As a New Year begins in Bath, Ben Brace proposes to his long-term girlfriend, Caroline, the daughter of notorious crime baron Joe Irving, who is coming to the end of a prison sentence. The problem is that Ben’s father, George, is the Deputy Chief Constable. A more uncomfortable set of in-laws would be hard to imagine. But mothers and sons are a formidable force: a wedding in the Abbey and reception in the Roman Baths are arranged before the career-obsessed DCC can step in.
Peter Diamond, Bath’s head of CID, is appalled to be put in charge of security on the day. Ordered to be discreet, he packs a gun and a guest list in his best suit and must somehow cope with potential killers, gang rivals, warring parents, bossy photographers and straying bridesmaids. The laid-back Joe Irving seems oblivious to the danger he is in from rival gang leaders, while Brace can’t wait for the day to end. Will the photo session be a literal shoot? Will Joe Irving’s speech as father of the bride be his last words? Can Diamond pull off a miracle, avert a tragedy and send the happy couple on their honeymoon?
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The two short words Warren doesn’t wish to hear: “It’s on.”
“Soon as that?”
“Catch the white-shirts off guard.”
But it isn’t right, not for Warren. It’s wrong, disastrously wrong. He is playing the good-behaviour card this time round in his prison career, working with the system for early release. He’s been one of HMP Bream’s model cons for two long years. Two years, three months and twenty-seven days.
A riot has been talked about for weeks on C wing. Talk is easy. For a time it was no more than that, wishful thinking, like sex with the gorgeous Miss Martindale who teaches black history. But by degrees the chat has got serious. The gorillas on the top landing mean business. “Together we can do this. We outnumber them. They won’t know what’s hit them.”
A plan has been hatched. Nothing brilliant. Grab the screws the moment they unlock, disable their radios and body cameras, drag them into the cells, tie them up and take their passes, keys and pepper spray. Then hold them hostage. At the same time, someone else will be disabling the CCTV. Coordinated action, see?
How stupid was that, saying “Right”?
In this place you get in the habit of agreeing with other people. It’s not clever to challenge anyone. Even so, there are times when you should say, “Count me out.”
No one is under any illusion that possessing the keys will mean instant freedom. The people who designed this coop weren’t amateurs. You can only get so far and then you need different sets of keys and different passes. There is a better way to beat the system and the wise guys upstairs have sussed it. Instead of breaking out, you break in.
First, uncage your brother inmates and you’ll have reinforcements. Strength in numbers. The screws’ master keys will give access to the beating heart of the prison: the association area, servery, workshops, gym and chapel. And improvised weapons. Arm yourselves with whatever comes to hand, like fire extinguishers, socks weighted with pool balls, bits of broken furniture such as iron bedposts and steel rails from bookshelves. There’s talk that one of the gorillas has taken delivery of a gun, carried over the wall by drone. Whether that’s true only he and his inner circle know.
The prison authorities still have the heavy weapons—hoses, tasers, tear gas, stun grenades, sidearms, batons, armed police and the army if required—but they’re supposed to act responsibly. The inmates aren’t under any such compulsion. They can create mayhem. The obvious way to make it happen is with fire. Set the place alight and see how that goes down with the governor when some of his team are held hostage.
Warren has no desire to be part of the violence. With good behaviour he is planning to reduce a six stretch to three. Getting caught up in a riot will wreck that. He’s forty-three now. More than half his life has been spent inside, if you count the years in the secure children’s home. His last probation officer—all of twenty-one and straight out of college—said he was institutionalised, unlikely to survive outside some strict regime like prison or the army.
What did the little prick think? That Warren wouldn’t know how to use a knife and fork? Couldn’t walk up a crowded street without panicking? Would get tongue-tied talking to a woman?
People like that know shit-all.
He has managed his anger up to now, hasn’t he? He can survive outside. He can thrive. But not the law-abiding way society expects, with the pathetic discharge grant of £46 and a one-way train ticket to London—to exist on charity and roughing it on the streets. And not on Jobseeker’s Allowance and filling in forms at the job centre. With Warren’s special skills there are jobs to be had that no careers advisor knows about.
His problem is that he just said “Right” and the mob on the top landing now believe they can count on his support. One short word has fouled up everything. He’ll be lumped in with the rioters, liable to be charged with whatever these madmen get up to. No lawyer, however smart, will get him off after that. Another long stretch looms.
I can’t be alone in wanting no part of this, Warren tells himself. But who else has the balls to take on the gorillas?
And now there is worse.
“How you doing, Warren?”
“Because tomorrow, when it happens, you’re the star turn, you and Muscles.”
His insides clench. “Why is that?”
“Obvious, innit? Yours is the last door they unlock, being at the end of the landing. We’ll all be waiting for you to clobber the screw, you and Muscles, catch him off guard just when he thinks his job is done. That’s lift-off. Then we’re on our way, mate. There’s no holding us.”
He understands the logic. This isn’t personal. He and Muscles are unlucky enough to be banged up in the end pad.
Some rapid thinking is necessary.
“He won’t be the only screw unlocking.”
“Don’t you worry about that, mate. It’s taken care of. Soon as you make the first move, the rest of us swing into action. We’ll be taking our cue from you.”
“Who decided this?”
“Who do you think? The lads upstairs. Make sure you get Muscles on board. We all know he’s not the full quid, but he’s going to be needed.”
Warren’s cellmate is six-six and eighteen stone and can’t hold a thought in his head for more than two seconds. In a fight he’s liable to get confused who the enemy is. But he’s strong. There are plenty in prison who pump iron every day and get a body. You aren’t called Muscles unless you really stand out.
“I don’t like this,” Warren says. “Nobody told me we were first on.”
“I’m telling you now, aren’t I?”
No sense in protesting. This guy is merely the mouthpiece for the high command. With twenty minutes of association time left in the day Warren needs to visit the top landing and speak to the head honcho.
And say what?
Think of something fast.
While climbing the metal stairs he is reminded of something everyone learns to live with on a prison wing—the sheer volume of noise hitting you from the brick and metal surfaces. The clang of barred metal gates. Voices raised in argument, excitement, laughter, threat and desperation, shouting across the landings, vying to be heard in a babel of accents and languages. A modern English prison is more inclusive than the United Nations.
An idea comes to Warren.
The top gorilla, Uncle Joe—nobody calls him anything else—is leaning on the railing gazing through the anti-suicide netting at the atrium below, getting the scenic view of his kingdom. Broad, muscled and shaven-headed, he is dressed in designer sportswear, a black basketball shirt to exhibit the heavily tattooed arms. Silver shorts. Expensive trainers.
“Yeah?” Uncle Joe doesn’t turn his head to see who has approached.
“You may have seen me around. Warren, from the middle landing. The end pad.”
“So I was told to make the first move tomorrow, me and my cellmate Muscles.”
“Got a problem with that, Warren?”
“I wouldn’t call it a problem, more a question.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“What’s happening about the foreigners?”
The connection isn’t obvious to Uncle Joe. “Come again.”
“The cons who don’t speak English.”
“They’ll catch on when they see what’s going on.”
“But can we count on them?”
“Why wouldn’t we?”
“We don’t know what they’re saying. What they’re thinking.”
“You’re losing me, pal,” Uncle Joe says.
“They’re a sizeable section of the wing. And some of them are hard men with their own agenda and it’s not just praying and fasting. They could turn your brilliant plan into a bloodbath.”
“Keep your voice down.”
“Sorry.” Warren sidles closer and mutters, “What I’m saying is we’re aiming to do this clean, am I right? These ay-rabs need telling in words they understand.”
“You speak their language?”
“I know someone who does.”
“A geezer called Haseem.”
“Tell him, then. Sorted.”
“Not quite,” Warren says. “There’s an even bigger risk.”
“My cellmate, Muscles. He’s a slightly different problem, but it comes to the same thing. He’s unstable.”
“Brain damaged. You can’t reason with him. He’s got the attention span of a two-year-old on speed. And a history of violence.”
“With him, it’s something else. Let me tell you what will happen. Muscles will see me grab the screw and he’ll join in and snap the guy’s neck like a biscuit. That’s what he does. It’s why he’s in this place. Instead of a hostage we’ll have a corpse.”
“We don’t want killing,” Uncle Joe says.
“Too right we don’t. It gives the riot squad a reason to open fire on us.”
“So tell Muscles.”
“No use. It won’t sink in. His memory’s gone. He can’t even tell you what his name is.”
“He could foul up the plan.”
Warren is starting to think Uncle Joe is not much brighter than Muscles. “He will, for sure.”
“Why are you telling me this now? I could have got him ghosted.” Ghosting is when a difficult offender is moved to another part of the prison or another jail altogether.
Suddenly the heat is back on Warren for the delay in mentioning the problem of Muscles. “I only just heard what you want us to do. I came as soon as I could. Too late, isn’t it?”
Uncle Joe says, “Put something in his drink.”
“Dope, you mean?”
“What do you think I mean, dumbo—a lump of sugar?”
“No, I understand.”
“Enough so he sleeps through.”
“But that means I’ll have to clobber the screw myself, without any help. They’re well protected, those fuckers.”
“There may be a better way,” Warren says as if the idea just dawned. “I don’t like it—I really wanted a piece of the action—but it will work.”
“Instead of me and Muscles making the first move, you fix it for the lads in the next cell to deal with the screw.”