Chapter One PREVIEW
Brady knew the girl was the one the moment he saw her walk into the bar. Precisely the kind of girl he would enjoy hurting, enjoy terrifying. She was blonde and pretty in such an ordinary-looking way. Something about how she wore her clothes told him that she was wearing one of her best outfits, that she’d made an effort to come to a place as tedious, as everyday, as this. She was looking for something special to happen. And Brady would ensure that it would, would guarantee it personally.
He took another sip from his glass. Maria and Annabel were both drinking what passed for margaritas in a provincial town. Brady was sticking to unsullied mineral water, discarding the shabby slither of lime that came with the new glass every time they re-ordered their round.
Maria wasn’t so sure and neither was Annabel.
"She’s got a boyfriend with her, Brady," Maria objected.
"We don’t want complications."
Brady sneered pleasantly.
"She’s got a drunk with her, Maria," he replied, "the way he’s sinking back the beers. Probably dropped something as well – or will before the night’s out. The boyfriend isn’t a problem, believe me."
They stopped arguing with him after that. It was his show after all – it was always his show and he hadn’t messed up yet.
Two margaritas later, Annabel announced that she was getting bored, that at this rate she’d end up pulling some local or other, end up screwing him in the toilets, just to stop from nodding off. Brady sneered again. Once you’d selected your target, he reminded her, it was all about watching and waiting for your opportunity. Then it was all about grabbing it.
Casper hadn’t risked taking the stolen any further into town than Mill Street, never drove inside the CCTV circuit unless he had to. He’d parked it up not far from the bail hostel, scraping the tyres on the kerb as he did so. The stolen in question was an old-style Beetle but re-sprayed and customised: a nicely polished engine, everything inside gleaming – and dayglo decals all over the shop, even a Greenpeace sticker in the rear window. Some wanky student’s shagging wagon without a doubt. All paid for by Daddy most probably.
"This is it, girl, we cab it from here," he said, clambering out, pushing the driver’s door wide, regardless of the passing traffic.
Tracey shot him a sulky look but complied. She stepped out on the passenger side, banged the door shut. There had been an anti-theft device fitted to the steering wheel. The old–fashioned bar type that was supposed to make the vehicle impossible to steer. Except that it had been kitted out with an even older-fashioned lock that a half-blind granny could have picked in her sleep. Casper had brought it out of the Beetle with him. As soon as they were clear of the scene by a good ten yards or so, he lobbed it casually behind him, shattered the fucker’s windscreen right the way across. Now anybody who could be arsed to could help themselves to the cd player or anything else inside that took their fancy. Stuff ’em, he thought, tossers who drove cars like that. Tossers who lived like that. Deserved all they had coming to them.
They nipped in to the Bricklayer’s Arms and Casper told Tracey to call up a cab on her mobile. In the end, of course, she had to let three cabs come and go while Casper got embroiled in a complicated sequence of pool games – and lost every single one. It was pushing ten thirty by the time the fourth cab whisked them towards the town centre and dropped them off outside Club Zoo on Holt’s Way. Casper hated the place. Straight city – and poncy with it. He’d only gone along with the idea to keep her off his case, mollify her a little. He was still uneasy about yesterday, still hedging his bets about whether he’d finally been caught out or not. He paid the driver with a tenner, acting flash, giving a tip bigger than the fare. There was a female bouncer on the door doing the weapons search. A complete and utter fucking joke to Casper’s way of thinking - although, to be fair, there were two proper gorillas just behind her, standing next to the ticket booth. One of them was idling, adjusting his shirt cuffs. The other one was posing, poncing it loudly into the mouthpiece clamped to the side of his chubby, fatboy head. The Zoo comprised the dance floor room itself plus a big, neony bar and a couple of smaller chill-out rooms. This early in the evening, only the bar had any real life in it. Casper got another lager in for himself and a Red Bull with vodka for Tracey. That’s right, mate, make it a double.
Tracey found a table, sat down and lit a Lambert & Butler while she waited. It was just as well the lying toad was flush, she thought, otherwise she’d have chucked him last night. He could deny it all he liked but she knew where he’d really been yesterday afternoon when he’d claimed he’d been off the estate, working cash-in-hand. Something came up at the last minute, girl. The lying, two-faced toad. Something had come up all right. Tracey’s mother had seem him herself – and he’d seen Tracey’s mother seeing him. Half past three, according to her mum: Casper emerging from a front door in Shelley Court. And not just any front door. Of course not. Casper emerging from Number 29 to be precise. Her place: Dirty Laura’s – the same old cow he always went back to in the end, as if he just wasn’t capable of keeping away, as if she’d had a homing device fitted to the end of his big, stupid cock. He’d tried to laugh his way out of it of course, had said her mum must’ve been mistaken. But her mum was in no need of a pair of glasses yet and Tracey had never known her to lie to her about anything important. She took a deep puff, clocked him heading back over with the drinks. Dirty Laura was welcome to him really. Good flaming riddance. But Tracey wanted to enjoy the weekend first, to be out and about in town, not cooped up on the Woodlands in front of her tele, trying not to listen to her mother having disgusting parent-sex in the very next, too thinly-walled room.
She lit him a cigarette as well when he sat down, sipped at her drink, only half-listening to his usual bollocks: scores that had gone well, bigger scores that might be possible, the bright, shiny future he had planned for both of them. Tracey had plans too – or one plan anyway, scheduled for immediate implementation: let Casper spend his cash until maybe midnight, say, and then dump him for a better offer.
"I told you I ain’t seen her," Casper tried again, "whatever your old dear says, it ain’t true."
Tracey didn’t bother to answer. Let him read her non-response anyway he liked. Most probably, six beers in, he’d think she was getting over it, letting him away with it even – it wouldn’t be the first time after all. But Tracey’s mind had moved on. She was watching a guy in the far corner. Fit. Spelled F-I-T. His hair cut a bit like the singer in Coldplay. Too bad he wasn’t on his own. Although there were two girls with him not just one. So maybe neither had their claws all the way in. Both of them were hanging on his every word though. He’d say something and they’d both laugh. You couldn’t hear any of it from over here – but you could still see it, still follow the body language. All three of them were well-dressed of course. It was only the smart crowd you got in here. Which had been the point of coming really: ditch waste-of-space Casper and walk out with something decent. And she didn’t just mean to look at. Casper was good to look at – and look where that had got her. What she wanted now, she’d decided, was some upmarket bloke with a non-stolen car and non-stolen credit cards. Well why not? Just because she’d grown up on the Woodlands didn’t mean she had to live there forever. She was only eighteen, her entire life didn’t have to be a flaming life sentence.
They drank on. And the place filled up, turned noisy, busy. She took to glancing over that way every now and again, whenever she was sure Casper wouldn’t notice. But quickly, casually, just in case he did. They were still there each time. Still just the three of them. And she knew the guy had seen her, spotted her, knew he was smiling at her each time she looked. Just knew it.
© Iain McDowall, 2007. All rights reserved.