No Heroics
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 men?

....."Out the way, there's good lads."

.....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, ape?"

.....Sometimes confrontation 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.

****

....."You"re late, Malloy."

....."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 girl."

....."She's hardly a girl."

....."A figure of speech."

....."Why don't you open the case?"

....."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 cut.

....."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 me."

....."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.

....."Combination?"

.....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.

****

....."Malloy?"

....."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, remember."

....."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 derelict farmyard.

.....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, not there?"

....."What do you think I mean?"

....."She's gone?"

....."Exactly."

....."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."

....."But..."

.....I know what he's thinking.

....."But..."

.....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.

....."I..."

.....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 don't..."

.....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?"

....."Mr Biggins." 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 policeman."

....."This is an official inquiry."

....."Show me that card again."

.....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 the scream.

.....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 starts.

****

....."Hello."

....."Malloy."

....."Adams. What a pleasant surprise."

....."They've made contact again."

....."I'm not sure I care any more."

....."What?"

....."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 not tonight."

....."I'll double your fee."

....."No sale."

....."How about if I treble it."

....."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 they say?"

....."You'll do it?"

....."I'm asking you what they said."

....."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 Mona."

....."And you believe them?"

....."What choice do I have?"

....."They've lied once already."

....."As I said, what...?"

....."You could call the cops."

....."It's too late for that, Malloy."

....."Have you got the money?"

....."Yes."

....."Where are you?"

....."In my car, outside your house."

....."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 like?"

....."Young. Funny-looking. A little rat-like."

.....The weasel. "Shit. I forgot about him."

....."Who is he?"

....."A chancer."

....."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...?"

....."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."

....."What?"

....."No heroics, remember?"

****

.....Night falls like a sack of nails.

.....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 doing?

....."Ah, Christ!" 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, farting mud.

.....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, remains doubtful.

.....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 head.

.....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 to life.

****

....."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 knight."

....."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?"

....."Malloy."

....."You"re certainly a big man, Mr Malloy. Look at the size of you."

....."Beef to the heels, that's me."

....."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?"

....."Sorry?"

....."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?"

....."What for?"

....."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 twenty thousand."

....."I'd only go and spend it."

.....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... four..."

.....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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