Ride Across the River
I heard her start to cry as soon as the door closed behind me. It didn’t make me feel any better. Maybe I didn’t know what all this was doing to her? What I did know was that whilst I was waiting in the middle of Tiger Bay for Eddie, Mary-Anne was crying behind the closed door. Nevertheless, she had to understand that this was the only way for me, I knew nothing else now. And so here I was, still waiting in the middle of Tiger Bay, trying to justify to myself why I chose this life. But then I don’t remember ever having a choice. Either way, I had a job to do; as soon as Eddie arrived I could go and do it.
The breeze blew gently around Mount Stuart Square. As the evening went on it would not be so gentle, of that I was sure. Within moments I could see the headlights approaching. It was Eddie, his bulked frame pulled the car up to the kerb. I knew it was his car because he still hadn’t had the cracked bumper fixed. I was met with the smell of tobacco as I opened the door. Eddie was a fervent chain smoker. The passenger foot-well was crammed with old newspapers and empty water bottles. He wasn’t the most wholesome of people when it came to motor-cleanliness. A few seconds after I got in we were away across the River. I could rely on Eddie; he knew when to keep his mouth shut, and he knew the importance of discretion. Despite being a man of few words he began to speak, ‘Nice night for it.’
I managed a grin but there was nothing funny about what could happen tonight.
‘Just drive Eddie…and put that cigarette out.’
He took a suck on his Menthol and took pleasure in filling the car with smoke. He always did have a sense of humour. I turned my mobile phone off as we got to the slip road in Cardiff Bay, and then headed up the Link road towards the M4 motorway. The lights of Leckwith gently sparkled to our right as we headed out of town.
Eddie stepped up the speed whilst I thought of Mary-Anne back there behind the door. I thought of her torturing herself in my absence, but I had to focus now. Having Eddie with me always reassured me. I had always been a loner until one night in London when it all came on top. I was lucky to get out of that one alive. Ever since then I have always had someone with me, someone reliable. Eddie spoke once more, it seemed there was no shutting him up tonight!
‘Mind if I put the radio on?’
‘Yeah, but nothing too heavy, ok?’ I replied.
‘You’re the boss’, he grunted.
I turned to face him. As I did so he started fiddling with the radio dial.
‘Eddie,...don’t take this personally…but fuck off.’
He chuckled as I sighed slowly, I needed this to be over, I could feel sweat breaking on my brow. It would all be ok though, once I got it over with. We travelled east down the M4 towards Newport, and on through the Brynglas tunnels towards the Severn Bridge. Spots of rain now started to appear on the windscreen, Eddie’s wipers removing them intermittently. The night grew darker, and within an hour we were driving along the Avon Gorge underneath the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
The lights of Bristol lit up the sparsely populated streets. It was now after midnight, and Taxi’s prowled the streets with the flotsam and jetsam of the city’s nightlife. We headed towards the St Pauls district. As we did so I pulled a piece of paper out of my pocket and scanned the address on it. I wondered if the person at the address knew I was coming? I wondered if they had any idea at all? And then I figured that they may well know I was coming, but they wouldn’t know when to expect me. Eddie pulled the car up at the end of the street which led to our destination. He turned the engine off and lit another cigarette. I looked at his hands shaking as he flicked the lighter.
‘May I?’ I uttered.
Eddie handed me the packet, I took one out and lit it. Eddie knew I needed a smoke before jobs like this one, I was what people called a ‘social smoker’, but there was nothing social about tonight, quite the opposite. I gathered my thoughts and put them all into a little drawer at the back of my head. I caught Eddie’s stare in my peripheral vision, ‘You sure about this?’ he asked.
‘Of course I am.’
‘And you got everything you need?’ he enquired. I nodded back at him. We both got out of the car. A stray dog stopped at my feet as I closed the door behind me, the Mutt sized me up for a second, and then decided to piss on Eddie’s hubcaps. Eddie wasn’t best pleased, ‘Fuck off you mangy bastard!’
I’d never seen such a look of nonchalance on an animal’s face before. We walked down the street towards the venue, and there it was, a small seedy looking nightclub called ‘The Pelican’. I guessed it was a popular haunt for local lowlife. Some of the lights above the Club’s sign were out, and the sign itself had seen better days. There were rusty old metal grills covering what windows there were. We got to the door only to be met by a large man with a black overcoat on. He had an earpiece in his left ear which clearly connected him with more hired muscle inside. I was confident though. These sort of people were bread and butter for Eddie.
The guy looked at us and muttered, ‘Private party tonight Gents, so that means no entry I am afraid.’
Eddie began to stare right through him, I decided to intervene.
‘We’re here to see Vincent’, I countered.
The guy stared back at Eddie, ‘Is Mr Sega expecting you?’
I spoke slowly, ‘You could say that, yes.’
‘Name’, he demanded.
‘Just tell Vincent Mr Korschman says hello.’
The doorman moved indoors for a brief moment. He returned and invited Eddie and I into the nightclub. The décor was tacky, people moved to a soundtrack of Trip-Hop music. They were all here, junkies, drunks, whores, pimps, you name it. Then there were the Suits who controlled it all. Suits occupied by men who peddled their wares to a society consumed with sin and the ultimate high. Be it drugs or women, they trafficked it to punters everywhere. I became consumed with hatred as I looked at them. They made my skin crawl, I knew Eddie felt the same. However much we knew it was big business, we despised every part of it.
We were shown into a back room. The Doorman’s Neanderthal twin brother walked towards us, and began to frisk Eddie. Once satisfied, he went for me. I looked him in the eye before he touched me, raised a hand, and gently pushed him away. A voice behind him spoke,
The gorilla was straight on the back-foot. He looked back over his shoulder. There, sat behind a large desk, was Vincent Sega, the lynchpin of all prostitution, drugs and gambling in the South West. Sega nodded for the Doorman to leave the office. Once the heavy left we could see Sega in all his glory. He slowly puffed on a large cigar and held a large glass of Cognac in his hand. Two henchmen stood either side of him. The walls were adorned with pictures of famous Boxers, some of which had Vincent in them also. He smiled down from each photo, a look of menacing glee in his eyes. He threw the same look at Eddie and I from behind his desk, ‘Gentlemen, please be seated.’
As Eddie and I took a seat Vincent gave out a brief cough and flicked his cigar ash into a large mother of pearl ashtray. There was an expensive looking Humidor next to the ashtray engraved with the letters ‘VS’. I looked hard at Vincent’s face; the wrinkles seemed to continuously run into each other like a convoluted map of life. His moustache and greying hair made it tricky to place an age on him. Still, whatever age he was, I hated him. Vincent took a sip of his drink, ‘I believe Mr Korschman says hello?’
Eddie gave a slight grin as I responded, ‘Indeed he does Vincent.’
Everybody who was anybody knew he hated being called Vincent. I knew he demanded respect from everyone who crossed his path, but he wasn’t getting it from me. I relaxed back in my chair. Vincent coughed again, the cigars obviously agreed with him. He briefly looked at the glass in his hand as he twisted it and then looked back at me. His inquisitiveness got the better of him, ‘I’ve heard about you son. You’re Nicky Bown aren’t you?’
I continued to stare at him, Sega continued,
‘They say you are one of the most respected Collectors in the Business.’
My focus remained unbroken, ‘They say lots of things don’t they Vincent?’ I replied.
‘Look son, let’s stop playing games, what exactly do you want, or more to the point what the fuck does Korschman want!?’
I grinned back at Vincent, ‘He wants money Vincent, or, to be precise, his money. You owe him.’
Vincent laughed, he got up out of his chair and walked to the drinks cabinet in the corner of the room, ‘Can I get you boys a drink?’ he asked.
I could feel Eddie’s tension, but there was no diffusing the situation.
‘Save it Vincent, we aren’t here for a chat about The X Factor or Chelsea’s chances in Europe this year, Mr Korschman wants payment.’
Vincent sat back down in his chair and smiled again, ‘You tell Korschman I owe him fuck all, but I am happy to give you the £5.70 for the bridge toll fee back home!’
I had to grin briefly at that one; the guy had a sense of humour. ‘Everyone gotta pay their taxes Vincent, even you’, I chided.
‘It’s Mr Sega to you sonny’, he growled, ‘now fuck off!’
I turned to Eddie. ‘There has clearly been some misunderstanding Eddie, and it seems we are not welcome. It would also appear that Mr Korschman has made a mistake.’
Vincent flicked his eyes between both of us, his voice began to raise, ‘Too fucking right boy! now you can go back to that sheep infested dump across the water and you tell Mr Korschman he’s got a fucking cheek sending two pricks like you here for money I don’t owe him!’
As those words fell from his mouth his fist smashed into the desktop, his henchmen became agitated. Eddie stare burned into Sega,…and me? I began to grin. Sega continued his rant, ‘You haven’t a fucking clue who you are dealing with! I am Vincent Sega and no one comes here demanding money from ME! No one!’
This was my moment, my chance to right a few wrongs. People like Sega did nothing but inflict misery on people. Now I might have been sat here by proxy, but I needed this for me. Vincent’s face began to redden, his cigar burned away to itself in the ashtray, Sega jumped up from his chair, ‘Now get out!!’
If I held back any longer I was going to explode. I turned to Eddie, ‘You know what Eddie? I was going to suggest we go home, and chat with Mr Korschman about this, and then return here to see Vincent and hopefully bring a conclusion to this issue. However, I am now kind of thinking to myself, fuck wasting the petrol money!’
Before Vincent could blink for the last time I had pulled the gun out from my pocket. Within seconds, three men lay dead on the office floor. Smoke rose from the gun's silencer, and there was a bloody Jackson Pollock style splash across the walls. The smell of cordite coagulated with the burning cigar left in the ashtray. The Humidor also had Sega’s blood on it. I looked across the desk and took pleasure at Vincent’s final expression of shock and horror as he lay on the floor behind it. The bullet hole looked so neat in the middle of his forehead. But it wasn’t enough for me, so I released two more slugs into him, one into each eye. To be honest, my aim had gotten real good over time. And then I felt nothing, nothing at all. I nodded to Eddie, ‘Come on, the fun's over, let’s go’. Eddie yawned indifferently.
We made our way out of the Office and around the edge of the dance floor. Sega’s bully boys were involved in some fracas in the middle of it. We exited the club and walked down the street towards the car. The night air had gotten chillier; however I was enjoying the heat of the warm gun inside my jacket. The stray dog had returned and was stood on the corner next to the car. It was almost as if he was keeping watch on the motor for us. The dog barked at us and then strolled off into the dark. We got in and both lit a cigarette. Eddie started the car up and we headed out onto the M32 motorway, back for home. However, we couldn’t go straight home yet, Korschman would want his de-brief and I wanted my money.
We headed back across the Severn Bridge and towards Cardiff. Within the hour we were on the Barrage in Cardiff Bay. Eddie pulled up outside the Custom House restaurant and waited in the darkness. All was eerily still as I looked across the Bay. I looked left and could see the Millenium Stadium on the skyline. I began to think back over the nights events. I never found this sort of job easy, yet, despite my initial trepidation, it was tonight. I remembered someone once told me of a Japanese proverb which said ‘If you have to kill a snake, kill it once and for all’. Vincent was a snake, it’s as simple as that. All of his kind deserved the same treatment.
As my thoughts spiralled off a car pulled up next to us. The driver got out and opened the back door. I made the short step from Eddie’s Car to Korschman’s, the driver shut the door behind me. Korschman always looked the archetypal elegant gentleman. People could mistake him for some high rolling Businessman; it was true that he was indeed a businessman, but high rolling he wasn’t. He had legitimate businesses of course, but they were a front for his more ‘lucrative’ operations. I didn’t always ask what they were, however I was sure he had nothing to do with drugs. He found it distasteful and hugely immoral, that’s why I liked working for him. But then I never really had a choice when it came to working for him, but that’s another story. He sat there in a fine mohair overcoat, covering the grey flannel suit underneath. His grey hair was greased back to perfection. He fixed me with his steely blue eyes. ‘Well?’
‘It was as we thought, he wouldn’t budge’, I replied.
‘And the outcome is?’
‘What was it Stalin once said, if a man is causing a problem , you should merely ‘ remove’ the man and the problem will be solved?’
Korschman grinned, ‘I never had you down as an educated sort Nicky boy.’
Korschman handed me a package. As I took it from him I proffered a further description of the nights events. Korschman nodded as I spoke, I apologised for not getting the money from Sega, but. Korschman was man enough to know that things went that way sometimes. He shook my hand and I returned to the car. I knew removing Sega would open some new doors for Korschman now, but I didn’t want to think too much about that.
As Eddie started the car up I turned my mobile phone back on. There were seven missed calls from Mary-Anne. God knows what state she had got herself into. Eddie drove me across the Bay towards Mount Stuart Square. He dropped me outside the flat. I arranged to give him his wages the next day over a beer in The Packet pub on Bute Street. As he pulled away I put my key in the lock of the front door and walked in. The lights were on in the living room and I could hear the sound of soft music in the back room. I walked into the room to find it empty. I gathered from the emptiness that Mary-Anne was in bed. I placed the package on the table and took my shoes off and quietly stepped into the bedroom, and there she was, asleep on the bed. She had rolled herself completely in the Duvet. She looked so peaceful and I knew exactly why. I looked to the bedside cabinet and there it was; what’s commonly known by the Law as Drug Paraphernalia. There was silver foil and a burned spoon, I didn’t need to take a full inventory, I’d seen it all before. No matter how much I loved Mary-Anne, she was still a Junkie. She still put that rubbish into her body. I had tried everything to help her, but to no avail; the thing was, I couldn’t desert her, I loved her so much. I concluded that life with her as a Junkie was a lot better than life without her, despite her problems. And that’s why tonight was important. That’s why I felt good about taking Vincent out. I didn’t understand why I felt nothing once I had done it. Maybe the chase was better than the catch.
I left the room and closed the door behind me, went back into the living room, opened the package up, and tipped the contents onto the mahogany table. I poured myself a glass of Scotch and sat before the money. The notes looked so clean, so neatly bound up. On the table sat ten thousand pounds, ten thousand pounds for a life. No, make that for a low-life. Thinking about it, I would have done it for free. I smiled, and then slowly began to cry. Never had I felt my actions more justified than that night. But I couldn’t help but wonder how it all came to this? How did I get caught up in this miserable fucking business?