“Hip, violent and funny vignettes of the mean streets of southeast London tie together this rowdy set of short novels” from the Irish crime writer ( Publishers Weekly ).At sixty-two, Chief Inspector Roberts is nearly too old to be a cop, but he makes up for his age with a ferocity that the younger detectives cannot match. After four decades on the force, he has a daughter who hates him, a wife who cheats, and a bank account that grows emptier every year. But on London’s darker streets, Roberts is a force to be reckoned with.
With his partner, the gleefully brutal Detective Sergeant Brant, Roberts looks for every policeman’s dream: the White Arrest, a high-profile success that makes up for all their past failures. In A White Arrest , their target is a bat-wielding lunatic who knocks off drug dealers. In Taming the Alien , they hunt a mysterious hit man who earned his nickname by carrying out a hit while watching Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic. And in The McDead , Roberts and Brant set their sights on a cunning kingpin ruling London’s southeast side. Gripping and gritty, Ken Bruen’s White Trilogy is an unforgettable noir portrait of London’s seedy underworld.
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 began writing in the mid 1990s. 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 lives and works in Galway.
Read an Excerpt
A White Trilogy
By Ken Bruen
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 2005 Ken Bruen
All rights reserved.
'a blue collar soul'
Roberts picked up the phone, answered: 'Chief Inspector.' He never tired of the title.
'John? John, is that you?'
'I must say you sound terribly formal, quite the man of importance.'
He tried to hold his temper, stared at the receiver, took a deep breath and asked: 'Was there something?'
'The dry-cleaning, can you pick it up?'
'Pick it up yourself!'
And he put the phone down, lifted it up again and punched a digit.
'I've just had a call from my wife.'
'Oh sorry sir, she said it was urgent.'
'Never put her through. Was I vague in my last request?'
'Did I lack some air of command? Did I perhaps leave a loophole of doubt that said, "Sometimes it's OK to put the bitch through"?'
'No, sir – sorry sir. Won't happen again.'
'Let's not make too much of it. If it happens again, you'll be bundling homeys on Railton Road for years to come. Now piss off.'
He moved from behind his desk and contemplated his reflection in a half mirror. A photo of former England cricket captain Mike Atherton in one corner with the caption:
IT'S NOT CRICKET
Roberts was sixty-two and at full stance he looked imposing. Recently he found it more difficult to maintain. A sag whispered at his shoulders. It whispered 'old'.
His body was muscular but it took work. More than he wanted to give. A full head of hair was steel grey and he felt the lure of the Grecian alternative – but not yet. Brown eyes that were never gentle and a Roman nose. Daily he said, 'I hate that fuckin' nose.' A headbutt from a drunk had pushed it off-centre to give the effect of a botched nose job. According to his wife, his mouth was unremarkable till he spoke, then it was ugly. He got perverse joy from that.
Now he hit the intercom, barked: 'Get me Falls.'
'Are you deaf?'
'Sorry, sir. I'm not sure where she's at.'
'Where she's at! What is this? A bloody commune? You're a policeman, go and find her. Go and find her now and don't ever let me hear that hippy shit again.'
Five minutes later a knock and Falls entered, straightening her tunic, crumbs floating to the floor. They both watched the descent. He said:
'Picking from a rich man's platter perhaps?'
She smiled. 'Hardly, sir.'
'I have a job for you.'
He rummaged through his desk, produced a few pink tickets, flipped them towards her.
She said, 'Dry-cleaning tickets?'
'Well identified; collect them on your lunch hour, eh?'
She let them lie, said: 'Hardly, sir – I mean, it's not in my brief to be valet or something.'
He gave her a look of pure indignation.
'Jeez, you don't think I'll collect then, do you? How would that look? Man of my rank poncing about a dry-cleaners?'
'With all due respect, sir, I –'
He cut her off.
'If you want to stay on my good side, love, don't bugger me about.'
She considered standing on her dignity, making a gesture for the sisterhood, telling him, with respect, to shove it, then thought, yeah sure.
And picked up the tickets, said: 'I'll need paying.'
'Don't we all, love – where's Brant?'
Later: Roberts had just parked his car and was starting to walk when a man stepped out of the shadows. A big man. He bruised out of his track suit and all of it muscle.
He said: 'I'm going to need your money, mate, and probably your watch if it's not a piece of shit.'
Roberts, feeling so tired, said: 'Would it help your decision to know I'm a copper?'
'A bit, but not enough. I've been asking people for money all day, asking nice and they treated me like dirt. So, now it's no more Mr Nice Guy. Hand it over, pal.'
'Okay, as you can see, I'm no spring chicken, and fit? I'm fit for nowt, but I've a real mean streak. No doubt you'll hurt me a lot but I promise you, I'll hurt you fucking back.'
The man considered, stepped forward, then spat: 'Ah bollocks, forget it. All right.'
'Forget. No. I don't think so. Get off my manor, pal, you're too big to miss.'
After Roberts moved away, the man considered putting a brick through his windshield, or slash the tyres or some fuck. But that bastard would come after him. Oh yes, a relentless cold fuck. Best leave well enough alone.
He said: 'You were lucky, mate.'
Who exactly he meant was unclear.
When Roberts got back home, he had to lean against the door. His legs turned to water and tiny tremors hit him. A voice asked: 'Not having a turn are you, Dad?'
Sarah, his fifteen-year-old daughter, supposedly at boarding school, a very expensive one, in the coronary area. It didn't so much drain his resources as blast a hole through them – wide and unstoppable. He tried for composure.
'Whatcha doing home, not half term already?'
'No. I got suspended.'
'What? What on earth for? Got to get me a drink.'
He poured a sensible measure of Glenlivet, then added to it, took a heavy slug and glanced at his daughter. She was in that eternal moment of preciousness between girl and woman. She loved and loathed her dad in equal measure. He looked closer, said:
'Good grief, are those hooks in your lips?'
'It's fashion, Dad.'
'Bloody painful, I'd say. Is that why you're home?'
'Course not. Mum says not to tell you, I didn't do nuffink.'
Roberts sighed: an ever-constant cloud of financial ruin hung over his head, just to teach her how to pronounce 'nothing'. And she said it as if she'd submerged south of the river and never surfaced.
He picked up the phone while Sarah signalled 'later' and headed upstairs.
'This is DI Roberts. Yeah, I'm home and a guy tried to mug me on my own doorstep. What? What is this? Did I apprehend him? Get me DS Brant and get a car over here to pick up this guy. He's a huge white fella in a dirty green tracksuit. Let Brant deal with him. My address? You better be bloody joking, son.' And he slammed the phone down.
As an earthquake of music began to throb from the roof, he muttered: 'Right.'
Racing up the stairs, two at a time, like a demented thing: 'Sarah! Sarah! What is that awful racket?'
'It's Encore Une Fois, Dad.'
'Whatever it is, turn it down. Now!'
Sarah lay on her bed. Wondered, could she risk a toke? Better not, leastways till Mum got home.CHAPTER 2
'He who hits first gets promoted'
(Detective Sergeant Brant)
Brant leant over the suspect, asked: 'Have you ever had a puck in the throat?' The suspect, a young white male, didn't know the answer, but he knew the very question boded ill.
Brant put his hand to his forehead said: 'Oh gosh, how unthinking of me. You probably don't know what a puck is. It's my Irish background, those words just hop in any old place. Let me enlighten you.'
The police constable standing by the door of the interview room shifted nervously. Brant knew and ignored him, said: 'A puck is –' and lashed out with his closed fist to the man's Adam's apple. He went over backwards in his chair, clutching his throat. No sound other than the chair hitting.
Brant said: 'That's what it is. A demonstration is worth a hundred words, so my old mum always said – bless her.'
The man writhed on the floor as he fought to catch his breath. The constable made a move forward, said, 'Really, sir, I –'
'Shut the fuck up.' Brant righted the chair, said: 'Take your time son, no hurry, no hurry at all. A few more pucks you'll forget about time completely. But time out, let's have a nice cup o' tea, eh? Whatcha say to a brewski me oul' china?' Brant sat in the chair, took out a crumpled cigarette and lit it, said in a strangled voice: 'Oh Jesus, these boys catch you in the throat – know what I mean?' He took another lethal pull then asked: 'Do you want to tell me why you raped the girl before the tea, or wait till after?' Before, the man said.
Brant was like a pit-bull. You saw him and the word 'pugnacious' leapt to mind. It fitted. His hair was in galloping recession and what remained was cut to the skull. Dark eyes over a nose that had been broken at least twice. A full, sensual mouth that hinted at gentility if not gentleness. Neither applied. He was 5' 8" and powerfully built. Not from the gym but rather from a smouldering rage. Over a drink he'd admit: 'I was born angry and got worse.'
He'd achieved the rank of detective sergeant through sheer bloody-mindedness. It seemed unlikely he'd progress in the Metropolitan Police. It was anxious to shed its bully-boy image.
Special Branch had wooed him but he'd told them in a memorable memo to 'Get fucked'. It made the Branch love him all the more. He was their kind of rough.
Outside the interview room the constable asked: 'If I might have a word, sir.'
'Make it snappy, boyo.'
'I feel I must protest.'
Brant shot his hand out, grabbing the man's testicles, growled: 'Feel that! Get yourself a set of brass ones boyo, or you'll be patrolling the Peckham Estates.'
Falls approached, said: 'Ah. the hands-on approach.'
'Whatcha want, Falls?'
'Mr Roberts wants you.'
He released the constable, said: 'Don't ever interrupt my interrogation again. Got that, laddie?'
The C A club had no connection to the clothing shop and they certainly didn't advertise. It stood for Certain Age, as in 'women of a'. The women were of the age where they were certain what they wanted. And what they wanted was sex. No frills.
Roberts' wife was forty-six. According to the new Hollywood chick-flicks, a woman of forty-six had more hope of being killed by a psychopath than finding a new partner.
Her friend Penelope had shared this gem with her and was now saying: 'Fiona, don't you ever just want to get laid by a hunk and no complications?'
Fiona poured the coffee, laughed nervously. Emboldened, Penny urged: 'Don't you want to know if black guys are bigger?'
'Good Lord, Penny!'
'Course you do, especially when the only prick in your life is a real prick.'
'He's not so bad.'
'He's a pompous bastard. C'mon, it's your birthday, let me treat you to the CA. You'll get laid like you always wanted and it won't even cost you money. It's my treat.'
Fiona had already decided but wanted to be coaxed, even lured, and asked: 'Is it safe?'
'Safe? You want safe, buy a vibrator. C'mon, live it up girl – men do it all the time, we're only catching up.'
Fiona hesitated, then asked: 'And the men, are they young?'
'None over twenty and pecs to die for.'
'OK then – should I bring anything?'
'Your imagination. Let's party!'
Brant didn't knock, just strode into Roberts' office.
'You don't knock?'
'Gee, Guv, I was so keen to answer your summons, I clean forgot.'
'Aye, keen as mustard, Guv.'
'Don't call me Guv, this isn't The Sweeney.'
'And you're no Reagan, eh? Here, I've another McBain for you.'
He tossed a dog-eared book on to the desk. It looked like it had been chewed, laundered and beaten. Roberts didn't touch it, said: 'You found this in the toilet, that's it?'
'It's his best yet. No one does the Police Procedural like Ed.'
Roberts leaned over to see the title. A food stain had obliterated that. At least he hoped it was food. He said: 'You should support the home side, read Bill James, get the humorous take on policing.'
'For humour, sir, I have you – my humour cup overflowed!'
The relationship twixt R and B always seemed a beat away from beating. You felt like they'd like nothing better than to get down and kick the living shit out of each other. Which had happened. The tension between them was the chemistry that glued. Co-dependency was another word for it.
The phone rang, postponing further needling.
Roberts snapped it and Brant heard: 'What, a lamppost? Where? When? Jesus! Don't friggin touch him. No! Don't cut him down. Keep the press away. Oh shit. We're on our way' And he put the phone down.
Brant smiled, asked: 'Trouble, Guv?'
'A lynching. In Brixton.'
'Do I look like I'm bloody kidding? And they left a note.'
'What? Like "Back at two"?'
'How the hell do I know? Let's go.'
'What did I tell you Brant, eh? Did I tell you not to bloody call me that?'
Brant said: 'Don't forget McBain, we'll need all the help we can get.'
Roberts picked it up and, with a fine overhead lob, landed it in the dustbin and said: 'Bingo.'CHAPTER 3
By the time Brant and Roberts arrived in Brixton a crowd had already gathered. The yellow police lines were being ignored. Roberts called to a uniformed sergeant, said: 'Get those people back behind the lines.'
'They won't move, sir.'
'Jesus, are you deaf? Make 'em.'
The medical examiner had arrived and was gazing up at the dangling corpse with a look of near admiration.
Roberts asked: 'Whatcha think, doc?'
'Drowning, I'd say.'
Brant laughed out loud and got a dig from Roberts.
The doctor said: 'Unless you've got a ladder handy, I suggest you cut him down.'
Roberts gave a grim smile, turned to Brant, said: 'Your department, I think.'
Brant grunted and summoned two constables. With complete awkwardness and much noise, they lifted him level with the corpse. A loud 'boo' came from the crowd, plus calls of:
'Watch your wallet, mate.'
'Give 'im a kiss, darling.'
'What's your game then?'
When Brant finally got the noose free, the corpse sagged and took him down in a heap atop the constables. More roars from the crowd and a string of obscenities from Brant.
Roberts said: 'I think you've got him, men.'
As Brant struggled to his feet, Roberts asked: 'Any comments?'
'Yeah, the fucker forgot to brush his teeth and I can guarantee he didn't floss.'
The cricket captain was tending his garden when Pandy came by. A local character, he was so called because of the amount of times he'd ridden in a police car. His shout had been: 'It's the police, gis a spin in de pandy.' They did.
Booze hadn't as much turned his brain to mush as let it slowly erode. Norman had always been good to him, with cash, clothes, patience.
When Pandy told the drinking school he knew the famous captain, they'd given him a good kicking. Years of Jack, meths, surgical spirit had bloated his face into a ruin that would have startled Richard Harris.
He said: 'Mornin', Cap!'
'Morning, Pandy. Need anything?'
'I've an urge for the surge, a few bob for a can if you could?' Once, Norman had seen him produce a startling white handkerchief for a crying woman. It was the gentleness, the almost shyness of how he'd offered it. Norman slipped the money over and Pandy, his eyes in a nine-yard stare, said:
'I wasn't always like this, Cap.'
'I know, I know that.'
'Went to AA once, real nice crowd, but the Jack had me then, they said I had to get a sponsor.'
'Sponsor, like a friend, you know, who'd look out for you.'
'And did you get one?'
Pandy gave a huge laugh, said in a cultured voice: 'Whatcha fink, take a wild bloody guess.'
Norman, fearful of further revelations, said: 'I better get on.'
'Will ... will youse be me sponsor?'
'Won't be a pest, Cap, it'll be like before but just so I'd have one. I'd like to be able to say it, just once.'
'Sure, I'd be privileged.'
And he held out a hand ingrained with dirt beyond redemption. Norman didn't hesitate, he took it.
When Pandy had gone, Norman didn't rush to the kitchen in search of carbolic soap. He continued to work in the garden, his heart a mix of wonder, pain and compassion.
Excerpted from A White Trilogy by Ken Bruen. Copyright © 2005 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.
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Table of Contents
A White Arrest,
Taming the Alien,