‘This is where it starts to get interesting. You’ll like this bit,’ Jimmy Kiley said, staring at the flat screen television.
Maureen Bailey glanced over at him. She’d been on edge ever since he’d bustled unexpectedly into the house with two of his men. Kiley had a well earned reputation as a calm, collected psychopath and he ran the criminal rackets in the north of the city with ruthless efficiency. Presently, he looked like an expectant kid waiting for his favourite cartoon to appear.
She turned her gaze back to the screen. It was a static pattern of luminous red, yellows, greens and blues. She couldn’t make head nor tail of it.
The colours started to move gradually. A blob changed from light orange to red, then rotated left, a second red blob coming into view. Then below it a third emerged. The three blobs swivelled right, two of them disappearing from sight.
Kiley pointed the remote control at the screen and rewound the sequence. ‘For fuck’s sake! I love that bit.’
Maureen looked at one of his companions, anxious for any clue that might make it clear what they were watching, but the man’s eyes were glued to the television.
The volume graphic appeared and Kiley increased the sound level from zero to thirty.
The footage ran again. The blobs swivelled left, then as the third blob emerged it was accompanied by: ‘Hello?’
Maureen gasped, suddenly aware that they were watching a multi-coloured, upside-down head. She could now also make out a nose and ears.
‘What the …? Kiley?’ The head swivelled left and right, accompanied by loud banging. ‘Fuck!’
Kiley lowered the sound a little. ‘It’s the genuine note of panic that gets me,’ he said. ‘Just look at the way his whole head gets redder as the adrenaline kicks in; the realisation that he’s in big fucking trouble.’
Maureen couldn’t help but stare, her mouth hanging open.
‘Cat got your tongue, Reeni?’ Kiley asked.
‘I … I’m just … what is it exactly that we’re watching?’
‘A man dying. Paul Thackeray. You know him?’
‘Know of him. Big time dealer. The media call him The Whack. He supposedly disappeared last week and the guards are looking for him. It was the headline news on the radio.’ Maureen was a compulsive radio listener, the channel permanently fixed on a station that played music easy on the ear.
‘Well, they’re not going to find him. He’s six feet under in somebody else’s grave.’
The colours on the screen were writhing, accompanied by a torrent of swearing, threats and loud bangs.
‘That’s him kicking the coffin,’ Kiley explained.
‘What do you want, Jimmy?’ Maureen asked, her hands twisting round each other.
‘You’ve been skimming off the top, Reeni.’
‘I’ve been what?’ She stared over at him with flinty blue eyes.
‘You heard me.’
‘I haven’t skimmed anything.’
‘You’re lying. If I can rig up a thermal infrared camera in a coffin, I can hide a couple of spy cameras in this cathouse.’ He looked up and waggled his fingers at the smoke detector. ‘The deal was that you’d pay thirty percent of the takings for our protection. What I’m getting is nowhere near that.’
‘Yes, you are,’ Maureen tried to say confidently.
‘No, I’m not.’ Kiley turned his attention back to the screen.
The colours became almost still, the sound of sobbing coming from the speakers.
‘We thought he’d last for days down there. He lasted less than an hour. Must have run out of air. Next time we’ll put in an air vent. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to die, Reeni?’
‘No,’ she lied.
‘I think about it all the time.’ He paused, turning to face her. ‘You ever killed anybody?’
‘No.’ She looked over at the door. She’d never get through it without the three men pouncing on her.
‘I like to capture the moment on film. See what it’s really like; try and get a sense of what a dying person experiences.’
Maureen stayed silent, her stomach knotting with apprehension. She should never have tried to dupe the lunatic; she’d known that he’d exact a brutal revenge if he ever found out. And now he had.
‘I’ve not seen an overdose yet,’ Kiley continued. ‘How does an overdose sound, Reeni? Has to be better than being buried alive, right?’ He turned his gaze back to the multicoloured screen, a faint smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
‘How about if I …’
‘It’s too late for that now, Reeni. I need to set an example.’
‘Oh God.’ Her stomach seemed to collapse in on itself. ‘Just let me go out on a high, will you?’