Shall I Be Mother?
‘Mr Chapman is ready to see you now,’ the receptionist told Pete. He stood up, and twisted the jewel case between his fingers and thumb. It was just over three months since Peter Brophy had been back to Liverpool. He had been taken into custody and questioned over the murder of Felipe Herrero by Merseyside Police before being released without charge. In the circumstances, Fr Stuart Williams had chosen not to press charges of burglary and trespass against Pete and Marketa. The late Mr Herrero himself was now being linked to the murders of Jerzy Gruszka, Dominic Lambert, Susan Lambert, and several others. Detective Sergeant Jason Patterson of the Metropolitan Police had been suspended without pay pending an internal investigation into his links with Herrero and wider organised crime. Marketa Jelinkova had moved to Glasgow in January and was working in a hotel. She was occasionally in touch with Pete – indeed, she had texted him that morning asking what he was up to, which was nice. Obviously he did not tell her the truth about his plans.
His relationship with Amanda was more complicated. Her relief that her little brother was back in her life had been rather overshadowed by the fact that he had exposed her and, crucially, her children to a homicidal sociopath. It transpired that Herrero had been lying about having an accomplice pick up Betty from school, a fact only ascertained after Amanda had confronted Mohamed Iqbal – who had offered for the first time to collect his niece Yasmin, of Year 5, as a favour to his brother – and beaten the living shit out of him. Nevertheless, Pete was still in touch with her, and building bridges with the rest of his family. He had sent flowers to Becky on the birth of her little girl the previous week, and had spoken to Gerry on the phone on New Year’s Eve.
Pete himself was back at work. When it became apparent that he had been instrumental in the downfall of a multiple murderer, the two Tobys offered him a new role, which, it quickly became apparent, was identical to his old role in both scope and remuneration. He had accepted their kind offer for now, but was scouring the internet for jobs elsewhere. Orlando had not changed at all.
He was grateful to Alice, of course, for trying to find him when he had vanished. She told him about the huge social media campaign she had begun. It was nice to know that somebody had missed him, he thought. Even Si looked vaguely pleased to see him.
But there was one loose end to tie up. Karl Chapman had succeeded in avoiding censure. He had no direct link to Herrero, and Patterson was never going to give him up. He was keeping a low profile at the moment, not wanting to make any sort of obvious assault on Pete, but Pete knew the threat was hanging there, the sword of Damocles, if not the serrated knife of Herrero.
And so, the previous day, Pete had entered a telephone box full of cards for transsexual prostitutes and recreational disciplinarians, and made a call to Chapman’s office. He asked to be put through to Chapman himself, but the receptionist explained that Mr Chapman was busy and could not take any telephone calls at that time.
‘Tell him it’s Peter Brophy. He’ll want to speak to me.’
There was a pause. A pan pipe version of Pokerface by Lady GaGa played. Then a click. ‘Putting you through,’ said the receptionist.
Another pause. ‘Mr Brophy!’ The voice was full of bonhomie, east end with a touch of polish. ‘How can I help you this fine February afternoon?’
‘I’ve got the disc. I want to make a deal.’
‘Disc? Don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.’
‘So why did you take my call?’
Chapman chuckled softly. ‘Tell you what, sunshine, you bring that disc here tomorrow afternoon and we’ll talk about how we get on moving forward. Deal?’
Thus Pete found himself standing in the reception at the St John’s Wood head office of KC Scaffolding and Building Supplies on Friday, February 12, 2016, holding a Bluray disc in a plastic CD case. He slipped it back into his laptop bag.
‘Which one is…?’
The receptionist gestured towards a door. Pete approached it, tentative. He knocked twice. ‘Come in,’ Chapman said, his voice distant and muffled. Pete pushed the door open and stepped inside.
Two hands grabbed him. He was pushed against the wall and patted down. His bag was pulled from his shoulder. ‘Clear,’ said the six-foot-six behemoth who had manhandled Pete. He went through Pete’s bag and handed it back to him.
‘Sorry about that,’ said Chapman. ‘If I trusted people I wouldn’t be where I am today.’
Pete turned around and took in the room. It was a corner office, with a leather-topped desk and a blotter which had never been used, at least not by its current owner. The desk lamp was switched on – the porridge-grey sky did not cast enough light into the office, even with so many windows looking out onto Regent’s Park. On the wall was a poster of the Union Flag ablaze from the centre, revealing the twelve golden stars of the European Union. The words “Who Really Runs This Country?” ran across its centre. Pete was surprised Chapman did not know the answer. It was clearly men like Chapman who really ran the country.
Chapman stood up from behind his desk, and walked towards Pete, his hand extended. He was unexpectedly small, wearing Cuban heels which raised him to about five foot eight. He gripped Pete’s hand, squeezing it before Brophy registered the handshake, and shook it firmly. ‘We’ll sit over here, shall we? The light’s better.’
He guided Pete over to a pair of facing sofas, with a coffee table between them. ‘Tell Sofia to bring in the tea,’ he instructed the behemoth, who left. Chapman sat on one sofa, Pete on the other. Pete sank into his, his knees about the same height as his elbows. Chapman’s sofa was much firmer, subtly positioning himself higher than his guest.
‘I’ve got to tell you, I wasn’t expecting a telephone call from you, Peter… Can I call you Peter?’
‘So, you want to make a deal?’ said Chapman. ‘I’ve got to tell you, I’m interested to see what sort of deal you might have to offer. You see, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve got something that belongs to me.’
The receptionist came in with a tray of tea and biscuits and placed it on the table. ‘Thanks,’ said Pete. She acknowledged him with a surreptitious glance, and left.
‘Tea. Can’t be doing with coffee,’ said Chapman. ‘Too harsh, too bitter. Shall I be mother?’ He picked up the pot and poured the tea into Pete’s cup. The spoon rattled against the bone china. Pete sipped it. Too hot.
‘So, yeah, a deal… How about this?’ Chapman said. ‘How about you give me the disc – with my own information on it that that fucking Polish toilet fucking stole – and I don’t kill you? How about that?’
Pete shook. The tea splashed out onto his saucer.
‘Sorry, mate,’ said Chapman, ‘were you hoping for more than that? Did you think I was going to give you some money after all the fucking trouble you’ve caused me?’
‘No,’ said Pete. ‘No, I didn’t…’
‘You got the disc there?’ Pete felt for his bag.
‘I’ve got to tell you,’ continued Chapman, ‘this is how it works. You give me the disc that’s in your bag, and… well, that’s it, quite frankly. Now, you can either hand it over to me right now, politely, like a good boy, or I can get Jake to take it off you. And he won’t be polite, sunshine. Not one bit.’ He took a sip of his tea. ‘Lovely,’ he said.
Pete took the disc out of his bag. He pushed it across the table to Chapman.
‘There’s a card inside which says where the frames with the spreadsheets appear,’ said Pete.
‘Good boy,’ said Chapman, picking up the disc. ‘I’ve got to tell you, you know this won’t help you, don’t you?’
‘I’m not going to do anything now. The filth is crawling all over, thanks to you, the ones I haven’t got squirrelled away anyway. Too risky at the moment. But some day soon, I’m going to make you disappear. Don’t think I can’t. You know I can. It doesn’t matter where you are, where you go, I’ll find you.’
‘Shit,’ said Pete, his face white, ‘Really? Christ…’
Chapman took a sip of tea.
‘I mean, obviously it’s a copy,’ said Pete.
‘Well, I wasn’t going to bring the original with me, was I? I’m not stupid,’ said Pete. ‘I told you I want to make a deal.’
‘Don’t fuck about with me, you little shit. Give me the disc.’
‘I haven’t got it.’
‘Where is it?’ said Chapman. He thumped the table, shaking the teacups.
‘Safe,’ said Pete. ‘Y’see, I’ve got to tell you, I have no idea what’s on those spreadsheets. I had a look, obviously, but the names and the numbers meant nothing to me. But it occurs to me that you don’t want those names and numbers getting out. In fact, you’re so shit-scared of those names and numbers getting out that you were willing to have half a dozen people killed, including me. Am I getting warm?’
Chapman was murderously silent.
‘So here’s the deal. You leave me alone, you leave my family alone, you leave my friends alone. And I’ll keep the disc safe. Anything happens to my friends or family and I’ll contact my associate, who will have that disc delivered straight into the hands of the Commissioner of the Met, and copies to the Home Secretary, the Shadow Home Secretary, the BBC, ITN, Sky, and Uncle Tom fucking Cobley. If my associate doesn’t hear from me for 48 hours, the same thing will happen.
‘And, of course, you know what the best thing is about the original disc? I mean, I’m not an expert in forensics or anything, but it seems to me that a decent lab would be able to detect that it had been touched by Jerzy Gruszka, Dominic Lambert, and me. It’s a direct link from you to Felipe Herrero and the murder of three people.’
‘You little shit.’
‘And the second part of the deal. Give Marketa a glowing reference when she asks for it, which she will. Just think, if you’d done that in the first place none of this shit would have happened.’
‘I’ll fucking kill you…’ muttered Chapman.
‘You say that,’ said Pete, ‘but how many men have you killed yourself? You know, personally? One, maybe? I’ve killed two. Personally. So do not fuck with me. I want a quiet life, but I won’t be pushed around. Not any more. Do we have a deal?’
‘You know, it’s funny,’ said Pete. ‘For the past six months I’ve been walking around London watching my back, waiting for something to happen, somebody to get me. It’s like when you were a kid and you knew the school bully was after you. Ah, you don’t know. I bet you were the school bully. No, I reckon you were the kid who stood next to the school bully and held his coat. Anyway, the point is, now that’s you. Now you’re the one who has to watch his back. I’ll see myself out. Thanks for the tea.’
Oscar the tortoiseshell cat purred from his vantage point 20 feet above Croft Road, watching the man approach his front door. Peter Brophy patted his pockets for his keys. For a horrible moment he thought they had fallen out and down the back of Chapman’s marshmallowy sofa. He really did not want to go back to St John’s Wood to retrieve them. He had a feeling his luck had been stretched quite far enough. Then he found them in his back pocket, and his relief was so great that he forgot to be worried that a man might be bleeding to death on the other side of the door.
He pushed open the door just as the young Nigerian couple who had taken Jerzy’s old flat were leaving. ‘Pete,’ the husband said in greeting, as they passed. Pete nodded as he walked to the pigeon holes. He took the Valentine card envelope out of his bag, and placed it in the pigeon hole of Ms D. McKenzie, then turned to go up the stairs.
Ms D. McKenzie’s door opened behind him as he was halfway up the stairs. ‘Busy day?’ she said.
Pete stopped and turned. ‘Long day,’ he replied.
‘Fancy a cup of tea?’ Donna asked. ‘Nora’s out for the night.’
Pete felt the tension drain from his body, spreading out into the hallway, and he followed Donna into her flat.