Big Mac

  The motor trade runs in the family. I’m told my grandfather had a share of a Roll-Royce dealership in Liverpool and Mother, fallen from grace, ran a down market lot off the Old Kent road. It was the most natural thing in the world therefore that I would firstly, fall a little further from grace and secondly, end up with a quarter share in a car breaker’s yard in Charlton, south east London. Being a minority stockholder means that I’m not quite management although I do spend a lot of time up to my elbows in muck and grime, dismantling mechanical do-dads and generally fetching and carrying.

  To some extent the blame could be laid at the door of my patchy record at school. As I rarely attended any of the dozen or so establishments into which I was enrolled at one time or another, I came away with not a lot to show for the hours spent at a desk. Let’s just say that getting an education and knuckling down to discipline aren’t my strong suits. Anyway, I can read and write (more or less) and I can count like no one’s business. If someone would just give me a bundle of tenners, I could go through them in a flash.

  Early life wasn’t made easier by dear Mama’s bad luck. She did have the unhappy knack of choosing wrong-uns. One or two might have been expected but not the whole slew she got through over the years. Of course, it played havoc with our lives. We were forever moving, from pillar to post, usually without cash and often in the dead of night. Still, Mum always took me with her, loved me to bits and although we had hard times she never left me in any doubt that I was important to her.

  One of her better moves was to take up with uncle Charlie. Charlie is basically a decent sort, he would have looked after her for the rest of his days and never strayed an inch. But I knew it wouldn’t last right from the start. He wasn’t her type, just a hard working, plain, no-nonsense chap (although he took a bit of it from her). She found him as dull as ditch water within a week but they struggled on together for over a year. During that time she got out of the car lot (with very little to show for it, as things were looking decidedly dodgy) and put what was left into helping Charlie acquire some of the freehold on the yard.

  A few months later she took up with Deak Peters, mister Flash Harry, and was anxious to be away. I hated Peters on sight and I imagine the feeling was mutual. At first, Mum, realising that the relationship between Peters and me wasn’t exactly made in heaven, decided not to go but I was seventeen for goodness sake, it was time to stand on my own two feet. So in the end I persuaded her to take off with fancy pants and I stayed with Charlie.

  That was a couple of years ago. Charlie’s been decent to me and last year he drew up a legal agreement, officially acknowledging my share of the business. I never knew my dad but I guess Charlie is the nearest I’m likely to come.

  I still see Mum on a regular basis. We meet in the West End once a month and have lunch in one of the Chinese places off Gerard Street. The last time I saw her she was looking a bit rough and sporting a big pair of sunglasses on a rainy day. I took a guess at why but didn’t press the point and as she kept them on through lunch I can’t be sure I got it right. Peters was a good deal younger than Mum and I reckoned he was a bit of a handful for her. If he was knocking her about, then at some point before things got too bad, I would have to take a hand but, to be honest, I hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Over Egg-Foo-Yong I mooted the notion of her taking up with Charlie again, I was sure he’d have her back like a shot, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She loved Deak Peters it seemed and from what I could make out, love was still being the usual bitch it had always been for her. Anyway, she’d cheered up by the time we had done lunch and replete with a half a bottle of Sake (I know it’s Japanese but they sell it in Chinese restaurants) and a couple of vodka-tonics, she was back to her old self. We kissed and said bye-bye.

  The next few weeks were exciting at the yard because Charlie and I went to the bank and borrowed a bunch of cash. Then Charlie blew the lot on a Big Mac. We waited for what seemed like an age for delivery but when it finally arrived it was well used but beautiful. It boasted a GM 500 horsepower diesel, 5000 pounds per square inch of brute force, huge hydraulic jaws and a weatherproof operator’s cab. I guess you have realised I’m not talking about a hamburger. The supplier installed the thing and within a couple of days we were ready to give it a road test. We started with a small Peugeot and within an hour we had crushed a Rover, two Mondeos and a complete Metro. We didn’t even take the engine and gearbox out of the Metro. It worked a treat and heralded a new era for us. With the Big Mac, Charlie and I figured things were on the up. We could squash fifty motors a day as flat as pancakes and ship them out ten to a truck. We were seriously in the scrap business.

  The yard was a hive of activity. Charlie, Danny and I set up a punishing schedule. One of us would be in at seven each morning, all of us by eight. The first part of the day involved jockeying the breakers around the yard, usually preceded by dragging in the clunkers that people left by the gates at night. First we had to sort out the real crushers from the stuff we figured needed police attention before we got our hands on it. There would usually be at least one stolen or drive-away each morning but they were usually easy to pick out. Sergeant Murdoch or DC Ryder would come down and do the paper work. About half ended up in the crusher anyway.

  Danny and I would spend the rest of the morning pulling out the bits that we thought worth saving and in the afternoon Charlie would fire up the Big Mac and get to work. We’d take turns using the magnetic crane to load the flattened hulks onto the big trucks that came into the yard. It was potentially dangerous work but we got the hang of things pretty quickly and could move the heavy stuff around quite expertly. We’d only use the crusher in the afternoon because some of the neighbours kicked up a bit of a fuss. Apparently there were one or two late risers in the vicinity who needed their beauty sleep through the day; hard working gals who came in after the late shift. Charlie worked a live and let live policy. It was no skin off his nose to keep in with the locals, he said.

  Two or three times a week a couple of us, usually Danny and I, would go out with the tow truck and drag in a vehicle. That was usually fun; I liked those jobs best. Sometimes but rarely, we’d get to drive something back to the yard under its own steam.

  Danny Donnelly had started working at the yard before Mum and Charlie got together so he’d been around a while when I got there. We got on pretty well. Danny, like so many other Dannies, was slowly going to hell but didn’t seem to notice. He’d go off dirty in the evening and turn up in more or less the same state next morning. He drank too much but if you were Danny, I imagine you would as well. If I had a quid for every pint I saw him down, I’d be doing OK. I never saw him read anything but he’d bring in a Daily Sport each morning and look through the pictures pretty thoroughly. I suppose Danny was in his early forties but looked nearer sixty. As far as I knew there was no significant other or even the hint of one. He was always making plans to visit his family back in Ireland but he never did. He was as reliable as clockwork and as strong as an ox. I have seen him lift the lump out of a Fiesta on his own with just his bare hands. Short, as thin as a rake with a mop of unruly, greying hair, Danny was a fixture at Charlie’s yard. He was a sort of living object lesson on how shitty life could be if you didn’t watch out, but I was a bit young to take in the full significance. I liked him a lot. He always treated me well and even got me out of one or two scrapes with Charlie.

  It was about two months after we got the Mac that Deak Peters came into the yard. To tell the truth I hadn’t seen Peters since he took off with Ma and that had been more than a couple of years but the experience seemed to have suited him. He looked good, like he was making money, very much on the up. Of course it might just have been a front.

“Hello Billy,” he said as though he had seen me in church last week, “how are you keeping?” I stopped pulling the plugs out of a Citroen and looked at him. I didn’t say anything just nodded my head. He smiled and turned away, looking towards the Big Mac. “Now there’s a thing.” He whistled through his teeth. “How long have you had that?” He took the cigarette out of his mouth and tossed it on the ground before crushing it under a polished, tan Gucci. I noticed his hands looked like they hadn’t spent too much time doing the washing-up.

  “You’d better ask Charlie.” I replied curtly, I suppose I sounded a bit sour. He smiled his ‘I am so cool’ smile again and shrugged his shoulders.

  “OK,” he said affably and turned back to look at me. His mood changed perceptibly. His eyes went hard. “Where’s Danny?” he asked, which was clever because he didn’t seem to move his lips. Deak could be a scary bastard when he wanted. The memory of Mum’s black eye came back to me.

  I summoned up my courage. “What do you want with Danny?” I asked, managing a fair bit of hostility. I thought it came out pretty well, considering. I could see he was angry.  But before we got into an argument, Danny came out of the shed at the far end of the yard and Peters looked straight at him. He was going to say something but didn’t, instead he gave me what I think is called a withering look, and stalked off. They disappeared back into the shed together. I got on with destroying the Citroen.

  It sounds strange but I sort of forgot about Danny and Peters and started thinking about Mum and Peters instead. Two years must have been a long time with a bastard like him. I wondered how long she would hold on. Anyway, half the damn nuts wouldn’t undo on the little French monstrosity and brute strength isn’t my strong point. I’m used to loud noises and hullabaloo but I near jumped out of my skin when a blue XK8 came roaring into the yard and, going like a bat out of hell in the confined space around the crusher, executed a rather fancy handbrake turn in front of the shed. Peters came out in hurry and got in the passenger seat. With dirt flying in all directions, the driver gunned the motor and the big Jaguar shot out of the gates and into the street. Charlie came out of his office on the double and just missed being bounced. We listened to the squeal of tyres and the sound of the motor being hammered up Passendale Street. Then Charlie and I were both running towards the shed.

  Danny was a mess. I wanted to call an ambulance but neither Charlie nor Danny would let me. I’m not much into first aid but Charlie seemed to know his stuff. I was surprised that nothing was broken. We manhandled Danny back to the office and Charlie set to work with warm water, Dettol and a cloth. Danny was sitting curled up, rocking his body to and fro. He was crying and making little whimpering noises. It was pathetic and scary at the same time. Charlie said it wasn’t the time for cross-examinations so I let my questions ride and got on with helping cleanup.

  There wasn’t much chance of work for the rest of the day so we got Danny into Charlie’s car and Charlie drove him back to our place for a little R&R. I closed up the yard, hung out the ‘CLOSED - OPEN AT 9 AM’ sign and had lunch in the café on Dingwell Road. I was thinking about Mum quite a bit and tried to call her on the mobile, perhaps I would go up and see her, but all I got was the answer phone. I didn’t leave a message.

  I sort of hung about and had a drink or two at the Feathers, mainly because I didn’t much relish the idea of seeing Danny in a state again but I finally went home. When I got there, the place was quiet and I needn’t have worried, Danny was upstairs asleep. I talked with Charlie a bit that evening but either he didn’t know much or he wasn’t telling. Something about an overdue debt.

  Danny went home next morning and came back to work a week later. You could still make out the signs where Peters had worked him over. Danny would say nothing when I questioned him except that the less I knew the better. Anyway, things sort of settled down and we got back into the old routine, crushing cars, stacking them and shipping them out.

  It was a few weeks after the excitement that I decided to have a serious talk with Charlie. I was still worried about Mum although we’d spoken on the phone a couple of times and she had pretended that everything was fine. If I were going to rescue her, I would need a place to take her and, as Charlie’s was the only option, I thought I’d better sound him out. I don’t know why I thought he’d be as pleased as punch about getting her back under his roof but he wasn’t. He hummed and ha’d and wouldn’t get to the point. I asked him if the incident between Danny and Peters had thrown him and he was defensive at once.

  “If he comes round here again, I’ll knock the bugger’s block off,” he said. Good old Charlie, I thought. I wasn’t at all sure he could knock off Peters’ block but I had no doubt he’d give it a go. He was quiet for a while. “It’s best we leave well enough alone,” he said after a bit. “Your mam and me were a long time ago and it’s all over now. No good raking up old coals.”

  “It’s not old coals,” I tried to assure him. “I’m not saying you two should get back together. It’s just that if she plucks up courage and leaves what’s-his-face, she’ll need somewhere to stay. It will only be for a while; until she finds her feet and moves on.” But I failed to convince him. We kicked it around for a while but I got nowhere.

  “Your mother’s made her bed and she’ll have to lie in it,” They seemed like Charlie’s last words. He could see I was disappointed, upset actually. He softened. “You know I’d do anything for you Billy, but it would be in neither of our interests to cross Deak Peters right now.”

  “But if Mum left him of her own accord, I can’t see how we would be crossing him,” I pointed out. He could see I wasn’t going to leave it alone.

  Charlie sighed heavily. “Deak and I go back a long way. Running this business has got me into a lot of situations I’d rather forget. I’ve done a few favours for people who, let’s say, might not be considered the nation’s most upright citizens and, well…..” He paused and bit his lip. “Deak Peters knows where the bodies are buried.” He saw the look of alarm on my face because in spite of the gravity of what he seemed to be telling me, he forced a smile. “Not actual bodies ……….. but he knows enough to see me in deep shit, if he chose to make trouble. What with the mortgage on the yard and the loan on the Big Mac, now isn’t the best time to be dealing with a pissed-off Peters bent on making life difficult.”

  “But surely he wouldn’t cause trouble for you over Mum,” I reasoned. “I don’t suppose he really gives a monkey’s about her. Probably be glad to see the back of her.”

  “Then you don’t know Deak Peters,” Charlie came back. “Whether he cares about her or not isn’t the issue. If we lift a finger to help her leave him he’ll take it badly. He knows enough to have the coppers round here and me inside before you could say Jack Robinson and he wouldn’t hesitate to do just that. Anyway, the police are likely to be the least of my worries. It’s scum like Ernie Scrote’s mob and the Woodman brothers that could cause us the most grief if he put the wrong word about. Then things would get ugly.”

  Frankly, I didn’t want to hear what he was telling me. “So Mum’s on her own,” I retorted. “Mr Prince Charming Peters has got us all by the bollocks so we’d all better knuckle down and stop annoying him. Charlie looked away and didn’t say anything, which was a bad sign.

  I lay in bed that night and kicked things around in my brain before falling into a fitful sleep. Peters was certainly at the centre of events. Making Mum’s life hell, beating up on poor Danny and unnerving Charlie enough to stop him lifting a finger to help someone I knew he still cared about. Peters needed sorting out.

  When I called Mum next day she started crying and wouldn’t speak to me. I considered talking to Charlie again but decided against it. If I was going to change his mind, I needed a plan and I didn’t have one.

  Through the worry and drama, life went on at the yard. With Danny once more in harness we got back into the routine and the Big Mac went about its intended business. It was a bright, cold winter morning when Charlie called me over. He’d had a call from Deptford nick. We were to pick up a clunker abandoned in a back street and drag it in. Danny and I set off in the tow truck. It was good to get away from the yard for a bit. Danny drove and I watched the world as we passed it by. It occurred to me as I watched shiftless young men and down at heel girls with scabby white legs, wheeling unruly brats down the high street, that there had to be better things in life. I had a sudden pang as I considered what working all my days in a junkyard might bring. I looked across at Danny and it didn’t make me feel any better.

  The Volvo was big and ugly but not as bad as most of the stuff that found its way to us. Danny backed up the truck and started unhooking the paraphernalia needed to pull it in. I had a look around. The interior smelled of damp but wasn’t in too bad-a-nick all things considered. I slipped the bonnet catch and lifted the lid. The engine was still in there.

  “Hey Danny,” I called, “maybe she’ll start.”

  Danny made a wry face. “Bollocks to that,” he shouted back, “we’ll just stick the old bastard on the hook and drag the fucker in.” Always ready with a nice turn of phrase our Danny. I went back to look inside and checked the usual places for keys. There weren’t any. Danny was busy with the crane jib, which seemed to have jammed for the umpteenth time that week; he was running through his repertoire of expletives. I went back to the cab and picked up the big bunch of keys we had collected over the years. We usually carried them in the truck to help in situations like this. The fifth one did the business. The starter churned and the engine turned over. Danny stopped what he was doing and looked surprised. She started on the third turn and ran as sweetly as you’d like. The petrol gauge showed enough to get us home. Danny got the trade plates from the truck and stuck them in the appropriate places.

  I drove her back with Danny following in case of trouble. The old bus looked like shit but, I have to say, she drove pretty well. I parked up behind the Mac to await word from the boys in blue that she was really ours after all. I mentioned to Charlie that she sounded sweet and pulled well and suggested we should lift out the motor and box before consigning her to the crusher. He nodded. I’d landed myself another desirable job.

  In the event we found ourselves busy with a crashed bus that needed attention with a blow-torch before we could get bits of it into the crusher so I didn’t get to the Volvo for at least ten days. When I did, Danny was busy helping Charlie in another part of the yard. They were doing up a Shadow he’d bought for a grand and thought he might sell for three, so I yanked out the engine and box on my own. I had the hulk on the end of the magnetic crane ready for the crushing pile when I realised we hadn’t been in the boot. Over the years we’d had a good share of treasure from the boots of cars condemned to death. Included in our haul were things as diverse as an IBM computer, ladies’ and gentlemen’s watches, some smart clothing, a fancy leather jacket and a whole slew of tools. Footballs, bags full of sports gear and on one occasion a three-tiered wedding cake had been retrieved from the space behind the rear seats. I’d already made a thorough search inside (usually good for a few coins and the occasional piece of folding money, sometimes a piece of jewellery) but this particular motor had yielded nothing. That didn’t mean that it wasn’t worth a quick check through the boot. I gently lowered the Volvo back to the ground and stowed the grab.

  Of course, Sod’s law applied, none of the keys we had fitted the boot lock. But we were, after all, in a breakers yard with a car destined for the crusher, so opening up a boot was hardly an insurmountable problem. Whatever the complaints about styling, those Swedes build them tough. It took me at least ten seconds with a crowbar to get the thing open.

  Charlie asked me later about what had happened but I was in shock at the time and I can’t remember too well what I told him. I think it went something like this.

  At first, I thought someone had dumped a bundle of rags in there. But rags aren’t usually wearing Gucci loafers. My initial reaction was to close down the lid and get on with crushing, instead I took a closer look. I guess I should have called Charlie and Danny right away but I didn’t. The body was packed in tight. Whoever was occupying the space was a big guy. I’m no medical expert but there was little doubt that he was as dead as door nails. He was dressed in a sort of blue, designer tracksuit, probably expensive, with white socks and those very smart shoes. The reason I’d first thought of rags was that someone had draped a red patterned cloth around him. On second inspection it looked like a curtain, perhaps a pair. The head was twisted round at a funny angle with the curtain covering most of it so all I could see was a tuft of blond hair. I took my courage in my hands and had a go at getting the cloth off his face. I suddenly had the crazy idea that whoever it was would suddenly jump out of the boot and grab me by the throat but he was in no condition for tricks like that. When I finally managed to pull off the curtain I still couldn’t see. The head and shoulders were tucked right under the parcel shelf and the face was pressed up against the back of the seat. Short of getting in the boot with him, which I wasn’t about to do, there was no way I could shift him around to get a look at the face.

  The crane was still sitting by the Volvo and it gave me an idea. I went to the cab and got out the oily, old rope we used for tying up unwieldy loads. I hooked on to the magnetic grab and then dragged the other end over to pally in the boot. I got the rope around his legs and managed a passable knot. I fired up the diesel and worked the hoist. The dead guy came out like a sardine from a can. Before long he was dangling nicely in the air above the car. The curtain dropped to the ground.

  I got down from the cab and went round to get a better look. Shock number two: I found myself gazing into the upside down face of Deak Peters. I couldn’t make him out at first, he looked sort of different but I suppose he was the wrong way up and, of course, quite dead. Anyway, once I got my eye in, there was no doubt about it.

  For a while I stood back and considered what I should do next. The obvious thing was to alert Charlie and then the police but before we were knee deep in coppers it occurred to me that it might be best to get everyone’s story straight. I couldn’t just leave Mr Peters hanging around so I jumped in the crane cab again and did my best to lower him back from whence he came. It was a bit of a struggle but I’m not the best wrecking crane operator in South London for nothing. I had him tucked up and the boot lid wedged shut within ten minutes. I used the tow truck to haul the Volvo over to a quiet part of the yard and covered it with a tarpaulin. I checked the ground around where Mr Peters had been hanging but it was, metaphorically that is, as clean as a whistle, not a trace of unsightly body fluids.

  It was already late afternoon and the winter sun had almost faded. The thought of rousting Charlie and Danny and springing the news about our pal Deak didn’t appeal at that moment so instead I left a note about not feeling so good on Charlie’s desk and headed home. My plan was to avoid him that night by feigning being a bit under the weather and sticking to my part of the house. I’d nut it out over night and come up with something. Tomorrow was another day.

Much later, Charlie asked me about what I thought of doing next and I told him what had been in my mind at the time.

  The more I thought about it, the worse it looked. I knew nothing about Peters and his life style. For all I knew there may have been a hundred people out to get him but I knew of at least three, maybe four counting Mum, who might have a reason for wanting him dead. It seemed to me that the best course was to get the body as far from the yard as I could. It was a damn shame there was no engine left in the Volvo or it might have made a handy way of transporting our friend to another part of town. The plan I came up with wasn’t much cop but it was the best I could manage at short notice.

  I’d go in really early next morning and find a suitable vehicle into which I could move the body. I could think of a couple that could fit the bill, probably the scabby old Transit that we had vaguely thought of doing up and flogging. I’d wait until dark, stay on until the others had quit for the night and then once more use the motor crane to assist the transfer; fill up the Transit with some of the petrol that we collected at the yard and pile in a few extra cans for top ups on the way. If I drove through the night and the clunker held together, I could, by the small hours, be at a quarry site that people used as an unofficial dump near Birmingham. I’d drive the truck in as far as possible and then get back as best I could. Anyway, I’d worry about the return leg when I got there, if I ever did. I figured it could be weeks, even months before they found the body. By then any trail would surely have gone cold. As I say, it wasn’t a great plan but it was the best I had.

  I imagine the whole thing was spoiled by my sleeping in later than intended; the excuse being, I was a tired bunny by the time I finally hit the sack. It was eight-thirty when I got to the yard and it was immediately obvious that my carefully laid scheme was buggered. Charlie had got there before me and he’d been busy. It seemed that the Big Mac had been running since well before dawn. I half expected to see a parade of disgruntled residents by the gates. The Volvo, dragged from where I had left it, had been flattened and stacked at the bottom of a pile of other crushed motors. Charlie was really working hard because the pile with the Swedish car was already mostly obscured by a second he was building up in front. I had to do quite a bit of hunting around before I spotted the Volvo. I didn’t check on the content of the boot.

  I needed to get to Charlie and find out what he knew. If the content of the trunk was still in place then exactly what he knew was open to question. If it wasn’t, then we really needed to chat. Anyway, why had he come in so early and why was he using the crusher at such an anti-social hour? Something wasn’t kosher and I was feeling nervous. It sounds daft but from the moment I realised what had happened to the Volvo, I didn’t manage to get to Charlie. We had a stream of interruptions. First a truck arrived to pick up a load and then a bunch of individuals came in, one after the other, looking for bits and pieces. What I had in mind to discuss wasn’t the sort of thing you talked about in front of other people. I had the impression Charlie was staying out of my way but it may just have been my growing paranoia. At one point in the morning I almost managed to corner him then the second collection truck arrived and Danny had it loaded and the Volvo was on its way to the smelter at Gravesend. By the time I recovered my cool, Charlie was nowhere to be found. When I asked Danny where he was, I was told he had gone for the day, out on some errand delivering spare parts. Bullshit, I thought. He didn’t come in that night and I had a very bad time I can tell you. I got in late again next morning. I wanted to give Charlie a chance to make it in before me. The first thing I saw as I drove through the gates was Charlie’s car.

  He was at his desk looking through the mail. I locked the door behind me and pulled up a chair. I checked my watch; 10.45. “You’re late,” Charlie said and gave me a wry little smile I’d not seen him use before. I just looked at him. “OK,” he said finally, “I know, you know, I know.” I imagine he was trying to make light of things. He saw the look on my face and held up his hands. “You go first and then I’ll tell you my bit,” he offered. It sounded like a reasonable trade so I told him about the Volvo, the body in the boot, the bit about the crane and my plan with the Transit but before he could get out a word about his version of events all hell had broken loose. With sirens blaring and tyres kicking up the dust, the yard was suddenly full of police cars. The second time in a month we’d been subjected to hooligan driving. If what happened to the other bloke was anything to go by, they had better watch their step I thought. Charlie got up, unlocked the door and wandered outside. I sat where I was for a while, until a policeman came in and got me.

  We weren’t arrested, just taken in for questioning but they kept us a while. I spent a lot of time chatting with coppers but, to be fair, they were pretty decent to me. Of course they wanted to know about Deak Peters. I told them the same tale I’d told Charlie. To be honest I didn’t think they had me in the frame but I got the impression they rather liked Charlie for the job. Of course, if they fitted up Charlie then they might try and get me as some sort of accessory.

  At one point DC Ryder came down the corridor for a chat, strictly off the record you understand. She came in the cell and sat on the bunk. We knew each other from her visits to the yard. “Hello Billy,” she said, bright as a button. “Just came to see how you were doing. Nothing to do with me all this business.” It was nice to see a friendly face. The whole malarkey had unnerved me and I told her so. “Just tell them everything you know and I’m sure it will turn out all right. They’d have to be crazy to think you had anything to do with it,” she said kindly. “If you are completely straight with them, I am sure you’ll be out of here in no time,” she added. I pulled a long face and she picked up on it right away. “What is it Billy?” she asked. “If there’s anything I can do to help, you know I will.”

  I thought for a while. This was going to be tricky. “Well, it’s just that I know Charlie didn’t do it but I don’t want to drop anyone else in the shit,” actually it was more of a question.

  “Look Billy,” she said, “whatever it is, in the long run it will have to come out so why not get it off your chest now and get on with your life.” She sounded so reasonable and friendly. “In cases like this, we always discover the guilty party in the end, so why prolong the agony and make things difficult for everyone….. you included,” she added almost as an afterthought. She reached out and took my hand. It occurred to me that I rather liked this aspect of modern policing. “If you want, I’ll arrange for the inspector to have another chat with you. I’m sure they will let me sit in, if it would make you feel better.” I told her I thought it might.

  So she fixed it up and true to her word, within the hour I found myself together with a cup of hot, sweet tea, an inspector and two DCs, one of them Val Ryder, in an interview room. With the tape machine properly set, I spilled the beans.

  Actually there weren’t that many to spill. I told them about Deak Peters beating up Danny and I mentioned that I thought that he had once had IRA connections. I told them about the Saturday night before I found the body.

  Danny and I had come in on Saturday morning to finish off. We had already been through a tough week, breaking up a bus that was built like a tank and seriously resisting our efforts. We got done about six o’clock and went out for sausage, egg and chips at the place in Dingwell road. Danny was maudlin and wanted to talk. Even though it was Saturday evening, I had nothing better to do. We weren’t dressed for a night on the town so we went back to the yard where we always stashed a bottle or two to keep out the cold and settled down in Charlie’s office with the electric fire and a couple of glasses. As I remembered, we had gone through most of a bottle of scotch, well Danny had anyway, and he was telling me a lot of things he should have kept to himself. About his IRA days and the gun he kept hidden behind the tyre store in the yard. Then we got on to the subject of Deak Peters. Danny suddenly stopped talking and even refused the last of the whiskey.

  “It’s time for you to buzz off Billy,” he said, “Me and Peters have a bit of business to settle.” I remonstrated with him and refused to leave but after I while I figured he’d had a skin-full and it was probably all bluster. I was all in anyway, so I threw him the keys and buggered off home. I found Deak Peters in the Volvo the following Monday.

  I told the inspector I thought none of it proved Danny Donnelly had done it. In fact I doubted that he had or even that he could. I started to cry which was not at all like me but it’s not everyday you get a pal into deep trouble. I told them that I was frightened that if I hadn’t told what I knew, they might try and fit up Charlie.

That evening they let Charlie and me go but they held onto Danny. We took a cab home. Charlie was very quiet. Given we hadn’t seen each other for a couple days and an awful lot had happened since, he was surprisingly tight lipped. Apart from asking me how I was and telling me that he was very tired, not much else passed between us. I wondered if he had found out I had ratted on Danny. We both turned in early.

  An hour later I was woken by the doorbell. Actually, it was ten the next morning, I’d slept pretty soundly through the night. By the time I was down, Charlie had beaten me to the front door and DC Ryder was offering us a return trip to the nick. My heart sank. I went back upstairs and got dressed. The fact that I was not accompanied by an officer should have been a clue that I wasn’t in trouble but I wasn’t thinking straight just then.

  The inspector sat us down, Charlie and me together, another clue, with nice cups of tea and gave us the news. Danny was dead. Apparently, his heart just stopped in the night. There was no question of police brutality they assured us. The investigation was still on and they would keep us posted, then they drove us home.

Over the next few weeks things unfolded. Dear old Val Ryder kept us up to date. They had searched the yard and found Danny’s stash of gear including a wartime Lüger and a couple of clips of nine-millimetre ammunition. Tests showed it was the gun that killed Deak Peters. Danny’s prints were all over it. It hadn’t taken the police pathologist long to establish that Peters had died as a result of a single shot through the back of the head at close range. They had found traces of gunpowder on a tank near Charlie’s office and some of Deak’s blood soaked into the earth at the same location. They had concluded it was where he had been shot. A search of Danny’s digs revealed a work shirt with traces of the victim’s blood. They had briefly questioned Danny within hours of my statement and he had confirmed my story that we had been drinking but he had been as drunk as a skunk and could remember little else. It was assumed that Danny had lured Peters to the yard, probably on the pretext of paying back what was owed and executed him in time honoured IRA tradition. A vehicle known to have been used by Peters was found in a side street not far from the yard. They couldn’t be certain but enquires suggested it had arrived on the Saturday night in question.

  After a further few days the police officially confirmed we were off the hook. The case against Danny looked convincing. He had a motive, the means and the opportunity as well as a fistful of circumstantial evidence. The only thing missing was a signed confession but in the circumstances one was unlikely to be forthcoming. They had come to the not unreasonable conclusion that it was poor, old Danny what done it and so they closed the case; QED.

  When I telephoned Mum she was still at Peters’ house. I didn’t feel like asking too many questions about things like financial arrangements as she was still a bit upset. Of course she’d read all about the case in the papers including the bit about her relationship with the deceased. She’d been interviewed half a dozen times by the press and TV. We talked for a while and I got the impression that, apart from the tragedy bit, she had rather enjoyed her fifteen minutes of fame. We arranged to meet the following week. Before I rang off she posed an odd question. “You and Charlie didn’t have anything to do with Deak’s death did you?” she asked. The silly bitch gets some strange notions I thought. I assured her we hadn’t and rang off.

  Naturally, Charlie and I were sorry about Danny but damned glad that we were no longer under suspicion. Now it was over we would have to hire a new man and get on with paying the bills. The yard had been closed for almost three weeks. On the night before we went back to work Charlie and I had a little celebration dinner. He did the cooking. Leeks vinaigrette to start and lamb Shrewsbury to follow, all washed down with a ’97 Chateau Latour. He even did a chocolate soufflé as pud. Old Charlie knew his stuff all right. After dinner we settled down with a couple of snifters of brandy.

  We made small talk for a while but it just wasn’t possible to stay off the main topic for long. I guess I was feeling a bit mischievous. “Do you think Danny really did it?” I asked. “Deak must have made a bunch of enemies. I’ve heard he got Jake Woodman’s daughter up the duff and Jake swore to top him just as soon as the baby was born.”

  But Charlie surprised me. “No, I don’t think that Danny killed Deak Peters,” he said evenly. He looked me straight in the eye. “In fact I know that he didn’t and I’m as certain as I can be that it wasn’t Jake Woodman either.”

  “That must mean you know who did,” I asked as brightly as I could manage.

  Charlie said nothing for a moment but kept looking at me intently. “Yes,” he replied, “I think I do.”

  Well, we couldn’t leave it there could we? Against my better judgement, I carried on with the questions. “So Charlie,” I looked back at him as hard as I could, “whom do you have in the frame?”

  He looked away, his voice no more than a whisper. If I had not known what he was going to say, I’d not have heard it. “I think you killed Deak Peters, Billy.” The room was very quite for a few moments while I regained enough control to continue with the cross-examination.

  After a bit of coaxing Charlie expounded his theory. On the fateful Saturday evening, he had got in late and started worrying. Hanging over him was the prospect of preparing the dreaded VAT returns. Tomorrow was Sunday; he figured, late as it was, if he went to the yard, picked up the paperwork and brought it home, he could lie-in in the morning and then knuckle down to the all-day task. This was Charlie’s version of events.

  “I got to the yard about midnight and not wanting to open up the big gates decided to go in through the wicket. I parked in the street and was still sitting in the car when I saw you come out of the yard and make off like a bat out of hell. As I walked up the road I heard a car start up and drive off at speed. I knew it was yours. When I got into the yard everything was as quiet as the grave. I was surprised to find the office unlocked and even more surprised to find Danny fast asleep across the desk. It was obvious he had had a lot to drink. There were two empty Whiskey bottles on the floor and two glasses so I figured you two must have being having a session. Which of course wasn’t at all like you.

  I took a torch and went out into the yard to look around but found nothing suspicious. I was ready to come away when I saw the cloth hanging out from the Volvo’s boot. It stood out like a beacon, I was sure I would have noticed if it had been there before. Even then I may not have bothered if I hadn’t trodden on the Volvo key ring lying on the ground. I tried the key in the boot and lo and behold it opened and I saw what was inside. A little poking around revealed who was in there. From what I could make out, he had been neatly despatched with a bullet through the back of his head. I tucked the cloth back in, which incidentally, I recognised as the washroom curtain, shut the boot and on impulse tossed the key into the scrap pile. Then I went home. When I got there your car was parked in the kerb so I figured you had made it home all right.

  The more I thought about what I’d seen the more convinced I was that it had to be you who pulled the trigger. I watched you closely for a couple of days and I have to admit you played it pretty cool. But I knew even in winter something would have to be done about the body or it would be announcing itself. I got up early on the Tuesday and did a bit of extra crushing before dawn. Watching you out of the corner of my eye through the morning, I was certain I had it right. As I had hoped, we had the Volvo and its cargo away by midday. I guess it was too much to hope that it would be dropped into the smelter without attracting attention. I wanted to ask you about what you had done with the gun but thought we had time on that one, at least until the body was found, if it ever was.”

  It seemed I made a couple of mistakes. The first was not noticing Charlie’s car parked down the street and second dropping the boot key that I had found in the car the day we picked it up.

  I noticed there were tears in Charlie’s eyes. “Oh come on Charlie don’t feel bad. I’m sorry as anything about Danny but it was a huge piece of luck when he popped his clogs the way he did.” Charlie still looked glum. As he seemed to have nutted out the salient facts I filled him in on the detail. First, I filled his glass, then mine and we sat back, Charlie a little reluctantly, as I recounted the final version.

“The story I first gave you and the police about finding the body in the boot was bollocks of course but the stuff about me and Danny getting into a binge that Saturday night was true enough….. up to a point. Danny was knocking it back faster than I could pour. He was pretty indiscreet but it wasn’t until he told me about the gun that the idea of dealing with Deak Peters once and for all began to form in my mind. We started on the second bottle with Danny getting the lot but too far gone to notice, by nine o’clock he was away with the fairies, snoring like a walrus. I went out to where he said the gun was hidden and found it right away. I stuck in a clip and loosed off a couple of rounds in the tyre dump. It wasn’t that noisy. I wore Danny’s own leather gloves I found in his car. Then I called Deak at home. I had no idea if he’d be there. I just got lucky. The whole thing was spur of the moment. If Mum had answered I would have rung off but Deak came on the phone straight away.

  I told him where I was and that I was ringing on behalf of Danny who was too scared to call. I told him that if he got down to the yard pronto, he’d get paid off in full. He was reluctant at first but I managed to persuade him. I knew he wouldn’t say a word to Mum. I told him to park a few streets away and come in on foot. I switched on the radio we keep in the porch outside; not too loud but enough to cover small noises. I undid the wicket gate then sat and waited with Danny’s gun. At about quarter to eleven in strolls lover boy as cool as a cucumber. I told him I had left the office keys in Danny’s car and went off to get them. Deak waited outside the office by the tank, as patient as you like. He was too damn sure of himself to suspect a thing. I crept round the back and got up real close. For just a moment I thought I might do him like in the movies. You know, where the victim faces his assailant and you get to see the fear and horror in his eyes before he gets plugged. I would have given a lot to see Deak’s face before I killed him but it wasn’t a movie so I resisted temptation, rested my arm against the tank and shot him through the back of the head at point blank range. As they say, I think he was dead before he hit the ground.

  I put back the gun and the gloves and went in to check on Danny, who was still out like a light. I moved the Volvo over to Deak’s body and then got the tow truck. I used the rope to haul him up and into the boot. I took the curtains from the washroom and wrapped them round his head to staunch the blood. I was surprised there was so little. I closed the lid and I suppose the key must have fallen out of the lock onto the ground where you found it. I didn’t notice. Up to then I had been running on adrenaline but it was beginning to wear thin and I just wanted to get away. I moved the truck and the car back to more or less where I found them. Then I went back one last time to check on Danny who was still out of it and wiped a bit of Deak’s blood onto his shirt. Finally, I ran the hose onto the ground where Deak had fallen and got rid of the blood that I could see.

  I figured Danny would wake up at some time and stagger home. I doubted he’d remember much of the evening. In any event what I planned to tell the police was mostly the truth. About midnight I was out of there and on my way home. That’s it. Danny dying was a bonus but even if he hadn’t croaked I thought they’d have a watertight case against him and the way it turned out I think they did.

  It all went a bit pear shaped when you crushed and sent the car away. I wasn’t sure Peters was still inside but I had to do something so I left it a day and then called in an anonymous tip-off saying I’d seen something suspicious in a crushed motor at the yard in Gravesend. They didn’t take long to find Deak and he led them back to us.”

  Charlie looked confused. “Why bother?” he asked genuinely perplexed. “If the Volvo had been smelted that would have been the end of it.”

  “Loose ends Charlie, loose ends,” I pointed out. “I had Danny perfectly fitted-up but they had to find a body for it to come together. If Deak had just gone missing who knows where months of police enquiry would have lead. The way it turned out resulted in a nice, neat ending.”

  I sat back and looked at Charlie. I thought he seemed a little shaken. “Bloody hell!” was all he could manage. He thought for a bit. “What I don’t understand,” he said after a while, “was how you got Deak to come to the yard at such short notice on a winter’s night.”

  “I told you, I said Danny had given me the cash for him.”

  “How much was it?” Charlie was giving me a crafty look.

  “I have no idea,” I admitted honestly.

   Charlie shook his head. “From what I know it was less than a couple of grand. Peters wasn’t short of a bob, for the life of me I can’t see him coming out in the cold for that kind of money. There must have been something else.”

  “Well, yes,” I admitted. “I told him I wanted to fuck him”.

  Then Charlie did something I really didn’t expect and it scared me half to death. He fell onto his knees in front of me and pressed his head into my chest. “I love you Billy,” he said. I thought he might be crying. I gently pushed him back and looked into his face. Tears were coursing down his cheeks. “I’ve loved you for a long while now. You should take a look at yourself sometime, you’re not a girl any more Billy, you‘ve grown into a beautiful young woman. Men are crazy for you, you just don’t know it.”

  Alarm bells were ringing furiously in I my head. I’d fitted-up the wrong one it seemed. Suddenly, I had another problem to be dealt with and I needed time to think. “I love you too Charlie,” I said, my mind racing. I had read a few Big Mac service bulletins and I knew there was a small fault on our particular model. It was just possible that in the right circumstances, with a frayed connection or two, the jaws might close on an unwary operator. But I would have to make it look like an accident.

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