Wait up - before you start: Have you read part 1?
If not, click here: Assault on the Castle (Part 1): The Thief
An alley in the warehouse district...
It's dark. The dank street is littered with soggy flyers from a long-gone circus - the faces of clowns stare at me from boarded-up windows; the rain causing the ink to run, making them look more sinister than they already did.
The Castle is up ahead - a long-abandoned public house; now a den for thieves and junkies and an occasional meeting point for local gangs. The Coombes, formerly the Coombe Street Boys before they let the girl in, are meeting there tonight. They are meeting about me.
Earlier that night...
The TV was on a low hum, filling my single room flat with a comforting light display. I wasn't watching. Several empty tins of cheap beer lay beside me, their contents swimming through my head.
A sound by the door awoke me from my dozing. I slipped my gun from under the cushion beside me and approached the door. A brown envelope slid into the room. Grabbing the door, I wrenched it open, my gun out, but the corridor was empty.
Ten years undercover had dulled some of my skills and sharpened others. The result was a paranoid shell of my former self. The lines between good and evil, which used to be so clear, had also blurred. I lived in the grey area, but I was still a cop.
I cautiously opened the package, checking for wires or other devices. It was empty, except for a single slip of paper:
My blood ran cold and the fuzzy stupor that had warmed my head fell away as my heart beat adrenaline and other hormones through my wretched body. My cover had been blown. Grapefruit was the codeword I'd set up with my contact over seven years ago. C.S.B. and Castle were obvious - C.S.B., the Coombe Street Boys were the gang I'd infiltrated after five years of hard work in deep cover. Black meant now, another code word.
What had gone wrong?
No time to think. The message said Castle - they'd be meeting there now to discuss my fate. The customary solution for undercover cop is disposal. I'd seen it happen once before...
Henry's body, broken and bloody, was dragged into the room by a couple of thugs. He was still alive, barely. Crimson blood was streaming from his face, his spluttering breath sending droplets flying.
I hadn't known him - a face, perhaps; one of many. He'd been working the arms angle, while I was on drugs. My background as a chemist had secured my place in the shortlist - the rest was determination and a good psych profile... I came to realise that a "good" psych profile wasn't necessarily something to be proud of.
It wasn't quick.
Eventually, Henry's body was sent to The Butcher for disposal. The Coombes weren't in the business of sending messages; after all, a cop was still a cop. Better he was never found.
Back to the alley...
As I approach the Castle, I hear shouting coming from behind one of the doors leading onto the alley. The door bursts open and a girl flies out, wearing just her pants and a torn shirt and no shoes - her left arm is raised to cover her naked breast. She turns and shouts "You fucking pig!" through the open doorway. As she passes me, I see into her eyes. Fear, anger, despair. She looks right through me.
I watch her go. She can't have been more than seventeen. Seeing her like that makes me remember why I joined the force. I tighten my grip on my gun and close in on the Castle.
"... all there. Case files, photos, licences; even notes on a disciplinary hearing... sounds like he went a bit hard on a rapist - broke his arm during the arrest."
No prizes for guessing they're talking about me. I've reached the front door. The windows of the old public house have long gone - replaced by chipboard and laminated with years of flyers, posters and graffiti. I pause for a minute or two to try and gauge the size of the mess I'm about to walk into.
"Son of a bitch. Five years? Man, that's a lot of time, why hasn't he sold us out yet?" That was Mali. Right-hand man of The Coombes, he was a thinker rather than a doer, but he got his hands dirty when he had to.
"Probably working on the Yan-Tang deal. We've been setting that up for, what, two years now? Shit man, if we hadn't got this in now, he might've got to us." 'Crazy' Brian Murphy. He earned his name after killing an entire roomful of Mafia playing poker. To this day, I think there's only three of us who know the whole story - the Mafia haven't tracked him down yet (well, he's still breathing, isn't he?).
I hear the sound of a shotgun being cocked, and then Hector Raynes' voice rumbles through the wall "It's a fucking mess, boss. A fucking mess." A brute of a man. Hector is usually silent, but violent.
"Cool it Hector." Enzo Barianne. "Head boy". Enzo has led the Coombes for longer than I've been a cop. He's smart, and cautious when it came to recruitment. I'd had to pull out a lot of stops to work my way into the ranks of the Coombe Street Boys. "That's why we're here now. Julian and his boys are picking the man up as we speak. I always kinda liked the guy, but a cop's a cop. Joe's gotta go."
"Joe's gotta go, Joe's gotta go." At this point, one of the addicts wakes up and starts giggling and repeating Enzo's words over and over "Joe's gotta go, Joe's gotta go".
"Shut the fuck up, bitch!"
My ears are ringing as a gaping hole blows out of one of the chipboard windows, spurting blood and brains.
"Shuyke, what the hell?!" Mali shouts.
"What? He was getting on my nerves. Kept staring at me." Shuyke, the newest, and only female member of The Coombes is a loose cannon. Her curvaceous figure, and well-fashioned looks are a deadly magnet for men of any age. The mystery isn't why Enzo let her join The Coombes, but why she wanted to join in the first place, as she spends most of her time painfully batting away advances from the other men.
I use the distraction caused by Shuyke's outburst to sneak into the building. A couple of crackheads lie in the short hallway beyond the front door, on a torn mattress. They don't even look up - one of them looks dead and the place smells like that wouldn't be an abnormal occurrence.
Suddenly, I hear a radio spark into life next door.
*Cshkkk* "Boss? He's not here."
"Julian, any idea where that waster's got to?"
Waster? The fuzzy remnants of beer reminded me that there was some truth in that. I'd barely been sober for weeks.
*Cshkk* "Bad news, boss, he was tipped off. There's a note. Looks like it's in code."
Dammit, why hadn't I destroyed the note?
"He's probably long gone, Enzo." Even Shuyke's voice was velvet-smooth.
"No, he's here, or on his way. Hector, cover the front door. Mali, Shuyke, cover the back room. Murphy; with me."
"The hell with that, Enzo. If he's coming here, he'll come through the front door - I'm staying here."
"Shuyke, you've already made enough of a mess, just do as you're told."
The two of them start arguing just as Hector opens the door into my hallway. My gun is up before I can think
Hector's surprised face slides down the wall, his blood pouring out onto the floor.
Taking the opportunity of surprise, I dive through the door and fire... my revolver dancing in my hands as I fall
Three more shots before I hit the ground. I hit Mali in the shoulder, sending him flying into a moth-eaten sofa. I must've hit an artery - his blood is like a red fountain, spurting out and drenching the upholstery, turning it crimson. A ricochet off the floor catches Murphy in the leg, sending him to the ground, fumbling for his gun.
I roll behind the old bar just as Enzo's pistol goes off
*CRACK* *CRACK* *CRACK*
Three rounds. Two hit the floor, one sunk deep into the wooden bar.
Shit, one round left. I daren't risk the time to reload now.
"Joe... Joe Finch, I just want to talk to you, man."
Another round flies over the bar and smashes an empty vodka bottle.
One round left... two and a half targets... It's not looking good. Enzo knows this, he's closing in for the kill.
Suddenly, Shuyke's gun fires and a soggy scream tells me Murphy's down for good.
"Shuyke, what the... ?" Enzo's confused exclamation is cut short.
"You can come out now, Joe." Her silky voice reaches over the bar and pulls me up.
I climb up slowly, expecting another shot, but am treated to the sight of the barrel of Shuyke's .45 calibre pistol being aimed squarely at Enzo's face.
"Any last words, Benson, before I wipe the floor with your brains?"
Benson, who the fuck is Benson?
"Err..." Enzo's face shows surprise, rather than confusion, but only for a moment.
Enzo's neck snaps back as the force of the bullet hitting his skull rips apart his brain. His feet lift slightly off the ground and he hits the open door with a dull thud. As he slides to a stop, his left arm gets caught on the door handle, making it look like he's waving goodbye.
I stand in stunned silence for a moment, then the oddest sound comes from outside. Is someone clapping?
"Bravo to the both of you." A large well-dressed gentleman appears in the blood-stained doorway. "Bravo. I thought I might be too late, but it seems you managed quite well without my help." He chuckles. "Quite well indeed! Splendid!" The man surveys the room, raising an eyebrow at the remains of the junkie by the boarded-up window. "We have been busy tonight, haven't we."
"Might I ask why I shouldn't finish my dinner with a dessert of fat-man-in-suit?" Shuyke has a way of getting to the point that is fairly unique.
The man leans forward slightly and peers at Shuyke. He wouldn't look out of place with a monocle. "Interesting choice for the Damsel, haha." He looks at me. "And a rather rough-around-the-edges Protector. I think we have some work to do."
Shuyke raises her gun and aims it at the man's chest. "Who are you, what are you doing here and what the hell are you jabbering about?"
The man draws himself up and addresses her directly "My dear, Shuyke. My name is Edmond Dexley. Please point your weapon elsewhere. I assure you I am no threat to you. At least not yet." He chuckles again, lightly. "As for what I'm doing here. I am merely passing through. Now, if you please, I need you to both follow me outside for a moment."
"I'm not going anywhere until you explain yourself." Even Shuyke sounded a bit uncertain. Dexley seemed to be completely unphased by her aggression.
"I was afraid you might say that. In which case, this might hurt a little." With that, Dexley reaches forward in a fluid motion and snatches Shuyke's pistol, taking her by surprise and breaking her grip on the weapon. She tries to fire, but is too late. Dexley's other hand snakes round, grabbing her arm and flipping her over his back and onto the floor. Dexley kicks her weapon out of the way and then reaches forward with a flourish to help the exasperated girl to her feet.
As Shuyke comes to her feet, she flips round and tries to throw Dexley, but he's too quick. Her hand misses its target and finds itself caught under his arm. Dexley then grabs her wrist and forces her to her knees. "ENOUGH!" He roared. "I didn't come all the way here to dance about like a fairy in a room full of dead gangsters! Come with me, both of you."
We follow him out, picking our way past Hector in the hallway. The living junkie has vanished. The other one is definitely dead.
As we meet outside, Dexley puts his arms around us both. "You've both been through a lot tonight, but this is just the beginning."
"What's going on? I don't understand. Who are you?" Shuyke sounds almost pleading. I get the impression she's used to being in control.
"Plenty of other things to worry about than that, my dear. Now, if you could both step this way... and..."
Looking for Part 3? Click here: Assault on the Castle (Part 3): Welcome, Dreamers