Johnny was staring straight back into Bill’s eyes, watching the passage of several gambits manifest themselves there in his twitchy mouth and nervous eyeballs. He didn’t give Bill’s first attempt at benign curiosity any answer. Bill looked like he was going to try again and then, cautioned by Johnny narrowing his gaze, changed to mild affront and puzzlement.
‘Listen mate. What’s going on? What’s your game? Eh?’ Johnny still wasn’t giving him anything back ‘Because—me and Davy here don’t take kindly to any silly business. See?’
Johnny got on his feet and stood up close to Bill and stared down into his face. Bill tried to return cold stare with cold stare but it took only a few seconds before his face crumpled into an incredulous grin and he was glancing between Johnny and Davy.
‘Is this some kind of fuckin’ joke mate? Is it a…,’ Johnny waited until the third time Bill glanced at Davy before he punched him hard in the solar plexus. Bill shrieked and doubled over. Johnny pushed him toward the sofa and he fell into it, foetal position and gasping to catch a breath. Davy hadn’t moved. Johnny took two black cable ties out of a back pocket of his jeans, handed them to Davy and pointed down at Bill. ‘Get his legs and bind them at the ankle and then get his hands behind his back and bind them at the wrist.’ Davy daren’t move until Johnny insisted ‘Do it!’ Kneeling quickly down next to Bill he ran a cable tie under his ankles. Threading the sharp end through the locking mechanism he flinched when Johnny stepped close and leant down. Johnny patiently explained, ‘No. Not like that son. It has to go in the opposite way so the teeth catch the little ratchet. It’ll slide otherwise. So turn it first.’ Davy twisted the tie. ‘That’s good. A little more. Okay. And now thread it. Good…Pull it nice and tight. Good job.’ Johnny then rolled Bill over on his stomach. He told Davy who was still kneeling at Bill’s side. ‘Take his wrists and bring them round his back.’ When Davy took up one of his wrists Bill wrestled it free from his uncertain grasp. Johnny rested his left boot on Bill’s right shoulder. He told Davy ‘Take his wrists, and bind them. Nope, not that way,…turn…Yip. That’s better. And pull it tight. Nice and tight. Good job.’
Johnny stepped back and pulled out another set of cable ties and told Davy to stand up and turn around. It was a job of a few seconds before the boy’s wrists were bound. Johnny led him to the sofa and sat him down before binding his ankles. From there he returned to Bill, checked the back pocket of his jeans, both of which were empty save for a crushed packet of Benson and Hedge, and then rolled him on his back. He found a roll of twenties and fifties in the breast pocket of the check shirt. In the right hand jean pocket there was a fiver or so in loose change and the keys for the transit van parked outside. Going over to Davy he patted the pockets of his grey trackies and found the envelope with the fifty he had planted in the living-room as bait.
Mrs Callaghan was in the kitchen where Johnny had told her to wait. He gave her the envelope with the fifty and then counted out seven hundred from Bill’s roll and gave that to her too. There was at least four hundred more to cover his fee. As he made his way out to the street his phone buzzed with another message. He took a look at the screen. There were two messages. One from Julie and another from a number he didn’t recognise. They’d both have to wait.
Mrs Callaghan’s driveway set-up was very convenient for the job in hand. The entire front was paved over. The entrance was to one side, and a tall hedge obscured much of the driveway from the street. Once he had reversed the van in no one looking from houses across the street or passing along the road could see in. He opened the back doors to the van before going back inside the house. The rear hold didn’t connect with the driver’s cabin which was perfect. At the back wall of half inch plywood there was an old tarp. He got in the van to look under it and found a two stroke chainsaw. A plate riveted to its exhaust had been heavily scored, probably with a screwdriver. It was still possible to read the words ‘Edinburgh plant hire’ pressed in to the metal.
It took him a few minute to drag Bill out of the house and roll him into the back of the van. Davy was light enough that he could throw him over one shoulder and carry him out that way. He got into the back with his two captives and pulled manfully on the start cord. After four attempts it finally fired it up. In the confines of the rear hold its loud rasp was deafening. He went up close to Bill’s head and revved it hard a few times until it was properly warmed up. Even at idle the noise it made required he shout.
‘You boy’s do the course for this thing? You need a certificate, don’t you?’ He revved it a couple of times and swung its angry blade, ‘I mean, in the wrong hands something like this could be very dangerous.’ Laid out on his back Bill’s eyes were tight closed and he was trying his best to shrink back. Johnny revved the saw closer to his head and then, crouching down and following a contour just a few centimetres above Bills prone shape he slowly cut through the air, down toward his feet. Eventually the wind from the chain was tickling the lower seam of Bill’s jeans and then the laces of his boots. Johnny lowered the blade toward the laces and at just the moment the chain tangled and grabbed them he hit the kill switch. It was a coincidence that at that very same moment his phone buzzed in his pocket again. He took it from his pocket, pushed back from where he was crouched down and sat on one of the wheel arches. It was Juliet.
‘Hi. What’s up?…Me? No. I’m out on a little job…Tonight? Actually, no. I can’t…Yes. That’s right. Because it’s Tuesday. I can’t miss out on the practica thing again…I would. But I promised myself I’d go this week…I will learn it…What did you say?…Yeah but…Yip…huh huh…But I’ve told you before, Strictly is bullshit. There’s a world of difference between learning a routine and learning to dance…That’s right. I do. And…And I’ll keep telling you that until you take it on board…Ten. Half ten. Eleven maybe. It’ll depend on whether we all go for a …huhhuh…yip.’ The call was taking longer than he wanted it to. He took the chainsaw and stepped back out of the van. ‘Yip. I know…’ Slamming the back doors shut he took the chainsaw to the front cabin and laid it carefully in the well of the passenger seat and went back in to the house. ‘Yup….Sure…Yes’ He found Mrs Callaghan in the living- room opening the blinds. With his phone still clamped to his ear he lifted his chin and smiled at her. She waited patiently while he spoke on the phone. ‘Yip…Listen. I have to go…No. I have a client I have to speak to…I’ll talk to you later…Okay. I hear you…B…Bye, bye.’
Five minutes later he was on the road. He had gathered up his bag and the screwdriver from the dining room and taken an old sheet Mrs Callaghan had given him, torn out two strips and used them to gag Bill and Davy. Sitting in traffic on the Queensferry Road he grabbed the chance to take a look at his phone and the anonymous missed call. Prefixed with 0141 it was a Glasgow number. He only knew a couple of people through that way and both of them – Lee and Fiona – were in his contact list. Whoever it was, if it was important they’d phone back.
It was time for lunch. There were plenty of spaces on the Raeburn road adjacent to the rugby ground. Johnny parked the van up, bought half an hour of parking with Bill’s spare change and walked the rest of the way to his flat on Comely Bank Place. His place was a single bedroom affair on the third floor of the Georgian block on the western edge of the cobble street.
Stepping into his high ceiling hallway, onto its varnished wooden floor and in the gloom of its crimson red walls, Johnny paused to slip out of his boots and pick up his mail – a thin brown parcel and the latest edition of New Yorker magazine. Going through to the kitchen he set the parcel down on the dining table and the magazine on top of twenty other unopened issues in the pantry cupboard.
The kitchen window blinds were still closed from early morning when he’s left to go to Mrs Callaghan’s place. He pulled them up and looked out. Peering left he could just see the van parked on the main road at the end of the street. Outwardly there was nothing to indicate its cargo. He retrieved the expresso maker from the hob, unscrewed the upper and lower chambers, extracted the filter funnel, emptied the spent coffee grains from it by tapping it on the interior wall of the swing bin and rinsed it under the tap, filled the lower chamber with fresh water, reinstalled the funnel filter, packed it tight with fresh coffee, screwed the upper and lower chambers back together and set the reassembled device on gas. It was a routine well practiced. He’d only ever drunk instant coffee before Anna but now he couldn’t drink anything else. It was one of those things she had left him, including the decoration of his flat.
The walls of the kitchen were painted a very light green that Anna had chosen. She was also responsible for the ten framed black and white photographs of solid, working kitchens in rustic farmhouses, chateaus and restaurants of France hung on the walls. The elegant glass-topped, circular teak dining table and its four regency style chairs had been what she called ‘ a find!’ On Anna’s instructions Johnny had torn out the Ikea kitchen cabinets that once ran the length of the wall from the windows to the well of the door to the hallway (a four panel Victorian pine door, stripped clean of paint like every other in the flat) and replaced them with three sturdy wooden shelves. On the highest shelf was a Kitchenaid Planetary Food Mixer and a series of Le Creuset iron casseroles of differing size and colour. The middle shelf was stacked with three sixteen piece dinnerware sets, (a solid looking Denby, a delicate Royal Doulton and a third with a bamboo leaf motif) various large ceramic serving dishes, two gravy boats, ten lead crystal claret glasses, ten slim jims, ten heavy whisky tumblers, twelve shots glasses, twenty pint glasses taken from pubs across town. The lowest shelve was a long library of pulses, grains, cereals, pastas, rice, olive oils, masalas and flours stored in airtight glass jars. Hanging on hooks below the lowest shelf were six copper saucepans, each turned hollow-side in against the Spanish tile splash-back. Under the shelves there was a vintage ceramic sink incorporated in to the oak worktop. Under the worktop and discretely disguised behind oak panel the washing machine and dishwasher were Smeg, as were the polished aluminium oven, hob, extractor hood and fridge-freezer set up along the wall opposite.
Holding the black and chipped ‘X-Files : Trust No One’ he’d picked up at a charity shop Johnny waited for the coffee to percolate into the upper chamber of the expresso maker. He had already prepared himself a large serving of Sugar Puffs in a plastic bowl he kept in the cabinet under the cutlery drawer. Glancing up at the wall clock – its two hands centred on the plastic silhouette of long-tailed cat – he saw he had twenty minutes left on his parking. The expresso maker spluttered and spat under its lid. He turned off the gas, poured half the coffee into his mug and carried it and the bowl to the dining table. Spooning cereal into his mouth with one hand he picked up the small, thin parcel with the other. It was a bubble wrap envelope. Pressing it between his fingers he could feel the hard shape of a memory stick inside it. He put it down and only picked it up again once he had finished the sugar puffs, taken the bowl to the sink, rinsed it out, set it on the draining board, returned to the table with the ashtray retrieved from the cupboard under the sink, lit a cigarette and sipped his coffee.
Carefully opening the parcel he shook out its contents. Five newspaper clippings were folded around a two gigabyte Sony memory stick. He laid all three out flat on the table and read through the headlines.
Cyclist run over by truck
Death Driver had 11 previous convictions
Parents vow to fight as killer driver walks free
Dangerous versus careless driving: the facts
Fatal accident driver, ‘No apologies’
Going back to the first clipping there was a picture of a smiling boy sitting astride a touring bicycle. The report read,
‘Bike-mad’ 16 year old Steven Hutchinson was knocked over and killed instantly in July 2013. Cycling westbound on a straight stretch of the A83 between Tarbet on Loch Lomond and Arrochar, accompanied by his 17 year old brother, Gordon, Steven was on only the second day of a long-distance cycle adventure. Parents Graham and A Nasty Piece Of Work Rhona had granted Steven his wish to go on a two hundred mile trip as a reward for a good school year. Rhona Hutchinson told reporters, ‘The weeks before he and Gordon set off Steven talked of nothing else. He planned every step of the way.’ The first day of Steven and his brother trip took them Falkirk to the home of family friends in Alexandria. Both young cyclists were just one hour in to the second day’s route to Inverary and the home of uncle Robert Gray when disaster struck. Steven’s brother Gordon told police ‘Steven was about two hundred metres behind me when I last saw him. We sometimes raced on the hilly bits, like we were winning sprint points on the Tour De France. Steven was tired because he had gone too hard on the first day. I followed a curve of the road, where it starts to go down, so he was out of sight, and that must have been when it happened. I didn’t see it happen, but it must have been then. I got all the way to Arrochar and I was waiting ten minutes before I went back to look for him.’
Johnny’s mobile buzzed in his pocket. He fished it out and looked at the screen. It was the Glasgow number again.
‘Did you get the mail?’
‘The newspaper clippings? The memory stick?’
‘What if I did?’
‘And you’ve read the clippings?’ Johnny let a pause stretch. The caller asked, ‘You’re in the cleaning business, aren’t you?’
‘I like things neat if that’s what you mean. Disorder bothers me. Nothing unusual there.’
‘A kid like that shouldn’t have to die. Some people maybe, but not a kid, and not like that. Don’t you agree?’
‘Whatever you’re talking about, does it matter if I agree or not?’
‘No. Probably not. Read the reports. Listen to the recordings. Look at the files. I’ll call back in a couple of days.’
The phone clicked. The caller had put down the receiver.