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Excerpt for Another Kingdom by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

another kingdom

by

Mark Z. Kammell



SMASHWORDS EDITION

*****

PUBLISHED BY:



Mark.Z.Kammell on Smashwords



Another Kingdom

© Copyright 2019 by Mark Z. Kammell.



Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person,

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* * * * *









One



Parker picked his nose because he was nervous. He sat alone in the small, stuffy room. He sat on the chair that he had been pointed to – wooden with a metal frame, old, uncomfortable. It made his back hurt. Just a quick chat, they’d said. Just a quick chat, it’ll be easier down our place, they had said, and then the next thing he knew he was sitting in this meeting room – though it felt anything but – waiting for something to happen.

The guy who had picked him up had seemed pleasant enough – called him Mr. Parker, not just Mike, or Parker, or anything like that. Would you mind if we chatted to you about a couple of things, Mr. Parker? That sort of thing, and he had felt relaxed enough to do it. Why not? It was a Thursday afternoon and he was alone in the house. But then he’d found himself sitting in the back of the unmarked car, and then, in the back entrance, through the nondescript metal doors and then, instead of walking through the corridor marked Reception, to the light and airy room beyond, the young guy – what was his name, he couldn’t even remember – had said, no, not that way, this way, please, Mr. Parker, and then he had suddenly found himself walking down a set of dank steps into a dark chamber beyond, and then into this place. It had all happened in a matter of seconds … just in here, sir, won’t you just take a seat for a minute (pointing at the chair) and we’ll be with you soon – and as he was looking around taking his bearings, the door had shut behind him. He had started to say something, opened his mouth – even just to ask for a cup of coffee – but what was the point of asking, when there was no one there to listen to him?

He got his phone out, but, predictably, no signal. In the centre of the wall behind the desk was the door that he had come through – solid metal – old, rusting – in a wooden frame painted white, the paint peeling with age. What was stopping him from getting up and just walking back out? He wasn’t under arrest, after all; in fact, he really wasn’t sure why he was here, what they wanted to talk to him about. Parker stood, and then sat down again. What if the door was locked? What if he was trapped in here? What if it was one of those nightmares, one of those where he’d never be let out again, locked away for a … for what, really? He thought of Sophie and what she would do… probably nothing. She’d probably be relieved. He got up again and stepped around the desk and to the door, his had tentatively out to the handle. It was cold and slippery in his grasp, it sent shivers through his arms. He took a deep breath and started to turn it, and then, to his surprise, suddenly it turned quickly and the door swung outwards, away from him. Parker took a step back, looking into the darkness, as a man stepped into the doorway and smiled at him.

“Hello, Mike. Thanks for coming down. Not thinking of sneaking away already, were you? Not before we have a chance to talk to you?”

There was another man by his side all of a sudden. Both wore black suits, both thin, tall, with cropped dark hair. The man on the right, who had spoken, was still smiling. The other man wasn’t. He had dark eyes and a dangerous face. When he spoke, his words came out in a low, hushed voice that spoke of anger.

“I really would advise him against that.”

Him. He had said him, as if he was addressing his partner, rather than Parker himself, and for some reason that sent a shiver through Parker.

“Sorry… no … I was just stretching my legs” he mumbled, backing himself towards his seat and sitting clumsily.

“You see” the first man said, turning to the second, “nothing to worry about. He was just stretching his legs. Just going for a stroll. That’s good” he smiled, nodding at Parker, “good to keep your exercise up, isn’t it? Isn’t that right, Justin?”

The other man scowled. “I suppose he won’t have much chance, soon.”

Parker smiled uncomfortably. “Erm, excuse me, but can you tell me why I’m here, please?” He addressed the other man; not Justin, the other one, who seemed friendlier.

“Of course, of course, all in good time” the man smiled. He sat down in one of the two chairs opposite Parker and dropped a file in front of him. “A little stiff, this, actually. A little uncomfortable. Wouldn’t you say, Justin?”

The other man hooked out the remaining chair with his foot, dropped himself onto it and snorted. “I’ve had worse.”

“Well, yes, of course you have, but I’m not saying that, I’m saying that this one is a little uncomfortable. Wouldn’t you say, Peter?” he asked, addressing Parker.

Parker coughed. “Erm, it’s Mike. Mike Parker.”

“Mike? Of course it is. How stupid of me. For some reason I thought your name was Peter.” He turned to his companion. “Ha! Can you imagine that? Peter Parker? That’s just like … what does that remind me of?”

“Erm, Spiderman” Parker interjected.

He turned to him, surprised. “Spiderman? Seriously? Yes, you may be right. Justin, the man thinks he’s Spiderman!”

Justin gave him an angry look. “Probably caught in a web of his own deceit.”

“No!” Parker almost shouted. “I don’t mean I’m Spiderman! I mean, in the comic books, you know, that’s what he was called…” he looked at their surprised faces. “Peter Parker, he was Spiderman! I should know, that was my nickname at school.”

The first man sighed. “Ahh, nicknames. Terrible, isn’t it. Poor man was bullied at school” he said to Justin.

Justin pulled out a new packet of cigarettes from his pocket. A gold skull on a black background glinted against the harsh light. Slowly and deliberately he unwrapped the cellophane packaging and lifted the lid. He carefully extracted a cigarette and tapped it on the table before putting it in his mouth. With his other hand, he took out a silver Zippo lighter and, cupping his hand around the cigarette, he lit it. The smoke drifted out and hung over the table, and Parker coughed. Justin’s eyes flicked up to him.

“Perhaps that explains why he has become a psychopath” he muttered.

Parker coughed again. “I… I don’t understand” he said, his voice unsure. “Why am I here?”

“Relax!” the first man said with a big smile. “Relax, Peter… I mean Mike, sorry! We’re only teasing you!”

“I’m not” Justin said darkly.

“Justin!” The first man said. “Ignore him. He has a particularly dark sense of humour. Really, there’s nothing to worry about. We’re just here to have a chat, aren’t we, Justin?”

Justin growled and the first man smiled. “Exactly. Anyway, where are my manners? He leant forward and held his hand out over the table. I’m Phil Maker, and this is my friend and colleague, Justin Dredd.”

Parker looked uncertainly at him, and then took his hand and shook it. Maker pulled his hand back, Parker was sure that he muttered “weak handshake” under his breath.

“Can you tell me why I’m here, please?” Parker asked, addressing Maker again. “I thought I was just coming in for a chat.”

“You are!” Maker replied, “you are! We’re just having a friendly chat, the three of us, aren’t we, Justin?”

Dredd glanced up from a cloud of cigarette smoke. “We could maybe have tea sometime.”

“It’s just that…” Parker said to Maker, “it’s just that, I normally meet Martin… I mean, Mr. Gaines …” he glanced at the door, “upstairs. It’s just …”

Maker’s face went serious. “Hmmm, is that right?” He picked up the file in front of him, opened it, and studied the contents. “Hmmm.” He passed it over to Dredd, who took a glance at dropped it back down on the table.

“So, what is it that you see Gaines for?” Maker asked.

Parker swallowed, nervous, though he wasn’t entirely sure why. “Well… as you can see in my file, I guess… I give him advice, I consult on certain matters, when…” he could feel the sweat on his forehead; it suddenly seemed to be very warm in here. “I’m a doctor, so it’s just that when … he needs some advice, you know, on his cases, he calls me in.” He looked at Maker, then at Dredd, then back at Maker. They were both looking at him seriously. “Come on! You must know this! It must be written in there…” Parker continued, half shouting, pointing at the file.

“No need to get angry, now” Maker said calmly, “is there, Justin?”

Dredd took a long drag on his cigarette, then stubbed it out on the table. “He probably has something to hide” he said, drily.

“I don’t! I’ve got nothing to hide! I want to see Martin! I want to see him now!” he shouted, standing up, and pushing his chair back under the table with enough force to make the table rattle. He held on to the back of the chair, not moving towards the door. He glared at Maker and Dredd. “I’m going now” he said, but his voice was less than steady and he didn’t move.

Dredd shook another cigarette from the packet and lit it. “Sit down” he growled.

“Sit down, Peter” Maker said in a low voice.

“My name’s not Peter” Parker said, exasperated. He looked over at Dredd. “Is he even allowed to do that?”

Maker glanced at Dredd then back at Parker, amused. “Well, you can ask him to stop if you want.”

Parker’s mouth opened, then closed again. His shoulders slumped, and he pulled out the chair and allowed his body to fall onto it. His hands rested wearily on the table. “What do you want?”

Maker smiled. “There. That’s better, isn’t it? It’s good to be working together. Now…” he picked up the file again, and pulled out a page, studying it. Eventually, he let it drop to the table, face down. “You’re a doctor, am I correct?”

Parker closed his eyes. “Yes. I already said that. I help …”

“…Gaines when he needs advice. Yes, we know” Maker interrupted. “But I’m sure that’s not all you do, is it?”

Parker coughed. “Well, no, of course not, I have patients…”

“What sort of patients?”

“Well, you know, patients, who are ill. I’m a doctor. I mean, what do you …”

“Private patients” Dredd said suddenly. He was holding the paper that Maker had let fall onto the table, looking at it. “Is that right?” Parker looked over at him, their eyes met for an instant, and Parker looked away quickly.

“Well… I’m not sure why that’s relevant to anything. Look…” he looked at Maker again. “Ask your questions, then I’ll leave, all right?”

Maker tapped the table with his fingers and gave another of his broad smiles.

“What is it that you do for your … private patients?” he asked.

Parker’s eyebrows furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“It’s a simple enough question.”

Parker coughed. “I consult them, that’s all. They come to me and I help them out.”

“Oh. All right. And you do that privately because…?” Maker was still smiling. Dredd put out his second cigarette on the table, and was holding a pocket knife. Parker had to do a double take. The knife’s blade glinted from the glow of the lamp as he twisted the black wooden handle in his left hand. He flashed a knowing smile at Parker.

Maker tapped the table again and Parker looked back at him. “I’m sorry” he said, “what?”

“It’s all right” Maker said openly. “I just asked why you treat your patients privately.”

Parker shook his head in confusion. “I don’t see what that has to do with anything…”

“Look, look” Maker said quickly, “we’re not judging.”

“I am” Dredd said. He was looking at the table, carving something into it with his knife.

“Justin!” Maker scolded. “Let the man speak. If he wants to treat patients privately because he wants to exploit the capitalist system for his own ends, that’s his right and his choice. Far be it for us to criticize him for his choices.”

“Whatever” Dredd mumbled. He shot an angry glance at Parker, then looked back at the table. The knife twisted in his left hand.

“Thank you. Now…” Maker leant his arms on the table and leaned forward towards Parker. “You were saying, you treat patients privately because you’re a greedy bastard who’s just a leech on the system…”

“Excuse me?” Parker’s voice was hot. “You can’t say that…! I help out! I help you out. I help your boss, Martin… Mr. Gaines. I want to see him now!” He started to stand up again.

“Now, now” Maker said calmly. “Let’s not get all heated again, shall we? Let’s try and keep this civilized. Why don’t you sit down? I tell you what, why don’t we all have a cup of coffee?”

Parker sighed. “Yes, yes, all right. That would be nice. Black, one sugar, please.”

Maker gave a small laugh. “Good. You see? Better already! Right. Now. These private patients of yours. As we were saying. What is it exactly that you do for them?”

“Erm. My coffee?”

“All in good time. All in good time. Now… these patients?”

Parker sat back and folded his arms. “You know I can’t discuss that. Can I have a coffee please?”

Dredd dug the knife in to the table a little bit deeper. Parker, despite himself, looked over. Dredd seemed to be carving some sort of shape into the table. He looked up and caught Parker’s eye again. “Can’t discuss it, or won’t discuss it?” he asked in his low, dry voice.

Parker shook his head. “This is unbelievable. You two…” he pointed at them… “you two are unbelievable….”

“Thank you” Maker said.

“I didn’t mean it in a good way!” Parker shouted. “You can’t just bring me down here, insult me, treat me like this, then start…”

“Aw... I don’t think he likes us” Maker said to Dredd.

“I think it’s because you didn’t bring him the coffee you offered” Dredd replied.

“Oh! Of course!” Maker clicked his right finger. “Silly me!” He looked at Parker. “Well, you should have said! Though I’m not sure I’m inclined to make you a coffee now, after you insulted me. I’m sure you can see my point. So, why don’t you just answer our questions and then we’ll make you a coffee, all right?”

“No!” Parker shouted. “It’s not all right! I don’t care about your coffee! I just don’t appreciate being treated in this way! And I can’t tell you about my patients. You know I can’t… It’s the…”

“He’s talking about the Hippocratic oath” Dredd interrupted.

“Yes! Right!” Parker pointed at Dredd. That’s right! He’s right! You know I can’t say anything!”

“Ah!” Maker drew his arms out wide. “Well, you know, I’m not sure why we should worry too much about that. We’re just three guys, having a chat, in a room. No one’s going to know, really, are they?”

“Can’t say I’m writing any of this down” Dredd said.

“But… no!” Parker replied. “I mean… are you mad? I’d get struck off!”

Maker put his hands up. “All right, Peter. We understand. We wouldn’t want you to get struck off, would we, Justin?”

“Couldn’t think of anything worse.” Dredd continued carving into the table.

“That’s right” Maker agreed. “I mean, what would happen to your livelihood?”

“Thank you” Parker said, falling back slightly into his seat.

“I mean” Maker continued, “you may not be able to afford that new yacht.”

“He may have to cancel the next crate of champagne” Dredd added.

Maker sighed. “That Ferrari may have to go back to the garage.”

Dredd scratched his right temple with the tip of his knife. A small spot of blood appeared. “He could miss out on that new skiing chalet in Switzerland.”

“You see” Maker addressed Parker. “We understand. We really do. Which is why we promise we won’t tell anyone what you tell us. All right?”

“I want a lawyer” Parker said suddenly.

Dredd looked up. “Trying to hide something?”

Maker glanced at Dredd. “Well, it’s his right.”

“I’m not saying anything else until I have a lawyer present” Parker said.

“You haven’t actually told us anything yet” Maker replied.

“I told you he had something to hide” Dredd said to Maker.

Maker sighed. “It certainly looks that way.”

“I don’t have anything to hide!” Parker shouted. “I just don’t appreciate being treated in this way! I want a lawyer, and I want one now!”

“Ohhhh” Maker said. “Now I understand. You want to prosecute us for not being nice to you.”

“Or maybe for not making that coffee” Dredd added.

“Good point” Maker nodded. “Good point. And you think that a lawyer will do that for you.”

“No! It’s my right to have a lawyer! And that’s what I’m asking for!”

Maker leaned forward, suddenly, all the amicability gone from his body and his face. His hands clasped his side of the table but he reached forward so far that Parker could smell his breath. There was aggression and anger there and Parker pushed himself back into his chair, frightened.

“And all we’re asking for” Maker growled, “is a little help. And I’m frankly getting sick of your whining.” He pulled himself back and leant back into his chair, and the smile returned to his face. “Now…” he said, “do we understand each other?”

Parker took a deep breath. His hands held on to the table and he looked directly at Maker. “I want a lawyer” he said slowly, clearly. “And if not, I want to leave. Right now.”

Dredd stood suddenly, and Parker shrank back in his chair. In a panic he looked Dredd up and down, looking for the knife. With a little relief, he saw that it was stuck in the desk. Dredd had carved a drawing in the desk; a stickman in a hangman’s noose. The knife rested in the middle of the stickman’s head.

Dredd dropped his hands on to the desk and leaned forward. He pointed at a spot on the floor next to where Parker was sitting. “You see that mark on the floor?” he asked. “That’s your lawyer. That’s the best lawyer you’re ever going to have.” His voice remained deadpan, his face expressionless. He sat down again, pulled the knife from the table, and started running its blade over his left palm.

“Nice one” smiled Maker. “That’s good. The Mary Whitehouse Experience, right?”

Dredd gave the tiniest of nods.

“Yes, that’s right” Maker smiled. He turned to Parker. “You remember that, right? The two professors? Always insulting each other? Of course you do” he said jovially, ignoring Parker’s bemused expression. “They were really popular, what, maybe twenty years ago? Well, you should check it out. Rent a DVD or download it from a pirate site, or something….”

“They have the internet in prison” Dredd murmured, concentrating on his palm. A tiny red line circled it.

“Yeah, that’s right” Maker continued, laughing. “Oh, those were funny, weren’t they?”

“They don’t make them like that anymore” Dredd agreed, in a bored, quiet voice.

“Certainly don’t. Mind you, I wonder what became of them? What were their names? Whatever. I bet they ended up doing some serious TV show, travelling the world or something. David What’s-His-Name visits China by Boat. Or something. That’s what they all seem to do now, isn’t it? It’s a real shame, really, wouldn’t you agree?” he asked Parker, who remained quiet, looking sullenly at Maker, who shrugged and continued. “I mean, really. These guys were comics, weren’t they? They were funny, that’s why we wanted to see them. Then they all grow up and become serious, and do programmes about China, or Scotland, or orangutans, and they expect us to watch them. And you know what? We only do because we think they’ll still be funny. We think that somewhere, wrapped in the dirge and the flimsy history, somewhere in there we think there’ll be the odd quip or two that takes us back to their halcyon days. Because the last thing any of us want to waste our time doing is watching a comedian who just isn’t funny. Don’t you agree, Peter? There’s enough going on in our lives in any case without wasting our time on something so pointless as watching someone who used to be funny. It really makes me mad, you know?” He turned to Dredd. “Doesn’t it make you mad, Justin?”

Dredd didn’t look up. “Makes me want to gouge someone’s eyes out” he said in the same monotone. A drop of blood fell from his hand and landed on the table.

“Exactly!” Maker cried, slapping the table. “Exactly!” He looked at Parker again. “You see, Peter? We’re on the same wavelength. Me and him…” he swung his arm towards Dredd, who didn’t seem to notice. “We know what we’re thinking, you understand? And what I’d really like, Peter, is that us…” he pointed his finger at Parker then back at him, “you and me, we get there too. You understand me? Good. Now. Let’s talk.”

Parker put his head in his hands. “Not before I get my lawyer.”

“Excuse me?” Maker asked, cupping his hand to his ear. “I didn’t quite hear that.”

Parker swallowed. “My lawyer. I want my lawyer. I have the right…”

The knife flew out of Dredd’s hand and into the table, and the noise jerked Parker upright. He stared at Dredd.

“What gives you the right to a lawyer?” Dredd asked, his voice still low but the monotone had been replaced with something sharper, something ugly.

“It’s… it’s my right” Parker stammered.

“It’s your right. It’s your right. Is that all you can say?” Dredd asked. “You think about those refugees that come into the country, running away from death and torture, and then we send back because we don’t want the strain on our welfare system. You think they deserve a lawyer?”

Parker mumbled something, but Dredd ignored it. “You think that you deserve one, just because you happen to be born in this country, don’t you? Just because you’re right, you think that makes you immune to all the …”

“That’s enough, Justin” Maker said, putting his hand on Dredd’s arm. Dredd turned and scowled at Maker, but then he sighed and sat down. He picked up the knife again. “Fucking scum” he muttered, only half under his breath.

“Now, now, Justin.” Maker put his hands out towards Parker. “He does go on sometimes, but you have to admit he does have a point. Now, all we want is a little help with our enquiries, and then we can draw our friendly chat to a close. I’ll even buy you a coffee on the way out. How about that? The canteen here does fantastic espresso. You know, we have one of those fancy machines, they came and installed it last week. We have a barista that serves it, as well. Mind you, he’s a bit mad, if I tell you the truth. But a barista nonetheless. With a fancy coffee machine. A few of the guys complained, you know, the usual, not enough police on the streets and yet we have money for an obscenely expensive coffee machine. Me, I say we do better policing if we have decent stimulants inside us. Wouldn’t you agree, Justin?”

Without waiting for a response, he opened the file again and took out a picture. He looked at it and showed it to Dredd, who mumbled something. Then he dropped it in front of Parker. It was a photograph of a man, sitting, drinking a coffee at a table outside a café on a busy street, that could have been in any large, cosmopolitan city. The man was probably early sixties; well dressed, wearing a dark grey suit and white shirt, no tie, and well groomed –black hair cut short, skin slightly tanned, although years of excess were showing through the lines in his features. He looked happy and relaxed.

Parker glanced at the photo and took a breath.

Maker smiled. “You know him?”

Parker glanced up, then quickly back at the photo. He took a couple of moments to study it. “Erm, no, I don’t think so” he said, quickly, his voice a little shaky. He pushed the photo back towards Maker, who coughed.

“You sure?” he asked.

Parker looked at the table. “Erm, yeah, pretty sure.” He glanced at Dredd. “Can I have one of those please?” he asked, pointing at the packet of cigarettes. Dredd raised his eyebrows, then flicked the packet with his right index finger. It flew across the desk. Parker, with slightly shaky hands, opened it, pulled out a cigarette and put it in his mouth. Dredd leaned over and lit it for him.

“Nervous, are we?” Maker asked. “I’m not surprised. This is a very dangerous man.”

“Is… is he?” Parker asked, coughing on the cigarette smoke. “I don’t really know. I mean, I have no idea. I mean, I don’t even know who he is…”

“So you said. So you said. What’s interesting, though, is that we have evidence proving that he is a patient of yours. That, in fact, you and he have met on numerous occasions.”

Maker slowly pushed the photo back towards Parker. “Would you care to look again?”

Parker sucked at his cigarette, ash falling onto the photo as he looked at it.

Slowly he raised his head. His face was grey. His voice sounded cracked as he spoke. “You must be mistaken” he said. “I’ve never seen this man in my life.”

Maker folded his arms and sat back in his chair. Parker stubbed out his cigarette on the table, as Dredd had done, and swallowed. “Can I go now?” he asked, looking at Maker. “Please?”

Dredd’s fists clenched. “You know how many people this man has killed?”

“What?”

“You heard me. Have a guess. Go on. Pick a number.”

The sweat glistened on Parker’s brow. “Erm, ten?” he said, quietly, not looking at Dredd.

Dredd snorted. “Guess again.”

“I don’t know!” Parker shouted, waving his hands in the air. “I don’t know!”

Maker turned to Dredd. “I don’t think he knows, if I’m honest.”

“Tell me!” Parker shouted, facing Dredd for the first time, “tell me how many people Mr. Zachiri killed!”

“I have no idea” Dredd replied.

“I’m surprised you know his name, though” Maker smiled, “seeing as you have no idea who he is.”

“Or else you made a remarkably good guess” Dredd added.

Parker looked from one to the other. Maker was smiling contentedly. Dredd was cleaning his fingernails with his knife. Dried blood had congealed in a red circle on his left palm.

“Look” Parker said. “Look. I’ve done some work for him, all right? I mean, what could I do? He turned up at my door, looking for help. He had two of his henchmen with him. I mean, they were, you know, brutal. They were carrying guns. He just came in, no appointment, nothing, and asked for a consultation. I mean, what was I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know” Maker replied. “Tell him you were busy?”

“Maybe say you were popping out to buy a slice of cheesecake” Dredd said.

“What?” Parker turned to Dredd, angry. “What? Do you know these people? Do you know what they’re capable of? How can you just make fun of this?” he spat out.

The room went quiet. Parker could feel, whatever he had said, had made an impression. For a second, he sat back, satisfied, but then he stopped. Maker was looking down, playing with something, or so it seemed. Dredd was breathing very slowly. He had the knife in his hand.

“I’m sorry” Parker said, suddenly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”

“Didn’t mean to what?” Maker asked, not looking up.

“Didn’t mean to… I mean, I didn’t mean to say you didn’t think this was important…” he looked pleadingly, questioningly at Maker.

Maker looked up. He reached forward and put his hands over Parker’s trembling ones and talked in a soft voice. “You’re scared of Justin. I understand that. But you should also be very scared of me. You think because I smile and try and calm him down, I’m on your side. I’m not. That man…” he glanced at the photo, “that man killed my wife. And then when you say … when you ask me what this man … these people … are capable of, I know. They may have scared you, they may have jumped out from behind a building and said Boo, but they destroyed me. Just remember that.”

The air was still. “I’m sorry” Parker said, eventually. He couldn’t look at Maker.

“Ah” Maker shrugged. “Just kidding. He didn’t kill my wife. But seriously, I’m getting a little bit bored.”

“Maybe we should go to his house” Dredd said.

“Whose? Zachiri’s?”

“No…” Dredd said slowly, “we don’t know where he is, remember? I’m talking about this piece of shit…” he nodded at Parker, “and see what we can find.”

“Mmmm” Maker said, “not a bad idea. You mean see whether we find anything, for example, illegal, at his place?”

“I’m sure we could dig something up” Dredd replied. “I’m sure he won’t turn out to be the wholesome family doctor he claims to be.”

“I don’t claim to be a family doctor…” Parker said. “I never said that.”

“Ha!” Dredd laughed. “He even admits it.” He leaned across the table. “Come on, tell us what you do. Do you go in for ritual sacrifice? Black magic? That sort of thing? You store body parts in your house?”

“What? No! Of course not! What the hell?”

Dredd looked at Maker. “Wouldn’t surprise me if we found something incriminating. I know his type. Smooth and professional on the surface. Probably bathes in virgins’ blood.”

“Stop!” Parker shouted. “Stop! Bio-engineering! That’s what I do. All right? I perform procedures that enhance the capability of the body, and its potential lifespan. It’s extremely cutting edge. I’m at the top of my field, as you’d know if you had done any research, instead of this insane gibbering! That’s why Mr. Zachiri came to me… he’d heard about me, he wanted some … procedures … done. I told him no. That’s it. End of. There’s nothing else to say. Now, I want to go. You’ll be hearing from my lawyer, and believe me, you will regret ever having met me. Both of you.”

Maker turned to Dredd. “You heard the man. Looks like we’d better let him go.”

Dredd shrugged. “I wish he’d been that clear at the beginning. Maybe I should drive him home, to say I’m sorry.”

“Good idea. Why don’t you stop off at McDonalds and buy him a burger, to show you really mean it?”

“Hmm. Looking at him, I’d say he prefers Burger King. I’m right, aren’t I?” He glanced at Parker. “You’re more of a Burger King person. Flame grilled taste.”

“You’re only making it worse for yourself” Parker muttered.

“He’s right, he’s right” Maker said. “Look, Peter…”

“It’s Mike” Parker snapped. “Or maybe Mr. Parker.”

Maker put up his hands. “Fair enough, Mr. Parker. I’m sorry. We were just having a little fun.”

“Well, save your fun for the dole queue.”

“Fair play, fair play. But just before you go, one thing I don’t understand.”

Parker sighed. “What is it?”

“You told us you said no to Mr. Zachiri, and he left you alone. You mentioned that to us a few minutes ago. This is what I don’t understand. Why has he been seen entering your house on at least ten occasions?” he continued, glancing at the file.

Dredd coughed. “And why do you seem to have regular payments for a significant sum of money from Hart Enterprises…”

“Which, as you may know,” Maker continued, “is a holding company ultimately owned by Mr. Zachiri himself.”

Parker looked gray. “You can’t just hack into my bank accounts” he said. “That’s illegal.” But the fight had left him, at least for the moment.

“So is ritual sacrifice” Dredd replied. “Now, if you’ll excuse us.”

Dredd and Maker both got up and turned towards the door.

“What?” Parker asked. “Are you going to let me go?”

Maker turned back to him as Dredd opened the door. “We’d appreciate if you stayed here with us for a little longer. I tell you what, though - I’ll send you down a coffee.”

And with that, they slipped through the door and it swung shut. As Parker sat there, scared and bemused, the sound of bolts being drawn across the door was clear.

Two



“You’ve left him down there?”

They were sitting in the canteen, at a table by the window. Maker looked out at the scene outside. The sky was clear and white with the late autumn haze of reflected sunshine. The road was empty.

“He’s proving to be a tough nut” he said, not looking at his boss. “But don’t worry, we’ll break him.”

“Jesus” she muttered. “You’ve made him comfortable, though? You’ve made him a coffee at least?”

Maker and Dredd glanced at each other. “I believe one is on the way” Dredd said.

Drover put her hands together under her chin and took a deep breath. “I need a coffee” she said.

“It’s your turn” Dredd said to Maker.

“No! It can’t be! I got them yesterday.”

“And I got them yesterday afternoon. You remember, you wanted a double espresso with skinny milk and coconut?”

“Why would anyone drink that?” Drover asked.

Dredd nodded and talked in his deadpan, low voice. “Exactly my point.” He looked at Maker. “Go.”

With a sigh, Maker got up and walked across the large, half full canteen, to the coffee bar on the other side. A couple of people glanced and nodded at him, but he ignored them. Behind the bar, a man stood, wiping the new, expensive and shiny coffee machine with a cloth that looked filthy. Maker waited a couple of seconds, but the man didn’t turn around.

“Hi” Maker said in a polite voice. He rested his hands on the counter. The man continued wiping the counter.

“Hey, Charlie” Maker said, a little louder. Charlie made a grunting noise, but carried on cleaning the machine.

“Any chance of a coffee?” Maker asked. “Hmmm. The cakes look good.” In front of him, covered by a glass bowl, were three pieces of pastry that could have passed as cakes, if you were imaginative enough. They looked as if they had been overcooked and then microwaved until they were a stodgy mess, then scraped off whatever plate they had been on and heaped into a tray.

Charlie turned around and took a couple of steps towards Maker. He was a big man, carrying rolls of fat around his waist that made every step that he took seem like a huge struggle against gravity, and by the time he had arrived at the counter, he was wheezing heavily. Sweat glistened on his forehead. He put his massive, clammy hands down on the counter so that they were almost touching Maker’s. Grease or dirt lined his fingers, and where his hands touched the counter, they left dirty black marks.

“What did you say?” he asked in a low, gruff voice.

Maker swallowed. “The cakes look good” he tried again. “But I was after a …”

“No they don’t” Charlie interrupted. “They look fucking awful. They look like gruel. I can’t make cakes to save my life.”

“Well” Maker said slowly, “they look all right to me. But I was after a couple of coffees.”

Charlie sniffed. “What sort?”

“Erm. Just black coffees, please. Three of them. Extra strong.”

“You want a cake as well?”

“I thought you said they were awful?”

“But you said they looked good.” He looked suspiciously at Maker with his beady eyes. “You just saying that?” he asked.

“Erm. No. It’s just that I’m on a diet…”

“Yeah” Charlie said. “That’s what they all say. I’m on a diet. Look at me. I’ve been on a diet for fifteen years and I’m still fat as anything. What sort?”

“Erm… just black, please?”

“What?” Charlie snapped. “You taking the piss?”

“No? No! I meant … black coffee.”

“I know what coffee you want” Charlie said, testily. “You just told me. I meant what sort of diet?”

“Oh. Well, just one where I eat … less.”

Charlie looked him up and down. “You seem pretty fit to me. You sure you’re not lying to me? We don’t want that, do we? We don’t want the police to lie to us. The upholders of law. And all that. We have enough with all the fucking politicians. Look where that got us. We don’t want the police joining in too. Do we? You lying to me, Mr. Policeman?”

“No. Of course not. I just …”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. You just want three coffees. Go and sit down at your fancy desk and I’ll bring them over to you, Mr. Lying Policeman.”

“I’m not lying…” Maker started.

“Whatever” Charlie said, and turned away, beginning his arduous three step journey back towards the coffee machine. It stumbled into life as he pressed buttons with his fat, dirty hands, and Maker watched a muddy brown liquid start to emerge.

“Why you still there?” Charlie asked over his shoulder. “Didn’t I say I’d bring them over to you? Or are you deaf as well as a liar?”

Maker opened his mouth, then closed it again, realizing that there was no point pursing this. He made his way back to the table and sat heavily next to Dredd, who gave him a half smile. “Looks like we may have to skip coffee” he said.

Drover turned in her chair and took in the scene, then groaned. “Doesn’t matter. Where was I?”

“We were talking about Mr. Parker.”

“Oh God. That’s right. Listen. He has powerful friends, as I’m sure you know, given the field of research that he’s in.”

“Bionics?” Maker asked. “I thought he was joking.”

Drover put her hands on the table and watched the slender fingers for a minute, concentration on her face. “Tell me” she said eventually, talking slowly, “tell me that you actually did some research on this guy.”

Maker was about to say something, but Dredd got there first. “We did the necessary” he said, coolly.

Drover turned to him, her expression calm. “That means you did nothing, doesn’t it? What is it with you two? Why do I even bother?”

“Because we get results” Dredd replied.

“He’s right” Maker said. “We get results.”

“Get results” Drover replied in a mocking tone. “You’re fucking Crockett and Tubbs aren’t you, Starsky and Hutch…”

“Who?” Dredd asked.

“C’mon, seriously, you don’t know?” Drover opened her hands.

“They were cop shows from the eighties,” Maker started. He looked at Drover – “You can’t blame him, he wasn’t allowed to watch telly when he was younger. Anyway” he continued, turning to Dredd – “you should check them out sometime, they were brilliant. There was Miami Vice, where…”

“Enough!” snapped Drover. “My point is you’re not maverick cops who get results despite the odds, much as you like to think you are. Jesus. We often have to call in the fire brigade to sweep up after you, then real police to actually solve the crime.”

“That’s not entirely fair” Dredd replied.

“Yeah. That’s not fair” Maker added. “Anyway, if we’re so bad, how come we got promoted to Section …”

“All right, all right” Drover put her hands up in surrender. “I admit. Sometimes it’s useful to kick the shit out of things in the line of work that we do. But don’t mistake that for being good cops.” She sighed.

Dredd said, in a low, hurt voice. “We are good cops.”

“Come on, Eleanor” Maker smiled, “it’s not that bad.”

Drover’s features went rigid. She gripped the table and lent forward. Maker swallowed and edged his chair back ever so slightly.

“Do you know…” Drover started, in a low voice, full of anger. “Do you know why we have our meetings here in the canteen, instead of in my office?”

“Erm… you like the coffee?” Maker asked. Dredd put his hand on Maker’s arm in an attempt to shut him up.

“No. That’s not why. It’s because people are baffled that I still use you two, and my bosses are completely pissed off. I’m pretty sure they send people to check on us, see what’s going on there. They don’t bug it cos they know I’d go crazy if they did, but they want to find out what’s going on, just on the off chance they can pull together enough evidence to get you kicked out, or get you behind bars. Luckily they’re too stupid to realise that we just sit and talk somewhere else.”

Maker shook his head. “I really hate stupid bosses, don’t you?”

“Stupid bosses” Drover replied, her voice even lower than before, “are not the point. The point is that at some point I will have lost my patience with the two of you, if you don’t show at least a modicum of respect for the law that we all have to follow. Yes, Mr. Dredd, we do have to follow the rule of law, despite what you think. No matter which department you are in” she added, as Dredd was about to protest.

“But” he started, and she put her hand up to stop him. “If Mr. Parker comes out of there and starts complaining, which no doubt he will, then there will be another whole set of issues that I will have to defend, another list of questions that I will have to answer, another group of people asking for your heads, and at some point I am going to run out of excuses for not painting the walls of my office with your blood. Understand?”

“I don’t think our blood …” Maker started saying, but Dredd interrupted. “We understand your frustration. But you need to understand, too, that Parker’s the first, the only lead we have towards Zachiri. If we’d played nice, he would have been out of there before we could do anything, and we’d have been no further forward. All we’re asking for is a little bit of understanding, a little bit of latitude, to get the job done. After all, I thought that was the whole point of what we did. Of Section 2. We could make the tough decisions that other people were scared to. We could do the things that other people aren’t allowed to, just to be able to get results. We could…”

“I know the remit of Section 2” Drover said, testily. “I helped to set it up, remember. But we also agreed that we had to ensure that it didn’t create too many waves, if you remember. That it met the general scrutiny of the public. That we didn’t have lawyers breathing down our necks. If you remember.

Dredd snorted. “Whatever. I joined to make a difference. People like Zachiri shouldn’t be allowed to walk the streets of our country, to breathe in our air, to sit in our cafes, to drink a pint of lager in our pubs. They should be made to pay for their crimes. They should be strung up, and have a bullet put through their head. They should be…”

“I get it, I get it” Drover said. “But I want to be very clear. I want Zachiri alive. None of your vigilante justice on him, all right?”

Dredd leant forward, his eyes blazing. “I don’t think you understand. It’ll be a very delicate operation. We’ll have to lean on Parker heavily to make him cooperate, and then, even then, Zachiri will have all of his henchmen around. Our best option will be to take him out with a single shot.” He made a gun with his hands, pointing it at his own temple. “Don’t worry, it won’t be traceable back to you. We’ll use balaclavas, face masks, voice disguisers, the whole lot. I think we should maybe leave a clear message. Some sort of carving on his chest.”

“Oh!” Maker said, “something like a Z, something like that? That’s a good idea.”

“Yeah” Dredd replied. “I was thinking more of a J, for Justice. You know” he continued, addressing Drover again, “unless we show these people that they can’t live above the law, they’ll carry on doing it. Do you know how many people Zachiri has killed?”

“Listen to me very carefully” Drover said. “Please. Justin. Just listen to me. I know you’re passionate about all this stuff. I know about your Dredd Index and everything.”

“Good. It’s just that…”

“Please. Let me finish. I understand Mr. Zachiri is a bad man. I do. And I also know that you and Maestro here” she nodded at Maker, “are our best chance of getting hold of him. But let me make this absolutely, incredibly clear. Let there be not one iota of misunderstanding or room for negotiation. Mr. Zachiri must be brought in alive. I have to talk to him. You understand? There will be huge consequences if that doesn’t happen. Please. Please. Tell me you understand.”

Maker nodded. “I understand.”

“But…” Dredd started.

“No buts!” Drover shouted, and a few people in the room turned around. She lowered her voice again. “No buts, Justin. I have to speak to him. Lives depend on it.”

“But do you know how many lives would have depended on him being dead?” Dredd asked, angrily.

“I don’t even know what that sentence means” Drover said. “Look. If you can’t give me that guarantee, I’m going to get someone else to do this. Even if it means I’m less likely to get him.” She sighed. “What’ll it be? Can I count on you?”

Maker and Dredd glanced at each other. Maker nodded. “You can count on us.” Dredd took a deep breath, and looked at his boss for a long time. “All right” he said in a surly voice.

Drover sighed. “Thank you” she said.

There was a noise behind her and she turned. Charlie stood there, holding a tray with three coffees and a couple of slices of cake on it. His hands were shaking, sweat was streaming down his face like a river, and he was panting heavily. “Your …. coffee” he spluttered, between gasps.

“Thanks” Drover said, “but I was just about to go.” She got up and turned to leave. “Remember what we said” she said. “I want to talk again tomorrow. I want an update. Don’t screw this up” and she left.

Charlie glanced back towards her and shrugged. He dropped the tray on the table, the brown sludge that passed as coffee spilling over and making rivulets that ran slowly towards the edge. How on earth, Maker wondered absently, could such an expensive coffee machine produce such disgusting looking coffee? There must be a real skill involved.

Charlie allowed his massive bulk to fall onto the chair that Drover had vacated, and he sat there for a few moments, trying to get his breath back. The chair creaked uncertainly under his weight. “Don’t mind if I join you, do you?” he asked, eventually, picking up one of the cups and pouring half the sludge down his mouth.

He pointed behind him with his thumb. “Sharp one, that one” he drawled, his mouth full of sludge. “Aren’t you drinking?”

Dredd glanced at his coffee and took a small sip; he grimaced as he swallowed it. Maker shook his head. “Waiting for mine to cool.”

Charlie sniffed and swilled the liquid in his mouth. “What you up to, then?” he asked Dredd.

Dredd raised his eyebrows, but it was Maker that answered. “You know we can’t discuss police work, Charlie.”

“Ah, come on, we’re all part of a team, aren’t we? Unless we ain’t” he added, sharply, giving Maker a look. “Unless we’re liars.”

Maker’s face went red. “Enough about the lying, all right?”

“Touched a nerve, did I?” Charlie gave a big grin. Coffee dribbled out of his mouth and down his chin.

Dredd sighed. “All right, then, Charlie, let me ask you a question”. Charlie nodded, burping loudly.

“Just suppose, hypothetically, that there was a man out there that had done really bad things. Unspeakably bad things. Imagine that.”

“Ain’t difficult. Half the world’s like that, innit. I mean, look at our politicians. Look what a fackin’ mess they got us all into, right? Half of ‘em are fackin’ criminals, ain’t they?”

“Yes, well. Let’s focus on the question, right. Now imagine you had the opportunity to catch one of these bastards, and make him pay for his crimes. Put a bullet in the back of his head, just for example. That possibility existed. But imagine that your superiors told you, in no uncertain terms, that you had to bring him in. For questioning. And you knew that, if you did that, he would almost certainly walk free. Too many contacts. Too much money. But you’re being told, as a member of the police, that that is your duty. What would you do?”

Charlie took a piece of cake from the tray and stuffed it into his mouth. “Well” he said, bits of half chewed cake flying everywhere, “wouldn’t do neither of them things.”

Dredd arched his eyebrows. “No?”

“Course not. You wanna make someone pay for their crimes, you don’t just put a bullet in ‘em. It’s over too fast, innit. One second they’re happy, they’re just going on their usual business and everything, innit. Next minute everything’s black. Nah, you gotta make ‘em pay.”

“What?” Maker asked. “Torture, you mean?”

Charlie shrugged. “Well, yeah, you could do that. Torture ‘em over a few days. Pull out their nails. But it’s still over then. Nah, what you really want to do is lock ‘em up, somewhere ain’t nobody going to find ‘em. Keep ‘em alive, make sure they don’t starve themselves to death. Tie ‘em down if you need to and put a drip in ‘em. Put ‘em in a dark hole where they can’t see nothing, and leave ‘em. They’ll last for years, and they’ll drive themselves crazy. Beg you to finish ‘em off. Say they’ll do anything. Say they’ll give you everything, anything you want. Anything you could imagine, anything you could ever want, they’ll get it for you. Give you their own daughters, if you ask. Wouldn’t even blink an eyelid. Then they start to see things. Hallucinate. Imagine all the people they ever hurt are suddenly there, in this dark hole, with ’em. Come to extract their revenge. Whispering things to ‘em, day and night, hour after hour, you know…” Charlie talked with a big grin on his face, eyes far away, as if he’d really seen this, as if he was remembering things. He paused and took another slurp of coffee. “You know… after that then they go silent. Catatonic, sometimes. Like their brain has had enough, can’t take no more, just sort of shuts down. They can stay like that for years, their eyes, you know, just go blank, like the light has left it, like their soul is trapped and can’t find a way out. You know what I’m saying?”

“Now that” he said, shoving the last piece of cake in his mouth, “that is what I would do, innit. Hypothetically speaking, of course.”

Maker laughed nervously. “Of course.”

“But you” Charlie went on, pointing at Maker, “you’re police, ain’t you? You’re supposed to work within the law. Unless of course you’re a lying bastard, ain’t that right?” He winked at Maker. “Just kidding. You gotta do what your bosses tell you, innit. Can’t imagine what would happen if the police just stopped following the rules, and became vigilante, right. I mean, where would you stop? Murderers, well that’s all right, innit. Kiddie fiddlers, too, course. Deserve all they get. Bankers. Put ‘em up against the wall, ain’t nobody going to complain.” He shook his head and leaned on the table. Its legs creaked under his weight, and the table arched slightly inwards, making the coffee cups tip dangerously. Charlie didn’t seem to notice as he leaned closer to Maker and Dredd, his beady eyes glowing in his huge head. He grinned at them, his grey teeth shining in the light. “But where do you stop? Rapists? Probably. Drunk drivers? Maybe. Muggers? Who knows? What about the guy who got a speeding ticket? Where do you stop, eh? That’s why I never wanted to be a copper. Ain’t enough of a conformist, me. If I see something that I think is wrong, I is just gonna sort it, you know. To hell with the consequences. That’s why I did what I did.”

“What did you do?” Dredd asked. Maker glanced at him. He was staring intently at Charlie, soaking up the words.

“Can’t say, mate. Let’s just say it was all very hush hush.” He glanced around; there were only two or three people left in the canteen, none of them paying them any attention.

“I tell you what, mate” he said in a low voice, looking at Dredd. “I reckon you’re all right, you are. I’ve heard about you. You ain’t one of them lying police bastards.” He threw a quick glance at Maker, then looked back at Dredd. “You need something sorting, you give me a shout, all right? I still got my old contacts, if you understand what I’m saying. Let’s just say one or two of them dark holes may still be in … operation. If you get my meaning. You just give me the nod, all right? Assuming…” he glanced at Maker again, “these walls don’t have ears, cos if they do, I know where to come looking.”

“I only…” Maker started, but Dredd stopped him, putting a hand on his arm. “Phil’s all right” he said. “I can vouch for him.”

Charlie grunted. “Yeah, well, if you say so. Right. Needs to get on with me work. Enough of this chattering.” With a huge sigh, he pulled himself up from the chair, pushing all his weight onto the table. The coffee cups slid into the centre, just as a crack appeared and spread quickly across the table. Charlie lifted himself up just as the table split in two and crashed down between them, the coffee cups spilling on the floor and shattering, throwing glass and coffee everywhere.

“Fuck’s sake” Charlie muttered. The file on Zachiri had been spilled and its contents were spread all over the floor. Charlie kneeled down on his enormous body and lumberingly pulled the sheets back together. He glanced at the photo. “This him, like?” he asked, as he pushed it into the file and, with herculean effort, picked himself up and handed it back to Dredd.

“Thanks” Dredd said, quickly closing the file. “S’all right” Charlie muttered, as he shifted his lumbering mass back towards then kitchen.

Maker brushed broken bits of table from his trousers, then shifted in his seat, turning towards Dredd. He nodded in Charlie’s direction. “What do you make of that? Complete fucking lunatic?”


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