As hardboiled as they come, the fourth in the Nick Sharman series
Nick Sharman is in traction, hospitalized for four months, and desperate for a distraction. Then Fiona arrives—a topless model for the tabloids who bullies him into convalescing in her flat. After his last disaster-ridden case, Sharman has promised himself a quiet life. What he gets—almost the minute his leg is out of the plaster—is more trouble. Emerald Watkins, king of a black south London "firm," has received a tip-off that he's about to be arrested after a large stash of cocaine is found in one of his lock-ups. He wants Sharman to help his nephew Teddy find out who's stitched him up. As Sharman roams the urban mayhem of South London in search of his mystery man, he is in turn bribed, shot at, and set up for a particularly gruesome murder. All in a night's work.
About the Author
Mark Timlin is the author of more than 30 novels, including All the Empty Places, Answers from the Grave, Guns of Brixton, and Stay Another Day, as well as Gangsters’ Wives and Lipstick Killers under the pseudonym Lee Martin. His Nick Sharman novels were made into a television series starring Clive Owen.
Read an Excerpt
Take the A-Train
The Third Nick Sharman Thriller
By Mark Timlin
Oldcastle BooksCopyright © 1991 Mark Timlin
All rights reserved.
I was banged up for four months. Four months in traction at St Thomas's, the police hospital, with a thigh bone chipped by a 9 mm short bullet. But only one policeman came and visited me whilst I was there. Socially at least.
At first I was in a room of my own. I think that was more to keep the press away than anything else. Lawyers paid. They paid me too. Mostly to keep me quiet. I'd been working on a case involving two sisters from a very wealthy family. They weren't sisters really, but that's another story. It had all ended rather messily at a building site in Hammersmith. One of the sisters was in an exclusive nursing home. Which is a polite way of saying she was bouncing her head off rubber walls at the cost of a grand a day in an upmarket mental hospital when she should have been in Broadmoor. But money talks louder than justice. The other had moved to Nassau, Bahamas and was permanently incommunicado. I was still in South London and the firm of legal eagles retained by the family had sent me a cheque of such gross proportions, with so many noughts on the end, that it was almost an embarrassment to deposit it at my bank. Almost but not quite. With the cheque came a letter asking me politely to forget the whole incident.
After a month, everyone had forgotten who I was and the lawyers stopped paying, so I paid myself. I had the dough and it was a small price for privacy.
I'd had a lot of visitors, considering. Considering I was in a lot of pain from a busted-up leg that just refused to heal. Considering also that my temper was short and my bad moods were long, it was amazing that anyone at all came to visit, a second time at least. My mother came up a few times, and my ex-wife and daughter. My daughter was good, my ex-wife not so. She was large with child, huge in fact. The child wasn't mine. Maybe that was one reason for my bad temper, maybe not. My ex-wife was due any time and loving every minute. I don't think my daughter was quite so pleased. She brought me fruit gums. My daughter, that is.
I was visited by other friends too. Wanda the Cat Woman called in during the first week with a wine cooler stuffed with bottles of imported lager. She looked as luscious as ever, blonde, with a Brixton tan and a load of questions I wasn't about to answer. She asked me if she could do anything for me.
There are a million answers to that; someday I'll write them all down. I asked her to check out my flat and empty the fridge as I knew I was going to be in for a long stay. I gave her my keys and she told me she would. Finally I asked her to keep looking after my cat. She told me she would have done anyway. After she went I drank too much lager and got in a row with my consultant. I told him to go fuck himself, even offered him a lager bottle with which to do it. From then on I got treated by a regular doctor. I didn't mind. The regular doctor was female and had warmer hands.
An old girl friend called Teresa dropped in from time to time but she was living down in Bristol so it wasn't easy for her. Everyone brought something. That was my rule. If they wanted to come up to the tenth floor and watch afternoon TV, then they brought something for me. Shit, it was me that had to sit out the other twenty-two hours of the day when the visitors had split.
Charlie, the mechanic who looks after my cars, came in the second week I was there. He brought me some detective novels. Pretty good they were too. He thought I could maybe get a few pointers from them and stop myself ending up in hospital. I told him it could have been worse. I lined them up on the shelf beside my bed and admired their brightly coloured covers.
Des, who runs a bar in Covent Garden, popped in often during his quiet time in the afternoon and always brought a token bottle. My life fell into a routine pretty quickly. It worked out that I got a visitor every other day throughout the week. I'd sit with my leg up in plaster and traction and talk for a bit and eat grapes, and then I'd get tired and they'd leave. Then I'd run some movies through the little projector in my mind and get depressed and drink the presents I'd been brought and take a pill and sleep perchance to dream ... aye, there's the rub.
I had a room with a river view. The corner window looked out over South London to Crystal Palace in one direction, and up to Battersea and across the river to Chelsea and beyond in another, and back round to Whitehall in a third. I could look at the river traffic, and the road traffic over Lambeth Bridge, and down Albert Embankment, and soon worked out that, if I closed the curtains three-quarters of the way around my bed and kept the curtains at the window open all day, I could get a twenty-four hour movie which beat the one in my head hands down.
So as the summer finished and autumn came I watched the earth turn through that window and the city change from green to brown as the winter began to lock in.
I'd sit in the dawn light, still drunk from last night's sleepers, and listen to hospital radio through impossibly uncomfortable headphones and watch the spires and skyscrapers poke through the mist and wonder if I'd ever be able to walk the cold streets again.CHAPTER 2
On the first Friday in October I was the last to hear that my ex-wife had given birth to a bouncing baby boy a few weeks before, and I realised that another episode of my life was irredeemably over. I also had a brand new visitor. I'd met her twice earlier during that fucked-up summer and if you'd asked me I would have doubted she would even remember my name. She was about five three or four and built so sweet you wanted to eat her underwear. Her name was Fiona. Just that as far as I knew, and she was a model for the tabloids and the wank magazine set.
She pushed open the door to my room around five p.m. when the late afternoon sun was angled across the bed and reflecting through the dark glass of the Moosehead bottle I was holding, making green spectrums across the ceiling. I'd just been given a shave, had my hair washed, and been changed into fresh pyjamas, and even though I say so myself I thought I was looking pretty attractive and she couldn't have picked a better time to call.
'Sharman,' she said from the doorway, 'you look like a big poof.'
She'd been a trifle abrasive when we'd met before so I wasn't as taken aback as I might have been. I maintained my cool and said: 'Oh, it's you. Pull up a toadstool and sit down.' It wasn't great but it was the best I could do at short notice.
She was wearing one of those real short, tube mini dresses made of some clingy material that was so tight you could see where she'd nicked herself shaving her bikini line. It was teamed with dark tights and a Levis jacket that was distressed to the point of tears. Her hair was thick and dark and hung below her shoulders. It caught the sun and absorbed it, then freed it as reluctantly as a lover, and where the sun had touched were highlights of the deepest red.
She let the door close behind her and came over and hitched herself up to sit on the edge of the bed. Her skirt rode up her thighs and I hoped that no medical staff would turn up to take my blood pressure.
'You never called,' she said, fluttering her eyelashes. 'You said you would.'
'I haven't had much time,' I replied, gesturing at my plaster-covered leg. Was she stupid or what?
'So I heard. But I still felt rejected. My maidenly juices began to dry up. It's not often I ask guys to call me.'
'Shit, Fiona,' I said, and I think I fluttered my eyelashes too, 'I didn't know I had such power over women.'
She giggled. Normally I don't like gigglers, but on her a squeaking door would have sounded good. 'You sussed me out, Sharman, and you remembered my name too. You're a real gumshoe, I can tell. Just like on TV. I get off on gory stories and I read all about you in the papers.'
Gumshoe, I ask you!
'So you just popped in to see me? You're lucky they didn't toss you out on your backside,' I said.
'I spoke to a doctor, and he said visitors were good for you. You think too much.'
'Let me guess,' I interrupted. 'In your maidenly way you convinced him that you were a defrocked nun bringing some comforts to my bed of pain.'
'I don't know about the defrocked bit,' she said, 'but I was visiting my dad and I thought I'd come and see you too.'
'Your dad's in hospital?'
'No, he lives in one of the prefabs over the road, so I thought I'd look you up.'
'I'm glad you did,' I said. And I really was. So would you have been, believe me.
We kicked some conversational crap around the room as if we were old pals, which we weren't, and even though she was an asset to the surroundings I kept wondering why she'd bothered. When we calmed down, and I started to get used to her thighs, she got to the real nitty gritty. 'So tell me what happened,' she said.
'I'd rather not,' I said back.
'Hardly. It wasn't one of my finest hours.'
'You did all right, I heard.'
'I'm sorry,' she said. 'It was a dumb thing to do, coming here. Christ, I feel like a fool now. I think I'd better go.'
'No, don't do that.'
She fiddled around with one of the metal buttons on her jacket and I drank some more beer and the sun moved further down towards the city skyline.
'Is it bad?' she asked.
'No problem,' I said, and gave her the benefit of my best profile as I put the beer bottle on the edge of the wheeled trolley parked at the side of my bed. 'I fuck one of them up every couple of years just to get a month or two in bed.' I rescued the Moosehead and put on a brave, nonchalant face.
I gave her my best profile again and assumed an expression that I hoped teamed steely resolve and boyish charm with just the hint of a sexy twinkle in my eyes. Macho and dependable was the impression I was trying to put over, but my leg chose that moment to give me a reminder that it was still there. I felt a grinding, stabbing agony shoot up my thigh, breathed out sharply, bit down on my lip and spilled the last of the beer down my clean PJs.
'Shit!' I said.
Fiona looked a bit worried and held my arm tightly. 'Shall I call a nurse?'
I squeezed her fingers and the pain went as quickly as it had come. She smelled fresh and sweet. 'No,' I said. 'It's not as bad as it was. I'll be OK.'
'Does that happen often?'
'Not as much as it did, thank God.'
'You've got beer all down yourself,' she said, as if I needed telling.
'There are some clean T-shirts in the cupboard over there. Would you mind?'
I wrestled my wet jacket off and rippled some muscles at her but I don't think she noticed. She hopped off the bed and went over and got me a pale yellow T-shirt from on top of a pile of clean clothes. I slipped it on.
'I brought you something for the pain,' she whispered.
She was carrying a black leather shoulder bag just about big enough to take a kitchen sink and all the plumbing. She undid the flap and brought out an old tin cigarette box, so battered that the illustration of a sailor on the lid had worn off in places. I opened it. Inside were six neatly rolled joints. I could smell the dope in the heated air of the room. 'Well, this is a pleasant surprise,' I said.
'Just a little gift.'
I stuck the box into my drawer under some paper tissues then leant over and kissed her on the cheek. Her skin was as soft as a May morning. I could have kissed her all day and half the night. She pushed me away. 'Don't get carried away, Sharman,' she said. 'It's just a bit of dope, not the beginning of a better life.'
'You might be surprised.'
'I'm always prepared to be surprised,' she replied, 'but I'm usually disappointed.'
'You and me both.'
'So surprise me, and offer me a drink.'
I pulled a bottle of Becks from the wine cooler and she wedged the top against the metal bed post and popped the cap off with the palm of her right hand, catching the froth with her left thumb. She picked some scraps of silver paper from around the rim of the bottle and took a long swallow. 'That's great.'
I got myself one of the same and opened it in rather less spectacular fashion, using a bottle opener.
'So what's happening, Fiona?' I asked.
'Usual thing, earning a crust.'
'Keeping in shape?'
'That's for you to say.'
Take my word for it, she was in shape. 'Being good?' I asked.
She shrugged. 'Good-bad, but not evil.'
'Same old grind?' I asked.
'You got it.'
'It's a wonderful life.'
'Fuck me, Sharman, don't tell me you're coming down with a severe case of the moral vapours. I couldn't stand that. After what you've done, showing off my tits is very small potatoes. I may come on like an airhead, but just because I didn't finish my A-levels don't take me for one, OK? I do all right.'
I looked at her in a different light after that little diatribe. And I think I liked her better too. She was right, after all.
She looked a bit miffed for about half a minute and sucked on her bottle like an alcoholic baby, but she soon relented.
'Sorry,' she said. 'I didn't mean to take your head off.'
'My fault,' I said. 'You were right.'
The atmosphere warmed up a bit after that.
'So what do you do around here for laughs?' she asked finally.
'For laughs?' I said. 'Fiona, this is Saint Tommy's, not the WAG Club.'
'Oh, come on, you must do something.'
'Well, the in-crowd gather in the day room and sometimes we organise a big card school.'
'Major league. It's been known for a whole box of matches to change hands in a single evening.'
'Now and again the anaesthetists have parties, down in the basement. The bloke who plastered my leg up took me down on a trolley.'
'What goes on?'
'The anaesthetists sample their own merchandise. They're well out of order that lot. They're all downer freaks.'
'What happens at these parties then?'
'The one I went to,' I said, 'they poured twelve bottles of Sainsbury's cheap gin into a hip bath and passed ether through it until it turned blue. Mix it with juice to kill the taste and you've got a dynamite cocktail. Makes a Killer Zombie look like choccy milk. I fell off the trolley on the way back and the geezer who was pushing me never noticed.'
'Sounds good. Are they going to have another one soon, I'd like to go?'
'Don't know about that,' I said. 'Anyway, I'm not sure that I can trust the medical staff of this establishment with a girl like you.'
'The junior doctors don't get enough sleep as it is.'
'Get out of here, Sharman,' she said, but I knew she liked it.
'Flattery – I knew I was right to come! Shall I come again?'
'I don't know about that,' I said, 'I'm kind of exclusive these days. But you could, I suppose.'
'Your enthusiasm kills me.'
'Infectious, isn't it?'
'So shall I come by and see you again?' she persisted.
'Of course, I was only kidding.' Sure I was. How many other topless models were dropping in? If you'll excuse the expression.
'As long as I don't ask questions about the sisters of mercy.'
'So you do want me to come back?'
'Yeah, I give in. You've got me, Fiona. I'm hooked.'
'It never fails. I just wear this dress and men drop like flies.'
We had another bottle of lager each and after a while she asked me if I was married, and I told her that I wasn't. Then I asked her if she was, and she told me that she wasn't either, and did she look like she was? And I told her that she didn't and asked her if I did, and she told me that I had the look, and bit by bit I told her the whole sorry story and felt better for it.
'So there you go. I'm all alone now with no one to call my own,' I said at the end.
'Tough.' I was glad she didn't give me any fake sympathy.
'Especially on long cold nights,' I said.
'So advertise in the lonely hearts column.'
'I did already.'
'No good, huh, Sharman?'
'The worst. They all wanted to make an honest man out of me,' I said.
'Impossible, I'd say.'
And we smiled at each other, then laughed out loud. I felt good for the first time in months.
'When are you getting out of here?' she asked after a bit.
'I don't know,' I said. 'A month, six weeks maybe.'
'Where do you live?'
'How are you getting home?'
I shrugged. 'I don't know,' I said again. 'I'll get a lift somehow, there's plenty of time.'
'I've got a car.'
'Are you volunteering?'
'I'll owe you one if you do.'
Excerpted from Take the A-Train by Mark Timlin. Copyright © 1991 Mark Timlin. Excerpted by permission of Oldcastle Books.
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