Knaves over queens, p.24
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       Knaves Over Queens, p.24
 

         Part #26 of Wild Cards series by George R. R. Martin
He wanted to shout, Jenn is the police, but he could be signing her death warrant. ‘It’ll take too long, listen, I won’t tell them where I got the address, I just need to know where you send the paperwork, receipts and such, no, the landlord’s address in the rent book—’

  Ten minutes later he was on the high street again, trying to flag down a taxi. He glanced up nervously. The clouds weren’t thick enough to block out the sun, but he’d have to risk it. He pulled off his balaclava and stuffed it in a pocket then stuck his hand out again, hoping he’d get a lift before his skin melted. He’d had a bike back in Brum, a sweet little Honda 125, perfect for nipping through traffic. It was just another of the things he’d had to leave behind. Eventually a taxi pulled over. ‘Where to, guv?’

  Allen had enough money in his wallet to cover a ride through the East End and out to the suburbs beyond. It was a side-effect of being paid cash and too scared to open a new bank account. The address in the rent book was unfamiliar, but the council rates listed the owner as a Mr McAndrews and gave a familiar street. In retrospect it wasn’t surprising that Pussyface kept his fingers in plenty of properties in London, awaiting the inevitable slum redevelopment boom.

  Sitting in the back of the black cab Allen had plenty of time to stew in his own hopes and fears as the driver fought his way through the London afternoon traffic. What if he was wrong, and someone else had her? What if Pussyface had taken her somewhere else? He’d had no idea what the new cellars were for at the time, but he was under no illusions now. At least the syringe gave him some hope. It meant whoever had her wanted her alive, for now.

  ‘Okay, if you could drop me just round the next corner …’ Allen climbed out of the cab and scuttled for cover under the row of scrawny trees punctuating the strip of grass between road and pavement. His face was prickling already, and he wished he’d thought to bring dark glasses and a hat. Anything less conspicuous than his balaclava. Backtracking, he made a swift pass along the residential street, eyeing the hedge fronting Pussyface’s pad. The gate was shut and it looked closed – nobody home. But he knew better than to tackle it directly. The neighbour’s garden – separated by a high brick wall – adjoined the McAndrews manse and had a thicket of apple trees at the back. Allen nerved himself up and leaned against their back wall, closed his eyes, and fell forward through dust and choking darkness.

  Down under the back garden he fell, into the darkness and musty night where the small things burrowed and coiled. Down below a ceiling of tangled tree roots, wading through clay and mud that swirled around him and vanished, Allen walked with eyes closed, feeling his way forward with a bubble of air wrapped around his face. Listening, feeling, his imaginary vibrissae bending to feel the solid intrusions in the almost gaseous soil, he shoved himself forward. Earth liquefied and flowed around him, solidifying behind as he felt his way towards the cellar wall, a clearly delineated rectangle under the lawn ahead of him. This is so cool, the part of his mind in the opposite corner to the lump of cold fright congealing in his gut observed.

  Allen paused close to the halfway point beneath the lawn, reclining in soil. He risked a molehill, pushing up a mound of dirt to conceal an airway. When he stopped moving, he found his air bubble stagnated, but pushing his tunnelling ability too hard felt strange, like straining a muscle he wasn’t normally aware of. After a few minutes he began to move again, pushing onwards until he came up against the cellar’s outer wall and realized that he hadn’t thought beyond this point. He had no plan beyond finding Jenny. Assuming she was even here—

  He extended his awareness slowly through the voids and cavities beyond the wall. It was very strange, trying to sense the absence of rock and soil. Wood and lath and carpet and doors were all but invisible; plaster dust and stone and brick showed. Bone … he had an indistinct sense of bones, pulpy and warm and difficult to feel. Living bones with meat and blood wrapped around them. A bag of bone in the next void over, hunched around itself, and two thin stacks of bone stretched menacingly tall to either side of it, scaffoldings of malign intent. Above his head he could feel the rectangular bubbles of other rooms – the building was largely built of brick – the hallway, the morning room, Pussyface’s unoccupied office.

  Can I …? The beginnings of a plan congealed in his mind. Allen swallowed, frightened. Then he leaned close to the bricks, dug his fingers into the crumbling powder and mortar, and climbed up through the floor of the gang boss’s den.

  Jenny tried to open her eyes. She didn’t get very far: her left one was swollen shut, the side of her face throbbing with molten heat, and her right eye was gummy, the view red and blurry. No matter how much it watered the tears couldn’t quite wash the blood out of it fast enough.

  Pussyface tutted. ‘I said ter make it look good,’ he said mildly from behind her. ‘What part of look do ye no’ get, Sparks?’

  ‘It’s jes’ cosmetic, guv, nothing permanent, like.’

  ‘So ye’re gonnae stitch her head up yerself? Idjit.’

  McAndrews’ Glaswegian diction came out to play when he wasn’t acting the nob in public, Jenny noted absent-mindedly. Her wrists were screaming in agony and she’d wrenched one of her shoulders flinching away from Sparks, who in turn was flinching away from Pussyface’s displeasure.

  ‘But I thought you wis planning ter fridge her, boss?’

  Pussyface swore horribly. ‘Jesus fookin’ Christ, yer numpty, did yer mam drop you on yer heid as a bairn? Dinnae mention the fridge in front o’ the roast!’ He cleared his throat and switched on his Scottish BBC accent – cut-glass English with rolled Rs, posher than the Queen. ‘Anyway, it isn’t going to happen. She’s listening, isn’t she? And it’s her lucky day, isn’t it, WPC Scott?’

  Well, fuck, there goes six months’ cover … ‘I‘m not a cop,’ she mumbled past a stab of pain from her upper jaw, where some of the teeth felt disturbingly loose.

  ‘Of course not, Detective Constable,’ Pussyface said soothingly, as if calming a delirious patient. A hand landed on her right shoulder then lifted briefly at her sharp hiss of pain. ‘It’s just a little misunderstanding, isn’t it? You being discharged by the Met for, what was it, oh, insubordination – or was it just that you couldn’t meet the uniform requirements what with your extra arm? – and moving onto my patch? See, I do my homework. I’m a businessman, me, a smart businessman. And I’m nae stupid – not like Sparks, here – not stupid enough to murder a police officer, know what I’m saying? This is just a little misunderstanding and I’m certain we can come to an arrangement.’ He stepped in front of her, smiling. ‘Go see if the Mole’s finished for the day, Sparks,’ he said softly. ‘Then bring him in.’ Sparks made himself scarce. ‘See, I don’t rightly ’ave a problem with you running my community centre,’ he added softly, focusing on Jenny, ‘just as long as ye ken that yer boyfriend belongs to me.’

  ‘Wha-what do you mean?’

  Pussyface shrugged. ‘Can’t be doing with ye telling stories to old friends. If I send the Mole to bury something I can’t be ’aving the Yard dig it up again, instead of the blokes it’s in escrow for. Who were most disappointed,’ he added. ‘You cost me a pretty penny, lass. But I can be generous: your man’s doin’ a braw job of diggin’ for me, and in case ’e as any second thoughts I’m gonnae let you ’ave free bed and board here until it’s done, an’ done right so ’e’s going down for aiding and abetting burglary if it comes to it. And then I’m gonnae let you out and you’re gonnae keep him in line for me and stop tellin’ tales out of school, ’cept when I tell you to drop a jobbie in the inspector’s lap. You want your community centre to keep on going: be a shame if anyone sold the building out from under you, wouldn’t it?’

  Jenny closed her eyes again. Her head was spinning with the mixture of threats, lies, and half-truths. Pussyface was a master bullshitter, she could see, having fed her just enough hope to keep her docile – hope that he wanted her for leverage and as an informer – even though she knew better than to believe him. What the fuck was in those boxes
Allen had buried the other week? Heroin, explosives, stolen computer chips? Escrow arrangements? Informers’ bones.

  ‘I’ll do it,’ she lied, guessing that he knew it for a lie but would pretend anyway, until it was time either to get his claws in deeper or dispose of her entirely. ‘But what makes you think Allen will cooperate?’

  ‘He’ll cave when he sees you here. Folks talk tough ’til they’re in a corner, but your boy disnae have the guts to do anything.’ He spoke with complete assurance.

  The door to the cellar crashed into the room behind him in a pile of brick dust and splinters.

  ‘The fuck—’

  ‘—her go!’ Allen shouted as he waved a pistol around. His eyes were pink and furious, his face smeared with mud and crumbled brick dust. Jenny flinched: the way he had his finger on the trigger she really hoped it wasn’t loaded. ‘Get back! I’ll shoot!’ The gun barrel wobbled towards Pussyface, who took a step backwards – he clearly had the same thought as Jenny.

  ‘Calm down, laddie, you don’t wanna do that.’ Pussyface kept his voice level as he sidled behind Jenny’s chair and knelt, resting his hands on her shoulders. Pure fright stabbed at her as she felt the pricking of his claws unsheathing inches from her jugular. ‘Let’s nae do anything hasty, like? It’s all fun an’ games until some cunt loses an eye.’

  Allen blinked, suddenly realizing he’d been outmanoeuvred. ‘Get away from her!’ he demanded uncertainly.

  ‘An’ why would I do something that stupid?’ Pussyface chuckled.

  ‘Step away …’ Allen trailed off, then changed gear. ‘You fucking hurt her and I’ll hurt you.’

  ‘No ye won’t, laddie. Ye ken I’ve done this kind of thing before? An’ by the way, you left the safety catch on. Seems ter me you dinnae take the job seriously, and that could be inconvenient, know what I mean? Yer an asset an’ I’ve got plans for you but I can’t be doing with you or your piece here grassing. You’ll get her back in one piece if you cooperate—’

  The earth floor of the cellar trembled. Jenny tensed. Allen took a step forward, death in his blood-red eyes as he stared at Pussyface. ‘You can run, now.’

  ‘I’ll fuckin’ kill her if you try anything, laddie—’

  ‘Then I’ll bury you alive. I dug this cellar: I can swim through earth. Think you can learn in time?’ The floor trembled, a slow gelatinous rolling. ‘Go on, fuck off upstairs and leave us.’

  Pussyface slowly straightened, but kept his claws on Jenny’s neck. ‘Yer an idiot,’ he warned. ‘You dinnae get to walk away from this.’

  She could feel his muscles tensing as if he was preparing to jump Allen. Allen stared intently, head cocked to one side, as if he was listening for some cue. She cleared her throat. ‘Time out?’ she husked. ‘Let’s not be hasty? Mr McAndrews can wait upstairs while I talk to, to—’ Her head was spinning. ‘Five minutes,’ she concluded woozily. In five minutes he can untie me, we can get away and worry about where later – and fuck, Pussyface nails us some time after that—

  ‘Give me the gun, son,’ Pussyface growled. ‘Ye dinnae ken how tae hold it safely and ye’re not gonnae use it, so why bother?’ The whole cellar was shaking now, vibrating in time to her speeding inhalations.

  ‘But—’

  ‘Throw it out of the door and I’ll go an’ wait upstairs like the lassie wants.’ Like a cat staking out a mousehole, patiently waiting. ‘I’m not gonnae stay an’ let you drop the roof on me.’

  Allen waited, frozen, for a while, then blinked. ‘You first,’ he said. Dust was puffing in tiny clouds from between the corners of the doorway. A rattle of gravel cascaded down upon Jenny’s head and she whimpered faintly. Being buried alive wasn’t a phobia, but it wasn’t something she was enthusiastic about, either.

  He lowered the gun barrel and Jenny shouted ‘No!’ as Pussyface began to make his move. Kicking, she threw herself sideways, tensing in anticipation of the shock of landing on her shoulder as the chair overbalanced. But instead of a jarring impact with the ground Jenny fell against Pussyface, who stumbled backwards as he tried to sidestep her fall.

  The floor shuddered and somewhere above the cellar there was a crash of breaking glass.

  Pussyface picked himself up, stepped out from behind her, and punched Allen. Allen doubled over and let go of the gun as Pussyface grabbed it. For a sick moment, Jenny stared sideways as the gangster raised his pistol – but the walls were still shuddering in the grip of a pocket earthquake. He turned, cast her a black stare, and darted up the staircase. A door at the top slammed.

  The floor was still shaking. ‘Are you all right?’ Allen gasped at her, stumbling to his knees painfully. ‘We’ve got to move, he’ll be back with his mate as soon as—’

  ‘Idiot!’ she wailed in frustration and pain. ‘He’ll have bolted the door upstairs! We’re trapped down here!’ The ceiling was still shaking. ‘Make it stop!’

  ‘If I stop shaking, he’ll come back,’ Allen panted. ‘Let me untie you.’ He pulled a utility knife out of his muddy overalls. ‘I won’t let it fall on you.’ He moved behind the chair to work at the knots around her arms and legs. ‘Are you a copper?’

  She licked her lips, feeling numb. ‘What if I am?’

  ‘Then I—’ The sawing at the rope around her legs paused for a moment, then started again. ‘I need to report a crime or two, don’t I? Let’s start with, oh, a gangster kidnapping a police officer. And trying to break into the private deposit vaults under Hatton Garden.’

  ‘Yeah, that’ll do it.’ She swallowed. ‘Where did the gun come from?’

  ‘Pussyface’s desk upstairs.’ Her left leg loosened, swung down until her heel banged on the floor. ‘Listen, it’s a very good thing you didn’t hold it at any point, for any purpose other than to hand it to the nearest police officer, that being me, at my request: understood? Because possession without a licence is good for a five-year stretch, so you didn’t do that. Right?’

  Her other leg came loose. ‘Understood.’ She felt his hands under her armpits, lifting, and then the chair back slid out from behind her. Free of it, she rolled painfully onto her knees. The shaking had subsided. ‘Shit. What’s wrong?’

  ‘Can’t keep it up.’ His face was drawn, eyebrows furrowed with effort. ‘’Sides, I really will bring the roof down if I do it for much longer. Here.’ He slid the knife blade across the ropes tying her wrists.

  ‘He’ll be back. Or he’ll send Sparks. We’ve got to get out of here!’ She looked round frantically as Allen worked.

  ‘I’ve got it covered.’ Allen kept at the ropes. Another minute and her arms, burning and sore, fell limp to her sides. She held her hands up and tried to chafe some life back into her wrists. ‘Can you block the—’ He fell silent, regarding the warped doorframe and the fallen door. ‘Shit.’

  ‘I thought you said you could swim through soil?’ she asked thinly.

  ‘Yeah. Yeah, I can—’ he took a deep breath ‘—when I’m not shagged? That’s how I got in. Tunnelled under the garden from next door.’

  ‘I need a phone,’ she said, thinking aloud to keep herself within hailing distance of calm. ‘If I had a phone I could call in support. But while we’re trapped down here Pussyface is upstairs and you bet he’s calling in support.’ She cast around, looking for another way out. ‘Once his men arrive they’ll come down here mob-handed and that’ll be it.’

  ‘We can avoid that.’ He suddenly sounded confident.

  ‘How?’

  ‘Follow me.’ Beyond the doorway there was a low-ceilinged passageway, doors leading to either side. At the far end, a staircase led upwards. Debris released by Allen’s display of power had fallen free, mounding up beside warped doorframes. ‘In here, I think.’

  ‘What’s—’

  ‘I dug these.’ She could hear a note of pride in his voice. ‘Storage cellars.’ The door scraped on stone as he shoved it open. ‘Come on in.’ He flicked a switch tacked to the bare wall and an overhead bulb flickered to life, lighting up a long, l
ow tunnel of a room. ‘Go on,’ he waved her ahead. ‘I’m going to barricade us in.’ Allen shoved the door back into its frame then reached out to either side and touched the walls. Plaster and then clay began to peel away in an arch just inside the doorway. ‘That’s not going to open without a battering ram.’ He leaned against it tiredly. ‘I reckon that’ll buy us a few minutes.’

  ‘But they’ll—’ Jenny bit her tongue. Get a grip, she told herself. ‘What do you mean to do now?’ she asked.

  Allen didn’t say anything for a minute. At last, as she was about to repeat herself, more forcefully, he pushed himself away from the door and paced to the centre of the room, counting silently. ‘Here,’ he said. His eyes were screwed shut.

  ‘Here?’ she echoed.

  ‘Here.’ He pointed at the ceiling. ‘We’re under the garage, I think.’

  ‘That’s no way out, he’ll have guards upstairs and in the garden—’

  ‘You want a phone, don’t you?’ Allen opened his eyes. ‘I’m pretty sure there’s one in the garage, will that do?’

  ‘Who the hell keeps a phone in their garage?’ Jenny boggled. ‘If you’re sure—’

  ‘Oh, I’m sure enough.’ Allen grinned. Then he reached up and touched the ceiling and the plaster began to crumble.

  Allen got Jenny into the garage just in time.

  The first crash came from the door just as he boosted her up through the mole-hole he’d made. The door shuddered. If he hadn’t reinforced it the impact would have broken the latch through its flimsy frame for sure.

  ‘I’m in,’ Jenny called quietly. ‘Need a hand?’

  ‘Yeah.’ Allen glanced at the door. His head was sore and spinning from too much tunnelling, too fast. It felt as if he’d sprained something, some imaginary part of his mind. Much more and he’d be throwing up – exactly what he didn’t need, with Pussyface’s goon hammering the other side of the plywood door.

  ‘Open the fuck up, we know yer in there!’

  Jenny reached an arm down through the hole and waved about for him. Allen took a deep breath then glanced at the doorway. ‘Stand back,’ he called up to her. Then he let the walls of the cellar slump inwards. The floor rose up beneath his feet like the waters of an incoming tsunami, and by the time Jenny grabbed his hand he was almost at the point of throwing up. ‘Over here, are you okay—’

 
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