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Sample - Easy Killing


Easy Killing 

 Tom Stone scowled then pushed the photographs away from him. They slid across his desk, over various receipts and scribbled notes, and hit the wall below the window sill. He sat tight-lipped and grim-faced, looking out of his study window across the Essex countryside, seeing nothing, but thinking deeply. He remembered, and his face reflected his thoughts; a raised eyebrow, a frown, and now a grimace. He took a deep breath, reached across the desk, and picked up the four snapshots again.

            The images in the photographs stared back at him, smiling; two duplicated individual shots of a young woman. He picked up the envelope they’d come in; an envelope that had not contained a letter or even the slightest hint of who’d sent them – only the photographs. The postmark was Edinburgh, and that angered him, insulted his intelligence. Anonymous? As anonymous as the Russian army. He knew who’d sent them, and he figured he knew why. It was the last thing he needed at this stage of his life, maybe having to pay for something that happened over thirty years ago.

            Thirty years in which he’d settled down to building up a successful business, while settling down to family life with a wife who, in truth, should have sent him into the next world many years previous. Some mornings Tom would wake up and check his body for wounds, just in case she’d had a go with a knife while he’d slept. He shook his head, irritated and angry with himself for putting Annie through all that pain. Why does she do it? Annie should hate him with a vengeance.

            For the first four years of his marriage to Annie, Tom had bedded every woman who had made themselves available, while drinking anything put in front of him. And his justification for acting the way he did was that he had worked hard while at University - they had married while at Uni - therefore he was entitled to a few years of enjoying himself.

            Annie? Annie was absolutely blameless. Sure, Tom tried to twist things, tried to turn the blame back on her, but, angel that she was, Annie simply turned away and got on with creating a home, while Tom careered down a road of self-destruction.

            It had to come to an end when a husband came home early from a business trip. Tom ended up jumping a few garden fences; he got away, but he had been recognised, even at two-thirty a.m. on a dark, cold, winter’s morn.

Later, Tom would boast that ‘the bastard didn’t have the balls’ to come after him himself. But, the man did have the sense to wait a few months, just enough time for Tom to drop his guard.

They got to Tom as he made his way home from the office on a dark, still, January night. He’d exited the building with a co-worker and when the co-worker had turned left, Tom had turned right, and headed for the bus stop that would take him to his home in Hackney.

            Twenty minutes later, Tom hopped off the bus, walked down a side street, and that was where they had jumped him. They tenderised him - simple as that, with boots, fists, and good old-fashioned rubber coshes.  He retained consciousness - maybe that was their intention - and felt the pain all the way to the hospital, and for a few days afterwards.

            Annie didn’t believe a word of Tom’s explanation of being mugged, not that she ever said so. Muggers incapacitated you, grabbed whatever they could, and ran. Tom still had his watch, his wallet, and his beaten leather briefcase. In the ensuing days she had changed his dressings, washed the cuts and bruises, and nodded and smiled sympathetically as Tom lied through his teeth.

            That beating in the side street was Tom’s epiphany. As soon as he was back on his feet, he saw the light. He realised how lucky he was that the wonderful and beautiful Annie was still with him. He cried in his shame, privately. His shame at the way he’d treated the amazing woman who had accepted his proposal of marriage, and put up with the piece of shit that he’d turned out to be. But, Tom changed. He cut the drinking. Sure, he still liked a couple of beers, or a glass of wine, maybe once or twice a week, but that was it. And he’d been the happy family man for just about thirty years. Happy building up his own construction business. Happy opening regional offices in four major cities in the U.K., and happy raising a healthy brood of four children.

And then the photos arrived.

Tom sat up, dragged his hands down his face then leaned forward, his forearms resting on the antique mahogany desk, his hands clasped together on the large blotting pad. At the sound of Annie’s voice, he turned and squinted at the carriage clock on the mantle shelf behind him. He smiled; in their house elevenses was at eleven.

            “Tea is in the pot, Tom.”  Her voice came from the bottom of the angular oak staircase, where Tom knew Annie would be standing, looking up towards the room above the kitchen that he used as study.

            He stood, easing the chair away from the desk, and shouted, “Give me two minutes, love.” He gathered up the photographs and put them back into the brown envelope they had been delivered in. He crossed the room towards a wall where three rows of four, silver framed, A4 pastel drawings of autographed football action shots hung within a larger, heavier frame. He pushed the frame at the bottom right side, there was a click, and the frame containing the twelve drawings sprung away from the wall. He opened the small, black safe sited behind the framed drawings by entering a code on the electronic pad on the safe door. He deposited the photographs and closed the safe with a gentle push. He swung the large frame back into place, heard it lock into position, and then checked the study with a quick scan.

            Tom entered the kitchen, picked up his cup of tea, and opened his arms for a hug. Annie squeezed tightly, and Tom held her against his chest with one arm, while holding the tea at arm’s length with the other.

            Annie held the cuddle. “You okay today?”

            Tom released his grip, and with a finger under her chin, tilted Annie’s head. He looked deep into her green eyes.

“I’m fine, and I’ve been fine for months, so stop asking, eh?”

“You’ve taken your meds?”

Tom looked sideways, sighing. “When did a couple of pills a day become meds?”

Annie gave him a chiding look. “Four pills a day, every day, is not a couple. And headaches need pills. Arrhythmia needs meds.”

Tom smiled. “Yeah, yeah, I’ve taken them.”

He stroked her dyed ash-blond hair, still as thick and lustrous as it was on the day they had met.  He stepped away, took a long drink, poured the last drops of his tea down the sink, and then put his cup upside down on the rack in the dishwasher.

            Tom looked to the heavens, surreptitiously took a deep breath, and turned to face Annie.

“I need to go to Scotland. Problems on a job,” he said.

 “Is that what’s been on your mind?”

Tom shrugged.

Annie spoke as she roamed the large kitchen, looking anywhere but at Tom.

“And here’s me thinking you were going to take it easy, wind down to retirement. How come the chairman of the board has to go? Don’t you have a … a manager of some sort who can handle whatever it is?”

Now she looked at Tom, a frown creasing her brow.

“Or do you just want a few days away from the missus?”

Annie studied the six-feet-two-inch, lean, muscled, handsome man, that she’d been married to for thirty-four years. She smiled as he pushed his long grey-streaked hair back over his head; corporate leader maybe, but he was still a rebel at heart.

Annie held up her hands in feigned defeat.

“Okay, okay,” she said. “I might go down to Debbie’s for a few days. Give me a ring the day before you come back. I don’t fancy staying here on my own[JC1] .”

            Tom smiled, crossed the room, and pulled her towards him, her head against his chest. He kissed her.

“Okay, no more Mister Grumpy – but I do have to go to Scotland.”

He reached around and patted Annie’s bottom. She backed away from him, pointing a finger with raised eyebrows. Tom backed toward the door, grinning.

“I’ve still got paperwork to do. Give me a shout when the others arrive.”

He turned and walked through to the reception area of the house.

            “Oh, I nearly forgot,” Annie shouted. “Guess what. Mickey Thomas phoned. His number’s on the pad. His son’s got a problem with a bookmaker – or something like that.”

            “Mickey! After all this time! F…,” Tom swallowed the expletive.

            “Hey! Especially not on a Sunday.”

            Tom tore the page off the pad that lay on the small telephone table at the foot of the stairs. He noted the inner London post code.

            Back in his study, Tom dialled the number. The phone rang twice as Tom gazed out of the window before Mickey picked it up.

“Mickey? Tom.”

“Thanks for ringing back, Tom. Honest, mate, I wouldn’t have bothered you if I wasn’t desperate, mate. It’s my boy. He’s gotten mixed up with a right evil bastard. I tried….”

            “Whoa, whoa, Mickey. Mickey. Calm down. And good morning to you too, mate, nice to hear from you again. What is it? Twenty, twenty-five years?”

            Mickey mumbled something, then, more distinctly, said, “Yeah, sorry, Tom. I know it looks bad after all this time, but I’m fucking frantic. I need help, mate… but if you’re busy… you know… it’s… ”

            “When was I ever too busy for you, Mickey?”