When the brutally murdered body of a Manchester drug dealer is found dumped just inside the Lancashire border, it turns out that the dead man had been a CID informant working for a small nucleus of corrupt detectives. Then a high-profile trial of a Manchester gangster collapses in disarray, amid accusations of police misconduct.Thrust into the investigation of the drug dealer's death is DCI Henry Christie, recently returned to work after a period of suspension. Hoping for a gentle re-entry into the job, Christie is instead plunged headlong into a complex murder investigation which has far-reaching consequences for the police service...
About the Author
the well-reviewed author of several crime novels, including The Last Big Job, A Time for Justice, One Dead Witness and Nightmare City Backlash is his first novel for Severn House..
Read an Excerpt
Big City Jacks
By Nick Oldham
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2005 Nick Oldham
All rights reserved.
Keith Snell was on the run.
In the grand scheme of things, the £25K in wads of cocaine-tainted notes stuffed untidily into the cheap blue sports bag by the side of the bed was insignificant. But it was enough for someone to want him dead. It did not take a mastermind to work that one out. He had been given the chance, pretended to heed the warning, made all the right conciliatory noises, then blown it when faced with the cash. He could not bear to let go of it because he was greedy, poor and wanted it for himself.
As he lay there in the dank guest-house bedroom, he was sweating profusely, even though he was on top of the wire-framed bed, legs splayed, dressed only in grubby, once-white Y-fronts. The transom window was slightly open, allowing a chilly early morning breeze to waft through the curtains over his skin, but it did not help cool him down.
He laid the ice-cold barrel of the sawn-off shotgun across his chest. This made him shiver, but not from cold – from fear.
It was a side-by-side double-barrelled 12-bore, loaded, safety off. He kept his forefinger away from the triggers knowing they were extra-sensitive. He'd done the work on the trigger spring himself and did not want any accidents. He had taken the gun on the last two armed robberies he'd pulled, neither of which had gone to plan. From one he'd had to leg it empty-handed – bad planning – and from the other he'd got just short of four hundred quid (bad planning again: his information had been there was four grand for the taking) and had almost blown his foot off into the bargain.
He had not been a good armed robber, nor a particularly competent thief, not really having the necessary psychological make-up for either. That was why he hung up the shotgun and went into drugs. The robbery and thieving only paid for his habit anyway. His short-sighted strategy had been to offer his services to a dealer – which, he reckoned, would be a nice, easy way to keep close to the scene, get paid for being a gofer, and feed his addiction without putting himself in constant danger of being arrested seven days a week for being such a useless crim.
What he had not bargained for was his own greed.
He had started to come into regular contact with lots of cash and drugs.
At first he fought his inner demons, but it was a losing battle. In truth he should never have allowed himself to look into the packages he was entrusted to deliver. But he had.
It was the last one that had been his downfall.
Twenty-five thousand pounds. More money than he had ever seen or handled in his life. An amount that could change his life, he believed. Mere pocket money to the parasites he was working for, but to him it was a lottery win. The difference between living hand to mouth and the good life.
What he should have done with the package then was deliver it. Easy. If only he had not looked. If only he had not unzipped the bag, stuck his hand in like it was a tombola and drawn out a handful of cash prizes. But he had done, and then he was hooked by the sight, feel and rustle of bundles of notes. And instead of putting them back in and forgetting what he had seen, and going on to his destination, he had landed back at his flat – almost in a trance – and counted it. When his girlfriend came in, he recounted it in front of her.
Twenty-five thousand pounds. Exactly. Maybe drugs debts, maybe purchase money, he didn't have a clue. All he knew was that it was untraceable and it was in his possession.
Grace was his girlfriend's name. He loved her and she was his world. She was thin and bony, with self-inflicted tattoos on her knuckles and suicide scars on her wrists. She was as much of an addict as him. They shot up together regularly, sharing the warmth and tranquillity of a heroin trip between themselves. Yes, he loved Grace. She was his soul mate and normally he went along with her.
Not this time.
'Yeah, luvverly,' she said worriedly in her rasping, smoke-roughened voice, clearly unimpressed by the sight of the cash. Even though she was an addict and a thief – a very slick shoplifter – she could see the glaring error of her boyfriend's intentions. 'And now you've counted it, go and take it, every last note of it, to who it belongs to.'
'What?' he said in disbelief.
'You cannot even think about keeping it, Keith. No way. You know that, don't you?'
He stared blankly at her while she expertly did a roll-up and lit the thin stick of tobacco. She flicked her flaky hair off her forehead.
'Yeah, yeah, guess you're right.' He sighed wistfully.
'Keith,' she said firmly, not taken in by his response, 'you don't take that money where it belongs, they'll kill you.' She was scarily matter of fact. 'Or worse,' she added.
He re-zipped the sports bag with a heavy heart, thinking, 'One hundred quid, a ton, that's all I'll end up with.' He said nothing more to Grace and left the flat as though he had heeded her eminently sensible instructions.
Back on the street, his face turned into an angry snarl at the thought of the unfairness of it all.
The money, he decided, was now his.
Two days later, they found him and grabbed him. Obviously the word was out and everyone was looking for him. Fortunately he had stashed the cash safe and sound round at a mate's house.
When he came in front of them, they were remarkably reasonable about things. They did not attempt to break anything of his, such as his legs or head. Instead they cocked a listening and sympathetic ear to Keith's tale of woe and weakness and gave him the chance to go and retrieve the money, although they did warn him in no uncertain terms of the consequences of not having it all back to them within eight hours.
Foolishly, Keith perceived this as a failing on their part.
When they let him go in one piece he could not believe his luck. He had no intention of returning the money. Empty threats, he thought. They have no bottle this lot, he thought. All bark, no bite.
It was the condition in which he discovered Grace ten hours later that made him change his mind and plans.
She was in the council flat, lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of spreading blood. Her left forearm was twisted out at an obscene angle, the splintered and jagged end of a broken bone jutting out through the skin. She had been hammered remorselessly with baseball bats or iron sticks and when she had gone down, succumbed to the blows, they had kicked her and stomped on her, making a terrible mess of her frail body. She was conscious when Keith found her, blood-filled eyes fluttering but vacant. She rallied briefly and was able to whisper Keith's name and look sadly at him before closing her eyes and exhaling as though it was her final breath.
As much as Keith adored her in his own way, he wasn't going to hang around. It looked as though her attackers had only just gone, and could be back at any time. Keith was intelligent enough to make the connection to himself and he had no intention of again coming face to face with the people he had ripped off. He knew that he would not be so lucky as to walk away again. He had to run ... and he had the money to do it with.
After collecting a hidden stash of heroin, he left the flat and sneaked nervously down shadow-laden stairwells, crept along needle-littered balconies and emerged unscathed on to the streets below.
Keith had never been so utterly terrified in his life before. He had gone a mile on foot before stopping at a piss-filled phone box and dialling treble nine for an ambulance for Grace. He refused the kind request to leave his name and contact number. At the end of the call, he hung up with a heavy feeling in the gut: he doubted that even the best paramedic in the world would be of much use to Grace now. At least he had tried, which was the main thing. He knew she would understand, wherever she was. He wiped a tear away and turned his mind to more pressing matters.
The retrieval of the money and some form of protection were the next priorities. Then he needed to get some breathing space so he could have time to work out exactly what he was going to do with his life and his newly acquired wealth. The only thing he knew for sure was he had to leave the city and never return. The streets of Manchester would never be a safe refuge for him again.
His friend, Colin the Commando, with whom he had stashed the cash, lived on a housing estate about three miles away.
The big, burning questions for Keith at that point were – how much did they know about him? Did they know of Colin, his mate? What, if anything, had Grace blabbed?
He was under no illusions. They would have tortured the poor cow. So Keith knew he had to work fast and put some real distance between him and them, keep a step ahead and get the hell out of the city.
Three miles on the hoof would take too long. He needed transport.
Keeping to the dark spaces, Keith spent several valuable minutes in search of a suitable motor.
He found an 'F' registered Ford Escort Fresco that fitted the bill nicely. It was the sort of car that could have been started with a spoon, but Keith used the screwdriver he always carried with him and jammed it into the ignition. Within a minute he was on the road, threading his way through the streets towards Colin's pad.
It was a nightmare journey for him, constantly believing he was being tailed. But he arrived intact and pulled up down the road from Colin's house, which was in a cul-de-sac. He remained in the car for a while, eyes peeled and watchful, his thin-walled heart pounding – for a change – a self-induced drug, adrenaline, through his veins. He pulled out the screwdriver and the engine died. Then he sat there a while longer in the darkened car, watching, waiting. Everything seemed fine. Colin's house looked normal, in as much as a house with a US army tank and a British army Land Rover parked in the front garden could be.
Eventually Keith climbed slowly out of the car, senses pinging with tension, and walked to the front door of the house. He knocked gently, head hunched down between his shoulders. From inside he could hear the sound of a battle raging. He knocked louder and tried the handle, but the door was locked. Annoyance got the better of him then and he hammered on the door until, suddenly, the sound of warfare stopped, the door was unlocked and opened.
In full World War Two battledress, the chubby yet diminutive figure of Keith's best friend, Colin the Commando, stared at him from under the rim of a tin hat.
'No need to knock so bloody loud!'
'Let me in.' Keith shoved past.
'I'm just watching Saving Private Ryan.' Colin locked the front door.
'Fancy that,' Keith said sarcastically. 'That sports bag I left you to look after? I need it.'
'Summat up?' Colin sensed his friend's tension.
'You could say that. Where is it?'
'You OK, pal? You look shell-shocked.'
Keith caught his breath with a stutter, momentarily realizing just how bad things were. 'I need the bag, man ... OK?'
'OK, OK.' Colin saluted, then removed his helmet, revealing his totally bald head. 'Under the sink.' He led Keith through. 'So what's going on? You look like you've shat yourself.'
'You don't need to know, OK?'
'Whatever,' Colin shrugged. He placed his helmet down in a space between ration tins on the draining board, opened the cupboard below and pulled out the sports bag.
'You haven't looked in it, have you?'
Colin the tubby commando shifted uncomfortably. 'You told me not to, so I didn't,' he tried to blag it.
'What's in it?'
Keith opened his mouth, but his proposed little speech about what was and wasn't good for Colin to know was terminated before it began by a pounding on the front door. 'Shit,' he breathed. 'You expecting anyone other than Germans?'
Colin looked towards the front door, then at the ash-grey face of his friend from school days. 'No, I'm not ... but you're in deep shit, aren't you?' he said perceptively.
'Yeah, look pal,' Keith said urgently, 'stall the bastards for me, will ya?'
'Colin? Colin Carruthers?' a harsh voice demanded through the letterbox. 'We need a word, matey.'
'You go out back and leg it ... I'll sort these people out ... go on, shoo, fuck off!' He urged Keith towards the back door.
'Thanks – you're a mate.'
'No sweat.' Colin saluted him again, then said grimly, 'I just hope that twenty-five big uns is worth it.'
The two friends exchanged knowing looks.
'Cunt – you peeked.'
'Yeah, now go,' Colin ordered him with a push, 'and thanks for bringing the heavies to my house.'
'No probs.' As Keith turned towards the back door, a chill of deep fear spread through him faster than Ebola as the voice through the letterbox shouted, 'Colin, we know you're in there. We can hear voices. Open up or we'll kick the fucking door down.' He yanked open the back door and ran into the obstacle course of discarded, rusting army machinery that littered Colin's garden.
Inside, Colin donned his tin hat again and went to the understairs cupboard. He pulled out a Thompson sub-machine gun, strapped the weapon over a shoulder and turned menacingly to the front door, which was now being kicked violently.
'OK, OK,' he shouted and flung open the door, stepping back into a threatening combat stance, Tommy gun at the hip, trained and ready to fire ... except it was empty. 'Right, you mothers,' he screamed, 'what the chuffin' hell do you want?'
There were two men there, hard-looking and eager – but when they saw the gun in Colin's hands, they stopped dead. Their own hands shot up and they backed off warily.
'Whoa ... hold it, pal,' the best-dressed one of the two said. 'Take a chill pill.'
'Why the fuck you tryina knock my door down?' snarled Colin.
Keith jumped and stumbled through Colin's garden, climbed through the broken fence into next door's less cluttered one, and started to run hard. He was not thinking now, just responding to the stimulus, getting as far away from danger as possible. And then his small brain kicked in and directed him back to the stolen Ford Escort parked down the road from Colin's pad. If he could just get back to it, sneak into it, get it going again ... that could put real distance between him and his pursuers.
He fell spectacularly through a hedge and found himself back on the cul-de-sac, only metres away from the car.
Ducking low, he crept round the back of it, down the side and slid into the driver's seat. He kept his head down at the level of the dashboard, one eye on the road, whilst he started to fiddle with the screwdriver. He jammed it back into the ignition and rived it round.
The engine whirred over, died.
Keith cursed desperately.
Down at the gate leading to Colin's house, he saw the dark figure of a man appear and stare in his direction. Keith's head bobbed down out of sight as he fiddled with the screwdriver again.
Once more the engine turned reluctantly. And died.
The man at the gate was peering with more interest towards him.
'Come on, come on,' Keith muttered.
There was a shout. The man at the gate took a few strides in Keith's direction.
He twisted the screwdriver desperately. This time the car started with a backfire and a plume of blue smoke. Ahead, the man stepped into the road and shouted again. He was joined by a second man who vaulted Colin's garden wall. Both then began to hurry towards the car.
Keith rammed it into gear and the old banger lurched.
In the glow of the fluorescent street light, Keith saw both men reach underneath their jackets. At first, his intention had been to mow them down, but as their hands came out with guns, he had an immediate change of heart and courage. He literally stood on the brake and found reverse gear. Within a second the Escort was slewing backwards, picking up speed, the engine and the gearbox screaming in unison as speed increased.
Keith's head swivelled backwards and forwards as he tried to keep an eye on his own rearwards progress and that of the two armed men who were now on their toes.
He saw one raise his gun. There was a crack and a hole appeared in the windscreen, then a whizz as the bullet almost creased his arm and embedded itself somewhere in the back of the car. They were firing at him!
Keith yanked the wheel down and the front of the car spun, tyres squealing. The back tyres smacked on the kerb. He heaved on the steering wheel, wishing he had stolen a car with power steering.
Excerpted from Big City Jacks by Nick Oldham. Copyright © 2005 Nick Oldham. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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