At about the time Bill was calling his parents, a man went into a pub in Edinburgh. He was broad-shouldered, bulky, exquisitely tailored, and obviously deeply annoyed.
“Where is she?” he snapped at the skinny little man behind the bar.
“She’s in the snug. Says to go in. But your goons stay out here.”
“I go nowhere without my bodyguards.”
“So fuck off then” the little man said without any particular heat. As he spoke he brought a sawn-off shotgun out from under the bar, and pointed it at the biggest of the ‘goons’ who had his hand inside his jacket.
He smiled, showing a mouthful of very bad teeth.
“I’m no a very good shot, and I’m worse if I’m nervous. So just keep your hands where I can see them. I’m sure nobody wants a nervous man blasting around with a six-gauge in this confined space.”
Whether or not he would have been obeyed became immaterial as the man with his hand in his pocket gave a queer cough and collapsed. His companions looked down briefly to see a dart sticking out of the side of his neck.
“Double top,” a jeering voice said. As one man they turned their eyes towards a raddled-looking whore and a couple of beefy young men who had moved their attention from the dartboard to the entertainment at the bar. One of the men cracked his knuckles, and the sound it made fell loudly into the now silent room.
“Well then, big man. Are you going in to see herself? Or are you leaving? Choice is yours.’
For a moment the besuited man’s reaction hung in the balance. Then he shrugged.
“Wait here” he snapped then walked through the half glazed door into an almost dark room, where a woman sat nursing a large drink.
“You decided to be sensible then,” she said in a husky half-whisper.
The man ground his teeth together as he visibly fought for control.
“I have business with you.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“My principal is not pleased. We paid you for protection. And what happened?”
She spat accurately between his highly polished shoes.
“You paid me so that the local plod would look the other way, and so that nobody from Edinburgh would interfere with you. I kept my end of the bargain. If you were stupid enough to piss off people from elsewhere who play very rough, that’s your problem.”
He took a step forward and found himself literally looking down the barrel of a very businesslike gun, held in a perfectly steady hand.
“It’s a Glock. And at this range it would actually shoot off your face. I’d quite like to see that.”
The man stood very still. His companion laughed harshly.
“Whatever possessed you to think you’d get away with it?”
“Why not? It was only some Rom kid whose father had annoyed the wrong people. It would have made a change to mix business with pleasure. The little bastard would have screamed for a very long time.”
He licked his lips, then shrugged his heavy shoulders. His hot eyes met the woman’s cold gaze, and he flinched, but he spoke with undiminished arrogance.
“We aren’t here to talk about some brat. I’m here to tell you that my boss isn’t pleased with you. And to explain what the consequences will be if you fail him again…”
“Don’t bother yourself. I have absolutely no interest in anything you might have to say. You are actually here because I have something to say to you.”
The man tensed.
“If you move, I’ll shoot off your testicles. Now. Back off, sit in the chair behind you, and listen.”
He sat, more than a little unnerved by the unwavering eye of the big, black pistol. For a moment there was silence, and the man had to fight an urge to break and run. His tormentor must have seen something in his eyes as she laughed again.
“Testicles” she reminded him. “You are here because there are some people who need to learn what is and is not acceptable. Torturing wains to death comes under is not.”
He opened his mouth and the Glock swung unerringly towards his crotch.
“Unacceptable. Intolerable. So. An example needs to be made. It looks as if you just volunteered.”
He surged from the chair, only to be caught and held fast by two pairs of iron hands.
“Take him away, and do to him what he was going to do to that wee lad. I’ll be interested to know how long he screams for. And when he can scream no more, bleed him out. We’ll be sending his remains to his boss in a body bag and we wouldn’t want it leaking would we?”
“No boss,” the voice was deep and cold, and seemed to be barely masking huge anger.
“We’ll see he feels the full benefit before we tidy him up for transportation.’
“You do that.”
As he was being dragged away the bulky man screwed his head around to look at the woman by the bar.
“You are a dead person walking,” he hissed.
“Aren’t we all you evil bastard. Aren’t we all?”
When the door closed behind her unpleasant guest, the woman at the bar went grey under her make-up, and she seemed to sag on her barstool.
“I’ll have a wee sniff of that oxygen now, if nobody minds. It was a bit of a strain not shooting that creature. Only the knowledge that he needs to suffer stayed my hand.”
A younger woman in a nurse’s uniform came out from behind the bar an put an oxygen mask on the face of her suffering patient.
“Dead person walking indeed… Here, let’s get you back in your wheelchair you stubborn fool.”
A big soft-footed man came quietly into the room. “Bodyguards deceased. Mister X is being taken somewhere where nobody can hear him scream. Now. Will you please go home and rest?”
His boss lifted her oxygen mask.
“Aye. I will. But I want to know how long bigmouth lasts.”
He smiled grimly.