Nothing sacred, p.1
Nothing Sacred, page 1
David Thorne has worked as a writer for the last 15 years, originally in advertising, then in television and radio comedy. He has written material for many comedians, including Jimmy Carr, Alan Carr, David Mitchell and Bob Mortimer. He was a major contributor to the BAFTA-winning Armstrong and Miller Show, and has worked on shows including Facejacker, Harry and Paul and Alan Carr: Chatty Man. Nothing Sacred is his second novel in the Daniel Connell series.
Also by David Thorne
East of Innocence
First published in trade paperback in Great Britain in 2015 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.
Copyright © David Cadji-Newby, 2015
The moral right of David Cadji-Newby to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities, is entirely coincidental.
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Trade paperback ISBN: 978 1 78239 363 4
E-book ISBN: 978 1 78239 364 1
Printed in Great Britain.
An imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd
26–27 Boswell Street
GABE AND I are coming back from the coast, Gabe driving too fast through flat country under a low blank grey sky, heading for the arterial road that will take us home. Gabe is telling me once again about the size of the shark he pulled out of the North Sea three hours ago, the shark writhing and bucking, Gabe managing to control it in both arms on the rocking deck long enough to give a proud predatory grin to the photographer, which was me. I let him boast as the road rushes past, branches slapping the wing mirror next to me as he cheats blind bends; it is good to see him happy, living in the moment, relishing a battle that he can still fight.
We have been out on the boat of Harry Rafferty, a man who I have known for years, ever since I was a child. Our fathers had been friends, both of them part-time villains and full-time drinkers; we had been their neglected sons. Together we spent hours half-heartedly kicking a football around weed-ridden pub car parks, waiting for our fathers to emerge, desultorily participating in the fiction that this was normal, that this was what all children did on Saturday nights; that we were in no way different.
For a while Harry went the same way as his father, running with a neighbourhood crew and nearly going down for the firebombing of a local nightclub in which a young woman was terribly burned. But, like me, he eventually managed to escape the gravitational pull of his suburban Essex upbringing and connections, moving to the coast where he now runs an apparently legitimate charter fishing business.
He has one of the fastest boats coming off the Thames Estuary, with twin 400 horsepower diesels which he did not waste time pointing out; he told us that they were for reaching the fishing grounds faster, no point fucking about getting to where the sharks were.
‘More time for the punters to get their lines wet,’ he said.
‘That right?’ I said. Harry wore a battered cotton skipper’s cap and a sweatshirt that read My Boat, My Rules and a smile that was far harder to read.
‘Why else, Danny?’
‘Never taken it to Spain? Over to Holland?’
‘Why’d I do that?’ As he said this his eyes crinkled and I could not help but smile back, Gabe chuckling behind me. The man is a rascal. I do not believe for one moment that his boat has never taken on illicit cargo, that it stays in harbour every night there is no moon. But his history is, to some extent, my history and I cannot moralise, even if I am a lawyer by trade. What he does is his business, not mine.
‘So, what are we fishing for?’ Gabe asked him.
‘Smooth hounds, tope, skate. Bass on lighter tackle. Be a good day out. Trust me.’
‘Think we’ll catch anything?’ I said.
‘Your mate, definitely. What I remember of you, Danny son, you couldn’t catch fucking clap.’
Going on a fishing trip had been my idea, a way to reconnect with Gabe, my best friend but a man who has not been the same since he was invalided out of Afghanistan, a captain of the Royal Tank Regiment who would never command a platoon again. Some men never find their calling in life; for Gabe, being in the army was the only thing he ever wanted to do and, once in it, I believe that he loved it ardently and unquestioningly. To lose it has been his undoing, a grief he cannot come to terms with.
‘Be fun. Day out.’
He frowned, like fun was a dirty word, frivolous, nothing that he would willingly entertain. He looked at me, then shrugged. ‘Sure, all right. Fishing. Whatever, Danny.’
But it was not long after Harry had opened up the engines and the boat was bouncing over grey waves like a pebble thrown by some delinquent giant that Gabe was smiling into the spray, holding tight to the guardrail as we left the Thames Estuary and headed out into the North Sea. Adrenalin is adrenalin, even if it is not being supplied by the British Army, and when he got his first bite, his reel shrieking as a big fish took thirty metres of line on a vicious run, I do not doubt that he was having fun.
It was the last cast of the day that landed Gabe his shark; even Harry, who cultivated a careful air of seen-it-all weariness, could not help but let out an agitated ‘Fuck me’ as he watched the dark outline of the shark arrowing beneath the boat. What Gabe lacks in my blunt strength he makes up for in determination; even fishing off the one leg he didn’t leave in Afghanistan, there was no doubt about the eventual winner of the fight. I do not imagine that Gabe has ever given up on anything in his life. And as he held the shark in his arms, I knew with a relieved elation that he was not a lost cause, that he still held the capacity for joy.
He laughed as he struggled to hold the big fish and Harry told him to fuck off, how he’d caught one twice the size off the coast of Ireland, at least twice the size. Then I took his photograph and things, for that one instant, were blameless and entirely good.
Now we are b
Gabe looks across at me, amused. ‘Work?’
‘Some guy, wants a visa to stay in the UK. Got a dodgy Somali stamp on his passport.’
Gabe nods. ‘Home Office aren’t having any of it.’
‘They think everyone’s an insurgent. Everything’s got to be spotless or there’s no chance.’
Gabe doesn’t answer. His leg was blown off below the knee by an IED as he led his company on patrol through an area infamous for sheltering insurgents, many of who came from across the border from Pakistan. I speak quickly, fill the silence.
‘Anyway, looks like he’ll be on his way back home soon.’
‘That what you’re doing now? Visas?’
‘Got to make money somehow.’
‘Christ, Danny, you used to be better than that.’
‘It’s a living.’
Gabe raises an eyebrow. ‘If you say so.’
But I have to admit, Gabe has a point. This kind of work is a world away from the cases I used to take on, back when I worked at one of the City’s most respected firms. Still, I cannot help but resent his contempt for the work that I am now doing; at least I am working. Since Gabe left the army he has done, as far as I can tell, nothing at all. Yet he has just bought himself a new car, is having renovations done to the house his parents left him that I could never afford. I wonder what he is living on, where the money is coming from.
I know what Gabe is capable of, and I know that he has a need for adrenalin. One of the reasons that he loved the army so much, I believe, is the buzz that killing, or the possibility of killing, gave him. It is a hard thing to accept of a friend that I grew up with, but he has become something harder and far less civilised than he once was. Now he has money and no visible means of support. Not something noteworthy in Essex, where the origin of people’s money is so often murky, the subject of rumour and speculation; but worrying in Gabe, who has always been straight up, honest. What is he involved in? I know that I need to confront him about it, get to the truth; but confronting Gabe about anything is not an act I take lightly.
Gabe shifts in his seat and winces. After a cold day on a boat, fighting a shark, I imagine that his leg must be troubling him and feel a brief stab of guilt for expecting him to cope without consequences.
‘How’s the leg?’
‘Still missing in action,’ says Gabe, eyes front, his tone closing down the discussion before it has even begun. Still, I cannot help myself; I have been excluded from this part of Gabe’s life for too long.
Gabe turns to face me, his cold clear eyes locked on mine, evaluating, challenging, their blue as icy as an Arctic wolf’s. ‘Yes, Danny?’
‘Just worry. You know. About—’
‘Hell’s this wanker doing?’ says Gabe, interrupting, looking in his rear-view mirror. I turn in the passenger seat, see the rear window filled with the grille of a Range Rover, huge and black. It is so close that I cannot see the windscreen above, or who is driving. Gabe speeds up, a surly snarl coming from the exhaust, the Range Rover quickly receding. This car he has bought clearly has a big engine. It cannot have been cheap.
‘You were saying,’ says Gabe, nothing but challenge in his voice, daring me to keep going. But Gabe knows me as well as I know myself; I have never backed away from a challenge, regardless of who throws it down.
‘Nice car,’ I say. ‘Cost much?’
‘Fair bit,’ says Gabe. His voice is tight, clipped. Now we are into it. No going back.
‘Getting that work done on your house.’
‘Wish I could afford work like that.’
‘Yes? Maybe you stopped messing about with visas, got some decent cases.’
This is no good; I do not want this conversation to descend into bickering, or worse. I am talking to Gabe because I care, not because I am after a pissing competition.
‘Listen, Gabe, I just wonder where you’re getting the money.’
I take a breath, watch the road in front, choose my words. ‘You’ve got no job. Your army pension’s what, ten per cent of fuck all? And you’re spending it like water. Where’s it coming from?’
Gabe smiles, a baring of his teeth. ‘Oh yeah, now I get it, Danny. Someone you know gets hold of some cash, you think they’re, what? On the rob? Selling drugs? No, women? Fuck you. I’m not your old man.’
That is not fair and I can feel my pulse quickening, a dangerous sign. I know all too well where my temper can lead.
We are approaching a bend, the road broadening, and Gabe looks over at me, his eyes fractionally wider than usual so that I can see almost the entire iris, pale blue ringed with a blue slightly darker, their wideness the only sign that he is angry. He opens his mouth to speak and I sense rather than see a dark shadow fall over the car. There is a violent jolt and Gabe struggles with the steering wheel. I think he has it under control when there is another huge impact from behind and the world is a blur past the windscreen, my head whipped back as the car spins around. Gabe is still trying to get control but it is as if we have been picked up, spun by some unseen force. We stop suddenly, another impact, this time the trunk of a tree slamming against Gabe’s side of the car. Leaves cover the windows, darkness. I am completely disorientated. I do not know where we are, what has happened. The car is suddenly silent. I look across at Gabe who is turning the key in the ignition because the car has stalled. He looks intent, methodical, glances up into the rear-view mirror as he puts the car in gear. I look ahead again and see a man in a balaclava pointing a pistol at us, legs apart, gun held in two hands. The balaclava is black, everything he is wearing is black, he has black gloves on. I look across at Gabe, who is watching the man without expression, and then my door opens and a hand reaches across, unclips my seat belt and pulls me out with an arm around my neck. I am too confused to fight back, and as I am pulled back. I choke and my vision begins to dim but I can see a man smash Gabe’s window and Gabe take his hands from the steering wheel in a gesture of surrender which, for some reason, makes me unutterably sad.
I am face down on dirt and I turn my head to see Gabe lying next to me. His face is towards me and I can look directly into his eyes. There is a foot on my back. I see a hand put a gun to Gabe’s head and feel a pressure on the side of mine, just above my ear. Gabe’s eyes do not react; I can read nothing in them. No fear or anger or confusion. They seem calm. I hear a metallic sound from the gun against my head, a slight jolt. The hand holding the gun against Gabe’s head pulls back the slide and it makes the same sound. Gabe blinks at it. There is a momentary silence.
‘Ready?’ says a voice. ‘
Let’s do it.’
The hand holding the gun against the side of Gabe’s head pulls the trigger. He blinks again but there is only a click. For the first time Gabe’s eyes react. He looks surprised. The gun against my head makes another click as I feel it jump against my skin. The foot lifts off my back. I hear footsteps walk away, a car door slam, another.
I think that everyone has gone when a voice directly above
I hear his footsteps walk off, then an engine start up and a car pull away. Gabe and I just lie there for five, ten seconds, not moving, as if there is somebody still standing above us and if we look he will kill us. Perhaps there is. But eventually Gabe shakes his head against the dirt and pushes himself up with both hands onto his good knee and then onto one foot, the prosthetic foot following. He is as clumsy and awkward as a new-born foal getting to its feet for the first time. I turn over and sit up, hands around my knees.
‘Well,’ says Gabe.
‘Yeah,’ I say. I cannot say anything else. I have no idea what just happened.
‘Just to be sure,’ Gabe said. ‘We are still alive, right?’
We are in Gabe’s kitchen, sitting opposite one another with a bottle of Scotch in between, drunk down to the top of the label. It is all he has to offer, though right now it is exactly what I need.
I have been in this kitchen so many times in my life, from a young teenager upwards, and still I miss the presence of Gabe’s mother fussing about us, offering us cake, biscuits, the smell, and the feeling of warmth and care. But she has been dead five years now, Gabe’s father following soon after.
‘Feeling better?’ he asks.
‘Blinding,’ I say. The Scotch is doing its work, a warm tingle from my heart through to my arms and legs, up the back of my neck into my head. Already what happened is losing its menace. I survived it, I am alive, thus it cannot have been so serious. Except that, of course, it was. Gabe is gazing at me with professional concern and I know that I have to put my hands up, confess what I know. I owe it to him.
‘Gabe…’ I hesitate.
Gabe picks up the bottle, carefully pours us both a top-up, nods me to go on. How is it that his hands are not shaking?
‘What just happened.’ I smile, comes out more of a culpable grimace. ‘Listen, it was me they were warning off. Shouldn’t have been you there. Involved. I’m sorry.’
‘After you, were they?’
‘I’m into something. Something pretty big.’
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