A good book is always on tap; it may be decanted and drunk a hundred times, and it is still there for further imbibement.

Holbrook Jackson

 
 
 
 
 
Tác giả: Val McDermid
Thể loại: Trinh Thám
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Language: English
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Chapter 21
he hardest part had been getting Tony Tambo to play. Briefing me was as far as he had wanted to go. Tony and his friends didn't mind pitting me against DI Lovell and his thugs, but they drew the line at taking too many risks themselves. I knew there was no point in simply phoning him and asking him to cooperate in a sting. What I needed was a pressure point. That's why I'd taken a trip to a certain Italian espresso bar before I'd gone to Bradford.
Every morning between eleven and twelve, Collar di Salvo sits in a booth at the rear of Carpaccio, just around the corner from the Crown Court building. Collar likes to think of himself as the Godfather of Manchester. In reality, the old man's probably got closer links to the media than the Mafia. Even though he was born in the old Tripe Colony in Miles Platting, Collar affects an Ital¬ian accent. He has legitimate businesses, but his real income comes from the wrong side of the law. Nothing heavy duty for Collar: a bit of what Manchester calls taxing and other, less subtle cities call protection rackets; counterfeit leisurewear; mock auctions; and ringing stolen cars are what keeps Mrs. Di Salvo in genuine Carrier jewelry and Marina Rinaldi clothes. And defi¬nitely no drugs.
The story goes that Collar got his nickname from his method of persuading rival taxation teams to find another way of earning a living. He'd put a dog collar around their neck, attach a leash to it, and loop the leash over an overhead beam in his warehouse. Then a couple of his strong-arm boys would take the dog for a walk... His¬tory tells us that the competition took up alternative occupations in droves.
In recent years, with the rise of the drug lords, Collar's style of management and range of crimes have started to look like pretty small potatoes. But his is still a name that provokes second thoughts for anybody on the fringes of legality in Manchester. Given that young Joey, the heir apparent, was supposedly involved in the fly-posting busi¬ness, Collar seemed the obvious person to talk to. We'd never met and we owed each other no favors; but equally, I couldn't think of any reason why Collar wouldn't listen.
I walked confidently down the coffee bar and stopped opposite the old man's booth. "I'd like to buy you a cof¬fee, Mr. Di Salvo," I said. He likes everyone around him to act as if they're in a movie. It made me feel like an idiot, but that's not an unusual sensation in this job.
His large head was like the ruin of one of those Roman busts you see in museums, right down to the broken nose. Dark, liquid eyes like a spaniel with conjunctivitis looked me up and down. "Is-a my pleasure, Signorina Brannigan," he said with a stately nod. The thug sitting opposite him slid out of the booth and moved to a table a few feet away.
I sat down. "Life treating you well?"
He shrugged as if he was auditioning for Scorsese. "Apart from the tax man and the VAT man, I have no complaints."
"The family well?"
"Cosi, cosa."
Two double espressos arrived on the table, one in front of each of us. Never mind that I'd really wanted a cappuc¬cino and a chunk of panettone. Fueled by this much caf¬feine, I'd be flying to Bradford. "The matter I wanted to discuss with you concerns Joey," I said, reaching for the sugar bowl to compound the felony.
His head tilted to one side, revealing a fold of wrinkled chicken skin between his silk cravat and his shirt collar. "Go on," he said softly.
Joey was Collar's grandson and the apple of his beady eye. His father Marco had died in a high-speed car chase a dozen years ago. Now Joey was twenty, trying and fail¬ing to live up to the old man's expectations. The trouble with Joey was that, temperamentally, he took after his mother, a gentle Irish woman who had never quite recov¬ered from the shock of discovering that the man she had agreed to marry was a gangster rather than a respectable secondhand-car salesman. Joey had none of the Di Salvo ruthlessness and all the Costello kindness. He was never going to make it as a villain, but his grandfather would have to be six feet under before Joey got the chance to find out what his real metier was. Until then, Collar was going to be faced with people like me bringing him the bad news.
"His fly-posting business is suffering. I won't insult your intelligence by outlining the problem. I'm sure you know all about Detective Inspector Lovell. I'm sure you also know that conventional means of dealing with the problem are proving ineffective because of Lovell's access to law enforcement. Joey's difficulty happens to coincide with that of my client, and I'm offering to provide a solu¬tion that will make this whole thing go away." I stopped talking and took a sip of the lethal brew in my cup. My mouth felt sulphurous and dark, like the pits of hell.
"Very commendable," he said, one liver-spotted hand reaching inside his jacket and emerging with a cigar that could have doubled as a telegraph pole.
"I need your help to make it work," I continued as he chopped the end off his cigar and sucked indecently on it. "I need Tony Tambo's cooperation, and I don't have suffi¬cient powers of persuasion to secure it."
"And you hope ..." puff, "that in exchange ..." puff, "for you getting Joey off the hook..." puff, "I will per¬suade Tony to help?"
"That's exactly right, Mr. Di Salvo."
"Why you want Tambo?"
"DI Lovell has been keeping a low profile. Not a lot of people know he's behind these attempts to take over the turf. But Tony's already had a face-to-face with him, so the man's got nothing to lose by coming in to a meeting. All Tony has to do is set it up. I'll do the rest. It's my head on the block, nobody else's."
Collar nodded. He closed his eyes momentarily. That didn't stop him abusing my airspace with his cigar. His eyes opened and he stared into mine. Any more ham and he could have opened a deli counter. "You got it," he said. "Unless you hear otherwise, the meet will be at Tambo's club, half past eight, tonight. Okay?"
"Okay." I didn't want to ask how he was going to get it sorted that fast. To be honest, I didn't want to know. I stood up and was about to thank him when he said men¬acingly, "You don't like your coffee?"
I'd had enough of playing games. "It looks like sump oil and tastes worse," I said.
I thought he was going to bite the end off his cigar. Then he smiled, like a python who finds a dancing mouse too entertaining to eat. I paid for both coffees on the way out, though. I'm not that daft.
Eight o'clock and Delia Prentice had her hand down the front of my most audacious underwired bra. We were in an interview room at Bootle Street nick, and Delia was making sure the radio mike was firmly anchored to the infrastructure of my cleavage. If Lovell paid the kind of attention to breasts that most Vice cops are prone to, I didn't want anything showing that shouldn't be. Nipples were one thing, radio mikes another altogether.
"Right," said Delia. "He's not going to spot that unless things get rather more out of hand than we're anticipating." She stepped back and gave me the once-over. I'd gone for a shiny gun-metal Lycra leotard over black leggings and the black hockey boots I normally reserved for a bit of cat burglary. Draped over the leotard was an old denim jacket with slashed sleeves that revealed the temporary tattoos I'd got stenciled on both biceps. The makeup aimed for the recovering junkie look, the hair was gelled into a glossy hel¬met. "Very tasteful," she commented.
"You can talk," I muttered. Delia wore a white shirt with the collar turned up and the buttons undone almost as far as her navel. The shirt tucked into a black Lycra skirt a little wider than the average weightlifter's belt. Her legs were bare, her feet sensibly shod in flat-soled pumps.
From her vantage point washing glasses behind the bar, no one would see more than the tarty top half and imme¬diately dismiss her. With her hair loose and enough makeup to change the shape of eyes and mouth, Lovell was never going to recognize a woman DCI who might have been pointed out to him a couple of times across a crowded canteen. "Did you manage to pick up anything on the grapevine about Lovell?" I asked.
She pulled a face. "Not a lot. I didn't want word getting back to him that I was interested. I heard his wife divorced him because he was too handy with his fists, but that's hardly exceptional in the Job. What I did find out, though, was that he claims to have a couple of weeks time-share in a villa in Lanzarote. Very tasteful property up in the hills, swimming pool, terraced garden, half a dozen en suite bedrooms. A little bit of poking around and the calling in of a couple of favors reveals that the holding company that owns the villa is in turn wholly owned by Peter Lovell. Since the property's worth the thick end of quarter of a million, it does raise one or two questions about DI Lovell's finances."
"Nice one, Delia," I said.
"That's not quite the end of it," she said as we walked up to the waiting car. "An old school friend of mine is married to a chap who manages one of the vineyards there, so I gave her a call. Her husband knows Lovell. Clothes by Versace, car by Ferrari, part owner of a restau¬rant, a bar, and two discos in Puerto del Carmen," she said, her voice tight with anger.
"Obviously not the kind of lifestyle one could sustain on a police pension."
"Quite. And about bloody time his gravy train hit the buffers. Let's go and make it happen."
The plan was simple enough. Delia would be inside the club watching what was going down. Three of her most trusted lieutenants would be hidden within yards of the main bar where the meeting was scheduled for-two in the ladies' loo, one behind the DJ's setup. Another four handpicked officers would be stationed outside the club, listening to the transmission from my radio mike. When they had enough on tape to hang Lovell out to dry, they would move in and relieve him of his liberty. A classic sting.
Considering Tony had only had eight hours to sort everything out, he'd come up with a credible cover story for me. I was the keyboard player in a new all-female band. We'd allegedly got together in Germany and we'd been touring in Europe, so successfully that we already had a recording contract with a small indie label in Ham¬burg. But we wanted more, so we'd come back to Britain to make a full-frontal assault on the music scene in a bid to get a major label contract. Because we were already fairly established, we didn't want to piss around. We wanted promotion, we wanted exposure. We wanted it fast and we wanted it top quality. And we'd told Tony Tambo we wanted to talk to the top man because we weren't going to waste time or money. Now I just had to pray that Lovell would give us enough to pull him on, or I was going to owe so many favors the only solution would be to leave town.
Thinking of favors reminded me of my grave robbers. "Did you turn over Sell Phones?" I asked.
Delia nodded. "We sent a team in this morning. The shop was clean, but one of my bright boys noticed there was a trap-door for a cellar. And lo and behold, there was a phone room down below."
"A phone room?"
Delia raised her eyebrows. "You mean I've finally found a scam you haven't heard about?"
"Try me."
"Okay. There's a little electronic box you can buy that allows you to eavesdrop on mobile phone calls. What it also tells you is the phone number of the mobile phone that's being used, and its electronic code number. With that information, you can reprogram the silicon chip in a stolen phone and turn it into a clone of a legitimate phone. You can then use that phone to call all over the world until the cellphone company cottons on and cuts you off. Normally, you can get a few hours' worth of calls, but if you're making international calls, sometimes they cut you off within the hour. So if you're cloning phones, you set aside a room with a dozen or so cloned phones in it, and hire the room out for, say, twenty pounds per per¬son per hour, and as soon as one phone gets cut off, the hirer just moves on to the next phone on the table. The hirer gets their calls dirt cheap and untraceable. And the crook's got virtually no outlay once they've got the origi¬nal scanner and stolen phones."
"And you found one of these at Sell Phones?"
"We did."
"So I'm flavor of the month?"
"Let's see how tonight goes down."
At ten past eight, Delia and I descended into the club via the fire escape, as I'd prearranged with Tony. He was waiting for us, nervously toking on his Marlboro. "Your friends got here," he said, his unease and resentment obvious.
"Where are we going to do this?" I asked.
Tony pointed to a small circular table in the far corner, surrounded on three sides by a banquette. "That's my table, everybody knows that. Anywhere else and he's going to be even more suspicious than he is already."
I followed him across the room while Delia made for the bar and the dirty glasses stacked ready for her. The lights were up, stripping Manassas bare of any preten¬sions to glamour or cool. In the harsh light, the carpet looked stained and tacky, the furnishings cheap and chipped, the colors garish and grotesque. It was like see¬ing a torch singer in the harsh dressing room lights before she's applied her stage makeup. The air smelled of stale sweat, smoke, and spilled drink overlaid with a chemically floral fragrance that caught the throat like the rasp of cheap spirits.
Tony gestured for me to precede him into the booth. I shook my head. There was no way I was going to be sand¬wiched between him and Lovell. It wasn't beyond the bounds of possibility that I was about to become the vic¬tim of a classic double cross, and if Tony Tambo had decided to hitch his wagon to the rising star rather than the comet starting to dip below the horizon, I wasn't about to make it any easier for him. "You go in first," I told him.
He scowled and muttered under his breath, but he did what he was told, slipping over upholstery cloth made smooth by hundreds of sliding buttocks. I perched right on the end of the seat, so Lovell wasn't going to be able to corner me without making a big issue of it. Tony pulled the heavy glass ashtray toward him. "I hope you know what you're doing," he said.
"So do I. Or we're all up shit creek."
"I fuckin' hate you women with the smart mouths, act¬ing like you've got balls when all you've got is bullshit," he said bitterly, crushing out the remains of the cigarette with the sort of venom most people reserve for ex-lovers.
"You think I like hanging out with gangstas? Get real, Tony. It'll all be over soon, anyway."
He snorted. "So you say. Me, I think this'll be rum¬bling around for a long while yet." He leaned forward and shouted in Delia's direction. "Hey, you!" Delia looked up from the glass she was polishing. "Do something useful and bring me a fuckin' big Southern Comfort and lemonade."
Delia's look would have shriveled Priapus, but Tony was too tense to care. "You want the usual, Kate?" she asked me. I nodded.
The door at the far end of the club crashed open with the force that only a boot can produce. All three of us swung around, startled. In the doorway stood a tall, thin man dressed in the kind of warm-up suit top tennis play¬ers wear to arrive at Wimbledon. He was flanked by two men who could have played linebacker on an American football team without bothering with the body padding. Their shoulders were so wide they'd have had to enter my house sideways. They looked as if they were built, not born, complete with suits cut so boxy they seemed to have been constructed out of Lego.
The trio moved across the room at a measured pace and I had the chance for a proper look at Peter Lovell. He had a narrow head with the regular features of a fifties matinee idol, an image nurtured by a head of thick brown hair swept straight back like Peter Firth. It was an impres¬sion that crumbled at closer range, when skin wrecked by teenage acne became impossible to disguise or to deflect attention from. He stopped a few feet away from me, his minders closing ranks behind him. His eyes were like two granite pebbles, cold and gray as the North Sea in January. "Segue," he said contemptuously, his voice like hard soles on gravel. "What kind of a name is that?"
"It's Italian," I said. "It means, it follows. Which means my band is the next big thing, yeah?"
"That depends. And you're Gory?"
"That's right. Tony says you're the business when it comes to getting a band on the map."
Lovell slipped into the seat opposite me. "A brandy, Tony," he said. "Best you've got, there's a good lad."
"A large Henessey over here, girl," Tony shouted. "What's keeping you?"
I didn't even glance at Delia. "So what can you do for us, Mr. ... ?"
"My company's called Big Promo. You can call me Mr. Big or Mr. Promo, depending how friendly you want to be," he said without a hint of irony.
I acted as if I was deeply unimpressed. "The question stands," I said. "We're really cooking in Europe, but this is where the serious deals get made. We want to be noticed, and we don't want to hang around. We don't want to be pissed about by somebody who doesn't really know what they're doing, who isn't up to playing with the big boys."
Something approaching a smile cracked his face. "Atti¬tude, eh? Well, Gory, attitude is no bad thing in its place." Then he leaned forward and the smile died faster than a fly hitting a windscreen at ninety. "This is not the place. I'm not in the habit of dealing directly with people. It wastes time I could be using to make money. So the least, the very least I demand from you is respect."
"Fine by me," I said. "So can we stop wasting your time? What can you do for us that makes you the one we should do business with?"
"Why don't you have a manager?" he demanded.
"We never found anybody we trusted enough. Believe it or not, I'm a qualified accountant. I can tell a good deal from a bad one."
"Then we're not going to have any problems. I'm offering the only good deal in town. This is my city. In exchange for forty percent of your earnings, including any record deals you sign, I can place you in the key venues. I can make sure your tickets get sold, I can get you media coverage, and I can paper the whole city with your tits." Lovell leaned back as Delia approached with our drinks on a tray. Sensibly, she served Lovell first, then me, then Tony. As she walked away, Lovell said, "Since when did you start employing pensioners?"
"All she does is sort the glasses and stock the bar. She's out of here before the punters start coming in. The girl¬friend's auntie," Tony said dismissively.
"I hear on the grapevine that there's been a bit of bother lately. Posters getting covered up, bands having their gigs wrecked, that kind of shit. What's to stop that happening to us?" I asked.
Lovell drummed his fingers on his brandy bowl. "Sign¬ing with us, that's what. You stupid cow, who do you think has been handing out the aggravation? I told you, this is my city. Anybody who thinks different has to take what's coming to them. You stick with me and nothing bad will happen to you. Ask Tony. He pays his taxes like a good 'un. You never have any bother, do you, Tone?"
"No," Tony said tonelessly, reaching for his cigarettes and lighting up. "No bother."
"Let me get this straight, then. You're saying if we pay you forty percent of everything we make, you'll sort it for us. But if we choose somebody whose prices are more in line with the rest of the planet, we'll live to regret it? Is that what you're saying?"
Lovell picked up his glass and wasted the brandy in one swallow. "Sixty percent of something's a lot better than a hundred percent of fuck all. There's a lot of things can go wrong for a band trying to make a break in this town. Posters that never make it onto walls. Tickets that mysteriously don't sell. Riots at the few crappy gigs they manage to pick up. Vans full of gear burning up for no obvious reason."
"You saying that could happen to us if we don't sign up with you?"
He replaced the glass on the table with infinite care. "Not could. Will. It was you asked for this meeting," he reminded me, stabbing his finger toward the center of my chest. "You need what I can do for you. Otherwise you might as well fuck off back to Germany."
I jerked back from his finger. I could relax now. Lovell had just nailed himself to the wall. "Okay, okay," I said. "No reason why we can't do business. I was just checking."
Lovell got to his feet. "Well, you've done your check¬ing and now you know what the score is. You don't ever get smart with me, bitch, you hear? I tell your poxy band where they play and when, you do no deals without con¬sulting me first." He put a hand in his pocket and tossed a small mobile phone on the table. "Keep it on you. My number's programmed in at number one. That's the only number you call, you hear? I get any bills that say other¬wise and you pay a service charge I guarantee you won't like. You can buy a charger unit anywhere that sells phones. I'll let you know when your first gig is."
Whatever he was going to say next was lost. The door to the club crashed open again and two men piled in, shouting, "Police. Don't move." The door to the ladies' toilet opened and two more rushed into the room, heading for the minders. A fifth cop jumped over the DJ's turntables as Delia ran out from behind the bar toward Lovell. Every¬body was screaming, "Police. Don't move." The acoustics of the club had a strange effect on their voices, almost swallowing them in the vastness of the space.
Lovell's face went deep red from the neck up, like a glass filling with colored liquid. "Fucking bitch," he yelled. "Let's get the fuck out of here."
But before he could go anywhere, Delia's sergeant, a rugby prop forward from Yorkshire, misjudged his run from the DJ's platform and cannoned into him. Seeing their boss floored and themselves outnumbered, the mus¬cle decided that the game that had been keeping them in made-to-measure suits was over. Lovell was dead in the water. But that didn't mean Tweedledum and Tweedledee had to sink with him. In perfect sync, two right hands dis¬appeared inside their jackets and emerged holding a matching pair of semiautomatic pistols. Suddenly, everything went quiet.
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