Get the key in, beastly thing, where’s it gone? Forget it, kick the lock in, hope none of the neighbours heard, find the lamp – someone’s run the oil out, never mind, get to the safe, that’s it, great iron toad of a thing – got the combination but can’t see the bloody tumbler, need a match – don’t drop them, curse your hands, light it, that’s better, looks like someone’s been here already tonight, workers making trouble, they don’t know the combination, don’t panic – who’s that? Who’s sitting there by the hall door? Who the blazes is that?
“John?” the man in the chair asked. Young guy, tweed jacket and neatly parted hair. “John Allerdyce?”
“Who’re you?” John spat. The match in his fingers sizzled and went out, but he’d seen a candle stub on top of the safe and he fumbled for it, scraping a fresh match down the cast-iron box. The man was still sitting there when the smoky wick ignited. Funny place to put a chair, right there in the doorway. “Are you one of Duke’s cronies?”
“Goodness, no,” said the man with a warm smile. “I’m not anybody’s crony. But you know, I was just thinking how sorry it was that we missed you, John.”
“Missed me?” John laughed. “Well I’m here now. What do you want?”
“I want you to turn yourself in,” the man said, inclining his head a little. “You understand that the cartel is collapsing at an astounding rate, I’m sure, or you would not be so hastily trying to retrieve the banknotes in that safe.”
John took a step away from the safe. “Who’re you? The bloody salvation army?”
“I’m just the oracle of good advice, John,” the man said. It was odd as a gull in britches that he was just sitting there, placid as anything. His hands were resting on the arms of his chair and there was a rug covering his legs, a warm woollen afghan like John’s nan used to make before the winter got her. John took another step around the desk and he began to laugh as he saw the chair for what it was.
“Can’t give naught but advice, can you, gimp?” he straightened up, his grin shining yellow in the candlelight.
The man continued to smile genially, not even flinching at the force John thrust behind his final word. “Come on now, John. Let’s go into the street and I’ll escort you to the yard. I’m sure you know the names of plenty other dealers in this little ring, and the police will offer you plenty of years off your sentence in return.”
“You sound like you know an awful lot about us yourself,” John sneered, reaching into his coat and pulling out the flick-knife he’d taken off his father’s cooling body, all those years ago. He opened it with a snap. “Here’s a thought. You tell me which of those bludger’s ‘as put you up to this and I’ll only cut off the bits of you that you ain’t usin’ anyway.”
He placed the candle on top of the nearest cabinet and a drip of wax hissed as it melted into the varnish. John held the knife away from his body, spinning it in his palm and between his fingers, his grin growing broader as he advanced on the man sitting in the doorway. “Come on, grandpa,” he jerked his chin. “Spill it.”
There was a movement, like a raptor flicking its wings. John registered a flash of steel and the crack of a pistol going off. The weight of the knife was gone from John’s hand, and a moment later the pain struck like a lightning bolt. He lifted his arm and found he could look right through the place where his ring finger and half of his pinky had been a moment before. Blood was gushing and dripping in runnels down the back of his hand and into the sleeve of his shirt.
John gave a low moan and fell back against the door of the safe with a clang. White flashes popped at the edges of his vision as he shifted his eyes to the man in the chair. The man sat serene, the smile gone from his face, the pistol outstretched in his hand and pointing directly at the centre of John’s forehead.
“You shot my fingers off!” John cried.
“You should have held the knife still,” the man replied coolly, his eyes narrowing just a little. The candle flickered, casting deep shadows into the hallway behind him.
“I’ll – I’ll rip your eyes out of your skull you sodding bastard—“
The man gave the tiniest shake of his head, his gaze never leaving John’s face. “Oh, I wouldn’t try it, my friend,” he said softly. “I really wouldn’t.”