Inspector Ague strode back out of the building and out to his waiting car. He’d driven alone once he was alerted that someone, something, somebody was on to the Wilkins case. He hadn’t put much stock in the stories about the black-clad vigilante before but now, it seemed, there was definitely something to it. He eased into the creaking leather seat and lit a fresh cigarette, the electric lighter glowing in the dark like a firefly. It made a satisfying ‘clunk’ as he plugged it back in and then sat back to think a minute.
Did it really matter? That was the question. So this vigilante had found Wilkins’ body and, perhaps, had some suspicions but who would listen to a strange man who wouldn’t even show his face? If he got the information to anyone else would they be able to do anything? They weren’t under internal investigation, they had pretty free reign and nobody gave that much of a damn about anyone like Wilkins, or proper procedure, so long as the results were good.
Ague took a deep, soothing drag on his fag and rested his head back into his seat, turning the key to start the rumbling engine. It was still worth keeping the unit warned in case this guy caused trouble but, now he actually took the time to think about it, it wasn’t that worth worrying about. He heaved a deep sigh of relief and laughed around his cigarette, moving the car out onto the street.
The Rat clung to the underside of the car, steely fingers holding on, clinging close to the metal. The Granada was pretty high on its wheels, thankfully, but this was still dangerous as hell. His coat scraped along the road as the bent copper drove down the road. It was only luck that stopped him going full speed and scraping The Rat off on the road, that and the lack of street lighting.
He clung on.
The car finally came to a halt, a dim light shining under the side and The Rat noted – with a smile – that it was parked on double-yellow lines. Police… no respect for the law.
The car door opened and slammed shut, key turning with a scraping clunk and he watched the Cuban heels retreat from view, disappearing with the creak of a heavy door and a, suddenly loud, blast of ‘Tiger Feet’. The Rat loosened his steely grip, bleeding from already scarred fingertips, every muscle aching from clinging to the car. He lay there a moment, eyes closed behind red lenses, breathing hard through the filter of the gas mask and waiting for the right moment. It came with the sound of an oncoming car and the glare of headlights. Anyone looking wouldn’t be able to see. He rolled, out from under the car, below the sill of the pub windows and hunkered down, skimming around the outside of the building and into the dark of the empty beer garden. Autumn was no time to drink outside.
Dim light shone out from inside, low wattage bulbs masked by the shadows of those inside moving around. The music was reduced to its bass thump by the walls as he crept, unnoticed, in amongst the bins and the rubbish, his namesakes running for cover as he disturbed them and pressed up against the door, pushing it open a crack, fingertips scabbing over, listening and looking.
Steam billowed out as the cold air rushed in from outside. It must be the kitchen. The damp smell of overcooked vegetables came out along with the steam, that and the scent of frying chips. It made his stomach grumble beneath the thick leather and wool but he eased the door open a little more, glancing past, through, into the lounge beyond. It was a bit of a mixed crowd. Didn’t seem that much like a police pub. Lots of leather jackets, long hair, cheap suits. A working man’s pub, or a non-working man’s pub perhaps, some had the downtrodden look of those who’d been out of work a while. Of Ague or any other obvious police, there was no sign, but the ‘private function’ sign on the chain that marked the entrance to the cellar bar was still swinging.
The Rat clipped in through the door, pulling the ragged tails of his coat behind him. It was suddenly hot, humid, like being wrapped in a huge wet blanket. Fat bubbled in the fryer, pots on the stove as he kept low, moving past the cheap fitted cabinets to press into the side, risking a quick peek out the front. Most of the people in the bar had their heads turned to the wood-effect television, the flickering coloured image of some football game recap keeping them entranced. He was about to step out when a woman, all hair, earrings and choking perfume swept past him into the kitchen, shouting without looking back over her shoulder.
“Chicken and chips weren’t it?”
The Rat waited until the man shouted back and then whipped through the door, holding the train of his coat like a skirt to stop it rustling, sliding forward, down, beneath the chain, into the steps, slinking down them step by slow step until the voices below were louder than the music above, hidden in the shadows, ear cocked to hear what was being said.
“So, while this weird little fuck’s found out something’s off with that wog and the way he was done in. I don’t think there’s anything he can do about it. Who’s going to believe a freak like that?” There was laughter at that. “Still, we should be a bit more careful, take it as a warning sign.”
“This change anything for us?” Another voice, lacking the authority of Ague, but challenging, strong, not one of the police that worked with him then.
“Not a bloody thing mate. You keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll keep covering for you. Just keep feeding us anything you find out. Right?”
“I reckon those Pakis down the west road are dealing stolen tellies out the back.” Another voice, piping up, a rumble of assent from the other men down below.
“If not, they will be by the time we’re done. Right lads?” There was laughter again as Ague payed to the crowd. “Reckon you can get a few TVs ready Bull, just in case?”
“No problem John, besides, we can blame it on them either way it goes. Right?”
“Right. Well before we make any concrete plans Hunter needs to get here. Yeah? Then we can figure out precisely what the fuck it is we’re doing.”
Hunter? There was another one who wasn’t here yet. The Rat shifted around and turned to head back up the stairs, only to walk almost right into a bullet-headed beast of a man in a chocolate suit.
“What the fuck are you doin’ ‘ere?” The big bald man scowled, face wrinkled like a clenched fist and The Rat launched himself into him, propelling himself up the stairs like a cannonball into the big man and hurling them both back, the chain snapping as they went down.
There was a scream from the woman with the earrings as The Rat straddled the big man’s barrel chest and slammed one heavy gloved hand into the man’s jaw. He had to make this quick and get away, the whole pub would be on him in a second. It was like punching a wall, the man’s lip split but he was gristle and scar tissue anyway and didn’t seem perturbed. Steely eyes fixed on The Rat from beneath the man’s gnarled brow and he brought up his own hands, slapping The Rat squarely either side of his head, pain exploding in his eardrums, the sound of the pub abruptly dimmed, the brute’s voice sounding suddenly far away.
“Reckon you’re ‘ard do you?” As The Rat reeled the Neanderthal in the chocolate suit reared up, throwing him off, grabbing hold of his shoulder and slamming his fist into The Rat’s gut. “What’ve you got under there? Metal or summink?”
It wasn’t helping, blow after blow smashed into The Rat’s belly knocking the breath from him, maybe cracking a rib. He had to fight back, and quick. A deep painful breath and he threw his head back. Nobody else had reacted yet, too surprised. His head came forward again, hard, smashing into the big bastard’s nose, already twisted and broken god knew how many times. Eyes watering the big man dropped him and fell back against the wall, splintering the cheap wooden cladding as he did and sliding down.
Bent over, The Rat went in to finish him, fist back, clenched, only to find himself staring down the gaping barrel of a cult. Tears and blood running down his face the bullish man help the gun steady in one meaty fist, unwavering as it hovered before The Rat’s mask and he froze like a statue, fist still poised.
The big man growled around his teeth like he was chewing rocks. “I’m The Sweeny and you’re fucking nicked my old son.”