“What’s going on?” Sidney asked, climbing into the passenger seat. He popped open the glove compartment and pulled out a packet of mints. These would have to serve as his breakfast, he thought.
“A bloke got into a car crash and the boss wants us to find out who he is,” Ozzie explained.
Sid frowned. “Why?”
“Apparently the guy’s got money.”
“How’d you know?”
Sidney nodded appreciatively. “Nice.” He then frowned again as the car pulled away from the curb. “Where are we heading?” he asked.
Ozzie shrugged. “Going to see where he crashed his car,” he replied.
The other man thought about this for a moment. Though often described as slow, Sidney was by no means dense. He simply had a habit of taking his time and considering all his options. He had taken the time, in fact, to make sure his employer didn’t realise just how astute he truly was, because, if Millicent Lurke knew exactly how intelligent Sidney Sinclair was, her trust in him would plummet. She didn’t like clever people. Intelligence, in her eyes, equalled competition. However, sometimes, when he was alone, or with someone like Ozzie, Sidney allowed his thinking to bloom.
“Who reported the crash?” Sidney gradually asked.
“Hey?” Ozzie said. “No one, I think. My kid, Gavin, just found him outside the church this morning. I dumped him at the boss’s, and she’s waiting for the ambulance to pick him up.”
“Did he say anything to Gavin?”
“Nah, he was out of it when he was found.”
Sidney nodded slowly, swirling the mint from one side of his mouth to the other. “We should start at the church,” he decided. “Find out if the Rev saw anything.”
“Rev wasn’t in.”
“Wasn’t in,” Ozzie said again. “That’s why I had to take him to the boss.”
This gave Sidney something else to mull on. Why wasn’t the Rev home? Then again, he had been acting oddly last night. Sidney hadn’t thought anything of it at the time, he had been too focussed on the delivery. But on reflection . . . he’d look into it later. Maybe it was nothing. Religious folk were all a little odd.
“We should check Perky Lane.”
“It’s where most people have accidents, right?” Sidney said. “We might find something there.”
Ozzie nodded obediently. “Let’s hope it all turns out to be nothing,” he said.
On that Sidney most definitely agreed.
The Griek brothers sit opposite one another; one bolt upright, the other slouched moodily. There’s no menu to speak of, but they don’t have to wait long before a dumpy, middle-aged woman wobbles over to their table.
“Mornin’ loves,” she coos. “What can I be gettin’ you then? Everythin’ here is made with fresh, organic ingredients!”
“Can you make Syrniki?” Ivo asked.
The woman looked at him blankly for a moment. “Everythin’s made with fresh, organic, local ingredients,” she said sourly.
“Two boiled eggs, please,” Carlo said.
“What are we even doing here?” Ivo asked, watching the waitress plod back to the kitchen.
“You insisted we ask for directions,” his brother hissed. “Plus, I thought you wanted a hot chocolate?”
“You said they wouldn’t have any.”
“But you thought they’d have a Russian pancake instead?”
“It was worth asking.”
Carlo took a deep breath, then started to rearrange the cutlery in front of him, paying particular attention to the knives. Ivo watched him curiously. “Why are we here?”
“You’ve already asked that,” Carlo said patiently.
“No, I said ‘what are we doing here’, now I’m asking why are we here?”
“I don’t care about semantics.”
“We’re freelancers; we could have taken any job we wanted, and gone anywhere we liked!”
“This is the job I decided to take,” Carlo said. Where the Hell were those eggs?
“And why do you get to decide what jobs we do?”
“Because I’m the eldest.”
“By twenty minutes!”
“Still makes me the eldest.”
Ivo began to pout. “How do we know?” he asked.
“How do we know you’re the eldest? We’re identical! Even mum couldn’t tell the difference between us, so how can she know which of us was the eldest?”
“We’re not identical,” Carlo snarled. “You’ve got a scar under your left eye.”
“That I got thanks to you pushing me down the stairs when we were eight!”
Not the first of Carlo’s attempts to become a single child.
The brother’s argument was briefly interrupted when the waitress returned with two boiled eggs, and two plates piled high with buttered soldiers.
“It doesn’t matter if mum didn’t know the difference, we know I’m the eldest; I’ve always been the eldest!” Carlo declared, slamming his spoon down onto the egg. Clearing his throat, he snatched up a napkin and began dabbing away the yolk that had been splattered over his tie.
Ivo wiped some from the end of his nose. “When can we go home?” he asked moodily.
“When the job is done, and the mark is dead,” Carlo said, trying to salvage some of his breakfast.
“How are we going to find him?” Ivo said, dissecting the top of his own egg like a practiced surgeon. He dunked a member of his battalion for several moments before swallowing it in one go.
“By looking around,” Carlo said. “In a quiet village like this, you’ve got to hope someone notices a vintage Mustang drive through!”
“And if he’s not in this village?”
The older brother frowned at this question. Was Ivo beginning to doubt him? How many years had they been doing this? In all that time had Carlo ever led them down the wrong path? Had there ever been a mistake? No. But, even so . . . No. He had to be in this village. If he wasn’t, that meant he just disappeared! And no one disappeared on the Griek Brothers. They were famous for hunting down even the most illusive prey.
Carlo threw down his spoon. “Get in the car,” he said.
“But my egg!”
Colin bundled Dallulah into the house, slamming the door shut behind him. He made a cursory glance into the living room. Old Widow Cleaver was still in her usual spot, one eye on the television the other out the window and completely oblivious to everything else in the world. “What’s going –?”
Before Dallulah could finish the question Colin grabbed her by the wrist and ran her up the stairs. Once he was in his room he closed and locked the door. Out of breath, Dallulah rounded on him. “What is going on, Colin?” she demanded. “I told you we had to be discrete! If my husband –”
“I have to show you something,” Colin said, gasping and sweating as if he had just been on a sprint.
“Show me what?”
The room given to Colin by his employer was barely big enough for the narrow bed and the wardrobe, but adding two people into it made it feel like they had been stuffed into a filing cabinet. Having to climb onto the bed in order to get around Dallulah, Colin pulled open the wardrobe.
“Ow!” Dallulah complained as the door smacked her in the back of the head.
“Sorry,” Colin mumbled. He pulled out the briefcase and then dropped it onto the bed. The springs creaked and whined as Colin climbed back off. Dallulah looked at the briefcase then back at the physical therapist.
“And?” she asked.
Wordlessly, he opened the briefcase. Dallulah’s mouth dropped open and her eyes widened. She stared at the contents, then up at Colin, then back down. “How – how much is that?” she asked, slowly reaching out. Her fingertips brush the cash as if she were touching a sleeping, wild animal.
Colin gives a nervous shrug. “I – I haven’t counted it yet,” he admitted. They were all fifties, he knew that, and there were a lot of them.
A smile spread across the woman’s face. “Is it a million?” she asked. “Are we millionaires?”
“Err . . . well, it’s – it’s not ours, Dallulah.” He then went on to explain about the man in the car accident, and how Colin had felt impelled to go looking for the lost briefcase. Dallulah nodded, but it was clear her attention was focussed entirely on the fortune in front of her. “Imagine what we could do with all this money, Colin!” she trilled, excitedly.
“I’m not sure we should keep it, babe,” he said, shifting nervously as he stared at the loot. “What if he reports it missing to the police?”
Dallulah gave a derisive laugh. “Anyone with this much cash in a briefcase is not going to want to speak to the police about anything!” She then grabbed his arm, running a finger up and down his bicep. “Come on, Colin!” she cooed. “We can finally get out of this shitty village! I can leave my husband, you can leave this job, and we can go to Bora Bora!”
He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t tempted. He felt his arm snake around Dallulah’s waist. “What are the gyms like in Bora Bora?” he asked quietly.
She shot him a sultry smile. “You’ll get plenty of works out,” she said. “Don’t worry about that.”
A big grin stretched across Colin’s face.
“Speaking of,” Dallulah went on. She then snatched up the briefcase and turned it upside down.
“What are you doing?!” Colin hissed, watching in horror as a shower of notes fell onto the bed. Dallulah threw herself on top and then rounded on Colin. “There’s something I’ve always wanted to do . . .”
It took a moment to realise what she meant, but when he finally caught up, the grin only widened. “What about Mrs Cleaver?” he asked.
“For a million pounds she can join us!” Dallulah said with a laugh. She then grabbed Colin by the collar and, together, they collapsed onto the money-laden bed.
Sat in her high-backed chair, Millicent stared out the window and surveyed her empire. Since seeing the ambulance drive away ten minutes ago, she had sat stewing. An accident like this was doubtless going to be reported to the police. Not that that truly worried her; any officer who might have posed a threat had long been neutralised, and the rest of the police force in this part of the country was practically non-existent. The cuts to the public sector weren’t entirely bad.
But still Millicent was worried. She had to know who this stranger was, and if he was any kind of danger. Her instincts were second-to-none. They had chosen this village as her base of operations, and they had chosen Ruben as her husband. Back when they first met, he had been a strapping six-foot-one with the world at his feet; but, after forty years, Millicent had whittled him down to her ideal shape. Yes, she held some fondness for him, but only in the way a builder might hold fondness for a particularly good hammer. Did he have any suspicion as to Millicent’s true activities? She didn’t believe it for a second. So long as the man had his models, he was happy. He also had his activities as chairman of the village council to distract him, a post he acquired thanks to his wife. He had thanked her by making her treasurer. He did have one project that slightly concerned Millicent. In recent years he had become hell-bent on twinning the village with some hick village in the European backwaters. Whilst Millicent didn’t like the attention that might bring to the village, she wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea of having European markets to play with. Either way, she let him continue, but not without her keeping a close eye from time to time.
Her mobile suddenly began to trill. She had it at her ear before he second ring had finished.
“Well?” she asked, already knowing who it would be.
“We found the car,” Sidney reported, his voice slightly out of breath. “He’d crashed on the corner of Perky Lane. It’s a nice one too; a Mustang.”
“And no one saw?”
“He’d gone right through the bushes,” Sidney said.
“Did you find anything?”
“There’s no wallet or any ID,” Sidney went on.
That was disappointing, Millicent thought, but not the end of the world. She had a suspicion that Oswald’s brat might have already gone hunting; he was as curious as his dad was dumb. She could deal with the boy later. “But we did find a map,” Sidney added.
Millicent froze. “And?”
“The village was circled.”
Her grip tightened around the mobile. Why the Hell was a man in a Mustang driving to Little Apnin in the middle of the night? All her instincts were screaming that something bad was on the horizon. She swapped hands and rose from her chair, glancing suspiciously out the window.
“Where are you calling from?” Millicent asked.
“The phone box outside the pub.”
“I want you and Oswald back here now,” she hissed.
“Got it,” Sidney said.
She suddenly paused. “You haven’t seen anyone else in the village, have you? Anyone you haven’t seen before?”
She heard Sidney and Ozzie muttering to one another, then Sidney’s voice came back clear. “No one out of the ordinary,” he said.
“Fine,” she murmured. “Get back here and we’ll decide our next moves.”
Millicent ended the call, then dropped the phone into her pocket. She began pacing the room. Perhaps the man was entirely innocent. Perhaps he was just a rich city moron who wanted to buy a cottage out in the village for weekend getaways. But Millicent’s life was never that simple. The man was an unknown, and that made him a threat.
Millicent Lurke only knew of one way to deal with threats.
Carlo pulled the car over, put it in park, then sat in thought. They had made two laps around the village. Two long, unsuccessful laps. He was beginning to fear that perhaps he had made a mistake. But he couldn’t, surely?
“We should probably make a report,” Ivo suggested quietly.
“Once the mark is dead,” Carlo said dully. “That’s how we do things.”
“But we don’t know where the mark is. If we call this in, maybe they might have someone else that can track him down!”
Carlo snarled at the thought of having someone doing his job for him. He hadn’t spent half his life building a reputation for success only to have it swept out from under him by some petty nobody in a Mustang. But the employer would be waiting. Even if the news was bad, it was better than no news. Giving an angry, defeated snort, he wrenched his phone.
“No use,” Ivo said, wiggling his own mobile. “No bars this far away from civilisation.”
The older brother nodded to a phone box on the corner. “I’ll call from there,” he announced.
“Then can we get something to eat?”
Ignoring his twin, Carlo climbed out of the car. He was halfway towards the booth when he noticed it already had an occupant. Instinctively, he fell back, clinging to the side of the building. He studied the man, waiting for him to finish his call. A spark suddenly flickered in the back of his mind.
Ivo looked up. “You didn’t make the call?” he said as Carlo settled back into his seat.
“Look at that man,” Carlo commanded, pointing to the figure now leaving the phone booth. “You’ve always been better with faces than me.”
His younger brother narrowed his eyes, then a grin spread across his lips. “That’s Sidney Sinclair!” he exclaimed.
“I thought so,” Carlo said, nodding slowly. But what was the right-hand man of The Matron doing in a backwater village like this one? Unless . . .
“You don’t think she’s here, do you?” Ivo said, pure excitement bathing his face.
“He could be on a job,” Carlo mused. But that didn’t matter. Wherever Sid Sinclair was, The Matron wasn’t far away. All they had to do was trail him, and then . . . Some paltry nobody with a stolen five hundred grand was nothing compared to that woman. Bringing her head back with them would make them living legends, and filthy fucking rich.
Carlo matched his brother’s grin. “Let’s go hunting!”