Fight or die, p.1
Fight or Die, p.1
Also Available from James Hilton and Titan Books
About the Author
Also available from James Hilton and Titan Books
Search and Destroy
Pray for Death (July 2018)
A Gunn Brothers Thriller
Fight or Die
Print edition ISBN: 9781783294886
E-book edition ISBN: 9781783294893
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP
First edition: June 2017
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Names, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead (except for satirical purposes), is entirely coincidental.
© 2017 James Hilton. All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
For Rita and Arthur Ogle, forever lights in the night sky.
The arrival of the three men sent a shiver crawling down Pamela Duke’s back. They were all dressed in a similar fashion, urban combat fatigues with mirrored sunglasses, and moved as a single unit into the cool interior of the bar. Groups of men strutting into the building certainly wasn’t unusual—normally they were tourists trawling for fun—but she recognised the trio of Locos. They were expected but nonetheless frightening.
Pamela nodded a greeting and offered the eternal barmaid question to cover her nervousness: “What can I get you guys?”
The first man to reach the bar removed his sunglasses, folded them and placed them on the lacquered wooden counter. “You know what we want, chica.”
Pamela blanched at the word; it sounded obscene coming from his lips. She straightened, standing her ground. “I’ve already told your boss: I’m not interested in selling the club to him, or to anyone else.”
The other two men stared on impassively, eyeing the bar’s few customers through their shades. They moved over to a young man and woman sitting at one of the interior tables.
The young couple had been having a late breakfast, but now, as the men stood over them, they stopped eating and looked up.
The young man returned the stare of the two heavies. “Hola!”
Pamela watched as the closest Loco bent at the waist and with slow deliberation, let a large glob of saliva drop onto the man’s food.
“You f…!” The young man started up from his seat. His girlfriend grabbed his arm and pulled him back.
“I’m not scared of this dickhead,” the boyfriend insisted.
The Loco sneered and moved aside the hem of his shirt to reveal the ribbed hilt of a combat knife. He tapped the pommel with one finger.
The young woman emitted a brief squeal and pulled the young man away from the table. “Come on, Billy. We’re going.”
As the young couple scurried out into the relative safety of the bright Mediterranean morning, the two men joined their leader at the bar.
“You animals,” said Pamela. “You think putting the frighteners on a couple of kids is gonna make me pack up and go home? I’ve lived in Spain for fifteen years and I’ve worked way too hard building my business to hand it over to a second-rate outfit of donkey fuckers like you!”
“Mrs Duke, where is your husband?” asked the leader. His voice was thick with a southern Spanish accent. “I think I should be talking to the man of the house.”
“You know he’s away at the trade market. He always goes on Monday and Thursday mornings. Isn’t it funny how you only ever come when he’s not here? Seeing as your boss has tried to put a stop on our deliveries, you should know better.”
“This is your last chance to get a fair price, Mrs Duke. If I have to come back again, I will let my boys off their leash and that will be a sight you do not want to see.”
“Fair price? Yeah, right. You should leave now.” Quills of anger bristled through Pamela like a static charge.
The Loco who had spat in the tourist’s food folded his arms across his chest. The sneer that crept across his face equalled the contempt in his voice, and when he spoke his English was smooth and flawless. “I hardly think a cripple like your husband would be of any comfort anyway. One false leg and half blind—he’s a fucking joke!”
“My husband’s worth ten of you. He lost his leg serving his country, not by scaring hard-working people out of their homes and businesses.”
The leader shot a hand forward and seized a handful of hair. Pamela let out an involuntary yelp as she was yanked forward, her face inches from his. She could feel his breath on her skin, smell the stale stench of tobacco.
“My name is Vincenzo Ortega. I have killed six people and if you don’t play the game, you and your crippled husband will be numbers seven and eight.” Ortega’s hand moved under his open shirt to his armpit, touching the hilt of a knife. “Do you know what the Japanese quick draw is? You draw and cut a throat in less than a second. And I’m finished with the diplomatic approach.”
Pamela staggered back, her hips banging against the shelf behind her, rattling bottles as Ortega shoved her away. Ortega turned and barked a command in Spanish. “Donal, Aspanu, leave our mark.”
The two other Locos began kicking over tables and chairs, laughing at the destruction. The few customers remaining made for the door. Pamela yelled at them to stop, but this only seemed to spur their rampage. Bottles smashed as Donal launched a stool over Pamela’s head. The heady aroma of rum and whisky filled the air. Pamela carefully brushed slivers of glass from her hair, staring at Ortega with a wild mix of emotions. “You bastards!”
Ortega stared back at her. No emotion showed in his face save for the slightest hint of a smile. The smile was cold and devoid of humour.
Pamela felt a heat rising up her neck and face. “Tell them to stop.”
“It’s too late for that now, chica.” Ortega placed a cigarette between his lips. He cast a quick look over his shoulder and barked out a command to one of his men. “Aspanu, rasgón abajo de la bandera!”
Aspanu grinned and moved to the Union Flag that adorned the wall facing the bar, embellished with the legend WELCOME TO THE WORLD-FAMOUS WOO HOO CLUB! He reached for a Teflon-coated blade and began ripping into the delicate fabric with obvious joy. “Piece of shit!”
Donal continued to overturn tables and chairs, scattering plates and condiments over the floor. In a few short minutes, the usually pristine establishment that operated as a café by day and a bustling club by night looked like Hurricane Jose had paid a flying visit.
When they were done all three men approached Pamela. Aspanu took his knife and stabbed it down into a stack of menus on the bar, a mere inch from Pamela’s fingers. She instinctively shrieked and snatched her hand back. The three men laughed.
Ortega gave Pamela a smile, spreading his hands in an open gesture. “Do we keep going or…?”
Pamela was a strong-willed woman. A lot of army wives get that way. They have as much upheaval in their lives as the soldiers they are married to. A single tear blossomed at the corner of her eye. Not wanting to give the intruders the satisfaction of seeing her wipe it away, she pushed her hair back into a ponytail, shedding the last splinters of broken glass. The tear soaked into her sleeve as she raised her arms.
“Tell your boss to make a serious offer and maybe we’ll think about it.”
“Too late for that now, chica. That boat has sailed. Now you’ll take what you get.” Ortega’s sneer could have curdled milk.
“All of our life savings are in this place!” she said desperately.
“Call it… market fluctuation.” Ortega’s smoker’s voice was sandpaper to her ears. “We’ll be back at six so you and your husband can sign over the deeds. If you’re not here, we will burn this place down and start over with a new one of our own—”
“Jeez, Daisy, I’d sack your contractor; he’s made a real pig’s ear of the refurb.” A new, deeper voice carried from the doorway of the bar, the American accent thick and unmistakable.
The three Locos turned to see a large silhouette blocking the sun. Ortega spat a warning. “Fuck off. The bar is closed.”
The large figure took a step inside. “But I thought the Woo Hoo was always open for a good time. Woo Hoo!” The new arrival finished off his sentence with jazz hands.
Ortega nodded towards the stranger and Aspanu stalked forward, blade at the ready. Ortega returned his attention to Pamela. She was smiling.
Aspanu cut the air near the big man’s face and then pointed to the door.
There was a soft sound as if the newcomer had made a lazy clap of his hands. Then Aspanu was laid out full stretch on the ground and the interloper was inspecting the man’s knife as if he’d just won a prize at a fairground booth. Donal started towards the man. “Usted es muerto!”
Pamela stared at Ortega. “You’d better leave now.” And then to the newcomer, “Clay, don’t kill them. Okay?”
Ortega’s gaze flickered between the stranger and Pamela. He eased away from the bar, and his hand stole towards his knife.
Clay cocked his head to one side and addressed Pamela directly. “Are these bozos for real, Daisy?” He raised an eyebrow at Donal, who was approaching, ready to attack. “Now, who are you supposed to be? Tommy the Toreador? The rodeo clown?”
Donal hesitated for a couple of seconds then started forward again. He got almost nose-to-nose with Clay. Clay put on his best worried look, taking a step back. Then he answered with a lunge, driving Aspanu’s blade deep into Donal’s thigh muscle. Donal let out an ear-splitting shriek and fell writhing to the floor, his own knife forgotten.
Pamela tapped the left side of her chest as Ortega lurched towards Clay to indicate that he was carrying a weapon. He gave a single nod in response. Clay had disposed of two enforcers in less than fifteen seconds but she knew Ortega was no easy mark—the man exuded a sense of promised violence.
Clay walked casually towards Ortega, his thumbs hooked into his belt. As he stepped over Donal, he tapped his heel sharply on the protruding knife handle, driving the blade deeper into his leg. The fallen gangster howled with renewed vigour. With what appeared to be an afterthought, Clay back-heeled him in the side of the head, silencing him.
“Three desperados to one woman. That hardly seems like fair odds now, does it?”
Ortega had spent two years in one of Spain’s toughest prisons, where he’d been in the company of many vicious men. He’d also been in enough street fights to recognise a dangerous prospect when he saw one. He studied the big American with practised eyes, made subtle calculations behind his unwavering façade. The man was about six-five, maybe more. His accent unmistakable. Powerful-looking with enough scars on his face to give him a sinister edge. Well over two hundred pounds. Big arms and shoulders. But he wasn’t slow: two experienced Locos had gone down in a few seconds. This Clay could be real trouble.
Got to take him out!
Ortega set himself.
Do it now!
But then the big man did something unexpected. He started to walk away. “You know what? This is none of my business; go ahead and do what you were gonna do. I’m going for a beer further down the road.”
Ortega looked at the big man’s back as he stalked away. No way was this American pig leaving here in one piece. He snatched at his knife and lurched after Clay. With deadly intent, he aimed for the kidney and slammed his blade forward—but all he hit was air.
The big man wasn’t there. He’d turned in a subtle pivot and now had Ortega’s arm caught at the wrist and wrapped up at the elbow. Ortega had been in a few arm-locks in his time but this was unlike anything he’d experienced before. When a cop had you in a hold they were trying to restrain you. This was very different.
Pain erupted in his arm, a sudden heat like boiling water in the joint of his elbow. The two men locked eyes in a battle of wills. Ortega strained against the hold.
The big man braced his arms and chest in one severe movement and Ortega felt his elbow joint first hyper-extend and then dislocate fully in a mind-numbing separation of bone and sinew. Ortega felt his legs begin to give way beneath him as his knife clattered to the floor.
“Well I guess you won’t be signing any deeds after all,” said Clay.
Ortega found his voice, but all he could emit was a high-pitched series of gasping curses.
The woman’s—Pamela’s—voice rang out from behind the bar. “You know you’re right, Mr Vincenzo Ortega. My husband isn’t a match for you anymore, but you’ll find that good men have good friends and Clay here is one of the best. Tell your boss that we’re not interested and won’t be railroaded. Any more shit like today and he’ll be the one out of business. For good.”
“You piece of shi—” Ortega’s response was cut short by an elbow to his face. A quick spin by Clay coupled with a few running steps and Ortega found himself crashing out into the street.
Seconds later Donal and Aspanu were dumped unceremoniously by his side. Clay glowered down at the fallen gangsters. “You’d better listen to the lady. If you come back again, I’ll be mighty upset. These are decent people. Bring crap like this here again and you’ll pay dearly; unlike the easy ride you got today.”
Ortega began to vow retribution but discovered that his mouth didn’t work. That fucker had broken his jaw! He struggled to his feet, both dislocated arm and shattered jaw sending a barrage of pain through his nervous system.
The big man pointed to the knife embedded in Donal’s blood-soaked thigh. “Hey, you might want to get that looked at.”
Aspanu had regained consciousness and was looking around, blinking rapidly, clearly trying to make sense of the situation. A fierce grunt and head nodding from Ortega sent him scurrying towards a black Mercedes parked kerbside. Aspanu unlocked the car and then helped Ortega into the passenger seat. Donal, still bleeding profusely and glassy-eyed, was hauled up and pushed without ceremony onto the back seats. The Mercedes then sped away, causing an oncoming car to swerve out of its path.
* * *
Pamela slipped her arms around Clay’s chest and hugged him close. “Thank you so much. I don’t know what would’ve happened if you hadn’t arrived. Those Locos are a bunch of bastards. I hope that’s enough to put them off coming back.”
“You know I’d never shine you along, Pamela. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of them at all. But it’s like we said on the phone last week: you either make a stand and fight for what’s yours or you pack up and go.”
Pamela looked up into Clay’s blue eyes. “I know, I know. But it’s not me I’m worried about. It’s Larry. I couldn’t stand the thought of anything happening to him. But you know how stubborn and proud he is. He’d still square off with them and get himself killed in the process.”
Clay nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I know. Larry was one of the best snipers the Brits had, but with no rifle and no leg…” he sucked a sharp intake of breath through his teeth. “Not much chance.”
“What do you think will happen now?” asked Pamela. She exhaled, suddenly tired. She had talked long and hard with Larry about moving back to England when the first British ex-pats had given in to the Locos’ intimidation, but both had decided that they’d be damned if they were going to be muscled out of their home and livelihood. And besides, what was there to go back to in the UK? The country was going to the dogs faster than you could say Brexit. No, they would stay and brave the storm.
“They’ll almost certainly come back with more men. We need to be ready. You need to do as I ask.”
“Okay, Clay. That’s why you’re here. I guess you’re in charge.” She wiped away her tears and punched Clay on the arm, scolding him gently, “And how many times have I told you not to call me Daisy? That shit sticks you know, soon everyone will call me it!”