Knaves over queens, p.23
Knaves Over Queens,
Part #26 of Wild Cards series by George R. R. Martin
‘So? Get started! It’s a bank holiday the Monday after next. We need to be through the lift shaft and at the vault wall by Friday 22nd if we’re going to have a clear weekend for the job.’
Sunday morning, and the early mist had dissipated beneath the merciless August sun. Police cars and vans filled the wasteground, lights out, as a white van bearing Metropolitan Police badges bumped across the potholes and loosely packed gravel. A big white pavilion was going up, thanks to the efforts of a squad of uniforms drafted in for the heavy lifting. A couple of armed officers with bolt cutters forced their way into the hut at the entrance to the neighbouring piece of wasteground, followed by a pair of uniformed detective constables with gloves and cameras. ‘This it?’ asked one, as his sergeant approached from behind.
‘It’d better be.’ The sergeant was clearly tense. ‘It’s where we’re supposed to be per the warrant.’
The rumbling of a heavy diesel approaching along the street drowned out any further words as a low-loader pulled up alongside the entrance. A dusty yellow JCB sat on top of it, spare excavator blades and a pneumatic drill waiting and ready. The engine stopped. Workmen in donkey jackets and hard hats began unloading the excavator from the low-loader. A smaller police van pulled past – with some difficulty – and stopped next to the checkpoint. Its occupants, one human and the other not, approached the sergeant. ‘Where do you want us to start?’ asked the driver as his teammate cast around, tail wagging furiously.
‘Should be about ten yards that way.’ The sergeant checked his notepad. ‘They tunnelled in from that side of the fence, not breaking the surface here. What we’re looking for should be just over here …’ He paced out the steps to a quiet patch of ground, undisturbed by the team. ‘They did it a week ago. Can you find it?’
‘We’ll see.’ The van driver looked doubtful. ‘Kate’s good, but that’s hard-packed ground and if they didn’t dig down we may have to start from the other end.’ He glanced at the JCB and its bucket scoop hopefully. ‘Or cut a couple of layers off the surface first.’ Beside him, Kate snorfled quietly then raised her liquid brown eyes towards him. ‘Good girl, let’s see what you can find …’
The dog took no urging. Bored from incarceration in the back of a van, the bloodhound trotted around the yard as her handler coaxed her towards the area against the fence that the sergeant had indicated. Nose down, she cast about for a couple of minutes before settling on a patch of ground six feet inside the perimeter. Clearly pleased with herself, she looked at her handler and barked briefly.
‘Good girl! All right, if you start digging here—’ the dog handler pulled out a spray can and drew a circle around Kate’s position, ‘—I’ll bring her back when you’ve got the top couple of feet off.’ He frowned pensively. ‘She’s pretty positive. I’ve got to warn you, it might be a false lead – she sometimes comes up with dead animals – but if there was intelligence leading to this site …’
The sergeant grumped lugubriously. ‘Okay, lads, let the nice men with the digger through. Looks like we’ve got a scene after all.’ He tugged on his gloves and turned to the hut: ‘Let’s see what we’ve got ’ere in the way of papers while they’re excavating. Bag it and tag it and take it away.’
The van’s doors opened and forensic service bodies in white overalls began climbing out and filing towards the tent like ants towards a spilled scoop of ice cream. Game on.
The evening of the second day of the Hatton Garden dig, Allen got home late and dog-tired, brick dust in his hair and smears of London clay on the knees of his jeans and the elbows of his shirt. ‘Shower,’ said Jenny, tugging him towards the bathroom. Her nostrils wrinkled: ‘What have you been doing?’
‘Digging.’ He tugged his hood off, then began unbuttoning his shirt in the cramped confines of the corridor. ‘It’s hot down there and there was a broken waste pipe leaking next door.’
‘You’re washing that yourself,’ she warned, kicking his shirt into a pile and refusing to pick it up. ‘What is it this time? Did they show you the planning forms?’ It was only half in jest. She’d been winding him up with it for the past week, knowing full well that the Fish’s people didn’t bother with the expense of filing for planning consent on anything. It wasn’t needling, exactly, just trying to ensure he stayed within sight of what was legal and what wasn’t. The odd spliff was one thing, but undermining buildings to get tenants out so the Fish could redevelop them … she wanted to keep Allen sensitive to it, for her own selfish reasons.
‘No forms on this one, not ever,’ he said, kicking off his jeans. He sighed, looking despondent. ‘Bastards.’
‘What has he got you doing now?’ she demanded, ears pricking up as he climbed into the cubicle.
‘Digging a tunnel under a road in Camden,’ he called indistinctly as he turned on the power shower. ‘For a gang of bloody jewel thieves.’
Whoa. Jenny stepped inside the bathroom, keeping her face still. Crisis of conscience, already? Allen wasn’t exactly happy about working for Pussyface, but this level of resentment was new. ‘You’re sure that’s what they are?’ she asked over the flowing water.
‘Hell, yes. They’ve got me tunnelling into a fucking vault so they can clean it out over the weekend and I don’t know how to—’ His next words were lost as the phone rang.
‘I’ll get that,’ she said automatically. The number was ex-directory and not many people had it. ‘Jenn speaking,’ she said. ‘Who is this?’
‘It’s the benefits office.’ Her employer’s prepared cover for calls, in case she wasn’t alone. ‘Something’s up with your latest claim and we’d like to go over it with you. Can you come in tomorrow afternoon?’ Sergeant Rutherford sounded strained.
‘My latest—’ Oh fuck. She glanced back at the laundry on the landing outside the bathroom. ‘Yeah, I’ll do that. What time? Two thirty? Okay, I’ll be there. Yeah, bye.’
She hung up as the shower turned off. ‘Who was that?’ Allen called.
‘Dole office. Fuck, they’re probably looking for fraud. I’ve got to go in tomorrow morning.’
‘I could come with—’
‘No, that’d be a bad idea,’ she said hastily. ‘I’ve dealt with these arseholes, they’ll think we’re conspiring or something. Shit.’ Make it sound good, she told herself. ‘I thought they knew I was square with them. After last time.’
‘They’re used to jokers,’ she said sharply. Discrimination was a fact of life, employment included. ‘How about you?’
He stepped out of the bathroom, a towel around his waist. His skin was so pale she could see a tracery of veins through it. Was it a case of opposites attracting, or something else? she wondered. ‘It’s a living, not a job,’ he said, and clammed up.
‘Listen, are you sure they’re thieves …?’
‘Yes, I’m fucking certain!’ Frustration raised his voice. ‘Sorry. I don’t like it but I don’t know what to do. If they empty the deposit vaults that’s robbery, innit? And I’ll be part of it? Complicity. Aiding and abetting.’ He sounded upset.
‘You could go to the police,’ she said, as if it was just a random thought. ‘I know a guy who’d give you a fair hearing—’ She stopped. He was shaking his head.
‘They’ll arrest me,’ he told her. ‘’S why I left home.’
‘Oh.’ She took his arm and led him back downstairs, thinking furiously. ‘Are you sure about that?’ she asked. ‘If they’re not after you for something big they might agree to drop it if you turn evidence against Puss—’
‘Fuck.’ He growled in frustration. Eyes screwed up against the daylight filtering through the blinds, hands fisted at his sides. ‘Like that’s going to happen?’ he asked rhetorically.
Now or never. She steeled herself for a little white lie. ‘Allen, I trained as a cop. Did my apprenticeship, know a few people. I could ask on behalf of a friend—’ Every word was true, every phrase calculated to mislead. She felt like a shit. But he was still shaking his he
He looked at her, and it felt as if she’d been slapped. ‘And you still think you’re Little Miss Law and Order? Or just another XTA survivor signing on the dole because they loved you anyway? I don’t think so.’ He slouched onto the futon in the living room. ‘Anyway, Pussyface will kill us both if he thinks I’ve told you anything.’ He laughed, an atonal, despairing bark that was nothing to do with mirth. ‘He knows where I live, remember?’
Jenny was on edge until Allen left for work the following day. He was twitchy, but said no more about her suggestion. They ate together, then made love until they fell asleep, entangled. The next morning all he said about their discussion was a mumbled, ‘take care’ before he slipped out. But they hadn’t fought: just … disagreed. Still, she felt a certain foreboding as she stepped out of the front door at lunchtime to head for her meeting.
‘’Ello, luv. Going somewhere?’
Shit. Jenny tried to step backwards and slam the door in his face, but a thug in a cheap landlord’s suit shoulder-barged her inside and punched her in the gut while his wingman followed. They looked like bouncers from the wrong kind of nightclub, only bouncers didn’t walk around armed and especially not – in the second one’s case – with a crackle of blue-white sparks sizzling between finger and thumb.
‘Where is it?’ demanded Thug Number One.
‘What?’ She shook her head, sick with dread as she doubled over.
‘Yer warrant card, luv, we’re not fucking stupid, we know yer with the filth.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about—’
Thug Number Two reached for her, fingers arcing. The next thing she knew she was lying on the floor, retching and shivering from shock.
‘Cuff her, Sparks, then find her stuff,’ Thug Number One instructed his mate. ‘It’ll be where she can lay her hands on it in a hurry. You’ll probably find it with notes on informers an’ such.’
‘Sure thing.’ Sparks, his charge temporarily earthed, dragged her arms backwards and handcuffed her. Then he yanked her right sleeve up and stabbed her, repeatedly and clumsily, with a syringe. Things got confusing and foggy. She retained scattered impressions: being frog-marched to the lifts, then out into the car park. Being shoved into the back seat of a white Rover with Q-plates and low-profile blue lights behind the windscreen, just like a real unmarked police car. Being bounced around by the rough ride as they drove her away.
Not a real police car, she realized fuzzily, no radio, but they’d taken out the latches on the rear doors just the same. Keeping her head down and trying not to puke prevented her from tracking where they were going, and then a meaty hand shoved her head down behind the driver’s seat. Finally she dozed off on a warm quinalbarbitone tide.
The next thing Jenny was aware of was a wooden chair.
She was sitting on the chair, of course. The room was windowless, lit by a dim bulb hanging from a low ceiling – a cellar? She was confused, her thoughts sluggish, and it took her some time to realize that her arms were behind her – well, of course. She couldn’t move her legs, either. Not a real police car. (She hadn’t quite ruled out friendly fire until now, but this was so not a custody cell.) Her belly ached and all her shoulders were sore – they’d cuffed both her left wrists together before they’d tied her to the chair. As her mind came back together her thoughts kept circling around Allen’s warning the night before. If Pussyface and the Fish knew the truth about her they’d either kill her or leave her alone – nothing in between. But I’m still alive. So what’s going on? Does anyone know I’m missing?
Sparks opened the door then stepped aside to admit her host. ‘’Ello, Constable,’ said Pussyface, his pupils huge and circular in the dim light. ‘It’s past time you and me ’ad a little chat, like. You’ve been spending a lot of time with someone ’oo rightly belongs to me, and I want to make sure we have an understanding, aye? Just to clear the air.’ He held up his right hand, and gleaming, well-buffed claws slid out of their sheaths. ‘Because misunderstandings might be regrettable, and certain events over the weekend lead me to believe that you might have misunderstood ’ow I like to run things on my patch …’
The tunnelling went slowly that morning.
It wasn’t Allen’s fault: after the first ten feet it had all been fine detail work, painstaking and precise. The ground under Hatton Garden was cluttered and crammed with weird debris and odd intrusions. Traffic rumbled overhead almost constantly, shaking dirt and dust free from the roof of the three-foot-diameter tube he was excavating. It wasn’t loose-packed this time, but compacted brick and gravel and stone, with a mix-in of old London clay if he went too deep. It was too moist to disintegrate into fine dust and disperse, and was even harder to re-form into an aggregate, tending to crumble and slump rather than compressing into a solid. Worse, there were buried pipes. Not just gas and electricity mains, but a century-old network of cast-iron pneumatic power tubes, immune to his power and invisible to his perceptions. He could sense them only as odd shadows in the misty ground, and if he dug too far in any direction without stopping to feel for obstructions he risked clotheslining himself. He found it exhausting, and the need to strengthen and reinforce the roof of the tunnel as he dug under the street (and to flush the resulting waste down the sewer) was costing him.
Around noon, having made an extra sixteen feet of tunnel (then filled in eight feet and dug another five in a slightly different direction, to circumvent an obstacle), Allen surfaced at the back of the shop, sweaty and dusty. ‘Need to get some lunch,’ he grunted as he shuffled past Mick, who was babysitting the dig this morning.
‘Don’t be late, Mole! Got a way to go by sunset,’ Mick called as he slouched outside, blinking at the overcast daylight.
A full understanding of what he was doing had taken some time to sink in, but the mechanical activities of the morning had given him time to mull over what Jenny had told him the night before. And to think. Digging tunnels for cash in hand was one thing. Being wanted for breaking out of cells was yet another. But robbing a safe deposit vault or a jeweller’s or a bank was something else again, as was burying bodies for gangsters. If Jenny knew somebody who could get him off the hook, maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing after all. If Pussyface wasn’t in the picture any more, if he went down, maybe he and Jenn could disappear. Or maybe she’s been lying to me, he thought, an unwanted realization creeping in. I trained as a cop. Then what was she doing in Jokertown? Did they train her up and then boot her out? Or something else?
Almost without noticing, he found his feet leading him to the phone booth on the corner. One hand counting his change, 2p and 10p pieces sticking to his fingers as he mentally rehearsed what he needed to say: We need to talk.
Ring-ring, ring-ring. ‘Hello, Spindrift Centre, who is this …? You want Jenny? I’m sorry, she hasn’t been in this morning.’
Allen dialled another number from memory, their (it felt odd, just thinking that) home phone. Ring-ring, ring-ring … and it kept ringing. Jenny had said something about wanting to rent an answering machine, but they were expensive and there was a three-week wait to get the Post Office engineer out to wire one in. He’d asked her why she needed it and she’d thrown up two hands. It had seemed like a pointless extravagance at the time, but now, as he waited for her to pick up the receiver, he found himself sweating. If he thinks I’ve told you anything … Jenny wouldn’t blab, would she? I trained as a copper. He walked away fast, not pausing long enough to hang up.
It took almost an hour to get home. Allen tried to hail a cab but the drivers took one look at him and drove on. Only one kid yelled at him on the Tube, for which he counted himself lucky: the passengers on the bus glared but left a bench seat clear for him and his imaginary friends who sat to either side. He managed to hold himself back from running all the way from the bus stop to the entrance to the estate, but by the time he got to the walkway leading to the front door his heart was pounding with dread.
Not a burglary, Allen realized, around the time he found the phone had been yanked out of the wall, leaving bare wires dangling. They’d taken everything on paper but left Jenny’s stash tin behind. Not the coppers. His hands were shaking as he frantically searched the rest of the flat. There was no sign of Jenny, no blood, thank fuck. It had happened after she left, or—
On his way back out, thinking frantic thoughts of finding a phone booth and dialling 999, something crunched under his heel. Bending down, he saw a broken plastic tube capped with a needle. The syringe had been emptied before it rolled under the table. Jenny doesn’t inject, he thought dismally.
He was breathless and anxious by the time he got to the community centre. Recognizing one of the volunteers on the front desk, he gasped out, ‘Has anyone seen Jenny?’
‘Sorry, luv,’ she apologized. ‘Maybe this afternoon?’
‘No, you don’t—’ He bit back panic. ‘Is anyone in the office?’
‘It’s Lauren’s shift, but I think she’s on her lunch break—’
Allen diffidently stormed the community centre office. ‘Are you Lauren? Jenny’s missing and I think she’s been taken.’
‘What? Who are—’
Lauren, middle-aged with a snakeskin complexion and wide red eyes, was visibly alarmed at Allen’s appearance. He tugged his balaclava off. ‘I live with her,’ he said baldly. ‘I know the centre gets by with donations from Mr McAndrews. I think there’s been a misunderstanding and I’d like to sort things out but I don’t have his address—’
‘You can’t do that! Why don’t you call the police?’
Knaves Over Queens by George R. R. Martin / Fantasy / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes