There are very few people who are not ashamed of having been in love when they no longer love each other.

Francois

 
 
 
 
 
Tác giả: Val McDermid
Thể loại: Trinh Thám
Upload bìa: Minh Khoa
Language: English
Số chương: 25
Phí download: 4 gạo
Nhóm đọc/download: 0 / 1
Số lần đọc/download: 1457 / 15
Cập nhật: 2014-12-27 15:25:44 +0700
Link download: epubePub   PDF A4A4   PDF A5A5   PDF A6A6   - xem thông tin ebook
 
 
 
 
Chapter 3
his was definitely a lot more interesting than rehashing the cock-up of my gravestone inquiries. There would be plenty of time for me to beat myself up about that later. Dealing with the seriously menaced, even if they were barely comprehensible Glaswegian musicians, has always seemed a better way of passing the time than contemplating my failures. "You've had death threats?" I asked.
Lice looked at Dan, shaking his head pityingly. Dan looked at Richard, his eyebrows steepling in a demand for help. "Not as such," Richard explained. "When Lice talks about being wiped out, he means metaphorically."
"That's right," Lice confirmed. "Poetic license and that." My interest was dropping faster than a gun barrel faced with Glint Eastwood.
"Somebody's out to get us professionally is what we're trying to say," Dan butted in. "We're getting stuffed tighter than a red pudding."
"What's a red pudding?" Richard demanded. I was glad about that; we private eyes never like to display our ignorance.
"For fuck's sake," Lice groaned.
"What do you expect from a country where the fish and chip shops only sell fish and chips?" Dan said. "It's like a sausage only it's red and it's got oatmeal in it and you deep fry it, okay? In batter," he added for the benefit of the mere English among us.
I wasn't about to ask anymore. I still hadn't recovered from the shock of asking for a pizza in a Scottish chip shop. I'd watched in horrified amazement as the fryer expertly folded it in half and dumped it in the deep fat. No, I didn't eat it. I fed it to the seagulls and watched them plummet into the waves afterward, their ability to defeat gravity wiped out in one meal. "So this metaphori¬cal, poetically licensed professional stitch-up consists of what, exactly?"
"Essentially, the boys are being sabotaged," Richard said.
"Every time we're doing a gig around the town, some bastard covers all our posters up," Dan said. "Somebody's been phoning the promoters and telling them not to sell any more tickets for our gigs because they're already sold out. And then we get to a gig and there's hardly any gen¬uine fans there."
"But there's always a busload of Nazis on super lager that tear the place to bits and close the gig down," Lice kicked in bitterly. "Now we've been barred from half the decent venues in the north and we're getting tarred with the same brush as the fascist bastards that are wrecking our gigs. The paying customers are starting to mutter that if these guys follow us around from place to place, it must be because there's something in our music that appeals to brainless racists."
"And actually, the boys' lyrics are quite the opposite of that." Richard with the truly crucial information as usual. "Even the most PC of your friends would be hard-pressed to take offense."
"The only PC friend I've got is the one next door with the Pentium processor," I snapped. To my surprise, Dan and Lice guffawed.
"Nice one," Dan said. "Anyway, last night put the tin lid on it. We were doing this gig in Bedford, and while we were inside watching the usual wrecking crew smashing the place up, somebody set fire to our van."
"Have you talked to the police about this?" I said. Silly me. The boys scowled and shook their heads. Richard cast his eyes heavenward and sighed deeply. I tried again. "This sounds like a campaign of systematic harassment to me. They've got the resources to pursue something like that properly. And they're free," I added.
"I thought you said she knew her arse from a hole in the ground?" Lice demanded of Richard. " 'Have you talked to the police about this,' " he mimicked cruelly. The last time I felt that mimsy I was nine years old and forced to wear my cousin's cast-off party frock in lemon nylon with blue roses, complete with crackling petticoat, to my best friend's birthday party. "For fuck's sake, look at us. If we walked into the cop shop, they'd arrest us. If we told them we were being harassed, they'd piss themselves laughing. I don't think that's the answer, missus."
Dan picked up the last salt and pepper rib and stood up. "Come on, Lice," he said. "I don't want to embarrass the woman. Richard, I know you meant well, but hey, your missus obviously isnae up to it. You know what they're like, women today. They cannae bring themselves to admit there are things that are way beyond them."
That did it. Through clenched teeth, I said, "I am nobody's missus and I am more than capable of sorting out any of the assorted scumbags that have doubtless got their own very good reasons for having it in for Dan Druff and the Scabby Heided Bairns. You want this sort¬ing, I'll sort it. No messing."
When I saw the smile of complicity that flashed between Richard and Dan, I nearly decked the pair of them with the flying sweep kick I'd been perfecting down at the Thai boxing gym. But there's no point in petulance once you've been well and truly had over. "I think that lit¬tle routine makes us quits," I told Richard. He grinned. "I'm going to need a lot more details."
Dan sat down again. "It all started with the fly-posting," he said, stretching his long legs out in front of him. I had the feeling it was going to be a long story.
It was just after midnight when Dan and Lice left Richard and me staring across the coffee table at each other. It had taken a while to get the whole story, what with Lice's digressions into the relationship between rock music and politics, with particular reference to right-wing racists and the oppression of the Scots. The one clear thread in their story that seemed impossible to deny was that someone was definitely out to get them. Any single incident in the Scabby Heided Bairns' catalog of disaster could have been explained away, but not the accumulation of cock-ups that had characterized the last few weeks in the band's career.
They'd moved down to Manchester, supposedly the alternative music capital of the U.K., from their native Glasgow in a bid to move on to the next rung of the lad¬der that would lead them to becoming the Bay City
Rollers of the nineties. Now, the boys were days away from throwing in the towel and heading north again. Bewildered that they could have made so serious an enemy so quickly, they wanted me to find out who was behind the campaign. Then, I suspected, it would be a matter of summoning their friends and having the Tartan Army march on some poor unsuspecting Manchester vil¬lain. I wasn't entirely sure whose side I was on here.
"You are going to sort it out for them?" Richard asked.
I shrugged. "If they've got the money, I've got the time."
"This isn't just about money. You owe me, Brannigan, and these lads are kicking. They deserve a break."
"So give them a good write-up in all those magazines you contribute to," I told him.
"They need more than that. They need word of mouth, a following. Without that, they're not exactly an attractive proposition to a record company."
"It would take more fans than Elvis to make Dan Druff and his team attractive to me," I muttered. "And besides, I don't owe you. It was you and your merry men who screwed up my job earlier tonight, if you remember."
Richard looked astonished, his big tortoiseshell glasses slipping down his nose faster than Eddie the Eagle on a ski-jump. "And what about this place?" he wailed, waving his arm at the neat and tidy room.
"Out of the goodness of my heart, I'm not going to demand the ten quid an hour that good industrial clean¬ers get," I said sweetly, getting up and tossing the empty tinfoil containers into plastic bags.
"What about killing me off?" he demanded, his voice rising like a BeeGee. "How do you think I felt, coming home to find my partner sitting discussing my gravestone with a complete stranger? And while we're on the subject, I hope you weren't going to settle for some cheap crap," he added indignantly.
I finished what I was doing and moved across to the sofa. "Richard, behave," I said, slipping my legs over his, straddling him.
"It's not very nice, being dead," he muttered as my mouth descended on his.
Eventually, I moved my lips along his jaw, tongue flick¬ering against the angle of the bone. "Maybe not," I said softly, tickling his ear. "But isn't resurrection fun?"
Richard barely stirred when I left his bed next morning just after seven. I scribbled, "Gone 2 work, C U might?" on a Post-it note and stuck it on the forearm that was flung out across the pillow. I used to write messages straight onto his arm with a felt-tip pen until he com¬plained it ruined his street cred to have "Buy milk" sten¬ciled indelibly across his wrist. Nothing if not sensitive to people's needs, I switched to Post-its.
Back in my own home, I stood under the shower, tak¬ing my first opportunity to consider Alexis's ballistic mis¬sile. I knew that having a baby had climbed to the top of her and Chris's partnership agenda now that they had put the finishing touches to their house on the edge of the Pennines, but somehow, I hadn't realized parenthood was quite so imminent a project. I'd had this mental picture of it being something that would rumble on for ages before anything actually happened, given that it's such a compli¬cated business for lesbian couples to arrange.
First they've got to decide whether they want an anonymous donor, in which case their baby could end up having the same father as half the children of lesbians in the Greater Manchester area, with all the potential hor¬rors that lines up for the future.
But if they decide to go for a donor they know, they've got to be careful that everyone agrees in advance what his relationship to the child is going to be. Then they've got to wait while he has two AIDS tests with a gap of at least six months in between. Finally, they've got to juggle things so that sperm and womb are in the same place at the optimum moment. According to Alexis, it's not like a straight couple where the woman can take her tempera¬ture every five minutes till the time is right then seize her bloke by the appropriate body part and demand sex. So I'd been banking on a breathing space to get used to the idea of Chris and Alexis as parents.
I've never been smitten with the maternal urge, which means I always feel a bit bemused when my friends get sandbagged by their hormones and turn from perfectly normal women into monomaniacs desperate to pass their genes on to a waiting world. Maybe it's because my bio¬logical clock has still got a way to go before anything in my universe starts turning pumpkin-shaped. Or maybe, as Richard suggests when he's in sentimental father mode, it's because I'm a coldhearted bastard with all the emo¬tional warmth of Robocop. Either way, I didn't want a child and I never knew if I was saying the right thing to those who did.
Selfishly, my first thought was for the difference it was going to make to my life. Alexis is my best friend. We go shopping for clothes together. We play seriously compet¬itive and acrimonious Scrabble games together. When Chris and Richard aren't there to complain about the results, we concoct exotic and bizarre snacks (oatcakes with French mayonnaise and strawberry jam; green banana, coconut, and chicken curry...) and wash them down with copious amounts of good vodka. We pick each other's brains and exploit each other's contacts. Most of all, we're there for each other when it counts.
As the hot water cascaded over me, I felt as if I was already in mourning for the friendship. Nothing was ever going to be the same again. Alexis would have responsi-bilities. When Chris's commitments as a partner in a firm of community architects took her out of town, Alexis would be shackled without time off for good behavior. Instead of hanging out with me after work, she'd be rush¬ing home for bath-time and nursery tea. Her conversa¬tion would shrink to the latest exploits of the incredible child. And it would be incredible, no two ways about it. They always are. There would be endless photographs to pore over. Instead of calling me to say, "Get down here, girl, I've just found a fabulous silk shirt in your size in Kendal's sale," Alexis would be putting the child on the phone to say, "Wo, gay," and claiming it as "Hello, Kate." Worst of all, I had this horrible suspicion I was going to become Auntie Kate. Even Richard's son Davy has never tried to do that to me.
I rinsed the last of the shampoo out of my auburn hair and stepped out of the shower. At least I didn't have to live under the same roof as it, I thought as I toweled my head. Besides, I told myself, nothing healthy stays the same. Friendships change and grow, they shift their emphases, and sometimes they even die. "Everything must change," I said out loud. Then I noticed a gray hair. So much for healthy change.
I brushed my hair into the neat bob I've opted for recently. Time to get my brain into gear. I knew where I needed to go next on Dan's and Lice's problem, but that was a source that might take a little time and a lot of deviousness to tap. More straightforward was a visit to the dark side of the moon.
Gizmo is one of my silver linings. The cloud was a Tele¬com engineer that I'd had a brief fling with. He'd caught me at one of those weak moments when you kid yourself into believing a nice smile and cute bum are a reasonable basis for a meaningful relationship. After all, if it's a good enough principle for most of the male population... His lectures on telephone technology had been mildly inter¬esting the first time around. After a month of them, there wasn't a court in the land that would have convicted me of anything other than self-defense if I'd succumbed to the temptation of burying a meat cleaver in his skull. But he had introduced me to Gizmo, which gave me something good to remember him by.
If Judy Garland was born in a trunk, Gizmo was born in an anorak. In spite of having the soul of a nerd, he had too much attitude for the passivity of collecting stamps. So he became a computer whiz. That was back in the steam age of computers, when the most powerful of machines took so long to scroll to the end of a ten-page document that you could go off and drip a pot of filter coffee without missing a thing. When 99.99 percent of the population still thought bulletin boards were things you found on office walls, Gizmo was on-line to people all over the world. The teenagers who invented phone phreaking and hacking into the Pentagon were close per¬sonal friends of his. He'd never met them, you under¬stand, just spent his nights typing his end of conversations with them and like-minded nutters all over the planet.
When the FBI started arresting hackers and phreakers on the grounds that America has never known what to do with nonconformists, and the British police started to take an interest, Gizmo decided it was time to stop playing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and come out into the sunlit uplands. So he started working for Telecom. And he manages to keep his face straight when he tells people that he's a computer systems manager there. Which is another way of saying he actually gets paid to keep abreast of all the information technology that allows him to remain king of the dark-side hackers. Gizmo's like Bruce Wayne in reverse. When darkness falls on Gotham City, instead of donning mask and cape and taking on the bad guys, Gizmo goes on-line and becomes one of the growing army who see cyberspace as the ultimate subversive, anar¬chic community. And Telecom still hasn't noticed that its northern systems manager is a renegade. It's no wonder none of Gizmo's friends have Telecom shares.
If I had to pick one thing that demonstrates the key dif¬ference between the U.K. and the U.S.A., it would be their attitudes to information. Americans get everything unless there's a damn good reason why not. Brits get nothing unless a High Court judge and an Act of Parlia¬ment have said there's a damn good reason why we should. And private eyes are just like ordinary citizens in that respect. We don't have any privileges. What we have are sources. They fall into two groups: the ones who are motivated by money and the ones who are driven by prin¬ciple. Gizmo's belief that information is born free but everywhere is in chains has saved my clients a small for¬tune. Police records, driver and vehicle licensing infor¬mation, credit ratings: they're all there at his fingertips and, for a small donation to Gizmo's Hardware Upgrade Fund, at mine. The only information he won't pass on to me is anything relating to phone bills or numbers. That would be a breach of confidence. Or something equally arbitrary. We all have to draw the line somewhere.
I draw it at passing Gizmo's info on to clients. I use him either when I've hit a dead end or I know he can get something a lot faster than I can by official routes, which means the client saves money. I know I can be trusted not to abuse that information. I can't say the same about the people who hire me, so I don't tell them. I've had people waving wads of cash under my nose for an ex-directory phone number or the address that goes with a car license plate. Call me a control freak, but I won't do that kind of work. I know there are agencies that do, but that doesn't keep me awake at night. The only conscience I can afford to worry about is my own.
Gizmo recently moved from a bed-sit in the busiest red-light street in Whalley Range to a two-bedroom flat above a shop in Levenshulme, a stretch of bandit country grouped around Stockport Road. The shop sells recondi¬tioned vacuum cleaners. If you've ever wondered where vacs go when they die, this is the place. I've never seen a customer enter or leave the place, though there's so much grime on the windows they could be running live sex shows in there and no one would be any the wiser. And Gizmo reckons he's moved up in the world.
I was going against the traffic flow on the busy arterial road, so it didn't take me long to drive the short distance to Levenshulme and find a parking space on a side street of red-brick terraces. I pressed the bell and waited, con¬templating a front door so coated with inner-city pollu¬tion that it was no longer possible to tell what color it had originally been. The only clean part of the door was the glass on the spyhole. After about thirty seconds, I pressed the bell again. This time, there was a thunder of clatter¬ing feet, a brief pause, and then the door opened a cau¬tious couple of inches. "Kate," Gizmo said, showing no inclination to invite me in. His skin looked gray in the harsh morning light, his eyes red-rimmed like a labora¬tory white rat. "All right, Giz?"
"No, since you ask." He rubbed a hand along his stub-bled jaw and scratched behind one ear with the knuckle of his index finger.
"What's the problem? Trouble with the Dibble?" His lips twisted in the kind of smile dogs give before they remove your liver without benefit of anesthetic. "No way, I'm always well ahead of the boys in blue. No, this is serious. I've got the bullet." "From Telecom?" "Who else?"
I was taken aback. The only thing I could think of was that someone had got wise to Gizmo's extracurricular activities. "They catch you with your hand in somebody's digital traffic?"
"Get real," he said indignantly. "Staff cuts. The section head doesn't like the fact that I know more than anybody else in the section, including him. So it's good night, Vienna, Gizmo."
"You'll get another job," I said. I would have found it easier to convince myself if I hadn't been looking at him as I spoke. As well as the red-rimmed eyes and the stub¬ble, a prospective employer had to contend with a hair¬cut that looked like Edward Scissorhands on a bad hair day, and a dress sense that would embarrass a jumble sale.
"I'm too old."
"How old?"
"Thirty-two," he mumbled with a suspicious scowl, as if he thought I was going to laugh. I didn't have enough years on him for that.
"You're winding me up," I said.
"The guys who do the hiring are in their forties and scared shitless that they're going to get the tin handshake any day now, and they know nothing about computer sys¬tems except that someone told them it's a young man's game. If you're over twenty-five, twenty-seven if you've got a Ph.D., they won't even look at your CV. Believe me, Kate, I'm too old."
"What a bummer," I said, meaning it.
"Yeah, well. Shit happens. But it's nicer when it hap¬pens to somebody else. So what did you come around for? Last orders before I have to put my rates up?"
I handed him the piece of paper where I'd noted Will Alien's license plate. "The name and address that go with the car."
He didn't even look at it. He just said, "Sometime this afternoon," then started to close the door.
"Hey, Giz?" He paused. "I'm really sorry," I said. He nodded and shut the door.
I walked back toward the street where I'd parked the zippy Rover 216 that Mortensen and Brannigan had bought for me a couple of months before. Until then, I'd been driving a top of the range sports coupe that we'd taken in part payment for a long and complicated car finance fraud case, but I'd known in my heart of hearts it was far too conspicuous a set of wheels for the kind of work I do. Given how much I enjoy driving, it had been a wrench to part with it, but I'd learned to love the Rover. Especially after my mate Handbrake had done something double wicked to the engine which made it nippier than any of its German siblings from BMW.
As I rounded the corner, I couldn't believe what I saw. There was a spray of glittering glass chunks like hundreds of tiny mosaic tiles all over the pavement by the driver's door of the Rover. The car was twenty yards from the main road, it was half past eight in the morning, and I'd been gone less than ten minutes, but someone had had it away on their toes with my stereo.
Blue Genes Blue Genes - Val McDermid Blue Genes