Dangerous To Know – The New Chapter One

After giving it a lot of thought, I decided to rework the book, chopping out a lot of the early chapters to get into the action. This is how it starts now.

THE CONTRACT

Before I can collect my thoughts I suppress that chill progression. Maybe the past is simply lurking, concealed in the depths of an ostensibly impregnable silence.

It’s a past I have attempted to bury, to entomb in preference to a daily life. Doing this job, becoming a normal man. Living a normal life with my woman and my children.

Nothing about this is real anymore. This man, my companion, becoming steadily drunk. The crystal shimmers, half blinding me. His words a distant buzz. Only when he asks, “Do you shoot, Aidan?” do I  steer myself away from this grim reality.

“What?” The word adheres to my throat, making me wonder if I have uttered it at all.  Harrington paces the red tiled floor, brushing the fronds and clutching vegetation from his face with ill-disguised impatience. Nursing his whisky, he swings around on my query as to why he should want to know that.

“Course Sarah thinks it’s all a bit barbaric. Shooting pheasants and wild fowl. But it’s a sport. Don’t you agree?”

“I guess that’s what the wealthy do,” is all I can possibly add. “Look, Mr Harrington, Paul, if you don’t want to discuss the garden then why am I here? If you’re inviting me to join you for some shooting party then you’re asking the wrong guy. I’m just a humble landscape gardener. I don’t shoot. I agree with your wife. Killing animals and birds for sport is barbaric.”

“But you used to shoot, didn’t you? And it wasn’t birds and animals, was it?”

I hurl myself from the seat. Tension winds around me. The throb of pain in my wounded shoulder reminds me there was a past. As if it rages inside my head.

‘You think you can forget what you did?’ Sure I’d love a whisky right now. The whole damn bottle if it makes me forget.

Instead all I can do is retaliate, while those smoothly polished features smirk and smile, aware he has me now. I wonder why he’s brought me here. “I don’t know what the fuck this is all about, but if you’re not interested in me doing your grounds, then I’m out of here.” I stress his name coldly.

As if he hasn’t heard me, he says, “A man in my position gets to know a lot of people, gets to hear a lot of things. Names get bandied about, if you see what I mean. The name Aidan McRaney kept cropping up. I learned you were once a minder to Frankie Lamond, a big shot gangster nine, ten years ago. You went to prison for killing the guy who shot Lamond’s woman. Now you’ve been out, what, two years?”

“Almost three, but I’ve turned my back on all that. I’m not that man anymore. I have a different life now.”

“A leopard never loses its spots.”

“I didn’t come here to be reminded of the past. So what is this, blackmail?”

“Blackmail? Good God no.” He laughs, but it’s hollow and humourless. “Why should I need to blackmail anyone? I’m a pig in shit here. Just look around you. I’m a wealthy man. I have no need of blackmail.”

“What then?” I try the door in an endeavour to escape, while Harrington is intent on getting drunk. “If you don’t want my business, then there’s nothing to be said is there? What happened was in the past, I told you. I want to forget it.”

Harrington dangles the keys and savours his smile. All I can do is attempt to escape from this madness, while I implore him to open the door. “You know what I promised my kid?” I pause, confronting him. My breath issues hard, ragged, with that inherent rage that I struggle unsuccessfully to suppress.

“To give him everything a young lad should have? My old man was too poor to promise me those kind of things.”

“No, of course not. I love my children, but no way will we spoil them. I meant that I promised my son that I have turned my back on crime. No more bad guys, that’s what I said.”

“Come on, Aidan, if you disillusion yourself, how can you expect your son to understand?”

“I’m sorry, but you’ve lost me there.”

“I mean, you know you can’t escape your past, no matter how you try to tell your son otherwise.”

The conservatory obviously has to be kept at a certain temperature because of the hybrids, the hothouse plants. After all it is February. Now it’s as if he has raised the thermostat. The place has gradually begun to swelter. Harrington, however, scarcely appears unfazed by the intense heat. Maybe he’s used to it, whereas perspiration has begun to seep down my back, enough to saturate through my shirt and jacket. Once again I demand he let me out. I remind him that Caitlan will be frantic by now, that she’s kind of delicate and relies on me a great deal.

A chill slices through the expanse of heat, cutting through my mind like a buzz saw when he says, “Sir George Treveleyan saw the potential in you.”

“What the fuck, Harrington? What do you know about that?”

“You can shout and bluster all you want.”

“I can see why your wife wanted me to leave in such a hurry. I wish I’d taken her advice and not let you talk me into coming back to the house. I still don’t understand why you’re raking all this up anyway. Wherever this is leading the answer is no. I get the feeling you want something from me that I’m not prepared to give.”

He pours yet another Scotch. He studies the golden liquid before swirling it around in his glass. His expression is thoughtful. Caressing the crystal base, he raises his eyes to mine. Again I plead to be let out. As if I haven’t spoken he mutters, “You know that old saying, my wife doesn’t understand me?”

All I can do is nod, and wonder what the hell is about to ensue. His face flushes crimson from the drink and he’s beginning to slur. “My wife. Oh don’t get me wrong, I love her so much, but she fails to understand or share my interests. We have shooting parties you know. When we do, she makes herself scarce..”

I fully intend to interject my agreement with her, when he continues with his discourse, as if he hasn’t heard me. “Sarah prefers to meet up with some of her medical friends in the city, but in the evening she’s the impeccable hostess once more. Can you imagine her?”

The fact is I prefer not too. Harrington is right about one thing. She is a stunner, but the Harringtons mean nothing to me. His gaze wanders off into a kind of dreamlike intoxication. While I wonder if I can possibly snatch the keys in order to let myself out of this stifling room.

“Look, I don’t care what you and your wife get up to. Just let me out so I can get back to mine.” I soften my tone, rather in the manner of someone pleading to a potential suicide from jumping off a roof. “Okay,I admit, yeah I used to work for Sir George Treveleyan, since you know that much. I was minder to a gangster, ten years ago. I shot the guy who tried to kill him. I went to prison for almost eight years. If you want my life history, I was born in Dublin. You already know I…”

We have something in common, you and me.” Draining the crystal, a hand slightly trembles on the bottle when he pours another. I remind him that perhaps he’s had enough.

“What?”

“Your sister.”

“Bridget? What about her?”

“Not her. The other one. The girl who was raped and murdered.”

“Jesus!” I can’t help but exclaim in surprise. “You have been busy. I don’t like people poking their noses into my business.”

“I didn’t. It was in the newspaper.”

“I still don’t have any intention of discussing my family with you. It’s still far too painful for all of us. So why don’t you open this door and let me out, mate. If you don’t want me to do your grounds I won’t hold that against you.”

“My daughter was raped to.”

He commands my full attention.

He struggles to blink away the tears that stand in his eyes. Slipping a hand beneath his sweater, he extracts a crumpled photograph from his shirt. “Iona. She was just eighteen. She’s beautiful isn’t she?”

I can’t fail to agree. She appears remarkably younger than her eighteen years. Her blonde hair is cut into a short, boyish style, which affords her an almost elfin-like quality.

“Wh-who…?” I ask thickly.

“A man called Ricky Pearson. You know of him?”

“Can’t say I do. I’m sorry for what happened to your daughter. Sure, I can sympathise.”

“Now he’s out of prison, Pearson worked for Marcus Goldsmith. I believe he still does. Pearson was given five years. Now he’s out after three. Lack of evidence, they reckoned. Fuckin’ bastards, what do they know?”A huge globule of  saliva erupts from the scornful twist of his lips, narrowly missing  my boots.

Marcus Goldsmith is a name I am  aware of. From what I have learned of Goldsmith, he currently owns a nightclub called ‘Bronze’ in Southend. Frankie Lamond had once intimated  that if there was a man by whom he felt threatened it was Marcus Goldsmith.

I confide that I know of Goldsmith.

“She was at his club one night. That’s where she met Pearson. Iona was taken up with his looks and charm. He left her bruised and bleeding in a back alley. She killed herself by drowning in our pool.”

“Jesus!” Is all I can respond, while my blood congeals to a glacial chill. “I’m so sorry. You know I sympathise, because of my sister. She was eighteen too. I still don’t understand…”

“I heard through the  grapevine that you did for the man who did that to your sister.”

I freeze instinctively. The perspiration that beads my hairline drizzles into my eyes and I blink it back impatiently, my heart hammering. “I’ll not admit to that without a lawyer present.”

“It was only a rumour mind. Only you know if there was any truth behind it.”

“If it’s blackmail?”

“I told you I have no need to blackmail anyone. Nothing quite so sordid. So how would it be if you had more than the two men I know you have at your disposal? Be able to drive around all your landscape services in your already paid for GT-R. I could put McRaney’s Landscape Services on the map. I know your business is struggling. ”

“So you have been checking up on me? Why?”

“I’d like to help your struggling business. I have plenty of contacts. From Essex to Berkshire, everyone will clamour to hire McRaney’s Landscape services to attend to their gardens. You could be a multi-millionaire before you’re  thirty five.”

“Oh sure,that sounds fantastic, but what do I have to do in return? I’d have to be a pretty thick paddy not to know you have an ulterior motive. One I think your wife know’s something about.”

Paul Harrington’s expression is thoughtful. He savours his words when he says, “I want you to kill Ricky Pearson.”

 

Dangerous To Know – Chapter Three ‘Flash Cars and Beautiful Women’

My window is wound down with ‘Light my fire’ blasting out, I’m uncaring how these toffee-nosed nouveau riche might react. A killed cigarette is tossed out while the Nissan roars into instantaneous life.

If they don’t want my business, then it’s up to them. What a bitch. I know Caitlan has her moments, but she scarcely screams like a demented virago. All greeny/brown eyes. black hair almost loosened from its pins with her consternation.

So why is it that when I exit Bracken Manor, despite my failure to secure the landscaping contract, I am unable to erase the memory of those wild gypsy eyes? She obviously has a temper to match. Why had she over-reacted the way she did when I gave my name? Our paths have never crossed. Surely I would have remembered her.

Deeply immersed in my own preoccupation, I fail to see – and almost collide with – the cream sports car that spins around the bend. The car tosses gravel in its wake, crunching with the impact. The headlamps are blinding. The sports job brakes first, although I almost scrape its side. A window rolls down and a blond head slides out. He admonishes, “Can’t you look where you’re going? And turn that music down, for fuck’s sake. Are you a friend of Sandy’s?” His features are polished and shaven to the point of excess.

Turning the music down, I offer my name.

“The landscape gardener? Paul Harrington.” His expression alters, he smiles, blue eyes crinkle. “You leaving already? I’m sorry I kept you waiting. You get talking and time passes. Then I remembered I’d asked you to come to the house. That’s why I was in such a hurry. Guess you got tired of waiting.”

“I didn’t exactly get tired of waiting. The decision was taken out of my hands.”

Have I imagined it, or does a semblance of darkness cross that smoothly shaven countenance?

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

I relate the incident when I had almost been on the receiving end of a pool cue shoved where the sun doesn’t shine. “Do you still want me to price up the garden for a possible contract then?”

“Of course I do. That’s why I asked you here. You’ve obviously met Sarah and Charlie. Charlie’s barks worse than his bite. Can’t say the same for Sarah though.” He grins.

“So why don’t you come back to the house? Oh, don’t look so worried. She is house-trained. My wife that is. You wouldn’t think that she holds down the kind of job she does. She’s a psychotherapist.”

In my opinion I’m convinced there is more of the psycho about her than the therapist.

“So the music you were listening to. Hardcore is it? Or at least that’s what my son calls it.”

“Hardly. It’s rock. The Doors.  My brother sort of got me into it when I was a kid.”

“I’m more of a classics man myself. Although I’m partial to a spot of jazz. You know old Count Basie?”

I have to admit to drawing a blank there.

“Have you met my son?”. He changes the subject.

“Yeah. I think there’s a girl. Someone shouted down the stairs rather impatiently.”

“I’m afraid Sandy’s love life is something of a fashion parade.” He tuts and shakes his head despondently. “There’s been eight or nine girls already this year and it’s only February.”

He grins, although the smile is swift to fade. “Nice motor,” he adds, when I swing the Nissan about in order to follow him back to the house.

I wonder if the virago will deign to grace us with her presence. Or we’ll stumble upon Sandy making out on the sofa with his latest squeeze.

Instead he suggests that we conduct our business in the conservatory. “My private domain, Mr McRaney.  It has a lock on the door, so we won’t be disturbed.”

 

Is our business so secretive then that he should desire both a lock on the door and a reason not to be disturbed? I’m still coming to terms with his wife’s reaction when I gave my name. Surely all this cannot be attributed to my less than exemplary past can it?

“Oh, I met some guy called Mellors or something,” I say with the realisation that wasn’t his name at all.

“You mean Greggors?” He smiles, slipping a key from his pocket and inserting it into the paint flaked door. “My security man. The house is thoroughly alarmed of course. We were burgled once, when my first wife and I were away.  Greggors is the kind of man I would trust both with my wife and my life.”

I dwell on the fact that he could have left him with anyone’s wife, even mine.

There is more than an intimation of Victoriana surrounding the conservatory. The place is filled with the powerful aroma of various, indecipherable scents. From the exterior it is difficult to tell, but the roof is high domed. So many plants, ivies and fronds descend, reminiscent of clutching fingers brushing your face. As a gardener I have learned much since employing myself in this trade. How to recognise the various hybrids, the wondrous collection, over which the lily is both dominant and a transient reminder of funeral parlours. Plants overlap too, trailing the red brick floor, now barely discernible beneath my feet. More fronds and ivies tangle in a veritable jungle. The scents so overpowering, indistinguishable.

Some of the plants hang so low that I am compelled to lower my head, or risk being half attacked.

“A gardener’s paradise, hey?” He motions me to a battered wrought iron seat, on which rests a number of striped cushions. Adjacent to the seat is an oak sideboard of mottled wood.

“None of your common or garden conservatory here. I had this one specially made. It’s identical to what the Victorians called Garden Rooms. In fact I’m quite partial to a little Victoriana. Everything was so elegant, so drawing room then.” Another key unlocks the cabinet to reveal a surprising assortment of wines and spirits. “I often see your vans around the vicinity. A.J. McRaney. That you is it?”

“Yeah, it’s Aidan. ”

“I only have Teachers. Or do you Irish prefer Jamesons or Bushmills?”

“Neither I’m afraid. I’m driving. New motor.”

“A GT-R no less. You must be coming up in the world.”

“Not really. As my family are forever telling me, I spend far too much money. I guess seventy six thou is a wee bit extravagant.”

“Not if you like nice things as I do. My old man had nothing. We grew up in a Peckham high rise in the late Sixties. Pop was a greengrocer with a market stall. I was the youngest of four kids, and determined to make something of my life. I have, believe me. I love beautiful expensive motors, equally beautiful women. You met Sarah. She’s an oil painting isn’t she? Plus she’s  twenty years younger than me. In fact I had her portrait painted. It hangs above the fireplace in our drawing room. ”

He pours from the bottle of Teachers into cut crystal. I can practically savour the taste of the whisky, but there’s no way that I’ll risk it.

“You a married man, Aidan?” His question surprises me.

I tell him that I am. Two years to Caitlan. “My oldest Patrick is eleven, with my first wife.”

“First wife. An eleven year old son!” he exclaims. “Good Heavens! Then you must be older than you look.” He pauses to regard me above his glass. The glint of moonlight courtesy of the dome, reflects the glass, the liquid inside, with a kind of scintillation.

“I’m thirty one. Look, Mr Harrington…”

“Paul.”

“We’ve skirted around this long enough. I don’t want to appear rude, but I do need to get home to my wife and daughter. I came straight from work and Caitlan will have probably burnt the tea by now. It’s getting a wee bit dark to see the grounds right now. If you’re still interested in giving me the job, then I can come back in daylight.”

“We have floodlights.”

Of course you do.

“You really think I asked you here to discuss the fuckin’ garden?”

Barely has he drained the crystal than he is swift to pour himself another whiskey.

Dangerous To Know – Chapter 2 ‘The Duchess’

Here’s another chapter of my current project. I hope you enjoy!

“I rapped on your knocker several times, but no one answered.” I make an attempt at an explanation of sorts.

The pool cue, which appears to loom on its dangerous ascendancy in the direction of my nether regions, fails to prevent me from continuing my interpretation of events.

“The young guy, Alexander is it? He told me that Mr Harrington was at the pub.” The woman refuses to deny her suspicion, although I am at a loss to wonder why. It isn’t as if I’ve turned up out of the blue. I was cordially invited to Harrington’s home, to price up the work that he required me to carry out on his gardens. I had half expected the gardens to have been in a poor state, I’m surprised to discover how perfectly tended they are.

Nevertheless, Harrington was adamant that I call tonight at seven. When it comes to my business I try not to be late. I attempt to explain all of this to a woman whose expression suggests she needs to be convinced. The unfathomable glances she exchanges with Greggors are not lost on me. Greggors looms above her protectively, as if I’m about to cause her harm. It’s the farthest thing from my mind. In my naivety I go on to explain that Alexander suggested that I speak to the Duchess.

At this juncture I’m aware that Greggors’ expression has transferred from completely unreasonable to the inevitability of kicking seven kinds of shit out of me. The woman’s face breaks into a smile, highlighting the perfect match of even white teeth and porcelain skin, which serves to further encapsulate her beauty.

She laughs with subtlety, while her Irish accent is overly pronounced when she says, “I know that’s what he calls me.” This is conducive to allaying my earlier preconception of her being some elderly infirm Dowager. “Alexander, Sandy, is my stepson.” Her stepson? Then Harrington has to be many years older than his beautiful young wife. “When Paul goes to the pub, usually the Feathers, he could be here anytime. I’m sorry that you had a wasted journey.”

“Nevertheless I think I should wait for him. He was quite adamant that I should be here at seven.”

“Why are you supposed to be here for seven?” It’s obvious that Greggors isn’t as easily convinced. “As I said, my husband has no sense of timing. I must apologise for not answering the door. We wouldn’t have heard you if it wasn’t for Charlie.”

She passes the pool cue to Greggors, before scooping the Spaniel into her arms. It’s conducive to quieting Charlie down, especially when she rubs her face into his. His tail continues its vigorous wagging, his pleasure evident.

“Greggors and I were enjoying a game of pool. He doesn’t like it when I win,do you, Greggors?” She is quite tall, but pitted against this broad shouldered, six five giant, she is compelled to smile up at him. His own smile is more in the way of a brief uplift of lips unaccustomed to performing even that simple task.

“Do you play pool?” she asks.

“Sometimes.”

“What did you say you came about? The gardens was it now?”

“Your husband called me, asked me to come here. Like I said, he mentioned something about storm damage. Most of the gardens I’ve attended to have become damaged by the floods and winds, but what I’ve seen of your gardens so far, they seem in pretty good shape,”

“They are. We’ve had very little storm damage. We’re quite well protected here. Anyway, we have two guys who do all our gardening. Paul must have made a mistake surely. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name. I’m Sarah Harrington.” Her grip inside mine is soft but firm.

“Aidan McRaney.”

“Aidan McRaney?” The palm slips from mine instinctively. Her eyes transform to cavernous intimations of darkness. Even Greggors appears uncomfortable, as he shifts from one booted foot to the other with a sense of agitation. It is those eyes, managing to eclipse every other feature, afford the appearance of a striking cobra.“You get the fuck out of my house!”

The Spaniel is practically hurled from her arms. Charlie resumes his tirade, this time the raucous notes of his barks are in accompaniment with his mistress. Her voice is raised and high-pitched. “I know who you are, and what you are!”

“Yes, I’m a landscape gardener. I’ve come to see what work your husband needs me to do.” I say defensively.

“I said get out!” She snatches the cue from Greggors with both hands. Her feet apart in the combat stance, as if she intends some farcical kind of sword-play.

“Look, Mrs Harrington, I don’t understand.” I stretch a hand imploringly. I really don’t understand. She’s beautiful. There’s no denying that. Reminiscent of a wild Irish gypsy. Dark hair frames her face, which is consumed with this unfathomable anger, that is oddly alluring. Her lips are full, sensuous.

The greeny brown-flecked eyes glower with some inner luminosity. I can almost entertain the sensation of my own watering at thoughts of that pool cue closing in.

Aware of my hesitation, she rasps, “You ever have a pool cue shoved up your jacksie, mister?” Jekyll and Hyde don’t cover it. I’ve no occasion to have witnessed such a dramatic change in someone’s demeanor as I have Sarah Harrington. From friendly and welcoming to a demented virago within minutes.

“No, I can’t say that I have.” I deliver an equally glacial response.

“Greggors, do your job.” Now her tone is commanding and haughty when she addresses the ugly bodyguard. At least that’s who I assume him to be. He’s obviously in awe of the woman. A subservient lapdog.

“But, Miss Sarah…” His hesitation is painful, “what about Mr Harrington?” She is obviously a woman who is used to getting her own way.

“Fuck to what my husband says. Quick, get him out of here before Paul returns. You!” Green eyes zero in on me with lightning speed. “You, McRaney, or whatever your name is. Just get out of here if you know what’s good for you”

“But I haven’t done anything.” I attempt to plead my case. “I would still like to see your husband. After all. it was him who asked me to come here.”

“Greggors!”

“Okay, okay, I’m going.” I raise my hands in conciliation. There goes my potential contract. Before the brutish Greggors can feel my collar, I am swift to exit.