Knaves over queens, p.15
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       Knaves Over Queens, p.15

         Part #26 of Wild Cards series by George R. R. Martin

  She lifted the arm holding her shears into the air and then plunged them into Ronnie’s back. He screamed. She stabbed him over and over again, until her hand grew numb and he fell to the floor.

  He rolled on the ground, blood sliding off his jacket and shirt. Constance stood over him.

  ‘You was supposed to make us clothes so we can’t be hurt,’ he gasped. ‘You tricked us.’

  ‘No,’ Constance told him, breathing hard, her heart pounding, his blood spattered on her clothes everywhere except her jacket. ‘No one else can hurt you. No one ‘cept me if I want.’

  Ronnie tried to get to his feet, but they slid uselessly against the blood-slicked floor. He gave a wet wheeze, then stopped moving.

  Constance ran to Glory and crouched beside her. ‘We can’t stay here,’ she said. ‘Who knows when Reg or someone in the Firm might show up.’

  Glory nodded, but didn’t move.

  ‘Did you hear me, Glory? We got to go.’

  Tears began rolling down Glory’s cheeks leaving trails in the blood that was drying there. ‘It wasn’t Reggie. It wasn’t Reggie. We didn’t kill him! We didn’t kill Reggie! Just Ronnie.’ Then she put trembling hands up to her head. ‘My flowers.’

  ‘I know, Glory. But we need to go.’

  Constance dragged Glory to her feet and pushed her into the loo. She ran warm water in the sink, wet a flannel, and proceeded to wipe as much of the blood off Glory’s face as she could. Glory’s head had already begun to stop bleeding, sap sealing over the open wounds. Constance ran to the kitchen, grabbed a tea towel, and then grabbed a hat off a peg on the wall as she ran back to the loo. She wrapped Glory’s head in the towel, then settled the hat on top. Glory winced and went pale.

  ‘Wipe that blood off your belly before you change into my blouse.’ Constance yanked off her jacket and dropped it on the floor. Then she unbuttoned her blouse and tossed it to Glory.

  She ran to her own wardrobe, grabbed a jumper and pulled it on. When Constance went back into the main room, she saw Glory holding the jacket out to her.

  ‘Not leaving this jacket behind, Constance,’ Glory said with a wild laugh. ‘It saved our lives. What are we going to do about Reggie? I want him dead.’

  ‘Glory, there’s a dead Kray on the floor!’ Constance exclaimed as she took the jacket and yanked it on. ‘We killed him, and even though the coppers will be happy, we’ll go to prison for it.’

  ‘Self-defence,’ Glory said. ‘Look at my flowers.’ She laughed hysterically.

  ‘Even if that worked at trial,’ Constance said, ‘there would be Reggie coming after us. He might have been happy with Ronnie in the asylum, but he wouldn’t want him dead.’ She was trying to be calm. One of them had to be. It was clear Glory was in no fit state.

  ‘Then what do we do?’

  Constance looked at Ronnie’s body and discovered she was completely indifferent to what she had done to him. It scared her that she didn’t care. Ronnie hadn’t killed Frances, but his death would wound Reggie horribly. And that was a start. ‘I have a notion,’ she said. Her eyes narrowed. ‘But I need you to ring someone, Glory.’

  The black cab screamed around the corner and raced across the tarmac towards the plane. Constance held on to the handle with all her might. They’d given a hundred quid to the driver and told him there was a hundred more if he got them to the airport fast.

  He had.

  The taxi came to a screeching halt in front of the stairs leading up to the plane.

  Glory opened the door and staggered out of the cab. Constance dug into her wallet and pulled out two hundred quid.

  ‘The extra is to forget you ever saw us.’

  ‘Miss, I am only too happy to oblige.’

  Constance nodded and slid out. Glory took a few wobbly steps. Constance rushed to her side and supported her, and they limped to the stairway. The black cab sped away.

  ‘What happened to you?’ Mick asked, running down the stairs towards them. He grabbed Glory’s left arm and helped support her as the three of them wobbled to the base of the stairway. Painted on the tail of the jet was the iconic Rolling Stones red lips and tongue. Fangs peeped out on either side of the tongue.

  ‘Ronnie Kray is what happened,’ Constance replied.

  ‘He’s dead,’ Glory said with venom in her voice. ‘And we’re fugitives. Or we will be once they find the body. I guess the coppers might want us, too. But it was self-defence.’

  Mick looked back and forth between the girls then finally said, ‘So, you’re asking me to fly the two of you out of the country on our tour plane to get away from the police and Reggie Kray?’

  Glory sagged in their arms. ‘I told you Ronnie killed Frances, but it wasn’t him, it was Reggie.’ There were only a few steps left to go to the door.

  ‘Nice girl, Frances was,’ Constance said. Things were beginning to feel utterly surreal now. ‘We went to school with her, you know. The three of us.’

  Mick nodded. ‘Glory told me.’ They reached the top of the aircraft steps. ‘We’ve smuggled worse things into the States,’ Mick said. ‘Is that blood on her neck?’

  ‘Yes,’ Constance replied. ‘Things got messy. You’re being awfully calm about this.’

  ‘I love her,’ he said.

  ‘So do I,’ Constance replied. ‘She’s my best friend. But I need to stay and make sure my mum and dad are safe, and hers too. Not sure how I’m going to do that.’

  ‘You can’t stay here!’ Glory said. Then her knees gave out. Together, Constance and Mick carried her into the plane and settled her into a seat. ‘You can’t.’

  ‘You’re going to be okay,’ Constance said. ‘That’s all that matters.’

  ‘Mick, tell her she’s being ridiculous!’

  Mick looked at Constance, then said, ‘Give me a moment. I think I might be able to help you.’

  ‘Mr Jagger tells us you need our assistance,’ the man said. Constance had been waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs to the jet. He wore a tidy navy-blue suit. Constance didn’t much like his tie or the knot he’d chosen for it. ’He’s explained the … unfortunate incident. He seems to be under the impression that this is the sort of thing Silver Helix deals with. He’s mistaken. This is a Scotland Yard matter.’

  Constance considered him for a moment. ‘Then why are you here?’ she asked.

  ‘We’d very much like Mr Jagger to join us. We’ve asked him before. It’s one favour for another. We stoop to serve.’

  ‘I think you might find me more useful in the long run than Mr Jagger,’ Constance said. Mick was being heroic, no doubt for Glory’s sake, but Constance wasn’t going to let him join Silver Helix after he’d already turned them down. She stood and zipped her jacket closed. She pulled her flick knife out of the hidden pocket, snapped it open, and then stabbed at her heart. The leather barely dimpled.

  She smiled at the man. ‘Would you like to try?’ she asked, holding the knife out handle first.

  He grinned and nodded. Then he grabbed the knife and tried to gut her; when that was fruitless, handed the knife back. ‘Wild card?’ he asked.

  ‘Clothing that’s impervious to harm,’ Constance replied.

  ‘Interesting. I think we may be able to accommodate you,’ he said. ‘I’m Alan Turing. Enigma. What should we call you?’

  ‘I’m the Seamstress.’

  Constance sat in her flat watching the telly. A cup of tea and a plate of biscuits were on the low table at her elbow. Black-and-white film of a man surrounded by photographers and policemen escorting him out of the Old Bailey came on and the voice-over said, ‘Reggie Kray being led out of the Central Criminal Court after being convicted of murdering his twin brother, Ronnie Kray. Despite protesting his innocence during the entire trial, he was sentenced to life in prison.

  ‘An anonymous tip led Scotland Yard to the grisly crime scene where they found irrefutable evidence of Reggie’s guilt.

  ‘The notorious Kray criminal empire has fallen apart in the last year a
ccording to Scotland Yard. The Krays made their life of crime seem glamorous and their clubs were frequented by all manner of people, from celebrities to politicians, to underground criminal types.’ The announcer droned on about the Krays and their history, but Constance got up and turned the telly off. She went back to her chair, sat down with a satisfied smile and drank some tea. It was perfect. The phone rang and she went to pick it up.

  ‘Hello,’ she answered, knowing full well who it must be. ‘Yes, Mum, I saw it. Yes, it was a shame. No, I have no idea what happened. Mum, all I did was make clothes for them. Yeah, I’m peachy, Mum, go back to watching the telly. I’ll come round later today.’

  She hung up, went back to her chair, picked up her sewing and then began to whistle. Later in the evening, when she had finished this jacket for Redcoat, she would continue working on her own designs.

  Her agreement with Silver Helix had been mutually beneficial. They gave her what she wanted, and she gave them what they wanted. And what she wanted was her own design shop. Glory had suggested calling it ‘Needles and Pins’ in one of her many letters from the States, and Constance decided that suited her just fine. She’d hired some fine tailors, all of them women, to execute the clothes that she didn’t always have time to make.

  She stabbed the red satin fabric with her needle and smiled as she began to sew the hem with neat, precise stiches.

  Night Orders

  by Paul Cornell

  London, October 1973

  Charlie Soper knows that front is everything. When the going gets tough, all our boy has is an expression. He’s no good at the rough stuff, he just looks like he might be. Plus, he’s staring right into you, as if he knows all your secrets. And everyone’s secret is that they’re not as hard as they want to make out. It’s not that he practises in the mirror, but he knows when he’s got that look on his face; he can see it in how people react to him. ‘Like the devil’s got into you,’ that’s what his old mum used to say.

  He’s made a bit of a career of it now. Technically, he’s still only a junior analyst working over the files, learning the crafts of memory and connection that are at the heart of what ‘Box 500’, as it’s called in the trade, does. Whatever Joe Public thinks about Roger Moore, they’re actually kept safe from the KGB by dear old Mavis Clewer with her nicknames and stack of personal quirks for every single comrade in London. But Charlie feels he’s on the way up, though his prospects were advanced in a most peculiar way. One day there was a rustle in the file room at Curzon Street, a whisper went round, and in walked the DG himself, and over he went to Charlie’s desk. Charlie was straight up on his feet of course, and was ready to be all yes, sir, no, sir, hope you didn’t hear about Linda down the King’s Arms, sir, pretty sure she’s not one of them, sir, I asked nicely. But the DG just crooked a finger in his direction and beckoned ‘come with’, and off Charlie went, into the creaky old lift and up to the higher echelons.

  He’s made that trip several times since, though on subsequent occasions he’s been summoned by phone call. He gives Mavis a wink over his shoulder as he goes, and, bless her heart, she doesn’t mark him absent. He could probably use that trick now to knock off early and go down the pub, but he doesn’t. In his heart of hearts, Charlie Soper has certain loyalties, notably to the DG, who brought him in as part of a new intake of redbrick university boys. Just as good with the modern languages as anyone from Eton, the thinking must have gone, and a sight less chance of having been buggered by a Bolshevik.

  So that’s where he’s going now, getting out of that creaky lift, brushing the dust of the files off his Marks & Sparks suit. He smiles at Barbara at the desk in the front office. She thinks that’s an affront, as always, just raises a palm to permit him to go through and dismiss him in the same gesture.

  He walks into the DG’s office and immediately feels a bit of the Roger Moores coming on, because here’s not just the DG but a group of the great and the good from the upper reaches of Box. Charlie’s been to enough of these meetings now to know that doesn’t mean this lot are all on the same side. The DG is beset by the sort of intriguers who feel that the Cambridge Five couldn’t have really ended with Anthony Blunt, that maybe Harold Wilson’s a KGB agent, that maybe the DG is. They’re the sort who could sit here drinking his brandy of an evening and still be building their dossiers and hiding their memoirs in safe deposit boxes. Et tu, Brute, and you, and you, and all.

  ‘Glad you could join us, Charlie.’ The DG always uses his first name in company, but never when they’re alone. Meaning he wants this lot to know they’re on a first name basis.

  ‘Always happy to help, sir.’ Charlie takes up his usual spot, a seat the DG has kept for him, at an angle to the others, at a slight remove, by the window. He could look down at the shoppers in Mayfair, but he has standing orders to pay attention to the meeting at all times. On that first occasion, the DG had him arrive first, and had taken considerable care with his location and his instructions. He’s to take no notes, indeed, to pay no particular heed to what’s being said, but to watch faces, looking from one to the other of the DG’s guests, and only every now and then to the DG himself.

  He notes, as he makes himself comfortable, the slight shifting of the others in their seats, the clearings of the throat, the hostile glances in his direction. Charlie thinks he knows why the DG places him here, though he’s never asked. Since the arrival of the wild card virus, twenty-seven years ago, British intelligence has been characteristically slow to adapt. There is, of course, the Silver Helix, but the less said about that bunch of amateurs the better. Everyone in their business is looking out for an ace who can read minds. Everyone’s paranoid that the other lot, across the waters or across the road, has just that. Charlie reckons the DG has decided, as intelligence officers often do, to sell a pantomime, a con, as the genuine article. Charlie’s got an intense expression, he’s signed the Official Secrets Act, and this lot wouldn’t be able to think of another reason a junior like him is in this office. He’ll do. Charlie rather likes his unique position.

  So he lets himself grin at the uneasy senior officers.

  ‘The matter on the table is this,’ the DG begins, without ceremony as always. ‘Last night, around 11p.m., one of the dogs, a chap named Alex Ruskin, a petty criminal by trade, was conducting a burglary on orders, at a house in Kensington. He was discovered, and the owner of the place, a captain in the Household Cavalry, one Peter Faulkner, took matters into his own hands. It turns out Faulkner is … well, this is, in itself, delicate.’ Charlie pricks up his ears. He’s pretty sure he knows what’s coming. He keeps his expression steady, knowing how he’s likely to look at all this pussyfooting around this subject. ‘It seems his regiment may not have known that Captain Faulkner is what the Americans call an ace.’ That caused a little ruffle of feathers in the room. ‘He produced some sort of … electrical discharge which injured Ruskin considerably. Ruskin is currently comatose, and under guard.’

  ‘Is Faulkner under arrest?’ asks one of the more rotund senior officers.

  ‘He was, called it in himself, claiming self-defence, not that that cuts much ice with the courts these days, especially with him being of … the special persuasion. However, and here’s the rub, a judge was woken up and he was out on bail before resumption of play this morning.’

  Charlie looks around the faces. There is, perhaps, not as much surprise on one or two of them as there might have been, but he has no special skills in this area. Most of them seem taken aback.

  ‘Almost as if he’s in the Firm,’ said someone Charlie thinks is probably with surveillance. The master of the kennel, who you might think would be in on this meeting, is conspicuously absent. Maybe that’s because he’s always treated like an NCO, coarsened by his association with the rough boys. Or maybe there’s another reason. Charlie only knows who that person is from the gist of previous meetings like this. Introductions are never made while he’s in the room. Perhaps that adds to the impression that he’s been briefed ab
out the others. Perhaps the DG wants to prevent him learning as much as is possible, given the circumstances.

  ‘My thoughts exactly,’ says the DG, ‘but I’ve put out feelers to the funny people and the cousins, and he doesn’t seem to be anyone’s. Other than the regiment’s, and I don’t fancy calling up his colonel and getting the military gossiping that Ruskin was our man. We’ll get Ruskin back quietly in the usual way, assuming he ever wakes up.’

  ‘What was he doing in there?’ That was an emaciated-looking, rather ascetic sort, the kind that gets by on gin and sunflower seeds and was, in Charlie’s opinion, far too often seen on Russian postage stamps.

  ‘Need to know, I’m afraid.’ They shift in their chairs again. Charlie doesn’t need mind-reading to know that the DG’s now made it plain that this meeting is only so Charlie can get a look at this lot. ‘But of course I like to keep you informed of all my doings.’ Charlie has to suppress a grin. He’s really rubbing it in now.

  ‘So who was the handler?’ This voice was as upper class as all the rest, but with just a trace of his original Eastern European accent. Charlie has a soft spot for the ideological ones. This would be one of those poor bastards who had his family torn apart by Stalin and came over to go through who knew how much vetting.

  ‘Foxton,’ says the DG, as if carefully placing a piece on the board.

  They’re not pleased to hear that, and if anyone already knew they’re pretending really well that they didn’t. They aren’t surprised to hear that name, and they’re worried that they might be here by association. Spot on about that I should think, dear chaps.

  ‘And what does he say?’

  ‘That Ruskin was inside the building far too long. Foxton was watching the break-in from across the road, as per standard procedure. The search required was of a specific desk inside the house, and Ruskin had been given leave to break it open if necessary. Even a negative would have taken five minutes, but Ruskin was in that room for forty-five. Foxton had actually gone to the phone box on the corner and called it in when he saw the flash of lightning behind the curtains. He waited to see the emergency services arrive, then walked away. Unless he gave Ruskin a very odd steer on the way over, he can hardly be faulted in this.’

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