With his personal life all but flushed down some deep dark hole, Chief Inspector Roberts is waiting for the next punch to the heart. Working with his Irish partner, Detective Sergeant Brant, in a London precinct so dangerous even the pit bulls travel in pairs, Roberts is prepared for almost anything—just not the murder of his sad and wasted transient brother, Tony.
The thug responsible for it is an ex-con named Logan who’s established himself as the south side’s smartest: a master of money laundering, quick hits, and outrunning the cops. His only weakness is his temper—and it’s about to bring his sordid empire tumbling down. Roberts is going to see to that . . .
“Fans of British procedurals and noir novels will savor every speck of grit in this unrelenting crime novel.” —Booklist
About the Author
Ken Bruen (b. 1951) is one of the most prominent Irish crime writers of the last two decades. Born in Galway, he spent twenty-five years traveling the world before he began writing in the mid 1990s. As an English teacher, Bruen worked in South Africa, Japan, and South America, where he once spent a short time in a Brazilian jail. He has two long-running series: one starring a disgraced former policeman named Jack Taylor, the other a London police detective named Inspector Brant. Praised for their sharp insight into the darker side of today’s prosperous Ireland, Bruen’s novels are marked by grim atmosphere and clipped prose. Among the best known are his White Trilogy (1998–2000) and The Guards (2001), the Shamus award-winning first novel in the Jack Taylor series. Along with his wife and daughter, Bruen continues to live and work in Galway.
Read an Excerpt
By Ken Bruen
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 2000 Ken Bruen
All rights reserved.
'Am I dying?'
Answer that. Do you lie big and say, like in the movies, 'Naw, it's just a scratch,'? Or, clutch his hand real tight and say, 'I ain't letting you go, bro'?
Chief Inspector Roberts was a professional; a professional liar, among other things. It didn't teach you that in the police manual. No, that came with promotion. He considered all the lines he could use. What he said was, 'You're dying.'
Roberts had got the call at three in the morning. The hour of death. Coming reluctantly out of sleep, he muttered, 'This better be bloody good.' And heard, 'James!'
No one used his Christian name, not even his wife. He said, 'Tony ... Good Lord ... where are you? D'ya know what time it is?' And heard a sad laugh.
Then: 'I didn't ring to ask the time. I'm hurt ... I'm hurt pretty bad.'
He sounded hurt, his speech was coming through slow and laboured. Eventually, Roberts pinned down an address, said, 'Don't move, I'm on me way.'
Again, the sad laugh, 'I won't move, I can guarantee it.' Roberts dressed quickly. His wife was asleep in another room. Yeah, like that.
'Would it fuck.' Roberts said aloud, 'God, I haven't much called on you ... I know ... but maybe this would be a good place to start.'
He'd learned from his sergeant, a dubious example of Catholicism, that it was a bartering thing. You did something for God, He did something for you. Like the Masons really.
He wasn't sure what he had to trade and said, 'I'll ... ah ... do good works.' What that entailed he'd no idea. Perhaps buy The Big Issue more regularly and not wait for change.
Yeah, it was a place to start. He waited, then tried the ignition again.
He glanced briefly upwards, said:
'It's about what I figured.'
A mini-cab later and he arrived in Stockwell, where the pitbulls travelled in twos. Ludlow Road is near the tube station, a short mugging away. At that hour the streets were littered with
the undead, the lost, and the frozen.
The building was a warren of bedsits. No lock on the front door. A wino was spread in the hall, his head came up wheezed: 'Is it Tuesday?'
'Are you sure?'
Roberts wondered if the guy even knew the year but hey ... he was going to argue? He said, 'It's Thursday ... OK?'
'Ah, good. I play golf on Tuesdays.'
Flat six had a cleaner door than most. It was ajar. Roberts entered slowly. Entered devastation-ville. The place had been thrashed, cushions slit open, TV smashed, broken chairs and crockery, and his broken brother lying in the bathroom. He was a mess of blood and bruising. From the angle of his legs, Roberts knew they were gone. He opened his eyes, well, half opened one. The other was shut down. By a hammer it seemed.
He said, 'James, can I get you something?'
And Roberts tried not to smile, bent down said:
'I called an ambulance.'
His brother seemed to have lost consciousness, then said: 'Oh good, is it a weekender?'
A south-east London maxim. You called one on a weekday, could expect it on Saturday. Roberts didn't know what to do, said: 'I dunno what to do.'
That's when Tony asked if he was dying. He tried to cradle his brother's head, there was blood everywhere, asked, 'Who did this, Tone?'
Before he could ask more, his brother convulsed, then let his head back, and died. When the medics arrived and scene of crime boyos, Roberts was led outside to the ruined sitting room. As they moved the body, a mobile fell to the floor. The officer in charge said, 'I'm sorry, guv, but I have to ask some questions, you understand.'
'Did he say anything?'
The officer tried to proceed delicately, asked, 'He called you?'
'And he didn't give any indication of what had happened?'
'He said he was hurt and could I come.'
'Right ... was he ... ah ... conscious ... when you got here?'
The officer looked round, said, 'I see.' But he didn't. Went another direction, asked, 'Were you close, guv?'
'You know, like regular contact?'
Roberts focused, then said, 'I spoke to him ten years ago ... maybe eleven.'
'Ah, so you weren't, then?'
Roberts turned his full look on the officer, said, 'No wonder you're a detective.'CHAPTER 2
Living next door to Alice
WPC falls was standing in front of the Superintendent. He was drinking tea and drinking it noisily. It's a very difficult task to chew tea but he appeared to have mastered it.
Like an anorexic rodent. He'd get it down but that didn't mean he had to like it. Worse. A biscuit, a club milk. He slid open the wrapper, then carefully peeled back the silver paper, said, 'They're well protected.'
Did he mean the public, criminals, tax dodgers? So, she just said, 'Yes, sir.' Which is about as unthreatening an answer as you can get.
WPC Falls was black and pretty or, as they said in the canteen, 'She's pretty black'. Argue the toss. Recently, she'd fucked up spectacularly in both her personal and professional life. She'd been pregnant and had gone after an arsonist alone. Nearly killed, she'd lost the baby and almost her job.
DS Brant had forced her along to arrest a hit man. It had saved her job and restored some of her confidence. Not all, but definitely in the neighbourhood. After, he'd said, 'You know Falls, you're getting a mean look.'
'Yeah, a nastiness around the eyes.'
She couldn't resist, said, 'Like you, sergeant?'
He laughed, answered, 'See what I mean? Yeah ... like me and, if you're real smart, you'll work on it.'
Surprised, she asked, 'Will it go away?'
'Fuck no, you'll get meaner.'
The Super put the biscuit to the side, said, 'Gratification postponed is gratification doubled.'
Falls had a flurry of thoughts—Thank Christ he didn't start on the biscuit. Yer pompous fart— all hedging on the insubordinate. She cautioned herself. Chill to chill out. Now the prize prick was flicking through her file adding sighs, tut-tuts, teeth clicking, every few pages. Finally, he sat back, said, 'A checkered career to date.'
Now he was tapping a pen against his teeth, exclaimed, 'And such promise, you have the potential. Oh yes.'
Falls thought, Yeah, I'm black and a woman.
He closed the file then, as if only now was the idea crystallising, said, 'I'm going to take a chance on you Falls, eh.'
'Thank you, sir.'
'No doubt you're familiar with the Clapham Rapist?'
Who wasn't? A serial, he'd attacked six women, six black women. The lefties were kicking up a stink. Phrases such as 'selective policing' were surfacing.
He continued: 'You'll be living in a bedsit in Clapham, going to pubs, clubs, all the places this johnnie hunts.'
She tried to restrain herself but couldn't, said, 'A decoy?'
He gave a tolerant smile, said, 'Not a term we're keen on my girl, smacks of entrapment. We'll have you covered all the way.' Sure. 'So, are you up to the job? I've picked you especially.'
Thank you sir. Won't let you down sir, etc.
Brown-nosing to screaming point.
'Good, the desk sergeant has the details. PC McDonald will be assisting you ... that's all.'
She was just closing the door when he pounced on the club milk. Could hear him wolfing it as she moved away, muttered, 'Hope it bloody chokes him.'
As Brant had said, 'Getting meaner by the minute'.CHAPTER 3
The Greeks have a word for it
There's a narrow street connecting the Walworth Road to the east entrance of The Elephant and Castle shopping centre. It has second-hand furniture shops, a bookies, a boarded-up off licence and a taverna. The taverna is called The Spirit of Athens. It's a dump. But it does OK, and has a minor reputation for its bacon sarnies. A hint of kebab is added to the mix and the locals like it. Gives a taste of the exotic and disguises the bacon.
Culinary delight indeed.
The owner is named Spiro Zacharopoulos. He's a snitch and, more to the point, he's DS Brant's snitch. Brant looked like a thug and he was real proud of that. The Metropolitan Police believed he was a thug and were deeply ashamed of him. He'd had some major fuck-ups in his career which ensured he'd not rise above the rank of sergeant. But a number of last moment high profile case solutions had saved his career. It was always thus, thin ice to the promised land.
A mix of ruthlessness and the luck of the Irish kept him in the game. Snitches were the lifeblood of police work. Brant knew this better than most. Now sitting at a table, he said to Spiro, 'Jaysus, would it hurt to give the place a sweep?'
'Ah Meester Brant, help is so ... how you say ... diskolo ... difficult to get.'
'By the look of this joint, it's downright impossible. Couldn't you get a brush?'
Spiro spoke perfect English but it was useful to play it down. Gave him the edge. He said, 'Ah Meester Brant, you make a joke.'
Brant reached into his jacket, got a pack of Weights and a battered Zippo, lit up, exhaled, said, 'When I make a joke boyo, you won't be in any doubt about it.'
Spiro, playing the anxious-to-please role, went and got an ashtray. Written along the side was Ouzo-12. Brant looked at it, flicked his ash on the floor, said, 'That's going to make all the difference, eh? What's the twelve for?'
Now Spiro could be the true Greek, hospitable friendly sly, said, 'Ouziko Dodika.'
'Which tells me what exactly? Doesn't tell me shit pal.'
'Wait ... wait one moment.' He got up, crossed to the bar and busied himself. Five minutes on he's back with glasses, a bottle, snacks on plates and a jug of water, says, 'Let me demonstrate.' Pours the ouzo, adds water and it becomes the colour of window cleaner, nods to the snacks, explains, 'These are meze, we eat, we drink, like we're in Greece.'
The 'snacks' consisted of
two Ritz crackers,
two slices of 'rubber',
two thin wedges of cheese.
Brant stared, then: 'Jaysus, you broke the bank with all this grub ... what's the rubber bits?'
'I can only hope you're kidding. Tell you what, I'll feast on the others—you have the condoms.'
He took his glass and before he drank, Spiro said, 'Aspro pato. '
'Whatever.' Knocked it back, gasped and said, 'Paint off a fucking gate ...
Brant wiped his mouth, bit on a stale cracker, said, 'Let's cut the crap, boyo, and drop the Greek lesson ... OK? You came to me pal offering yer help if I could help you with some problems. I delivered, you haven't been shut down so, let's hear it. You're a snitch, so snitch.'
Now Spiro was the offended party, whined, 'Meester Brant, ah ... I thought we were friends. Friends do each other a leetle favour.'
He was into it now and would have built to operatic outrage but Brant leant over, gave him an almighty wallop to the side of the head, said:
'You're not paying attention, Costos.'
'See, now you're listening. Who's the main player these days?'
The main player had been Bill Preston. He was on sabbatical and various villains were vying for position. Spiro glanced round the empty restaurant, then said, 'Tommy Logan. Like you, he is Irish, I think, but he has the mind of a Colombian.'
'What's that mean?'
'Without mercy, no ... how you say ...? boundaries ... is why he is top because he will do anything.'
'Well now, I'd like to meet the bold Logan.'
'Mister Brant, be careful, this man is crazy. He has no respect for police or for anybody.'
Brant poured some ouzo, said, 'Let's have some more turpentine, drink to Tommy Logan.'
'Ah, you begin to like the ouzo.'
Brant leant over and Spiro cowered, but the sergeant only put his arm round the Greek's shoulder, squeezed, said, 'I like you Costis, you and yer shit-hole caff.'CHAPTER 4
Song for Guy
A handful of mourners at Tony Roberts' funeral. The Chief Inspector, Brant, Falls, McDonald, and a wino who looked vaguely familiar, but Roberts couldn't quite recall where from.
The vicar read, 'Man is full of misery and has but a short time to live ...
Brant nudged him, none too gently, said, 'Jaysus, padre, something less depressing.'
The vicar said, 'I say, do leave this to the proper authority. There are set rules and services.'
Brant gave him the look, asked, 'Wanna be first in the hole?'
The padre looked for help but none was forthcoming, so he read an up tempo passage on light and salvation. Brant liked it fine.
A persistent drizzle was coming down, not an outright soaking but a steady wetting. As if it hadn't the balls to just pour on bloody down. When the body had been lowered, Brant moved near to Roberts, asked, 'All right, guv?'
'What ... oh yes ... thanks ... listen, I, ahm ... don't they usually have sandwiches for people after ...?'
Brant smiled gently, a rare to rarest event, said, 'I put a few quid behind the bar at The Roebuck, they do a lovely spread.'
'Oh, do they?'
'Well the owner's a mick, knows about wakes. He'll do us grand. I'll leave you a moment, guv.'
Roberts turned, asked, 'What will I say? I dunno what to say.'
'Tell him goodbye, guv ... oh ... and that you'll fix the fuck what done him ... OK?'
Only Roberts and the wino remained. Then it came to him—the wino outside Tony's door. The man said, 'Sorry for your trouble, he was a gent he was. Gave me a few quid now and again.'
Roberts reached for his wallet and the man was horrified. 'I didn't come here for beggin'.'
'I know, I appreciate that, but for a last one with ... Tony ... would you humour me?'
The wino was indignant but not stupid, took the cash, said, 'So long's you know I didn't come cos o' that.'
Roberts nodded, stood alone for a moment then whispered, 'Goodbye Tony, I'll fix the fuck what done you ... OK, lad?'CHAPTER 5
There's a new boot on the market. Heavy, thick-soled, menacing and highly impressive, called Wehrmacht. And, yeah, they pronounce it with a V and a tone. So, OK, it's not actually called the Third Reich, but it's implied. Could they give a fuck. Selling like designer sunglasses. Tommy Logan had a pair and he adored them. For good measure, he had the toes reinforced with steel. Kept them spit-shined and did those mothers gleam?
His real name was Tommy Nash but that was before. In the Scrubs, he'd drowned a guy in a toilet. Not an easy task. You have to truly want to kill somebody. Tommy did.
That evening in the recreation room, Johnny Logan won the Eurovision for the third time. The cons were allowed to watch. To be in the Eurovision three times is some awful sentence but to win it three times, that's diabolical. One of the lifers said, 'Hey Tommy, you know what?'
'Yeah?' Lots of hard in his answer fresh from the afternoon kill, he was bullet-proof.
'You look like that guy—that winner.'
Tommy checked round, see if it was a piss-take. No. Lots of con heads nodding. Yeah, they could see it. Tommy heard the word WINNER. It sang to him.
Johnny Logan was tall, dark hair, and the face of a cherub. He sang like a tenor angel. Tommy was short with mousy hair and a baby face. But the fit was in.
Next day Tommy got a prison make-over. Had one of the cissies dye his hair black using polish and gel. Got it sleek and raven. After, he let the cissy go down and came quickly. A few minutes later he beat the cissy to pulp, shouting, 'I hate fucking queers, man I just fucking hate 'em.'
On Tommy's release he didn't go back to north London. He headed south-east and became Tommy Logan, adopted a half-assed Irish accent and thought it passed for humour. To complete the transition, he got a heavy gold Claddagh ring and ordered bottles of Guinness in public. It worked for Daniel Day Lewis. His music of choice was Sinead O'Connor. He believed her to be openly psychotic. Her songs sang to him of
Excerpted from The McDead by Ken Bruen. Copyright © 2000 Ken Bruen. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Living next door to Alice (Smokie),
The Greeks have a word for it,
Song for Guy,
Fear to fear itself unfolding,
In the modern world,
Things are entirely what they appear to be and behind them there is nothing. (Sartre),
Drinking lights out,
There's no such thing as unconditional love. You just find a person with the same set of conditions as yourself. (Mark Kennedy),
Once we were worriers,
What about the hotel where I was asked, do I want the double bed or the comfortable bed? I thought, 'This is a quiz I am not up to.' (Janet Street-Porter),
The only actress on the planet who can play a woman whose child has been killed by wild Australian dogs and can actually have you rooting for the dingoes. (Joe Queenan on Meryl Streep),
Who shot TL?,