It’s Valentine’s Day, I know, but this little story has nothing to do with romance. Sorry, hazard of the job for a crime writer.
Someone was coming for him.
He didn’t know who, he didn’t know exactly when, but he felt it. Over his shoulder like a creeping shadow.
That was how it went. You made a name for yourself, climb to the top of the pile, and you became a target. Someone eager to earn a reputation would want to take you down.
Dirty business, crime.
Peter Thorn smiled. The newspapers had done their damnedest and failed. They’d done everything but name him; the libel laws had stopped that. The coppers had tried, but the ones he hadn’t bought off weren’t clever enough.
But some things you couldn’t outrun.
Too many people back from the war, walking round with their demob suits and souvenir weapons from Germany or the Pacific. Some of them hungry for a little fame.
He’d give them a chance. And he’d beat them.
That was why he was sitting in this Sheepscar boozer long after time had been called. Door unlocked, landlord and his wife safely tucked away upside. Bodyguards told to wait in a club; he’d ring when he needed them. You didn’t remain boss by hiding. You faced up to trouble.
Thorn had a glass of whisky on the bar, a Colt automatic beside it. Another weapon in the pocket of his suit.
He’d done well during the war. Staying out of the forces was too easy. A little money distributed here and there and he might as well have been invisible. Then it was black market petrol, coupons, this and that as he put together a small mob and made himself rich.
Now all those who’d been patriotic enough to do their bit were back and ready to stir things up.
He sipped the whisky and took a draw on the cigarette. He heard the door of the pub groan open and turned, ready.
‘Thank God it wasn’t locked,’ she said as she came in and gazed around. About thirty, he guessed, dark hair, looking scared and holding a handbag close. ‘I’m lost.’
‘Can I help you, love?’
‘A man was giving me a lift and he started…’ She blushed. ‘You know. So I got out and ran.’
‘He won’t try anything in here, believe me.’ Thorn smiled. He’d always liked a pretty face. ‘You’re safe enough.’ He raised the glass in a toast. ‘Help yourself if you want one.’
She stayed close to the door, undecided.
‘What’s your name, love?’
‘Peggy,’ she replied as he picked up the cigarette from the ashtray. ‘Peggy Walker.’
He stopped with the arm halfway to his mouth.
The woman dropped the handbag. She was holding a gun, her arm steady.
‘Tom was my brother.’
‘He had it coming.’
She ignored him.
‘Funny, the skills you pick up in the WAAFs. Never underestimate a woman.’
His hand began to move towards his pocket.
The blast was loud. He slid off the stool and on to the floor as the door creaked shut.