A Malloy Adventure
by David Cox
.....Three of them, blocking
my path, making me late for an important meeting. Don't you just
love back alleys and rainy nights and boys who think they"re
....."Out the way, there's
.....The shortest of the three
pissholes for eyes and a weasel grin -- slides a five-inch
filleting knife from an ankle sheath. I've met his type before,
hundreds of times. Their noses make my knuckles bleed.
.....Running the tip of his left
thumb across the blade, he nods and grins, but mostly grins.
....."What's in the bag,
is unavoidable. Often it goes with the job. Occasionally it can
be fun. The thought occurs I haven't had a full-on fistfight
in weeks. Bending at the knees, keeping an eye on the knife,
I put the case down on the pavement, flip the catches, and watch
my adversaries" eyes light up.
.....Three of them. One of me.
A kinder man or one with less on his mind - would feel
sorry for the poor bastards.
....."Spot of trouble on
the way -- nothing I couldn't handle."
....."Got the dosh?"
....."Don't insult me."
.....'Then let's see it."
..... "If you've got the
....."She's hardly a girl."
....."A figure of speech."
....."Why don't you open
....."Why don't you show
me the figure of speech?"
.....We could go on like this
for hours, verbally sparring like tired old boxers running on
instinct. Bill Blake's his name. Five foot four with a jutting
chin like a jammed drawer. They call him Maggot. He hires himself
out as a frontman for blackmailers, kidnappers, and the like.
Maggot's the man the bad guys -- too shy to show their faces
-- pay to take risks and make pick-ups on their behalf. A top
man in his field with a reputation for discretion. Pigs squeal;
maggots don't. Even when stamped on. Looking around the bombsite
he calls his flat, I can't help but wonder how he spends his
....."Mind if I sit down?"
.....He shrugs. 'suit yourself."
.....The settee is a mistake.
I shift my arse from one broken spring only to sit on another.
"Nice place you've got here."
....."It's good enough for
....."I'm sure it is."
....."Look, Malloy. You
know me. We've dealt with each other before."
.....True enough. When you've
been working the go-between game as long as I have, you get to
trade banter with all manner of social misfits. For a career
flunky, Maggot's straight enough. Which isn't saying much.
.....Maggot takes off his glasses
and rubs his bloodshot eyes. He tries to look cool strutting
around the midget-sized living room. He laps the room in about
three seconds and gets precisely nowhere with me. As he passes
under the ceiling light, I notice his forehead is damp with sweat.
....."What's wrong, Maggot?"
....."You know as well as
I do, the woman isn't here. Give me the money. Let me count it.
Then I'll tell you where you can find her."
.....'Tell me first."
.....Maggot shrugs and attempts
a worldly smile, almost making it. "I have my instructions.
We do it my way or not at all. The boys I'm working for are old
pros. You keep your side of the bargain, they'll keep theirs."
.....He's right, of course. Much
as it offends my professional ethics giving in to kidnappers,
this is what I'm being paid to do, the way Adams has insisted
on playing things: Do what they say. No police. No heroics.
Get my wife back alive and unharmed.
....."There you go."
I toss the case to Maggot who shows surprising agility in catching
it down by his ankles.
.....I tell him the sequence.
He flips the catches and sets to counting the bundles of twenty-pound
notes. Staying where I am, on the settee, letting the broken
springs do their worst, I twiddle my thumbs and derive what small
pleasure I can from watching droplets of sweat run, one after
the other, down Maggot's forehead and into his eyes.
....."Hello, Mr Adams."
....."Where are you?"
....."Driving out of town
on the Uffingham Road on the way to pick up your wife."
....."Where is she?"
....."In an old barn somewhere.
I've got the instructions written down."
....."Should I come?"
....."Stay where you are.
I'll bring her to you."
....."You gave them the
money as agreed?"
....."Yeh. I'll call you
when I have her. All right?"
....."Okay. No heroics,
....."As I said this morning,
Mr Adams, not my style."
.....A click on the end of the
line tells me he's hung up. A nice man, Mr Adams. Soft as shit.
But loves his wife.
.....Things begin to speed up
as my Volvo eases its way through the traffic and out of town.
Hitting sixty and getting into fifth gear puts me in a good mood,
which, in turn, sets me dreamily harking back to my brief skirmish
with the weasel and his gang of would-be muggers. That opening
head-butt, the snap of his nose, the crimson fountain Leave the
heroics to the heroes; the simple things are more than enough
for a man like me.
.....The old barn takes some
finding. Twelve miles out of town, I turn off the main road onto
a narrow gravelled lane between two seemingly identical fields
of identical grazing sheep. Ten minutes and I swing left onto
a muddy track meant for tractors. The Volvo's going to love this.
Twenty more minutes of snaking and sliding and sloshing
and wheel-spinning leads me away from the sheep and into a small
wood. Why do I get the feeling I'm being watched? Why do I get
the feeling I'm being set up? Why do I get the feeling I should
have given Maggot a good hiding when I had the chance?
.....The sheet of notepaper with
the scribbled instructions is laid out across the dash. Turn
right into an open gate. I do as I'm told, and enter a small
.....She's in the barn behind
the main house. We'll see about that.
.....The first thing I hear as
I get out of the car is the thuggish fark of an overhead
crow. The second is a farting noise as I sink to my ankles in
mud. The third is a moment of absolute silence -- the kind that
tells you you're on your own and there's not another living soul
within shouting range.
.....The barn is built of red
brick. There are closed wooden shutters on the windows. The door
has a sprung-latch arrangement on the outside. There's also a
padlock which is hanging open. A bad sign. I count to three and
kick the door in. Fark, says the overhead crow. Fark.
Fark. Fark. Fark.
....."What do you mean,
....."What do you think
....."Well, where is she?"
.....I'm starting to feel a tiny
bit sorry for the poor bastard. "This isn't a game, Mr Adams.
I have no idea where she is."
....."You gave them the
money, didn't you?"
....."We've already been
through this. I played it exactly the way they wanted."
.....I know what he's thinking.
.....He's thinking he's been
had. That's what you get for dealing with villains. I could've
told him that -- if he'd asked. Who knows -- perhaps he should
have asked. Imagine that: a client requesting my opinion.
.....He's thinking perhaps it
wasn't such a great idea to for him to nick a hundred grand from
his own bank. In my experience, that's often the case with community
pillars like Mr Adams. They think they know best. Shame
Adams didn't have a clue about who or what he was dealing with.
Not that I'm bitter, as I slam the car door shut and begin coaxing
the old Volvo back through the mud and shit. All I'm saying is
perhaps just perhaps he should have asked my opinion.
.....I hang up. I'm better off
talking to the farking crows.
.....I'm back at Maggot's flat
for a spot of reckless retribution. No reply to my persistent
battering on the door. I could kick the door in. Or perhaps put
a brick through the window. Something's got to give. The mood
I'm in, someone's got to get their head broken.
....."What do you want?"
....."Who the fuck are you?"
.....A white-bearded goat-face
peers out from the window of the flat two doors along. "The
name's Biggins. What's the idea of all this banging?"
Opening my wallet, I flash him my 25 year-old library card. "Detective
Inspector Brian McGee, CID. I wish to interview the occupant
of number 29. Perhaps you can help with my inquiries. You might
have noticed the man-in-question going out within the last hour
or so -- possibly carrying a brown leather briefcase. I wonder
if you've seen him at all?"
....."That looks like a
library card to me."
....."Mr Biggins, please"
....."You"re not a
....."This is an official
....."Show me that card
.....I mosey over to number 31
to get a better look at the old codger. Rule-of-thumb dictates
that all neighbourhoods have at least one people-hating, cardigan-wearing
curtain-twitcher. Personally, I can't stand the buggers. They're
never as useful as they should be. And more often than not they
stink -- usually of menthol or stale pee. No matter what I try
driving licence, credit card, fishing permit, library card
-- they never seem to believe I'm a policeman. Looking down my
nose into Biggins' grizzled countenance, I'm almost blown off
my feet by the stench of his rotten fish breath. "Mr Biggins,
would you mind answering my question? Have you seen..."
....."I know who you are.
I've seen you in the pub." He doesn't mention which pub.
Not that it matters much. I've been in all of them. "You're
not a cop -- you're that bouncer who's always starting fights."
.....I'm not a bouncer, you
goat-faced moron! I'm a private detective who does a bit of short-term
security work ossasionally to pay the bills. And I don't start
fights -- I finish them. Get it right!
..... I want to hit him.
Perhaps I should. Instead I turn, walk away, get back in the
car and go home.
....."Ah, Jesus!" Not
safe in my own home. What have I done to deserve this? Barely
have I unlocked the door and stepped into the hall when something
cold and metallic clangs into the side of my neck, sending me
sprawling against the stair-rail.
.....Patting the palm of his
hand with a length of lead pipe, his face full of welts and cuts
and bruises, stands the weasel. "Remember me?"
.....Sitting on the floor, neck
throbbing, hands above my head, trussed by the wrists to the
stair-rail in the hall, cursing my luck, cursing the world.
....."Where is it?"
.....He wants the money. "You"re
wasting your time. I haven't got it."
.....I ask him how he found me.
No reply. Stupid question when you think about it. A grey-haired,
beer-bellied, six-and-a-half foot Irishman in a small English
market town... not exactly a needle in a haystack.
.....THUNK. The weasel whacks
me across the kneecap with his lead piping. A yellow-toothed
grin splits his face in two.
.....Pain shoots up my leg, short-circuiting
to my brain. Somehow I manage to keep my mouth shut and swallow
.....My weasel-tormentor, meantime,
drops the pipe. Stooping low, he reaches down to his ankle sheath
and pulls out his best friend, the filleting knife. "Last
chance, ape. Where's the bag?"
.....No answer. What's the point?
How many times in my long and violent life have I picked out
some cocky oaf in the pub and boasted to myself or anyone who'll
listen, I could take that tosser with my hands tied behind
my back? Well, now's my chance.
.....He sidles soundlessly towards
me, knife at hip-level. The eyes screw-up. Neither of us speaks.
There's nothing more to say. Biding my time, concentrating on
my breathing, I allow my body to relax and recoil.
.....Amateur that he is, the
weasel leaves his defences wide open -- by which I mean his legs.
As soon as he's in range, I slam my right knee into his balls.
Seeing the knife fall harmlessly on the hall carpet, I finish
the job with a left-footed scissor-kick to the side of his head.
Am I good or what?
.....All that remains now is
to get my hands free.
.....Fat wrists and swollen knuckles
don't help. It takes the best part of an hour to squirm free
from the electrical flex. Meantime, the weasel sleeps, his features
having turned soft-edged and childlike. He's probably got a mother
somewhere. She probably even loved him once.
.....The phone in the living
room rings but stops before I can get to it. Then the mobile
....."Adams. What a pleasant
....."They've made contact
....."I'm not sure I care
....."In fact, I'm almost
certain I couldn't care less."
....."What do you mean?"
....."It's been a long day
-- of wild goose chases and chance encounters. My head hurts.
My back hurts. My wrists hurt. My knees are killing me. My knuckles
are bleeding. I haven't got any feeling in my fingers. There's
a weasel snoozing in my hall. I've just realized I haven't eaten
or drunk anything in twelve hours.
....."A pint is what I need,
Mr Adams. Maybe two. Perhaps even ten. Unless your wife is lounging
on a barstool in the King's Head giving herself away as a side-dish,
she isn't going to get rescued -- at least not by me -- at least
....."I'll double your fee."
....."How about if I treble
....."You're a fool, Adams."
....."I love her. I want
to get her back."
.....A romantic, blind, old-enough-to-know-better,
shit-for-brains, fool. Which makes two of us. "What did
....."You'll do it?"
....."I'm asking you what
....."They said the first
drop-off was a test. The second one is for real. They want you
to do it again tonight. Drive to the same place with another
hundred thousand. You hand over the money, and they'll give you
....."And you believe them?"
....."What choice do I have?"
....."They've lied once
....."As I said, what...?"
....."You could call the
....."It's too late for
....."Have you got the money?"
....."Where are you?"
....."In my car, outside
....."Well, I suppose you"d
better come in."
.....The slim black leather briefcase
looks identical to the one I handed over to Maggot earlier in
the day. Standard bank issue, I imagine -- same as the devoted
pricks they hire as managers.
.....Adams attempts a brave smile,
and offers me his hand. It's like shaking with a girl.
.....He follows me into the kitchen.
"I thought you might like to know, Malloy, I saw a man skulking
around in your back garden."
....."What"d he look
A little rat-like."
.....The weasel. "Shit.
I forgot about him."
....."Who is he?"
....."What does he want?"
....."Your money, and to
stick a knife in my belly. In no particular order."
.....Adams' face, pale already,
drains of its last trace of blood. "Who's he working for?"
....."I just told you he's
a chancer. A freelancer. A nobody."
....."So nothing. Leave
him to me."
.....Adams reminds me of a little
lost child, standing there with his shoulders slumped and mouth
open, neither understanding nor having the confidence to ask
for clarification. A newt out of water, a bank manager out of
his depth, mixing it with the kind of filth he wouldn't normally
let within spitting distance of his office.
.....I tell him to go home and
get some rest. As I lock up the house and we walk to our respective
motors (he, the mighty Merc, I, the varicosed Volvo), he touches
my shoulder. "Malloy."
....."No heroics, remember?"
.....Night falls like a sack
.....Here we go again, the Volvo
and me; slipping and sloshing, tail-sliding and wheel-spinning.
My bouncing headlights randomly pick out potholes, startled sheep
and tree tops. I'm sorry for waking the sheep. Perhaps they can
count themselves to sleep again. It's that time of the day --
by which I mean night -- when nature lays down its head and fat
bouncers-cum-dicks head for the pub. What am I doing here?
.....What on earth am I
Parking, in front of the abandoned farm house, leaving the headlights
switched on, yanking up the handbrake, grabbing the briefcase,
I open the door and immediately sink shin-deep in the sucking,
.....No farking crows
this time of night, but plenty of fucking reasons to have stayed
at home. All good detectives carry a torch in their greatcoat
pocket or at least in the glove compartment of their car. Guess
who's left his at home in the cupboard over the drainer.
.....Making it round the side
of the main farmhouse thanks to the Volvo's headlights, I find
myself staring into a wall of blackness. Somewhere out there
is a small yard and beyond that a barn. Whether or not a bank
manager's wife called Mona is sitting in that barn, twiddling
her thumbs, waiting for a fool like me to come and rescue her,
.....The 20-watt moon, as usual,
proves no help at all. I go groping my way blindly in the dark,
the mud clawing at my feet and ankles like a dying animal. What
a way to make a living. Maybe I should have stuck to the bouncing.
Thumping drunks is, after all, what I'm best at. Always wanted
to be a dick. A born romantic, that's my problem. Now look at
me; miles from anywhere, knee-deep in shit, arms outstretched
like a blind man.
.....And then there's light.
A flare. The click and controlled flash of a Zippo to be more
precise -- coming from what I take to be the barn window. It
could be Mona, the dutiful bank manager's wife, hunched up in
a corner, tweed skirt drawn tightly around her knees, nervously
drawing on a cigarette to keep her flagging spirits up. It could,
on the other hand, be one or more bad guys waiting for trouble,
cigarettes dangling nonchalantly from their goateed and hate-filled
mugs. Most of me is hoping it's the latter. I never was one for
thinking with my head.
.....My chances of creeping up
unnoticed, SAS-style, in this mud are zero. To be honest, I'm
not much of a creeper at the best of times. More of a kick-the-door-in-and-let's-see-what-you're-made-of
kind of an operator. As I said, never one for thinking with my
.....Guided by the memory of
the Zippo's flame, I arrive at the place where my memory tells
me the barn door should be. Still blind, still unseeing, yet
no longer completely lost, I let out what I imagine to be the
Celtic war cry of my forefathers and charge, shoulder-first,
into the darkness. There is no door; either that or it's been
left open. Onwards I charge, into the barn. Mud gives way to
straw underfoot. About ten yards in, I kick something hard and
cold, ending up on my arse as the overhead strip lights flicker
....."My hero." Dripping
with sarcasm. Which, I suppose, is fair enough, considering my
position -- on my back in what looks like a wooden pig's trough.
....."You must be Mona."
....."And you're my shining
....."Something like that."
Getting up, brushing myself down, wiping the shit from my shoes,
I try to sneak a look at her, but she's sitting in a far corner
and it's too dark. The glow of her cigarette winks back at me
like an old friend keeping a secret to himself.
....."What's your name?"
a big man, Mr Malloy. Look at the size of you."
....."Beef to the heels,
....."I bet you used to
be tough once upon a time -- before it all turned to blubber."
....."Big-boned is the expression.
And what do you mean, used to be?"
....."How much does two
hundred and fifty pounds of beef go for these days?"
....."If I were to hire
you, how much would it cost?"
....."Depends on the job."
.....She stands up and sashays
into the light. A black one-piece, hugging her cellulite contours
like clingfilm over cold chicken. One of those women of a certain
age who look better in the dark. The closer she gets, the better
she looked a few moments ago.
....."What are you staring
at, Mr Malloy?"
....."I was just thinking
how pleased your husband's going to be to get you back."
....."I"d almost forgotten
about Reg. How is he?" Standing next to me -- almost against
me -- the stale cigarettes on her breath insinuating their way
into our conversation like a third person with a crowbar."
....."He's missing you,
if that's what you're wondering."
....."That soppy old fool
goes into terminal decline every time I leave him alone to go
for a pee."
....."He robbed his own
bank for you, Mona."
....."What are you implying?
That I'm not worth it?"
....."Worth what? The money
or the consequences?"
.....Abruptly turning her back
on me, causing a swish of cold air, she walks away into the darkness
again, where she belongs. "Leave the case by the door, Mr.
Malloy. And try not to make such a commotion on your way out."
....."Sorry. Can't do that,
Mona. I was hired to take you home to your husband."
.....She turns round to face
me from the shadows and flashes me a smile, looking good again
in the half-light. "How about twenty thousands pounds?"
....."For leaving the briefcase,
walking back to your car and getting yourself a good night's
sleep. Not asking too much is it?"
.....My mind isn't the quickest,
especially at this time of night. Clients don't pay me to think
as a rule -- in fact, most of them actively discourage it --
and I've sort of lost the habit. It's taken a while, perhaps
longer than it should, but at least now I can see the situation
for what it is. "There isn't any gang is there, Mona? It's
just you and Maggot in collusion. How on earth did you hook up
with that little worm?"
....."He's my brother, if
you must know."
.....I remind myself of Maggot's
birth name. "So you"re the celebrated Mona Blake?"
Armed robbery as a teenager, as I recall. Eight years in the
nick. Followed, it seems, by marriage to a bank manager and a
life of so-called respectability.
....."Twenty thousand pounds,
Malloy. Do yourself a favour, stop thinking and focus on the
....."I'd only go and spend
.....The ugly curl of her lips
tells me most of what I need to know. A small silver revolver
in her right hand tells me the rest. "I'm going to start
counting. You've got five seconds to let go of the briefcase
and get out."
.....The kind of situation I
live for. A desperate woman with a gun and two hundred grand
in her sights versus me with my fists and slightly dim wits.
Five seconds to do something. Not an idea or single thought in
my head. Not much fear either.
....."One... two... three...
.....Nothing comes. No inspiration.
So what the fuck, it's worked in the past - I rush her.
.....PHUUT! says the silenced
gun. And down goes poor old Malloy like a felled tree.
....."You"re even more
stupid than you look, Mr Malloy -- and, believe me, that's saying
something." There's an edge to Mona's voice that wasn't
there before. Not hysterical. But not quite in control either.
"No wonder Reg chose you for his dirty work, Mr Malloy.
Cretins, the pair of you."
.....Sprawled on the straw, my
head resting against a wall, pain sledgehammering away at my
right shoulder, I say nothing. She may be right. Perhaps I am
all blubber and bluster. Now look at me, I'm bleeding too.
.....Mona sashays back into the
light. I don't bother looking this time. She picks up the briefcase
and kicks me softly, almost tenderly, in the kidneys. "You'll
be all right. I'll call an ambulance in a few hours' time. Tell
Reg I'm sorry." She hesitates. "On second thought,
don't do that. Tell him thanks for the money. He'll appreciate
that more. Oh yeh... and tell him..."
.....THWACK! Mona stops mid-sentence
and falls down on top of me, her head on my bloody shoulder.
....."She was right, ape.
You are a fucking cretin."
.....The weasel grins down at
me, his face still hideously scarred from the two beatings I've
given him, the same length of lead pipe still clutched in his
bony claws. I guess he must have hitched a lift in the Volvo's
boot. Peeling away Mona's fingers, he picks up the briefcase.
Almost as an afterthought, he reaches down to the filleting knife
by his ankle. He looks at me, as if to say something. Then changes
his mind, puts the knife back in its sheath, turns and disappears
into the night.
.....Not much more to tell. Mona
wakes up, rubs her head and wastes five minutes cursing worse
than a trooper. We concoct a story together of three large muscular
men, dressed in black with balaclavas, who took the dosh and
drove away in a Range Rover. Mona calls her darling husband on
my mobile. He drives over and picks the pair of us up, drops
me off at the hospital, and takes Mona home. What's he going
to tell the bank about their missing money? I have no idea. Nor,
to be honest, do I give a shit.
.....As for the weasel, the next
time I see that little psycho, I'll break his bloody legs.
Copyright (c) 2004 by David Cox.
David Cox is a teacher from Stamford, Lincolnshire
in the UK, who does a bit of freelance journalism and short story
writing on the side. "The Drowning
Detective," a previous story featuring Malloy
appeared in these pages in 2002.
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...... ."And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk."