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Here's the next excerpt from the book.
All the best
Patrick Newell sat alone in a cavernous pub on the Holloway Road. The pint glass in front of him still held two fingers of Kronenberg. Face-up on the table was a cheap pay-as-you-go Nokia, which he glanced at frequently. He had taken off his dove grey suede gloves, and slung them onto his leather briefcase. His dark cashmere coat was draped over the chair next to him. Snowflakes had melted into water beads on the surface of the fabric. Each time the double doors of the pub opened, a blast of freezing air blew in. People left swaddled against the cold, umbrellas at the ready, or entered pink-cheeked and foot-stamping into the sudden warmth. A couple of overly made-up girls perched at the bar whispering and giggling together. They were looking his way, eyes like crocodiles’.
Paddy was used to the admiring glances of women. In his forties, he was tall and athletic with patrician features. The cast of his face promised strength of character and high intelligence. Perhaps of more interest to the girls was the stamp of money. He wore a dark blue suit which looked black in the dimness and a creamy white shirt open at the neck. The fabric, the clean lines and the hand stitching were all hallmarks of bespoke tailoring.
His iPhone vibrated in his inside jacket pocket. He looked at the screen. It was Diana. He sent the call to voicemail. Moments later it beeped. He tapped in the voicemail code and put the phone to his ear to listen to her message. ‘Darling, I’m looking forward to seeing you tonight. Pick me up at eight? If the children weren’t with me, I’d summon you early for... well, it wouldn’t be polite to say. Call me. Bye.’ He put the phone back into his inside pocket. Diana, so groomed, so polished, so well-preserved. So fucking tedious. He took the last sip of his lager.
His iPhone rang again. The screen flashed ‘Lorena’. He hesitated, thumb hovering. He took the call.
‘Be quick, Lola. I’m busy with Phase Two.’
‘Come and see me. Tonight. At eight o’clock.’
‘I won’t be able to stay long. I’ve got a date with…’
‘I don’t care. Bring me cigarettes.’
‘Fucksake, Lorena, you’re pregnant.’
‘Bring them. If I go out in the snow, I may slip and who knows what will happen?’
Irritation bubbled across his chest. ‘Fine. I’ll see you later.’
He replaced the phone in his pocket. A spotty youngster began collecting glasses from the tables around him. Paddy glanced at his watch. He wanted to signal the boy for another pint, but thought better of it. Dritton had assured him he’d be on time. The cheap Nokia on the table beeped. About time. He put the little phone into his trouser pocket and scanned the room. He made eye contact with a stocky bearded man in a green ski jacket leaving the pub. He donned his coat and put on the gloves.
He extracted a small black umbrella from his briefcase. It unfurled with a snap at the click of a button on the handmade wooden handle. Once outside, he held it low over his face, to shield him from the weather and from CCTV. Only Dritton’s legs were visible, scurrying against the wind. Paddy kept his distance, but followed him down the Holloway Road. He took a left into Drayton Park Road and continued to march for a few minutes, then turned into a residential street flanked on either side by ugly beige terraced houses. The streetlights threw down orange patches of light onto the snow. Paddy kept his head well beneath the umbrella’s canopy. Dritton picked his way carefully through the snow, and placed a lone Yale key onto the gatepost of No. 27 without stopping or turning around. He continued on his way and turned right into a side road, disappearing from view. Paddy picked up the key and let himself into the house.
The house was in complete darkness, as cold inside as out. Paddy kept his coat and gloves on. He tried the switch in the hallway. Nothing. He reached into his pocket for a zippo. The click was loud in the hush and a faint reek of lighter fuel merged with the damp and stale cigarette smoke. The hallway was awash with junkmail which had been kicked here and there to unblock the door. Some of the envelopes bore footprints and were stuck to the floor. Holding the zippo aloft, he passed the staircase and put his head around the door of the living room, which was empty except for a mouldy sofa and a broken TV set on the floor. He wrinkled his nose at the smell of damp and neglect. He tried the light switch. Still nothing.
The kitchen was long and narrow, with fitted cabinets above a formica counter on one wall. Two of the cabinet doors hung from their hinges and one of the doors was missing, like a gap in a row of teeth. A small wooden table was pushed against the far wall, flanked by two formica chairs. On the table were a candle and a couple of boxes of matches, blobs of wax and a chipped saucer full of cigarette butts. Spent matches lay in disarray over the table top. More burnt matches and the odd squashed butt lay scattered on the floor. Paddy lit the candle and was about to sit down when he stopped himself and reached into his pocket for a handkerchief. He wiped the seat and the back of the chair first. As he waited, he opened one of the matchboxes. Amongst the dead matches was one with a whole maroon head. He took off his glove and struck it against the abrasive strip. The head disintegrated pathetically, leaving a red smear on the side of the box. He dropped it on the floor where it joined its dead fellows. He put his glove back on and continued to wait.
The front door opened and Dritton came in, quickly shutting the door. He swore softly and blew air from his cheeks like a bellows. He stomped his feet on the floor, scattering snow all over the sea of junkmail. He paused for a moment when he saw Paddy’s dark shape behind the candle, then resumed his footstamping, and made his way into the kitchen. He pushed back the hood of his jacket to reveal thick dark hair which shone in the candlelight. The English winter had touched his olive skin with a pale yellow pastiness. His face was rescued from prettiness by a hooked nose that had been broken more than once, and an ingrained frown line, which was clean and straight, like a knife mark in pastry.
‘Dritton!’ said Paddy. He stood up. The two men gave each other an awkward bear hug. ‘It’s good to see you.’
‘Nice place you have here, I must say.’
‘Would you prefer to meet at your house?’
The corners of Paddy’s mouth twitched. Dritton reached into his inside pocket and brought out a packet of cigarettes. He offered the pack to Paddy, who shook his head.
Dritton lit the cigarette in the flame of the candle and took a deep drag.
‘In my country a house like this would not go to waste.’
‘Still homesick? It’s funny. You lot love your country so much you’ll do anything for it. Except live there.’
‘We’re free of Albania now. I’ll go back soon.’
Paddy was about to say ‘And I’m the tooth fairy,’ but thought better of it. Dritton was touchy about the strangest things. Inside, he had pasted an Irishman who had said he’d ‘fuck his flat-faced peasant grandmother for a penny.’
‘I saw Fevze quite recently,’ he said instead.
‘You have seen Fevze?’ Dritton said in surprise.
‘Oh yes. I’ve done a bit of work for him.’
‘What kind of work?’
‘You know. Bits and pieces.’
‘And you want me to do something for you?’
‘Yup. I need you to take care of someone.’ Paddy had seen at close quarters over an extended time how meticulous Dritton was. ‘I’m trusting you as a friend that you’ll be professional about it.’
‘Please,’ said Dritton, with a pained expression, as if insulted. He dragged so deeply on his cigarette that it crackled. ‘Who is it?’
Paddy brought out some photographs from an envelope in his briefcase and handed them over. Dritton studied the top photo, a head and shoulders shot of a man in his fifties smiling directly at the camera. The picture could have come from a corporate brochure, despite his weatherbeaten skin. The next picture was of the same man dressed more casually with a drink in his hand, smiling at someone unseen. The third was a holiday snap, which showed him tanned and bare-chested, holding up a large fish by the tail. In all of the photos, he looked happy, despite the lines on his face.
‘He came to see you in prison,’ said Dritton.
‘Yes. His name is David Grahame,’ said Paddy.
Dritton continued to flick through the photographs, cigarette still in hand. He stopped to study one in particular, in which the subject had his arm around a tall blonde woman leaning into him. Dritton narrowed his eyes as he puffed on his cigarette. He studied the woman then looked appraisingly at Paddy before resuming his inspection of the pictures.
‘Your sister’s husband?’
Paddy didn’t respond. ‘All the information you need is in here,’ he said, handing over the envelope. ‘Where he lives, where he works, his daily habits. Everything. It could look like a mugging. He walks to work most mornings when it’s still dark and it would be simple...’ Dritton put his hand up, as if for silence.
‘Do you care how it is done?’
‘No. So long as it’s not traced back to me.’
‘You have nothing to fear. What about timing? It’s a problem for you?’
‘Within a month. The end of the month would be best.’ Lorena had just had her twelve week scan, but he needed a bit of extra time to sort out one or two loose ends.
‘You have the money?’
Paddy picked up his briefcase and brought out an A4 bubble wrapped envelope sealed with duct tape. He handed it over. ‘Half now and half when the job is done. As agreed.’
Dritton took the envelope. ‘I will not insult you by counting, my friend.’
Paddy laughed. ‘Go ahead and count. Trust, but verify. It’s a good principle to live by.’
Dritton shook his head and stood up, tucking the envelope under his arm. ‘The key, please,’ he asked.
Paddy handed over the single Yale key. ‘Is that it, then?’
‘Yes. Just one more thing. You must be sure. After tonight, there is no stopping this.’
‘I’m sure,’ said Paddy. He blew out the candle and sparked up his zippo to light the way to the front door. The two men were about to leave the house together. Dritton turned around and raised his hand. ‘I go first. You wait.’
‘Hold on. I’m the one paying.’
Dritton shrugged. ‘As you wish.’
He stood aside to allow Paddy to slip out of the door, then quickly shut it against the icy wind. Paddy had his umbrella ready, and took a different route back to the Holloway Road. He flagged a cab down and gave Lorena’s address in St. John’s Wood. He’d pick up the blasted cigarettes on the way.
Dritton Zladko waited in the darkness after Paddy left. Just as he was about to leave, he remembered that he’d brought new candles. He made his way back to the kitchen and lit the candle on the table with a cheap yellow bic lighter that he had in his pocket. He dug into his other pocket and pulled out a new box of white candles and two boxes of matches and put them into one of the kitchen drawers. He took a last look around to see if he’d forgotten anything.
He hadn’t thought it possible, but the damp had worsened. It was strange the neighbours didn’t complain to the council. Perhaps they had. The council was useless. The house was solid, with good foundations and well-proportioned rooms. It could be fixed up nicely and sold for a profit. He shrugged at the waste. In his country every room would be full, all generations thrown together, children falling asleep where they dropped. When he had enough money together, he’d go back. He missed his wife. His sons were growing up without him. His brother had no work. ‘I will be a father to your children,’ he had told Dritton, as if that were a comfort. His brother was an idiot. His sister’s husband had left her with two small children. His mother was getting too old to be much help. What a difference he could make with a little more money. Only a fraction of the cash in Paddy’s envelope would come to him. He answered to Fevze, Fevze answered to Almas. Who Almas answered to, Dritton did not know.
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