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The Limit: Chapter 15

..."It's automatic. Easy to use. And it kills. Remember that if you point at someone. It's not a toy, to fool around with. It's a deadly weapon. If you use it and you hit someone in the head or chest, chances are you'll kill them. Arms and legs are better targets. But if it comes to using it, I don't suppose there'll be time to make a choice. Are you sure you want it?"...

Toni Rossetti assures hardman Maudi that she does indeed want the gun - that she wants to battle to keep the family business out of the hands of the evil Dysons.

To read earlier chapters of Peter Lacey's realistic crime novel please click on The Limit in the menu on this page.

After another hour he allowed Ruth to drop him off back at the house, declining her offer to cook him a meal.

He familiarised himself with the layout of the property, working out escape routes if they became necessary, and enjoying the novelty of having a modern house, if only on a temporary basis.

The front room was small but luxurious compared with what he was used to. Fitted carpets, a deep armchair and a sofa, TV and video, a cassette hi-fi system and racked tapes, flowers in vases. A woman's touch.

He bent to sniff the flowers and discovered they were plastic. A working woman's touch.

In the kitchen, the larder and refrigerator were well stocked. So far, it was a five-star holiday.

Toni came at seven thirty and he went into the kitchen to make a pot of tea. She watched from the dining room.

It was role reversal from that afternoon. He was settled in and domesticated already, acting like a householder, being hospitable, making tea over which to discuss armed robbery and worse.

It was a crazy world.

"We need to talk, Toni. About this whole thing."

"Are you having second thoughts?"

He paused between putting tea bags into the pot to stare at her.

"I'll do a job for you, gel. Don't doubt it. But I want you to be sure you want me to."

She walked into the front room. When she returned a few minutes later she was smoking a cigarette.

"I've thought about it a lot. I'm not doing this on a whim. There are two courses I can take. Accept their offer and persuade Mario to sell out. Or fight back.

"Selling out means handing over a three-generation business for peanuts. It means Emilio will spend his retirement years in shame. It means Mario will be exiled to suntan his crippled legs abroad. It means they will both be unavenged, and a pair of arrogant shits will go on to do the same thing to some other poor sod.

"I left this town by choice but I might want to come back some day. My brother doesn't want to go at all."

He poured boiling water into the pot.

She said, "There isn't any choice. I've got to have a go."

Her stance was defiant and determined. But she still didn't know what she was getting into. He had a duty to tell her before it started. It might be better if she sold out. He was one elderly out-of-condition man against an organisation.

Whose welfare was he thinking of?

He poured the tea, his in the red mug, hers in the yellow, as before, and handed it to her. They went back into the front room and he lit one of the cigars he had bought that afternoon.

"I used to smoke cigars all the time." He coughed. "My lungs were younger then."

"Say what you've got to say, Maudie. Try to talk me out of it."

"It's not that. It's just that you've never seen violence. You don't know what it's like."

"I didn't start the violence.

He decided he didn't like the cigar and put it in an ashtray. Perhaps he should stick to Bombay bits.

"The Dysons," he said. "They're pretend Krays. They've built what they've got the same way. An acceptable front and strong-arm persuasion to make the partnerships, take over businesses. At the moment they're small time. They're not hardmen. They employ hardmen. But they have a very mean streak and they're clever.

"If they're to stay successful, they have to stay respectable to all the nice establishment people. Councillors, chamber of trade, Rotary, police. But, out of sight, where it counts, they have to be known as evil swines.

"Getting the books back won't stop them. They can't back down now. Word would get out. The next bloke they decided to lean on might tell them to piss off. So they'll have to make an example of you, Mario, the business. A fire, gas explosion, rape, a face full of stitches. Think of the worst thing that could happen and they might do it."

He sipped his tea and gave her imagination time to develop the theme.

"Do you still want to go ahead with it?" he said.

"Do you have a gun for me?"

He hesitated.

"Yes. But that's no guarantee."

She nodded.

"I want to go ahead. There's no other way."

He picked up the cigar that had now gone out, considered it and put it back in the ashtray. The time for self-delusion was past.

"Ill get the gun."

He went to the bedroom, took the Samsonite suitcase from the top of the wardrobe, and from it took a 9mm Mauser automatic pistol in a chamois cloth. It had a short, finger-length barrel. It was neat enough for a handbag, potent enough to be a stopper at short range.

She had lit another cigarette by the time he got back, and looked more nervous than he had ever seen her.

"Have you ever handled a gun before?"

"In America. We were out in the woods, fooling around. One of the guys had a revolver. I fired it a couple of times. I didn't like it."

"Did you hit anything?"

"A tree. It was not the tree I was aiming at."

He held out the Mauser for her to see.

"It's automatic. Easy to use. And it kills. Remember that if you point at someone. It's not a toy, to fool around with. It's a deadly weapon. If you use it and you hit someone in the head or chest, chances are you'll kill them. Arms and legs are better targets. But if it comes to using it, I don't suppose there'll be time to make a choice.
"Are you sure you want it?"

Toni took a deep breath and recovered her composure.

"I want it."


He showed her how to load the magazine, where the safety catch was and how to cock the gun.

"It's safe enough, loaded, in your handbag, as long as it's not cocked and it has the safety on. And don't forget. Having it is unlawful possession. Using it is a whole lot more. Try to keep it clean of fingerprints. Handle it with a cloth or wear gloves."

He smiled.

"Of course, that's all good advice if you're planning a job. But if you ever have to use it, chances are there won't be time."

He went through the procedures again and watched while she did the same.

"Remember. It kills. Even if you pull the trigger by accident. So treat it with respect."
He got up. "More tea?"

"I think I'd rather have a vodka."

She looked up, the gun held in her palm.

"Have tea. I'll put a couple of sugars in it. It's better for the nerves."

He topped up the mugs and settled into the armchair.

"One other thing. Tell Ruth to stay away from both of us. It might even be better if she went away. A holiday or something."

"Ruth? Why? She's got nothing to do with this."

"She's your friend. If they find out she's helping, or is close to you, she could become a target. If they can't get you, they'll get someone you care about. Or they'll hit the club or the halls. You'd better warn your managers to be careful."

He paused. !

"If they hit, then I hit back. Harder." 1

"Is there no way we can avoid all ..." she shook her head in her search for words "... all that might happen?"

"There is one chance. When we get the books back. If I can convince Steven Dyson that I'm troubleshooting for a London firm and that you have major connections, they might bottle out."

Was it wrong to give her hope? They might lose their nerve. After all, this would be their first real opposition.

But the bigger chance was that Dyson would think he was a pensioner on an away-day ego trip, playing cops and robbers. It all depended on how it went.

"Tell me how we're going to get the books back," he said.


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