On a High Wire by Rob Kitchin.

Paul Thackeray scanned down the list of horses, circled ‘Dark Sun’, and closed the newspaper.  He drained his dishwater coffee, placed a ten euro note on the table, and exited the cafe.  With matted hair and dressed in a grubby white shirt, blue jogging pants and brown shoes, he appeared more like the people he supplied than the drug lord of the west side of the city. 

He shuffled along the pavement and entered a betting shop.  There were just three punters in the grubby room, none of whom broke their gaze at a widescreen television to acknowledge his entrance.  Thackeray approached the middle-aged woman behind the counter. 

‘Fifty on Dark Sun, Susie. I want odds of 10-1.’

‘Dark Sun is the 4-5 favourite,’ she said, taking the note.

‘Just do 10-1,’ a male voice called out from an office behind her.

The woman shrugged and handed over the ticket.

‘How you doing, Tom?’ Thackeray said.

‘I’ve been better,’ the man replied without appearing.

‘And your daughter?’

‘In rehab.’

‘She still owes me whether she gets clean or not. I’ll send Johnny round later to collect.’

Johnny Croft was a man mountain with iron fists, an ability to follow orders, and a liking for dispensing pain.  Nobody wanted a visit from Johnny, and with the big man watching his back, Thackeray was given free license to run his drugs empire.

‘There’s no need,’ Tom replied.  ‘I’ll deliver it.’

‘It’s no bother, Johnny could do with the exercise.’  Thackeray pulled a sly smile for the surveillance camera, before turning to leave the shop.  As he neared the door it opened, three men entering.  The first two in moved towards the three punters.

‘Going somewhere, Paul?’ Jimmy Kiley asked, blocking the exit.  Kiley had recently risen to prominence in the north of the city, where he’d been building a reputation as a ruthless criminal.

‘What do you want, Jimmy?’

‘Okay, everyone out,’ Jimmy ordered, ignoring Thackeray.  ‘Anyone calls the guards and they’re a dead man walking. That includes you, Reader’s Wife,’ he said, looking at Susie. 

‘What about the ...’ a man in his fifties pointed at a race being shown on the screen.

The nearest of Kiley’s men grabbed the man by the neck, slammed his head against the wall, and pushed him towards the door. 

Once everyone had exited, Kiley ordered one of his men: ‘Lock the door and put that in the DVD player.’  He handed the man a disk.  ‘I thought we could maybe watch a movie together,’ he said to Thackeray.

‘Take one of your monkeys. I’m sure they’re already used to sucking your cock on the back row.’

‘Touché,’ Kiley said, his voice even.  ‘Have you ever wondered what’s it like to fly, Paul?’

‘I know what it’s like. Now what the fuck is this about?’

‘We’re taking over your business.’

Thackeray laughed.  ‘I don’t think so, Jimmy. What you’re doing is making a fucking big mistake.’

The screen changed to an image of a tall crane against a midnight blue sky.  The shot zoomed upward to reveal a man hanging from the hook.

‘That’s Dave Makin. Took part in an armed robbery only he didn’t want to tell us where the money was hidden. We decided he needed some flying lessons.’

The camera zoomed back and the winged man plummeted, his arms flapping ineffectively.  The cable jerked to a halt just a few feet from the ground, snapping the man back violently.  The shot moved towards him, his face ashen, his eyes wide with fright and shock. 

Where’s the money, Dave?

I don’t know. Honest, Jimmy, I don’t.

A hand appeared in front of the lens, moving in a circling gesture.  The man started to be hauled back into the night sky.

‘Fast forward it,’ Jimmy ordered. 

The winged man rose swiftly and somewhat comically. 

‘Okay, normal speed.’

The man plunged again, his scream rising in volume, dying as he snapped to a halt. 

‘He’s not doing very well, is he?’ Kiley said.

Thackeray feigned indifference.

‘Fast forward.’ 

In quick succession the man was raised and dropped twice more. 

'Normal speed,' Kiley demanded as the man reached the top again.  ‘It’s amazing how learning to fly loosens a person’s tongue. You’ll enjoy this, Paul.’

The hook connecting the man to the cable opened.  He plummeted and slammed into the hard packed mud with a sickening thump.

‘The problem with flying is it’s over so quickly,’ Kiley said.  ‘Probably not like being buried alive. Have you ever wondered about that, Paul? What it’s like to be buried alive?’

‘Don’t make empty threats, Jimmy. I’m not some nobody like ... who did you say he was?’

‘Dave Makin. And I’m not making an empty threat. Do you know what happened to Tommy Logan?’ Jimmy said, referring to a crime boss from Kiley’s neighbourhood who’d disappeared a month previously.

Thackeray stared back stony faced. 

‘He tried to play King Canute only he couldn’t stop the tide crashing over his head. Do you want to watch the movie?’

’Have you any idea what’ll happen to you if so much as one hair on my head is disturbed?’

‘Yeah, fuck all,’ Kiley said, placing his hand on Thackeray’s scalp, ruffling his greasy mop. 

‘Johnny Croft will pull you apart limb by limb,’ Thackeray said, grabbing Kiley’s wrist and pushing his arm away.

‘Johnny Croft will do what the fuck he’s told if he’s got any sense. This is regime change. The old guard can swear allegiance to the new king or they can star in one of my little movies.’

‘Go fuck yourself. I’m leaving now. Don’t even think of coming back here unless you want to leave in a wooden box.’  He took a step towards the door.

Kiley shot out his left arm blocking his path.  He pointed a handgun at Thackeray’s head with his right. ‘You’ve got some balls, Paul, I’ll give you that. It’ll be interesting to see how you cope in a confined space with six feet of soil above you.’

For the first time, Thackeray’s confidence started to slip.  ‘You’re serious, aren’t you?’


‘I’m sure we could come to some kind of agreement.’

‘I don’t think so. You’re time is up, Paul. I thought we could make a little movie about it. You’ll be the star.' 

‘Fuck you!’

‘It’s not that kind of movie, Paul. We’re aiming more for an underground drama.’

Rob Kitchin runs a research institute in Ireland and spends his spare time reading or writing crime fiction. He blogs at http://theviewfromthebluehouse.blogspot.com/ where he publishes reviews and a weekly drabble (a story of exactly 100 words).


Bruce Harris said...

No one stays on top forever. Good, tough story.

Anonymous said...

Rob - Oh, this is deliciously dark. Just goes to show you you should never be too confident...

AJ Hayes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AJ Hayes said...

Management changes always catch you by surprise. Very few give you the chance to fly away or even hole up. Unfortunately for the old guard both choices were . . . open. There goes the four oh one kay. Might as well throw your money (and life) into a hole in the ground. Cool.

David Barber said...

This comment was left on a Facebook page from Sue Harding. For some reason blogger wouldn't let her leave it on here...

This is worthy of a Peter James or Simon Kernick novel! Tough talk backed up with action - I like this!
Can we have the next part now? :-)

Robin B. said...

Only one word needed for me to describe this: excellent!

Lily Childs said...

Clever to make you root for the underdog bad guy. Loved the grubby feel to this.

Graham Smith said...

Brilliant piece of writing that kept me hanging until the end.

"Reader's wife" alone was worth the admission fee.

Paul D Brazill said...

Fantastic, mate!

Benjamin Sobieck said...

As dark and delicious as the mud coffee I had this morning.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Rob-you are becoming a flash fiction master. Bravo!

Mike Miner said...

I like how almost every line ofdialogue here is a threat. Paints a vivid picture of this seedy world.

andrew hilbert said...

horses don't bet on people and neither do i. cheers!

Madam Z said...

Rob, this is well written instructive. When Paul is drawing his last breaths, while six feet under, he can take comfort in knowing that someday Kiley will be toppled by the next kingpin. Crime doesn't pay forever, even if it's profitable for a while.

David Barber said...

Superbly crafted piece of writing, Rob. Dark, gritty and full of great dialogue. Very well done!

Rob Kitchin said...

Thanks to everyone for their feedback. Much appreciated. Great that this seemed to hit the spot. I drafted another Kiley piece yesterday - he does like making and showing movies! A series in the making perhaps. His last outing was at Powder Burn Flash - http://www.powderburnflash.com/?q=node/474

Bill Baber said...

did his horse win? great stuff.