Ian CarlyleChris sat up slowly, supporting himself on one arm and keeping his eyes on Carlyle. Raw white hatred seethed in the pit of his stomach, mixing with a thin, cold trickle of fear that only built the rage higher. The Beretta tracked his movement, finally tapping him right between the eyes.

“That’s enough.”

He glared up at Carlyle. “Why don’t you just kill me and have done with it?”

The footballer snorted, shifting his weight casually to his other foot. “Because you’re not a fucking threat. Besides, I need some answers.”

“You and me both.” Chris sighed quietly, shoving a few stray wisps of hair back off his face then, with an annoyed click of his tongue, reached back to retie his ponytail only to be stopped by a quiet click as Carlyle cocked the pistol. Carefully, he took his hands away from his head, showing his palms empty, quivering with frustration. A fluffy white-and-grey puppy sniffed curiously at his shoes. “So what’s your problem then? Something disturbing your perfect life with your money, your cars, your big house and your beautiful…”

Every sense screamed danger. Chris shut his mouth with a sharp click of his teeth.

The muscles were clenched along Carlyle’s jaw and the veins stood out along his forearm, the urge to kill visibly throbbing in his blood. Then something shifted; he sank down to a relaxed squat, shaking his head with a wry half-smile. “As a matter of fact, you’re right. Someone whose well-being concerns both of us, if I’m not mistaken.”

Shock jolted through the enforcer. “No! I don’t… I’m not… I just…”

“Shut the fuck up.” Carlyle’s tone was bored, exasperated. “Look, I know you’ve seen her file. You’ve told me you know so much about her? Well, now’s your chance to prove it.” He leaned in, his face inches away, the gun held in a deceptively easy grip across his knee. “What was she on, Walsaw? What drugs does she need? What doses?”

Chris shook his head. “I… I can’t remember just like that!” He held up his hands as the thief tensed again. “But I can look it up! I have the file, I just… You can’t just put her back on the drugs. They have side-effects… she needs a doctor, she needs proper care!”

“And you’d get her that, would you?” Carlyle’s lips twisted sceptically. “Just pop her back in the asylum where she’d be nice and safe and protected just like she was for the last ten years? You watched us – you want to tell me why she cries at night? Want to tell me why my wife kisses like a virgin and fucks like a whore? And you’re just going to take her back there? I mean, if someone’s gonna roll her while she’s too drugged up to notice, might as well be you, right? Right?

Carlyle’s fist clenched and Chris reeled back as if he’d been punched in the face. “No! Oh god, no!” His feet scrabbled at the leaf-strewn dirt for purchase, then he propelled himself swiftly to his feet as the footballer – the thief, the killer – slowly began to straighten up. The contents of the bag clutched in his hand flashed through his head and what started in his stomach as a scream came out of his mouth as a pained moan. “I’ll get it… I’ll get you the prescription, but I wouldn’t… God, no! I’d never… I just want to know! I have to know who killed them!”

“My wife is still alive.” The gun was coming up; Chris’ eyes widened. He froze for an instant, then his toes bit into the ground and he was fleeing through the woods. A shot rang out behind him but he was running too hard to know if it hit.

He just wasn’t sure if it was the gun he was running from, or the words.

***

Carlyle let the shot go wide, then slowly lowered the gun, letting it cool with his temper and watching the branches swish in the enforcer’s wake while Gerrard strained at his leash and barked after the old cop. His eyes were narrowed behind the dark glasses, calculating. Finally he turned away, shoving the pistol into the back of his jeans.

“Prick,” he muttered under his breath.


The plastic sheet murmured softly against the charred wooden floor with every step Derek took as he moved around the chair, fastening plastic binder strips around Jacob’s ankles as the husky Scouser started to stir. Thick layers of chipboard covered the windows of the derelict house, shutting out the moonlight and street lamps, leaving the room to darkness save for the few candles he’d lit.

He stopped in front of the chair in which he’d bound his captive, picking up the maglight he’d left on the slumped ruins of a sideboard. He briefly examined the video camera pointing at the chair in the flashlight’s beam, then shone it into the man’s eyes as they opened. Jacob groaned and narrowed his gaze against the glare, head throbbing and a dull, dry ache running up his back. “What the fuck…” He groaned deeply and Derek set the torch down again. In the next room, he heard the hiss and flare of a match as someone lit a cigarette; he’d called in some old markers, a little backup in case things didn’t go to plan.

He wasn’t Chris. He had no faith in humankind, knowing its underside far too well, nor was he about to underestimate anyone associated with Ian Carlyle. Briefly, he brushed the ski mask that covered his new face with his fingers. Sometimes he thought he could still feel the bullet wounds under his skin.

“Jacob, I’m looking for your brother.” He leaned both arms on the portable DIY workbench in front of him, studying the prisoner’s hazel eyes as they darted around the room, seeming to appraise the situation rather than desperately seeking help. Derek chewed his lip a moment, pondering, then ran his hand along the rack of drill bits and saw blades, making the metal clash together and ring. Jacob’s eyes snapped back to him. “Tell me now where he is and you walk out of here with two grand in your hand. Make me wait and you might not be leaving here with a hand at all. Are we clear?”

“Crystal.” His tone was dry and frosty before his jaw snapped shut; Derek sighed, straightening up.

“Thought as much.” He picked up the power drill, hefting it in his hand before clipping in a slim, pointed bit. He squeezed the trigger gently, letting it whirr for a moment to test it, then looked back at Jacob. “You know what’s weird? I’ve had these tools for years and I’ve never once used them to build anything…. Just for taking men like you apart.”

The gaze turned on Derek was steely. “Jacob Carlyle. Sergeant. 24501369. And fuck you, you Yankee ponce.”

Two strides across the creaking floor and the drill bit was whirring against the skin of Jacob’s forearm. The American pushed down hard on the tool; skin shredded around the wound and then blood was in the air, a fine red mist spattering across their faces. Pain burned up the arm like acid, coming in fast pulses. Jacob clenched his jaw as the bit tore into muscle, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed the scream that tried to claw its way out of his throat.

Derek lifted the drill away, picking streamers of flesh off it with distaste. “Where’s your brother, Jacob?”

“Jacob Carlyle. Sergeant. 24501369.” His voice cracked as he listed the numbers. A bead of blood ran slowly down his forehead.

“Wrong again.” The drill bucked in Derek’s hand as the bit passed from soft flesh into hard bone and he let it play loose, twisting his wrist to widen the hole he was boring. For a single everlasting moment, the agony was a pure and terrible thing, then suddenly it was replaced; a numb absence, a nameless, insensate distress before the throbbing began. Jacob couldn’t hold back the scream this time, roaring his pain up to the ceiling and tears flowed freely down his face when Derek lifted the drill away again. He took a few paces back, humming to himself as he selected a broader bit from the workbench, then detached the slender one and held it up in its grizzly glory for Jacob to see. Blood dripped from the tip of it to add to the trickles running across the  plastic from the chair. “Next is the knee. That’s permanent damage. Want to tell me where your brother is?”

Jacob opened his mouth. For a moment no sound came out, then he started to croak “Jacob… Carlyle… Sergeant…”

“Heigh ho.” Derek walked back to the chair and started to whistle to himself while Jacob screamed.

***

“Ja… Jacob…. Car…” The man stopped there, sputtering and choking before spitting a gob of blood and mucus at his torturer.

Derek patted his sweat-slicked hair in mock-sympathy. “Well, you’ve got balls mate, I’ll give you that. Some nasty scars, a permanent limp and a lot of teeth missing, but you’ve still got your balls.” He was the only one who laughed at the joke. Jacob simply stared down at his blood-soaked trousers, the fabric torn away in ragged, circular patches at the knee and along both thighs. Gory drool ran from the corner of his open mouth and his left eye was swollen shut.

He walked back to the workbench and tucked the pliers back in their place, then started to pack the entire affair back into its case while Jacob watched in bemusement. Derek grinned at him. “Ah see, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, mate.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket and put it to his ear, the open, lit screen casting a blue light across the darkened room. “Isn’t that right, Mrs Carlyle?”


The sleeping face of Dolly Carlyle“No! He’s in there! I saw him!” Dolly writhed and twisted in Ian’s grasp; he had one arm securely around her waist, lifting her off the floor, while with the other, he gently but firmly pried the heavy steel butcher knife from her grasp, setting it down on the kitchen counter a full arm’s length away and flicking it well out of her reach with his fingertips.

A small, sad sigh escaped his lips as he set his wife down and with the same sure but kindly grasp, man-handled her around to face him then folded his arms around the frenzied blonde and hugged her to his chest.

Her thrashing subsided, giving way to deep, gulping sobs that shook her little body from head to toe. “But I saw him! I really did!”

Ian pressed a kiss into her hair, then rested his cheek there, smelling the subtle vanilla fragrance that seemed to weave into everything she touched. “I know you did, love… I know you did.” They stood like that for an untold time, as the light shifted across the kitchen windows until her violent, heart-wracked sobbing ebbed to normal tears. Then he scooped her up in his arms and carried her upstairs, setting her down on their bed and then lying down himself, facing her, one hand automatically going out to stroke her golden hair.

Sniffling and red-eyed, she looked down for a moment, then pleadingly over to him.

“There’s… there’s blood on my hands.”

He nodded slowly, watching her face, his hand moving to caress her cheek.

“Did… did I hurt you?”

He shook his head. “It’s yours, love.” He leaned across to kiss her tenderly, then lay nose-to-nose with her, looking into her eyes with all the pain in his heart on display. “You promised me you’d never do that again.”

She ducked her head, tears starting again. “I didn’t know I did. I don’t…” Her arms went out, suddenly gripping him fiercely, pulling herself against him. Her words came out in a tremulous whisper. “I don’t want to die. I want to be here… with you.”

“Is it because I’m out more, at practice?” He was surprised to hear the same tremor in his own voice and clutched her tighter, the softness of her somehow more solid, more real than the hardest granite.

“No!” Her voice cracked as she protested, shaking her head hard enough to make her hair fly. “I do the little things when you’re out… the stuff I don’t want to do when you’re here! And I know you’re coming back! It’s not… I’m not broken! You can leave me alone and it’s OK. It’s not that, it’s… it’s… Aah! I don’t know what it is!” Her cry of frustration echoed back from the rafters and she thumped her head against the pillow. “It just… it just came out of nowhere. You have to believe me, Ian… It’s not you. I love you!”

“I love you too, Blue.” He took her hands gently in his, looking at the cuts across the palms, tracing their line with the lightest touch of his thumb. “And I believe you. We’ll fix this. We’ll solve this together. We did it once before, remember?” He smiled reassuringly at her and it widened to see the tentative smile appear on her lips, the hope and trust brightening in her eyes. “It’ll all be OK.”

He’d barely finished the words when her lips met his and for a while, the world went away for both of them.

***

Gerrard was far more energetic than his owner as they walked beside the lake in Stanley Park, the puppy bounding hither and yon on his long leash to sniff at tree trunks and clumps of grass, bark at the ducks and examine the cans and bottles left by teenagers the night before. Ian smiled to himself as he wandered leisurely in the puppy’s wake; Dolly described the little Husky’s big-footed gait as “flolopping” and it seemed perfectly apt, but his mind wasn’t really on the dog. He waxed and waned between worrying over the strange resurgence of her mental illness – a sickness he’d been sure he’d put to rest – and remembering the way her eyes would close and her face would tighten as she let out a little gasp, as if in pain, as if fighting the need to let go, before the bliss of release poured through her and she’d tip her head back, open-mouthed as it lit her face from within, turning her into something pure and iconic, something heart-stoppingly beautiful, while she screamed her ecstasy like the filthiest whore in Netherfield Road.

As it was, Gerrard had led him almost to the path back to their home when he spotted a man in a long wool coat with a vivid Titian ponytail trailing back over one shoulder.

“I don’t fucking believe it!” He took three quick strides and barreled into the enforcer, then kept moving, bearing the older man well off the path and into the trees, where he shoved him to the ground. Fast as a striking snake, Ian whipped out the Beretta and levelled it at the back of Walsaw’s head, the tension in his shoulders, in his fingers, minutely visible in the eager quivering of the pistol in his hand.

Walsaw rolled quickly over, green eyes wide and wild as they took Carlyle in  – the height of him, the breadth of his shoulders, the flush of fury that ran down the man’s neck – then darted from side to side, checking for cover, for some quick exit. There was nothing close enough and past experience told him if he so much as twitched, he’d end up like Derek… or worse. Cursing himself inwardly for not instantly reaching for his own gun, Chris dropped his bag and very slowly, began to raise his hands.

“Better. Now, why don’t we start with you telling me what the fuck you were doing under my kitchen sink!”

Chris stared at him, open-mouthed.

What?


Chris had been in Liverpool for less than  three hours and his hire car had already been stolen.

Unfortunately, he’d been in it at the time. He picked himself slowly up off the tarmac, his knees feeling stiff and old as he straightened and tried to dust himself off. His slacks and jacket had torn when he’d rolled out of the vehicle; he’d picked up a few grazes and an elbow that throbbed from a bone-deep bruise, but his pride stung more than anything. Rage knotted in his belly, seething like live seafood flung into a boiling pot.

“I am fed up of being some kind of fucking cosmic joke!” He slammed his clenched fist into the bonnet of a near-by car, then let out a half-restrained scream of pure fury as a bolt of pain shot up through his arm and the car’s alarm started to hoot and flash.

“I am getting a fucking gun, fucking English law or not,” he muttered through clenched teeth as he started trudging down the motorway verge, stepping over the cast-away condoms, cigarette butts and fast-food wrappers of a thousand other lives.

***

Chris Walsaw holding a vial of dark liquidHis CCG stun gun lay on the pale green coverlet of a single bed that had one short leg on the right hand side and a mattress with more stains than stuffing, but Chris planned on spending as little time in the tiny Anfield B&B as possible and the somewhat-portly woman who ran it seemed pleasant but unobtrusive, which was exactly what he needed.

The rest of his hardware lay on the table in front of the window. Chris pushed the bulk of it aside, leaving only a slim metal handsaw, a heavy-duty rasp and his newly acquired shotgun in front of him. He picked up the weapon, checked the sights, broke it open and checked the breach, then set it down with the long barrel protruding over the edge of the table. He leaned hard on the butt with one hand and started sawing across the barrel, gritting his teeth as the effort made his hand pulse, sketching lurid crimson lines of pain across his vision.

When a good 8-inches of the twin barrels fell to the floor, he sank down into the chair and pulled a sheet of cocodamol from his pocket, pressing out two pills and swallowing them dry, then sat with his eyes closed for a long moment, waiting for the pain to ebb away. He’d put ice on it later and sleep for a while. When everything was ready.

With a groan, he forced his eyes open and set to filing down the rough edges of his sawn-off, then turned it over and filed off the serial number as well, his hands doing their job while his eyes stared right through the gun, remembering the slender, delicate fingers cradled in his scarred and weather-beaten palm. The same fingers that had clung so hard to Ian Carlyle’s hand as they fled the detention centre.

He slammed the gun down on the table and flung the emery paper aside, dragging over a sports bag and the other paraphernalia he’d brought with him. A dispenser of plastic binder strips went into the bag along with two pairs of cuffs, a roll of electrical tape and a couple of anonymous white gym towels. He tipped a box of shotgun shells into the left pocket of the long wool coat he’d picked up and tucked two auto-carbine clips in the other, then threw the rest of the shells and clips into the bag. Binoculars and a hand-held video camera followed them, and he fussed around with the towels until they lay over the jumble of gear. Then the shotgun went on top. He screwed the silencer onto the carbine and slipped it into the deep top-right inside pocket of the coat, then draped that over the back of the chair.

He looked at the rest of the packages. This was where honest police-work stopped and something entirely new and strange began.

He froze for a long moment, fingers hovering an unmarked black plastic bag. He wondered if this was what it was like to be Derek, to be any enforcer, rather than an old man clinging to the out-moded ideals of a redundant police force. Everything Derek had said, about “fighting fire with fire” and “A little bit of evil can do a lot of good…”

“It will all come out right. I just need a chance to explain…” The sound of his own voice jerked him back to reality. He took a deep breath and grabbed the bag.

He’d been far from comfortable walking into a sex shop for the first time in his life. A seedy little place on the back streets of Liverpool with blacked out windows and a glaring pink neon sign, somehow all the more condemning for the nasal British accent of the young woman behind the counter, who’d lifted her eyebrows flirtatiously while her lips stayed stiff and bored and somehow above the environment she worked in. But he hadn’t known of anywhere more legitimate to get something that could safely do the same job. It was important not to do any more damage than he had to.

He swallowed hard and blinked back tears as he flung the ball gag and ankle cuffs into the bag. It would all be OK once he explained. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

He kept repeating that to himself as he stripped most of the items out of the holiday first aid kit he’d bought at a chemist’s, keeping only the sterile syringes, which he slowly filled from a dark glass bottle, then recapped and tucked back into their padded sconces in the kit, ignoring the way his hands shook and the taste of bile in the back of his throat. The kit went into the bag; he shoved everything down under the towel so only the shotgun remained in easy reach.

With the zip done up and everything out of sight, it was easy to pretend it was just a normal day. He tucked the last two pairs of cuffs into his back pockets, their presence there familiar and reassuringly normal. Later, when he lay in the creaking bed with an icepack resting on the back of his hand, he took out the smaller pair and twirled them back and forth around his forefinger as he stared at the ceiling. It would all come out OK in the end.

It still took him a very long time to fall asleep.


Red-lit silhouette of Westminster seen from across the ThamesLondon was a lot less wet and windy than Derek had thought it would be. He’d abandoned his umbrella a few days ago and now found himself sweating in the close confines of a carriage on the wryly-named “Tube,” buried deep underground waiting for some unseen signal to change so he could resume his journey. He sighed. They’d been down here for 15 minutes already and there was little to do except look at his own reflection.

He glanced over at the strange face reflected twice-over in the thick glass of the window opposite, shuddered and looked away.

It wasn’t an ugly face – far from it. But no matter how many years he lived now, it would never feel like his, never sit so comfortably against his bones as the one stolen from him in that dismissive spray of bullets from the carbine in Ian Carlyle’s hand and the doubled, overlapping features painted in the train window only made visible the eeriness he felt.

It wouldn’t matter soon. He clenched and unclenched his fist at his side, digging his nails into his moist palm.

It wouldn’t matter soon.

A long, slender pair of legs stepped into his field of view, jerking him from one reverie into another. Black knee-high boots contrasted sharply with the smooth, pale skin, seeming to go on for ever before they vanished behind the hem of a short, grey wool skirt. He kept his eyes moving upwards – the girl’s flapping, open coat and thick, knitted jumper occluded her waist but if anything emphasised the curves of a more than ample bust. He stood up, smiling at the girl as he squeezed into the aisle.

“Please, take my seat.” He held the smile and made eye contact as she murmured her thanks and sat down, slipping into a grin as her cheeks flushed.

Perhaps England wouldn’t be entirely grim after all.

***

Forty minutes later, Derek was sitting in a bus shelter in the rain, cradling his cigarette inside curled fingers to keep it dry while he eyed the pub across the street. “The Queen’s Head” had nicotine-stained, bottle-glass windows and long subsidence had cracked the stone step up to the door and skewed the building’s roof into a precarious V-shape. It was grotty. The whole street had that sullen, run-down look of little care and high unemployment. The houses were narrow, tightly-packed three-story terraces that no doubt still housed more people than they did rooms – student shares and large families, he didn’t need to look, he could smell it, San Paro instincts picking up easily on lives too hard to be honest and easy enough to be guilt-free.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket for the fifth time since he’d sat down and contemplated Megan’s number. There were better places he could be if he hadn’t locked himself into this crusade.

He sighed, put his phone away again and returned to watching the pub, flipping up his collar against the incessant rain.

Last orders came and went with cold, wet indifference, but the lights in the pub stayed on and bus after scarlet bus swept past Derek’s huddled form with no more than a curious glance and a shrug from the driver. It was a quarter to two in the morning when the door opened again, spewing drunkards on the pavement in a clutter of staggering, song and professions of endearment. A brief scuffle broke out under a flickering orange street lamp, but differences were swiftly put aside when a tall, broad figure blocked the light from the pub doorway before stepping down into the street.

“S’alright, Jacob,” and “G’night Jacob” answered the big man’s unspoken question before the scrappers wove off into the night. The tall man shook his head and gave an amused snort, then started to pick his own way home. Jacob Carlyle. He had the same high cheekbones, the same square, clean-shaven jaw as his brother, but was a few inches taller, a little broader across the shoulders.

“Good-looking fucking family,” Derek muttered through clenched, chattering teeth as he rose from the slick plastic bench and followed him, keeping his collar high and his steps soft.

Jacob’s route home took a short-cut across a muddy, pitted lawn and between two plainly derelict houses. Derek quickened his pace, hoping to catch him before he reached the other side, but he’d left too much space between them to easily close the gap. Instead, he stepped into the illuminated pool beneath a street light and yelled “Oi!”

Looking over his shoulder, the elder Carlyle’s face lit up, a huge grin plastering over his face. “Wotcha! Didn’t expect to see you ‘ere!” Derek strode across the grass to meet him, smiling back, right hand reaching beneath his jacket. The tall man’s brow creased into a drunken frown, something puzzling him, nagging at his befuddled brain. “What’s up with you, then?”

Derek pulled his left hand from his pocket, taking off the dark glasses that were nearly blinding him here, out of range of the glaring orange sodium lamps. A grin, a brief, reassuring snatch of eye-contact and the fizzing sound of the stun gun as the twin bolts hooked into Jacob’s stomach. He kept the juice on a bit longer than he probably needed. The guy was big, Derek told himself, and he had to be sure.

That, and the warm glow of satisfaction chased the cold and the damp from his bones. “C’mon, big fella.” He bent down, hauling one of Jacob’s arms up and over his shoulder. “You and I are going to have a nice… long… chat. Somewhere a bit more private. About that brother of yours.” He started to drag the senseless man along the path. “Sorry you had to be involved, but don’t worry. At least you won’t mind the hangover tomorrow.”

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