Authors: Simon Kernick
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Crime, #Mystery, #Thriller & Suspense, #Hard-Boiled, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Crime Fiction, #Thrillers
The Murder Exchange
Also by Simon Kernick
THE BUSINESS OF DYING
THE CRIME TRADE
THE MURDER EXCHANGE
A CORGI BOOK : 0 552 14971 3
Originally published in Great Britain by Bantam Press,
a division of Transworld Publishers
Bantam Press edition published 2003
Corgi edition published 2004
Copyright © Simon Kernick 2003 „ .
The right of Simon Kernick to be identified as the author of
this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77
and 78 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All the characters in this book are fictitious,
and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
is purely coincidental.
Condition of Sale
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not,
by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or
otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other
than that in which it is published and without a similar
condition including this condition being imposed on the
Set in 10Vl2pt Palatino by
Falcon Oast Graphic Art Ltd.
Corgi Books are published by Transworld Publishers,
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a division of The Random House Group Ltd,
in Australia by Random House Australia (Pry) Ltd,
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Printed and bound in Great Britain by
Cox & Wyman Ltd, Reading, Berkshire.
Papers used by Transworld Publishers are natural, recyclable
products made from wood grown in sustainable forests.
The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental
regulations of the country of origin.
But not just yet.
Although virtually all the places where the events
of this book take place exist, some of the residential
street names are intentionally fictional.
There is no feeling in the world more hopeless,
more desperate, more frightening, than when you
are standing looking at the end of a gun that's held
steadily and calmly by someone you know is going
to kni you. And impotent, too. It's an impotent
feeling realizing that nothing you do or say, no
pleading, no begging, nothing, is going to change
the dead angle of that weapon, or prevent the bullet
from leaving it and entering your body, ripping up
your insides, and ending every experience, every
thought, every dream you've ever had. You think
about people you care about, places you've been to
that you liked, and you know you're never going
to see any of them again. Your guts churn, the
nerves in your lower back jangle so wildly that you
think you're going to soil yourself, your legs feel
like they're going to go from under you like those
newborn calves you sometimes see on the telly.
And your eyes. You know that your eyes betray
your sense of complete and utter defeat.
You are a dead man, and you know it.
And then two things happened.
Tuesday, nineteen days ago
To tell you the truth, I knew Roy Fowler was
trouble the minute I laid eyes on the bastard. His
eyes were too close together for a start, and the eyebrows
joined up werewolf-style which, according
to a book I once read, is always a bad sign. I didn't
like the nose either, or the fake tan, but I wouldn't
have let that stand in the way of business. If I was
that fussy, I'd be broke. But there was something in
the way he walked that put me on my guard, with
his eyes carefully registering everyone in the room,
like he half-expected one of them to jump up at any
minute and put a richly deserved bullet in his back.
He might have tried to hide it by dressing in a
smart, well-cut suit and putting an easy smile on
his face as soon as he saw me, but I could tell you
this straight away: Roy Fowler was one of the
I stood up as he approached and we
shook hands. His grip was tight but a real moist
one, and I had to stop myself from wiping my
hand down my shirt once I'd pulled it away.
'Mr Iversson ...'
'Mr Fowler. Take a seat.'
He plonked himself down on the stool opposite
me and took another look round. He didn't seem
entirely comfortable. 'Are you sure it's all right to
'Someone once told me that this branch of Pizza
Hut is the best place to hold a lunchtime meeting if
you don't want to be overheard. It's because it's
all you can eat.'
He raised a hairy eyebrow. 'So?'
'So, apparently it only attracts women with lots
of kids, and people who live for their food. The
women have to keep chasing after the kids and
Jic rest of them are far too busy concentrating on
what's in front of them to listen to anyone else's
conversation. You're meant to be able to spot someone
who doesn't fit in a mile off.'
He had another quick look round and pretty
much got confirmation of what I'd said. There
couldn't have been more than a dozen people in the
place, spread out amongst the formica tables and
booths, all of them single and at least five stone too
hefty, except for one harassed young mum with bad
hair who was there with her three shrieking preteen
The can't see how they can make any money/ said
Fowler distastefully, wiping his brow. The day was
hot and close and he was definitely overdressed.
'You ever heard of a poor fast-food chain? Course
they make money. It's just tomato ketchup and
dough. Maybe a bit of cheese and some cheap meat
[decorate. I bet the bloke who owns the franchise
ives a Porsche and smokes Cuban cigars.'
I nodded. 'Definitely. His name's Marco.'
The waitress, a pasty-faced teenager who looked
like she sampled the products a little too regularly
herself, sidled over and asked for his order. I'd
already eaten before I got there (none of that all
you-can-eat crap for me) and was nursing my
second Becks. 'Just a Coke/ he told her, without §
bothering to look up. **"'
She went off and he removed his jacket. A bead of
sweat dribbled down the side of his face.
'So, what can I do for you?' I asked, getting to the
Fowler sighed and gave me a hawkish look. I
thought that he probably wouldn't have been too ||
bad looking if it hadn't been for the eyes. 'I need
some security. I was recommended to speak to you
'So you said on the phone. Who's been doing my
advertising for me, then?'
He paused for a moment while the waitress
returned with his drink. He waited until she'd gone
before he spoke. 'Johnny Hexham. You used to go
to school with him, didn't you?'
Teah, that's right.' Johnny had been a good
friend of mine once. A nice bloke and popular with
the ladies, but not the most honest of Johns. He'd
probably want something for the recommendation.
Whether he got it or not depended on what came
next. 'What sort of security are you after?'
Fowler continued to stare at me intensely, like he
thought his gaze somehow made the person being
stared at want to trust him. It didn't. If he'd have
told me I had two legs, I'd have looked down to
check. 'I have a meeting that I need to attend in a
couple of nights' time. The people I'm meeting with
are not what I'd describe as trustworthy. I've got
a feeling that if I turn up on my own, then they
might consider that a sign of weakness and take
advantage. I'd rather have some backup.'
'What did Johnny Hexham say about me?'
'He said that you fronted a reliable outfit and that
you knew what you were doing. Those are the two
things I'm most interested in.'
'That's good. I hope he also said that I like to play
things straight. That I'm not interested in getting
';. o!ved in loads of shit that's going to get me put
inside for years on end. I make a good living, Mr
Fowler. It's not fantastic, sometimes it can even be
boring, and a lot of the people we guard make more
money in a day than I see in a month, sometimes
even a year, but it's still a good living, and I don't
want to trade it in for a room with bars on the
windows. Know what I mean?'
'I understand all that. And I'm not asking you to
do anything that you wouldn't normally consider
doing. This is just one night's work, one meeting,
and all I want is to have people behind me that I can
rely on if things turn a bit tasty.'
'Are they likely to?'
He shook his head. 'No. It's in the interests of the
people I'm meeting as much as mine to make this
'And this meeting ... what exactly is it about?'
Tern ask a lot of questions, Mr Iversson.'
That's why I'm still here. I make it a point to
know as much as possible about what I might be
getting involved in.'
'Fair enough. I've got something they want, and
they've got something I want. It's an exchange.'
That doesn't help me much. I need to know what
'Because for all I know you could be carrying
twenty kilos of coke and they could be undercover
coppers. I once had a mate who was asked to
deliver a package to an address in Regent's Park. He
never knew what was in it. Two hundred quid for
half an hour's work, no questions asked. He was
hardly going to say no, was he? When he turned up
at the house, the bloke answering the door was from
Vice Squad and he was nicked. Turns out he was
carrying a load of porn mags where the models were
no older than those kids over there. So you see why
I want to be careful.'
'If I tell you, I don't want it going any further. Not
even to whoever you bring with you, if you decide
to take the job.'
I told him it wouldn't and he turned and looked
over his shoulder, just to make sure no-one was
listening. No-one was, and he turned back to me. 'I
told you on the phone I owned a nightclub, right?
Well, a couple of months back, I got an approach to
buy it from some, er, businessmen. I wasn't that
interested, not for the amount they wanted to pay,
so I said no. They upped the offer but I still wasn't
that sure. You know, I've owned the place close to
ten years and it's always made me a good living.
I'm the same as you, I'm not rich, but I'm doing OK.
As it happens, I thought they could still up the
offer, so I held out for more, thinking that I wasn't
so worried either way.'
He paused for a moment to take a gulp from his
'Then things started to happen. The club started
getting unsavoury elements coming in, loudmouths
looking for trouble. There were fights
breaking out, furnishings getting smashed, staff
threatened, all that sort of shit. Then some of my
doormen stopped turning up for work, saying
they'd found jobs elsewhere. It didn't take me long
to find out that these buyers were behind it, and
that they were people who it wasn't worth messing
with. A few days ago they came back and asked if
I'd like to reconsider their original offer.' He
shrugged his shoulders. 'Well, what was I meant to
do? I liked the place, still do, but there's no point in
clinging on to the past. Especially when the future's
getting ready to kick you right in the bollocks. It
just wasn't worth the aggravation. So I said I'd
accept the second offer but not the original.'
I managed a smile. Put in the same position, I'd
have done the same thing. You never want to let
them know they're winning. 'What did they say?'
'They might have been lowlifes but they were
still businessmen. I think they thought they'd won
some sort of victory by making me change my
mind, and that was good enough for them.'
'And is it a good price, what they're offering?'
It's not bad. I could have done worse.'
'So what's the problem? Where do I come in?'
'We both want a straight exchange on neutral
ground. Basically, the deeds for the money. They
don't want lawyers involved and they don't want
the taxman seeing any of it. They just want a
straight no-hassle swap. And I'm going to get payment
in cash, no questions asked. Then I just walk
away. Why I need you's pretty obvious. These
people might be businessmen but they're not, shall
we say, averse to using physical means to get what
they want. Without the law involved, I've got no
guarantees that they won't just make me sign over
everything for nothing. With you there, I've got a lot
more chance they'll play it fair.'
'We don't usually deal with a few hours' work
here and there. The stuff we do's more long