said quietly. Her heart fluttered. He watched her reactions. He had timed its delivery perfectly when she was looking deeply into his eyes.
“I want you too Kazzy, but we have to go to the kids home in Scawby. We can’t be together.”
“Go on the run, we can find places for you both to be. Then we can be together.”
When they left the Bengal Raj much later that night, they left hand in hand. They didn’t see Pol walking along Frodingham road on the way back from collecting his fish and chips. He saw them. The image blasted into his memory cells. The image reminded him of the images of jasmine peters and Kharon Khan just weeks before. He did not know this girl. But he guessed that soon he would know her.
The fact that they were leaving the same restaurant as he had seen Jasmine and Khan leave previously was not lost on him. This restaurant was owned by Ranjit Quereshi, the mayor of the town. A top player in local politics and a pillar of the community. Pol returned to the station, he ate his chips and drank a mug of tea. Out of the window he watched another moth circle the sodium lights.
Pol: hey mate, fancy a swim?
Hicks: yeah for sure.
Pol: Brigg at 8?
Hicks: no bus, make it Scunny.
Pol: ok mate
The electronic transcript of the conversation appeared in Dc Dominic Watson’s inbox. He forwarded the message straight away to DI Steve Day.
Pol and Stu met up at the pool as arranged. They walked in together with their kit in old fashioned rolled up towels. The groups of teenagers ran past them as they were deep in conversation.
“Pol, what the fuck is up with you? You have a face like a smacked arse man.” Enquired Hicks with his usual level of diplomacy.
“Buddy I am climbing the walls with frustration, what the fuck can we do to nail these little bastards”. Pol looked emotional.
“What is happening?”
“Them little cunts that are running your street are really taking the piss. You know that young kid that died in the street the other day?”
“Yeah, you said about her. Jasmine?” hicks replied.
“Yeah, that’s her. She was only fourteen years old. She had been running with that gang. I think that they had more to do with her death than we know”. Pol explained.
“All sounds a bit like paranoia to me, Pol.”
“Before she went she was seen hanging around with Kharon Khan. I saw her going in and out of Ranjit Qureshi’s restaurant with him.” Said Pol.
“Ok. And what?”
They were in the coffee shop at the pool and Pol ordered them both a coffee and they sat down next to the window.
“Well,” continued Pol, “I have seen Kharon with another young girl coming out of there today.”
Hicks put his coffee on the table and looked directly at Pol. “you think that she is going to go the same way as Jasmin?”
“Yeah, for sure she will.” Pol said.
“That sounds very likely”. Stu agreed with Pol.
They sat quietly and considered their coffees for a few minutes together. Stu spoke first. “Do you think that the mayor, knows what’s going on?”
“No I think he is up to his eyeballs in it.”
Their conversation moved on and they talked about the old times in the jungle. They never actually mentioned Tanjoc when they talked like this.
“The worst thing is, you know Stu, that we know all sorts of things about the gang but we can’t do fuck all about them because we don’t have the resources and for some reason the bosses don’t want us to get too close to them.” Pol vented his frustration.
“It smells like some sort of shit to me.” Added Stu. This was the first time that Pol had actually allowed himself to consider the possibility that there was a conspiracy and that he was purposefully being diverted away from investigating this case. He knew that given a bit of time he could unpick them.
“I know that Mohammed Nuelleh keeps his stash of drugs in the back garden of one of the derelict houses at the back of West Street. I can’t even get the dog handler to run his drugs dog through the gardens as he has been told specifically not to do any on spec stuff in the town centre by the DCI.”
The men finished their coffees and headed to the pool to start swimming. As they walked through to the changing rooms Stu said, “Well maybe a terrible accident will befall them”.