Keep reading for an exclusive extract for Edie Baylis’ brand new book Vendetta!
19 January 1996
Dan Marlow didn’t hide his wish to catch the barman’s eye through the hatch specifically placed for shouting orders. It always paid to appear chilled out and not too intent on the job in hand. It might make him look a prize mug not having his eye on the ball, and although most people might have an aversion to making out they weren’t the brightest spark, Dan did not. Doing it this way was what pulled the cash in.
‘Another pint, please,’ he shouted in the direction of the miserable stocky man serving the punters in the main room.
Putting away plenty of drinks was always noted too – it lulled people into a false sense of security, allowing them to assume he was half-cut.
Dan inwardly grinned. He’d got this down to a tee, but in all fairness, he’d have been happy to give this particular sit-down tonight a miss. He and Mickey had done okay for themselves around the London pubs this month, so he’d have preferred not to push his luck.
For the third time, they’d cleaned up with bells on at the Joiners Arms and their reputation in Clapham was now sailing too close to the wind to be comfortable, hence they’d had to venture further afield. Not so far afield, mind – Streatham, to be precise. But far enough away from Clapham to slow the speed of the grapevine.
South London might be a big area, but nevertheless, it was important to take this one slow, so as not to arouse suspicion.
He glanced at the intent faces around the separate room at the back of the Bricklayers Arms. There was a shedload of money up for grabs tonight, which was why Mickey had insisted they come. Personally, Dan would have preferred to wait a while longer, but what he thought rarely counted.
Dan nodded his thanks as his fresh pint was placed on the hatch, ignoring that the sullen barman sloshed two inches of his beer onto the stained wooden shelf. This would be the last drink, anyhow.
Chucking his cigarette end on the floor, Dan ground it out with his heel.
He’d pulled in a couple of small wins tonight, making sure to lose more than he’d won until the last minute, as previously agreed. Everything was going to plan. Now, seeing Mickey’s barely imperceptible blink to signify the off, he waited for the cards to be dealt.
The odds had raised to a level where it was all or nothing, so it was a good job Dan knew he would clear up. Mickey was so good with his sleight of hand, so bloody expert, even knowing what would happen, Dan was yet to physically see it. The man was a genius – an absolute fucking genius.
Dan covertly scanned the huge pile of notes in the centre of the scuffed table. There was only him and one other player left – an old bloke sweating so much he looked a prize candidate for a coronary.
Knowing all eyes were on him, Dan mirrored the old man’s flash of worry on his own face as he glanced at his cards. It never paid to look confident, and he didn’t much like the look of several of the people here who had already been forced to fold.
Dan concentrated on the one remaining player and sat tight as Mickey worked his magic, dealing from the bottom of the pack.
The opponent picked up his cards, his slight flinch giving Dan all the information he needed to know. The guy was fucked.
He slapped his cards face down on the table and scooped up the pile of money. ‘Think this is mine,’ Dan grinned, standing up. ‘Cheers, fella. That’s me done for tonight!’
He’d contain his glee for just a while longer until he met up with Mickey at the prearranged spot down the road. All he had to do now was leave, which shouldn’t be difficult.
Mickey gathered the cards up. ‘Another game, anyone?’
A squat man with a long scar down the left-hand side of his face pushed himself away from the wall and snatched the remains of the deck out of Mickey’s hand. ‘Let’s just check these.’
Dan froze. What the fuck was this? He glanced at Mickey, who appeared outwardly unruffled.
The man spread the cards on the table. ‘I’ve heard about you two from the Pig and Blanket,’ he snarled. ‘Yep, look! Just as I thought. This wanker has been dealing from the bottom!’
As the other men’s faces twisted with rage, Mickey upended the table as a diversion. There had always been a get-out plan in the event of this happening. They’d never needed it before, but they sure as hell needed it now.
Seeing Mickey already exiting out of the small back room in the confusion, Dan started towards the door.
Slipping on the loose cards scattered on the floor, he lurched forwards and as a meaty hand closed around the back of his neck, dragging him back into the room, he could do little about it.
Dan’s mind raced. ‘Wait! It’s not what you think. I…’
‘What about the other one?’ someone yelled.
The heavy-set man with his hand around Dan’s neck cast him to the beer-drenched floor. ‘I don’t give a toss about him. This fucker’s the one with our money!’
Dan grinned, even though there was a boot across the front of his neck holding him still. ‘No hard feelings, boys.’ By pretending none of this was happening, he remained calm as his pockets were rifled through, relieving him of his winnings. ‘You’ve got your money back now, so no harm done.’
The squat man leant over Dan’s prone form and snarled, revealing a gap at the front of his selection of stained teeth. ‘That’s what you think, cunt! You’ve pushed your luck one time too often around these parts. We don’t like cheats. I’ll make sure neither of you play anywhere around here again.’
Dan’s eyes widened as the man pulled a meat cleaver from his inside pocket. Shit, shit, shit! ‘Let’s not be hasty. You’ve got your money back now, so I…’
‘Hold the fucker still!’ the man snarled to the others in the room.
Dan struggled pointlessly, the grip on his arms and legs too strong. Seeing the meat cleaver rise, his eyes bulged. The last thing he lucidly recalled before the raging pain kicked in was watching with a strange, detached fascination as the fingers on his right hand were effortlessly removed.
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