Walking After Midnight
A Cal Innes Story
by Ray Banks
....."I never see you,"
.....She's shifting her weight
from one foot to the other, looking at me with flashing eyes.
Her lips are pursed and stained from the wine.
.....It's one of those nights
when I can't do anything right. I'd say she was pre-menstrual,
but that'd lead to me carrying my balls around in a paper sack.
Donna gets like this, and I can't think of a single way to calm
....."You knew this when
you met me," I say. It's weak, I know.
....."So?" she says.
....."So you know what I
do for a living," I say.
She snorts and downs the rest of her wine, reaching for the bottle.
....."What's that supposed
.....She shimmies a little on
her way to the sofa, sits primly, and looks at me over the rim
of her glass. Her eyes have that drunken sheen to them, even
though I know she's only half-cocked.
.....We're sitting there in silence,
so I stare at her legs. She catches me and pulls her skirt down
over her knees, glares.
....."We're supposed to
talk about this."
....."What's to talk about,
....."This, us. I have a
bad day and I've got no one to talk to about it. We never see
each other; we don't talk. It's not what I'd call a relationship,
....."What happened at work?"
.....She waves her hand at me
and pulls a sour face. "It's too late now. I've moved on."
.....And that's the sound of
a door closing. I won't find out what's happened, whatever's
pissed her off. She'll sit there fuming. So I stand and grab
....."Where you going?"
....."I have work to do."
.....Her upper lip curls, and
she takes another drink. "Who you stalking now?"
....."It's not stalking."
....."Don't fool yourself,
Cal. You're a fuckin' peeper."
....."I don't want to talk
about this, Donna."
.....I pull my jacket on, struggle
getting my arm in the sleeve and try not to look at her.
....."Who is it?" she
....."You don't know him."
....."Tell me anyway."
....."It doesn't matter,"
I say, and turn for the door.
.....That's when she pitches
her glass at me. It smashes into the doorframe and I blink furiously.
I lick wine from the back of my hand.
....."Careful, Donna. That
could've hit me."
.....I hear her shift on the
sofa behind me as I open the door and head down the stairs.
.....I was coming off the back
of a stinking hangover when he knocked on my office door. I didn't
hear him at first; my head throbbing so hard my ears were ringing.
But he kept tapping politely until I got the point.
.....When I opened up, there
was a little Asian guy, a grin tucked into a gold embroidered
waistcoat. He grabbed my hand just as soon as he saw me and pumped
it hard, his fingers gripped tight against my clammy skin.
....."Mm," I said.
My throat felt too sticky to speak.
....."May I come in?"
.....I nodded and made my way
round to the window. I'd managed to crack it open a little. A
chill breeze was the only thing that stood between me and a nap.
....."Are you feeling okay?"
.....I nodded, slumped into my
chair and my gut flipped. "I'm okay."
....."You look pale."
....."Sorry, I didn't catch
your name," I said.
.....He flashed me a grin. "Choudrey."
....."What can I do for
you, Mr Choudrey?"
.....He looked around my office.
He took it as an extension of me, I suppose. "I have a friend.
He has a problem."
....."So why isn't your
friend telling me all this?" I said.
.....Choudrey bristled, that
grin wavering for a second. "He is well-respected, Mr Innes."
....."And he doesn't want
to be seen round here."
....."He is extremely busy.
He doesn't have time to take care of this himself."
.....I tapped the top of my desk.
"You're not telling me much, Mr Choudrey."
.....Choudrey watched my finger.
I stopped tapping.
....."I'd heard you were
discreet," he said, a little Manc slipping into that pitch-perfect
accent of his.
.....If discreet meant nobody
wanted to give me a job, then that was pretty much spot on. More
than likely, though, he'd heard that I was cheap. That's the
overriding factor in most cases.
.....I got the feeling I was
close to losing this job. And I needed it, no matter how badly
....."What sort of problem?"
.....Choudrey took a deep breath
while he thought of what to say, then: "My friend, he has
a daughter. She's something of a wild child, Mr Innes. She has
friends who are not suitable."
....."I don't do muscle
work, Mr Choudrey."
....."All he wants you to
do is follow his daughter. My friend is a very proud man and
he has a reputation to keep up. The man his daughter is seeing
does not fit with his image."
....."Then that's his problem."
....."Precisely. And he
would like you to solve it."
.....Precisely. And that's why
I'm here, my head still spinning from my spat with Donna. Choudrey
gave me the girl's address and a photo cribbed from his mate.
I haven't seen her in the flesh yet, but if this picture is anything
to go by, the father has every reason to be worried. She looks
like Bollywood jailbait. The twinkle in her eye says she's seen
far more than she should have at her age. And she'll see a lot
more before the wrinkles start to show.
.....I gaze out my car window
at her house, a nondescript terrace that looks like it might
be student digs. In the front window of the downstairs, there's
a flag hanging from the curtain rail. The inside is probably
cluttered with candles and movie posters, all with Blue in the
.....It's a little after nine
o'clock when a soft top Mazda pulls up. I can hear loud trance
playing from inside the car, so I'm guessing the Asian guy with
half a beard is Gina's driver for the night. Sure enough, he
honks the horn and her front door opens, Gina scrape-clicking
up the path in high heels. Gabbing on a mobile phone, she raises
a hand to wave at the Mazda driver. She looks a lot older than
her picture, closer to thirty.
.....Gina gets into the Mazda
and the car pulls away. I give it a few moments before starting
the engine. From what Choudrey's told me, they'll be heading
into town to see her big bad boyfriend. I don't need to hurry,
but I do need to keep them in sight.
.....Trying to tail a car in
this heap isn't easy, especially when the driver of the Mazda
has a boy racer mentality. He revs up at lights, shoots across
roundabouts, nearly takes his wing mirrors off squeezing down
roads that don't want him. I'm about to give up when he pulls
into a multi-storey car park. I carry on up the street and pull
over, watch in the rear view.
.....They're in the car park
about twenty minutes by my watch. I hear Gina's heels before
I see them. The driver's holding onto her arm to stop her from
keeling over. She's giggling a little. I get the feeling she's
.....When they're just about
out of sight, I get out of the car and follow them. I know where
they're going. Ballantines. A club for those media execs who
were at the second summer of love, a pretty high-class place
for those who want to knock back guarana alcopops and go at it
like knives. It's exclusive. I know that because no matter what
I do, the monkeys on the front door don't let me in.
....."I'm on the list,"
.....The bigger one with the
military moustache looks down his nose at me. One bushy eyebrow
slowly rises. "Take it elsewhere," he says.
....."Look on the list.
I'm definitely on there."
.....The smaller one leans over
to me, almost nose-to-nose. His breath smells like oxtail soup.
.....So I do. Walking across
the road, I nearly smack into a drunk guy dressed in a polo shirt
with half his dinner splashed down the front. A woman is trying
to support him, but she's not strong enough. Looks like they're
heading for a cab rank.
.....I check my watch. It's ten.
The night is still young.
.....I spend three hours smoking
cigarettes and trying not to stray too far from the club. From
Canal Street, I hear Patsy Cline wailing about her search for
long lost love, thumping with the bass coming from Ballantines.
That's the great thing about the Manchester nightlife. Banging
drum and bass mixes with heartfelt country. And normally I'd
appreciate it, but right now the whole thing's battering my head.
.....I'm busy trying to keep
my mind on the job. It's difficult. I'll be weighing up the situation
and Donna'll swim in there, tell me I'm nothing but a sleaze.
.....You call this going straight,
Cal? You're a gnat's dick away from running errands for Uncle
.....I dump a smoking filter;
grind it out with my shoe. I take a deep breath that plumes out
of me when I exhale. My stomach feels empty, knotted.
.....She's right. All this, there's
no reason for it. I get paid to stalk people and report back
to a bunch of lazy voyeurs who have nothing better to do. I could
be earning a decent living instead of playing detective.
.....I look across at Ballantines.
The bouncers have their hands full with a small crowd of guys
who look like they're on a stag night. There's no way they're
getting in, but some people are difficult to persuade. The smaller
bouncer digs his heels in and pushes against the wave of beered-up
Hilfiger shirts. They stutter back a little, a wave of drunken
indignation polluting the air.
.....Up the road, I can hear
the screams of two women playing Prisoner Cell Block H. I move
out of the shadows a little to watch. There's nothing more nasty
than a cat fight, fur flying and nails digging into scalps. Two
more Hilfigers are standing on the corner, pissed out of their
brains. They know it's not worth trying to break them up, not
if they want to keep their eyes. It'd be like trying to stop
a car crash.
.....One of the women snaps a
heel and jerks to one side. Her boyfriend makes a move to stop
her, but she's already sprawled on the ground, screeching curses,
spit flying out of her mouth. The fight's officially broken up
and, from the sounds of it, the stag party is already on its
way to another club.
.....Yeah, I could earn a decent
living, spend five days going brain dead in an office, then get
pissed up on a Saturday night. Civilisation in action.
.....I'm about to light up again
when I see Gina.
.....Something's wrong. She barrels
past the bouncers and skids down the steps, her ankle buckling.
Grabbing at air, her bag falls out of her grip and her mobile
phone goes skittering across the road. She's on her knees in
front of the club, looks like she's drunk, but it could be something
else. She pushes her hair out of her eyes and sniffs. Then she
gets to her feet, unsteady, and walks towards her phone.
.....I stay where I am. My brief
is to watch and report what happens. I'm not supposed to get
.....She picks up her phone and
checks it for damage. The way she's staring at it, I know she's
taken something. Her shoulders hunched, that concentrated frown;
she's oblivious to the bass beats that make the ground quiver.
She chews her lip, breathing heavily. Then she looks up and the
light catches a bruise on her face.
.....What she's taken is a beating.
.....The Mazda driver steps into
the doorway. He stops, looks over the street, has a word with
the bigger bouncer. Gina disappears into a crowd of Gap khakis
for a second, then emerges near me. She runs a hand over her
face, smears her mascara. It looks like she's been crying.
.....The Mazda driver sees her.
He jogs down the steps and pushes past a large woman wearing
a boob tube. She ripples her fat and snarls at him. He shrugs
her off and ducks through.
.....Gina looks up and down the
street, tries to get her bearings. I get this urge to shout out
to her, but then what's that going to look like? Another pisshead
yelling in the street.
.....The driver grabs Gina's
arm and she flinches, twists round. He says something to her
I can't make out, starts pulling her back towards the club. She
digs her heels in, leans back. Then she slaps him hard in the
face and spits at him, pulls away. If I didn't know better, I'd
say it looks like a drunk couple fighting. Nothing really to
.....Except I do know better.
.....Coward. You want to play
detective, you're going to have to get your hands dirty. And
maybe take a kicking for it.
.....The driver's shorter than
me, a little flabby round the midriff. I think I could take him
if I had to. And before I know it my legs are working, I'm striding
towards them. The driver recoils from Gina, who's giving it her
.....Then he grabs her flailing
wrist and smacks her hard across the face.
.....My patience bolts for the
.....I push past a couple of
Hilfigers and slam the heel of my hand in the side of the driver's
face. It's a stupid move, but he wasn't expecting it. He stumbles
off to the side, eyes wide, lets go of Gina. She crumples, holds
.....The driver stands looking
at me. He's not hurt, but he feels stupid. "Fuck are you?"
....."None of your business,"
.....He makes a move towards
Gina. I step in front of her.
....."This is nowt to do
with you, mate."
....."It's everything to
do with me, mate," I say. Proper tough bollocks now, getting
psyched up at the thought. And this guy's got a rattle in his
throat that means he wants to rip me up.
.....His left foot scuffs the
ground. He makes out like he's going to jump at me. The weight
on him, he's not going to get far.
....."Take a step back,
mate. She's coming with me."
.....The driver's lips flicker
apart and he shakes his head. "You're fuckin' kidding."
.....Gina stares at me through
tears. I might be lying, but I'm a sure thing compared to the
....."Gina, get in the fuckin'
club," the driver says.
....."Gina, stay here."
....."Gina, I'm fuckin'
....."Gina, you don't have
to go anywhere."
.....She looks like her head's
battered; she doesn't know what to do. So she does the right
thing and doesn't move. I watch her out of the corner of my eye.
My main focus is this driver. He's looking from me to her, then
back. If he's got any common sense, he'll step down.
....."Fuck off, Jamesy."
.....He makes a move, but I see
him coming. I cover her, grab him round the neck and we go flailing
to the ground. Something hits me hard in the chest. I can hear
a drunken roar from up the way as the breath splutters out of
me. This Jamesy bloke fights like he drives. He's a reckless
bastard and he's not going to stop until one of us is down for
.....He digs in, flips me across
the concrete and I land on one knee, hear a dull crack and feel
a shooting pain straight through my leg. I fall onto my side,
resist the urge to curl.
.....There's the low buzz of
people starting to gather, my heart thumping in my ears. I open
my eyes, blink back water. Across the road, Jamesy's on his hands
and knees looking like a cat with a hairball. I wipe my nose
with the back of my hand. The blood on my knuckles looks black
in the streetlight. Pulling myself to my feet, the leg gives
way for a second and I'm about to go face first into the concrete
again before I right myself.
....."C'mon," I say,
hand out to Gina.
.....She just stands there. Doped
up, smacked up, confused. Trying to work it all out, but her
mind's moving too slow to comprehend.
....."Gina, for Christ's
sake. Your dad hired me to find you and take you home."
.....She shakes her head slowly,
cheeks wet with tears. Jamesy snorts and gobs at the pavement.
He lets out a low growl, something clicking in his throat.
....."My car's just up the
way. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."
All these drunks and suddenly I turn into a pub landlord. "Look,
I'll drop you off anywhere you want."
....."Who are you?"
....."Cal Innes," I
say. Then, because I can and even though I don't feel like it
right now: "I'm a private detective."
.....And she smiles a little.
.....The night streams into a
grey dawn as I drive her home. Morrissey's telling us to Hang
The DJ while Gina gazes out of the passenger window. She doesn't
want to see her father. They haven't talked in a while, about
....."Some dads are like
....."He had me arranged,
did you know that?"
.....I keep my eyes on the road.
....."You've never met him,
....."No. A friend of his
came to see me on his behalf."
....."Little guy? Looks
like a mini Omar Sharif?"
She bites her fingernail, blinks a few times.
.....The Smiths becomes the radio,
some dance station she picks but seems oblivious to once it starts
playing. Her hand keeps straying over the bruise on her cheek
and I notice she's shivering. I'd give her my jacket, but I don't
want us to crash. Besides, it's not far now.
....."What are you going
to do?" I ask.
....."About your boyfriend."
....."I don't know. He's
got a temper."
....."That much I know."
.....She looks at me. "Jamesy's
not my boyfriend, Mr Innes. Rhys was too busy on the decks to
come after me himself." She smiles. "Jamesy. Christ,
I have taste, y'know."
....."Yeah, I can see that."
.....She glares at me for a second,
then looks out of the window again. "I bet you got the perfect
fuckin' relationship, haven't you? All little wife at home and
roast beef on Sundays. Me and Rhys, it's not good, but it's alright
for right now, d'you get me?"
....."I get you."
....."What do you care,
anyway?" She looks like she wants to spit. "You kept
an eye on me, you can tell Dad exactly what happened. Then you
can both feel superior as you like."
.....I nod, despite myself. We're
pulling into her street and a slow drizzle is misting up the
windscreen. Up ahead, a Mazda is parked outside her house. She
sees it when I do, and her eyes become dead in her skull.
....."Just let me out here."
....."We can go somewhere
else, y'know. You have any friends who can help?"
....."It's nobody's else's
business," she says, and gets out of the car before I can
.....Gina struts across the road,
suddenly in control. As she reaches her front door, a skinny
white guy with a shaved head gets out of the Mazda.
.....This must be the DJ boyfriend.
This must be Rhys. He's got the look of someone who mourns the
Hacienda's closure, not because of the music but because he had
too many deals going on. Ecstasy'll give you worse mood swings
than puberty, but that's no excuse for what he's been up to.
..... She stops. He's saying
something to her, but I can't make it out. She looks at the ground
and shakes her head.
.....Rhys keeps talking; she
keeps listening. The control starts seeping out of her.
.....I want her to hit him. I
want her to lash out suddenly and stick one manicured thumb into
his eye socket. Grind it deep until he's screaming on his knees.
Make him screech out apologies and beat the ground until she's
satisfied. But I know she won't. I can see that just as the tears
start running silently down her face and his arms snake around
her waist. She lets her head fall against his shoulder as Jamesy
watches my car from the Mazda.
.....He's itching for me to get
out, play the white knight. The look on his face tells me he's
got another couple of beatings left in him.
.....I light an Embassy and pull
away, turning off the radio and letting early morning silence
do the talking.
.....As I hobble up the stairs
to Donna's flat, I pull my jacket tighter against the cold. I've
got this grimy feeling and I'm sure I smell like booze even though
I've sniffed myself and I'm clean. A sober hangover and the film
of a drunken night out without the fun of drinking. Footsteps
muffled by neutral carpet, that whisper sound you get only in
the more upmarket blocks. When I first met Donna, I didn't realise
she had money. Now it's not an open issue, but it bothers me
sometimes. They say women need to be provided for.
.....That fight we had, it's
usual but not serious. It feels serious sometimes, but it's not.
Things just come to a head, and I know to leave the room.
.....I want another cigarette,
but the communal areas are non-smoking.
.....My leg aches. My back decides
to join in. When I finally get to Donna's flat, the door's open
a crack and I'm thankful. I go in, close the door quietly behind
me and dump my jacket on the sofa.
.....It's not good, but it's
alright for right now.
.....I go into the bedroom and
Donna's splayed across the bed, fast asleep. The duvet's bunched
up in her fist. Hair in a mess, make-up smeared across her face,
that smell of perfume in the air that'll always remind me of
her even when this is over and done with. On the bedside table,
there's a glass of stale wine. I drain it and my stomach growls.
.....She's still the most beautiful
thing in my life.
.....I lay on the bed next to
her, and she groans softly, an arm sliding back to pat my shoulder.
I kiss her hand and settle my head on the pillow. Get lost in
the smell of her and the warmth of the bed. I'm forgiven for
.....I'll deal with Choudrey
tomorrow, but I'll make sure he hands over the cash first.
Copyright (c) 2003 by Ray Banks.
"Walking After Midnight" is Ray Banks' first appearance in Thrilling
Detective. Previous Cal Innes stories have appeared in Handheld
Crime and Hardluck Stories, with two more appearing in Shred
Of Evidence and Plots With Guns early next year. Ray can be contacted
through his website.
How's that? Not as good as being born up a
tree, but there you go.
Like what you've read? Head here
for more Thrilling Detective Fiction!
Please direct further comments and
inquiries about submissions to the fiction
editor, or check out this page.
...... ."And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who
likes talking to a man who likes to talk."
| Table of Contents | Detectives
| Film | Radio | Television | Comics | FAQs |
| Trivia | Authors | Hall
of Fame | Mystery Links | Bibliography | Glossary | Search |
New: On The Site | On
the Street | Non-Fiction | Fiction | Staff | The
P.I. Poll |