Authors: Mike Ripley
has twice won the Crime Writer’s Last Laugh Award for comedy crime and his Angel novels have been optioned by the BBC. He has written for television
and radio and is the crime fiction critic for the
, as well as co-editor of the
anthologies which promote new British crime writing talent. He lives with
his wife, three children and two cats in East Anglia.
Also by Mike Ripley
Just another angel (1988)
Angel touch (1989)
Angel hunt (1990)
Angels in arms (1991)
Angel city (1994)
Angel confidential (1995)
Family of angels (1996)
That angel look (1997)
As editor (with Maxim Jakubowski)
Fresh blood (1996)
Fresh blood 2 (1997)
Fresh blood 3 (1999)
3 The Lanchesters
162 Fulham Palace Road
London, W6 9ER
First published in Great Britain 1999
by Constable & Company Ltd
This paperback edition published by Robinson, an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2001
Copyright © 1999 M D Ripley
The right of Mike Ripley to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
ISBN 1 84119 299 6
eISBN 978 1 47210 396 3
Printed and bound in the EU
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
‘Two men were shot yesterday in what detectives believe could be a feud over bootlegged beer, as record numbers of day-trippers crossed the English channel to fill their
cars with cheap continental alcohol.’
, 24 August, 1997
‘Jim Bolton, senior investigations officer within the Customs and Excise said: “It’s a case of dog eats dog.”’
, 1 January 1998
In researching this book I am grateful to various honest (and brave) publicans in the Dover area, policemen, security consultants and Customs Officers who all prefer to remain
nameless. One brewer must, however, be credited: Stuart Neame, who continues to fight the good fight against all odds.
To my wife Alyson for staying cool.
I could tell from the way the phone was ringing that I shouldn’t have answered it. At best it would be somebody selling me a time share or double-glazing. At worst, it
would be someone I knew.
‘Hello, is that Angel?’
Oh no, not
‘Angel? This is the right number, isn’t it?’
‘I know this is the right number.’
She was talking to herself now. With a bit of luck she’d get as bored with that as everybody else did.
‘Can I speak to Angel, please?’ she persisted. ‘This is Veronica. Veronica Blugden.’
I knew it was.
Ich bin ein Auslander, ich spreche kein Englisch
. . .’
‘Angel, is that you? If it is, just stop messing about, will you?’
I put my new birthday-present watch to the receiver and triggered the alarm.
‘Or you can send a fax right now . . .’
it’s you and you’re not going to put me off.’
‘Or you can press zero and hash and an operator will take your call. Decide
‘There’s no need to shout, Angel. That is so rude. I only rang you to offer you a job. An undercover job. Working for a brewery.’
She finished in a breathless rush and I let her hang for half a minute.
‘Hello, Veronica, it’s Angel. I’m listening.’
I should have pressed hash and hung up myself, right there and then. But then, I shouldn’t have answered the phone in the first place. Actually, I shouldn’t even
have been in the house on Stuart Street as I didn’t really live there any more. Well, not full-time. Springsteen did, though, so I had a perfect excuse for dropping by. Somebody had to visit
him regularly to see how he was bearing up, make sure he was eating right, tell him the gossip, pick his brains on matters of national importance, smuggle him in some red meat and basically just
make sure he hadn’t killed anyone. I thought of myself not so much as a prison visitor as a one-man United Nations peacekeeping force.
Maybe the UN should have been called in anyway as I found a single sheet of paper taped to the door of my flat which was headed:
CAT KILLS THIS WEEK
. Underneath, in
unmistakable finishing school copperplate, were listed: pigeons (2), sparrows (3), one yellow canary (missing from Number 27), one hamster (see card in window of Mr Patel’s shop), mice (2),
? In Hackney? Well, I supposed it was just about possible, given global warming and all that, but probably I would have to take Fenella on one side and explain to her what a rat
was. The recent mild winter had led to a boom in the rat population and there were now thought to be more rats than people in the country. It had always been true of London, though it was not
something Fenella would ever have been able to get her head around. She had enough trouble with people.
For a start, she lived with Lisabeth in the flat below mine and Lisabeth was enough to cramp anyone’s style, with the personality of a religious cult and the social skills of a Tiger tank.
Still, you could have worse neighbours, I suppose. A Klu Klux Klan franchise gift shop perhaps, or an aerobics class line dancing to old Abba hits.
And they were good about Springsteen – mainly because they were, with justification, frightened of him – feeding him on a regular basis and letting him in and out whenever the whim
took him, not to mention disposing of the bodies he seemed to be generating on an increasing basis. I put this down to the fact that he missed me. Others would be less generous.
And, to be fair, both Fenella and Lisabeth had been diamond geezerettes about me not actually living at Number 9 Stuart Street for the past year. It had cost me (chocolate for Lisabeth,
aromatherapy oils for Fenella) but they had faithfully stacked up the junk mail, taken phone messages and, mostly, told the right people that I had moved to live with Amy in Hampstead and the wrong
people that I was working abroad as a mercenary disc jockey in a maximum security holiday hotel on Ibiza.
Best of all they had kept that fact that I was no longer a full-time resident from our esteemed landlord, Mr Naseem Naseem. For years I had persuaded him that, thanks to a passing friendship
with a great-niece of his, my rent on Flat 3 should in effect be frozen at round about the going rate for 1990. It seemed a reasonable price for him to pay on the condition that I had no intention
of becoming a legal, or even permanent, member of his family. Likewise, he turned a blind eye on the ‘No Pets’ house rule even when I cut a cat flap in the flat door, and a deaf ear to
the complaints about the music even when they came from two streets away. But I knew he had a ‘non-resident’ clause in the rental agreement – most landlords do to stop tenants
sub-letting. If he found out I was living in Hampstead and only keeping the flat on as a bolt-hole in case of emergencies, then he would have me out and the rent up and four trainee solicitors in
there before you could say ‘house-warming’.
So I was grateful that Fenella and Lisabeth had not mentioned the fact that I had moved out to him.
But I was even more grateful to them for not mentioning that I hadn’t to Amy.
I was only in Hackney to leave an envelope with the rent money for Naseem Naseem. As long as it was cash and it was regular, he wouldn’t mind not actually seeing me for
months at time; he probably preferred it that way.
I only answered the phone mounted on the wall by the front door because I assumed it couldn’t possibly be for me. Anyone who needed to get me had the number of the smart new Ericsson cell
phone Amy had issued me with, and because she knew I often turned it off, she had also made me wear a pager on my belt, to which she alone had the number. I had worked out how to switch it from
‘beep’ to ‘vibrate’ so that the experience, whilst often inconvenient, was at least pleasant.
Absolutely no one knew I would be in Stuart Street that day as I hadn’t even decided to go myself until that morning. I hadn’t seen anyone in the street who knew me and even parking
Armstrong II outside hadn’t raised an eyebrow or twitched a net curtain. But then, why should it? No one notices black Austin Fairway taxis in London; at least I hoped not.
Number 9 itself was devoid of legitimate residents, Springsteen included, though with him there was always a chance he was lying in ambush somewhere. Lisabeth would be out at work, though I
never liked to ask what it was she did, and Fenella was still employed, for a second consecutive month now (a record), by a telesales company who liked her Home Counties accent and her totally
innocent refusal to take ‘No’, ‘Go away’ or ‘Piss off’ for an answer. I had a theory that she sold things because the punters she called simply couldn’t
bring themselves to be rude enough to turn down whatever offer she was pushing.
Mr Goodson, the solitary civil servant who rented the ground-floor Flat 1, would be at work. He always was. Or maybe he wasn’t. It was difficult to tell, he was so quiet. No problems on
that score with the couple in the top flat: Miranda, still Welsh, depressive and bored with her reporter’s job on a local newspaper, and her partner Inverness Doogie, still Scottish, still
mad and now an up-and-coming second chef in one of South Kensington’s trendier restaurants. Both of them were definitely out at work. I could tell that as soon as I opened the front door,
because of the absence of (a) shouting, (b) cooking smells as Doogie experimented, or (c) the muffled sound of ‘The Beautiful South’ played with too much bass.
I only answered the damn phone because I thought I was doing one of them a favour, I never dreamed it would be for me. So much for helping out your neighbours. Okay, ex-neighbours. It might have
been the first time I had done so. I was sure it would be the last.
And I only kept listening to dear old Veronica Blugden – bless! – because she said those intriguing words ‘undercover for a brewery’ and then I agreed to meet her and
find out more.
So what happened subsequently was all a combination of me being in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing something innocent to help my fellow man, woman or Lisabeth, and being in a particular
State of mind in question? I was bored.
Where I was
to be that morning was in a maximum security crypt the other end of High Holborn, surrounded by several million pounds’ worth of hallmarked
silver and at least six scantily clad models, all aged between twenty-four and twenty-six and all size 10.
It was all to do with Amy’s expanding business empire, for which I had cheerily volunteered the Mission Statement (which every company has to have these days): ‘Tomorrow The
World’. But she’d replied, rather primly I’d thought, that she already had one: ‘Quality, Choice, Variety, Value’. I still maintained that mine was the snappier.
When I first met Amy she was involved with two partners in designing and marketing clothes for female office workers. Their main item was a TALtop, the TAL standing for Thalia, Amy and Lyn, the
three masterminds behind it, and their sales technique took the best ideas from the Tupperware parties of old and the naughty underwear parties still held in respectable homes up and down the
country when the husband is down the pub playing darts. Using computer databases the TAL girls would identify offices in central London with a certain number of secretaries or junior clericals,
then find the wine bar where they drank after work (usually Thursdays – payday – not Fridays, which were for boyfriends) and organise a mini fashion parade using the punters themselves