Principal The Elephant Tree

The Elephant Tree

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The Elephant to Hollywood

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The Elephant Tree


The Elephant Tree

Copyright © 2010 R. D. Ronald

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the publishers.


5 Weir Road

Kibworth Beauchamp

Leicester LE8 0lQ, UK

Tel: (+44) 116 279 2299



ISBN 978-1848764-569

A Cataloguing-in-Publication (CIP) catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Typeset in 11pt Sabon by Troubador Publishing Ltd, Leicester, UK

Matador is an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd


Thanks for encouragement and critique at vital times during the writing of The Elephant Tree go to the following: Debbie Marsh, Robert Brand, George Elliott and Gemma Davison.

Also for acts of kindness and dedication at a very difficult time, I’d like to thank: Rose Mullins, Robyn Bancroft, Betty and Alan Thornton, Sarah and David Bullerwell, David Anderson and again George Elliott.

Chapter 1

The call came in at 01:48 on Saturday morning as Detective Mark Fallon was catching up on his paperwork at the station. A shooting at Aura nightclub, one of the more luxurious establishments in Garden Heights.

Fallon’s partner Alan Bryson pulled their green Volvo up behind some squad cars already outside the club. Officers on the scene were taking statements. A few clubbers had been detained for questioning; others hung around hoping something interesting would happen.

Fallon stepped over empty beer bottles and discarded Chinese foo; d cartons that lay on the pavement. An empty pizza box lid opened and closed like the mouth of a mute in the cold night breeze.

‘Wait out here Alan,’ Fallon said. ‘Talk to this lot, get some impressions.’

The Aura manager was hovering in the entrance.

‘Nick Baker,’ he said, giving Fallon a tremulous handshake.

Baker wore a sharp-fitting fashionable suit, or it would have been if he was ten years younger and a few inches narrower in the waist. Fallon guessed he was forty-five. He looked distressed, probably because the victim was his brother.

‘How is he doing?’ Detective Fallon asked.

‘Fred, he’s stable, thanks for asking. The Doctors say he was lucky, no arteries or organs were hit in the attack, just tissue damage and blood loss.’

‘Do you have any reason to suspect your brother was targeted?’ he asked, and flipped open his notebook.

‘No, not at all,’ the manager replied, perhaps a little too quickly, Fallon thought. His eyes darted around the room as he spoke, never settling on anything for more than a second before they took flight again. ‘Surely it was just a random act of aggression.’

‘A random act of aggression outside the club, perhaps. Maybe a fist-fight inside. But a shooting in a prestigious venue like this one would appear to be anything other than random, Mr Baker. Especially considering the security measures you have in place,’ Fallon said, and tapped the metal detector archway they stood beside at the club’s entrance. ‘I’m presuming everyone has to walk through here when they come in, no exceptions?’

‘Yes, I mean no – no exceptions,’ the manager confirmed.

Fallon nodded and paused as if in thought, but really just watched Baker as he grew more and more uncomfortable under what had been pretty soft questioning. ‘Is there anything else you would like to tell me at this time?’

‘No, I’d really just like to go see Fred.’

‘OK,’ Fallon said, handing him his card. ‘Go check on your brother, Mr Baker, I’m gonna have a look around.’

Nick Baker nodded and took the detective’s card. ‘Any other questions you can ask my assistant, Stephanie Hutton.’

Fallon surveyed the subtle placement of security cameras as he walked along the corridor and through the double glass doors into the main room of the now eerily quiet but brightly lit nightclub. An attractive brunette in a masculine grey business suit walked confidently up to him.

‘Hi, are you from the police?’

Fallon flashed his credentials.

‘Detective Mark Fallon.’

‘Stephanie Hutton, Mr Baker’s PA. He’s very upset.’ She

was below average height but stood square shouldered looking him directly in the eye.

‘I have a lot to deal with right now, but if you have any questions...’

‘OK how about you show me the exact spot of the attack.’

Stephanie led him to a curved chrome staircase. Bright red blood drops marked the polished floor like scattered berries. ‘We have a staircase on either side of the main doors that lead to the balcony and two other rooms above. The right hand staircase is covered by one of the main cameras above the bar over there,’ she said, pointing.

‘Do you mean this area here isn’t monitored by any of the other cameras?’

‘As far as I know it’s the only black-spot in the club.’

‘Who else other than yourself and the manager would know this?’

‘The security staff would know, they had hands on input regarding placement after our last refit a few months back.’

Fallon had taken out his notebook and pen when Stephanie was talking and eagerly wrote down the information. Stephanie had stopped talking by the time he finished and Fallon looked at her to see if there was anything else she could offer. The confident gaze she had initially confronted him with had been replaced by one more guarded and wary. She still looked him in the eye, but it now seemed forced and uncomfortable.

‘Who is in charge of security at the club, Miss Hutton?’

‘That would be Paul McBlane.’

‘Right, of course he is,’ Fallon said, writing down the name; the same name that had cropped up more and more frequently in recent months. McBlane had been a small time gangster years ago, but these days turned his talents to running a security firm that seemed to be associated with most of the city’s prestigious venues, a lot of which had found themselves on the receiving end of a spate of vicious attacks targeting patrons, staff and owners. Not all of the incidents that Fallon had investigated had occurred at the bars and clubs, but McBlane’s involvement in the industry definitely appeared to be the common denominator.

‘Is there anything else you can tell me that might help with the investigation, Stephanie?’ Fallon asked, softening his voice and holding her gaze.

She instinctively looked away, but then forced herself to again look him in the eye. ‘There’s nothing I can think of right now.’ Her voice was flat and expressionless. Fallon sensed there was something she was holding back but left it alone. Pressing her further now might make her clam up even more.

‘OK Stephanie,’ he said, handing out another card. ‘Thanks for your help. I’m sure we’ll speak again soon.’ That was a given. If she hadn’t contacted him within a couple of days Fallon would go and see her, and next time he would press a lot harder.

Back outside and Bryson was finishing up talking to a mountainous tuxedo-clad doorman.

‘You done for now?’ Fallon asked his partner.

‘Yeah got accounts from the on duty door-staff and tapes from all the cameras are already on their way to the station.

* * *

Scott was the last person to leave the office. At 18:44 on a Saturday evening that wasn’t particularly unusual. He clicked to send his last design through to the main office computer, went to the bathroom and ran his head under the tap before wringing out his shoulder-length brown hair and tying it back in a pony tail. He wiped his face and stared at his reflection in the mirror for a few seconds, stretching out the skin where dark circles ringed beneath his eyes. The mirror didn’t reflect the image of a reasonably fit twenty-four-year-old. Scott grabbed his jacket, left the office and locked up after himself.

His phone had been set to silent, but undoubtedly would have a host of texts and voicemails from Neil wondering where the hell he was already. ‘A Friday night is a terrible thing to waste, Scott, but a Saturday night is unforgiveable,’ was the last text he saw from Neil as he flicked through the phone. He fastened up his coat as he walked down the deserted stairwell and deleted the messages.

The city centre was still crawling with Christmas shoppers looking to add to their already burgeoning piles of gifts. To Scott they were like ants at a picnic, teeming from store to store trailing oversized carrier bags and infants behind them as they went. Scott felt alien in this environment; pulling up his hood he hurried through the crowds, dodging pushchairs, lit cigarettes and charity collection tins.

Jam was a dimly lit bar situated underground in the heart of Garden Heights. Giving a cursory nod to the doormen as he walked in, Scott went down the flight of stairs. The rumble of music grew louder as he descended and the harsh glare from the streetlights outside was replaced by a soft glow of wall lamps, with spotlights illuminating the optics behind the bar. Saturday night was well underway and the bar was already full.

Scott lit a cigarette and looked around the room for his friend. Neil was sitting on a stool at the far end of the room, unsurprisingly chatting to an attractive barmaid. His unkempt dirty blonde hair hung down loosely and spilled just over his broad shoulders. His trademark crooked smile and reasonably well maintained physique ensured that Neil was pretty popular with the ladies, and judging by the coy smile he prised from the barmaid as Scott walked up, looked like he was again onto a winner.

‘Hey dude, sorry I’m late,’ Scott said, propping up the bar next to Neil.

‘I’m used to it by now, don’t worry. This is Emma,’ he said, nodding at the blonde.

‘It’s Gemma,’ she corrected.

‘Hey Gemma,’ Scott said without much interest, and turned back towards Neil.

‘Did you bring everything?’ Neil asked him after Gemma moved away to serve a customer.

Scott patted one of the bulky pockets in his faded green cargo pants. ‘I fetched the whole lot to work this morning in case there wasn’t time to make the trip back home.’

‘Fuck, Jack would blow up if he knew you’d taken all that into the office. You know how pissed he is that you even do this shit anyway.’

‘Yeah well, working for your brother can be a royal pain in the ass at times but he’s hardly likely to fire me. Besides he wasn’t in the office today at all, so it wasn’t a problem.’

Neil ordered drinks for him and Scott after Gemma returned. Scott scanned the interior for familiar faces, made a mental note of who he saw and their locations as he casually withdrew a handful of small plastic baggies from his pocket without glancing downwards, and placed them in Neil’s open palm beneath the bar.

‘There been many requests so far?’

‘Yep. Pretty much what you’d expect for a Saturday. I guess this lot have already finished their Christmas shopping,’ Neil said, grinning. ‘By the way you look like shit.’

‘Thanks a lot,’ Scott said, and self-consciously ran a hand over his stress-taut forehead.

All the tables in Jam were themed to various rock bands. Under the thick glass surfaces were CDs, posters and other memorabilia depicting the featured artists. At quieter times people would flock around the table of their favourite performers, making locating them a much simpler job for Scott and Neil. You know their favourite band, you know where they’d be sitting. At this time on a weekend though, people just got served and squeezed into a space wherever they could find one.

Neil moved off into the crowd, casually wandering through the smoke, loud music and laughter. He stopped off for a minute or two at a time to exchange words and more with various members of the Saturday night faithful, who were looking for more than just happy hour at the bar. Scott sat down on the freshly vacated stool and began stashing his remaining bags into custom-made inner pockets of his army surplus cargo pants. Thanks to current fashion trends, virtually everyone else in the bars and clubs they frequented wore them too. His movements were slow but efficient, unseen in the crowd.

All of the drugs had been prepared the day before: ecstasy, speed, cocaine and cannabis all sorted according to price and weight and sealed up tight inside the plastic bags. Stitching their own pockets into the pants had been Scott’s idea a couple of years back. It made the stop and search policy of the clubs a lot more difficult for the doormen involved. Usually they’d only receive a cursory pat down to make sure no obvious weapons of any kind were being brought inside, but any enthusiasm from doormen to delve into pockets as well would turn up nothing but cigarettes, keys, a cell phone and wallet.

Scott watched Neil work his way around the room with a practised efficiency they had both developed over time, as he sipped on his beer and finished his cigarette. Within ten minutes Neil was back, all deals supplied and time to move on to the next bar.

They walked back up the stairs and outside into the cold December evening where a light drizzle had begun to fall. Scott pulled up the hood on his jacket, squinting against the intrusive glare from the streetlights and instinctively moved to walk in the shadow beside the rows of closed and shuttered shops. Neil talked enthusiastically about what the night may have in store for them, how much they’d make and which girl he might end up with. Scott was used to the process and just nodded and grunted his agreement at what seemed like relevant moments while keeping pace in the direction of bar number two.

‘I ran into Ferret earlier,’ Neil said. ‘He reckons he’s got a good contact for a load of ecstasy tablets way cheaper than we’re paying for them now.’

‘You know my position on that, man.’

‘Yeah, unless you know the source then we don’t switch. But seriously man with the saving we’d make on these you could pack in working for Jack and have a little more freedom.’

‘You remember what happened to Paige last year. I’m not having us in that position with some poor fucker. No.’

‘Paige was unlucky I admit. But that’s all it was. She got a contaminated pill but it wasn’t one of ours.’

‘Which is exactly why we stick with the supply line we have now. These shipments of ultra cheap drugs that hit the market every now and then, who knows what the fuck is in them. I don’t want someone’s death on my conscience just to make a little more cash.’

‘That could have happened to anyone though. People know the risks when they take stuff, isn’t like we don’t do our fair share as well. Sometimes bad shit happens but that’s the same with any recreation.’

Scott knew that Neil tended to get wound up on this subject sometimes so he just kept walking and figured Neil would get bored with his rant eventually.

‘Horse riding. More people die doing that every year than from taking X, but if someone falls off a horse and breaks their neck they don’t go blaming the guy who supplies the hay.’

Scott nodded and lit a pre-rolled joint he’d had stashed away with the other bags of drugs, and took a few hits.

‘And what about all the crap they put into food these days? Who knows what all that shit will do to us in years to come. And mobile phones? Portable radiation generators that we have glued to our heads for much of the day. Seriously Scott you worry about stuff way too much,’ Neil said, and took the joint Scott held out to him.

Neil did have a point though. Since Scott’s uncle Bob had killed himself six years ago, the mortgage and other bills for his cottage in the country had initially fallen into the lap of Jack, Scott’s older brother by four years. Jack was nineteen then and as there were no other living relatives he had been awarded custody of Scott. That was how the situation stayed for a while, but as soon as Jack managed to set up his own company he moved out to live in the city, leaving Scott on his own most of the time. He’d given Scott a little training and an unofficial position at his company but the wages allowed Scott to do little more than just get by. Scott didn’t care though, he liked the seclusion offered by country life and he’d managed to find his own way of supplementing his income.

Scott did have ambitions above and beyond the situation he was in, but his thoughts often returned to Paige. She had been friendly and pretty, but just another face in the crowd until after she died. He had been at the party that night and had spoken to her briefly a few hours before her death. They’d joked a little, just light-hearted stuff but she’d been happy. Scott had left the party a little after that and didn’t hear of her death until a few days later. Neil was right, the pill she’d taken hadn’t come from them, but it could have, and since then she’d become almost a talismanic figure to him. Scott hadn’t taken anything himself for a few weeks after, and hadn’t gone back to dealing for a few months, but once people found he wasn’t selling they just went and bought elsewhere.

Scott appreciated the futility of the situation. People were ultimately going to do what they would do. But despite this he had grown a social conscience because of Paige’s death. He snorted a short laugh at the notion, the morally aware drug dealer.

‘You seen Twinkle tonight?’ Scott asked.

‘Not yet but he’ll be out. Not being out last night was a miracle, but two nights in a row? No chance,’ Neil replied with a laugh.

That was true enough. Twinkle was generally out somewhere every night. Even when the clubs were closing he was always looking for somewhere to go on to afterwards. Scott could understand that. Some people couldn’t be by themselves for too long. Solitude led to retrospective thinking, and if the past is what you are trying to get away from, then constant distractions in the present were needed.

Twinkle was an ageing drug dealer that they’d known for years as a regular around their most frequented drinking establishments. He’d taken a shine to Neil early on, which allowed them to get good prices on the speed and ecstasy they’d take whilst clubbing. Quickly becoming regulars themselves, they’d started buying a little more each time and made a little cash selling them on inside the clubs.

The Highlander was their next stop. Among others a lot of bikers hung out there, especially at the weekend. The function room upstairs played a variety of rock and metal so the clientele were a pretty mixed bunch. It was a lot brighter than the last bar. The landlord was conscious of the drug dealing and taking that went on, so he kept the place relatively well lit to stop it being too blatant, forcing all deals to take place under the many thick oak tables scattered around both upstairs and down.

They switched roles this time, Scott surveying the place for customers while Neil went to buy their drinks.

When Scott had finished he made his way back down and through the crowd by the bar, glancing around the room to see where Neil had ended up. He spotted him at a table near the back of the room beside the pool table, and made his way over.

The air was thick with smoke, and empty glasses and bottles were piled up on tables and ledges all around them. Neil, playing around with his phone, looked up and saw Scott returning, took his feet off the stool he had been saving and pointed to a bottle of Budweiser on the table.

‘Listen Scott, I kind of need a bit of a favour,’ Neil said, leaning in towards Scott and resting his elbows on his knees. ‘This Emma bird, the one from Jam.’

‘Apparently it’s Gemma,’ Scott chipped in.

‘Yeah whatever. Well I kind of told her that we were having a party back at yours and there’d be loads of people going,’ Neil said.

‘What did you do that for?’

‘She wasn’t up for clubbing tonight and I kind of wanted to spend some time with her. It’s still early though, we can round up a bunch of people and get shot of everything back at your place instead. What do you think?’

‘Alright man, but this is your project. You invite everyone and make sure you don’t go vanish with whatever she’s called before your pockets are empty.’

‘Thanks Scott, I owe you one,’ Neil said, happily tapping away at his phone again. ‘Looks like there’s someone we can invite straight away.’

Scott followed Neil’s gaze and saw Twinkle and another guy he recognised but didn’t know the name of, walking into the bar.

‘Alright Twinkle, you heading to Blitz later?’ Scott asked, when they came across.

Twinkle was probably around fifty, Scott reckoned, although depending on the severity of his current drinking and drug taking binge he could appear ten or fifteen years older. He was below average height with a mass of dark curls flecked with grey that spilled down his head, usually obscuring much of his deeply lined face. Years of substance abuse had left his frame very thin and frail looking. If the onset of wrinkles in middle age were referred to as laughter lines then to look at him, Scott thought, Twinkle’s life must have been hilarious. He had sharp eyes that often seemed to visually contradict the lack of intelligence that could be derived from listening to him talk. There might not be a lot to respect in Twinkle, but Scott liked him. He just didn’t want to end up like him.

‘Maybe yeah, just got some stuff to do first,’ he said to Scott before turning to his associate. ‘Dom, why don’t you and Neil go have a game of pool.’

Neil curiously looked up from his phone but went along with what he’d suggested, allowing Twinkle to sit in his vacated seat, leaving him and Scott alone at the table. Twinkle looked at him with squinted eyes and a pained expression, as if operating under the weight of a heavy hangover.

‘You look a bit rough mate, big night last night?’ Scott asked innocently, but for a moment felt Twinkle’s gaze sharpen.

‘Was up drinking, pretty late yeah,’ Twinkle said evenly, composing himself.

‘Thought after you weren’t out last night that maybe you’d been picked up by the cops for something.’

Twinkle took a swig of the beer Neil had left on the table before looking at Scott again and answering, ‘nah, I’m not holding anything, mate, so nothing they could get me for.’

‘It isn’t like you to come out with empty pockets Twink. You got other stuff going on?’

Again Twinkle took a long drink from the bottle and for a few seconds seemed to carefully select his words before answering. ‘There’s gonna be a chance to make some good cash coming up, Scott. The kind that need someone who has their head on right, not some daft fucker.’ The look Scott got from Twinkle told him this was no longer just a conversation. He had the feeling of being weighed up, like he had accidentally walked into a job interview for a position he didn’t want to fill.

‘ To be honest, maybe it would be better if I didn’t hear anymore,’ Scott said, backtracking while he felt he still could.

‘I know you’ve got ambitions above shit like this,’ Twinkle said, waving the beer casually around the room. ‘I’ve heard you trying to get Neil to step up for bigger deals in the past. Fair enough, I won’t say anything else now, but if you decide you want to hear more, come find me and we’ll talk then.’ He finished with a smile that suggested he knew what Scott’s response would be, before adding ‘just don’t take too long.’

Twinkle finished Neil’s beer, fetched his friend from the pool table and they both left.

‘What was that about?’ Neil asked as he sat back down, but Scott just shrugged. ‘I don’t know what Twinkle is up to but he wants to watch mixing with people like that.’

‘Who was the other dude then?’ Scott asked.

‘Dominic Parish. You heard of him?’

‘The name sounds familiar, who is he?’

‘Supposed to have been a decent boxer in the day, middleweight I think. He got mixed up in some shit after he retired from boxing and did some time inside. Now he’s pretty tight with Paul McBlane and that crowd. What I heard was that he could have avoided jail pretty easy, but kept quiet and maybe did McBlane a favour.’

‘Twinkle always was looking to move up in the world, maybe this is his chance,’ Scott said, and swallowed the last from his bottle. It was true that Twinkle had always been looking to swim with the big fish. He craved the notoriety that life as a gangster would provide; the same notoriety that Scott had worked so hard to stay away from.

‘The only moving up in the world he’ll do is if he gets the top bunk during a ten year stretch,’ Neil said, and they both laughed.

‘I’ll get two more,’ Scott said, and went to the bar.

Twinkle was a close associate in a circle that both Scott and Neil preferred to keep small. A bigger network would mean better prices and better selection when it came to their buying power, but it also meant bigger risk. Twinkle might want to turn heads when he walked into a room, see people whispering as he went by, ‘Do you know who that is?’ but that was the last thing Scott wanted. Any progression Twinkle might hope to make through the ranks made Scott nervous and he didn’t like it.

He saw that Angela was serving and edged around to her section. She wore a pair of faded jeans that had worn so thin in a couple of places on the thighs that areas of pale skin were visible beneath. Her current hair colour of choice was a deep red and was held back loosely in a pony-tail, with just a hint of her natural blonde roots beginning to show through. She was smiling a polite rebuttal to the slurred flirtation of a customer, but when she caught sight of Scott her smile became more natural and touched her eyes. She handed some change to the guy and turned to Scott as he eased through to the front.

‘Hey Scott, what you having?’

A neon sign advertising Heineken buzzed steadily behind Angela, so Scott ordered two of those. He reached into his pocket to extract a note while watching Angela saunter over to the bottle fridge. All the other guys at the bar watched her too. She opened the fridge and crouched to pick the bottles from the bottom shelf. Scott noted the thinly veiled looks of disappointment from some of the spectators that she hadn’t bent over to get them, leaving them with a colourful memory to take home that night. Angela was a beautiful woman, anyone could see that, but she wasn’t the type to gratuitously flaunt it just to make more money in tips.

She exchanged the uncapped bottles with Scott as he handed her a ten. He held her gaze for a second before she went to make change, and grinned at the glint he saw in her eye. She knew the power she held over these guys, but for her this was just a job, and none of them would ever get more from her than a cold beer and a warm smile.

‘You staying out clubbing after you finish work?’ he asked her as she gave him his change.

‘I got a message off Steph earlier saying she had an unexpected night off. She’s coming in here at some point and we’ll probably head to Blitz after my shift. I haven’t seen her in ages so it’ll be nice to catch up again. You gonna be in there?’

‘Nah, Neil has arranged a last minute party back at mine so we’re gonna head there instead.’

‘Very nice, and am I on the guest list then?’ Angela asked, grinning.

‘Sure, VIP all the way. I’ll inform the staff,’ Scott said and pushed back through the crowd towards their table.

The air thrummed and reverberated with the music from the room above the bar now, drowning out most of the jukebox volume downstairs. He dropped the two bottles onto the table and sat back down. Scott licked his finger and casually dabbed it into a wrap of speed in his pocket he had carefully unfolded. Taking his now white-coated finger back out, he covered his mouth as if stifling a cough and quickly sucked off the bitter powder. His attention drifted around the room, taking in only snatches of everything as he drank his beer. A group of four Chinese men gathered around the fruit machine behind him, talking quickly in their native tongue. The familiar sing-song notes playing out as the reels spun and dropped into place were punctuated by bursts of laughter from the Chinese like machine-gun fire. Neil continued his texted flirtation with the barmaid from Jam and Scott felt his own phone vibrate, glanced down and saw it was a message from Angela. He looked up and saw her give him a little wave from behind the bar.

‘Meet me outside here when I finish my shift, I’ll tell Steph we’re going back to the party instead.’

Chapter 2

The first time Scott met Angela was under very different circumstances, where the last thing on his mind was finding someone he could grow to feel so close to. He was going to meet a contact that he and Neil had been introduced to in a bar by Twinkle. The guy’s name apparently was Putty, and for years he’d been a regular supplier to Twinkle, able to get cannabis deals at a reasonable price, even at times when other suppliers were suffering from a drought. Twinkle told them after Putty left that he always did business at his own place, a bit strange as most preferred to stay off home soil in case the deal went south and everybody had to scatter. Twinkle had also warned them that before discussions took place many joints would be passed around to create the right mood, and that this guy could smoke till it came out of his ears without any problem at all. Hearing this, Scott decided that it would be best if he went alone. Neil would likely get carried away by it all and end up agreeing to a terrible rate that they’d be unable to back out of later.

Following the directions he’d been given by Putty, Scott made his way through the run-down estate in the western quarter of Garden Heights. Around a third of the houses had been boarded up and graffiti grew over everything like ivy on an old country cottage. Scott was aware the locals would be suspicious of new faces as they never got any sightseers. If you were there, you were there for a reason, and not knowing what it was could make some of them nervous. Scott avoided any prolonged eye contact and kept to the route he’d been given, ignoring the direct stares from two oil-smeared guys who were either dismantling or reassembling an old Ford, pieces scattered across the road like flotsam on a beach. The three-storey flats came into view at the end of the road, and Scott walked to the far entrance of the middle block. He’d heard that all of the flats and some rows of houses were due to be demolished in the next few years in the name of redevelopment. The whole area reeked of decay and looked to have been given up on by the local council, who were just waiting for the bulldozers to move in and give them a blank canvas to start over.

When Neil had asked at their initial meeting over a few drinks why he was called Putty, he had grinned and replied that it was because he used to have a little motorbike years ago that went put-put-put. Twinkle had further informed them, after Putty’s departure, that it was actually because where women were concerned, he wasn’t particular in the slightest, and had been known to put his cock into pretty much anything.

Scott pushed open the heavy steel door and went into the stairwell. Enveloping him along with the gloom was the smell of stale smoke and urine. He climbed to the middle floor and checked door numbers until he found the one he’d been given, although even without the number it would have been impossible to miss. The other doors on the landing were all painted wood, whereas this one appeared to have been reinforced with a thick steel plate. He banged on it and after a moment a muffled voice asked who was there. He gave his name, heard the rasp of a large bolt being withdrawn and the door swung inward allowing him inside.

The interior was dark and pungent but otherwise nondescript. Small chinks of light snuck through gaps in closed curtains in the dimly lit corridor. He was led into the living room. Most of the light was supplied by a large screen plasma TV that was currently hooked up to a games console. Three tracksuit-clad males in their late teens or early twenties were sat on an old couch against the right-hand wall. They were holding controllers and jostling for superiority on a racing game that Scott didn’t recognise. The air was thick with the scent of cannabis resin. The smell made Scott think of black coffee and old cupboards. He greeted them briefly, before turning to Putty who sat pride of place in front of the giant TV. He was reclining in a big black vinyl chair, an ashtray perched on one arm and a tall glass of Coke on the other.

Putty looked reasonably in shape for someone who, Scott had been told, would only get out of his chair, or throne as Twinkle had called it, in the face of a dire emergency. He looked to be mid to late forties, with thinning slicked back brown hair, and a face that looked as if something was missing, as if he’d recently shaved off a lifelong moustache.

The other chair was now occupied by the heavy set black guy with close cropped hair and a goatee beard who had let him in at the front door. Putty took one last slow drag from a joint, leaned towards the black man and said Keep, although it was in more of a grunt so as not to let any smoke out of his lungs. Scott didn’t know if this was an indication that the joint was now his, or if Keep was actually his name. Putty slowly eased back into the chair and turned towards Scott, exhaling a thick stream of smoke.

‘Greetings Scott, welcome to my humble home,’ he said with a grin that reminded Scott of the cat in Alice in Wonderland. The man Putty had identified as Keep stood up and went to the couch, taking the joint with him. One of its current occupants moved to sit on the floor without taking his eyes from the screen, and Keep sat in the spot he’d vacated. Putty motioned to the now empty chair and Scott sat down. Leaning forward Putty picked up the tray covered with joint making paraphernalia and began to roll up. ‘You like to have a bit of a smoke then Scott?’

‘Yeah I’m partial, but usually just in the evenings. Slows me down a bit much during the day, you know?’

‘I like the pace,’ Putty replied, ‘like those darkies in the adverts for the Caribbean or wherever ‘we likes to taake it eeaaasssyyyy’ he said in a badly imitated West Indian accent and cackled. Scott glanced over at the room’s only black occupant but the remark elicited nothing but a casual grin. Brief sniggers from the other three showed that they were at least half conscious of the conversation, and that such comments were not out of the ordinary.

Scott figured he had his bearings here, pretty much as Twinkle had indicated. Putty would keep smoking and delaying talking about the deals Scott was here to discuss. Putty obviously figured that either peer pressure or passive smoke inhalation from the lack of ventilation would have Scott pretty much wiped before long and then talk would turn to business. The guy was obviously just a low level dealer and this was his domain, but according to Twinkle he did have useful connections, so Scott planned to just wait it out and get the best price he could. He could see Putty was an old hand at this kind of situation. A set-up like this tended to be a young man’s game so either he was bad at plying his trade and therefore unable to move up into middle management, or he was good at what he did but with no ambition and happy to stay a big fish in a very small pond. Scott watched as Keep passed what was left of the joint he had to the guy who had given up his seat. Putty nudged Scott’s arm with his elbow, holding out the joint he had just lit. Scott took it with a smile and a nod, which obviously pleased the host, his smile turning feline again. As Scott took his first drag there was a knock on the front door. Keep stood up and went to check it as Putty reached down to retrieve the tray and again began rolling another.

A moment later Keep returned, followed by a pretty young woman that Scott at first assumed must be here to score a deal. She looked to be about 21 with the figure of someone who either regularly works out or is naturally blessed with an athletic frame. She wore a tight white t-shirt with a baby blue cardigan over the top, washed out green army fatigues and Nike trainers. Her hair was long and mostly blonde with a few blue streaks running through it, but looked brittle like it had been bleached too many times. She said ‘hi’ in no particular direction as she entered the room, walked over and kissed Putty on the cheek. As she bent down, Scott noticed that she wore little if any make-up and no jewellery other than a small silver hoop in her right ear. Her presence in the room was also the only thing that had distracted the three gamers’ attention from the screen since Scott had entered, although a steady gaze from Putty refocused them back onto their racing. She walked out into the kitchen.

Maybe Scott hadn’t given Putty enough credit, he thought. This girl was way above the level of any part-time pussy he’d been led to believe Putty would have snagged. From her entrance and carefree attitude around the place, she was obviously afforded a certain level of respect too. He continued smoking the joint and listened as sounds from the kitchen echoed along the hallway. Running water – the kettle being filled and then switched on – drawers opening and closing – then the fridge – a clink of crockery. The only noise in the living room now was from the TV, and the slight rustle of the latest joint Putty was intently focused on applying the finishing touches to.

Scott took another drag from the joint, enjoying the unexpected twist in his afternoon. He relaxed back into the chair and slowly let out a stream of blue smoke in the manner he’d seen Putty do following his arrival. The young woman came back out of the kitchen, walked up to him and plucked the joint from between his fingers.

‘Thank you kindly,’ she said, and flashed Scott the same grin that he’d already seen twice on the face of his host.

‘My pleasure,’ he replied with a laugh, now realising what the relationship between her and Putty must be.

She walked back into the kitchen with the joint, as the bubbling kettle reached its peak and clicked off. Putty finished his careful rolling procedure and lit up, took two quick drags without exhaling in between and handed it straight to Scott.

‘You staying for long?’ Putty yelled, without looking away from the TV.

‘Why, aren’t you glad to see me?’ came the reply from the kitchen.

‘Of course, it’s just we’re talking business in here.’

‘OK Mr. Chairman of the board, I’ll check with your secretary next time before I drop in,’ she said, walking back into the room.

‘Alright Princess, always great to see you but duty calls.’

‘OK, I’ll call back in later on.’

‘That would be great, Keep will walk you to the bus stop.’

‘No, I’d like him to do it,’ she said looking at Scott.

‘It can be rough out there, sweetheart. I’d feel better if Keep did it. No offence Scott.’

‘I still want him to.’

‘I don’t mind, I can come back right after and we can get this tied up,’ Scott said, getting up out of the chair. Putty looked nonplussed but waved his hand as if to indicate he was fine with that, not taking his eyes from the TV.

Angela winked at Scott and walked to the door.

‘What was that about then?’ he asked, as they went down the acrid stairwell.

‘I just like to wind the old man up. He’s pretty overprotective sometimes so I just like to remind him who’s in charge every once in a while,’ she said, grinning, and pulled open the doorway out of the flats.

‘I don’t even know your name,’ Scott said, following her back out into daylight. ‘I take it you weren’t christened Princess or Sweetheart, but I’m taking nothing for granted what with Putty and Keep in there.’

She laughed and formally held out her hand for him to shake. ‘My name is Angela, pleased to meet you.’

‘Hi Angela, I guess you already know I’m Scott,’ he said, feeling slightly embarrassed, and shook her hand.

She released his hand after firmly shaking it twice, then linked her arm through his and continued to walk.

‘Yeah I knew who you were before I saw you in there.’

‘You did?’ Scott said, a little surprised. He was sure if he’d seen Angela before he would have remembered.

‘I’ve seen you out around town a few times. My mate bought some speed off your friend with the blonde hair. He had no change so you took some cash out of your wallet and gave it to her. I remember ‘cause you had that photo in there. It looked old so I guessed it was from when you were a kid. I thought it was cute,’ she said, and shrugged.

Scott pulled out his wallet and flipped it open. ‘It’s me and my brother at a fairground years ago,’ he said, showing her the dog-eared picture. ‘Sorry, I don’t remember you.’

The picture showed Scott wearing a sour expression, his brother with an arm wrapped around his shoulder, beaming at the camera. They both wore bright blue matching rain hats and grey coats that each looked a size too large.

‘I can be pretty shy sometimes,’ she said, but he found that difficult to believe. ‘You’re the little one, right?’ She pointed to the picture.

‘Yeah with the sulky face. The other kid with the cheesy grin is my big brother.’

‘You may look sulky there but you seem nice now.’

‘Thanks, although you kind of sound like that wasn’t what you’d have expected.’

‘No, I wouldn’t say that. Just most of the guys dad deals with tend to be pretty mean types. Not with me of course, just their general attitude towards life, I suppose.’

‘So I don’t fit the bill?’ Scott asked, putting away his wallet.

‘I don’t know yet,’ she said, looking at Scott appraisingly, like an old woman eyeing a chipped vase in an antiques shop. ‘I haven’t made up my mind on you. Anyway, here’s my bus coming so I have to go.’

Angela ran a few steps before she turned back towards him.

‘You want to have a drink tomorrow night at Jam?’ she said, seemingly as an afterthought.

‘Yeah, sure,’ he answered without thinking.

‘Right, see you at eight then,’ she said, then ran the last twenty yards and jumped onto the bus as it wheezed to a halt at the stop.

Scott watched as she took a seat and waited until the bus had vanished around the corner before walking back to Putty’s flat.

Keep was waiting at the door as Scott came back up the stairs. He nodded at Scott, waited until he went inside and then pulled the door closed, remaining outside in the corridor.

In the living room Scott saw the curtains had been opened slightly to let more light into the room. The three youths who’d previously been playing on the games console were gone now as well, leaving Putty alone in his chair watching horse racing on the TV.

‘You want a drink of anything Scott?’ he asked, as Scott returned to the seat he’d occupied before leaving.

‘No thanks, to be honest time’s getting on. What do you say we sort out an arrangement and then I’ll take off?’

Putty nodded, took a piece of folded white paper from under the ashtray on the arm of his chair and put it down on the table in front of Scott.

‘You seem like a decent lad, and Twinkle vouches for you as well so I’m happy to be able to work with you. However some things fall outside of a working relationship, but can still muddy the waters.’

Putty’s previous pomp and bravado had now been replaced by a level of decorum that he wouldn’t have imagined possible from their meeting twenty minutes earlier.

‘Open it,’ Putty said, and nodded towards the folded paper he’d placed on the table.

Scott obliged. On the paper were incremental prices for weights of cannabis. Prices Scott wouldn’t have even have hoped to achieve when he’d left the house that morning.

‘So long as our business is conducted in an orderly fashion without any complications, I’ll be happy to abide by what’s on the there. You happy with that Scott?’

‘Yeah,’ Scott said, ‘I’m happy.’

‘So we have an understanding?’

‘Yes,’ Scott nodded, ‘we do.’

Chapter 3

At closing time the rain had stopped but the temperature outside had dropped below freezing. Scott, Neil and Gemma met Angela outside the Highlander but Stephanie hadn’t showed. The neon lights of the bar fronts opposite were mirrored on the wet streets, as if they walked along the edge of a lake on the way to where Neil had parked the car.

‘Watch out for patches of ice on the way back,’ Scott warned. ‘We don’t want to crash when we have all these drugs on us.’

Neil waved away his concerns and took a drag on the joint Angela had fished out of her handbag. Unsurprisingly his driving was a little erratic, and Scott had to remind him a few more times to slow down and pay more attention.

It was still freezing in the car so Scott reached forward to turn up the heating, which resulted in a blast of cold air through the vents.

‘Takes a while to warm up before the heating will work’, Neil said, and turned it back off again.

His eleven year old Hyundai still performed admirably considering the starship mileage it had accumulated, but these days some sacrifices had to be made from the old girl, one of which was apparently interior warmth.

Before long the brightly lit main streets of the suburbs were behind them and the poorly maintained, sparsely lit country roads made the journey back feel a little perilous. Especially, Scott felt, as Neil was spending more time looking at Gemma and Angela as he chatted with them in the rear-view mirror than looking at the road.

Scott glanced out of the side window. It was pitch black now that they’d passed the city limits. Neil failed to spot a pot hole in time and the car bounced and lurched toward the grass verge. He glanced quickly at Scott but neither said anything. Neil lowered his speed anyway.

Arriving back at the house Scott quickly realised that the invites had gone a little further than he’d anticipated. Within minutes about a half dozen taxis had pulled up and started emptying out and there were probably more on the way. Nothing he could do about it now though. Scott opened the door and led the way through to the living room, indicating towards the chairs and sofa for people to make themselves at home. Boris, his uncle’s soot black cocker spaniel seemed a little perturbed by the number of new faces invading his space, but Angela soon eased his anxiety with plenty of ear scratching and belly rubs. Scott didn’t have too much in the way of alcohol to offer around, but Neil said he’d told people not to turn up empty handed. As the guests filed through the front door most were laden down with bags full of various types of liquor.

‘We stopped off at a 24-hour place on the way,’ Putty said, grinning as he and a few friends carried in full bags and Keep struggled in after them with a big box. ‘We were out anyway and Angela told us of your little soirée, hope you don’t mind us crashing.’

Back in the living room, Scott turned on the stereo and plugged in his iPod. Larrs, one of Putty’s friends who had bleached blonde hair spiked up into tufts and an accent that sounded Scandinavian, immediately showed an interest and came over to act as digital deejay.

Angela slid an arm around Scott’s waist and handed him a beer she’d taken from the growing mountain in the kitchen. ‘Not a bad turn-out for such short notice.’

‘Yeah but when a drug dealer throws a party, you tend to not get many no shows,’ he replied with a sly smile. ‘Come on let’s go find somewhere to sit.’

Angela picked up a CD case and ashtray from the coffee table and followed Scott. Four reasonably well dressed people that Scott didn’t recognise were just vacating a spot in the hallway so they quickly sat down and claimed it before anyone else could. Putty saw them as he walked back out from the kitchen with an armload of bottles.

‘Saves getting back up every few minutes,’ Putty explained as he eased down onto the floor beside them.

Angela put the ashtray in between them, and the CD case in front of her which she used to chop out three substantial lines from a wrap she’d taken out of her pocket, placed her credit card back into her purse, and took out a twenty. Rolling in into a tight tube she snorted the first line and passed the case and rolled note to Scott.

‘You’re getting pretty professional at all this Scott. Anyone would think dealing was a career choice for you and not just a short term thing,’ Angela said, sounding playful; yet when Scott looked up at her he could see a shadow of concern in her eyes.

Scott took his line and placed the CD case in front of Putty.

‘It’s been a few years now,’ Scott said with a shrug and breathed out slowly through his mouth. ‘I suppose whatever you do, you either just get older or you get better.’

‘And this is what you want to get better at?’

He hadn’t wanted to think about his future any more that night, and discussing it all with Angela hadn’t been something he’d considered until then.

Putty lit a joint and took a few hits until the tip glowed orange before passing it over to Scott. He exhaled a column of blue smoke that pooled around their feet.

‘This was only ever gonna be a short term thing. I just need to get enough money together for a fresh start. All the time growing up uncle Bob was always going on about his Buddhism stuff, and how one day he would go and live out in the Far East, go touring through the countries which gave birth to all that philosophical stuff he loved.’

‘So you want to go out there and do it instead now cause he can’t?’ Angela asked.

‘No I don’t give a shit about all that, but I do want to get away though. The point is, he had his dream, his light at the end of the tunnel, and now he’s dead and it’s gone. From what Jack and my uncle have said, it was always the same with Mum and Dad too. That they were never happy, Dad worked such long hours, Mum was always miserable. It just seems like everyone either gives up on their dreams and accepts mediocrity, or they wait so long to do what it is they want to do that they can’t even remember why they wanted it in the first place.’

Angela smiled but slowly shook her head and looked a little puzzled. ‘So what is it that you want Scott? What’s your dream that you can’t wait any longer for?’

‘You know that my family originally emigrated here from overseas, right?’

Angela nodded so he continued.

‘I want to go back. There’s nothing left for me over here now, both my parents and my uncle are dead, and it’s hardly like me and Jack are or have ever been close.’

‘So that’s why you’re dealing now, to save up enough to begin a new life where your parents came from?’ Putty said.

‘Is that so surprising?’ Scott asked.

‘It’s a pretty drastic step,’ Angela said, ‘what about your friends here? Don’t you think you’re underestimating what they mean to you with you not really having any family?’

Scott took another hit from the joint and passed it on. Angela’s words were no big revelation; he’d thought this stuff through himself a thousand times. But her empathetic look made them seem a lot more poignant. ‘Maybe you’re right Angela, but this has been my dream for a long time now and if I don’t at least try then I’ll be living the rest of my life with the what if always in the back of my mind.’

‘What about the what ifs if you get caught and end up in jail for years? What if you hadn’t got caught, just lived your life here and made the best of the situation you have?’

‘You’ve done pretty well for yourself, Scotty,’ Putty said. ‘Business looks to be good, I know you’re buying plenty of weed off me and these folks in here tonight seem to be doing a lot more than just smoking. This cottage must be worth a decent amount anyway. If you wanted to go so much can’t you just sell it and use that money to start over?’

Scott shook his head. ‘Bob left us with a huge mortgage on this place after he died, and the insurance wouldn’t pay out with it being suicide. Jack paid the interest while he was here and now I can barely cover it myself.’

‘Doesn’t seem to make much sense wanting to throw it all away to go back to a country you’ve never even been to, to start with?’ Putty said, and reached down for the CD case with his line of cocaine on it. Part of it had become dislodged a little, giving the straight, white line the appearance of an exclamation mark. He snorted it, punctuating his sentence aptly, Scott thought. Putty breathed out and sniffed, wiping his nose on a forefinger. Unconsciously Scott mimicked the movement himself.

‘How much do you reckon you need to have to get your cabin and whatever else out there for your Grizzly Adams existence?’

‘A lot.’

Putty chuckled. ‘You think you’ll hit the kind of bankroll you need doing this?’

‘I know I won’t, that’s why I need a change,’ Scott said. ‘I may have a project for you in the new year Scotty,’ Putty said, making sure no-one else in the hallway was close enough to hear their conversation.

‘That seems to be something I’m hearing a lot these days,’ Scott replied, eyes narrowing slightly as he levelled a cynical gaze at Putty.

‘Some propositions are better than others though,’ Angela added, straightening up from the CD case, three new lines laid out, like snow drifts beside freshly shovelled paths. She handed him the case and note for Scott to select his line first. Angela continued to look at him for a moment before she spoke. ‘ To be honest, Scott, it doesn’t seem like you know what you want.’

Scott finished the last of his beer in a long slow swallow, feeling the cool liquid calm his thoughts. ‘I know you said that because you care, but let’s just drop it and enjoy the rest of the night.’

‘OK,’ she said with a little shake of her head. ‘Just promise you’ll talk to me before you go and do anything rash.’

They each did their line of coke and sat back drinking for a while, just listening to the background noise of the party. Angela moved up beside Scott with her back against the wall. Her arm felt soft and warm against his. Some voices from the living room argued over song selection. A couple crept guiltily out of a bedroom and snuck into the kitchen. The crash of a broken glass came from somewhere, followed by a muffled apology. Scott felt the warm flow of the cocaine and alcohol coursing through his veins. His heart rate had accelerated, seeming to keep pace with the music booming out from his stereo; he closed his eyes and relaxed into it.

‘Gonna make another ATM run’, Neil bellowed.

Scott opened his eyes and saw Neil surrounded by a cluster of partygoers in the hallway, apparently with cash cards burning holes in their pockets.

‘OK man, keep your speed down though, don’t get pulled over,’ he said to Neil, and then to the waiting passengers, ‘take your coats, it’ll be colder in his car than it is outside.’

Neil gave a falsetto laugh and clutched his stomach before ushering the group out to the car.

Neil’s girlfriend, Gemma or Emma, Scott had drunk too much to come close to remembering now, hovered around the hallway for a moment undecidedly after Neil and the group left, before finally going back into the living room.

‘More happy customers then,’ Putty said, watching her go. ‘I’m gonna go find that lot and see what time they want to head off later. You coming back with us Angela, or you just gonna hang out here?’

‘I’m gonna stay a while longer, I’ll just get a cab myself, don’t worry.’

Putty nodded and stood up, a little unevenly at first. ‘I’m getting a bit old for this staying up all night partying shit I think.’ He said, and steadied himself against the wall for a moment before following Gemma into the living room.

‘You in any hurry to get to sleep?’ Angela asked.

‘You’re joking, after all the speed and coke tonight, I may black out at some point, but I won’t be drifting off to sleep anytime soon.’

‘What about some fresh air then, you fancy taking a walk?’ she asked.

‘Sure, why not.’

‘We’ve got no more beer,’ she said looking down disappointedly at the empty bottles littered around them, ‘I’ll see what’s left in the kitchen.’ Angela stood up in a single fluid motion and stepping over assorted bodies along the hallway, made her way gracefully towards the kitchen.

‘Ok,’ Scott said, standing with less conviction than Angela, ‘I’ll meet you at the back door. It’ll be cold out, I’ll go and fetch some warm clothes.’

He pulled two thick hooded sweatshirts out of the wardrobe, a scarf, a woollen hat and two zip-up jackets. Outside Angela knelt down next to an uncorked bottle of red wine with her arms wrapped around herself, talking to Boris. The atmosphere of the party had mellowed a little now, groups of people still mingled, but the overall mood was more sedate.

‘Here,’ Scott said, offering up the selection of garments for her to choose from. Watching Angela pick through the clothes as if she were searching for a bargain in a thrift shop made him laugh.

‘What’s funny?’ she asked, grinning, as she pulled on the blue woollen hat and a grey sweatshirt with a faded ice hockey logo on the front.

‘Nothing,’ he said pulling on the other hooded top and fastening the jacket over it, ‘just you.’

Angela took a swallow from the wine and passed the bottle to Scott, as she pulled on the other jacket. ‘OK where we going then?’ she asked excitedly, her eyes glittering with reflected moonlight as she stood in the doorway.

‘Go on Boris, hyyaaahh,’ Scott said, making a shooing motion to the dog. ‘We just follow him.’

Taking his cue, the spaniel was already a hundred yards away by the time they began to follow. Angela linked his arm and leaned in close, pulling up the hood on her sweatshirt. It was a cold night but there was no frost. The full moon reflected patches of silver light, through the sparse cloud cover, which they used to traverse the uneven ground.

‘It’s really pretty out tonight,’ Angela said and looked up. ‘The moon seems even bigger than usual.’

‘It’s known as the Cold Moon, the last full moon of the year.’

‘You’re full of shit,’ Angela laughed, ‘anyone can say it’s called a cold moon when we’re in bloody December, what’s the next one then if you’re so smart?’

‘The next, after our new year is called the Wolf Moon,’ he said, faking a smug grin, and watched Angela trying to read his expression in the partial light to see if he was attempting to fool her.

She took a slow breath in and out of the cold night air. ‘Well I don’t care what they call it, I think it’s beautiful.’ Angela clutched his arm tighter. ‘You’re lucky to live out here, it’s really nice.’

Boris had circled back around and was exploring not too far ahead of them now. They reached the only part of the boundary fence that still remained, a small section with a stile to the South that they climbed over, navigating their way through the tufts of dead scrub grass and into the woods. Long slivers of moonlight fell between the naked branches; the close proximity of the surrounding trees made their being together seem more intimate, almost secretive.

‘How come you never asked me out on a date, Scott?’

Scott’s mind had become entwined in a fluid spiral of thoughts and feelings, which he swam back out from at the sound of her question. ‘That’s a bit out of the blue, isn’t it?’

‘I don’t think so. We get on really well and I sometimes catch looks from you that I’ve had from other guys at work, usually just before they ask me out, but you never have.’

‘I kind of made a promise.’

‘I knew it,’ she said, with an unfamiliar stern expression, ‘this is gonna be my dad’s doing, isn’t it?’

‘It’s understandable really, when you think about it.’

‘Great, so it is then.’

Scott wasn’t too concerned with breaking confidences right now. The alcohol and cocaine had made his whole body feel warm in sharp contrast to the cold night air. ‘He just wants more for you than to fall in love with a drug dealer. The uncertainty and danger of that kind of lifestyle, he doesn’t want you to end up with someone like me.’

‘Or him.’

‘Yeah I suppose, or him.’

As Scott stooped a little to pass under a branch from a nearby oak, Angela reached up, held his face between her hands and kissed him. It was slow and soft and for a few seconds the rest of the world seemed to melt away. She opened her mouth slightly and he felt her tongue run gently across his lips. Angela slowly withdrew. Scott opened his eyes and she looked deep into them, reading him, searching for his reaction. He felt naked and vulnerable under her gaze, but he didn’t care.

‘You taste like strawberries,’ he said once his senses began to unravel.

It took a second for what he’d said to register, but then she laughed. ‘That’ll be the wine you can taste,’ she said grinning, and held the bottle up for him to see before taking another drink. Boris had stopped a little way ahead and looked back at them expectantly. Scott motioned with his hand to keep going and the dog continued off on his circular patterns of exploration.

‘Well I certainly didn’t see it coming,’ Scott said with a laugh he hoped didn’t sound nervous. His mind was fuzzy from the cocktail of drugs and alcohol and struggled to comprehend what meaning, if any, it might hold.

‘Kind of an impulse thing, I think,’ she said.

A shaft of moonlight illuminated a row of sentinel silver birch in a phosphorescent glow, appearing almost ethereal in the relative surrounding gloom. Boris had stopped again, his silhouette a stark black juxtaposition against the background of the illuminated branches.

‘Now, that looks kind of trippy,’ Angela said, ‘have you been here before?’

‘Yeah it was a regular stop when uncle Bob would take me and Jack on walks when we were kids. It’s just become habit since then when I’m out walking the dog, he pretty much always makes his way here.’

‘Like a migration,’ Angela said with a laugh. ‘Or a pilgrimage.’

‘Yeah or just an old dog who’s stuck in his ways. Here check this out,’ Scott said and led her past the cover of the silver birch.

‘Bob first showed me and my brother this when we were kids,’ he said, pointing towards a strange looking tree ahead. It was a large oak. All of the branches had long since been cut off leaving only thick stumps protruding from the enormous trunk.

‘We used to stay over on weekend sleepovers, before we came to live here permanently after our parents’ death. Bob told us the tree must be special ‘cause no leaves or any other signs of life ever grew from it, yet year after year it showed no sign of degrading or rotting away. He’d point out other trees in the woods that had been struck by lightning or died from disease; over time the bark would drop away and the trunks would soften, the roots rot and usually end up being blown over in a storm. He reckoned since he’d first seen the tree at around the time we were born, the branches had already been removed, so it had been standing in its present condition for at least as long as we’d been breathing.’

‘It does look rather strange,’ Angela said, as she studied the old oak.

‘Well that would have been enough to single it out from the other trees in the woods, but its most redeeming feature, in Bob’s eyes, was this,’ Scott said, and pointed to bring Angela’s attention to particularly odd growth surrounding the formation of a branch roughly a third of the way up the trunk.

‘Oh wow, it looks just like an elephant,’ Angela said, studying the protrusion from the trunk. ‘But not a happy one.’

‘From there yeah, but when you move around here,’ Scott said, and slid an arm around Angela’s waist.

‘So your uncle came here and prayed or whatever at the shrine of the pissed off elephant?’ Angela asked, giggling.

‘Shh, just watch,’ he said, and led her slowly around to the other side of the tree.

The growth, when looked upon from the West, clearly gave the appearance of an elephant’s head. The contours of the face, an eye, the large ear and even its trunk that ended abruptly where the branch had been sawn off, were intricately defined in the old wood. When slowly moving from this vantage point around to the other side of the tree and looking from the East, the face would begin to change. The elephant’s features would appear to melt and run into one another before re-gathering form and appearing as human. This still creeped Scott out even now, but as a child it had scared him outright; yet despite this he still felt intrinsically drawn to the spot. Both dimensions of the face when looked upon could appear to convey great emotion to Scott, although depending on his mood, and maybe the lighting at the time, the emotions were subject to change. Illusions of childhood were often displaced with the reason of a rational adult mind, but standing in the same spot he would have been in when first introduced to the tree by his uncle all those years ago, Scott repeated the procedure with Angela, of first focusing on the elephant face before slowly walking around the circumference of the tree. Again he watched the face morph from that of elephant into man. To him the elephant face appeared calm, almost serene, but as it reshaped into human, it looked troubled or even afraid.

For Angela the way silvery light reflected down cast the eye socket and mouth in deep shadow, they appeared as vacant black chasms, the mouth twisted in a frozen expression like pain or anguish.

Scott nudged her and she moved around the tree. ‘Keep looking at it,’ he told her.

‘No fucking way’, Angela said, moving back to where she had first stood, to repeat the process. ‘Now it looks like a man’s face, laughing hysterically. Shit, that has to be the drugs.’

‘Uncle Bob always seemed to think there was some mystical significance to this tree, although he could be pretty weird sometimes,’ Scott confessed.

‘Weird can be a misinterpretation of an enlightened mind,’ Angela said, and grinned again. Scott couldn’t tell if she was serious or pulling his leg.

Scott stepped back from the oak and sat on a nearby fallen tree trunk. ‘I’m sure they haven’t dampened the effect at all, but no it’s pretty much always like this. Well not always, the expression, or what we kinda perceive to be the expression, seems to change each time you come back. That’s what I think my uncle used to find so alluring, he was into all the Buddhism stuff and elephants are a big deal to them, apparently.’

Angela seemed transfixed by the metamorphosis from elephant to man, and continued slowly side-stepping from left to right and then back again. ‘So what was so special about elephants?’

‘Strength, according to my uncle. Physical and mental strength. He would come here alone sometimes and just sit for hours. I don’t know if he hoped he’d absorb some of it himself, just by being here. I know he used to come when he had difficult decisions to make, though.’

Scott glanced at his watch but didn’t register what it said. The notion of time had become as absurd as the quietly glowing trees around them.

Chapter 4

Angela hadn’t expected to see anyone new when she’d arrived at her dad’s place that afternoon. The usual interchangeable faces of local up-and-coming thugs or the more recognisable characters she had come to know from growing up around the scene through childhood. When she’d noticed Scott sitting in the chair, the light fluttering she’d felt in her chest had taken her by surprise.

Angela knew she seemed a pretty cool character where men were concerned, but the confidence she put forth wasn’t born out of experience. Far from it. In fact the only serious relationship she’d ever had was with Anthony Baxter, a short and rather awkward boy back in high school. They had been a couple for over a year before they slept together, and stayed in the relationship for another year afterwards. Angela’s fingers moved unconsciously to the silver hoop in her right ear; a reminder as if she needed one of her only sexual partner. He had bought her it as a gift the day after they’d first had sex.

She had first become aware of Scott while out clubbing with her friend Stephanie around a year ago. Angela hadn’t known exactly what the attraction was to begin with. Sure, he was good looking, but she knew that she could have her pick from any number of good looking guys. It wasn’t the dangerous drug dealer image either. Having grown up surrounded by those types, she found it more of a bore than a turn on, but still she couldn’t deny that she was drawn to Scott.

Stephanie had picked up on her interest after a while and despite endless encouragement Angela still had refused to go up and introduce herself. Stephanie’s initial attempt at introductions were a little wide of the mark as she’d ended up going home with Scott’s friend Neil after buying some speed from them, leaving Angela to get a taxi home alone. That hadn’t lasted though, Neil never called her back and Steph gave up, having been given a couple of brush-offs after bumping into him again around the bars.

Maybe it was fear of rejection that had put Angela off from pursuing Scott. Anthony’s advances had captured her attentions ahead of a group of more popular boys back in school, and the handful of first dates she’d bothered to turn up for since then had always come about from her alcohol weakened defences being lowered enough that she’d eventually say yes to a come-on in a bar or club. Whatever trepidation she had previously felt though, she’d managed to cast aside when she saw Scott in her dad’s flat that afternoon. She’d masked her nervousness well and now was going out on a date with him, well for a drink or two which pretty much seemed like a date.

She arrived at Jam just after seven-thirty the next night. An uneasy restlessness had descended upon her during the afternoon and despite trying to engross herself in other activities it had refused to lift. Best to just get there early and have a drink to calm her nerves, she thought. Maybe a guy at the bar would hit on her while she waited. Turning away offers of a drink might bring back some sense of control and make her feel less uneasy and skittish.

Angela took a seat at the bar and ordered a Bacardi and coke with a slice of lemon and lit a cigarette while waiting for the barman to pour it. She paid for her drink, flicked her cigarette against an ashtray and surveyed the bar. There was no sign of Scott yet but it was still early. Angela glanced around to see if any unattached males would try and make eye contact because she was sitting alone at the bar, but everyone seemed preoccupied and she went unnoticed. Angela took her time sipping the drink, but before she realised it she was ordering her third and the clock above the bar read twenty past eight. Still there was no sign of Scott. She replayed their conversation in her head, looking for any possible misunderstanding, but it seemed pretty straightforward. They hadn’t exchanged numbers so there was no way to find out if Scott had just been delayed.

By the time she’d finished her fourth drink, Angela decided Scott wasn’t coming. She had a burning feeling in the pit of her stomach but didn’t know if it was from the rum she’d drunk or the disappointment and shame of being stood up.

Angela smiled at the barman as she got up to leave and he smiled back, somewhat sympathetically she thought. As she climbed the stairs on the way out, Angela’s earlier nervousness combined with the alcohol formed a cocktail of determination that the night wouldn’t be a complete loss. She’d gone shopping especially for the low cut blue and white speckled dress she had on that clung tightly to her in all the right places. Right now she needed some attention from the opposite sex to boost her failing self-esteem.

She walked for a while through the city streets without any particular destination in mind. Groups of men and women, couples, mingling, drifting in and out of bars. Angela kept walking.

After wandering for around twenty minutes she stopped outside a bar called Steam. Unlike the more popular venues that she’d passed by on the way, there was no queue outside here. She stepped into the gloomy interior. A familiar dance track was being played by a deejay stationed at the bottom end of the bar, but judging by the clientele dotted around the place, it was more of a distraction than entertainment to them. Angela stepped up to the bar and ordered vodka and lemonade. Outdated neon strip lighting illuminated behind the bar. Elsewhere that may have been an attempt to create a retro feel, but judging from the rest of the fixtures and fittings, it had probably been there since being fashionable years before.

Angela leaned back against the bar with the cold glass of vodka in her hand and took a sip. A man in a pink polo shirt fixed her with an eager stare, detached himself from his group of friends and walked over.

‘I buy you a drink?’ he asked her, grinning. He leant in too close, the concentration of alcohol on his breath smelt almost combustible.

Angela kept staring ahead and pointed at her glass indicating that she already had one. The man took this as a sign that she wanted another and flagged down a barman.

‘There you go,’ he said proudly displaying the drink he had bought, and when eventually she made no move to take it from him, put it down on the bar beside her. ‘Cheers.’

‘Are you waiting for someone?’ he asked, confidence unscathed despite her lack of interest so far.

‘No,’ she said, turning to look at him for the first time. She had often used her unwavering stare as a weapon to disarm even the most confident of advances in the past, but this guy was too drunk to be deterred and didn’t back down an inch. The whole thing now seemed like a really bad idea, she began to wish after Scott hadn’t shown up she had just gone straight home.

Angela looked around the bar again in vain for someone who might save her from this dull, intoxicated conversation but the social groups around the room were already formed and she could see no opening. The current song playing faded out as another mixed in but the deejay messed up the transition and one of the records skipped causing a few heads to turn in his direction.

Despite her predicament Angela found herself giggling and pushed past pink polo shirt and made her way toward the deejay box at the bottom of the bar.

‘Sounds like your night is going about as well as mine,’ she said, smiling at the deejay as she approached.

‘I’m just filling in for someone,’ he said. ‘not used to the equipment.’ His attention switched back onto the mixing deck, but his eyes surfaced again a few seconds later to take a more detailed look at her. Angela nodded to spare his blushes and took a sip from her glass.

‘Aren’t you a little well dressed to be in here?’ he asked, after a few minutes had passed and she still stood watching him.

‘I was just passing and thought I’d stop in for a drink before I head home. It’s my first time here. You aren’t the regular deejay then?’

He shook his head, one ear pressed against an oversized pair of headphones.

‘Favour for a friend,’ he added.

The crisp white shirt and well tailored black pants told Angela that she wasn’t the only one who was overdressed for the particular venue, and perhaps inclined her to believe his story.

‘So you’re off home after your drink then?’ he asked, once the next track had begun to play.

Angela watched him for a few seconds and then shrugged. ‘I guess, depends if I get a better offer.’

‘I have a club gig to do a little later but I’d be happy to go for a drink with you before that.’

She nodded, her earlier lack of confidence now forgotten and memories of being stood up began to fade.

‘By the way,’ he said holding out a hand, ‘I’m Jack.’

Angela slept with Jack on that first night. He was charming and she’d been drinking but that was a situation she’d been in many times before and never gone home with the guy. She’d waited around while he finished his shift, sipping on a further two complementary drinks he’d had brought across to her from the bar before they went on to his next gig at a nearby club.

She enjoyed the VIP treatment she’d received there, no queues, no paying for drinks, everyone was polite and courteous to her. He didn’t seem to notice the extremes the staff went to so Angela assumed it must be part of his everyday life.

She hung out beside the deejay booth nursing more free drinks while he performed the set, watching the steady flow of attractive women who would saunter over to talk to him. They’d lean suggestively over the rail, and a few times a scrap of paper with presumably a phone number on would flutter down and land beside the equipment before they left. Jack talked politely with them without being flirtatious, but his indifference to their advances seemed only to fuel their attraction. His more intimate attention was saved for Angela, and she was impressed.

They left the club after closing time when the crowds outside had mostly dispersed. Angela hugged her arms around herself against the chill night air. Jack took off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders. Around the corner was parked his blue BMW, she noticed the shade exactly matched the blue in her dress as she slid down into the cool leather seat. He drove for a while without talking much and she never asked their destination. She’d already decided how the night was going to end.

* * *

The next morning Scott woke up and felt like his tongue had been velcroed to the roof of his mouth and he had porcupine quills embedded inside his skull.

Squinting against the harsh morning glare coming through the bedroom window, he realised that at some point last night the curtain rail had been pulled off the wall, which was now the reason for the inappropriately bright bedroom.

His thoughts ran like a chased rabbit as he tried to piece together the fragments of memory from the previous night. Firstly, he was clothed so that was probably good. Gingerly turning over he recognised Angela’s shoes on the other pillow, and presumed it was her feet still inside of them. So she’d stayed over but was also clothed, which was a relief. Apart from the promise he’d made to her dad, Scott felt that with all the other complications he had in his life right now, a serious relationship would only end badly, even if it was with Angela.

Shaking her gently by the ankle resulted in a groan from the bottom of the bed, followed by a clunk as an empty wine bottle rolled out from under the quilt and fell to the floor.

Scott eased out of the bed avoiding another empty wine bottle, an overflowing ashtray and a generous scattering of empty beer cans. The ground seemed to lurch toward and then away from him as he tried to maintain balance; like standing in a small boat on uneven waters. Angela’s face poked out from underneath the quilt, and he could see his unease of footing was at least providing a source of amusement for her.

‘Coffee,’ Scott mumbled as he tentatively made his way towards the kitchen, the rustling of bedclothes behind him indicating that Angela had probably decided to follow.

The mess in the bedroom had apparently just been a warm-up act for the carnival of disarray that lay within the confines of the kitchen. Every surface and the majority of the floor were decorated by empty bottles and cans of various sizes and colours. Pieces of broken glass also adorned the scene like sprinkles on cake. Scott guessed they must be from drinking glasses after checking to make sure all the windows were intact. The room was freezing as the back door stood wide open. Scott wondered if the three visible sleeping occupants in the room had caught pneumonia during the night.

Stepping over the debris as best he could, Scott made his way to the kettle and filled it up at the tap. Hearing the clatter of dispersed cans on the bench, Boris came trotting back in from outside, seemingly quite happy at the new open door policy allowing him the freedom to come and go at will. Seeing the dog and broken glass in close proximity, Angela quickly began to scoop up all she could find into an empty cardboard box that had previously been used to carry in some of last night’s liquor supply.

He took a bottle of aspirin out of the cupboard next to the kettle and fetched that and the two coffees to the bench outside and shook out a couple of tablets for each of them.

‘Here,’ he said, handing a cup and aspirin to Angela as she sat down. ‘It’s strong and sweet.’

Angela put the cup on the floor, flipped open her mobile phone and turned it back on to check messages, as she took a drag from a freshly lit cigarette held between shaky fingers.

‘Three missed calls from Steph late last night. I texted to tell her about the party when she didn’t show up at work, I wonder why she didn’t just come by.

Scott shook his head and lit a cigarette.

‘I’ll call her back later, once I’m more together.’

‘I’m gonna go see Twinkle today. Find out what he was talking about.’

‘Really? Is that such a good idea, Scott?’

‘I’ll just hear him out, that’s all.’

By midday the rest of the stragglers had left and Scott had cleared away the remaining party litter from around the house. Angela had showered, and then left in the last car load into the city driven by Neil, who was still sullen after discovering Gemma had left with someone else by the time he’d made the trip back from the ATM last night. Angela had a shift that afternoon, although Scott didn’t know how the hell she’d manage that after the night they’d had.

They hadn’t counted up their profits, but the thick roll Neil had handed to him before leaving indicated that it would be good. Breakages had been minimal, mostly glasses and cups, nothing expensive. Not that Scott had much in the way of valuables anyway, but he was glad the windows and especially the TV had made it through the night without incident and his uncle’s various ornaments seemed to have been left unscathed as well.

Turning his phone back on there was a message from Jack: ‘Hey Scott, we haven’t caught up for a while. If you’re in town today then call in and see me, we need to talk.’

Scott deleted the message. It was pretty rare to hear from Jack, so he wondered if there was anything wrong. He could drop by the bar and see Angela as well he supposed, Jack’s apartment was only a ten minute walk from there, and then there was Twinkle as well. He hadn’t known he was going to go and meet him until he heard himself say it to Angela. Apparently his subconscious had been mulling over the dilemma while he had gotten wasted. Three coffees and a sobering shower later, he hadn’t changed his mind so he grabbed his iPod and phone and headed out for the bus.

Avoiding the busiest shopping streets, Scott made his way to his brother’s apartment block. The sky had begun to cloud over and looked like it would rain soon, which only seemed to fuel the afternoon shopping frenzy. Jack’s penthouse was in an exclusive block positioned in the heart of Garden Heights. He’d moved there just before Scott turned eighteen, although the year before the brothers had rarely run into each other despite still living under the same roof.

Jack had always been a driven personality but seemed to throw himself even more completely into his work following their uncle’s death. No matter how busy he always seemed to find time to take on new ventures. Scott was glad that his brother was doing well and he enjoyed his own company, so didn’t much mind the long hours spent alone at the house.

Jack’s career in the design business had begun when Scott was still at school. He got a job working for a moderately sized company designing posters and flyers for various outlets mainly in the entertainment business. Being a stickler for attention to detail, Jack would often follow up his design jobs by going to visit the various venues where his work was on display to see the impact it had on creating new custom. This earned a level of respect from the bar and club managers. Realising the commitment Jack had for his work they would start to request him specifically when placing new orders. Moving in these circles and making friends, Jack started to learn the business from the inside. During an infrequent conversation with his brother, he had voiced his desire to own a string of bars and clubs himself one day. With a small amount of money he’d managed to save up Jack formed his own company, Zebra design, and took a number of clients with him. He already deejayed at club nights around the city and a while after began to host regular weekend spots on local radio. His different enterprises went hand in hand and furthered the popularity of each other, enabling Jack to buy the penthouse shortly after. Scott had been taught the ropes of designing some of the more basic artwork from his brother and had earned a modest but steady income from Zebra design ever since.

He recognised the concierge on duty as Eddie. Eddie was mid-thirties, had short brown hair, was close shaven to the point that it looked to irritate his skin and wore the standard blue uniform and cap. They’d chatted a couple of times previously when Scott had visited. Eddie let him go straight up while he buzzed ahead to announce his imminent arrival. Scott crossed the polished marble floor of the foyer in the direction of the bank of lifts. He moved his hand over the sensor to summon one just as the doors to his left sprang open. As he turned to enter, a young woman in a sharp grey suit, carrying an attaché case, stepped off and walked past him before Scott recognised that it was Stephanie.

‘Hey Steph, small world,’ he called after her. ‘Are you here on business or pleasure?’

Stephanie stopped and turned to face him.

‘Hello Scott,’ she said, with a minor reshaping of her lips that could perhaps be interpreted as a smile. ‘Either there’s only room for business these days or the two have become one and the same. Sometimes it’s hard to remember.’

‘Angela was expecting to see you out last night.’

‘I had hoped to get away but then there was someone I had to see unexpectedly,’ she said, and briefly looked genuinely sorry.

‘I didn’t realise you knew Jack.’

‘I’ve been personal assistant to the manager at Aura’s for the last few months, so our paths have crossed, yes.’

‘You look a lot different to Angela’s friend with the braided hair I used to see out clubbing at Blitz years back,’ he said grinning.

‘Yes, well the braids don’t really go with the suit,’ she said stiffly. ‘Nice to see you again Scott, but I have to be going.’ He watched as she cut across the foyer towards the revolving door, the tock-tock-tock from her departing heels echoing around the marble foyer like the inside a giant clock. Eddie seemed to recognise her and tipped his cap as she passed by, making Scott wonder if she was a regular visitor to the building.

Slightly surprised by her presence, but more so by her sharp attitude in their exchange, he turned back and entered the lift. Scott pressed for the top floor and made the smooth ascent in silence, trying not to look directly at the polished chrome in the elevator that reflected the high intensity lighting as brightly as the inside of a jewellers window. His eyes still felt overly sensitive following the previous night of excessive consumption.

The lift doors opened out onto a wide carpeted hallway that seemed to glow from recessed lighting hidden away in the ceiling. Taking in a deep breath of the alpine scented, warmly conditioned air, Scott walked around to the door of his brother’s penthouse apartment; one of eight on the uppermost floor of the Walker building. The name had always struck Scott as fairly ironic, the Walker building. No doubt named after the architect who designed the structure or whoever financed it. Placement of the 30-storey smoked glass and chrome monolithic structure was so central in Garden Heights, that any desirable location could be arrived at in no time on foot, but any resident who could afford to live within those exclusive walls would certainly never be seen to arrive in such a fashion. Jack himself drove a black, convertible Lexus that spent the majority of its life swapping one security patrolled underground car park in the city for another. At least that’s what he drove the last time Scott saw him. Cars were replaced almost as frequently as girlfriends, so by now both of those positions had probably been refilled.

Arriving at the front door Scott found it had been left ajar, no doubt in expectation of his arrival. He entered and as there was no sign of Jack in the open plan living area, he walked across the polished, French oak floor (so he’d been informed by one of Jack’s previous girlfriends) to look into the kitchen, but glancing across the balcony he saw his brother outside taking a phone call. Judging by his animated body language and stern expression, Scott decided not to interrupt and instead took a seat on one of four white sofas arranged around a spotless square black glass table in the centre of the room. He resisted the urge to put his feet up on the table and light a cigarette.

A few minutes later the sliding glass door whispered as Jack eased it open and came in from the balcony.

‘Hey Scott,’ he said, his deadpan expression giving no clue as to the intention of their meeting, and walked over to a decanter on a small granite table by the far wall. ‘You want one of these?’

‘Yeah thanks I will,’ Scott replied, and Jack poured a few fingers into each of their glasses. Swallowing a mouthful from one, he topped it up again and brought the glasses over and put them down on the table Scott had avoided putting his feet up on. Jack settled into the sofa opposite with a sigh and again reached for his glass.

‘So how are things with you, little brother?’ Jack asked, this time taking only a sip from his glass. Not being much of a whiskey drinker, Scott also took a drink and resisted the urge to wince as the golden liquid slid down his throat leaving behind a trail of fire. His brother would no doubt take offence as this was bound to be some impeccable vintage single malt, so Scott faked an expression of impressed surprise, which appeared to please Jack, before answering.

‘Pretty much the same as ever, really. Same shit, different day,’ Scott said with a grin. ‘I heard you on the radio last week, good show.’

‘Thanks. The shows are being syndicated now so they’ll go out to most of the country.’

‘Your celebrity status being etched into the minds of the listening public far and wide,’ Scott quipped, but his attempt at humour washed over Jack leaving no trace of an impression.

‘Listen Scott,’ Jack said leaning forward, ‘there was an incident in the club last night.’

Scott guessed from the look on his brother’s face that this was going to be something to do with the reason he’d wanted to see him today.

‘OK, well it was a Friday night, I expect that’s not so unusual. So what happened?’

‘A guy was shot in the club,’ his brother said, ‘so yeah it was pretty unusual. Maybe that sort of thing happens at those seedy fucking rock bars you hang out at, but not where I work, Scott,’ he said, putting his glass back down hard enough for some of its contents to slop over onto the pristine table.

‘OK Jack, calm down, I get it’s a big deal but what’s this got to do with me?’

‘Your friend was in, with that Dominic thug.’

‘Who, you mean Twinkle?’


‘That hardly means anything, there were probably three thousand other people there too. Why is Twinkle being there a problem?’

‘The shooting happened in an area just out of the cover of the closed circuit cameras,’ he said and paused, holding Scott’s gaze looking for a reaction.

‘I still don’t get it, Jack. What are you trying to tell me, or ask me or whatever it is you’re doing?’

‘Everyone goes through the archway, you know the metal detector, coming into the club so there’s no way to get a gun in undetected.’

‘Right yeah, it’s the same pretty much everywhere these days, so?’

‘So someone got one in and managed to use it to good effect avoiding cover of the cameras. There’s no way that could be done without help from at least one person from the club, presumably the door staff. It’s no secret that Dominic is at close quarters with Paul McBlane, and has been known to get his hands dirty when it’s needed. The door staff at Aura and half of the other bars and clubs in the city are employed through McBlane’s security company, and nothing ever happens on one of his patches without serious consequences.’

‘So you’re saying it couldn’t have had anything to do with Twink and Dominic?’

‘No, I’m saying it very much looks like they were involved, and with McBlane’s blessing.’

‘But why would he be involved if it’s gonna make his security company seem inept? No-one would want to use them if that’s the case.’

‘Some of Garden Heights more high profile venues have been sold on to outside investors recently, and the rumoured amounts involved are a long way short of what you’d expect. No names have been mentioned as the investors buying in are doing it through offshore holding companies. McBlane’s made no secret in the past of wanting to be more involved in the business than just minding the door while the owners get rich.’

Scott thought he could now see where his brother was going with this but kept quiet and allowed him to continue. Jack finished the contents of his glass and sat back on the sofa, exhaling heavily through his nose.

‘The guy who was shot last night was the owner’s brother, Scott. The circumstances surrounding the attack and the target can’t have been a coincidence. I know what you get up to, and I know you’re pretty close with that Twinkle guy, so I want to know if you knew anything about it.’

‘No, I still have my doubts that Twink would get mixed up in something like this, even if it is true,’ Scott said, although he didn’t know how much of the statement he believed himself. With the wrong company, and the right drugs, Scott had no idea how far Twinkle could be manipulated. Maybe he had been right to worry last night when he’d seen Twinkle and Dominic out drinking together. ‘Whether I’m right about this or not, you’d do well to distance yourself from these people. There can be no happy ending for someone like you in all of this.’

‘Alright Jack, I appreciate the heads up, but really, don’t worry about me. I’ll check with Twinkle next time I see him but I doubt he’d be that stupid,’ Scott said, and drank the remaining whiskey from his glass, this time making no effort to mask his distaste. ‘I have to go,’ he said, standing.

Jack got up too, still holding Scott’s gaze. This time it didn’t look like suspicion in his brother’s eyes, but Scott couldn’t tell what it was.

‘What I’ve told you here goes no further, Scott. Understand? If I’m even half right about this then the information alone is dangerous. I just told you my suspicions to persuade you to back off.’

Walking towards the lift, Scott pulled out his phone and started to text Neil. He wouldn’t say any of this over a phone call or a text, but he made it clear he needed to see his friend at home before they went back into the city that night.

Moving through the revolving doors from the warm interior of the lobby into the cold street outside felt like making the transition from summer straight into winter. The temperature seemed to have dropped dramatically during his short visit, but Scott wasn’t sure if it was the weather or the news he’d received that had chilled him the most.

Chapter 5

The sex had been good but unfulfilling. Jack obviously knew what he was doing and was far more experienced than she was but the whole act had seemed pretty methodical to Angela. Very different from the first fumbling encounter when she’d lost her virginity, but equally as unsatisfying.

After Jack had finished they lay in bed and talked for a few minutes before he fell asleep. That’s when he’d made the promise to call her. Angela had expected he would ask her to get dressed and leave, maybe offer her some cab fare that she’d be too proud to take, but he hadn’t.

She lay awake a while listening to the rhythmic rise and fall of his breathing as he fell into a deeper sleep, thinking how different the night had ended up from the one she had nervously envisioned while getting ready to meet up with Scott.

Angela ran her fingertips over the white cotton sheets on Jack’s bed feeling how soft and smooth the material was. She knew there was no chance of her falling asleep here and didn’t think it would be such a good idea even if she could. Jack had begun to snore quietly, his breath exhaling in a soft hiss. She swung her legs slowly out of the bed and began to dress, being careful not to wake him. Angela stepped lightly into her panties and then slid on her dress and shoes and shook out her hair with both hands so it wouldn’t look so obvious that she’d just climbed out of someone’s bed. She picked up her bag then made her way out of the apartment.

Angela hadn’t expected much more than memories from her chance encounter with Jack. She certainly hadn’t expected him to call like he’d promised to, and was surprised when he did.

She hadn’t told Stephanie about her intended meeting with Scott so there’d been no reason to confess that she’d been stood up. Stephanie’s brutal line of questioning after she’d heard that Angela had possibly just had her first one night stand was more than she could handle anyway.

‘What were you doing there in the first place?’ Stephanie asked suspiciously after Angela told her where she’d met Jack.

‘I just decided to go out for a few drinks and ended up there,’ she lied, trying to dampen the flames of Stephanie’s curiosity. Steph had had more than the occasional one night stand over the years, and was more than willing to share all of the details with Angela the next day irrespective of her reluctance to hear them.

Jack took Angela out fairly regularly over the next few weeks. He would call her on nights he wasn’t working and they’d go out to an expensive restaurant; she presumed they were expensive, anyway. No prices were listed on the menu and he always insisted on taking care of the bill. They’d go for a few drinks afterwards and then back to his place, where inevitably they’d end up having sex. After Jack fell asleep Angela would get dressed and leave the apartment. It was the kind of relationship that her friend Stephanie would have killed for. There were no strings, he spoiled her and when they were together she received nothing but first class treatment wherever they went. Jack was attractive and very charming, and there were no uncomfortable silences to fill in their conversations during meals. He had no end of stories to tell and anecdotes to share that never failed to make her laugh, but none of it seemed particularly personal. She never felt that Jack was seeing other women on the nights they weren’t together, and fidelity had never been discussed anyway, so she didn’t really feel like she had a right to bring it up. But she felt the whole scenario could play out exactly the same with any other girl in her position; there was no depth of emotion or bond to really tie them together. On occasion when Angela would mention this, or try to discover a little more about his personal life, family or friends outside of work, Jack would withdraw a little, and the atmosphere between them would noticeably cool.

‘I love spending time with you, Jack,’ she’d said to him one night in a restaurant, as she took hold of his hand, ‘It’s just that you still feel like a stranger to me, and I want you to be so much more.’

She looked away as she said that, afraid by coming on too strong she’d scare him off and be left with nothing, but as she released his hand he leaned forward and took hold of hers again.

‘I really like being with you too. Emotional closeness just isn’t something I’ve had a lot of practice with. After my parents died I tried to bury all of my feelings. The pain of that kind of loss is just so hard to bear it was easier to pretend it didn’t exist. I guess I’ve been locked up pretty tight ever since.’

‘I’m so sorry, Jack,’ She said, meeting his gaze again, ‘I had no idea. I don’t want to cause you any pain, but if that is how you’re feeling then I just want to be there for you and help you through it.’

‘OK,’ he said smiling at her, ‘so how do I start?’

‘Well just talking like this is good,’ she said with a grin. ‘You could tell me about your parents, and your apartment is beautiful but there are no photos or anything personal to make it feel like a home. Maybe it just needs a woman’s touch.’

After the restaurant they drove back to Jack’s apartment and spent most of the night on the couch talking and sipping wine, before eventually heading to bed as the first fingers of dawn began to reach around and take hold on the city that lay below them. That was the first night that Angela slept in Jack’s bed.

They awoke around lunchtime having slept for only a few hours. She showered while Jack cooked them both some eggs. The conversation while they ate was light, he even seemed a little coy at times, but smiled a lot.

They travelled down to the foyer together where she kissed him goodbye as he set off for work. Angela went and bought a coffee nearby and sat alone with her thoughts as the city geared up for another day. Afterwards she wandered and, without even realising she was going to do it, ended up at a tattoo parlour where she had her earlobe pierced for a second time, and a small silver hoop slipped through it.

* * *

A clutch of huddled figures stood around at the bar in The Highlander waiting to be served, but the majority of Christmas refugees were gathered around the tables. Scott claimed a vacant bar stool in Angela’s area and waited for her to finish serving the others.

‘Always nice to see a smiling face at the bar,’ Angela said sarcastically, as Scott sat down and began to knead his temples with the tips of his fingers.

‘Glad you appreciate the effort,’ he replied back with a dismissive smile.

‘I didn’t think you’d make it down today with the weather being so nice outside and bearing in mind what you put a