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Authors: Nick Oldham

Hidden Witness

BOOK: Hidden Witness
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Recent Titles by Nick Oldham from Severn House

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SUBSTANTIAL THREAT

DEAD HEAT

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PSYCHO ALLEY

CRITICAL THREAT

CRUNCH TIME

THE NOTHING JOB

SEIZURE

HIDDEN WITNESS

HIDDEN WITNESS

Nick Oldham

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
 

First world edition published 2010

in Great Britain and 2011 in the USA by

SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of

9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.

Copyright © 2010 by Nick Oldham.

All rights reserved.

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Oldham, Nick, 1956–

Hidden witness. – (A Detective Superintendent Henry

Christie novel)

1. Christie, Henry (Fictitious character) – Fiction.

2. Police – England – Blackpool – Fiction. 3. Intelligence

officers – United States – Fiction. 4. Murder –

Investigation – Fiction. 5. Organized crime investigation –

Fiction. 6. Witnesses – Fiction. 7. Detective and mystery

stories.

I. Title II. Series

823.9'14-dc22

ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-188-0 (ePub)

ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6964-7 (cased)

ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-293-2 (trade paper)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.

This book is dedicated to the memory

of Dave Briggs

ONE

T
hey were the first of the killings.

No one was expecting them to happen, especially not ‘off-turf', and consequently their guard was down. They were relaxing, smiling, enjoying the lack of tension in the air, able to breathe easily for once whilst discussing expansion plans with the American who'd flown in just for the meeting.

The weather was cool, but warm enough to sit out in the evening on the terrace of the restaurant in the Calle de Nanses in Can Pastilla, overlooking the tiny bay which was essentially the start of the huge curve of man-made beach, the Cala Estancia, stretching about six kilometres east as far as El Arenal. During summer this whole expanse was a throb of interconnected holiday resorts, but at this time of year in that lull between Christmas and New Year, Can Pastilla was nothing more than a sleepy suburb of Palma, Majorca. Few establishments were open, apart from the big hotels catering for ageing Spaniards from the mainland, or Germans, and even the tat shops were mostly closed for winter.

That said, there was still a lot of people about, and the Somali immigrants continued to ply their trade along the front by trying to encourage people to fork out for fake Rolexes and poorly pirated DVDs and CDs.

But this restaurant was open, caught a decent trade, served good Spanish food, a change from the pasta that three of the four men usually ate in Naples, excellent though it was. The men also knew a club for later, open all year round and run openly, blatantly, by the Russian Mafia.

Not that the men minded. They had no quarrel with the Russians in this neck of the woods and looked forward to an evening of debauchery, Soviet-style. The drink, drugs and girls had been pre-ordered, and all would be exquisite.

There were four men at the table, and to celebrate their arrival on Spanish territory they ordered paella and were now in that pleasant delay between placing the order and its arrival. A gap, usually, of about twenty minutes. They picked on tapas, including olives,
patatas bravas
and garlic-fried prawns.

The waiter, sensing the danger these men oozed, hovered attentively, wringing his hands together. But for the moment, the guests were content. Each had a large cold beer and the three Italians languidly smoked pungent cigarettes, blowing out rings of thick smoke.

Cars drove along the one-way Calle de Nanses, slowly, only feet away from the table at which the men lounged. Some were big, four-wheel drive monstrosities with smoked windows and unseen occupants. The men eyed each car but stayed chilled. After all, no one knew they were here. The Italians had covered their tracks well they thought, and the interest in the passing vehicles, whilst inbuilt, was only cursory. It wasn't like being on show in a pavement café in Naples, where every time anyone of the Italians appeared in public they were in danger of being mown down in a hail of bullets from rival factions.

Here, for the moment, they were safe.

Although there was no head of the table as such, it was obvious that of the three Italians, the one sitting with his back to the restaurant, enjoying a view out across the small bay, was the boss. He was only young, maybe thirty-four, with pinched features and a pockmarked face, but with body language that exuded confidence and superiority. It was in the way he sat, the way he exhaled cigarette smoke, how he picked up an olive and dropped it into his mouth. How his hooded eyes examined the other men. The two Italians with him were down the pecking order. One was a man older than the first, who gave advice when asked for, but never offered it, and the other, a slim, reptilian guy just out of his teens, was the bodyguard. The most relaxed of the three, he should have been the most alert.

The boss was called Carlo Marini.

He said to the American, ‘What was your route?'

The American, a man with very obvious Southern European blood that showed in his dark, brooding features and jet black hair, said, ‘Miami, overnight New York to London, by car to Liverpool, then to Palma . . . I was careful,' he finished.

‘That is good,' Marini said. ‘I'm impressed by your professionalism.'

The American sipped his lager, his eyes moving from one man to the other. He smiled thinly at Marini.

‘So you think you can help us?'

He nodded, but rejoined, ‘No,
you
think I can help you,' he said, correcting Marini, but with due deference in the tone of his voice. Deference was vital, respect everything. At the very least a lack of either could cause offence, at most it could be fatal. It was a fine line to tread.

‘Yes, yes, true,' Marini agreed. ‘But even so, you do know we have to be so careful.'

‘In what way?' the American asked.

Marini's evil eyes half-closed. ‘We need to be sure.'

The American guffawed, understanding. But some resistance was acceptable, so he said, ‘I've flown halfway around the world to meet you – for the fourth time. Doesn't that say something?'

‘It does, it does . . . however . . .' Marini left the rest unsaid with a lazy flick of the hand.

The American said, ‘OK, have it your way.'

‘
Grazie . . .
then go with Paulo.' Marini indicated the young bodyguard who took a long draught of beer and stood up, politely waiting for the American to do the same. The two men then went into the restaurant and to the
Senor's
.

The toilets were cramped, space tight.

‘You know the drill,' Paulo said.

The American turned to the wall, placed the balls of his hands high on it, something that went unnoticed, and spread his feet, allowing the Italian to frisk him lightly but thoroughly. He didn't flinch when Paulo jabbed the blade of his hand up into his crotch to check there. Too many concealed weapons had been missed by a searcher's reluctance to squeeze a guy's balls.

‘OK, hands down,' he was instructed. He turned back to Paulo.

‘
Finito
?'

‘
Benito
,' Paulo grinned.

‘Mind if I have a piss?'

‘Just so long as you use the urinal,' Paulo clipped with a smile, patted the American on his shoulder and left him to do his business.

‘Sorry about that,' Marini said to the American when they were all seated back on the terrace.

‘It's business, I get it,' he said, looking up as the waiter arrived with a large steaming pan of blind paella, so named because all the shells had been removed from the seafood, and the bones from the meat, to make eating it less messy. The pan was placed on a folding trestle table next to them and served immediately, a wonderful mountain of food they forked into with the gusto of Mediterranean people. A smooth Italian wine and sparkling mineral water accompanied it.

A Lexus four-by-four cruised slowly past, the occupants virtually hidden by the dark glass.

Paulo watched it suspiciously, a forkful of hot rice hovering at his mouth. It drove on; he pushed the food into his mouth.

‘So,' Marini said sitting back after his first sustained attack on the paella, ‘you think you can help us?'

‘I do.' The American wiped his mouth with a serviette.

‘We've had some discussion, I know . . . edging here and there . . .' Marini moved his body as though he was describing a football move. ‘But let me warn you, if anything you say doesn't fit with what I know, the deal will become shaky.'

The American nodded. ‘It's simple . . . I have a business that can connect up with yours to our mutual advantage . . . it's wholesale and retail and continually expanding.'

‘How does it work?'

‘You provide me with the goods, I sell them.' He shrugged.

‘On what terms?'

‘Sale or return.'

Marini shook his head sadly. ‘Too hit and miss. No commitment from you. You're asking me to give you something for nothing and if you manage to sell it, you'll pay me a percentage.'

‘A proper business model.'

‘I incur all the costs of production and exportation, and only get paid if you manage to sell?'

The American wanted to exhale and show annoyance. But he didn't.

‘Let me paint a picture . . . I now have forty retail outlets in the US, in shopping malls from Orlando to Memphis, right across the panhandle. Forty,' he reiterated. ‘I already supply over two hundred more right up the eastern seaboard. This time next year, I'll have sixty outlets and be supplying two-fifty more. I need good quality merchandise at cheap prices. The market snaffles them up like vultures, credit crunch or not.' He spoke earnestly and persuasively.

Marini nodded. ‘And my percentage?'

The American sat back and considered the question, as though he didn't know the answer already. ‘A thirty-three per cent mark-up, which is good. And don't forget, we're talking a lot of output here.'

Marini's head nodded from side to side thoughtfully.

‘And I can start selling as soon as you start providing – but I cannot wait forever.' He scooped up more paella and chomped it noisily, savouring it. ‘This is excellent,' he said.

Marini went into deep thought. This venture could be his making, his break from the constraints of the past. He hadn't rushed things, done it all very slowly and carefully. Built up his contacts, spoken quietly to people he thought were disaffected and downtrodden, and now he was ready to move. Trusted allies surrounded him and all he needed to do was strike the blow that would release him. His dark eyes glistened as he imagined the future of power and wealth in the palm of his hand, which would also help to crush his rivals who had been getting out of hand recently.

Even so, that profit margin could be higher.

He nodded finally and, stone-faced, he said, ‘It needs to be thirty-seven per cent.'

BOOK: Hidden Witness
10.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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