– Chapter 1 –
OK, Ali McGurk said to himself, maybe wire cutters weren’t the best tool for the job, but he had already spent too much time changing the brake pads on the green Rover 200. The quicker he was done, the quicker a cold pint of Tennants – and with any luck Mikayla, the wee slapper behind the bar at the Horny Ram – would be clasped in his oily fist. Mo Singh wouldn’t be in to pick his car until at least Monday: Fridays were spent at the Mosque and Mick’s Motors was shut on a Saturday.
Ali tried to grab the bolt with the short, sharp nips, cursing as they slipped again. One more try he thought, sticking his tongue out in concentration. He squeezed the dirty handles as hard as he could and just as he began to feel a purchase on the bolt, the jaws slipped, clamping onto the narrow metal pipe connecting the reservoir of urine-coloured brake fluid to the servos.
Ali withdrew the cutters and examined the brake pipe. He ran a dirty finger along its length but it seemed OK. Relieved, he smiled and began to gather up his tools. He was about to slide out from under the motor when a single amber dew drop bulged and fell silently to the greasy floor.
What could he do? Big Mick would be livid if Ali had to spend time fixing something he couldn’t bill the customer for. For Mick it was it all about the money: he’d never spend a pound when he could save a penny. “You done there?” Mick’s voice boomed and echoed against the garage walls. “You’ve been at they brakes for long enough. Time’s money, Ali. Get a move on.”
“Aye, Mick, right you are. Just finishing off.” Ali wiped up the spot and ran his rag over the pipe. He waited for a few seconds and there, just as before, a drop of brake fluid began to form.
“Ali!” Mick was shouting now and Ali scooted out from under the car, stopping at Mick’s steel-toed boots.
“Everything all right there, Ali?”
“Aye, aye, Mick. Just done. Replaced the brake pads just like you told me to.”
“Good job, son. Mo’s a good customer and I wouldn’t like to think his car wasn’t safe. Not with him and his wife just having a new wean.” What Mick meant was that Mo kept a healthy selection of imported porn under the counter and wasn’t averse to lending it out to him before selling it on to one of the dirty-mac brigade who frequented his shop after dark. Not a privilege Mick was keen on losing.
Ali swallowed hard.
“Right, shove the green Rover out into the yard and off you go. And Ali?”
“Give that wee tart Mikayla one from me.” Mick winked, a wide smile splitting his pock-marked face and he walked away, swinging his keychain from his fingers.
Ali pushed the car outside, leaving it right by the workshop doors. He needed to come clean, he thought. If he found out from Mo that he had cocked up such a simple job, Big Mick would kill him. Or at least inflict a bit of GBH. Ali would never be able to enjoy himself this weekend with the threat of violence hanging over his head. He took a deep breath and walked across the yard to the portakabin office where Mick kept a grubby desk and a scratched metal filing cabinet containing all the records he didn’t mind the tax people knowing about. It was never full. Right outside the office was a shining red MG, it’s chrome trim sparkling in the late sun. Ali rubbed the back of his neck and, after a few seconds hesitation, knocked on the door.
“Mick, it’s me, Ali. There’s something I need to tell you.”
“Aw for fu… come in.”
Ali pushed the door open. Mick was sitting on the edge of his desk, one giant buttock almost covering the blotter, the other overspilling and hanging down like it was in the process of melting towards the floor. In the corner was Jack “The Knife” Molloy, a local gangster not known for his kindness to small children and puppies.
“Oh, erm… sorry, Big Mick, I just wanted to… erm..”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, son, spit it out.”
“Aye, son. Get on with it. Can you not see that Mick and me have some business to take care of?” Jack Molloy glowered at Ali from under spiky ginger eyebrows, carefully fingering a red-handled pen-knife.
Ali knew better than to get involved with anything Jack Malloy had a finger in.
“It’s…it’s nothing, Mick. Have a good weekend, see you on Monday.”
“That boay’s a bit dolly dimple, Mick,” Ali heard Jack say through the closing door. “Have a good weekend, Mick! I hope you’re not letting him loose on my car.”
“No, Jack. Don’t worry: I’m seeing to your motor myself.”
Ali shrugged out of his overalls and left Mick’s Motors, shoulders slumped.
– Chapter 2 –
“Pint of Tennants when you’ve got a minute, Mikayla.” Ali leaned on the sticky bar and stared at some graffiti scratched into the old varnish. He knew that when he went back in to the garage on Monday and owned up to Mick he’d be handed his head on a plate. A beaten up, bruised and bleeding head. He’d have to tell. Ali couldn’t live with himself if Mo Singh had an accident that was all his fault. Visions of the new baby flying through the windscreen sped through his mind like the Rover 200 speeding through a red light, Mo’s left foot pumping at the useless brake pedal.
“Alright there, Ali Barbie?”
Ali jumped as Daft Derek slapped his back.
“I’ve told you before, stop calling me that. For Christ’s sake, Derek, you’ve been calling me that since school. Give it a chuck.”
“Aw, Ali, don’t be so miserable, pal. Ali Barbie!” Derek spluttered his lager over his already stained red jacket. “What’s wrong with you tonight anyway? It’s Friday! TFI Friday! Start of the weekend. Two days of boozin’, birds and bonki-”
“Just leave it, will you, Derek. I’m not in the mood.”
“Come on, you can tell your old pal Derek all about it, eh?” Derek put his arm round Ali’s shoulder and burped into his face. Desperate to talk about it to someone, Ali told Derek everything that had happened that afternoon.
“So you see, Big Mick will use my balls for Christmas tree decorations when he finds out what happened.”
“Does Mick need to know? Who’s going to tell him it was you, eh?”
Ali stared at Derek’s moon face. “Are you mental? Of course they’re going to know it was me. I was the last one working on Mo’s car. Who else could it be?”
“Aye, but what if the car wasn’t there? What if it…went up in smoke?” Derek winked and flicked a plastic Bic lighter on and off with a calloused thumb.
Derek had always liked fire. His parents and neighbours, whose homes he had set alight on a number of occasions, had been less keen. Ali had seen the way Derek had gazed at the flames licking along the sticks he would set fire to on the way home from school. His eyes would linger over each hot shimmer the way Ali’s lingered over the curve of Mikayla’s thigh under her miniskirt.
“What if you got caught? You can’t do that – it’s dangerous.”
“Dangerous to you maybe, Ali Barbie. But not to me. You’re forgetting I’m a professional.” Derek burped into his beer. “You just tell me what car you want torched and Hey presto, it’s done.” He spilled his ale over his green and orange jumper as he swirled the pint glass in ‘magic wand’ motion.
Ali was torn. Derek’s idea would put an end to his worries about the car, but if he got caught or burned or, more importantly, told anybody about Ali’s own involvement in it…
“You’d really do that? For me?”
“Nae bother, Ali. You just tell me what car you cocked up and I’ll make it all disappear.”
Mikayla was leaning down behind the bar, showing her pink lace-cupped boobs to their best advantage. She looked up to see Ali staring and smiled, turning round so he’d get a better look. It certainly would be a shame not to make the most of the weekend…
“Right, you’re on, Derek. Green Rover just outside the workshop doors. Mikayla, Tennants for me, Guiness for my pal here and whatever you fancy for yourself, doll.”
Derek continued playing with his lighter, the flame reflecting in the glasses lined up along the bar.
Ali pushed his sunglasses further up his nose. His hangover-headache thumped with each step he made in the early morning sunshine. Mikayla’s perfume hung on his clothes and snaked up his nose, each whiff flashing a memory from the night before, scenes from his very own porno. He smiled at his recollections, freeze-framing and slow-mo-ing his favourite parts when he noticed a subtle change of aroma. The lingering floral top notes of Mikayla’s scent were quickly being replaced by the hot, acrid stench of burnt rubber and smouldering wood.
Ali quickened his pace, turning away from home and on to Mick’s Motors. Derek must have torched the Rover 200 the previous night and scared as he was to get involved further, his curiosity got the better of him. As he turned the corner he was met by chaos; two large fire engines were parked in front of the garage and a battery of buff-suited fire fighters rolling yellow hoses and wiping soot from their faces mingled with an assortment of cops. The portakabin was a charred shell, the filing cabinet sticking up like a sooty finger amongst the smoking debris. A blackened metal exoskeleton stood in front of the remains.
“Ali!” Ali turned to see Derek standing behind the fence, gesturing for Ali to join him.
“Job done! No more wee Rover and you’re in the clear, pal.”
Ali frowned. Hadn’t he left Mo’s car outside the workshop doors, right over….
There, looking exactly as he had left it the previous evening, stood the green Rover 200, completely untouched by Derek’s hot hand.
“You didn’t torch the car, you dickhead. It’s still there.” He grabbed Derek by the shoulders and shook him.
“But I definitely burned a wee Rover, Ali.”
“Well, if you set fire to Mo’s motor, what is it doing sitting there good as new?” Ali roughly turned Derek round to face the small green car. “I told you to take care of the Rover outside the workshop.”
Derek pointed to the charred remains on the other side of the yard.
“Wee smasher it was, seemed a real shame to ruin it. Open top, nice chrome. In fact, I almost changed my mind and nicked it.”
Ali slid down the fence to sit on the ground. If Derek hadn’t set fire to the right car, what car did he burn?
“It was definitely a Rover. I made sure of that before I did it.”
A Rover, but not the 200: outside the portakabin…
Derek had torched Jack The Knife’s motor.
“You stupid tit! You set fire to Jack Molloy’s pride and joy. Christ, he’s going to kill us if he finds out. I said the motor outside the workshop, not the bloody portakabin.”
“Are you sure, Ali? I was sure you told me the portakabin. Mind you, I had had a few…”
A shout came from inside the workshop.
“And I had to get it done quick. There was a light on in the workshop. Was Mick working late? I thought I heard someone shouting but I wasn’t going to hang around to find out …”
“Sarge, you need to see this.”
Ali stood up and pushed Derek out his way.
“I did my best, Ali. Nobody’ll know it was us.”
Without looking back at his friend, Ali entered the compound.
“I work here,” he told the uniformed policeman who tried to bar his way.
“In that case, I think you should have a word with my Sergeant.” He pointed Ali towards the workshop where the senior policeman was emerging from the opened doors.
“Who are you?” the sergeant asked, pushing Ali back.
“Ali McGurk, I’m a mechanic here.” Ali craned his neck to look over the officer’s shoulder, into the interior of the workshop. There, lying on top of a pile of old tyres, was the body of Big Mick, a knife protruding from his stomach. Blood had spilled over his bulk and reflected wetly back at Ali in the limited light. Ali turned away and promptly threw up over the bonnet of a de-wheeled Focus.
“Do you know this man?” the Sergeant asked him.
“Aye, that’s Big Mick… Mick Gallacher. This is – was – his garage.”
“Any idea who would want to set fire to the place and do this to him?”
Ali thought back to the last thing he’d heard Mick say the day before.
No, Jack. Don’t worry: I’m seeing to your motor myself.
Jack must have thought Mick had had his MG torched. Christ, maybe it was Jack that Derek had heard shouting. Ali swallowed.
“No, officer. No idea. Everyone liked Mick.”
The Sergeant stared at him for a minute, eyebrows raised in disbelief, then told his PC to take Ali away to get his statement.
Ali was led over to the far side of the yard where the PC took out his notebook. Out the corner of his eye he saw Mo with his wife talking to one of the cops at the gate. Mrs. Singh had their baby in a pram, a parasol shading the small screwed-up face.
“What’ll happen to the other cars? The ones that weren’t touched by the fire?”
“I should think their owners will be able to collect them by the end of the day. It looks to me like this could be an escalation in the local gang war. Once the SOC boys have gone over the scene we’d want to get the yard cleared as soon as we can. We don’t want to waste manpower on someone guarding the site.”
Ali swallowed down the bile. He slipped his sunglasses into his pocket. Outside the compound Derek flicked his Bic lighter on and off with a calloused thumb.