Authors: John Gordon Sinclair
Tags: #Crime Fiction
John Gordon Sinclair
For Shauna‚ Eva and Anna
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him: till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee‚ Until seven times: but‚ Until seventy times seven.
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Blood Whispers extract
About the Author
Over the course of the last few years I have learned that novel writing is a solo endeavour involving lots of people. With that in mind I would like to thank the following: John Rodgers for being a drinking buddy, travel companion, raconteur and unofficial adviser (but most of all for just being a pal); Robert Caskie at PFD and Michael Foster for their help and support; my editor Katherine Armstrong and Hannah Griffiths at Faber and Faber for their advice, support and sagacity; the Wotton Manor Hotel in Dorking, for offering sanctuary and limitless cups of tea and coffee; Ann McNulty of Bru An Tsosa in Camlough, County Armagh, for her hospitality and generosity; Google Earth, without which I wouldn’t know what Tuscaloosa looked like.
I would also like to offer one huge ‘thank’ to my wife Shauna for her love, unerring belief, patience, uncanny editing skills and for selflessly creating the space for me to write.
‘Da. Come here an see this.’
The young teenager pushed her dark hair to one side and pressed her face hard against the cold pane of glass to get a better angle.
Her warm breath steamed the window and droplets of condensation raced each other in small rivulets down its smooth surface to collect in tear-shaped puddles on the sill below.
She shouted again, ‘Da, look! There’s some fella dragging a coffin up the middle of our street.’
Joe Fitzpatrick crossed from the kitchen doorway to stand with his daughter at the window of their small terraced house.
‘Jesus Christ!’ he muttered under his breath.
‘There’s stuff coming out of it,’ said the girl.
‘What the hell,’ exclaimed Joe, making the sign of the cross. ‘Come on you, away from the window.’
‘But what’s that? Look, it’s all the way down the road.’
‘Come away from the window,’ snapped Joe.
‘He’s stopped,’ said the girl.
Joe Fitzpatrick watched the young man lower the coffin to the ground and turn towards them, aware that he was being watched.
He stood in the middle of the street staring back at them, expressionless.
Joe grabbed his daughter by the arm and pulled her backwards out of view.
‘Is it blood, Da?’
Joe Fitzpatrick didn’t answer.
‘D’you think he saw us?’ she whispered, looking up at her father.
‘You figure it’s him?’
‘Yeah,’ replied Vincent.
‘Did you get a good look?’
‘It’s kinda dark back there, but it’s him all right.’
‘You seen a photograph?’
Vincent looked confused. ‘There ain’t no photograph.’
‘So how you so sure it’s him?’ said Cola sharply. ‘You don’t want to turn round and check?’
‘Don’t have to. It’s him,’ said Vincent without raising his eyes from his beer. ‘He’s sitting there just like it was described.’
Cola Conrado drew smoke deep into his lungs and blew out a long thin jet of grey between his dry, cracked lips: the end of the exhalation punctuated by a perfect, rising smoke-ring.
His dark slicked-back hair was showing the first signs of grey around the temples and his voice clattered like a death rattle in his desiccated throat.
Sitting across the cityscape of empty beer bottles was Vincent Lee Croll; the perspiration on his dark-skinned forehead throwing off a sheen that accentuated his large, full lips – and unfortunate lopsided features. His friends at school used to wisecrack that his mom was a Nigerian princess and his dad was a potato.
The barmaid was at the table.
‘You want me to clear some of this for you?’
Cola stared at her from behind his black-glassed Aviators and made no attempt to disguise the fact that he was checking out her ass. He gave a small nod – like what he was looking at met with his approval – before adding dismissively, ‘Yeah, and bring us two more beers.
‘You see McCormack’s drugstore across the street there?’ rasped Cola, turning his attention back to Vincent.
‘You’d better point‚ man, cause I can’t read nothing cept my name,’ replied Vincent idly.
Cola gave Vincent a sideways glance, then raised his finger and pointed across the street at a large green cross flashing outside a shop, with the words ‘McCormack’s Drugstore’ written below in red neon.
‘Can’t write nothing but my name either,’ continued Vincent.
Cola sucked air in through a gap in his crooked yellowed teeth and made a clicking noise with his tongue. ‘You want to hear what I have to say, or you gonna pass some more gas bout how dumb you are?’
Vincent shrugged and gazed vacantly across the street to where Cola was pointing.
‘You may not be able to read, but you know what a flashing-fuckin-green cross looks like,’ continued Cola. ‘First time I ever shot someone dead was right over there, can you believe that? Kinda weird that we ended up here, eh? Don’t you think? You figure that’s significant?’
‘I haven’t been back in Tuscaloosa in nearly fifteen years and we’re about to do some business right across the street from where it all started for me. You don’t think there’s something freaky about that, or d’you think it’s just a coincidence?’
‘What, like an omen or something?’ asked Vincent.
‘Yeah! That’s what I’m asking.’
Vincent considered it for a few moments then shrugged. ‘Beats me.’
‘Wasn’t a drugstore then, was a convenience store. Wasn’t too convenient for the Asian, caught the bullet with his forehead. The first thing everyone learns in a foreign language is how to swear, but to me that’s fucked up. First thing you got to learn to say is “Don’t shoot.”’
Cola stopped talking and stared out of the window.
Vincent wasn’t sure if he’d finished or not so he nodded a few times before adding, ‘That’s a good story.’
It was as hot inside as it was out: well into the nineties. Cola shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The overhead fan was having little impact and the long-barrelled Magnum he had tucked into his belt was digging into his thigh, making his teeth set against each other whenever he leant forward to pick up his beer.
‘Where d’you leave the Fleetwood?’ he asked.
‘There’s a lot the other side of the street,’ replied Vincent.
‘Next time we jack a car we got to make sure it has a few extras. That ride is a piece of shit, man,’ said Cola as he drew down another lungful of smoke. ‘When we’re done here we ought to find the guy that owns it and run the son-of-a-bitch over. It’s a goddamn disgrace.’
‘You show up in a town like Tuscaloosa driving a car that’s got all four doors, you in danger of getting pulled over by the cops,’ replied Vincent.
‘You show up
in a Fleetwood you gonna have the whole neighbourhood watching anyway: few cops won’t make any difference,’ continued Cola. ‘You couldn’t have stolen something that had – at least – one window that wound down? Every goddamn one of them is jammed shut. I’ve had so much hot air blowing on my ass‚ my trousers don’t fit me no more.’
The waitress arrived and placed two fresh glasses and a couple of bottles of beer on the table.
‘That’ll be four dollars.’
‘For that kind of money you’d expect to have some air-con thrown in for free. I didn’t leave for work this morning expecting to die of heatstroke in a goddamn bar.’
‘You got to die of something,’ replied the waitress, masking her irritation with a convincing smile.
Cola’s face changed like a switch had been flipped.
‘Too fucking right you got to die of something,’ he growled. ‘You want to bring me some ice and a towel, or you want to hang around here giving us lip then see how easy it is to “die of something”?’
The waitress avoided Cola’s hard stare and answered quietly, ‘I’ll go get you some ice.’
Vincent stared straight ahead. He knew for sure Cola was about to start in on him now. The guy was on a permanent short fuse. The least little thing would set him off.
Motherfucker should be in a secure wing
, Vincent was thinking, just as Cola poked him in the face with his finger.
Vincent didn’t respond.
‘You listening to me nigga boy? . . . You know what I’m asking. You ready to go? . . . You cool?’
Vincent considered giving some of it back, but for now he just muttered under his breath, ‘Jack Frost, brother.’
Cola crushed the lit end of the cigarette between his fingers and flicked the butt across the floor. ‘Okay, here’s the play. You go get the Fleetwood and park up at the end of the alley, runs up behind here. You see anyone come out the fire exit except me, you let him know you ain’t pleased to see him . . . What’d you bring?’
Vincent pulled his jacket to one side and showed Cola.
Cola shook his head. ‘What the fuck you thinking? You want something that’s gonna make a big “bam” noise. Like if you was to write it down, like in the comic books, it would have a big yellow flash with “Bam” in the middle – make a noise that’s going to discourage the other patrons from going for a bravery medal, you know what I’m saying. Let the target know you ain’t fucking around.’
‘This ain’t my first time,’ replied Vincent with a little edge creeping into his voice.
‘Then why’d you bring a fucking pop-gun to the party, asshole?’ Cola lit another cigarette. ‘Pick me up in exactly three minutes. You think you can manage to count that high? If I ain’t out in three then it’s all fucked up an you’s heading home on your own. C’mon, get off your skinny ass and let’s get busy.’
Vincent lifted his awkward frame out of the chair and lumbered over to the large mottled-glass door at the entrance, his arms hanging limply at his side. He turned back briefly to Cola before leaving.
‘See you in three.’
Cola tipped his chair back and tapped a drumbeat on the side of his beer bottle with his fingers. A table of noisy office workers nearby suddenly erupted in a burst of raucous laughter. Cola placed his beer slowly back on the table and turned to stare, willing one of them to catch his eye.
He checked his watch.
Time to go.
In one slick, easy movement he was on his feet with the Magnum in his hand and his finger squeezing the trigger.
Got a message from the boys back home‚ motherfucker
’ he shouted across the room.
The air exploded with a series of loud bangs.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
Just like in the comic books.