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Ratcatcher: Chapter 11

...And I thought about Tiger. How could he be dragged so low? I'd imagined him - as much as I dared - with his own business, a pub or something, a thick wedge of compensation in the bank, and one of those overflowing girls he so loved to keep the frost off. Hands had explained that bit to me. He'd had one of those girls when he arrived in the town. Unfortunately she'd overflown with the compensation and an insurance salesman...

But Jim Hussy, on an undercover mission, plans to involve his old mate Tiger in some seriously violent action.

Colin Dunne continues his high-tension thriller. To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/ratcatcher/

Over the heads of the crowd, I could see the ring-the-bell machine.

As I pushed through them, they turned one by one and I saw all the faces I recognised - Brassington, and the little Irish girl Eileen, the cruiser from reception, and even the vile-smiling Tidy.

In the middle I came to a clearing where Tiger was standing. Unarmed, he was facing two men from the shooting gallery. They had their rifles raised. Tiger dived to the ground, rolling around, scrambling up again, doing all sorts of things to make himself a difficult target, but they weren't shooting.

I knew that I had to ring the bell on the machine to stop them shooting Tiger.
I paid my money to a stooping figure seated at the front of the machine. When he looked up, I saw he had the face of Cringle from the Unit. He handed me the hammer as though it was a wand.

But when I tried to lift it, it came barely an inch off the ground. It was a vast weight. I tried again, with both hands, and this time got it to my knees.
By now the two men from the shooting gallery were taking aim and Tiger was shouting, 'Now Joe, for Christ's sake now!'

I got the hammer on to my shoulder. I struggled to lift it higher. The head of it turned over and began to drop towards the peg.

Even as it struck, I heard the crack of the rifles, and I thought it was odd them having Armalites on a fairground. I saw Tiger jerk as the bullets hit him and then fall to the ground.

Too late, the hammer hit the peg, and it rang. Tring tring. Tring tring. Tring tring.

It was the telephone.

‘Hello, is that Room Four?'

'It is.'

'Your jacket's ready, sir.'

I could see my jacket on a hanger on the side of the wardrobe. I didn't own two. Not even in dreams.

'What jacket?'

'The one you bought, of course.'

There was an audible flounce in that voice. Here was a man who went into the inside leg business for not wholly sartorial reasons.

'I'll hold it for you,' he added.

'I'll bet you say that to all the boys, petal.'

He made one of those appalled delighted noises. 'All right then, we'll send it round.'

Half asleep, I lay on the bed. I could see my eye-patch on the bedside table, and the remains of the sandwiches and tea I'd sweet-talked out of the receptionist with an inside tip about Russell Harty's imminent marriage.

And I thought about Tiger. How could he be dragged so low? I'd imagined him - as much as I dared - with his own business, a pub or something, a thick wedge of compensation in the bank, and one of those overflowing girls he so loved to keep the frost off. Hands had explained that bit to me. He'd had one of those girls when he arrived in the town. Unfortunately she'd overflown with the compensation and an insurance salesman.

But it wasn't so much his circumstances as his meekness that shocked me. Men used to step around Tiger. Now, if Brassington was anything to go by, they walked all over him. And I was the one to blame. I dropped the shutters on that line of thought right there and then.

I touched my eye. It was still raw. High-risk Hussy wasn't doing too well among the county set. Everyone was either giving me a rollicking or a poke in the eye. If word got round, their kids would be stealing my alphabet bricks next.

Still, at least I'd made one gain. The local gentlemen's ballet class were sending me a jacket.

Looking up at the ceiling, I suddenly saw that the ceiling rose was out of shape. That was odd. All the mouldings and the woodwork had been kept in its original condition. You know what those places are like - wilfully living in the past.

But I could see that the ceiling rose was somehow misshapen. I covered my sore eye and looked at it again. This time I could see that a piece of paper had been jammed under the rim of the plaster. I stood on the bed and tried to reach it. I was a good six inches short.

With a couple of bounces on the bedsprings, I jumped. My fingers grabbed the paper but as I fell my heel hit the edge of the bed and as I crashed to the floor I rammed my toes against the wall.

I sat there for quite a while, holding my foot and running through my vocabulary for these sort of situations. Then the phone went again.

'Who's that?'

'A half-blind lame Cockney Dago Mick.'

'Ah. I'm with you. Drive north and phone from the first kiosk on the right out of town.'

Cringle. Using his Dick Barton kit again.

With my one good leg, I climbed on to the bed, and with my one good eye, I read what was written on the paper. It was all in capitals with no punctuation.

RING AND YOUR FEE WILL BE DELIVERED

I read it again. It still looked like a promissory note, in which case the ceiling was a very odd place to leave it. If that was one of the things Tidy had been hunting for, I could only think he'd have been disappointed if he'd found it.
I got up and put on my jacket. I was going to Quarry Valley. I had three reasons for going.

The first was to see where Striker had died. The second was to see where Tiger lived - Hands said he had the old weighbridge hut at the quarry. And the third was to involve Tiger in some serious shooting. He'd been resting in peace far too long.

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