Giri/Haji – so good it’s criminal … by Tess Makovesky

This has to have been one of the best crime series on TV in years – probably (in my less-than-humble-opinion) since the first series of Broadchurch. It had everything. Great storyline, intriguing cross-cultural stuff, warm and believable characters, excitement (sometimes almost too much so!), lots of noir touches, and, for once, a decent ending.

It centred around the two Japanese Mori brothers: Kenzo, a cop, and Yuto, who’d got sucked into the thuggish world of the Yakuza. The interplay between the two, as Yuto descended ever deeper into his world of crime and Kenzo battled to protect him, felt incredibly real – a great insight into family tensions under dramatic circumstances. And I loved that the family name, while probably quite common in Japan, is also the Latin for death… Not a coincidence, I’d imagine, given the subject matter.

I loved pretty much all the characters, even the ones who were supposed to be baddies. All of them were basically nice people underneath – sometimes even the baddies – but all them were flawed – including the goodies. In other words, they felt like real people. Particular stars were the Mori brothers, Kenzo’s rebellious daughter Taki, his doughty mother (who came into her own later on in the series), British police officer Sarah (Kenzo’s love interest but also so much more), and the wonderful Rodney, a gay Anglo-Japanese drug addict who affected the storyline in many different ways. But really, every single character played their part and it’s hard to imagine the series without any of them.

There was obviously a lot of violence, some of it pretty extreme (the gun battle in Soho felt a tad overdone) but there was also some nice humour: dry wit from the Japanese characters; flamboyant comedy from Rodney.

The ending was remarkably solid, tying up almost all of the loose ends (apart from the fate of Taki’s girlfriend Annie). Personally I wasn’t keen on the sudden rooftop contemporary ballet scene, which went on for too long and seemed to have little to do with the storyline, but I’ve been told it may have been a nod to Japanese art/culture, in which case I’ll do my best to forgive it. Other nods included the lovely ‘previously on’ segment that preceded the opening titles each week, done in a deliberately Japanese style. I don’t know enough about Japanese art to identify what it was, but it looked and sounded beautiful and suited the mood of the series really well.

I haven’t heard if there are going to be any sequels. The ending was left just open enough to allow for another series involving Kenzo and Sarah… and apparently fans are also calling for a Rodney spin-off. He was such an engaging character that if it was done well, it could be terrific. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

girihaji

Following the money – or not… by Tess Makovesky

I loved the first two seasons of Danish crime drama Follow the Money. It was different, it was involving, the characters were fun but believable. So when I saw, a few weeks back, that season three was coming to BBC4, I could hardly wait. But in the end, it was a disappointment.

 

What was so great about the original series was that it broke the mould. Almost every crime drama these days starts with a murder, and some kind of detective – professional or otherwise – investigating it. Follow the Money steered clear of that in favour of crime of a different kind: fraud. In season one, it was corporate skulduggery involving multiple ‘shell’ companies in the green energy sector. In season two, the rich seam of rogue bankers was mined. There were deaths, but they were only ever the fallout of the monetary crime and were treated as an intrinsic part of the ongoing investigation.

 

The detectives weren’t from Homicide, but from the Danish equivalent of the UK’s Serious Fraud Squad. Mads was the senior officer, vastly experienced but with a tendency to ditch protocol and rush off on his own. Alf (rather charmingly pronounced ‘elf’ in Danish) was his by-the-book assistant, brought in by his bosses to temper his impetuous approach with dull but effective methods like trawling through company accounts or CCTV footage for hours. They worked brilliantly as a team, each using different skills but each getting results. Suspicious at first, they gradually gained each other’s respect and friendship, bickering, bantering and helping each other out of a variety of crises at work and in their personal lives. They seemed like genuine people that we could really care about.

 

In addition to the cops, Follow the Money introduced a variety of criminals ranging from crooked executives, via the menacing character of ‘The Swede’, to bumbling wide boys Nicky and Bimse, two young mechanics drawn into a life of petty crime. Whilst the main ‘baddie’ changed between seasons one and two, the latter three became a recurring theme, as The Swede took Nicky under his wing and groomed him into something a good deal more sinister.

 

Season three picked up on this, as Nicky returned from time away in Spain to set himself up as a major drug dealer. However, much of the rest of Follow the Money‘s carefully-established fabric had disappeared. Some of this was unavoidable as previous characters had already been written out, but other bits felt like they’d been ditched or altered for no good reason. Chief of these was the loss of main character Mads. Presumably the actor, Thomas Bo Larson, was unavailable, but he left a massive gap. The writers did their best to fill it by promoting Alf, but clearly felt his meticulous approach was too dull for prime-time drama, so had him suffer from PTSD after being shot in season two. This might have worked on paper, but was less believable on screen. His personality changed completely and he was so unstable it’s a wonder he could still hold down a professional job. And the very skills that had made him so good in previous seasons were cast aside in favour of shocking decision-making and lots of rushing about.

 

The plot, too, had suffered. Gone were the complex, multi-layered money trails I’d come to know and love. In their place, the storyline focussed heavily on the conflict between Alf and Nicky, who’d been a suspect in past investigations but who’d always got away. The early episodes showed Nicky setting up his drug smuggling business, and laundering the proceeds via dodgy Bureaux d’Exchange with the help of a bored-housewife-style bank employee called Anna. The writers presumably hoped this would provide enough money-following interest, but although Anna became a major character in her own right, the thread was ultimately overshadowed by the Alf vs Nicky stuff.

 

There was some good cat-and-mouse psychology between these two (particularly in the scenes involving Nicky’s heavily-defended apartment) but the whole thing turned into too much of a standard psychological thriller, with elements of soap opera involving Anna’s marriage, Alf’s on-off relationship with a colleague, and Nicky’s equally on-off relationships with his neglected son and a Palestinian woman he met at a party. So much time was devoted to these romantic entanglements that the main plot got a bit lost and too many loose ends remained untied. For starters, the first episode featured the macabre discovery of several Romanian refugees dead in a cellar, but it was never fully explained who they were or why they’d been killed. And while I get that Nicky’s impression of himself as a master criminal might not have matched up to reality, I still don’t understand why his impressive criminal ‘field craft’ deserted him just when he needed it most.

 

I won’t reveal details about the ending in case anyone hasn’t seen the series yet, but it was so bleak it left me wondering what the point of the whole thing had been. I can’t find any information on whether there’ll be another season of the drama, and in a way I hope there won’t. Unless they bring back Mads, find some way for Alf to recover from his over-done PTSD thing, and get back to what they’re good at, which is unravelling the threads of complex corporate fraud. In other words, following the money, dammit!

Follow

What price brotherhood? by Tess Makovesky

gravy trainRecently I drew the curtain on another long-standing favourite TV series, Brotherhood. I’d been watching it, on and off, for several months, downloading episodes from the Sky box sets service whenever I got the chance. And I enjoyed it so much that it feels like saying goodbye to an old friend. 

The series focussed on the lives of two Rhode Island Irish-American brothers, Michael and Thomas (Tommy) Caffee, one a vicious gangster, the other a successful local politician. The characters were loosely based on the real-life hood Whitey Bulger (played by Johnny Depp in the movie Black Mass) and his brother Billy, but moved from Massachusetts to Providence and with fictional family, characters and plot-lines added. However, the basic conflict of loyalty between an apparent ‘good guy’ politician and his violent, mob-based brother was explored at length and formed the backbone of the series.

And boy, was that loyalty stretched at times. The more obvious side, of course, was that having a gangster as a brother held back Tommy’s career. Rather less obvious was the hurt Michael felt at Tommy’s resentment of that fact. For him, family really was everything and it shouldn’t have mattered what he did with his life. And because they were so different, neither could really understand the other’s point of view.

I liked the series for a number of reasons, not least because it had one of my favourite actors, Jason Isaacs, playing the role of Michael Caffee. However, what began as a bit of a fan-girl thing quickly moved on, and I came to appreciate the authenticity and ‘real-ness’ of the writing. Most of the action was filmed on location in Providence itself (rarely the case with US dramas), which added a sense of grounding. And the characters were a terrific mixture of good and bad, to the point where they were sometimes interchangeable. Tommy Caffee wasn’t above doing a dodgy deal or three to further his political career, while gangster Michael had a strong ethical code which he imposed not only on his family but also on any other criminals who worked for him.

This level of complexity is also unusual in American drama, which tends to have a much stronger moral message of ‘good vs evil’ where good is perfect and evil has to be destroyed in order for the good to prevail. That extreme ‘black and white’ world view can feel alien to British audiences and Brotherhood was much more British in its humanity and its portrayal of real life as opposed to something out of a comic book.

And the shades of meaning in that simple, one-word title are pure brilliance. Brothers, the ‘hood, hoods… you name it, it’s in there.

Brotherhood was apparently first conceived as a movie and the producer, Blake Masters, was persuaded to turn it into a series by the TV executives. I’m glad he did, but in the end I’m not convinced there was quite enough material to fill the three seasons that were made. In the early episodes it felt fresh and you never knew quite what was going to happen next. By the end of series 3, it was starting to repeat itself. There were only so many times I could watch Michael being jittery and paranoid, or Tommy and his wife Eileen having yet another domestic falling-out. There has been criticism that it ended too soon, but for me it seemed to be losing its way and I’m not sure that dragging it on through another season (or more) would have worked.

That doesn’t mean I won’t miss it, though, from the slick mix of violence, sex, and American politics to the stellar performances from almost all the cast – but particularly Jason Isaacs, Jason Clarke as Tommy Caffee, Fionnula Flanagan as arch-matriarch Rose, and latterly Brian F O’Byrne as the family’s Irish cousin Colin. RIP Brotherhood, I’m glad I had the chance to see you when I did.

Find out more about TESS MAKOVESKY here.

Throwing us off a cliff? The annoying habit of unresolved cliffhangers by Tess Makovesky

gravy trainTV drama series – and especially crime series – have always depended on cliffhangers for suspense – small ones at the end of every episode, larger ones at the end of a season. The small ones, such as who the hooded figure in the shadows is, or whether a victim is dead or alive, keep us tuning in  the following week. The larger ones build loyalty to a brand and give us a hook to tempt us back next month, next year, or whenever the next series is shown.

Up to now those end-of-season teasers have involved something that doesn’t affect the plot of the series we’ve just been watching. Frequent favourites are whether two major characters are going to have a relationship or not, or whether the particular team/squad/company is going to be closed down.

Just lately, though, I’ve noticed a sudden outbreak of cliffhangers that do involve the plot, and sometimes in quite a major way. The first of these was the Spanish series ‘I Know Who You Are’. I waded through ten episodes of melodrama and family arguments to find out whether the main suspect was guilty and whether the victim was going to be released in good health to the loving arms of her family, only to find that half of the entire arc wasn’t resolved. (I’m deliberately keeping this light on detail in case anyone still hasn’t seen the series.)

It was a bit irritating, and I was left feeling cheated, somehow – that the whole reason for watching the series was being denied to me. That was bad enough, but then ‘Babylon Berlin’ came along. Again, ten episodes, with a wildly convoluted plot involving pornographic films, Russian spies, the smuggling of war weapons and gold, and a young woman who desperately wanted to join the police. It was clever, it was breathless, it kept you on the edge of your seat. And then in the final episode of the series, only one small piece of that huge jigsaw puzzle had been clicked into place. All the rest was left hanging, presumably to trap viewers into watching another ten episodes of the second series which followed soon afterwards.

But what if the second series doesn’t answer the questions either? Do we have to sit through three or four series, or more, before we find out what the answers are? Much as I enjoyed the first lot, I’m not sure I can invest another ten hours in something only to be disappointed again.

And now the practice has even crept into the otherwise reliable (and hugely enjoyable) ‘Shetland’. The last series wrapped up last week… with a sudden and completely unexplained death that should have warranted a major investigation, but didn’t – and again, no real answers. Again, presumably, we have to wait until the next series to find out what happened and why, but by then I’ll probably have forgotten most of the details and won’t really care. I want to know now, dammit!

So come on, TV production companies. Please stop cheating us by not revealing the answers at series end. It isn’t really fair on your viewers to deny them the very thing they’re watching your series for…

TESS MAKOVESKY’S latest novel is GRAVY TRAIN.

Fiction: That Voodoo That You Do by Tess Makovesky

gravy trainBall regarded the mess on the warehouse floor. Felt slightly sick. Wished he was back home watching Blazing Saddles, which he had been until his henchmen called him out. Annoying, that. It had just got to the farting – his favourite bit. He felt his face twitch into a grin, had to smooth it back down again. Especially with what he was looking at. Not a good reason to smile. “Bradley. I’m assuming you can explain the meaning of this?”

Bradley shuffled his size thirteen feet. “Well, it’s Mr Lazonby, boss.”

“I can see that.” Actually, he couldn’t see that at all. Looking again at the mess, he could barely see it was a man. Or had been, once. “But what have you done to him?”

“Only what you told me to, boss.” Bradley’s throat bounced, twice, like a childhood game of bobbing for apples in a very confined space.

“I. Told. You. To. Do. This?”

“Yes, boss. That is… I’m sure I heard you right.”

“Go on.” He’d only hired Bradley recently, and was already having second thoughts. Not the brightest sixpence in the collection plate, that was for sure. Had a distressing habit of taking things literally. Had a distressing habit of… Oh God.

“The other day, boss. When you told me about Mr Lazonby owing all that money to you.”

Well, that bit was all right. Lazonby had got into gambling debt at one of Ball’s clubs, to the tune of several hundred thousand pounds. There was no letting him get away with that. Even so, it was a long way from that to… this. Whatever this was. Something was oozing, dangerously close to his shoe. He took a step back, reached for his handkerchief. “Go on,” he said again.

“Well, boss, you said, erm…” Bradley scratched what was left of his hair, and scrunched up his face with the effort to remember the words. “You said go do that voodoo that you do. So I did. I had to look it up, mind you, but I went to the library while Mrs Ball was at the hairdresser, and I found a dictionary and then a big book about magic spells and it was all in there. The little wax doll and the pins and–”

Ball lowered the handkerchief. “Are you telling me this is a doll? A life-sized doll?” However aggravating Lazonby had been, that would be a relief. At least he would only be paddling in molten wax. He took another step back.

“Oh no, boss. No, no.” What passed for Bradley’s neck wobbled from side to side, taking his head along too. “I tried that. It didn’t work.”

“Tried what?” Ball worked to un-grit his teeth. Getting information out of Bradley was worse than getting money out of Lazonby. His blood pressure couldn’t cope.

“The wax doll, boss. I made one myself. It didn’t look much like Mr Lazonby but it was man-shaped and I painted on a little face and everything.”

He tried not to imagine what everything might have been. “Go on.” This was getting ridiculous – a needle stuck in a record groove.

“I sent one of the other lads out to buy a pack of pins from the local dressmaking shop. I stuck a load of them in the Mr Lazonby doll and said all the right spells, but nothing happened. He was supposed to get injured in the same places I jabbed the pins, but he just went on sitting there. So then I had a brainwave.”

Given the size of Bradley’s brain, Ball had a bad feeling about that. So bad he couldn’t even say go on, just managed a grunt.

“Yes, boss. I kept with the voodoo, but I cut out the middle man.”

For a moment, Ball’s own brain couldn’t keep up. He had brief visions of a line of paper dolls, fluttering in the breeze as Bradley cut them out. But that was ridiculous, too. “What?”

“It’s simple, boss. Instead of using a wax doll, I just stuck pins in Mr Lazonby. Well, not pins exactly. We tried that but it was going to take too long. So I sent the lad back to the dressmaking shop for a load of knitting needles and we stuck those in him instead. It’s all right, isn’t it, boss? I did what you said. And Mr Lazonby won’t be bothering you any more.”

No, Lazonby wouldn’t be bothering him, or anyone else, any time soon, so he supposed he’d got what he wanted in that respect. Even so, this mess was going to bother him for some time to come. The sight, the smell, the pooling liquids that drip-drip-dripped into the spreading puddle on the floor. He grunted again. “Just mop that thing up, will you, Bradley? And–” as the literal meaning of that occurred to him – “I don’t mean using a real mop and bucket. I think it’s a little too big for that. Don’t you?”

He left Bradley nodding like a toy dog on a parcel shelf and stalked back to his car. The clock on the walnut dash said eleven ten. There was still time to catch the end of the film, before Cynthia started bothering him to come to bed. The farting, the ducky in the bath… something to cheer him up. Then he remembered the ooze, and groaned. That voodoo, indeed. Bradley had certainly put the hex on him. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to watch the film again.

Find out more about TESS MAKOVESKY here.

A cookbook for cannibals? by Tess Makovesky

skin and bonesYou can thank my Mum for my latest, rather gruesome story. No, she didn’t serve us someone’s liver with fava beans and a fine chianti. But she did tell me an old World War 2 joke which, while not being about cannibalism itself, stayed with me for years and provided the basis for ‘Rabbit Stew’.

The joke is a bit of a shaggy doy story involving wartime rationing and a restaurant’s claim to be serving rabbit stew. When a man challenges the chef, he admits there’s some horse meat involved, and finally responds with the classic one-liner “Fifty-fifty, guv. One horse, one rabbit.” I first heard the joke aged about eight and was too young to understand what ‘fifty-fifty’ meant, so Mum had to re-tell the whole thing and substitute ‘half and half’. Once she got to the punchline I thought the idea that a horse and a rabbit could be considered equal was hilarious, so much so it’s become a bit of a family joke about the silliness of statistics.

When I heard, a couple of years ago, that fellow noir author Dana Kabel was looking to put together an anthology with a cannibal theme, for some reason the rabbit stew joke was the first thing that came to mind – and ‘Rabbit Stew’ was born. Needless to say there’s a lot more to it than one old-fashioned joke. I’ve moved it to the present day, and turned the main character into an environmental health inspector. Faced with an equally dodgy back-street ‘greasy spoon’ caff he makes it his life’s mission to shut the place down, but the café’s owner may well get the last laugh.

The story’s in horribly bad taste (pun fully intended) of course, but then what better subject for a whole anthology about cannibals and the taste for human flesh? The book features a bunch of gleefully gruesome tales by no fewer than twenty-one authors, many of them well-known names in the noir and dark crime genres, and has been picked up by Down & Out Books. It’s currently available for pre-order on a variety of platforms including Amazon, and is due to hit your kitchens and dining tables on 26 November. So grab a plate, a knife and a fork and prepare to tuck in. And spare a thought for my Mum, who would probably have been quietly horrified to see her joke put to such a hideous use!

 

City of Tiny Lights – groundbreaker or stereotype? by Tess Makovesky

gravy trainCity of Tiny Lights is a gritty British crime/noir movie from 2016, made by BBC Films.

The story is a fairly standard one: a hard-living private detective in London is hired to investigate the disappearance of a young Russian prostitute, in a case that has links to drugs, terrorism, a property scam – and a terrible event from his own past. In the process he’s reunited with an old flame, now something of a femme fatale, who helps him but also stirs memories that might best be forgotten.

So far, so noir formula, but this has one distinction – the PI is Asian, and most of the action takes place within the British Asian community. The property scam involves an old school friend; the terrorism centres around the local mosque. And the PI’s own father (a wonderful turn from Roshan Seth, reprising his ‘bonkers Dad’ role from My Beautiful Laundrette) has a pivotal role to play.

I enjoyed the film, with certain reservations. Riz Ahmed is cracking in the central role of hard-drinking, chain-smoking PI Tommy Akhtar, and Billie Piper lends star power as femme fatale Shelley. The back streets of London make a moody backdrop for the action, and there are some clever nods to modern culture and the place of Islam in British society, alongside the more Chandler-esque elements. However, there are far too many flashbacks to Tommy’s childhood, with young actors who bear too little resemblance to their adult selves, which becomes confusing. And there’s too much reliance on Tommy knocking back shot after shot of whisky, and lighting up cigarette after cigarette. This is presumably to show how dysfunctional he is – but it happens so often that it starts to take over from the action.

But my biggest worry, which poked me from time to time during the film and then sat up and shrieked at me once I’d switched off, was the uneasy feeling that deep down, this is an unpleasantly stereotypical portrayal of the Asian community. The hero is a westernised lapsed Muslim who drinks, smokes and dates white women. The heroine is pretty – and white. Most of the other Asian characters are either slimy con artists or wild-eyed fundamentalist terrorists plotting to overthrow nasty western society. And the book the film is based on was written by a non-Asian British bloke. I’m hoping I’m just being overly sensitive, and that any negativity was unintentional, but the anti-Muslim, pro-western sentiments are blatant enough to make me distinctly uncomfortable. It’s a shame, because a more balanced approach could have added hugely to the tension, and made the film both more intelligent and much more interesting. As it is, I probably won’t bother watching it again.

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Fiction: Bang to Rights by Tess Makovesky

gravy train“Of course, you’re not one of us, are you?  I mean, not really.”

Jacks stared at the scrawny girl who was supposedly helping her.  Late teens, ratty hair, the scars of acne still visible on her narrow face.  A baby in a world of adults.  A baby who was sneering at her again.

She clenched her teeth.  Fiddly work, this, and if she got it wrong she could blow them all to kingdom come.  She didn’t need the distraction of babies being rude.  “I don’t see why not.  I’m as involved as any of the rest of you.  More.  You wouldn’t have explosives without me.”

“Yeah, but.  It’s not the same.  You don’t feel the same way we do.  You don’t love animals the way we do.”

“I like animals.”  It was true; she’d had a rabbit as a kid, and adopted a stray dog for a while in Afghanistan.  Mangy mutt with matted fur, but it had followed her about and she’d been attached to it, until it got caught up in a roadside bomb.  She still hadn’t forgive herself for that.  Another reason why she was here.  The suffering that man put his fellow creatures through.  She probably had more idea of that than most of these silly kids.  Besides, the way Merry said ‘love’ sounded worryingly wrong.  There was a law against that sort of love.  Not that she was going to point that out.  Too much hassle.  Just when she needed every last shred of concentration.  She snipped the wires.  Wrapped the bare ends together.  Poked them into the plastic packed inside the ball.  “Pass me that flap.”

Merry’s pout said it all.  A thin arm shoved the flap across the table top, jarring precious components, spilling tools on the floor.

“Careful!  Do you want this going off?  There wouldn’t be much left of you.”

The pout became a scowl.  “There wouldn’t be much left of you either if it comes to that.”

“True.  And then who’d you get to make your gear?”

Merry waved a hand as if that was just detail.  Quite funny, really, if you thought about it.  She had so little idea.  So little understanding of the work, or the danger, this involved.  She thought all the excitement was in placing the bombs, not making them.  She needed to learn a thing or two.

Images of red rain hovered in Jacks’ mind.  Serve the silly cow right.  One little nudge and BOOM.  No more Merry.  No more superior, patronising little bitch.  Trouble was, there’d be no more Jacks either, as Merry had already pointed out.  She needed another, less fatal, way.  That copper who’d contacted her the other month.  Put the feelers out, trying to get her to turn “Queen’s evidence” on the rest of the group.  She still didn’t know how he’d tracked her down, although she hadn’t been that careful since she got back.  Other things on her mind.  Usually involving too much violence; nightmares, cold sweats.  She’d kicked herself when he approached her in the pub.  Should have taken more precautions, hidden herself away.  Too late now.  And she’d told him to fuck off, anyway.  But the idea had stayed, nibbling at the edges of her mind.  Help him?  Or help these kids?  They seemed to need her more – her special skills, her experience.  But they weren’t exactly overflowing with gratitude.

“How’s it going?”  Ian, their supreme leader.  Or so he liked to think.  Another jumped-up teenager, although this one was at least old enough to vote.

“Not bad.  It’d be faster if I had more help.”  Or even any help at all, since Merry was being a pain.

“Yeah, sorry about that.  The others are all out on reconnaisance.”

He said it with such a serious air.  Jacks fought back a laugh.  Much he knew about reconnaisance, or any of those other quasi-military terms he threw around.  Making it look like he knew what he was talking about.  It didn’t work on her.  You didn’t spend eight years in the army without understanding the terms.  These kids were so annoying.  She didn’t know why she bothered with them.  The money helped, of course.  Not a fortune, but it helped.  What else could she do when she’d been kicked out, and couldn’t get a job, and had no home?  Sleeping rough was hell.

Ian had wandered out again.  Merry was fiddling with her phone.

Jacks grabbed it off her and chucked it across the room.  “How many times do I have to tell you?  One spark from that and you fry the both of us.”

The pout was back.  Again.  Another mutter, which sounded suspiciously like “Go and screw yourself.”

Maybe if she kept quiet, Merry would go away.  The flap screwed neatly into place.  Now she had the rest of the wiring to worry about – the bit that went at the other end.  That wasn’t the technical term, of course, but it was how she’d had to explain it to the rest.  They weren’t engineers.  They hadn’t learned about this stuff.  Which was why they needed her at all.

“Of course, if you were really committed…” Merry was still banging on, and it was getting harder to screen it out.  Like a dripping tap, moan complain whinge.  She felt her hands tense, had to fight to relax them again, one finger at a time.  No good letting it get to her.  No good making mistakes.

Not one of us, not one of us.  The petulant words rang inside her head.  She couldn’t tell if it was Merry any more, or if she was imagining them.  Trouble was, she’d never really fitted in.  Home, school, army, she’d been a loner all her life.  And hated it.  She’d have given anything to have a friend like other women did.  A best friend, to swap tales of boyfriends and soaps, pour out her troubles, provide support when times were hard.  But somehow, she never had.  Never trusted anyone, perhaps, or they hadn’t trusted her.  That dog was the closest she’d ever come.  Now she was alone, with only these children for company.  Children who weren’t afraid to emphasise her loneliness.

“You don’t understand how important this is.  You’re not one of us.”

Quite suddenly Jacks had had enough.  The shrill, affected voice.  The spiteful words.  The nasty triumphant look.  God help her, she was going to make it stop.  Even if it was the last thing she ever did.

Inspiration flashed.  She was winding duct tape around the wires, needed to hold it down and cut off the excess.  It was fiddly enough at the best of times, but with cramping hands it was nigh on impossible.  “Here, hold this down.”  She indicated the tape.

Merry wasn’t stupid, she’d give the child that.  “What about fingerprints?  I’m not wearing gloves.”

“It’s fine.  This will be vapourised when the bomb goes off – there’ll be nothing left to lift fingerprints from.”

“Oh.  Okay.”  A reluctant finger held the tape in place.  Perfect.  Jacks snipped, careful not to nick the flesh.  Tempting though it was.  A little blood to add in to the mix.  A little DNA.  But no, even Merry might suspect.  She tidied the ends, finally let out her breath.

“There.  One down, five to go.  You can help me the same way with those.  At least that way you’ll be getting really involved.”

The thin face lit up.  “That’s true.  It’s going to be brilliant.”

“It’ll be brilliant all right.  Light up the night sky for miles around.”  She hid her smile.

 

She tugged the rucksack over her shoulders and ran.  Just a few more minutes and this would all be over at last.  There was the entrance to Kings Cross now; all she had to do was cross the road.  Dodging traffic and endless seething crowds.  People who would never know how close they’d come.

She ducked inside the station and headed for the public phones.  Dialled.  Waited.  Dug out the business card with that copper’s name.  Asked to speak to him.  There was a wait; she hoped he wasn’t away from his desk or the whole thing might fail.  She didn’t know who else to speak to; didn’t know who to trust.  Then a voice, a man’s voice, that she vaguely recognised.  She got the information at the tip of her tongue, as few words as possible so they couldn’t trace the call.  “Animal Life Forever.  There’s a bomb at Kings Cross station.  A football inside a blue holdall by the phones in the main concourse.  Two more at Euston, one at Waterloo, two at St Pancras.  Revenge for all the deaths during Foot & Mouth.  What’s that?  No, there’s no danger of them going off.  I made sure of that.”

And she rang off again.  Smiled.  Hefted the rucksack containing her few belongings.  Headed for the desk and a ticket to somewhere, anywhere that wasn’t here.  Secure in the knowledge that the police would find the bombs.  The experts would dismantle them.  And find Merry’s fingerprints on the tape inside every one.

Liverpool, she thought, and then a boat.  She was too young to have served in Northern Ireland but she’d always fancied a trip.  Belfast sounded good.  She could settle, make friends, make something of her life.  Get another dog.  She could be one of us after all.

Find out more about TESS MAKOVESKY here.