The Rent Man

Swansea is just one British port in the grip of the ruthless Rent Man Gang. Police and Customs are baffled by the fear and secrecy which surrounds their international drugs and male prostitution racket. Charlie Llewellyn is a local sculptor with a shaky Cash flow, a taste for the beer and a divorce battle with the Bitch from Hell. But who are the men behind this brutal gang and why has Charlie really moved back to Swansea? When a young male prostitute is murdered and Charlie commits suicide, the scene is set for one of the most original and gripping thrillers in years. At times hilarious, at times terrifying, The Rent Man draws us through the trials and tribulations of everyday life and into the dark, psychotic world of the Rent Man Gang. The Rent Man is riven with deliciously black humour and the almost touchable caustic atmosphere of decaying urban Wales. The author’s ability to create rounded characters makes his book, despite its dark subject matter, a breath of fresh air.

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5. Jacs

Charlie stirred, thanks to the pressure of a full bladder. He half awoke, stumbled out of bed, and groped his way to the door. Things didn’t feel quite right, but a quick wee was no reason to unnecessarily disturb his slumbers too much. He opened the bathroom door and headed for the loo, which he could just make out through half-closed eyes. He took aim and fired just as the light went on.

                ‘Why are you pissin’ in the twins’ bin, Charlie?’ asked a drowsy voice behind him. The light and the voice half woke him up. He controlled himself with an effort.

                ‘What you doin’ here?’ he mumbled.

                ‘You’re in my house, you dopy sod. Don’t you remember? You crashed here last night.’

                ‘Shit! Sorry, love. I thought I was in the bathroom at home...’

                ‘No you’re in the twins’ bedroom, but don’t worry, there’s a liner in the bin; I’ll empty it now.’

                Charlie nodded drowsily and headed in the direction of the toilet. Now he was awake he was feeling rough. He remembered arriving at the Railway and those soft bastards in the back bar treating him like a leper. But he still didn’t remember much after that, like how he came to be urinating in the bin in Jacs’ kids’ bedroom, for example!

                He found a towel on the rail by the bath and wrapped it round his waist, then headed back towards the bedroom he had woken up in. The light was on and she was sitting up in bed. She grinned at the towel.

                ‘It’s a bit late to go all shy on me now, babes,’ she remarked matter-of-factly.

                ‘What you mean we, er...’

                ‘We certainly did. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten, you drunken bugger!’

                ‘Well, I...’

                ‘Typical bloody man! Whop it in, whip it out and wipe it on the duvet. That’s all us girls mean to men like you, isn’t it?’

                ‘No, honest Jacs. It’s just well, God help, you know what state I was in last night. How the hell did I ever get it up?’

                ‘Come here and I’ll show you if you like.’

                Charlie grinned.

                ‘Hell Jacs, I’m a married man. It may not be worth calling a marriage...’

                ‘You’re right there, now come here you philanderin’ bastard.’

                Charlie paused again, and then shrugged.

                ‘If you say so. If I’m being done for adultery I might as well get my money’s worth.’

                He walked forward and climbed onto the bed.

 

*

 

                When he awoke again, Jacs was gone and the radio alarm clock told him it was nearly nine. There was a note on the pillow next to him. He picked it up drowsily and read:

 

Dear Charlie,

You look like you could do with a lie-in this morning so I’m off to work. Taking twins to school with me. See you later. Feel free to make yourself a cuppa.

Love,

Jacs.

 

                Charlie read it through again, pausing on the word ‘love’. Christ, boyo, you’d better be sure about what you’re getting into here, he thought. He was very fond of Jacs, but, since the teenage fumblings had finished, he had seen their relationship as brother and sister. Now, with the split from Juliet, they were lovers! Of course he didn’t know what Jacs felt about it. For all he knew she was just out for a quick fling; she had a sex drive too, after all. But, somehow, experience told him otherwise. That little four-letter word spoke volumes and it could only lead to her getting hurt.

                He reached over and clicked on the local radio station, Swansea Sound. Good, the news was due on in a minute. His thoughts drifted back to Jacs. Was there anything that amounted to a future between them? Hell, how was he supposed to know? He needed to talk to her; find out how she really felt. One thing was certain, he didn’t need any commitments right now; he still had unfinished business of his own to sort out first.

                A news item on the radio caught his attention.

                ‘...and there have been calls for a public enquiry following newspaper allegation of misuse of Police resources in South Wales. It appears a police Detective Sergeant was injured last night whilst conducting an unauthorised surveillance operation in the Swansea area. It is claimed the officer may have been bribed to collect evidence in a private divorce action. Swansea MP. Mr Jack Pritchard, is demanding to know if such moonlighting is commonplace while rumours of the notorious Rent Man gang still abound and Police are complaining of lack of manpower. Meanwhile attempts to interview the officer are being thwarted by staff at Morriston Hospital, where he has undergone emergency surgery. We will be keeping you updated on this story as it breaks. And now...’

                Charlie grinned. Britain’s scandal-ridden MPs had more reasons than most to worry about unauthorised surveillance operations if recent history was anything to go by! He climbed out of bed, dressed and headed downstairs to put the kettle on.

 

*

 

                Charlie wrapped Jacs’ waterproof more tightly around himself as he strode across the field that ran down the hill from the rear of the Close to his back garden. He had borrowed the hooded jacket to conceal his identity as he walked quickly down Jacs’ path and shinned over the fence. Now he was glad of it as another squall of rain drove up the hill into his face. It was only October, but this was Wales, and the heavy cloud blotted out the sun, giving the rain a chillier bite than he would have liked. Even as he tried to console himself with the thought that it would blow away the cobwebs of his hangover, he felt the peculiar discomfort of cold, wet jeans beginning to cling to his thighs below the hem of the under-sized waterproof.

                To add to the physical discomfort, he found his mind drifting back to that news bulletin. Jacs had got back from her morning shift as he was making the tea. He had tried to bring up the question of how she felt about their relationship, but she had seemed distracted, troubled even, and they had simply agreed to be discreet until his divorce was sorted out. They had parted with a peck on the cheek and a vague agreement that Charlie would call her later. He had not had a chance to listen to the news for any new developments.

                The mention of the injury to the police officer came back to him. Preece would probably have the connections to use police officers for a private surveillance operation but, if this was a set-up, what was Jacs’ involvement? He didn’t want to think that she would knowingly betray him, but then he knew he was up against an extremely ruthless man in Preece; a man who got his way at any cost. Jacs had the twins, which meant she could be got at. He remembered her mood when she returned from work. Why so tense? It had to be guilt.

                He paused on top of the gate that led into the next field. Through the rain he could just make out the pair of sloe trees that marked the gap leading into his back garden. Alright, just suppose he had been set up. What did it mean? What did it amount to in reality? The more he thought about it, the more it looked like the gloves were finally coming off; the time for action had arrived.

                The question was, was he up to it? Had he gone soft, living in a dangerous limbo somewhere between ordinary, married life and his commitment to Detachment 8? Who could say? Things were undoubtedly hotting up and threatening to take on complications he could never have foreseen at the start of the mission. His thoughts turned to his out-of-the-blue contact with Al Sullivan the previous week.

                He had been polishing Minister Hughes’ cockerel with his angle-grinder in his workshop - Charlie grinned and made a mental note of the double entendre - when the call from Al forced its way into his consciousness above the din. They hadn’t spoken for years. How are you keeping, mate? Good to hear from you! What have you been up to?

                They had become good pals for a short while during the Gulf War after Charlie had fetched Al out of a bad situation when he got caught up in a rear-guard action by Hussein’s Republican Guard.  Al was a regular trooper, Charlie was on other business, but he had taken time out to pull the injured soldier out of trouble. They had met to swap stories after the war over a couple of pints, but had soon taken different career paths.

                When Al phoned to suggest a reunion, Charlie was pleasantly surprised to hear from his old mate. When Al explained that he was now working for Customs and Excise, the pleasure diminished a little. It diminished even more when Al mentioned that he just happened to be visiting Swansea in a few days’ time.

                They met at the Commercial in Killay Square and a couple of pints later Al got round to the real reason for the reunion. He was working on a smuggling operation and they were now pretty certain that Swansea was one of the ports involved. Drugs were coming in by boat and Swansea had the honour of representing South Wales as an entry point. Liverpool was being used to cover North Wales and North-West England, Glasgow supplied Scotland, and Hull and London supplied the east of the country. The whole thing appeared to be connected to a male prostitution ring involving youngsters. Everything about it made your flesh crawl. Worse still, this Rent Man gang was highly organised and ruled by terror. Security was tight as a drum.

                Charlie sympathised and wondered how Al and his team hoped to tackle the problem. Al explained that he was just coming to that. A little bird had told them that a local lawyer called Preece could be involved. It was as thin as a whore’s drawers, but another little bird had told him that Preece’s secretary was Charlie’s missus. He was just wondering whether Charlie may have heard something that might have a bearing on his investigation, no matter how thin it was.

                Charlie had commiserated, but had been unable to help. He and Juliet were splitting up thanks to Preece so he was hardly in their confidence – sorry. The two men had reminisced a bit more, then finished their pints, shaken hands and parted.

                Charlie had watched Al drive out of the pub’s car park then picked up his phone and dialled a number. He got an answer phone inviting a message. He spoke briefly:

                ‘This is Charlie Alpha Tango to Det. Eight reporting interested contact with an Alan Sullivan of H.M. Customs and Excise. Please check credentials and background. Out,’ was all he said.

 

                *

 

                Charlie climbed off the gate and headed for the sloe trees. What Al had told him was useful and he wished he could have been more helpful in return, but, right now, he had bigger fish to fry.

He let himself in through the back door. Perhaps because of his recent imaginings he half expected things to be different, but the only change was that the ‘messages’ light on his phone was lit.  He walked through the kitchen into the lounge to play them back. The first caller hung up without leaving a message. The second sounded frightened:

 

 ‘Dad, it’s Gareth; are you there? Listen, I’m in Swansea nick, I haven’t done anything wrong, honest to God, but they’re trying to fit me up for some robbery. It’s bloody mad. I thought it was some kind of wind-up at first, but they’ve kept me in all night and they keep saying they’ve got witnesses and everything. Look, I know you’re busy, but I think they’re serious. They’re talking about charging me with taking and driving away, and robbing an off-licence, for starters. I dunno, but I think maybe I need a solicitor to sort this out. Anyhow, I don’t know if this counts as the one phone call I’m allowed, but please try and get here if you can.’

 

Charlie sat down on the sofa to think. Gareth, under arrest, being charged with, what had he said? Stealing a car and robbing an off-licence? Christ this was serious, but it wasn’t Gareth. He knew his son better than that. This needed thinking about. He listened automatically to the next message.

 

‘Ahem, Mr Llewellyn, it’s Ivor Semple here, of Semple, Tucker and Preece. I’m calling on behalf of Mr Preece who has instructed me to contact you regarding your wife and children, in particular, your son, who is currently in serious trouble with the police. Mr Preece has a proposal he wishes me to put to you regarding an out-of-court divorce settlement and, in the interest of everyone, particularly young Gareth, I would suggest you meet me at your very earliest convenience. I have kept my diary open all day, so there is no need to make an appointment.’

               

The voicemail informed him that there were no more messages. Charlie clicked the machine to rewind, then set it back to record.

So, this was Semple, Preece’s legal lapdog. According to Al Sullivan, he had made the papers in the Sixties as Swansea’s leading student radical and he had made himself sufficiently unpopular with the establishment of the day to ensure his flat was raided six times in a week by the Drug Squad. When it was discovered that the only fingerprints on the bag of amphetamine tablets were those of the arresting officer, all charges were dropped, but, from an employment point of view, the legal profession saw him as soiled goods. Things looked bleak until Hywel Preece took him on, and even put him first on the letterhead, but the word was that he got by on a none-too-generous salary and the question of a partnership never arose.

Anyhow, Semple’s problems were of no concern to Charlie right now. His first instinct was to get to Gareth, but Semple’s message made him pause. They knew Gareth was in trouble and Semple seemed to imply that Preece’s proposal would in some way get him out of it. It was no doubt unpleasant for Gareth, but an extra hour or two in custody wouldn’t make much difference. It was time to take a closer look at the enemy’s position.

He went upstairs for a quick shave and a change of clothes and came down feeling more able to face the onset of war; he didn’t expect this proposal to be distilled from the milk of human kindness. As he came back down, he noticed an envelope sticking through the letterbox. He pulled it out, allowing the draught-excluder to swing back with a snap.

                ‘He’s in there, boys! ‘Yelled an excited, male voice. ‘Mr Llewellyn this is Simon Wiggins of the Evening Post. Would you like to step outside so we can have a word with you, sir?’

Charlie dodged back into the living room and pulled back the curtain of the front window. Through the nets he made out a heaving scrum of what were clearly reporters and camera crews. There were vans parked on his drive and men wearing headphones were waving sausage-shaped microphones in the air. He stared for a moment in horror. What on earth was the press doing camped on his lawn?

Move! Move! Get out of here! They obviously hadn’t found how to get round the back of the house yet, but, if he didn’t open the front door, they soon would. He stuffed the envelope into his pocket and grabbed his parka. It was sturdier than Jacs’ waterproof. He quickly transferred his wallet and keys into the inside pocket and raced back through the kitchen. He locked the back door behind him and ran up the garden to the gap in the hedge. There was nobody in sight as he squeezed through then headed up the field towards the woods. From the cover of the trees he looked back and saw some dark figures scrambling over a hedge a few doors down from his house. He’d cut it fine. He turned on his heel and made his way through the trees and down the hill to where he hoped his van was still waiting in the car park of the Railway Inn.

 

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