Authors: Lena Foxworth
Manchester Bad Boys :
by Lena Foxworth
Manchester Bad Boys : Mason
© Lena Foxworth
Published : 2015
The right of Lena Foxworth to be identified as author of this Work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, copied in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise transmitted without written permission from the publisher. You must not circulate this book in any format.
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The smoke is thick, spiralling up through the hot air, blocking out the sun. It is complete sensory overload – I can smell the burning fuel, the smoke, and underneath it all, the metallic coldness of blood. All the sounds are coming from far away, barely audible behind the ringing in my ears. Orders are being shouted, but nobody can hear them. It doesn't matter. We all know what to do without being told. After years of training it becomes instinctive – every man in the unit moves as one.
We form up, weapons ready, each man checking that his brother on either side is whole. I take the point, moving forward towards the broken building. The smoke parts, and she emerges. She is young, local, injured. I can see the blood on the side of her terrified face. She's screaming something as she runs towards us, and in that instant I made the decision. There is only one question in this situation – Iraqi fighter or terrified civilian? I look into her wide, brown eyes, and lower my weapon.
I can see the relief on her face as she realises that I'm not going to shoot her. She is still running towards us, stumbling over the cracked concrete. As she reaches us, she smiles, and I have time to notice that her smile is beautiful, and genuine. She pulls out the grenade from her black robes. Time is almost at a standstill now. I raise my gun as she pulls the pin, but my arms are moving through treacle, and I'm not quick enough. She doesn't throw it – she doesn't need to. She is only a couple of feet away now. She clutches it in her fist. My gun is finally up, and I shoot her right between the eyes as the world explodes around me. I was too trusting, too slow.
I woke up with a start, heart hammering, the dying screams of my brothers in arms still ringing in my ears. I got out of bed - my bed now, not our bed - and paced the room, trying to slow my breathing.
It is over
, I told myself.
I am home, and it is over.
I opened the curtain, and looked out. The streets were dark and deserted, and the rain fell softly, washing away the sins of the day. It had been a while, since I had had the dream. At first, it had been every night, every time I closed my eyes. But things had been better lately, since her. And now she was gone. I had trusted her, and she had betrayed me. Amongst the death and the chaos, I'd only learnt one thing in Iraq – trust no one but your brothers.
It’s not over
, I thought,
not yet. But it will be.
It was time.
"You look well," I said.
It was true – he did. Last time I saw Adam, he had been skinny and pale. He'd got his fair share of the ladies back then - hell, we all did, but now he had filled out.
"I guess prison life suits me," he said, his mouth twisting into a grimace. "You look like shit. How long have you been back on civvy street?"
"A couple of months," I said. "I'd have come sooner, but I didn't want to take the visiting hours away from your mum. What the hell happened?"
He pushed the air out from between his lips. "If you've seen my mum, you'll have had the story. Been on remand for six months, trial in another four."
It was true that Adam's mum had filled me in. According to her, some sick bastard had raped his girlfriend. The police had found the rapist three days later, in a skip. He'd been badly beaten, and shot in the head.
"Why didn't she report the rape to the police?" I had asked her. She had taken a long drag of her cigarette, eyes narrowed against the smoke.
"And what good would that have done? Waste of fucking time, everyone knows that. Do you know what they call it, if a girl off the Cottonmill estate gets raped? Non-payment of goods. Even if they'd have believed her, she'd have had to go through the trial, and odds are he'd have got off, anyway. No," she had said, pouring out another cup of tea, "my boy did the right thing. It kills me, to see him locked up, and I hope to God he gets off, but he did the right thing."
"Yeah, she told me,” I said. “How are you holding together in here?"
"It was rough at first, but you get used to it. Half the estate is in here. Remember One Eyed Jim?"
I laughed. "I think everyone in Manchester that ever took a drink underage remembers One Eyed Jim. Half his shop's trade was selling booze to kids. Jesus, we must have spent a fortune in there. He's in here?"
"Yep, for selling counterfeit goods. He was knocking out tracksuits and trainers like there was no tomorrow. He’s kept an eye out for me…” He grinned at his own joke. "But how about you, mate, how are you adjusting to life back home?"
"It's been…" I ran a hand through my hair. This wasn't something I liked talking about, but Adam was my oldest friend. Me, him and Mason had been inseparable as kids. It was only once I joined the Army that the distance kicked in. We weren't really the letter-writing type.
"It's been tough," I admitted. "Everything's changed. People have moved on." I couldn’t tell him any more, not here in this grim visiting room. About how I woke up every night screaming, as my unit was torn apart around me. About how I didn’t fit into my own life anymore.
"Yeah, I hear you," he said. "How about work? You found something?"
"Not so far. Two GCSEs and eight years getting shot at don't really qualify you to do much of anything, it seems. I've got an interview next week, for a security guard job at the shopping centre."
"Security guard? Following shoplifters around all day? Fuck that!" he scoffed.
"I know, I know," I said. "But it pays. Not well, but it pays. I need some money coming in while I figure out what the hell to do next."
His eyes lit up. "If you just want some short-term cash, I've a better idea. Before I got banged up, Heath was badgering me to come and see him at work."
"Boxing? That's not the kind of fighting they teach you in the Army," I said, laughing.
"Yeah mate, I don't think Mike Tyson would be shitting his pants at the sight of you. No, Heath's got into the bare knuckle circuit."
"How the hell has he managed that?" I said. Everyone knew about the illegal boxing matches, of course, but the attraction for the general public was in the betting. Not just anybody was allowed to fight.
"He's got in with Terry English. That fella arranges every fight between Liverpool and the Pennines. And according to Heath, Terry English is always on the lookout for good lads that can handle themselves. Not to fight, at least not in the ring. Just… you know. Security and that. Heath will vouch for you with Terry."
It wasn't ideal – Terry English was notorious. He had a finger in every pie in Manchester, especially the illegal ones. But Adam was right – trailing round behind shoplifters in a polyester uniform would be soul-destroying. As horrific as Iraq had been, I missed the danger, the adrenaline. The only time I ever felt alive lately was when I was half a second from death. Whatever Terry was offering, it would certainly be interesting.
“I’m in,” I said.
The front desk of the station was in chaos. A woman was on her mobile, shouting at someone, her eye rapidly closing. Two uniformed officers were wrestling a second woman down the corridor. From her screaming and swearing, I guessed she was the one responsible for the first woman's black eye. Two drunken tramps were cheering as they swigged on their cans of Special Brew.
"Pipe down!" the desk sergeant yelled at them. "Or I'll toss both your arses out into the cold." The men piped down.
"Fat bastard," I heard one of them mutter quietly. The sergeant had targeted their weak spot – a night in the warm, secure cells was preferable to being turfed out of the station for these men. He hadn't noticed me yet. I braced myself and stepped forward.
Slowly, ever so slowly, he looked me up and down, eyebrows raised. It was excruciating. I was fully dressed, but under the gaze of his small, piggy eyes I felt naked. He took it all in – the tight jeans, the high heeled boots, the clingy vest top and leather jacket.
"Well," he said. "Who knew that you had a woman's body hidden away under that stab vest, PC Mills? Very nice, very nice indeed."
"You're a very beautiful woman," one of the tramps slurred ingratiatingly.
"Where is DI Thompson?" I snapped, ignoring the tramp completely.
"Meeting room four, sweetheart."
I stamped off along the corridor, feeling self-conscious about the clickerty-clack of my heels, fully aware that the desk sergeant, and probably both the tramps, were checking out my arse as I walked away. It wasn't that I was uncomfortable in the clothes – they were my own things that I'd worn before – but wearing them here, at work, was uncomfortable. Wearing my uniform gave me authority. Wearing my own clothes made me feel exposed, as if PC Mills was gone and only Nicole remained.
I was the last to arrive at the meeting. DI Thompson, my boss, was already there, as was his boss’s boss, Detective Chief Supt Jones.
"This is PC Mills, Sir," Thompson said, getting to his feet. "PC Mills, meet DCS Jones."
"A pleasure to meet you," he said politely, shaking my hand. "Thompson tells me that you worked with him in Leeds? And he personally recommended your move to Trainee Detective Constable?"
"Yes, sir," I said. I wasn't if the recommendation had been based on my abilities as a copper, or Thompson's guilt, but it was true that he had pulled strings for me.
"Sit down, sit down," the DCS urged. "Now, I'm sure you're briefed and ready, of course – you certainly look the part – but I just need to tick the boxes with you. If anything goes wrong, it's my neck on the line!" He tapped the insignia on his epaulettes. Thompson's face was a mask of careful neutrality, and I had to suppress a smile. I knew his opinion about senior officers that rode a desk all day.
"You've been through the training programme, so I'm sure you know what undercover work is all about. Your safety is of paramount importance. Get close, but don't get involved. As a...er...young woman, you might find the local thugs wanting to…get to know you. You mustn't let that happen. We have a duty to protect our officers, and Terry English's gang aren't exactly gentlemen. All we need you to do is observe. Get in with them, befriend their women if you can, and find out who's in whose pocket. No more than that."
"Yes, sir," I said again.
"And you're comfortable with the back story?"
"Nicole Johnson, from Bradford," I said. I'd memorised the profile inside and out.
"Excellent," he said, getting to his feet. "Thompson will be your handler, you are to check in with him once a week. Now, you'll have to excuse me, I have another meeting to get to. Good luck, Mills."
"A meeting with his dinner, no doubt," Thompson said as the door closed. "You ready for this, Nicole? You look very…"
"Yeah, yeah, I look very different. That fat pig on the front desk already pointed it out."
"You don't look that different to me," he said quietly.
"To answer your question, Sarge, I'm ready. You have the file for me?"
His eyes narrowed at the subtle rebuke, but I didn't care. This was a huge task for me, and the last thing I needed was a trip down memory lane. He handed me the box file that contained all the details of my new life – bank cards, house keys, car keys. A whole new identity. I got up to leave.
"One thing," he said, "and I'm not saying this because of, well, the past – I'm saying this as a copper. All that stuff the old goat was saying about not getting too close…"
I was expecting him to start with the possessive crap, so what he said next surprised me.
"It's all bullshit, it's the official line the force has to take. Terry English is a dangerous criminal, and so far we haven't been able to get near him. You do what needs to be done. This job could be make or break for your career."
"I'm not going to fuck Terry English, if that's what you're hoping for," I hissed. "I love the job, but I'm not going to whore myself out for it!"
"Jesus Christ! That's not what I'm saying! Just…use your judgement. Get as close as you can."
"I know what I'm doing, Gary," I said, turning on my heel and walking away. A moment later, I heard my phone beep. A text message, from my sister.
Can't believe you're moving to London! Good luck!
I deleted it without replying, switching the phone off and throwing it back into my bag. She had believed the cover story, then. They all had. Was that a bad thing, that my life was so easy to walk away from?
, I told myself.
My life is the job, and I'm walking towards it, not away