Bedsit. Illuminated by two sources of light. Microwave— pie turning. Television— newsreader at her desk.
Two sources of sound. Microwave whirs. Newsreader speaks.
Whirrrrrrrrrr, “Tax affairs of wealthy Britain’s are coming under scrutiny…”
Bleep, bleep, “…in the wake of revelations in the leaked documents from a Panama law firm.”
Table. Darkened by two objects. Tabloid— headline, ‘Lord Coke: Peer’s Drug Binges with £200 Prostitutes’. And a mask. A black, vaudeville mask.
I nearly died when Drunk Joel hit the jackpot! The noise of the fruit machine, ding-a-linging, coins rattling into the tray; I’d been so in my own head that I nearly had a heart attack!
D.J. did a celebratory jig like Flatley minus the fake tan and costume. But D.J. was now seven pounds richer; maybe he’d invest in a sunbed and sequins.
My drink had cost seven pounds; seven pounds for a Chardonnay in this hideous place! The Blackbirds had always been hideous and a girl should never drink alone, let alone in The Blackbirds, but after tonight…
That’s when I noticed the fingerprints on my glass… bloody fingerprints… I looked at my hands and there was residue on my fingertips… how had I not noticed? This wasn’t an out, damn’d spot nightmare. This was real… the blood of The Pieman.
My TAG, beautiful kettle, said eight minutes past midnight so he was late, eight minutes late, kept me waiting— that’s the trouble with these Etonian cokeheads they think that the world revolves around them but this is my world and if you enter my world then the world doesn’t revolve around you anymore it revolves around me— so don’t be fucking eight minutes late.
But he was, Everhart the Etonian was eight minutes late— I’d been standing in that dark alleyway in all my best clobber, navy Crombie, mohair Paul Smith whistle and flute, tan Ted Baker loafers, for eight minutes and the stink of piss and the bass throb from Zero’s Nightclub was giving me a migraine but business is business and this was where I would conduct my business with Everhart.
A shadow came into the alleyway, it was him, nine minutes past midnight, nine minutes late.
“Hello, Sonny,” plummy prick.
“‘Hello, Sonny’? Is that all that you have to say to me, Everhart?”
“Hello, Sonny… wonderful to see you?”
“‘Hello, Sonny, wonderful to see you?’ Wonderful to see me? If it’s so fucking wonderful to see me then you should have arrived on fucking time, then you would’ve had nine more minutes feeling fucking wonderful.”
For all Everhart’s bunse, he looked shite, matted hair, trampy beard, muddy Barbour— his apologies were amplifying my migraine.
“Business, Everhart,” I said, “business.”
“I want a considerable quantity. For a Pimlico party, Lord–”
“I don’t need to know about your fucking social life, all I need to know is that you have the bangers and mash to purchase the product.”
Everhart nodded and that was all I needed so I walked away, back down the alleyway that I’d entered eleven minutes earlier passed the dumpsters filled with empty WKD bottles from Zero’s— I lit a fag and dragged and as I blew the smoke out it mushroomed like blood in a swimming pool and that’s when I heard the humming, hmmmm hmm hmmmm hmm, humming, hmmmm hmm hmmmm hmm, humming of a nursery rhyme, a memory of a melody lost.
BANG, the first hit was in the back of the head and it wasn’t Everhart, it was an unknown— BANG, blindsided by a second geezer— BANG, on the third hit I bit off my tongue— I was reeling then I saw the third geezer, wearing a black mask, BANG, his punch sent me down, the fall was in Hollywood slowmo but in the eternity before I faceplanted the tarmac, I just couldn’t raise my hands— BANG, black.
I would never wish hurt upon my brother. But Sonny biting off his tongue. Ensured. A little. Peace.
Upstairs, the gastropub was busy. Lunchtime hubbub. Estate Agents and Financial Advisors. Consuming pies, The Maiden Head speciality.
We were downstairs. The vault. Dark, silent, private.
I’d gone all the way to the Middle East to escape the family business. Yet, here I was.
Sitting at the table were Sonny, the eldest, and myself, the youngest.
Fred, the middle brother. Tom, the adopted brother.
At the head of the table, my father. Donald. Sipped his beer. Spoke.
“We are being targeted.”
“We are prey.”
“First, Fred’s drop intercepted.”
Big drop, busted. Fred unscathed. Money, product. Gone.
“Now, Sonny’s mugging.”
“Thy thucking TAG,” Sonny said.
Two grand. Oh Sonny. Tom piped up.
“I can smell a rat, Don.”
“Smell a rat? Tom, this isn’t The Godfather. But, yes, I’ll concede; there may be a rat.”
Knock on the vault door, my father sent Tom.
“The Pieman, Don.”
“Pat him down and let him in, I’m starving.”
The Pieman, Walter, was employed by The Maiden Head at the recommendation of Mr. North, my father’s confidante.
Pieman was the only person trusted in the vault outside of the family. Because as long as he didn’t see our lips moving…
He signed to my father. My father replied in BSL, “yes.”
Pieman slid a Beef and Onion before my father, who continued, aloud.
“After our losses, we cannot afford to forfeit Mr. Everhart’s business. We’ll continue with the drop, midnight on Friday. Sonny will take four men and the product.”
Father gestured to Pieman for another beer, who left the vault to get it.
“Your call, Don,” Tom said, “I gotta get back, I’ll see ya.”
Tom left. Father ate pie. Spoke.
“I have my suspicions. I believe Tom may be a rat.”
“No,” Fred said.
Pieman reappeared with beers.
“Yes. And that’s why Sonny will not be taking the product. Mike will.”
I was surprised. Fred expressed it.
“Mike? Not Sonny?”
“Sonny will drive a car to the drop; if his car is hijacked then we know that Tom is a rat. Mike will follow with a second car, with another four men and the product. If Sonny is hijacked, then the second car provides back-up.”
Pieman handed me a beer.
“Why Mike? He’s never done a drop! Why not me?”
“Fred, you’ve been jumped once. You won’t be involved in this deal,” my father said, “Sonny, go and organise cars and muscle. Fred, have a holiday, Mersea Island perhaps. And show Walter out too.”
Left alone with my father. Silence while he finished his Beef and Onion. Then.
“I have my suspicions. Fred, too, may be a rat.”
I sipped my beer.
“I trust Sonny. He loves talking too much to bite off his own tongue. But Tom and Fred could be snitching.”
I sipped my beer.
“I know that you didn’t wanna be involved in the family business and I didn’t want you to be either. I’m proud that you’ve fought for this country. But now I’m asking you to drive that second car.”
I sipped my beer.
“If the first car, Sonny’s car, is attacked, we know Tom is a rat. If the second car, your car, is attacked, we know Fred is a rat. But you won’t be carrying the product either.”
I finished my beer.
“There will be a third car.”
Speedometer said 60mph, beautiful motor, 7 series Bimmer, if I wasn’t shitting a brick about being carjacked I’d be loving this drive down country lanes towards Everhart’s manor house where we’d make the drop— all this talk about a rat in our midst, couldn’t believe that my old man thought Tom might be one, a rat, but there was no other explanation for Fred being jumped and me being jumped because we kept our cards close to our chests, the Whittenburys— even the muscle in the Bimmer didn’t know where we were going or what we were doing, they just knew it was criminal and they’d brought their shooters but if Tom wasn’t snitching then fuck knows how the geezers that were targeting our operations knew where we’d be and what we were doing.
“Next right, boss,” said the unit in the passenger seat.
I swung onto a narrower lane and saw brake lights of a vehicle ahead— it was stationary, blood started rushing to my brain but it could’ve been some old dear broken down or a family lost on their way to a camping holiday or fucking doggers. But better safe than sorry.
“Gunths out, boyths.”
I slowed to a crawl until I reached the vehicle, it was a Transit and I braked and waited one second, two, three, four then the driver’s door opened, one second, two, three, four.
A man got out who was wearing a black mask and carrying a shotgun— then the back doors of the transit burst off their hinges and soldiers flooded out like it was fucking D-Day.
Tom. The rat.
My first operation in Helmand was…
By my third, I was anaesthetised.
Had to be.
Felt the same as I followed Sonny to the drop.
Sonny’s BMW turned right. Before I reached the turning, a van appeared on the other side of the road. Veered into my path, tyres screaming, blocking my progress.
I slammed the brakes.
“Shoot to wound,” I said to the hired thugs accompanying me in the car.
Pulled my Browning.
Fred must be the rat. My own brother.
Six troops in camo filed out of the van. They moved like military. At the head of their advance was a ghost. Wearing a black vaudeville mask. Could it be Fred? Or were these men just acting on his intel?
I survived the Taliban.
I didn’t want to die on a drop. My first drop. A drop I never wanted to make.
Betrayal by my own brother.
Where was the third car?
As we weaved down the lanes, in the third car, gunshots rang on the air; were we too late? After thirty seconds I saw movement on the road up ahead.
“Stop the car, Officer, kill the headlights,” I said.
In the distance, despite the darkness, I could make out moving silhouettes and two stationary vehicles; was one of the vehicles the second car? Mike’s car?
“Are we doing this ma’am?” one of my Officers said.
“We are doing this, officers,” I replied.
I lay among the dead. Reek of blood, gunfire. Familiar.
My thugs obliterated. Enemy had proved clinical and only sustained two casualties. I was wounded. Artillery graze.
The ghost loomed. He was humming. Hmmmm hmm hmmmm hmm. Humming a nursery rhyme, a memory of a melody. Simple Simon.
I looked up at the mask. Who did it hide?
“Michael, I’m told you’re carrying…”
The ghost’s troops were turning over my car.
“… product,” he said.
A man’s voice. Not Fred’s.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“We killed Sonny’s men too.”
Tom, still implicated.
One of the troops approached.
“There’s nothing in either this car or the first car, sir.”
“Regrettable. Although our operation wasn’t intended to retrieve the product; merely disrupt the pursuits of the Whittenburys.”
The ghost pulled his Glock.
“Who’s the rat? Fred or Tom?” I asked.
“I’ve been listening for months. Listening. Listening to your family’s dealings…”
“Who’s the rat?”
“… selling whores to mayors and cocaine to cabinet ministers…”
“Who’s the rat? Fred or Tom?” I repeated.
“… Lords, paedophile peers, barons, lawyers, junkie judges.”
“Who the fuck is the rat?! Fred or Tom?!”
The ghost lifted the Glock.
Pointed it. At my head.
“I am the rat.”
A bullet tears through flesh.
Like a drop of water through tissue paper.
I’d seen it a hundred times.
A hundred and one.
The third car had arrived.
Blood of The Pieman on my fingertips and my wine glass… It was my dad, Wyatt North, that had told Donald Whittenbury that The Pieman, Walter Clibborn, could be trusted; that he was deaf and mute, therefore the perfect person for the job at The Maiden Head. The Pieman would hear no secrets, speak no secrets… but he did. He was the rat. Fred and Tom innocent.
My mobile rang and I expected it to be Mike confirming the clean-up of Pieman… or the recovery of Sonny, whether he be dead or alive… or the successful drop with Everhart… but it wasn’t Mike. It was a woman’s voice.
“Georgina. Don’t speak. Just listen.”
I drained my wine.
“We know that you executed Clibborn. The man that the Whittenburys called The Pieman.”
I looked at the blood on my fingertips.
“He was a rat. But he wasn’t the rat.”
“What?” I said.
“It’s bigger than The Pieman. We are. The R.A.T.”
Bedsit, no source of light: microwave— dormant, television— off.
Two sources of sound: door opening, footsteps.
Shadow moving though the bedsit. Arriving at the table. The pages of the Tabloid rustle. The black, Vaudeville mask, gone.
Click. Table lamp on.
Illuminating figure: navy Crombie, mohair suit, tan loafers.
Joel Alexander Hodge is a former Rock Star. He hopes that as a writer he will sustain fewer kicks to the teeth (but knows that ain’t true). Rambles on Twitter, if that’s your thang: @joelthetricks