The lean figure of Councillor Hywel Preece climbed into the back seat of his metallic black Range Rover Autobiography. He was carrying a large, black leather, solicitor’s briefcase. The car crept out of the car park at County Hall and purred off quietly towards the city centre. Preece leant forward and ordered the driver to drop him off at the bottom of Wind Street. They agreed to meet at the same place in exactly one hour.
He strode up the road then turned sharply into Salubrious Passage. He paused to study his reflection in a shop window and looked back to see if anyone came hurrying round the corner after him. No one did, so he pushed open the door of the Gallery Upstairs. He emerged into the silence of the first floor and coughed to indicate his arrival. The owner came bustling out.
‘Ah, Councillor Preece, how nice to see you again; let me take your coat please, sir. Thank you. Now, it’s a private viewing today, I believe, is it not?’ The councillor nodded, turning towards the cluttered walls of the main showroom, as the man brushed an imaginary speck of dust off the shoulder of his Barbour, before placing it carefully on a hanger and whisking it off to the coat rack. As always, the place was deserted.
‘I’m expecting a guest,’ stated Preece, flatly.
‘Certainly, Councillor, and I am sure he, or she, shares your appreciation of the work of our finest local artists. You may be interested to note a couple of quite exciting new Bannings’ in the display...’
‘How much is this one?’ asked the councillor, indifferently.
‘Fifty pounds,’ came the instant reply. The councillor produced his wallet and handed over the money.
‘Stick one of the usual “Donated bys” on it and give it to Singleton Hospital,’ he ordered.
‘Very good, sir,’ the owner continued. ‘I’ll let him in, then be off to lunch. Please let yourselves out, and close the door behind you. I’ll turn the sign round, so you won’t be disturbed.’ In the absence of any response, he turned and bustled out.
Preece was inspecting the artwork, with a jaundiced expression, when his guest arrived.
‘Come in, Ringer,’ was his only greeting. ‘What have you got for me?’
Chief Inspector Ringer reached inside his jacket and produced some typed sheets, as he walked forward.
‘Not a lot at the moment, Hywel,’ he confessed. ‘This is a transcript of D.S. Evans’ interview with Gareth Llewellyn. He’s been trying to get a confession out of him all morning, but he’s not having it. He seems quite a tough nut to crack, for a youngster.’
‘Hmm’, agreed Preece, as he flicked through the pages. ‘Like his father. Not easily bullied by all accounts. Still, confessions are deniable, are they not? What we need is evidence, witnesses. Send Evans round to this address,’ he handed Ringer a slip of typed paper. ‘The kid’s been well paid to confess to being young Llewellyn’s accomplice. They were thick as thieves at school, so there’s a plausible connection. They fell out over a girl and this one got into drugs.’
Inspector Ringer pulled a sour face.
‘I can’t see a barrister taking long to punch holes in that,’ he remarked.
‘I doubt if a barrister will get the chance. I don’t particularly want young Llewellyn convicted of anything. I just want to make sure that, if his father wants to dispute Juliet’s divorce proceedings, as far as the world is concerned, his teenage son from another marriage is a hell-raising delinquent.’
Ringer glanced at him for a moment, and then shook his head in a gesture of bewildered admiration.
‘Christ you’re a devious bastard Hywel. “Piranha Preece” we used to call you at school and you haven’t changed. Shame you were always too clever for the Force. Anyhow, what about the arrangements for tonight?’
The two men went over the instructions to be given to Evans, and then Ringer let himself out. Preece continued his examination of the artwork. He turned with a start. The man was almost beside him before he sensed his presence. Like many big men he was surprisingly light on his feet. Preece eyed his sovereigns with distaste as he held out a briefcase identical to Preece’s.
‘You’re early, O’Leary,’ he remarked as the two men made the exchange. ‘Good week?’
‘Aye, not bad. There’s over seventy grand in there and that with wages and money for the next shipment taken out.’
‘Fine; I’ll get Semple to start laundering it.’
‘What was Ringer doin’ here?’
Preece suddenly found himself feeling uncomfortable under the fat man’s cold gaze; he didn’t like being questioned by a subordinate, but he knew the bloody man had O’Connell’s ear.
‘Oh, he called round with some bits and pieces for me.’
‘I said what was Ringer doin’ here.’
‘It’s Juliet, you know, my secretary...’
‘Yes, well, that as well.’
‘What about her?’
‘She wants a divorce from her husband. I said I’d help stitch him up. You know, make sure she gets the family home...’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘I said this fuckin’ stinks! How much does she know about the business?’
‘Not much. I don’t know. I mean she’s not stupid. She knows money doesn’t grow on trees, but then I’m a solicitor and a city councillor so she’d expect me to be well off.’
‘What if she’s a plant?’
‘For Christ sake, O’Leary, she works for County Hall! I’ve had her checked out. She’s been in local government since she left school.’
‘And you don’t think work records can be faked?’
‘Oh come on man, you’re being paranoid...’
‘And you’re letting your bollocks rule your brains! We’ve put a lot of time and money into settin’ this thing up and you’re willin’ to risk it all for some bint who’s short on knicker elastic. Do you realise how long you’ll spend at Her Majesty’s Pleasure if this goes tits up?’
‘It’s not like that. I’m not taking any chances. Besides, I’m the “public face” of the operation. It’s important that I’m seen leading a normal life, which in this day and age includes the possibility of having an affair. This is no big deal. Just a bit of insurance to make sure this Llewellyn bloke buggers off without causing a row.’
The fat man’s gaze was steadier and colder than ever. His tone was menacing when he spoke.
‘To be frank my friend, I don’t quite see why the business needs a “public face” anymore.’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘Just that. All the PR stuff is history now. The system runs itself. The more unpublic it is the better.’
‘What are you saying?’
‘I dunno. Perhaps it’s time we reviewed our business structure. Maybe you’d like to let go of the reins a bit. Take your new lady friend off to spend some of that cash we’ve all been makin’...’
‘What, and leave you to take over a sixty million pound business in my absence? You must think I’m fucking simple!’
‘Calm down, man. I’m just sayin’ things move on and we need to move with them. If the pack needs reshufflin’, it’s up to us to make sure it cuts to our advantage. As to this Llewellyn fella, why drag Ringer into it? Why not let me and the boys top him? A quick hit and run when he’s walking home from the pub and it’s all done and dusted.’
‘And murdering him isn’t going to attract the slightest attention, eh?’
‘Not if it looks like a genuine accident.’
‘Look, Ringer’s got his work cut out containing the fall-out from the death of the kid you and the boys chucked off that tower block. Fair enough, the boy had to be made an example of, but Llewellyn is nothing to do with the business and we have no reason to kill him. This is just a personal thing I’m sorting out for Juliet and you won’t hear anymore about it.’
The fat man eyed him for a moment longer, and then his face broke into a grin not much warmer than his stare.
‘Not much stomach for the rough stuff, have ya Hywel?’ he remarked dryly.
‘It’s got its place, but I’m a brains over brawn man, frankly. We can always call on the boys as a last resort.’
The pale eyes grew hard again.
‘Fair enough. Do it your way, but I’m warning you now, if things go pear shaped and I have to straighten them out, I’m going to be talkin’ to O’Connell about it and, if he has to make a special visit, someone’s gonna get hurt. D’you follow me?’
‘Of course, O’Leary, I’m not a bloody fool you know.’
His colleague eyed him for a moment longer, as if to suggest that he wasn’t entirely convinced, and then he turned and departed as abruptly as he had arrived.
As he made his way back down Wind Street, Preece reviewed his arrangements satisfying himself that all the angles had been covered. He wasn’t too convinced as to Detective Sergeant Evans’ abilities, but Ringer seemed confident enough that he was the man for the job. He shrugged. As a successful solicitor, he was bound to view the likes of Chief Inspector Ringer and Detective Sergeant Evans with a certain contempt.
More importantly, he didn’t like the sound of O’Leary’s latest proposal one little bit. He’d put money and a successful business into this operation, as well as a lot of time and effort. He wasn’t about to let the cod-eyed bastard lever him out! O’Leary was getting a bit too fond of cracking the whip lately and he seemed to think violence was the solution to everything. It was about time the fat thug realised that there was still room for the subtle approach and tucking up this Llewellyn character was the ideal opportunity for Preece to make the point.
The assembled company in the front bar of the Railway was unanimously in favour of Jacs’ offer to take Charlie home. No one dreamed it was likely to lead to anything. I mean, Jesus, he could hardly say bread. Then again, there’s no telling the hidden reserves a man can call on when it’s offered to him on a plate, and there’s no doubting Jacs knows a trick or two in the bedroom department. Hell of a girl, mind.
According to the landlord, Johnny came in about lunchtime, and then Charlie turned up because he needed him to finish a job on the chapel roof. They buggered off in the Van for a couple of hours or more. Meantime, of course, “Wing Commander” bloody Morgan comes in, shooting his big mouth off about this postcard his missus has heard about. Charlie’s missus has dumped him he says. Fucked off to Tenerife in high dudgeon, because our Charlie’s been playing away and generally not keeping her in the style she’s accustomed to. To hear Morgan tell it, our Charlie Boy’s a worse husband than Henry the Eighth, when everyone knows he busted his arse to keep her happy.
Anyhow, the long and short of it is, when he comes in about five, everyone’s heard about the postcard and, well, what do you say, really? In he walks and everyone shuts up and stares at their pints, like a bunch of mammy’s dull boys. You could have heard a pin drop. Well, Christ, he was bound to sense an atmosphere.
‘What’s wrong with you lot?’ he asks, ‘taken a vow of silence have we?’
Still no one looks up. ‘Oh don’t tell me, Johnny’s put magic mushrooms in the beer again and you’re all too stoned to talk.’ At last Jones Bach speaks up.
‘Sorry mate, no one’s stoned, it’s just there’s been stories going round and well Christ mun, you know what it’s like... here, let me get that...’ he tries to grin as if to say no offence, like, but Charlie wasn’t having any of it. He’d gone dead pale and his face was hard, like it was the night he dropped that twat who was threatening Nicola. No one wanted to know when the bloody nutter smashed that glass on the bar, except Charlie. That hard look, then bang and the bloke was out on the deck with a busted jaw.
‘It’s alright,’ he said quietly, ‘I’ll stay on my own.’ He picked up the pint Nicola had poured for him, turned on his heel and walked round to the other bar. He sat on the stool in there on his own, just staring at the wall and drinking, until some of the boys went in to play darts about eight. Even then, they stayed down the far end by the dartboard, so as not to bother him.
Jacs came in, with a couple of girls, about half-past. Normally, that got him going and Christ, there’s been some nights with Charlie and Jacs on form, but not this time. She sat and chatted to him for a while, then gave up and talked to her mates. Meanwhile Charlie just kept pouring it down his neck like he’d got hollow legs.
Jenks went out to strain his ‘taters just before last orders and whispered when he got back that Charlie appeared to have hit the wall. He was slumped on the bar and his eyes had gone west. Suddenly, everyone wanted to help. Guilty, see. A quid here, a quid there and lo and behold, there was the taxi fare to destination unknown. Somehow Jacs gets involved, and says the twins are staying over at a friend’s house for the night so she could take him home to hers. Next thing Nicola announces he is making a gurgling noise in his sleep, and one of Jacs’ mates, who is a receptionist at the Medical Centre in the square, says what if he chokes on his vomit?
Well fair dos, drinks had been taken, so that was it. No way was our butty going home on his own in a state like that to drown in his own puke. Don’t worry, says Jacs. She’ll take him home and he can crash the night on her sofa. His missus is in Tenerife, so where’s the harm? Well, of course we all knew what was going on, but good luck to her. No one said it, but we all thought our mate was better off with Jacs than he’d ever been with that snotty bitch of a wife of his.
Next thing the cab’s outside beeping his horn. Charlie’s carted out with Jacs holding his hand, and off they go up the hill, with her waving out the back window, like a bloody honeymoon couple.
Detective Sergeant Evans pulled his camouflage jacket tighter around himself and shivered slightly. There was a definite chill in the autumn air, now night had fallen. He looked out from his vantage point at the city lights, and the arc they prescribed around Swansea Bay. He peered at his watch for the umpteenth time. It was ten-past-eleven. Not long to wait now he thought hopefully. The bright lights in the distance seemed to make the darkness in his immediate vicinity all the more intense. He could hear the occasional dog barking, but not nearby. He congratulated himself on having had the foresight to spend fifteen minutes lobbing doped sausages into the local back gardens. Shame they weren’t poisoned he thought nastily. He bloody hated dogs.
His thoughts drifted back to the afternoon. Things had picked up after that little wanker Gareth Llewellyn cheeking him all morning, mainly thanks to that junkie kid Ringer had tipped him off to. God knows how the Chief had come up with that one – a grass he reckoned. Anyhow, the skinny little toe-rag was singing louder than the Morriston Male Voice Choir...
Something was happening. He heard a car pull up at the front of the building and then doors slamming. He shifted about on the branch of the tree he was sitting in, to make sure he was well balanced and steady, then pulled a camera out of the bag he had slung round his neck. His fingers felt for the settings in the dark, removing the lens cover, checking the flash was off, running over all the details he had run over a hundred times already that evening. There was a long pause. So long that he began wondering if the car had stopped at another house. Then, bingo! The upstairs window, outside which he was hiding, lit up like the Mumbles lighthouse. A woman walked in, followed by a man who was none too steady on his feet. Evans felt his pulse quicken with excitement.
The woman stripped down to her underwear as Evans checked the focus on his old SLR. He zoomed in and out on his victims deciding on the balance between detail and overall perspective. The woman knelt down and undid Llewellyn’s trousers. She pulled them down to half-mast, pants and all. In the detective’s estimation, she had her work cut out. She was not so pessimistic. She leant forward and barely a minute later, Evans whispered, ‘Jesus Christ!’ and pressed the shutter release. As the excitement mounted he clicked more and more rapidly. Saints alive! This was better than that video he’d bought off that spotty twat in Vice! He pressed the button again. God, she was taking off her pants. The woman appeared to sit down then lay back out of sight beneath the line of the windowsill. He heard Ringer’s voice in his head: “Make sure you catch them on the job. I don’t want any Clinton-style bullshit about what amounts to the real thing, thank you very much!”
He reached for the branch above his head and pulled himself into a standing position. The couple swung back into view. Jesus he was on top of her now and giving her a right good seeing to. Despite the chilly night air, Evan’s was perspiring freely as he raised the camera higher and fired off a dozen more frames. He shifted for an even better angle. To his horror he heard the branch beneath him crack. He froze, but it cracked again. He grabbed for a branch above his head, but too late.
When he awoke, he was lying at the bottom of the tree in agony. He wondered if he’d broken his back. He managed to lift his head a few inches, but that was all. A light had come on next door. He heard a man’s voice exclaim: ‘Jesus! What was that? Don’t tell me cats!’ Then the back door was flung open and torchlight probed the darkness. He tried to move his arms, but the pain made him gasp out loud. The beam swung towards him and he squinted as it hit him in the eyes. Then a voice said: ‘Jesus, Betty, come and look at this! I think we’ve caught a peeping bloody tom! From the looks of ’im you’d better call an ambulance.’
Barry Naylor was sitting in his battered white Nissan, flicking between the police and ambulance frequencies with one hand, shoving the remains of the kebab he’d picked up in Uplands into his rat-like mouth with the other. It had been dead all night, and he had the feeling that he would soon be employing some of the more creative writing skills he frequently fell back on as a freelance hack.
As he turned the scanner towards the ambulance wavelength he picked up a faint call. Thank fuck, some business at last! He twiddled the knob skilfully as he grabbed a biro and prepared to write on the kebab wrapper. Reading you loud and clear, mate, and on my way, he thought, as he jammed the car in gear and accelerated off up the Gower Road.
There was no sign of the ambulance as he coasted to a halt outside the address he had scribbled down. He noticed the lights were on next door. As far as he could make out from the radio, a man had been found by a neighbour, injured in the back garden, possibly having fallen out of a tree. It wasn’t clear if the injured party was the homeowner, in which case, what was he doing up a tree in his back garden in the middle of the night? More likely a snooper, or a Peeping Tom, he decided. He grabbed his phone and set it to video. He tucked it into one of the side pockets in his jacket.
There was a gate that led down the side of the house. Naylor tried the latch and it opened. As he walked down the path into the back garden, he made out a prone figure. Naylor stepped forward into the pool of light cast by the next door’s kitchen window. He looked down at the figure lying on the ground.
‘My, my,’ he gloated unpleasantly, ‘if it isn’t Detective Sergeant Evans. Now what would you be doing lying injured in someone’s back garden in the middle of the night?’ He pressed the record button on his phone as he surreptitiously angled it at the injured copper. This was more than just a Peeping Tom story! Evans’ reply was less than friendly:
‘Fuck off Naylor!’ he snarled, unaware of the phone in the journalist’s hand. This is secret surveillance work for the top brass, so if you try to print it in any of those rags you write for, I’ll ’ave your bollocks for bed knobs!’
‘Don’t talk crap. What the hell would you be doing secret surveillance work round here for? Hardly the corridors of power, is it? I reckon you took a tumble while you were up that tree twanging your wire, you dirty sod. That, or you’re on a hobble, doing a bit of private divorce work, eh?’
‘Mind your own bloody business! And get out of my sight before I nicks you for burglary!’
‘I’m not burgling anything!’
‘Then why are you ’anging round respectable back gardens in the middle of the night?’
‘I’m talking to you.’
‘Right, and if you don’t stop talking to me and get out of my sight in the next five seconds, you’ll be ’elpin’ me with my enquiries. Now piss off!’ Evans groaned and turned his back on the journalist.
Naylor shrugged and turned on his heel. The bent bastard was in a worst mood than usual and there was no point getting himself nicked. Besides, what he’d got on his phone had the makings of a most intriguing story, particularly in his creative hands.
The ambulance men arrived and stretchered the injured detective away, unaware that they were being watched from an upstairs window. As they disappeared, Jacs turned and looked down at the slumbering form of Charlie Llewellyn. The sickening sense of guilt flooded over her again. Maybe the bloody pervert fell before he got anything embarrassing, she thought hopefully; but she knew that was wishful thinking. She had played her role too well.
Then again, what choice did she have? Her thoughts turned for the hundredth time to her odious visitor of the afternoon. She was just giving the kids their tea, when someone knocked the door. It was Dai Shit, as he was known on the estate. What the hell did he want with her? She always steered well clear of his sort. It was rumoured he was a Rent Man and everyone knew someone who had a story to tell about those bastards. It seemed only the Police were oblivious to their activities. Once in a while a mutilated body would turn up and a frightened silence would descend on the city like a poisonous cloud. People would mutter nervously and knowingly in the pubs and clubs, but they never mentioned names. It was simply down to the Rent Man Gang. The man held out an envelope.
‘What is it?’ she asked.
‘Eviction notice,’ he said with a sly grin. ‘You got a week to get out.’
‘This place belongs to the Council...’
‘Yeah, shitty wirin’. They burn like candles,’ he sneered, pocketing the envelope.
‘Why?’ she asked, stunned, but feeling rising panic at the thought of being homeless with the twins.
‘Why not?’ he said, with that dirty grin showing off his tobacco teeth. ‘Unless, of course, you’re willing to do certain parties a little favour.’
‘Like layin’ on a little private photo session. There’s someone they want catchin’ with ’is pants down, see. Someone you’re pretty matey with, like. Someone you usually see down the Railway Tuesday nights. The word is you’re coppin’ off with ’im anyway, so ’ows about one for the camera, eh babes?’
She told him to sling his hook, but he just leered at her and told her to do it in the upstairs, back bedroom.
‘Just make sure you leave the lights on and forget to close the curtains, or else...’
‘Or else what?’
He’d leaned forward with his stinking breath. His hand snaked out and grabbed her right breast. He laughed as she pulled back shocked. She should wise-up, sharpish, he said. He was all for kickin’ her and the brats out on the street if she didn’t co-operate, but it wasn’t his decision, see. There were other parties involved who weren’t so sympathetic. Real fuckin’ headers, in fact. Torch the place as soon as look at it, with ’er and the kids inside. So it was up to ’er, really. A nice little jump with Mr Charlie Llewellyn, watch the birdie, or, well, the alternative didn’t bear thinkin’ about really, did it?
It didn’t. The thought of her children being burned alive was unbearable. Panicked by the horrific thought and the man’s intimidating presence, she had agreed. She spent the rest of the day trying to justify the decision to herself. She guessed that Charlie’s wife was behind this. They were recently separated and Charlie had told her more than once that Juliet was having an affair. Presumably she wanted him caught with his pants down to even up the score in a divorce battle. He had also told her that his wife’s new bloke was a nasty piece of work – rich and powerful with all the connections. If he was involved there was all the more reason to take Dai Shit’s threats seriously.
But then there was Charlie. Whatever the justification, she knew in her heart of hearts that she would be betraying him and the guilt washed away her self-defence like a sandcastle hit by the tide. He had always stood by her like a rock when she had needed him. So why had she assumed he would not stand up for her now? If anyone could stand up to the likes of Dai Shit, it was Charlie. He wouldn’t panic. He could look after himself, and her too if needs be.
Perhaps, but the twins were all she really had in the world and there was no way she would let any harm come to them. If it was only her at stake, she would have told the pig to sod off and left Charlie to sort him out, but the threat to the girls altered everything. The thought of them trapped in a burning building almost unhinged her.
Her thoughts turned to the present. She sighed and lay down on the bed next to Charlie. Oh well, if this was a set-up by his wife Juliet, perhaps it was no bad thing. It would end the marriage once and for all. She reached out and ran her hand gently down his cheek. You never knew, perhaps one day... She brushed the thought aside. Pull yourself together, you silly mare. When Charlie sees those pictures he’s going to know you set him up and that’s a fine way to repay his affection. She sighed again and closed her eyes.