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Updated: Apr 6, 2022

To celebrate the recent launch of the sixth Inspector Stark crime novel - 'Death By Decree.' I include here the first three chapters of the book for you to sample with my compliments.

Before I do here is a reminder of how to access social media and outlets for Keith Wright:

Follow me on Twitter: @KeithWWright

Facebook: @KeithWrightAuthor

Instagram: @keithwrightauthor

TikTok: keithwrightauthor8

Check out my free podcast for new and aspiring writers: 'Murder Ink - The art of writing crime.'

Now on to the book - enjoy.

I hope you enjoy reading them.

All rights reserved ©Keith Wright 2022

All characters included in this book are fictitious
and are not intended to bear any resemblance to any
Individuals, alive or dead.

Contains realistic and graphic descriptions of death
and criminal activity. Includes issues that some readers
may find upsetting.
Reactions and conversations are of the period.

Some language, terminology and behaviours are a social commentary
of the period and are offensive.

It is intended for adults only.

‘Death By Decree’

Could you become the target of evil? Could your world be turned upside down and inside out? How could such a thing happen to you? It can’t, can it?

Have you ever stopped to consider the transient nature of your life? Do you think that nothing will ever change? That it will always be like this? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’m afraid it won’t. Maybe that is a good thing. Maybe it is not.

Look at that crowd of people hurrying through the shopping centre: Three are engaged, twenty are divorced. Two have cancer; six have a cold. Ten have depression, and four are criminals. One is a Bishop, and three are queens. Four are flush; two are bust, one is a busted flush. Eight are younger, ten are old, and one has a secret never to be told. But one of them…one of them, is going to die.

Is it you?

Single mum Jane Cooper is forced into an altercation with a woman in a supermarket. Big deal. But it escalates, and despite Jane’s best efforts to calm the situation, the aggressor is knocked to the floor.

The problem is the woman happens to be the wife of one of the most feared gangsters in England; Dougie Brown and his maniacal brother Len ‘the bitch’ Brown.

His wife is more seriously hurt than first thought, and they feel that their name and reputation has been weakened because of the humiliating episode. So, Jane Cooper must be found, and an example made of her. Everyone connected to her is now in danger.

As Stark and his team battle psychotic criminals and sinister forces within their ranks, things get out of control.

Can Jane survive this? How can she protect her daughter and elderly parents? Will the Brown’s get their hands on her? If so, how extreme will her punishment be? Jane never wanted it to get this far. It is all too late. She is trapped. The wheels are in motion. The Brown brothers have decreed she must die.

In his sixth gritty crime thriller, award-winning author Keith Wright again regales the stark reality of crime, derived from his hands-on experience as a CID detective sergeant working in an inner-city area. Keith’s books are set in Nottingham in the 1980s – a time before political correctness and mobile phones. It was a different world.

Crime novels in the Inspector Stark series by Keith Wright:
One Oblique One
Trace and Eliminate
Addressed To Kill
Fair Means or Foul
Murder Me Tomorrow
Death By Decree

Short story anthology by the author –
Killing Dad and other crime short stories

Co-opted contributions to short story anthologies-
City of Crime – Edited by David Belbin
Perfectly Criminal – The Crime Writer’s Association anthology – Edited by Martin Edwards
To Serve, Protect and Write – Cops Writing Crime – Edited by Andrew Patterson


‘Do you ever wish you had a second chance to meet someone for the first time?’


Could you become the target of evil? Could your world be turned upside down and inside out? How could such a thing happen to you? It can’t, can it?

You think you are exempt, don’t you? You believe your lovely happy time is a forever thing that the status quo will remain forever. Wrong. A minute sooner or later and maybe, but not today, today is a catalyst; the planets are aligned, and it is time for change.

Perhaps you will happen to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and boom, your life, your precious fucking life and your dreams and aspirations too, they’re gone, I’m afraid. All gone.

It’s not just you; it’s your loved ones, too, everyone in your orbit. You are going to drag them into your hell as well. Consider that. Imagine being the cause of such horror to your loved ones. To your little child, even. The people you are about to encounter don’t give a frog’s fat ass about you. They are evil. They don’t think like you. They have no morals or scruples. They find this shit funny. And you are in their web, running through treacle and shouting for help in a school for the deaf. They will kill you, but you need to suffer first, you need to be made an example of, and they know what it takes to destroy you. They have done this before.

On such a day in the Autumn of 1987, fate had Jane Cooper in its crosshairs as she walked across Slab Square in the centre of Nottingham. She could never have dreamt what was about to happen, how her life was about to change over the simplest of misunderstandings. In the next hour, a chain of events would focus the most dangerous members of society on her and her family. Before nightfall, these bastards would be plotting ways to hurt her, make an example of her, and get to her through her family. To frighten her. Intimidate her and eventually kill her. She had never hurt anyone; she was a kind, loving person, but, sad-to-say, her death was now inevitable. It had been decreed.


Detective Inspector David Stark sat in his underpants and dressing gown, waiting patiently for his toast and marmalade. He could quite easily have thrown the bread in the toaster himself, and it would probably have been quicker, but his wife Carol had insisted as she handed him a cup of tea. She was like that. This was her domain. Her mother was just the same; Carol was old school in that sense for such a fashionable woman.

However, this meant he was now in a queue behind his daughter, Laura, and son, Chris, albeit their requirements involved only a bowl of Frosties and a seat in front of the telly in the living room.

‘Love and Pride’ by King triggered David to drum his fingers on the breakfast counter as the music from the kitchen radio enveloped him.

1987 had been a busy year for him and his team; it felt like it would never end. As Autumn approached, so did the darker nights, as if competing with the even darker days that had haunted his team of detectives at Nottingham CID in recent months.

Dave Stark was a handsome man, in his forties and with an almost Italian olive complexion and a temple of grey; he cut something of a dash in a masculine way. He was in good shape despite years of living a detective’s life. He would put it down to his ancestry, saying he could fit into his jeans because of his genes.

He could smell the browning of the toast as he continued to tap his fingers on the smooth Formica surface, and he hummed perhaps a little too loudly.

‘David, stop tapping. You aren’t even in tune with the song. It’s painful.’ Carol jibed.

‘Bloody hell, Carol, who rattled your cage?’

‘You did. We’re getting low on milk. Are you seeing your therapist later because I could do with you nipping to the shop on the way if you don’t mind?’

David replied in hushed tones. ‘Shush. Keep it down, Carol. I don’t want the kids to know about my seeing Linda. They will think I’m barking mad. It will unsettle them.’

Carol had a glint in her eye as she walked past him clutching two bowls of cereal, her thumb wetted by the milk in one of them.

‘Woof!’ She snapped at him. Giving him one of her ‘looks.’

David slapped her on her backside as she passed, causing a little skip.

‘Eh, pack it in. This will go all over the floor.’

The toast popped up right on cue as she hurried back to the breakfast bar.

Stark liked to watch her petite figure scurry around with a finesse of her own. Even after all these years, she kept that. She had always been a beacon of light in the ugly world he inhabited. She was oblivious of course. She was just Carol. She couldn’t see it.

‘Make sure you get to see Linda, no excuses. Your health is important, David. I shouldn’t have to keep getting on at you like this.’

‘I will, but don’t forget it is only very rare this so-called anxiety. Even Linda gets that. It is few and far between.’

‘Still. You have a stressful job, and I worry about you.’

‘Stress. Huh. It’s a bloody made-up word, I think. Somebody is making a lot of money out of it, not least that bloody Linda.’ Stark continued his tapping regardless of his wife’s chastisement.

‘David, get with the times. The word might be new, but the condition isn’t.’

She skidded the plate of toast over to him across the counter. ‘Nice. Don’t let the Maître D see you.’ Stark quipped.


‘Nothing, dear. I said, “thank you”.’

He immediately took a bite, pausing slightly to chew and savour the freshness of the marmalade and the coarseness of the bread, before continuing. ‘It is not stress, anyway. It is only when I am talking to a large number of people that I go a bit funny; it will go of its own accord. I’m not frightened of anyone or anything, and you know it.’ He pointed with a bit of toast to emphasise his point, but it lost its emphasis when a lump of marmalade fell onto the plate. ‘Oops.’

Carol tutted. ‘Men.’

‘It’s true.’

‘I know, but…just eat your toast, David. It’s because I care, not because I don’t. All I ask is that you take the visits to Linda more seriously so you can put it behind you.’

‘I know. Come here.’

They kissed briefly.

‘Jeez.’ Their son, Chris, still embarrassed by such things at fourteen, had come into the kitchen with his empty Frosties bowl.

‘Keep your nose out, you.’ Carol said, tapping her finger on the said nose. ‘You need to get ready for school, Chris, have you seen the time?’

‘Yep, thanks for the Frosties, Mum, they’re Grrreat!’ David groaned. ‘See you later, Dad.’

‘See you later, son. Be good at school.’

Stark finished his last bite of toast as the phone rang in the hallway.

‘I’ll get it.’ Carol said.

Within a few seconds, she returned, shoulders hunched. ‘Work.’ There was irritation in her voice. The unwelcome intruder had returned to their world.

‘Work? Can’t they last five minutes? Christ, I’ll be in the office in the next hour.’ David said as he sipped his tea.

‘Exactly. I don’t think they could survive without you.’

Stark walked to the hall and took hold of the phone, stretching the curly plastic lead as he sat on the stairs. The elongated cord was never quite long enough for comfort, and he had to lean forward slightly to speak. Strangely it had never occurred to him to slide the telephone table along a couple of feet to remedy the problem.


‘Sincere apologies, boss, it’s Ash.’

‘Ash, I’m going to be there soon, won’t it wait? Mrs Stark has got the hump again, now.’

‘Sorry, sir. I didn’t like to ring but…’

‘Where’s DS Clarke?’

‘I think he must be travelling in. I did try him first.’

‘Anyway, what’s up.’

‘I’ve had info come in, just now, from a snout. He says an armed robbery will take place today on our patch, but he’s not sure of the location. I wanted to know what I should do, because if it went down and I hadn’t done anything and say someone got shot….’

‘Ashley, Ashley, it’s fine. You were right to ring. Is the informant tried and tested?’

‘Absolutely, it’s…’

‘Don’t tell me who it is, Ashley. Need to know basis, yes?’

‘Sorry, yes, boss.’

‘What exactly has he said?’

‘Blagging with a shotgun somewhere in Hucknall or Bulwell during the daytime. It’s on for today, definitely.’

‘Is that it?’

‘‘Fraid so, boss.’

‘It’s a bit thin, isn’t it?’

‘I know, but I bet you it happens; he’s right every time this lad.’

‘Okay. Do we know who the offenders are? How does he know the info? Are we sure it’s not a decoy?’

‘No, he doesn’t know the offender. I forgot to ask him that bit about how he knows. Sorry.’

‘Okay. Look, there’s no magic wand with stuff like this, Ashley. Get uniform to park up at banks and building societies and any likely targets when doing their reports. Get in touch with Sergeant Briars at Traffic, give him my compliments, tell him what you know, and see if he can steer the armed response unit towards our area for their patrol. That way, they aren’t in the middle of nowhere when and if it goes down.’

‘Okay, will do, sir, thanks.’

Stark could sense Ashley was putting down the phone. ‘Woah! Hang on a minute.’


‘I haven’t done yet. Also, get back to your informant and get some more out of him; how he knows the info, task him to find out more if necessary. We need an offender or a location; otherwise, we will just be responding after the fact. Let’s face it he might as well tell us there will probably be a burglary tonight somewhere, and he’d be right.’

‘Okay, fair enough, sir.’ There was a pause.


‘Yes, sir?’

‘You can do it, now. Look bloody sharp.’

‘Oh, sorry, sir, yes. I’m on it.’

‘See you in a bit.’

Stark smiled to himself as he quietly placed the phone receiver back on the cradle.

He noticed Carol standing in the hallway, hands on hips. ‘Well?’

‘Just the normal.’

‘It’s not going to stop you going to your appointment, is it?’

‘No. It’ll be fine. Well, hopefully.’


Jane Cooper’s slight build made the trolley look unwieldy as she negotiated around the supermarket's aisles. In her early thirties, she had a trim figure and a spring in her step. Life was good. It wasn’t that super as supermarkets go, as it had only five short aisles of goods; the lights were too dim, and there was just one till operator, who was slowly tapping in the prices. Jane was mindful she had just over eight pounds in her purse, so she needed to keep to essentials.

Yet again, Jane had somehow managed to find the shopping trolley with the bloody dodgy wheel, so steering was a challenge. Despite the irritation, the decision to replace the trolley never quite reached sufficient a level to do so, versus making do with the rogue wheel. It was too much hassle, and she was committed to it now.

Jane always looked well-presented even when in casual clothes, and today was one of those days where despite her brown hair being in a ponytail, and a mere swipe of lippy, she still looked fresh and full of life. Her dress had padded shoulders, and she belatedly discovered to her horror that the floral design was not dissimilar to her mother’s wallpaper.

In recent times she had been trying to figure out how to spend more time visiting her parents; it wasn’t so much her mother but her dad, who had become forgetful and quite frail in his seventies. It looked like he had Alzheimer’s, but her Mother had always been a bit cagey about it. ‘We don’t know that.’ She would say.

Jane was plagued with guilt for not visiting as often as she would like, but she had her own family and responsibilities with which to deal. However, it didn’t stop the feeling that she was letting them down—the constant guilt of the child within us.

As ever her mind was busy; monitoring the time, as she had to pick her daughter, Daisy, up from school and so, as always, her activities were marshalled by the ticking hands of her watch. It seemed that before she started doing anything, she had to hurry up and finish. Everything had become a rush, and she couldn’t figure out a way to have time to herself, never mind the luxury of a visit to Mum and Dad.

Her eyes flicked at the various wares on the shelves, trying to find something for dinner and thus far had failed, finding herself feeling the slight chill of the freezer aisle. The latest fad was pizza and garlic bread, which was very exotic, but foreign foods were a relatively new experience. In the trolley, it went. Her mother would be shuddering if she could see her; ‘Foreign muck,’ she would call it. She was a traditional cook – good English grub such as pie and mash, corned beef hash, stew, and fish and chips. In fact that was pretty much the entire repertoire, apart from the Sunday roast, of course.

Jane also grabbed a packet of frozen Chicken Kiev’s, which was another new dinner time treat compared to what they had been used to in previous years, certainly when she was a child. She needed milk, some little pots of Angel Delight, and a sliced loaf. Oh, and eggs. ‘If you’ve got an egg, you’ve got a meal.’ Her Mum would say.

Jane was on the homeward strait now and manipulated the trolley towards the till whilst eyeing up the eggs in the next aisle. She could hear banging and crashing and swearing emanating from the next aisle. Someone was kicking up a right old stink.

The woman and her two girlfriends crashed around the supermarket aisles ad hoc, in a bolshy, and anti-social manner. It was a whirlwind of swear words and stomping around in a huff. She didn’t seem to care who was in the way, and customers of a meeker persona would hurry to get out of her way. If they didn’t, they would feel a barge of the shoulder or stepping on of toes.

The women seemed to have a sense of entitlement, and those in the know steered clear.

Jane was oblivious to all of this.

The woman came around the aisle far too quickly, and her trolley smashed into Jane’s head-on, at a fair rate of knots.

‘Fuck off out the way.’ The woman barked as Jane stumbled backwards.

‘Oi! Watch out!’ Jane shouted instinctively.

‘You what?’ The woman had stopped dead, and only her two friends turned toward Jane as the woman stared straight ahead.

‘There’s no need for that. You nearly sent me flying. Just have some consideration, please.’

The woman turned for the first time to face Jane. ‘Are you talking to me, bitch?’

‘There’s no need to take it out on me because you didn’t look where you were going. Be careful. I could have been an old lady.’

There was an audible gasp from the two friends. A small crowd of onlookers had gathered at the ends of the aisle.

‘Do you know who I am?’ The woman growled.

Jane was getting annoyed. ‘Let me guess, the Queen of Sheba?’

The two friends laughed momentarily but then caught it between clenched lips.

‘Clever fucker, eh? I am Sharon Brown. Does that name mean anything to you?’

‘Nope. Anyway, apology accepted.’ Jane began on her way again, shaking her head. She didn’t have time for all this, but she had always been brought up to stick up for herself, and she was more than capable of doing that.

Sharon Brown raised her voice.

‘Don’t you walk away from me, you fucking slag!’

Jane ignored the abuse, but as she neared the end of the aisle, she could sense the woman running from behind at full pelt, and she quickly sidestepped her, with the trolley corner catching her attacker in the pelvic area as she launched herself at Jane. The trolley had wedged against a metal pillar, creating an immovable object, and the corner of the handle might as well have been a sledgehammer swung into her lower abdomen.

Sharon cried out and tumbled to the floor in a mess of arms and legs. As she fell, her shoulders and head knocked into the shelving, and three or four bags of flour fell onto her, one of which split, covering her in a layer of fine white powder. Next came a tray of eggs.

She lay there dazed, and several customers began laughing, and even her friends couldn’t resist chuckling at the comical sight. They had no clue that she had really hurt herself.

Jane stared at her open-mouthed and then too gave way to laughter. She reached forward instinctively to help her. ‘I’m sorry, but you caught my trolley. It jammed against the beam. I didn’t mean it, but what were you thinking of?’

‘Fuck off; I’ve banged the side of my face on the bleeding shelf. You’ve done something to my stomach; it’s torn inside. I can feel it. You have made one big mistake, bitch.’ Tears were welling in the woman’s eyes, borne from both pain and embarrassment. She was stunned by the collision, and pain seared through her hip as her adrenalin subsided. Her lower stomach was taut and griping with pain. It didn’t feel right.

‘I didn’t do anything.’ Jane remonstrated. ‘I just moved out of the way. You were attacking me!’

One of the woman’s friends tried to help Sharon up, but she was in too much pain, and the fight had been knocked out of her bones. The pain in her lower abdomen increased, and she began to groan. Sharon curled into a ball, pressing at her stomach all to no avail. She writhed on the floor as her friends exchanged quizzical glances.

‘I feel sick. I need to get to a hospital.’ Sharon said.

Jane took the opportunity to scurry away, grabbing a couple of items on the route to the till. Discretion was the better part of valour, there was nothing to be gained hanging around with that unsavoury group, and it was time to get out of the place. In any case, Daisy needed to be collected from school.


‘Drink to me only with thine eyes, And I will pledge with mine; Or leave a kiss but in the cup. And I’ll not look for wine.’ – Ben Jonson.

The view from across the road was a good one. The two men had parked the car facing the betting shop and were only twenty paces away from the door. It seemed quiet in there – ‘Squires Turf Accountant’ the weathered sign declared. They had only seen three people go in. However, none had come out. The Bookmakers clientele tended to stay longer than a few minutes. Often, they would be in all day.

The front window was filthy and afforded access only to a cardboard effigy of horse and rider in black silhouette against a white background. Once inside, punters were protected from prying eyes and inquisitive spouses.

It was cramped inside the car with two big men rubbing shoulders both with each other and the door frames. The driver wound the window down by a couple of inches and lit a cigarette up, turning his head periodically to blow smoke out of the crack. The smell of tobacco smoke quickly invaded the interior.

Condensation on the windscreen obstructed their view a little, prompting the driver to start up the engine once more, fiddling with the choke to get the petrol flowing through. In turn, he ratcheted the blower on the heater up high. It also created a rattling sound from inside the vents.

The two men were Dougie Brown and his brother Lenny ‘the bitch’ Brown, the most feared men in Nottingham. People were terrified to have anything to do with them; afraid to be in their orbit or visible on their horizon. These were men to be avoided by the public at large.

However, in parts of the criminal fraternity, people clamoured to be a part of their gang. The badge and the shield that working for the Browns gave a criminal was worth a lot. It was a free pass, immunity from trouble anywhere they went. It gave them VIP status, and the young criminals would do anything, to be accepted as part of this untouchable and ‘respected’ crime family. The reality was, of course, they garnered fear which was somewhat different to respect. They are not the same thing but are often confused as such.

However, as with all such treaties, it was difficult to get out once in their area of influence. If you were part of the Browns crew, they were with you vicariously wherever you went, you were at their beck and call, but it gave you status and the freedom to take any liberty you wanted.

Lenny got his ‘bitch’ moniker when he was beating up a cop in the Golden Ball pub, which they had taken over as a sort of base for their nefarious activities from the early days. With each punch, Lenny had used the unlikely phrase ‘bitch’ at the helpless off-duty young cop who had inadvertently walked into the pub not knowing who was inside. The policeman had locked up one of the kids that hung around the edges of the Browns’ little empire. He had been clocked as soon as he walked in. Lennie saw an opportunity for further notoriety and took it.

‘Bitch!’ Whack.

‘Bitch!’ Right hand.

‘Bitch!’ Left hand.

‘Bitch!’ A kick in the face.

Lenny was arrested and charged with GBH, but thirty people were prepared to testify that it was a case of mistaken identity, and it was an unknown gypsy who had attacked the cop, and Lenny had been heroic in pulling the man away, and that was where the confusion came as the cop regained consciousness. He should be given a medal, not a prison sentence. The naïve police chief eventually sent Lenny an apology for the arrest and a thank you letter under media pressure, which he kept in the toilet for a few years as a talking point. He was also paid £3,000 in an out of court settlement for false arrest. The cop had to retire from the force due to his injuries, spiralled into depression, and committed suicide the following year, which was a cause of great celebration for the Browns once the news was out. This heightened the brother’s notoriety amongst the criminal fraternity even more, spreading up and down the country.

The Brown brothers had learned two important lessons over the years as their criminal gang took hold and began to grow. One was that it was far better to have other people commit your crimes for you unless it was personal, and secondly, if you threatened someone, you had to see the threat through to the bitter end. Without fail. If the Browns decreed, something would happen to someone. It happened. This was the enduring difference between them and the other members of the criminal fraternity trying to gain status. The Browns never made a threat they did not carry out. This gave them eminence and fear and ultimately was why they were now the crime kings of Nottingham.

However, they occasionally broke the first rule for one of two reasons; if the task at hand was that serious, they could not trust anyone but each other to do it, such as the occasional murder or torture, which they tried to limit. Or if there was a quick win to be had, with low risk and a chance to show they still had the kahunas to dirty their hands. This Betting Shop job was the latter. It was a crime that held limited risk to them as they knew no-one would testify against them for a variety of reasons.

They had been given a tip overnight that the bloke who owned the bookmakers was drunkenly bragging about the amount of money in his safe. Over twenty thousand pounds, he said. They knew the guy, Bernie Squires, a cockney chancer from down south, and he gave them due deference when he saw them. He would often patronise the boozers the Brown’s frequented and make a big song and dance with them as if they were lifelong buddies. They weren’t, but the Brown brothers enjoyed the ass-kissing.

‘No-one’s gonna kick off, Len, so don’t get trigger happy.’

‘You always say this, Dougie. The only time I will pull the trigger is if anyone plays the fucking hero. Then they can have it.’

‘I will give ‘em an early softener and blast the sawn-off as soon as we get in. To get their attention.’

‘I know, Dougie, we’ve been through all of this. Are you losing your bottle, our kid?’

‘Piss off, course not, but we are pro’s Len; we need to be running the show the minute we step in there. Lots of noise and shouting the odds, yeah?’

‘We will. In, out, shake it all about, leave with the lolly. You ready?’

‘Yes, just give it another couple of minutes though, make sure the cops aren’t mooching around.’

Len tutted and shook his head.

The Browns would have the princely sum of £20k in their grubby hands within the next five minutes if they played it right. Dougie had the sawn-off shotgun and Lennie had a pistol he had paradoxically bought from the bookmaker Bernie Squires a few years ago, in the Golden Ball public house. He had obtained the shooter from someone in the smoke he knew from way back.

Dougie had set an alibi with the snooker club, where you had to sign in to play, and so should the worst come to the worst, they were covered, but an arrest was unlikely. These men held much more sway than the police and the legal system because they had the ultimate sanction. They could take your life and would.

Dougie threw his cigarette end out of the crack in the window.

‘Still ready, Len?’

‘Still ready, Doug.’

The door of the bookmakers swung open.

‘Everyone stay where you are and shut the fuck up. No one needs to get hurt!’

Dougie shouted out the command with a snarl and immediately fired the shotgun into the ceiling, causing screams and people ducking and crouching on the floor. The noise of a shotgun in an enclosed area is much greater than one might imagine, and it seemed to shake the entire shop. Debris fell from the ceiling as the ringing of the shotgun blast continued in the ears of all present, though the noise itself had left the room.

Bernie Squires, the bookmaker, came charging out from the back office swinging a baseball bat. The two men, indistinguishable under their woollen ski masks, watched the heavyweight cockney blunder towards them.

‘Fuck you, you bastards!’ he screamed, spittle exploding from his gums, his false teeth rattling as he bounded along.

He knew what was happening, and he was going to batter their heads in. He was old school; he did not take this shit lightly. That was until he saw two guns levelled in his face.

‘Hold on, fella. You’ll blow a gasket. I’m quite happy to take your knackers off if you don’t cool it.’

‘Don’t press the button, Sally. Just do as they say.’ Bernie said quickly, already out of breath. The young girl looked quizzically at him but did as she was told.

‘Take me to the safe.’

Bernie sighed and trudged into the back office out of view, still breathing heavily. The crinkly vein on his balding head was throbbing and seemed in danger of popping. He had thought he recognised the voice, and they spoke in hushed tones in the back room.

‘My turn, huh?’ Bernie said crestfallen.

‘Fraid so, Bernie. Don’t worry, though; we won’t be back; you can relax once you’ve paid up.’

‘Can we negotiate?’

They heard a growl from the main betting shop area. ‘Get the fucking cash, bitch. Get a move on.’

‘There’s your answer, Bernie. Not today.’

‘No need to put a bloody hole in my ceiling, Dougie, fuck me, son.’

‘It has to be done, Bernie, better a hole in your polystyrene tiles than in some fucker’s head. Don’t you reckon?’

‘Depends on the head.’

‘We are doing you a big favour here, Bernie. You can claim it back off the insurance.’

‘Thanks a lot. Lucky me.’ There was no little irony in the reply.

Bernie’s head partially disappeared inside the safe, reappearing with three money bags which he handed reluctantly to Doug.

‘It’s all there. Twenty large, a nice tickle.’

‘You won’t be forgotten, Bernie. Add an extra few grand on the insurance calim, and everybody wins. Happy Days.’

‘Happy Days. Yeah, sure.’

With that, the two returned to the shop. Bernie was dragging his feet. Resistance was futile.

The two gangsters sauntered towards the door. Dougie turned.

‘Don’t go pressing no buttons for a couple of minutes, yeah?’

Bernie nodded without saying anything. He was sweating profusely, and his legs were a little unsteady as he slowly followed the assailants out, pausing to lock the door behind them. Bernie leaned with his back against the door; his heart was pounding, and he was short of breath.

Young Sally shouted to him. ‘Are you alright, Uncle Bernie?’

‘Just give me a minute.’ He panted and lowered his hands to his knees, leaning forward and gulping in air.

‘Can I press the button now?’

‘No, just hang on, Sally.’

The people in the bookmakers remained static for a few seconds as in stunned silence.

Sally was confused. Bernie mopped his forehead with a grey handkerchief.

‘What just happened?’ Sally asked.

‘We just got robbed. That’s what happened.’


Jane Cooper had been unnerved by the incident in the supermarket. What a crazy woman she was, and now she had seemingly hurt herself. Jane worried she might call the police and that she could get into trouble for it, but she hadn’t done anything other than step nimbly to one side. The rest had been providence.

Jane tried to put it out of her mind and get her smiley face ready for Daisy. Daisy had been the best ‘accident’ that ever happened to her. Daisy’s father Simon was in the army, and the letters had long since stopped. He was living in Germany. They were together for over a year, and they called their daughter after the way they met; Jane had been sitting on a bench in Titchfield Park, reading on a gloriously hot summer’s day, and this young man approached her holding half a dozen daisies.

‘I picked these for you. I don’t know why. I just wanted to. You look so perfect.’

With hindsight, it might seem corny, but that was then, and this was now. It was a mutual separation which meant that she and little Daisy faced the world together but without Simon to complete the family group.

Jane joined the long line of Mum’s grandparents and the occasional father, who shuffled towards the playground at the rear of the school in time for the bell. The darkening sky gave a somewhat depressing haze to the scenario turning colour to black and white.

Saint Mary’s school at Bulwell was a Victorian building with a newer flat-roofed building adjacent, and the pupils moved between them depending on the need. The school grounds were next to Alderman Derbyshire Secondary School and across the road from the now-defunct Adelphi Cinema. Behind that was a hosiery factory, and so within 300 square yards, a child might occupy their entire existence on the planet. Junior school, senior school, across the road to the hosiery factory. One fed the other. The Post Office for pension collection and the cemetery were further away.

The curious nature of school pick-up was that parents usually stood in the same spot in the playground each day. Their own plot of land, of which they were quite protective. It was often a bleak scenario usually dictated by the weather, and today’s grey rolling clouds hung a heavy ceiling over the tarmacadam. Despite this, Jane noticed something of a buzz in the air. Apparently, there was some scandal, but she wasn’t aware of it, nor indeed that she was it.

‘Eh up, Kaz.’ Jane slipped into the schoolyard vernacular as she settled in her preferred spot next to the netball post.

‘Eh up, Jane, all right?’ Karen had the hood of her Parka coat pulled over her head, the faux fur trim animated by the sweeping wind. The hood overwhelmed her thin face and gaunt features.

‘Yeah, fine, you?’ Jane tried a brief smile.

‘Alright, ducky. Have you heard the latest?’ She was bursting to tell.

‘No. What?’

‘About Sharon Brown, it’s all-round town.’

‘Who’s Sharon Brown?’ The name sounded familiar.

‘Dougie Browns Mrs, you know the Brown brothers.’

‘Should I know who these people are, Kaz?’

‘Yes, the gangsters, they live up on Highbury Vale, very bad men. Steer clear at all costs.’

‘I think I’ve heard of them. I thought it was all exaggerated, personally.’

‘No. It’s all true. Someone has kicked the shit out of Sharon Brown in the Co-op supermarket today. Some woman gave her a right pasting. It’s all over town.’

Jane felt a nervous feeling building in the pit of her stomach. This sounded all too familiar.


Karen continued. ‘They will kill her when they find out who it is. I’m not even joking.’

‘No, they won’t kill her.’ Jane laughed.

‘Er. I think you’ll find they will, Jane; I’m telling you these blokes are crazy, they kill for fun. Everyone is totally shit scared of them. I can’t believe you’ve never heard on ‘em.’

‘I know who you mean now. Anyway, it’s not true.’

‘What’s not true.’

‘The rumour…I…she wasn’t beaten up she fell over, that’s all.’

‘How do you know? Did you see it, Jane? Were you there?’ Karen turned to the group of mothers. ‘Eh, Jane was there when Shaz Brown got pasted in the Co-op.’

The group started to shuffle towards them.

Jane’s face flushed red as all eyes fell upon her. ‘I wasn’t there. I mean, I was there, but nobody got beaten up. She just ran into my trolley; it was a misunderstanding.’

There was an audible gasp from those assembled. Karen’s mouth dropped open. ‘So, it was you what done it?’

‘I didn’t do anything, she started it, and when she had a go at me, she hurt herself. There was no fight or anything like that.’

‘Oh, my freaking God! Jane, you’re in the shit big time, mate. Rumour is she’s damaged her ovaries and been told she can’t have kids no more. She’s fuming. She’s in a right state.’

‘It was an accident; she will see that, surely? Honestly, I didn’t do anything.’

There was another audible gasp, louder than the first. ‘So, it was you! Oh my God!’

Everyone moved a few steps backwards as if Jane suddenly had a contagious disease. Karen was stunned. ‘You need to get away somewhere Jane, you are going to have your card marked. You are in real danger, mate. Seriously, think about little Daisy.’

Jane began to speak as the school bell sounded inside the building. ‘Look, this has been blown…’

The woman next to her held up her palm. ‘Don’t talk to me; I don’t want nowt to do wi it.’

They all began to move away amidst mutterings of ‘me neither.’ ‘Don’t get involved.’ And the like. Even Karen moved away from the spot she had stood at for the last three years.

Suddenly the classroom doors burst open and out charged all the children, some running, others balancing various cards or artwork precariously. It was a welcome distraction, and as Jane squatted to embrace little Daisy, she couldn’t help but feel somewhat concerned about what she had heard. Couldn’t have children anymore? Surely it can’t be true. That’s awful.

‘Hello, Mummy. I’ve made you a dolly from string.’

‘Oh, thank you, Daisy. I love it. I really do.’


The CID office served as a report writing room, a call centre and sometimes a social club. If there was one thing that detectives liked to do, it was talk, and several of Stark’s team were sat around the group of desks with rotund middle-aged detective constable Charlie Carter holding court.

There were three groups of desks around the spacious room, seven desks per cluster, the odd one out being at the head for the detective sergeant to sit at. The desks each had three stationary trays on them, a large blotter usually displaying an array of doodles and scribblings, as well as an assortment of personalised desk junk and mascots, family photographs, random paperwork, and tin ashtrays with various breweries emblazoned on them. These were overflowing with cigarette and cigar butts in the main.

Detective Sergeant Nobby Clarke was in DI Stark’s office, so the DC’s took the opportunity for a cuppa and a chat, as was their wont.

DC Stephanie Dawson, DC Ashley Stevens and Trainee Detective Steve Aston were chatting; a pall of smoke hanging in a layer above their heads, like their own personal weather system. They were winding up Steph, yet again. It was all good-natured ribaldry.

‘Is it wedding bells with you and Nobby Clarke, then, Steph?’ The debonair Ashley asked as he sipped at a mug of tea, his gold bracelet hanging loose as he did so.

Steph’s’ on-off relationship with her Detective Sergeant was a regular focal point for the gossip.

‘Not yet, Ash, but you will be the first to know, don’t worry. We’ve got you pencilled in as chief bridesmaid.’

The gang laughed. You had to do well to get one over Steph; she had been around detectives too long to take any truck from them. She could give as good as she got, and usually better.

Charlie had a twinkle in his eye as he lit up a cigarette. ‘I’ll say this for you, Steph.’

‘Go on, what. Let’s hear it.’

‘Nothing, it’s a compliment. You might be a constable now, but I always thought there was a sergeant deep inside you.’

She threw a cardboard coaster at him. ‘You cheeky sod!’

‘What have I said now?’ Charlie was laughing along with the others.

As usual, the quiet Steve Aston tended to observe more than contribute to the banter. He still wasn’t in the groove with the detective culture and felt at odds with his colleagues. Somewhat awkward. He allowed himself a wry grin as Ashly whooped at Charlie’s joke.

Stephanie tried to bring Steve into the conversation. She was like that. ‘Don’t you start, young Steven, I can see you grinning; the quiet ones are the worst, believe you me.’

This immediately flushed Steve’s cheeks, and he mumbled something indiscernible.

Charlie raised his hand, his face falling serious. ‘Hold on, listen in. That’s an alarm coming over someone’s radio. Shush.’

Silence fell. There was the unmistakable double pip sound intermittently resonating over Ashley’s radio on his desk. Then came the tinny voice:

‘Control to all units, report of an armed robbery in progress at Bernie Squires Turf accountant, Annesley Road, Hucknall. Panda 3 are you responding?’

‘Ten-Four, travelling.’ Came the patrol officer’s voice then quickly mirrored by another: ‘Panda 2 travelling as back up, over.’

‘Ten-Four Panda 2. Panda 3 ETA? Control over.’

‘One zero minutes. I’m travelling back from Eastwood, over.’

‘I bet this is your robbery, Ash.’ Charlie said.

‘Sounds like it.’

It wasn’t every day that an armed robbery in progress came through on alarm and the CID office at Nottingham emptied as soon as it came over the radio. Stark and Nobby crewed up, as did Ashley and Steph.

Young Steve Aston felt he might have drawn the short straw as veteran Charlie Carter limped and wheezed along the corridor behind him.

‘Come on, Charlie.’ Steve urged, as he was desperate to be involved in the action.

‘Get the car started, Steve; It’s in the backyard. I’ll be there in a minute.’ He threw the CID car keys at him and watched him disappear down the stairs.

‘Ouch, ya bugger!’ Charlie exclaimed as he flopped into the passenger seat of the Ford Escort. He instinctively rubbed his knee despite everyone knowing that the cause of the exclamation was his piles and had nothing to do with his knee at all.

‘I’ll ride, shotgun, young Steve.’

‘Ha, ha, very funny.’

The car drew out the yard, but Steve had to slam on the brakes to avoid Ashley who screamed past him across the junction having got a CID car from the front of the station.

‘No need to kill us, Steve. I’d like to get there in one piece.’ Charlie said.

Steve manoeuvred the car and sped off behind Ashley, pumping the accelerator and throwing Charlie around, causing him to wince as he tried to rest on just the one buttock.

There was a slight lull as Steve tried to negotiate through traffic with only a horn as a warning instrument.

‘All these drivers think you’re a lunatic, Steve.’ Charlie smiled at a driver on the nearside who was screaming expletives out of the window. Charlie waved. ‘Yes, fuck you too.’

‘It is an emergency, Charlie.’

‘I know, don’t mind me.’

‘Eh Charlie…’


‘I’ve forgotten my truncheon. What are we supposed to do if they are still inside when we get there?’

Charlie shrugged. ‘I dunno. Nick them, I suppose. What else are you gonna do? Give them a kiss?’

Steve smiled. ‘I just wondered, that’s all.’

‘Your truncheon ain’t going to help you, mate. You take a deep breath, walk through the doors, and deal with whatever is behind it. No messing about take the bastards down, just remember to duck.’

‘Cheers! Thank you for your sage advice.’

‘No problem, my pleasure. Up here on the left, Steve.’

Steve swung the car up the pavement and was disappointed to see Ashley’s car already there, albeit with the doors left wide open.

Stark and Nobby were also inside. The offenders had long gone.

It quickly became apparent that this was Ashley’s armed robbery information from this morning coming to fruition.

There was scant information to put out to other officers; not much of a description, and no vehicle had been spotted. Two men in dark clothing. Steve gave the control room a brief update, nonetheless. The main thing was that nobody had been injured during the robbery.

Control said that someone at Bernie Squires Turf Accountant had pressed the alarm button, and a member of the public had also telephoned in that they had seen two men go into the bookies with a shotgun. They had rung from a telephone kiosk on Annesley Road but didn’t leave details. Strangely the panic button had not been pressed immediately that the men went in, so perhaps they mooched around a bit inside before pulling out their weapons? Maybe they didn’t have a chance to press it? For whatever reason, there had been a delay of a few minutes between the phone call and the panic alarm.

Bernie Squires rested one hand on the counter and drew on a fat cigar with the other, his gold sovereign rings crowding his chubby fingers. He had regained his composure. Bernie was well known to the cops. Aside from being the only cockney in town, he had always been borderline criminal, but he seemed to have semi-retired in recent years. Rumour had it Bernie had moved north to Nottingham after upsetting gangsters down the smoke for a reason that never emerged. He had certainly fallen on his feet with the bookmaker’s business, and his ‘cheeky chappy’ persona appealed to the punters. Bernie frequented all the dodgy pubs in the area and was a known associate of many criminals on the patch.

‘Mr Stark, for two pins, I would have banjo’d them with my bat, but I thought better of it.’

‘Any idea who they were, Bernie?’ Stark asked as he took in the layout of the seedy bookmakers and its yellowing nicotine-stained décor.

‘No, not a clue. Out-of-towners, I reckon, gov. Irish accent, so no one local as far as I can tell. I know all the big hitters around here, and none of them would dare set foot in here to cause me grief. And certainly not do a blagging.’

Stark smiled. ‘Of course not. So, tell us what happened, Bernie?’

‘I was in the back office, so I didn’t see it all, then all of a sudden, I heard someone f-ing and blinding, and then a huge bloody bang. I thought a bomb had gone off; the whole shop shook like a leaf. Anyway, I ran out with my baseball bat, and there they were, bold as bloody brass, tooled up ‘an all they were. Shooters. Proper job.’

‘Then what?’ Nobby asked as he stood underneath the hole in the ceiling, peering up at it.

‘When I saw the shooters, I thought better of it, so I just gave the cheeky little bastards the money. Twenty years ago, they would have been on their arse, shooters or no fucking shooters.’

‘Looking at the size of the hole, I’m guessing it was a sawn-off shotgun.’ Nobby offered; his days in the army as a Regimental Sergeant Major always helped in firearms matters.

‘Yes, a stubby thing it was. They’re the worst kind, though; you can’t get out of the way of the blast.’

‘How much did they get?’ Stark asked.

‘Thirty large.’

Stark winced. ‘Ouch. Thirty grand? Seriously? What are you doing with that amount here, Bernie?’

‘I know. I don’t trust the banks, plus everyone knows your business when you deal with them. Like I say I don’t trust no one. Anyway, it’s like Fort Knox to get in that safe. I never thought anyone would have the balls to shit on my manor and do a blagging, Mr Stark. That’s why I reckon they’re from the smoke. They’ve got to be.’

‘Irishmen from London. An interesting mix. Why choose here?’

Bernie shrugged. ‘God knows.’

‘Have you been talking? You haven’t been shooting your mouth off, have you?’ Stark asked.

‘No chance. I ain’t bleeding stupid.’ Bernie averted his gaze momentarily.

‘Even when you’ve had a few beers?’

‘No, do me a favour, guv, I’m too long in the tooth for all that. Maybe they just fell lucky.’

Stark nodded, ‘Maybe, Bernie. Maybe.’

Nobby seemed doubtful, but he blurted out his next question instead of keeping his powder dry. ‘Are you insured, Bernie?’

‘Thankfully, yes, but it will still cost me a fortune ‘cos the rates will go up. So, I’m gonna get stung either way.’

‘Do you get insurance every year, Bernie? Or is it a recent thing?’ Nobby asked.

‘Oh, here we go. No, I got insured fucking yesterday! It’s all a big scam this is; I love holes in my ceiling, it adds to the décor, don’t you think? Jesus! Just look around at these punters; they’re all terrified. Do you think this is good for my business? No. I’ve always paid my dues for stuff like that. This is a kosha business; you’re out of order, DS Clarke. You’re bang out of order.’

‘All right, Bernie. No need to get your knickers in a twist.’ Nobby grinned.

‘Check it out if you like; I’ve been covered for years, no claims either. God’s own truth.’

‘I believe you, Bernie. Carry on.’ Stark said.

‘So anyway, one of them took me to the safe and held me at gunpoint until I gave them the dosh. They were both masked up, so don’t ask me what the hell they looked like. They had black ski mask things covering their mugs. Huh, mugs. Looks like I’m the only bleeding mug around here.’

Steve Aston and Charlie spoke to Mrs Eadie, an elderly punter, a regular at the bookies, who was shaking after the ordeal. She was chuffing on a cigarette which she chased with her lips once it was close enough to lock on. The filter was smudged with red lipstick.

‘They said for everyone to get down on the floor, I think. They had a funny accent. Welsh, I think Bernie said.’

She looked across the room to Bernie and shouted to him. ‘Was it Welsh, you said, Bernie?’

Bernie looked skywards. ‘Jesus. She’s daft as a brush.’ He muttered before raising his voice. ‘Irish, Mrs Eadie, they had Irish accents, remember?’

‘Oh, that was it, Irish. They all sound the same to me. Anyway, I can’t tell you anything more than that. I was just looking away all the time. I couldn’t bear to look. You don’t want it at my age; I’m seventy-four next birthday, you know.’

Stark and Nobby moved to the back of the betting shop for a conflab. Stark lit up a cigar, and Nobby had his roll-ups.

‘What do you reckon, boss? Legit?’ Nobby asked in hushed tones standing in front of his Inspector with his broad back masking the conversation from the others.

‘Probably. It’s all a bit too dramatic for Bernie. Staging a burglary would have been much easier. Plus, there is the person who rang in having seen offenders with a firearm and a bloody great shotgun blast in the ceiling.’

‘True, boss. But this is Bernie Squires we’re talking about.’

‘He does seem a bit cagey, don’t you think? I wonder why?’

‘Who Bernie? That’s him all over, though, isn’t it? He couldn’t lie straight in bed.’ Nobby grinned.

Stark blew cigar smoke out as part of a sigh. ‘He’s probably working out how to make the best of it, maybe added a bit to the total for the insurance, but I doubt it’s a set-up. Let’s go through the motions, get forensics travelling, and see what they come up with.’

‘Fair enough.’

‘I think you’re right to question it, Nobby; something feels a bit off. I just can’t put my finger on what.’

‘Treat it as legit and see what comes up.’ Nobby said.

‘Exactly. Hang on, is that one of those new CCTV camera thingymabobs in the corner above the till?’


‘When you have no fear, the possibilities are endless.’

Jeffree Star.

While it was something of a luxury for a single Mum to have a telephone installed in the house, Jane had felt it a necessity with both her parents advancing in years and her father becoming quite frail and perhaps suffering the effects of dementia.

Little Daisy was lying on the floor, switching between her colouring book and the television set. She kept flicking her long brown hair over her shoulders and was talking to herself quietly as she used the felt-tip pens. Blue Peter was on, and it was enough of a distraction for Jane to telephone her mother to see how she was doing and to offload the awful incident in the supermarket. It had been niggling her since the conversation and unnerving reaction by the other mothers in the playground.

Jane ran her fingers over the coarse fabric of the armchair, which seemed to be fraying at the end of the armrests.


‘Hi, Mum.’

‘Hi? You’ve been watching too much television, we say hello here in England, or are you ringing from America?’ She sounded a bit croaky.

‘Ha, ha.’

‘I’m sure you just say it for devilment, Jane.’

‘I don’t, Mum, I don’t know where it came from. It’s easier to say I suppose.’

‘Yes, that extra syllable can be a strain.’ She was always able to stick the verbal boot in for such a sweet woman. Years of practice, probably. Nobody would believe it if you met her, she was so polite and well-mannered, but there was a caustic side to her mum that Jane knew was a throwback to her childhood struggles during the war.

‘Oh, Mum, you do make me laugh. I take it your cold is improved. Although you sound a bit croaky.’

‘Yes, thank you, luvvy, it’s about gone now. I couldn’t shake the ruddy thing off. How are you?’

‘What about Dad?’ Jane asked.

‘Pretty much the same, maybe…well, you know.’

‘Is he there?’


‘In the living room?’


‘Okay. I know you can’t speak if he is earwigging. Can I have a quick word with him, just to say hello?’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, of course.’

A man’s voice came on the phone; it came from a dry mouth. ‘Hello?’

‘Hi Dad, It’s Jane. Jane, your daughter.’

He laughed. ‘Aye, lass, I know that. I’ve not lost my marbles, you know.’

‘Of course not. How are you keeping?’

‘Alright, you know. Eh, can you see that mark on the wall near the cabinet?’

‘I can’t see it, Dad; I’m on the phone.’

‘Oh, yes, of course. Anyway, how are you and how’s the little one?’

‘Daisy, you mean?’

‘That’s it, yes.’

‘She’s fine and sends her love.’

‘Ah bless her. I’m going to my dad’s later; I think we are. Are we, Mary?’

This was awkward as Jane knew his dad had been dead for a number of years. ‘Oh, alright, then. Give him my love, won’t you?’

‘I will, aye.’

‘How’s the little one?’

‘Daisy’s fine, Dad, thanks.’

‘You get in front of the telly this afternoon, Dad, and watch a nice film.’

‘I will do, but I reckon to fall asleep every time.’

‘You might stay awake this time, Dad.’

‘I might, aye. I might do that. How’s the little one doing? Bless her. Eh?’

‘Jane, it’s Mum.’

‘Ah bless him, he’s getting worse, isn’t he? I will try to get to see you this week, I promise.’

‘It would be lovely to see you, but I know you’ve got your work cut out, Jane. Don’t fret about it, love. We’re just glad to see you whenever you can call in; you know that.’ She lowered her voice almost to a whisper. ‘I’d come over to see you more often, but Dad gets so out of puff nowadays, and I have to watch him like a hawk.’

‘It’s fine, Mum. Daisy sends her love.’

Daisy looked up from her position on the carpet. ‘Huh?’ Jane waved away the querying expression.

‘Ah bless her. Kisses from mamma.’ Jane’s Mum made kissing noises over the phone, making Jane smile.

‘Mamma sends kisses, Daisy.’ Jane directed the comment to her daughter, now engrossed in the edges of the unicorn she was colouring in.


‘Mamma sends kisses, Daisy.’

‘Oh.’ Daisy put her hand to her mouth and blew a kiss back.

‘She’s blown you a kiss, Mum.’ Jane again fiddled with the fabric on the armchair. It was definitely wearing thin.

‘Lovely, isn’t she good. Anyway, you didn’t answer my question, Jane.’

‘What question?’

‘How are you?’

‘I’m fine, well sort of.’

‘What do you mean sort of? What’s the matter, love.’

‘I had a weird thing happen. It wasn’t my fault, but the long and short of it was that this crazy woman knocked into my shopping trolley and was then squaring up for a fight, causing a right scene. It was embarrassing.’

‘You’re joking? In the middle of the supermarket? Which one, the Co-op?’

‘Yes, little Co-op on Highbury Vale. I’m not joking. She was rough, you know. One of them.’

‘I know the sort. We’ve all met them. What did you do, Jane?’

‘There wasn’t much I could do, Mum. It ended up with her charging at me, and I dodged out the way, and she collided into my trolley.’ Daisy glanced up at her mother, having heard something finally of interest.

‘Oh, my goodness. So, she and the trolley went flying, then?’

‘No, the trolley was wedged against one of those steel poles, so it was rock solid when she hit it. The trolley never moved an inch, but she did. She went flying and she knocked all the flour and bloody eggs all over her.’ Jane was laughing as she thought about it.

‘Ha! Serves her right then. Silly mare.’

‘I know, but, Mum, I’ve since heard that she has really hurt herself and damaged her ovaries.’

‘Oh dear, how sad, never mind.’

‘Mum! Fancy you being like that.’

‘What do you expect? You reap what you sow. Silly madam.’

‘Yes, but, Mum, I’ve heard she is the wife of one of the big gangsters in Nottingham, and everyone is saying I’m in danger and they will come after me. What if it’s true?’

‘Pah! Gangster my backside!’

‘No, he is. I’ve heard of him; Dougie Brown.’

‘I’ve never heard of him. Just ignore it, Jane.’

‘Do you think?’

‘Yes, it’s just gossip. A storm in a teacup. Wounded pride, by the sound of it. Just ignore them. Don’t get involved. You’re better than that.’

‘I suppose so. It was just the reaction of all the Mum’s in the playground: they were suddenly giving me a wide berth once they knew it was me.’

‘Ignore it, Jane. It will all blow over.’ don’t get het up about it either.’

‘I hope so. This is all I need.’

‘Can I have a word with Daisy? Or is she playing nicely?’

‘No, she will come to the phone.’ Jane projected her voice over to Daisy. ‘Come and have a word with Mamma.’

Daisy rolled her eyes skyward as Jane beckoned her urgently and silently as if to say, ‘Get here!’

‘Hi, Mamma!’

‘What’s high? The Sky?’


The man’s skin was leathery and had an orange hue, perhaps due to smoking roll-ups since the age of ten some fifty-six years ago. The old man sat on a bench pitted with woodworm and innumerable cigarette burns. A notice board behind him bore various betting slips and tiny pens. The paper header on the board was curled and yellow and bore the legend ‘Bernie Squires Turf Accountant.’ The wooden floor was littered with scrunched up betting slips and fag-ends. The surface was gritty with dust from years of neglect. The smell of cordite still hung diminishing in the air, dissipating with the pall of cigarette smoke, which he added to, lighting a half cigarette with a trembling hand. The man was puffing and panting with the exertion of doing nothing but puffing and panting. In truth, he was a little shaken by the drama but was trying to be nonchalant.

‘How are you, Frank?’ Charlie asked, sitting down next to him, with Steve perching himself awkwardly on a stool that seemed too high for him.

‘Ouch, ya bugger!’ Charlie gasped as his backside met wood, causing a shot of agony. Steve was amazed that Charlie seemed to know everyone, and everyone seemed to know him. It came from living and working twenty years on the same patch.

‘I’m alright, Charlie, lad. I’ve seen worse, down the pit.’

‘I bet you have, Frank. I bet you have.’ Charlie lit up a cigarette himself as he spoke. ‘What’s happened here, my friend?’

‘I don’t know. I had my glasses on so I couldn’t see nowt.’

Charlie laughed. ‘Okay. How does that work, then, Frank?’

‘What do you mean? I had me readers, on, so I can’t see nowt more than a dog’s length away.’

‘A dog’s length? What’s that, a new unit of measurement? It used to be feet and inches. I blame the bloody French.’

‘Aye.’ He shrugged out a laugh that turned into a cough and a rake of phlegm.

‘Surely you could make something out, Frank?’

‘All I know is that I could hear a bloke shouting and then a bloody great bang. I about near shit me pants, lad. I’ll tell you.’

Charlie laughed again, as did Steve. The old-timer’s forthrightness was quite comical.

‘What was the man shouting?’

‘I don’t know, I had my hearing aid turned down.’

‘What? Why?’ Charlie looked puzzled.

‘I was going through the form for the horses, you know, and you can’t hear yourself bloody think in here, so sometimes I turn it down a bit or off altogether.’

‘When did you turn it up?’ Charlie asked, casting a glance at Steve.


Charlie laughed again. ‘When did you turn your hearing aid up because you can hear alright now, Frank.’

Frank paused a moment. ‘Aye, well, I turned it up after all the kafuffle, I might be deaf, but I’m not daft.’

‘I’ll give you that. You certainly aren’t daft, Frank.’ Charlie knew when someone was absenting themselves, and Frank was heavily into the throes of just that. Charlie watched Nobby and Stark follow Bernie into the back office out of sight from the main betting shop area.

Stark and Nobby sat in the low-slung seats in the office, but Bernie paced around, clearly on edge. His protruding belly forged a path between a pair of red braces, a striped shirt and a red bow tie. It was clear to DS Nobby Clarke that Bernie was nervy.

‘Definitely from down south.’ Bernie muttered aloud.

‘Why down south, Bernie?’ Nobby asked.

‘It could be anywhere, I suppose. I’m just saying they ain’t from around here.’

‘How can you be so certain?’

‘I know everyone capable of doing a blagging around here. I would have known them.’

‘And did you?’ Stark asked.

‘Course not. Come off it, guv, you know me better than that. Do you think I’d be standing here talking to you if I knew who had come in to wreck my business that I’ve built up over all these years?’

‘Perhaps. Depends who it was.’

The room fell quiet with the distracted Bernie pacing around and chuffing on a cigarette.

Stark seemed thoughtful. There was something in what Bernie was saying, and he tended to agree with him. ‘You’re right though, Bernie, there aren’t many around here that have access to firearms and who would have the balls to do an armed robbery, not least an armed robbery at yours? Everyone knows you have connections, Bernie. There are plenty of softer targets. Have you upset anyone lately?’

‘Lots, but nobody who would do this, straight up.’

‘There can’t be many local candidates.’ Stark lit up one of his thin cigars.

‘Exactly, that’s what I keep saying to you. It ain’t anyone local.’ Bernie finally slumped into the worn leather chair behind his desk.

‘Unless it was somebody local who doesn’t give a shit about Bernie Squires.’ Stark said.

‘What do you mean by that? Like who?’

‘Well, there are two people I can think of that qualifies for the description you have kindly given.’

‘What? What description? I ain’t told you sod all.’

‘But you have, Bernie. You’ve helped us narrow it down perfectly.’ The Inspector grinned.

‘No, I haven’t.’

‘Yes, you have.’

‘No, I haven’t.’

Stark laughed. ‘Bernie, I think you are spot on, and maybe they are from out of town, but if they are not, there are only two people that qualify. In my opinion, anyway.’

‘Oh yeah, like who?’

‘The Brown brothers.’

‘That’s a point, boss. Good call. They wouldn’t give two hoots about our friendly neighbourhood bookmaker.’ Nobby said as if flashed with inspiration by his Inspector’s observation.

‘Fuck off. I would know, wouldn’t I? I know the Brown brothers. I’m telling you it ain’t them. Don’t start spreading rumours like that. It’s dangerous talk; people can get hurt spreading rumours like that. The only “brothers” that might have done this are those black fuckers, like Winston Kelly and his lot.’

‘So now you think it is a pair of black Irishmen?’ Stark raised his eyebrows.

‘You are treading on dangerous ground here, Mr Stark.’ Bernie padded at his forehead with his handkerchief once more.

‘You aren’t threatening me, are you, Bernie? Because I get offended ever so easily.’ Stark said.

Bernie gave an audible sigh. He was getting himself in a right pickle. ‘No, I didn’t mean it like that, you know what I meant. If the Browns think that I’ve fingered them for a blagging, I’m dead meat, so I would be grateful if you didn’t go around talking about stuff that is both dodgy and dangerous. It’s bang out of order.’

Stark and Nobby laughed. They were enjoying Bernie squirming for once.

‘Was it the Browns, Bernie?’ Stark asked outright.

‘Don’t be daft; I’ve told you I would have known.’

‘Even with them wearing a mask?’

‘I would know their voice anywhere, and like I said, they had an accent. The Browns don’t have an accent, only local.’

‘A Welsh accent?’ Nobby asked provocatively.


‘I thought you said it was Irish?’

‘For Christ’s sake, you are confusing me. I did. I mean, it was, but you’re confusing me with all this nonsense about the Browns and old Mrs Eadie spouting on about them being Welsh. I know the difference between a Welshman and an Irishman. It’s doing my head in all of this. I’m trying to run a business here!’

Nobby was grinning. ‘A Welshman, an Irishman and a black man walk into a bookmakers…’

‘Very funny.’

‘Alright, Bernie. I’ve got the general picture. I was glad to see that you have a CCTV camera fitted.’ Stark said.

Bernie’s mouth flopped open, but nothing came out of it until…‘Shit!’

‘Sorry? It’s good news, Bernie. We will have footage of the whole thing.’ Stark grinned.

‘That’s just a gimmick, boss. I don’t even know how it works. I reckon it's bust in any case. I’ll let you know if there’s owt on it.’

Stark pulled himself awkwardly out of the low-slung chair and walked over to the electronic box and screen in the corner behind where Bernie sat.

‘It’s never seen a duster; I will grant you that. It is working, though, Bernie.’

Bernie winced. ‘Great. Fucking brilliant.’

Stark poked his head around the door into the main shop area. ‘Steve, come here and sort this CCTV video thing out, will you? If I do it, I will probably delete everything.’

‘Sure thing, sir.’

Steve hurried over to the tape machine with all eyes on him. He pressed the ‘stop’ button and then ‘eject.’ ‘There you go.’

‘Oh. That was easy.’

‘It’s just a video, sir. Nothing complicated.’

‘I’m starting to think none of this is as complicated as it might seem.’ He shot a glance at Bernie, who looked away. ‘Get it seized, Steve. The tape is the first exhibit.’

Charlie appeared in the door frame. ‘Scenes of Crime have arrived, boss.’


Stark and Nobby walked outside to the white SOCO van. It was getting dark, and there were spits of rain in the air.

‘What do you reckon, boss?’ Nobby asked. ‘Bernie’s about to have a heart attack when you mention the Brown brothers.’

‘I reckon it’s the Browns, and they’ve put the frighteners on him. Who else could it be? Bernie’s more or less told us himself.’

‘It could be someone from out of town.’

‘It could be. I’m not feeling it, though. Unless Bernie has upset someone down the smoke, which, granted, is more than possible. Let’s keep an open mind, but it smells of Brown to me.’

‘You can say that again, boss.’


DC Steph Dawson was chatting with Sally, the girl behind the till. Steph was aware that the girl kept shooting glances towards Nobby Clarke. Steph was oblivious that Sally and Nobby Clarke had met up for dinner during a murder enquiry during one of their ‘off’ periods in the relationship. There was a rumour that Nobby had ‘done the business’ with Sally, but he merely said, ‘a gentlemen never tells.’ Nobby had been playing it cool since arriving at the bookies, even though he could feel Sally’s stare following him around the place.

‘When did you press the panic alarm, Sally?’ Steph asked, pen and jotter poised.

‘I think it was when they left.’

‘Not, when they came in then?’

‘No. I er, was too frightened. They told us all to stand still, and I was a few feet away from it, so it made it difficult.’

Nobby left Stark to walk over to the two ladies of different generations but equally attractive in their own right. Nobby had a muscular frame, paisan features and looked as hard as nails, frankly. This was mainly because he was. Despite being in his forties, he was a force to be reckoned with and the type of person that causes the pianist to stop playing when entering a saloon bar in the wild west.

‘How’s it going, Steph? Hi Sally.’ Nobby’s deep voice tingled through both ladies, and both were well aware of his prowess and particular points of appeal.

‘Okay, we were just discussing…’ Steph began to reply but was interrupted by the young girl in her early twenties.

‘Hi, Nobby. How are you?’ Sally tilted her head, and there was much fluttering of eyelashes. She was wearing a tight-fitting jumper and began tucking it in at the waist of her skirt, sucking her stomach in and chest out, a display that was not lost on DS Clarke.

‘I’m good, thanks. You’re looking well.’

‘Thanks. You’ve been a stranger lately.’

Nobby smiled. ‘Busy boy, Sally.’ He was aware of the pursed lips of Steph and a stare that, if met, would need welding goggles to avoid damage to the retina.

Steph was starting to click that something was going on here. ‘Sorry, do you two know each other?’

‘You could say that.’ Sally giggled.

‘Okay, is there something I should know?’ Steph put her hands on her hips.

The smile on Nobby’s face dropped. ‘DC Dawson, is there any new information with regard to the robbery that we should know about?’ He quickly switched the conversation to a more matter of fact, official tone.

‘Not really, Sergeant Clarke. Not to do with the robbery anyway.’

‘Okay. Well, let’s have a catch up later.’

‘Oh, we will, Sergeant. We will. I have some additional questions for the very young and attractive Sally. We can then have a very detailed debrief. Just you and me.’

Sally faked the sincerity. ‘Ah, that’s nice of you to say I’m attractive. It’s sweet when older women give compliments to us younger ones. It’s lovely, isn’t it, Nobby?’

Nobby’s expression looked as though he had mistaken a lemon curd sandwich for mustard. He muttered. ‘Shit.’ To himself but was saved by his Detective Inspector.

‘Hey, Nobby. Come here a minute.’ Stark beckoned him over.

Nobby turned on his heels and felt Steph jab the pen in his arm as he did. He didn’t respond but rubbed his arm as he swaggered back toward his DI.

‘What’s up, boss?’

‘We are going for a little drinky poo.’

‘Let me guess. The Golden Ball.’

‘Ten out of ten.’

It was only a fifteen-minute drive, and the pub's car park showed little sign of life as Stark swung his Vauxhall Cavalier into it, popping some gravel as he did. Late afternoons were quiet ahead of the evening crowd.

‘No aggro, Nobby, unless it becomes unavoidable. I just want to shake the bag up and see if the Browns are in, splashing the cash, celebrating or what the general feeling is, okay.’


The car park lied. There were a good fifteen to twenty people inside. Many were youths in their late teens and early twenties; some dressed in ghastly ‘shell suits,’ garish shiny tracksuits, and a couple sported neck chains with Volkswagen mascots hanging from them. It was a fad created by the emerging rap group Run DMC, and now every Volkswagen car in Christendom was missing their insignia because of it.

True to form, as soon as the besuited, middle-aged men entered, the raucous laughter and shouts stuttered to complete silence. The air turned to ice.

It was quite a large bar area that arced from end to end. It had a fusty smell of stale ale and cigarette smoke. A hint of cannabis also tickled the nostrils. It would be called ‘Dire if you could bottle it as a perfume.’

Stark was at the bar and Nobby a couple of feet behind him. He could see both Lenny and Dougie Brown sitting in the corner on the curve of an upholstered seat that hugged the contours of the wall.

The youths parted to give a view between Nobby and the Browns. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. Two young skinny, spotty faced youths came up towards Nobby, seemingly trying to sprout muscles, judging by the way they splayed their arms out from the side of their bodies. They oozed a somewhat misplaced confidence, clearly feeling they were untouchable in the presence of their heroes. One of the youths started to ‘oink, oink.’

Nobby gave him a sideways look. ‘Aren’t you late for Maths? The bell must have gone by now, kid.’

The youth flushed slightly and sucked in saliva through his teeth. It was something he must have been practising in his bathroom mirror. Nobby was tempted, but he had promised his DI he would behave.

‘Two pints of bitter, please.’ Stark smiled.

The old guy behind the bar hesitated and looked towards the corner where the Browns held sway. This was their pub in all but name.

Dougie nodded his consent to the barman and stood up slowly. He approached the two detectives. He ignored Nobby and stood at the side of Detective Inspector Stark.

Dougie was about the same height, slightly broader and stretching his Fred Perry T-shirt a little too much. A thick gold chain and expensive watch adorned the gangster.

Nobby tensed and formed a fist. He would take the guys head off his shoulders if he made a move.

Dougie slid sideways, a little too close to Starks personal space. ‘I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure. I thought I knew all the Feds around these parts.’ He put out his hand. Stark hesitated slightly but met the offer with a firm handshake; he could play that game. That’s fine by him.

‘Detective Inspector Dave Stark and this is Detective Sergeant Clarke.’

Dougie nodded over at the man-mountain. Nobby appeared insouciant. Solid and immoveable.

‘Dougie Brown.’

‘I know who you are, Dougie.’ Stark said.

‘So, you’re the famous DI Stark, are you? I wondered when our paths would cross.’

Stark grinned. ‘Today’s the day, Doug.’

‘Today’s the day. Lucky me.’

‘Yes, it’s your lucky day by the sounds of it.’

‘I’m surprised to see you come in here, Inspector. You’ve got some balls ain’t ya? This pub’s got a bad reputation, you know.’

‘All the more reason for us to come in then, Dougie, don’t you think?’

Dougie winced slightly.

‘Let me get you, gentlemen, a drink.’ Dougie took out a wad of cash nearly three inches thick and thumbed off a ten-pound note to the bartender.

‘£1.72 please, Doug.’

‘Keep the change.’

‘Thanks, Dougie.’

‘Looking a bit flush today, I see. That for my benefit, is it?’ Stark said.

‘Not at all, we do okay. Anyway, we had a bit of luck at the bookies, didn’t we, Len?’

Len shook his head. ‘Dougie!’

‘Relax, Len. These cowboys don’t mean us no harm, do you?’

Stark turned and faced him head-on. ‘That all depends on whether you’ve been naughty boys, Dougie.’

‘It’s not a crime to get lucky at the bookies. Is it now?’

‘It could be. Are you a betting man, Dougie?’


‘I like a flutter occasionally. Funnily enough, my instincts, my hunches are always right. It looks like it’s the case here too.’

‘Hunches don’t mean too much, though, do they, Inspector. I mean. They’re nice and all that, but they don’t count for much. Not in my experience anyway.’

‘I only have to be lucky once, Doug. You have to be lucky every time, my friend.’

‘That is true. Very…erm, what’s the word?’

‘Astute.’ Stark said, shrugging out a laugh.

‘That’s it. Astute. Me and my brother are big supporters of the law. We like to look after the boys in blue, don’t we, Len? Always very accommodating to the right sort of detective, especially a Detective Inspector. A very useful companion for us. I am a very generous friend. Mr Stark.’

‘Don’t waste your breath, Dougie.’

‘Well, it’s always there. I’m always looking for new friends.’

While this verbal fencing was taking place, Stark was in two minds. Not in the sense that he was uncertain, but he had developed the ability to respond on the surface while hosting a myriad of thoughts in the back of his brain. In this instance, he was simultaneously considering his options. Should they arrest Dougie and Len? They potentially had cash from the bookmakers blagging. What if the notes had Sally’s fingerprints on them to show their origin? It was a bit thin. What about the discharge of the shotgun? One of the brother’s clothes would have cordite traces on them or their hands. But they weren’t dressed in black as described by the witness ringing in. They must have changed. It made sense. What grounds were there to arrest? It would all be on a wing and a prayer, and with the Brown brothers, they needed more than that. It was difficult because, with an armed robbery of cash only, there is little to attach them to the scene or show the origin of the notes. Maybe they still had the shotgun in their car? What car? Which was there’s? Did they come in a car? There was nothing to be gained by arresting them without sufficient evidence and then getting refused at the charging desk. That would be a loss of face. It would piss them off, though.

While Stark was rapidly assessing all these options and questions in his mind, his Detective Sergeant remained in clearer waters, merely considering the best order of persons that he would punch if they started to get too leary.

There was a momentary lull as Stark passed Nobby his pint of beer, and he and his DS took a gulp. Aware that all eyes were on them.

Dougie clicked his fingers at one of the young men and gestured for him to bring his drink over. The lad jumped to it, double-quick and gave it to Dougie with an extended arm and a sort of half-bow.

‘I hear there’s been a bit of noise down at Bernie Squire’s shithole.’ Dougie said.

‘Is that right?’

‘You tell me.’

‘Come off it, Dougie. You know everything that happens on this patch, and nobody would do Bernie without your say so. We both know that.’

‘I think you mistake me for someone else, Mr Stark. What people do is their own business. Nothing to do with me.’

‘Don’t be modest, Dougie, you and Len run the show around here and no one in their right mind shits on your doorstep unless you sanction it first.’

‘Nah. That’s telly stuff. It ain’t real life.’

‘Oh, well, thanks for educating me on that. Fancy me being wrong all these years.’



Stark took another drink of his beer.

‘Most cops see this pub as a no-go area, Mr Stark. You know, a dangerous place to be caught with your pants down.’

One of the youths stood in the doorway, blocking the exit. His eyes were wide. To Nobby's estimation, he was agitated, probably on drugs – twitchy and dilated pupils. He looked ready to kick off, and Nobby shifted the order in his list of people to batter. He was flexible like that.

‘A no-go area? Really? I must have missed that memo. And you will be glad to hear, Douglas, that I wear both belt and braces, so my pants are really secure. Lucky me, huh.’

Dougie laughed. ‘Yeah. Lucky you. Lucky I’m in a good mood.’

Stark raised his hand to his mouth in a fake yawn.

The two men met each other’s stare, and Dougie was surprised at the brass neck of this detective to walk into the middle of his empire without batting an eyelid. He must have a death wish.

The telephone rang at the end of the counter, and the barman answered it in hushed tones.

‘Dougie! It’s for you. It’s Sharon. She sounds upset.’

Dougie took the call, and Nobby and Stark settled at the bar. Nobby was trying to hear the conversation.


‘The supermarket? You’re shitting me!’

‘Are you sure that’s what the doctor said?’

‘Who? I want to know who it is!’

Dougie glanced over at the detectives. ‘Stay there. I’m coming home.’

Whatever the news was, he seemed rattled, and the receiver slid from the cradle as he put it down, and in temper, he pushed it off the bar and left it dangling down.

‘Len, come on. We’ve got to go.’


‘Just, come on, bro.’

The two brothers, complete with entourage, hurried out the bar. Stark spoke as Dougie passed by.

‘See you again soon, Doug.’

He received no reply.

It fell very quiet after the gang had left.

‘That’s better. Some peace and quiet.’ Nobby began to relax at last.

‘Something’s up at the Brown household, Nobby, by the sounds of it.’

‘Yeah, I couldn’t quite hear what was going on, but you’re right. Something is definitely up. Mind you, these low-life fuckers shift from one crisis to another; they thrive on it.’

‘Just another day, Nobby. Anyway, we’ve got work to do. Drink up.’

‘Bloody hell, I was just getting settled.’

Stark threw two-pound notes onto the bar.

‘What’s that for?’ The barman asked.

‘For the two pints.’

‘Yeah, but, Dougie…’

Stark shouted over his shoulder as they left. ‘Keep the change.’

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