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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1. The Rent Man

The boy backed away, shaking with terror. The stuff he had just taken and the feeble yellow lights on the top landing of the Swansea tower block were distorting the features of the shaven-headed giant grotesquely. Not even the brown he had shot up earlier could numb the dread that was overwhelming him. He’d heard what the rent man gang did to kids who fucked up. He tried to wipe away his tears with his bare forearm, but he only succeeded in smearing his make-up.

‘Please, mister, I never knew…’ he whispered, hopelessly. The landing railings dug into his back, making him jerk around in panic. The stuff was piling violent hallucinations and waves of paranoia on top of the horror of the situation. He had blindly followed the fugitive’s instinctive urge to climb and now there was nowhere else to go. He cringed as the dog that the skinny one was holding began barking again. It was huge and it reared up, almost dragging its handler forward in its desire to attack. There was blood and spittle around its snarling jaws where he had wrenched his arm away before he ran. The drugs suddenly turned the blood into a black stream, which poured down onto the concrete and crept in a dark pool towards him.

A door opened and a man’s head peered out.

‘What’s all the fuckin’ row about then, you twats? People are tryin’ to sleep by ere…’

The giant stepped forward and smashed a huge fist in his face.

‘Mind your own fuckin’ business,’ he growled and used the letterbox to slam the door closed again. He turned to the cowering youth.

‘So you fancied a night on the town, did you? Thought you’d get ripped to the tits instead of workin’, eh? So how much money have you been spendin’ on gear, instead of ’andin’ it over to the boys then, you thievin’ little wanker?’

‘None, mister. This was the only time, I swear. Honest to God!’

The giant leered, enjoying his victim’s terror.

‘Funny how you lying little faggots all start swearing to God when we catch you at it, but it don’t make no difference ‘cos we’re still goin’ to top you, see. Once a lyin’ little prick, always a lyin’ little prick – that’s what I says.’ As he spoke, he crouched slightly and moved forward.

Despite the distortion of the drugs, the boy moved in sheer desperation as his persecutor let out a bellow of wildly echoing laughter. He dropped low and tried to dart past the giant on his left-hand side. The move was quicker than expected and the man scrabbled at him without getting a proper grip, but it made no difference. The boy froze with the Doberman’s bared fangs in his face.

The giant seized him with one hand by his long, flowing hair. He grabbed an emaciated leg with the other. He picked the youth up like a baby and heaved him up to chest level. With a grunt he pushed him up into the air, extending his arms like a weight lifter, and stepped over to the eight-foot high railings. With another grunt, he flexed and straightened his knees and hurled his victim over the high metal barrier. The boy let out a last, despairing scream as, arms thrashing for something to grab hold of, he disappeared from sight.

The giant and the dog-handler emerged from the stairs of the tower block into the unlit car park at the rear of the building. Only the lights from the windows of the flats illuminated the scene. A squat thug in ex-army fatigues was standing waiting for them in the warm drizzle that was falling steadily. As the men gathered round the twisted body, the door of a battered, old Volvo, which was parked under some nearby trees, opened, and another giant emerged. This man, however, was a giant by virtue of his thirty stone bulk. What little light there was glinted on the heavy gold sovereigns that clustered on his knuckles.  He waddled over to join the group.

‘Tiny, Rake.’ He pulled a bundle of notes from his pocket and handed some money to the giant and the dog-handler in turn. He turned to the squat one.

‘What happened to youz, ya fuckin’ quair?’ he demanded in a strong Irish accent.

‘Shit, Duke, you knows I don’t like ’eights,’ muttered the thug.

‘I don’t give a fuck what ya like…’ The fat man was about to continue when there was a faint groan from the ground.

‘Jesus Christ, boys,’ whispered the skinny one, ‘e’s not fuckin’ dead!’

‘Planky, come here!’ ordered the Irishman. The squat thug stepped forward. The Irishman plonked a fat paw on his head and slowly lifted an enormous leg. He placed his foot on the boy’s skinny chest and, using Planky to balance himself, shifted his full weight onto that leg. There was a crack as the boy’s sternum gave way and the Irishman’s thirty stone bulk crushed his heart.

‘He fuckin’ is now,’ replied Duke O’Leary callously, as he steadied himself again on Planky and stepped off the corpse. He peeled some notes off the wad and handed them to the thug.

‘That’ll teach ’im, boss...’ replied the skinny one, nervously.

‘He’s dead ya stupid cunt,’ replied the Irishman dispassionately. ‘It won’t teach him nuthin’.  Burn his clothes then smash his face a bit and take a few snaps to scare the others. Then feed him to the eels in Coffin Pond. Now sod off the lot of yez.’

He waddled off back across the car park and squeezed in behind the wheel of the battered old Volvo.

 

*

 

Al Sullivan manoeuvred his Audi into the only available space in the car park of the old Cardiff Infirmary. He glanced at his watch. He’d made good time from Bristol, despite the rush hour traffic over the bridge. He flicked open his briefcase and checked the sheet of notes on top. Fine, he was due to meet a man called Dyer from Swansea Drug Squad at half nine. Together they had a meeting with a Home Office Pathologist at ten. He closed his case, and glanced up at the rear-view mirror. Out of force of habit he pulled a comb out of his breast pocket and passed it absently through his crinkly, thinning hair. There had been a lot more of it when this bloody case began and none of it had been flecked with grey either. Still, another meeting, another possible lead to bottle-feed to his ravenous boss Maddocks – he grinned at the vision of his pushy, young, fast-streamer boss as a mewling, infant. He grabbed his raincoat off the passenger seat, got out of the car and locked it. The weather had perked up and the rather grim, gothic building looked a little less ominous in the sunshine. He hurried up the steps and approached the window of the caretaker’s lodge. He coughed and a woman came forward.

‘Can I help you?’

‘Yes, I’m due to meet a D.S. Dyer here for a ten o’clock meeting with Dr Meredith…’ He got no further as a voice behind him spoke:

‘Sullivan?’

Sullivan turned. The man, dressed in scruffy clothes, had been standing in shadow a little way down the corridor. He certainly looked the part of an undercover cop. He stepped forward now and extended his hand.

‘Arnie Dyer, Swansea Drugs Squad,’ he said to complete the introduction. He nodded to the women at the window. ‘I know where Meredith’s office is. Is there somewhere we can go for a chat first?’

‘Do you need a room, or just somewhere quiet, luv?’

‘Somewhere quiet’ll do.’

‘Come with me then.’

She led them down a high, echoing corridor and up a broad Victorian staircase to the first floor. There were a couple of chairs on the landing. The place was deserted.

‘How’s this?’

‘Fine, ta. His office is just along there, isn’t it?’

The woman nodded.

‘That’s right, luv. I’ll buzz through to let him know you’re on your way.’ She headed back down the stairs.

Sullivan leant against the heavy, wooded banister as Dyer sat down and delved into his briefcase. He produced a document.

‘Analyst’s report from Birmingham,’ he said, tapping the cover self-importantly. He handed it over to Sullivan who scanned through it. After a few minutes Sullivan spoke.

‘Okay, so it looks like the shipment we took off that trawler last month is pretty much the same stuff you boys found on the kid?’

Dyer shrugged.

‘Looks that way. Heroin’s heroin, so it’s never easy to be a hundred percent certain, but both samples look to be cut to about forty percent purity with caffeine so it would be a hell of a coincidence if they were cut by different people. Trouble is you boys captured kilos of the stuff – the kid only had a used wrap in his pocket. It’s hard to get an accurate percentage from such a tiny sample.’

Sullivan nodded sympathetically.

‘Sure. Got any ID on the kid yet?’

Dyer shook his head.

‘Don’t ask,’ he replied, wearily. ‘There’s not a trace on him anywhere. We’re pretty certain he was working as a prostitute, but we can’t find an address for him.  We’ve had posters up and the boys in blue have even done a door-to-door of the area, but it’s rough as fuck around there.  They don’t like us coppers. Anyhow, let’s face it, the people most likely to recognise him are his customers and they’re not going to come forward, are they?’

‘Hardly. Anything coming up on dental records?’

‘Not so far. The trouble is we have no way of limiting the search. He could have been from anywhere in Wales, or Britain for that matter. He had no fillings despite the shit state of his teeth, so he might not even have dental records. It’s like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.’

Sullivan nodded sympathetically.

‘Hmm. Looks like another Rent Man killing. I’ve been chasing shadows for nearly two years on this one. Drives you bloody mad, doesn’t it? Still, it’s the first time we’ve even connected a shipment directly to an end-user, so that’s something I suppose.’

‘Yeah. It’ll help if this Dr Meredith cries foul play. We’re trying to get something out on next month’s Crimewatch and a murder enquiry would strengthen our hand a lot.’

‘Sure. Well, shall we go and see what he has to say for himself?’

Dyer nodded and rose. The two men headed down the corridor towards the doctor’s office.

 

*

 

‘Come in, gentleman! Come in! Grab a pew if you can find one.’ The doctor gestured to a couple of armchairs piled high with files and reports. ‘Shove that crap on the floor and make yourselves at home. Now I gather you want to see me about that p.m. I did on the male prostitute last week?’

Dyer was the first to clear a space on which to perch.

‘That’s right, sir. We indicated to you before the post mortem that we thought he was probably a male prostitute, did your findings bear that out?’

‘I hope so for his sake, given the state of his arse. That or he played for Newport Firsts!’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Stretched to buggery, if you’ll excuse the pun. Severely dilated as we say in the business. No traces of semen found, mind you.’

‘Right.’

Both men were finding it hard to adjust to the pathologist’s hearty bluntness. He was built like a second-row forward and he obviously had a second-row’s delicacy of touch.

‘Besides,’ he continued, ‘he had all the usual give-aways – make-up, dyed hair, earrings, tattoos and so on. Definitely played for Newport Firsts!’ He threw his head back and snorted with laughter at this second blow against his favourite opposition.

Sullivan had managed to get seated and now took up the interview.

‘The police found a used heroin wrap in his pocket. What were your conclusions regarding his drugs use, other of course, than he played for Newport Firsts?’

The doctor glanced at him, and then began snorting again.

‘What more proof d’you need, eh? Case closed in my book. Here, let me see.’

He opened a slim file on the desk in front of him. ‘Hmm, track marks on the arms, neck and feet; collapsed veins all over the shop. Blood tests showed heavy use and his liver was taking a caning. There were significant traces of heroin found on his body and in his system. He was probably still feeling the effects when he died. No sign of AIDS or hepatitis.’

‘Does that affect the male prostitute theory?’

‘Not really. The lack of semen suggests he used a jonny and there isn’t much of a disease problem in that neck of the woods.’

‘Cause of death?’

Meredith paused and frowned. The heartiness was gone.

‘I would like to say bouncing on concrete from a great height and save you fellas a lot of work, but that doesn’t quite cut the mustard.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, at first I thought, what with the heroin, perhaps he’d thought he was Peter Pan and tried to fly. But then I found a couple of things that made me wonder so I popped down to Swansea for a look at the scene. For that theory to hold water, he would have to have shinned over an eight foot high barrier whilst off his trolley on hard drugs; didn’t seem so likely somehow.’

‘What were the couple of things that made you wonder?’ 

‘There were dog bites on his arm and traces of his blood on the landing. These were serious lacerations. Sort of thing you would expect from an attack dog of some sort. The blood on the landing suggests that he was injured before he fell. If you’re trying to escape a savage dog, you might try to climb the barrier to escape and fall in the process, but Peter Pan and Wendy would be the last thing on your mind.’

‘So you think he died trying to escape a savage dog?’

‘Perhaps, but there was more to it than that...’

‘What d’you mean?’

‘Well dogs rarely roam around attacking people at random, even in Swansea. Besides, I’ve never seen a dog in size nine shoes kick someone’s chest in.’

The two men stared at him blankly, so he continued.

‘He’d obviously sustained multiple injuries in the fall, which is why I nearly missed it. One of his worst injuries was a crushed sternum and heart. A fall like that can cause all sorts of weird and wonderful damage, but this was a compression injury, as if he had fallen onto something like a car, where a corner of the roof might have caved his chest in. According to the reports of the death scene, there was nothing like that in the vicinity. When I looked closer the bruising on his chest had a familiar shape, so I took a gander at his T-shirt. It had faded as it dried and the dust was shaken off, but there was still the outline of a muddy footprint when you examined it closely; matched the bruise perfectly.’

‘So someone delivered a fatal injury with a kick?’

Meredith frowned and nodded.

‘Something like that, but kicks are usually delivered with the toe of the foot. It would have to have been a real Bruce Lee number. The ribs are springy and much of the force from a kick is absorbed as the fella on the receiving end is knocked backwards.’

‘So what are you saying?’

‘Well this is a bit of a flight of fantasy, but imagine if the kid is up top being attacked by the dog and its owners. He climbs the railings in an attempt to get away and either slips and falls, or is pushed. Somehow, he survives the fall and someone finishes him off by jumping or stamping on his chest as he lies on the ground.’

‘That’s quite a flight of fantasy.’

‘True, but it’s the only theory I’ve come up with that fits all the facts.’

Sullivan glanced at Dyer and then back at Meredith.

‘So in your judgement we’re looking at murder?’

‘Well, I wouldn’t bet my bollocks on it, but that’s the direction I’d be coming from unless someone gave me a bloody good reason to think otherwise.’

 

*

 

The clock on the wall in the offices of Customs and Excise’s National Intelligence Service department in Bristol showed it was gone one o’clock, but no one was thinking about lunch. Sullivan finished speaking and a tense silence descended on the group of people seated around the conference table. His boss, Maddocks, was seated at the top of the table and everyone was waiting for his reaction. He had swivelled his chair around and was studying an abstract space on the blank wall. At last he spoke.

‘So we have a dead male prostitute and the pathologist is crying foul, but Swansea police can’t even tie a name tag on his toe?’

‘In fairness, sir, they’re turning over all the stones and D.S. Dyer was confident that the murder angle would get them a slot on TV.’

Maddocks turned from the wall and stared at his number two with unconcealed scepticism.

‘Most encouraging Al, unfortunately, I do not share the widespread belief that television is an indispensable weapon in the investigator’s arsenal. When you’re dealing with ruthless, professional criminals of this sort, telling them that they are wanted for murder is an invitation for them to tighten their security even further.’

‘Surely it’s better than nothing, sir and at least we now know the sort of people that this gang are supplying the drugs to.’

‘Maybe, but I think the leads you and your team have picked up on this Chief Inspector Ringer and his chum Preece are far more interesting.’ He addressed the whole gathering. ‘In Hull and Dover, our only two successes to-date, a senior member of this gang has recruited a senior Police officer to ensure people are looking the other way when deals are going down. Tony has been working his computer magic,’ he nodded at a geeky looking individual in the corner, ‘and it has spat out these two.  Both are members of the same lodge and they have met a few times outside of lodge meetings, though that could be coincidence.

‘In case anyone hasn’t heard, Al took a trip to Kent last week and it turns out Preece is a lot flakier than he initially appeared. Dabbled in intelligence work in his younger days and failed to impress his bosses big-time. There’s a very real prospect that he could turn out to be a serious wobbler, so if you meet him in the field handle with caution. His personnel file suggests a paranoid personality with violent tendencies. We think he might be very nasty indeed.’

There was a visible brightening amongst the men and women of the investigating team. Maddocks went on. ‘I know it’s only trawling and profiling at this stage and it’s all highly speculative, but if Ringer connects to Preece and they are our bad guys, we stand a chance of nailing the real brains behind this thing. Nine times out of ten we make a big bust and end up capturing the foot-soldiers not the generals and, frankly, that pisses me off no end.’

There were general nods and mutterings of agreement from around the table. The Customs investigators all had tales of ‘the one that got away’.

‘The question is,’ Maddocks continued, ‘how to get in close enough to establish that they are in cahoots and up to no good. Ideas anyone?’

Bailey cleared her throat.

‘We don’t seem to be progressing much further with basic surveillance. Could we get someone in under cover?’

Maddocks was his usual dismissive self. He was rumoured to have once remarked that the best plain clothes outfit for a woman was a pinny and a mop.

‘Fine, if you can show me the point of penetration. We’re drawing a blank at the distribution end and Preece’s law practice is a three-man operation with secrecy stamped all over it. I doubt if Chief Inspector Ringer sits in his office issuing compromising orders all day, either.’

Bailey reddened and stared down at her notepad.

Sullivan cut in.

‘Even if we got someone in place, Sir, I get the feeling they could take forever to gain trust. These people have secrecy as their middle name. However, Joe here has come up with a lead that might be usable.’

All eyes swung to Joe Prosser, who looked blank. Sullivan continued.

‘It was on that memo you sent me on Wednesday, Joe. You mentioned that Preece is rumoured to be having a fling with his secretary. A woman called Juliet Llewellyn.’

Prosser nodded, without looking any the wiser. Sullivan turned to speak directly to Maddocks.

‘I know that this is against current best practice, department protocol and all that, but I wondered if it might not be worth our while making a discreet approach to her husband. You know; the green eyed monster and all that. I know you’re not fond of outsiders, but perhaps a new recruit might make the difference?’

Maddocks swung back around to stare at the wall. He picked up a biro and weighed it between his fingers, like a dart that he was about to throw at an imaginary dartboard.

‘You’re too damn right I don’t like outsiders. They usually turn out to be nutters or rip-off artists, or both. We’ve got expert surveillance units, highly trained undercover officers and your own, hand-picked, ops squad. What makes you think that this Llewellyn character is likely to prove useful, or even reliable?’

‘He may not be, sir. I’ve no way of knowing till I talk to him. But I would say the odds are better than on some of the outsiders we’ve backed in the past. I’ve done a quick check, and it just so happens that this might be the same Charlie Llewellyn who saved my life in the Gulf.

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