I was collateral damage according to Reggie, who was not well pleased to see his bar peppered with shotgun pellets and a dead body leaking blood into the carpet. Nor that he had to clear up the mess after Joe Silver had been dispatched to the mortuary, and take my shift while I had shrapnel removed from my arm at the hospital.
‘Look at it another way,’ I said, ‘you’ll be on Crime Watch. Ghouls will be flocking here.’
Reggie coughed and gave me a look to show it wasn’t my arm that needed treatment. ‘That’s our regulars you’re talking about, Christopher.’ He gave my sling a once-over as if my brain had been transplanted. ‘And with Old Bill stomping all over my territory seeking witnesses--’ he waved his arms around an empty bar, ‘they’ve migrated to greener pastures.’
Reggie had a nice turn of phrase that belied his lack of formal education. A wiry pasty-faced kid who had I love mum tattooed on his arm, and who smoked a pack of fags a day, had evolved into a wiry pasty-faced trader who still had the faded tattoo and who still smoked a pack a day — until DCI Richard-head had pointed out in a polite way that smoking in pubs was against the law. Especially when it was a crime scene.
But I owed Reggie one. Maybe more. A box-room upstairs big enough to swing a rat and living expenses — cash-in-hand — when the bank dumped me in the gutter with no mates to fall back on. I’d do a few shifts a week, draw my dole like every other miscreant round here and, if I was lucky, get paid by the likes of Joe Silver. That reminded me.
‘Where’s my money?’ I said. ‘Donated to the police widows and orphans fund?’
‘And that’s another matter I want to discuss with you, Christopher. After you and Joe Silver had finished wrecking my joint, your bar tab would pay for the next space-shuttle launch.’
‘That high, eh?’ I said.
‘Just so you know where you stand when my latest magic trick is performed.’ Reggie delved inside his jacket and pulled out a rabbit that looked a lot like Joe Silver’s bundle of notes. ‘Seems like I disturbed the fucker, and when he saw my baseball bat hurtling in the air towards him he did an exit stage left. I told you to bloody well lock the bog door, that’s where he scarpered out.’
‘Why am I still alive?’
‘I have a theory.’
Reggie nodded. ‘Because you didn’t see him.’
‘But that doesn’t mean he won’t come back. I’ve seen the look in your eyes, Christopher. Joe Silver’s not worth dying for.’
I looked away, leant against the bar, and my free hand picked up my glass. I took a long draught and said goodbye to the late Mr. Silver. His problem, not mine. I put the glass back on its mat and swivelled round on my seat. ‘Reggie, I’d already turned down Joe. I didn’t want to get involved and I still don’t.’
Reggie nodded. ‘Okay, subject closed. Now, a monkey should cover the costs.’
Five hundred quid.
‘That still leaves best part of a grand.’ He slid the bundle towards me. ‘Take it. You need it more than me.’
‘I don’t think...’
‘That’s your trouble, Christopher. Too many highfaluting morals that no one gives a damn about. Anyway you’ve given me an idea. That’s worth something.’ He raised his hand. ‘Don’t interrupt, I’ve got my thinking cap on.’
I relaxed, let him take centre stage.
Reggie grinned. ‘You think there’s money to be made? Maybe if I leave some shrapnel embedded in the bar and fix a plaque or something, and register a bona-fide ghost roaming about at the tourist information office, I’ll be set up for the rest of my natural?’
I laughed. He laughed, and we had another drink. On the house. We had no customers, no clicking balls, but that day was very special.
Alone in my bed at night I was left with a nagging thought that wouldn’t surface...
...I had slept in. The pain killing drugs had knocked me out and Reggie had ordered me to get some shuteye. He told me he’d close up.
He’d close up.
It was the bog door again. I’d been last in for a slash the night before and I suppose Reggie had thought I’d bolted it. Maybe he had even shouted to me, but I hadn’t heard, my ears weren’t registering much more than an alcoholic and a drug induced buzz. So when I came downstairs with a clearer head to clean out the bog, I noticed the door was on its latch.
I peered outside into the morning gloom, but no Reggie dumping the garbage, no Reggie bringing in the milk cartons, no Reggie.
Until I walked through to what was elegantly described as the boozer’s bar, and tripped over him.
What the f...? I recovered my balance and stared, my hand moving slowly to my mouth. I was too late. Last night’s excesses billowed out of my stomach and onto the freshly cleaned carpet. I dropped to my knees, tears welling in my eyes.
Reggie’s throat wore a red-lined necklace, and under it was a red-stained knife protruding from his Adam’s apple, not unlike the one we used to prepare ham sandwiches. His open but lifeless eyes stared at me as if challenging me to remember something. Something he said?
And then it did.
Because you didn’t see him.
But Reggie did. Or maybe not, but it made no difference.
I was going to catch the son of a bitch who had taken the one man who had looked out for me in my time of need. Now it was my turn.
I owed it to Reggie...