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The Limit: Chapter 25

...The tapping at the window made her start. The bull terriŽer's head snapped up, its ears pricked for action. The tapping continued and the dog jumped to the floor, ran to the curtain and stood growling, the hair bristling on its neck.

Toni picked up the gun and took a hesitant step towards the window. The voice stopped her. It was a whisper of menace, yet she strained to hear what it said...

Hard man Maudie has been snatched by the Dysons, who are using all means to take over the Rossetti business in Blackpool. Now Toni Rossetti endures a war of nerves...

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

The house creaked. In other circumstances they would have been friendly sounds of age and familiarity. Now they fuelled fear.

Toni moved from room to room downstairs, unable to setŽtle. The silence was oppressive, the creaks harbingers of terŽror.

She turned on the radio and immediately switched it off again. The imperfect silence was preferable to distraction. She had to be able to hear any attempts at breaking in.

Instead, she turned on the television in the living room and inserted a video. Mario Lanza without the sound. The colour and people were company. She sat on the sofa and invited Jane to jump up and join her. The white bull terrier was comforting and she stroked its powerful neck and chest.

Had she been totally wrong to attempt what she had? Had she had the right to put other people at risk? It would have been inconceivable to have buckled under immediately and sold out. So was it simply pride that had made her think she could fight back and win? A gesture of defiance that had now put Maudie's life on the line? A gesture rather than real defiance?

Mario had felt the argument of violence first and was still on his back. His lesson had cost him pain and a limp for life. He had been ready to be persuaded to sell, not to save himŽself more pain but to save others from being hurt.

The responsibility for Gerard and Maudie was hers. So where did she go now? Sell out to save Maudie? To save anyone else getting hurt?

Why should she worry? There were daily flights to AmerŽica.

The tapping at the window made her start. The bull terriŽer's head snapped up, its ears pricked for action. The tapping continued and the dog jumped to the floor, ran to the curtain and stood growling, the hair bristling on its neck.

Toni picked up the gun and took a hesitant step towards the window. The voice stopped her. It was a whisper of menace, yet she strained to hear what it said.

"Toni. Toni Rossetti. We're waiting. Unlock the door and get it over with. There are only four of us. You can manage four of us, can't you? Two at a time. Maybe three. Shall I tell you what we're going to do . . ."

She pointed the gun, her arm trembling. The voice droned on in obscenities but she was no longer listening. The tremŽble in her arm had spread to her whole body. It was just talk, they hadn't attempted to get in. Just talk. The time to shoot was when, if, they tried to get in.

Toni backed to the door into the corridor, feeling her way past the furniture, the gun still pointing at the unseen speaker. The dog remained, puzzled but on guard, sitting down to watch the curtain. Toni went back to the study, back to the vodka.

This time she sipped the drink instead of gulping. It was important not to go to pieces, to stay in control. She reŽmained in the study doorway, looking along the corridor to the open door of the living room. The gun in one hand, the drink in the other. If anything happened, she would know and she would be ready.

After an eternity, Jane came trotting out of the room, lookŽing for her. The dog had calmed down. The danger was past.

Toni had crouched to fuss the animal when the tapping started again. They both looked up, the dog expectantly and Toni with a feeling of horror.

They went into the large circular reception hall. There were two sets of double glass doors opposite each other. The doors to the left led into the stone-flagged entrance porch and to the front door. The doors to the right led into a small unused conservatory and the french windows into the garŽden. Both sets of doors were curtained. The sound was comŽing from the french windows and, although muffled by the intervening conservatory, was still audible. The message was the same.

She retreated once more to the study to retrieve her drink but restrained herself from even sipping it. It was there if she needed it. At the moment she did not need it. She carried it into the living room and watched the silent tenor with determination.

The drink lasted half an hour and she was contemplating getting another when she heard muffled footsteps outside. Both she and the dog stiffened.

Two men were whispering at the back of the house. Two? Perhaps it was four. The voice had said four. More footsteps, soft but distinct, and a repressed laugh. Lascivious? In anticiŽpation?

Toni controlled her trembling and tried to avoid thoughts of gang rape, of brutal men imposing themselves upon her. It was kidology. A male fantasy with which to frighten her. Sex for men was always domination. Well, this time the dominaŽtion would not come cheap.

'Two girls together, Jane." She stroked the dog. "Go for their balls, girl."
Jane grunted in her throat and licked Toni's hand.

They sat on the sofa, sharing the tension, listening to the movement and indistinct voices outside for more than ten minutes. Then the sounds stopped as abruptly as they had and the silence returned.

She felt drained and incapable of movement. She remained sitting, one arm round the dog, the gun held limply in her other hand. The video finished and the screen filled with static. When the cassette reached the end, the machine clicked into reverse to rewind the tape.

The noise attracted her attention. The digital clock said it was twelve minutes past three. When the tape had fully reŽwound, she got up and pressed the play button again.

It was silly but she wanted to go to bed. She was tired. Jane had already gone to sleep and she had had enough. The bastards out there could continue to play out their wet dreams but she wanted to go to bed.

The front doorbell's ring was totally unexpected.

She dropped the empty glass and it fell unbroken on to the carpet. The ring was loud and long. A pause and it rang again. And again. Insistent. Anxious for a reply.

It could be Jimmy Doc. Or Ruth? If they had tried to telephone they could have become worried at being unable to get through.

She ran down the corridor into the hall, her sudden moveŽment energising the dog into following her. At the curtains she hesitated. What if it wasn't Jimmy Doc? What if it was them?

They could already be waiting in the entrance hall beyond the curtains. Would the glass doors be protection enough?

There was nothing to be gained in delay. She checked that the entrance porch light was switched on, and swept back the curtains.

The ringing stopped.

The porch was empty apart from the wooden bench and the two giant vases. The light was harsh and she screwed her eyes to see if she could recognise the figure beyond the glass and wrought-iron outer door. All she could tell was that it was male.

The figure stooped, pushed a small package through the letter box, and walked off out of sight.

Toni tried to gather thoughts that had been slugged with disappointment. It was not Jimmy Doc. It was them. Her gaze fixed upon the package.

Was this the offer from the Dysons? Their ultimatum? It could be one of Maudie's fingers. God, she was falling apart, back with the television plot.

It wouldn't be long to dawn and nothing had happened. Nothing would happen. It was all calculated pressure.


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