Blitz represents Ken Bruen at his edgy, lethal, and sharp-tongued best, and will reward fans of his Jack Taylor novels with another astonishing, smart, and brutal vision from a writer rapidly becoming one of the best of his generation.
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By Ken Bruen
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2002 Ken Bruen
All rights reserved.
THE PSYCHIATRIST STARED at Brant. All round the office were signs that thanked you for not smoking.
The psychiatrist wore a tweed jacket with patches on the sleeves. He had limp, fair hair that fell into his eyes, thus causing him to flick it back every few seconds. This doctor was convinced he had Brant's measure.
He was wrong.
'Now, Sergeant, I'd like you to tell me again about your violent urges.'
For the interview, Brant had dressed down. Beaten bomber jacket, blue jeans on their last wash, a pair of Dockers he'd bought in New York. He hadn't shaved and this gave his granite face a blasted sheen. Now, he reached in his jacket, extracted a pack of Weights and a Zippo. The lighter was as worn as Brant but barely legible was the inscription:
Brant, smiling at the memory, cranked it. A cloud of smoke rose.
The doctor said,
'Sergeant, I must insist you extinguish that.'
Brant took a particularly deep drag. The type thatsucked your cheeks till you resembled a skull. Blowing out, he said,
'And you'll do what exactly if I don't ... arrest me?'
The doctor sighed, made a note on Brant's chart. He was using a heavy, gold Schaeffer, proud of its splendour, said,
'This doesn't help your case, Sergeant.'
Brant smiled, said,
'Yeah, it says a lot about you.'
In spite of himself, the doctor asked,
'Oh, really? Pray tell.'
'That you like a solid phallic symbol in your fingers.'
Almost rising to the bait, the doctor managed to rein in, said,
'Sergeant, I'm not sure you realise the gravity of your situation. My report will be a major factor in whether you remain in the Force.'
Brant shot to his feet, startling the doctor, leaned over the desk, said,
'You're a little jumpy there, Doc.'
'I must insist you re-take your seat.'
Brant moved closer, one knee up on the desk, said,
'Thing is Doc, if I get bounced, I'm fucked. This is the only work I can do. So, if I'm out, I'm sure I'd lose it big time and do something truly reckless.'
The doctor, as part of his internship, had spent six months attached to an asylum for the criminally insane.He'd gone eyeball to eyeball with some of the most dangerous people on the planet.
Up close and almost personal.
None of them had scared him the way Brant's eyes were scaring him now. He stammered,
'Are ... are you threatening ... me ...?'
Brant seemed to consider, appeared to back off, looking almost sheepish.
The doctor, sensing victory, near shouted,
'I should think not.'
Then Brant lunged, nutted him. The top of Brant's head connecting with the bridge of the doctor's nose, back he went, chair and all. Brant swung down off the top, came round the desk, pulled open a bottom drawer, said,
'I knew it!'
Pulled out a bottle of Glenfiddich, two glasses. Grabbing the doc by the lapel of his jacket, he pulled him up, righted the chair, said,
'Get a grip, for fuck's sake.'
Poured two hefty wallops, shoved a glass into the doc's hand, said,
'Get that down you.'
The doctor did.
The booze hit him almost as hard as the nut. Brant poured an even greater dose, said,
'Now you're cooking.'
The doctor, born to an upper middle-class west London family, educated at the best schools, had never been physically struck in his life. As President of the Cambridge Debating Society, he'd flirted with verbal aggression. But among his own kind. In the asylums of his training, he'd had the backup of:
And, of course, the ultimate leveller — Thorazine.
Sure, driving his Bentley, he'd experienced mild road-rage and a woman, behind the safety of her windscreen, had once even mouthed,
Now, he was in psychic shock, took the second drink like an automaton, drank it down. Brant stretched over, fixed his tie, straightened his lapels, said,
'Sure, look at you, you're a new man.'
He let himself out of the office without a backward glance. He'd left the Glenfiddich, perched centre desk, the cap on the blotter. The receptionist smiled and Brant said,
'He's asked not to be disturbed for the next hour.'
She gave an understanding nod, said,
'Poor lamb, he works too hard.'
Brant considered asking her for a ride but she looked the deep type. She'd have issues and want to talk after.
He hated that.
Outside, he went to a phone kiosk, rang CIB. The police who police the police, bottom feeders. Brant said:
'Could I speak to DI Crest?'
'Sir, I hate to rat out a fellow officer ...'
Brant knew what was coming.
'It's not ratting out. We're all on the same side. CIB are not the enemy, so you're only doing your duty.'
'That's how I see it, sir. Doctor Hazel, our shrink ... he's drinking on the job. Even as we speak, he's sloshing malted like a wino.'
'And your name, officer?'
And he rang off. The kiosk, of course, was awash with hooker advertisements. Every service available to man or beast. One:
'Madam with whip expertise
requires strong male for
He liked the sound of that, could hear the theme ofRawhide in his head. He jotted down the details with his newly acquired, heavy, gold Schaeffer.
PC McDonald had attempted to shaft Brant on more than one occasion. When word got out that he'd shopped Hazel — and word always got out — McDonald would be shunned. As Brant put the pen in his jacket, he said
There was a sense of things gone stale — the half trays of doughnuts and cakes, the air in the living room where people had been smoking all day. During the morning and early afternoon there'd been a quiet and communal air of both grief and love, but by the time Dave got back, it had turned into something colder, a kind of withdrawal maybe, the blood beginning to chafe with the restless scrape of chairs and the subdued goodbyes.
THE DAY ROBERTS' wife died, he was getting a bollocking from his Superintendent.
The Super, nibbling on a rich tea biscuit, said between bites:
'Brant is for the high jump.'
Roberts' managed to inject just enough cheek to pass muster.
'And I blame you, Roberts.'
'How many times did I tell you to reign him in?'
'Many ... many times ... sir.'
Now the Super caught the tone, shouted:
'I don't care for your manner, laddie.'
That's when the phone rang. The Super snapped up the receiver, barked:
The expression on his face changed and he glanced at Roberts, said,
Roberts felt ice along his spine.
The Super said,
'Take a seat, Chief Inspector.'
The use of the title warned Roberts it was going to be rough. The Super pulled open a drawer, a replica of the one belonging to Brant's doctor. Even the bottle was a twin. And of course, the requisite two glasses. He poured near Irish measures, pushed one across, said,
'Drink that like a good man.'
Roberts did. He didn't want to ask, wanted to postpone whatever was coming. The whiskey kicked like a mugger. Warmth invaded his stomach. The Super said,
'There's been some bad news.'
'Your wife ...'
The Super couldn't recall her name so plunged on. 'She's been in a car accident.'
'Is it serious?'
Roberts stared at his empty glass. The Super leant over, added a fresh jolt. Roberts asked,
'How did it happen?'
'She was rear-ended in Dulwich. Killed instantly.'
Roberts walloped down the drink, shuddered and said,
'Maggie Thatcher lived down the road.'
'Yeah, she put property values through the roof. My mortgage is a killer.'
Then, realising what he'd said, he gave a bleak smile.
The Super stood, said,
'We'll get you home. Your son will have to be told.'
'Yes, your boy?'
'I have a daughter.'
"Course you do, my memory is not the machine it was. Let's get you going, eh?'
While not quite being the bum's rush, it was in the neighbourhood. The Super came round the desk, put a hand around Roberts' shoulders. Roberts said,
'I could go another round of that malt.'
'Better not, laddie. Alcohol on an empty stomach and all that.'
Roberts got to his feet, staggered, said,
'I never liked her, you know?'
The Super wanted him out and now, said,
'It's shock, Chief Inspector, you don't mean that.'
As roaring alcohol does, it turns nasty as quick as benevolent. Belligerence clouded Roberts' face and he near shouted: 'Listen up, you prick. Christ, you're so used to barking orders, you never hear anybody. I loved her, I just never liked her.'
The Super, stunned at the verbal attack, tried not to react, said in the voice 'the manual' suggested for such circumstances:
'I'm going to forget that last outburst. We'll put it down to trauma.'
A knock on the door. The Super said,
PC McDonald, gorgeous as ever, entered. He took, as Woody Allen says,
He was the Super's new hatchet boy. Though from Glasgow, he managed to convey the culture of Edinburgh. That is, he'd ironed out the creases so his accent resembled Sean Connery's burr. Recently, his carelessness had nearly cost WPC Falls her life. He knew that Brant knew that. More than ever, in collusion with the Super, he hoped to shaft:
The Scottish Tourist Board.
The Super said,
'Constable, please see to it that the Chief Inspector gets home and stay with him.'
Inwardly he sighed. Babysitting that git did not come into his plans. He led Roberts outside, where a Volvo was waiting. Roberts said,
'A bloody Volvo!!
'Car pool is tight today, sir.'
Got Roberts in the back and slid behind the wheel. Adjusted the mirror so he could get a good look. Didn't much stomach what he saw. A dowdy officer, looking like he'd done a month's night duty on the Railton Road. Roberts asked,
'Got a cigarette?'
'Don't smoke, sir.'
'Me neither, but what the fuck has that to do with anything?'
I don't know what all the fuss is about Fred Astaire's dancing. I did the same thing, in high heels and backwards.
PC FALLS WAS attempting to re-touch her roots. Not her hair, her heritage. Reared in Brixton, she'd been proud of her colour.
Black was beautiful.
...and she'd begun to lose it.
The foundations of her confidence had eroded. Not without reason. The death of her father, the loss of a pregnancy, suicide of her best friend, indebtedness to Brant and her flirtation with alcoholism.
Who wouldn't be hurting and badly?
Of all the loss, in truth, she most missed herself. At a recent knees-up Brant, in his bastardised Irish fashion, had played Van Morrison. That Belfast dude knew about ghettos. She'd been mesmerised.
Brant had said,
'Van's the man.'
But Brant knew he'd struck a chord. Gave her the wolfsmile, all teeth and malevolence. Thus she'd boughtAstral Weeks. In an attempt to re-black, she'd bought:
Me Against the World
the huge selling platinum albums by Tupac Shakur. Then, on the news, she'd seen teenage members of The West Side Boyz Militia with '2 Pac' on their T-shirts. She checked him out and found that he'd been a hot actor and was murdered after a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas. In Brixton Market, she'd bought a framed picture of him to put on her shelf. Wasn't doing the job though.
Recently, she'd taken the Sergeant's exam. Brant had said,
'You're a shoo-in. The fucks won't flunk a black chick.'
Mind you, it was nothing compared to names he'd called her in the past.
A WPC from Asia passed so The Guardian wouldn't be revving up. What Falls had done was call Porter Nash. An openly gay sergeant, he was her new best friend. He'd answered with:
'Porter, it's Falls.'
'I failed the exam.'
'Can you help me?'
'With what, hon?'
'A night out.'
'Thanks, Porter. I want to get legless.'
She'd never had it.
'There's a pub near Warwick Square, right by Paddington Station called The Sawyers Arms. Meet you there at eight.'
She visualised the map, then,
'That's west London.'
'So? You need to circulate.'
She injected whine and cred into her voice, an impressive feat, said,
'It's not my manor. Wot dey say to a black girl from Brixton?'
He laughed, a warm sound, said,
'It's Paddington, they do black.'
Reverting to her own voice, she said,
'But they do to blacks ... what?'
'My bleeper's going, dress hot ... we're clubbing.'
When he'd been assigned to her nick, word preceded him. His rep was good: 'street cop', the best recommendation. But larger than that, he was gay; that he'd risen to sergeant was a bloody miracle. The day of his arrival, graffiti appeared on the toilet walls.
Porter Nash sucks cocks
In the gents and ladies.
What the liberals term 'Informed discrimination'.
The canteen was jammed for the first coffee break. No one was going to miss this. Even Gladys, the tea lady, was a-tingle. When Porter arrived, a hush fell. He'd gone to the counter, got a tea and two sugars. What the cops called 'a Sid Vicious'. They'd all seen Sid and Nancy. Gary Oldman, wrecked on every chemical known to man, shouts at his record company rep, who had asked what he wanted:
'Cup a tea, yah cunt ... and two sugars.'
Gladys admired Porter's courtesy. His lovely voice, saying:
And wonders, 'Thank you'.
She said to her husband later,
'Say what you like but them 'nancy boys' have lovely manners.'
After Porter had his tea, he stood and moved to leave. All eyes on him, he turned at the door, said,
'Even I'd draw the line at blowing Brant.'
Then rapturous applause and howls of approval.
He was in.
One of the best things about being 42 rather than 14 is that you don't spend your life in a constant sweat about how scary sex and men are.
THE ARRANGEMENTS FOR Mrs Roberts were fast and cheap. Roberts was in serious financial shit and had settled for a Croydon cremation. The most expensive item was the urn. Brant had driven him over there. No other officer attended, mainly because they weren't told. Even Falls had got the message:
'You're not welcome.'
The crematorium was a nondescript building near the Mecca Bingo. As Brant and Roberts entered, a couple were coming out with their urn. Brant said,
'Business is brisk.'
Roberts didn't answer, a wave of nausea hit him and he put out a hand to touch the wall. Brant got him a chair, produced a hip flask, said,
'Get that down yah.'
It burned like a bastard. He said,
'I don't know can I go through with this.'
'You'll be okay, it's over in jig time.'
'You think I should have gone for a burial?'
'No, it's all the same deal. You're saving a few bob, she'd be glad.'
'My daughter wouldn't come.'
'She's shacked up with an Asian guy in Coldharbour Lane.'
Brant knew a great joke involving curry but felt he might hold on to it. A man emerged from an office, approached, said,
'We're ready for you, Mr Roberts.'
They entered a small room. There was a row of pews and what appeared to be a miniature assembly line. A coffin was placed on it, near smothered in white roses. Roberts asked,
'Who got the flowers?'
Brant near smiled, said,
'Guy on the stalls in Streatham owed me a favour; does a clean line in the fruit and veg.'
In fact, he'd also sent over a dozen pineapples but the crematorium caretaker had had those away. A tape began to play; it sounded like a Welsh choir-gone-boy band. Obviously well used, as it skipped in parts, startling the listener. Brant said,
'Me, I like a nice Moody Blue.'
The attendant began to remove the flowers and signalled: 'It's time.'
Brant nudged Roberts, said,
'Couple of last words, guv.'
Roberts couldn't move so Brant led him over, took his hand and placed it on the coffin. The wood felt warm. Roberts tried to speak but no words came. Brant said,
'We'll miss you, love.'
And they stepped back.
A muted whirring and the casket began to move. A steel shutter opened in the wall, a red glow momentarily visible, then the coffin was gone. Tears slid down Roberts' cheeks. Brant took his arm, said,
'We'll wait outside.'
The attendant showed them into an office and withdrew. Brant produced the flask, said,
'We'll get legless today.'
Roberts nodded, drank deep. Brant produced his packet of Weights and the Zippo. Cranked up. His brand of cigarettes were getting harder to find. Now he had to travel to the West End for them, ordering a month's supply each visit. The proprietor had said,
'You'll need to change, soon they'll be unavailable.'
Normally, Brant leaned a little on shopkeepers. More out of habit than need. But West End guys answered to a different drummer. He'd taken his supply, paid in full. Boy, he hated to shell out top whack for anything, felt it blunted his edge. He'd have to find an angle on this guy but hadn't found it yet. Not unduly worried, sooner or later he got them all by the balls. Roberts said,
'Gimme one of those.'
'Come on, Brant, one cigarette won't kill me.'
'They're kind of strong, guv.'
'Give me the bloody thing.'
Brant fired him up, expecting Roberts to erupt in a fever of coughing and spittle.
Excerpted from Blitz by Ken Bruen. Copyright © 2002 Ken Bruen. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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