CHAPTER 2.

Turning into the flow of traffic, my aim was to hit the A15 southbound and keep going until I'd brought Claire McTeague back home to my boss; her husband. After that, what happened was out of my hands.

The traffic was heavier than I expected along the B1517, known as Grantham Road within Sleaford, but a glance at the dashboard clock told me it was rush hour – or what passes for rush hour in a place like Sleaford. I thought Claire McTeague would cry or argue with me but instead she sat quietly with her hands in her lap just looking out the side window. At least she'd taken off that ridiculous paper cap.

I tuned into the local radio station, BBC Lincolnshire 104.7 FM, just for something, anything, to break the silence between us. All was going well until a beat up builder's van pulled out of a suburban side road, Ancaster Drive, ahead of me. The side panel said 'Hansen and Sons: All Property Renovations' above a cell phone number and untraceable hotmail e-mail address. The van driver stamped on his brakes causing me to pull up suddenly in an abrupt stop that made my seatbelt catch across my chest. Immediately, two men leaped out the back of the van.

At that point I recalled that Wheelan laundered some of his under the counter cash through property development. That and gambling, beauty parlours, restaurants. The usual stuff – any business where cash is king and you can start and close companies at a faster rate than the Inland Revenue or Customs and Excise can follow the paper trail.

Any fool could see what was going down and my mother raised no fools, I can tell you. Immediately I flung the gear stick into reverse. But one glance in the mirror showed there was no easy escape that way. I was blocked by a woman in a Slovakian registered Skoda Octavia. The woman beeped her horn at me. Trust me, madam, if I could get out this situation then I would.

Before I could engage central locking, both doors of the Audi were wrenched open at the same time letting in a chill draught. The two men were what you'd expect. They both had solid muscles built up by working on building sites. They wore paint spattered padded shirts, filthy jeans and rigger boots. One had on a hi-viz jacket, equally dirty. I smelled sweat, tobacco and clay earth.

The man by my door said, "out," as the second man leaned over Claire McTeague's body and unclipped my seat belt. The first then grabbed a fistful of my jacket and hauled me out of the Audi. He then pushed me out of his way towards the waiting van. I stumbled over the pavement unbalanced from the force of his shove. All this took less time to happen than for me to tell you about. They were that good. The man gave me a second push, harder than before, and I toppled into the van's cargo bay. I was out of my Audi and in the back of the van in under a few seconds flat.

The second man ran round the Audi's boot, between my car and the Slovakian Skoda, and dived into the driver's seat – still warm from my body. I saw this just as the first man stepped up to the back of the van and slammed the doors cutting off my view. A slick, almost professional job.

I wondered if the Slovakian woman would blow this incident in to the cops. It's not every day you see someone bundled out of their car and into the back of a van. I thought it depended on how good her English was.

As soon as the rear doors slammed shut the van driver dropped the handbrake and shot forwards. I sat up on the cargo area's floor. My suit was ruined now from the mud and cement dust on the floor of the van. But all the same, I brushed some of the worst off with my hands.

"Think about it. You're making a big mistake here, Riordan," I called forward through a small hatch into the driver's cabin. "You're going to seriously annoy McTeague. You sure that's what you want to do?"

"Shut up, Hennessy," Riordan said.

"That goes for you, too," I called up to the driver. I didn't know his name.

Riordan made a fist. So I shut up.

The van turned around in the next road we came to, and then headed back east to the centre of Sleaford. The traffic was even heavier now but as the van swung around I saw my Audi still following us. We carried on through the town centre past the still open shops. I knew where we were going. Wheelan's crib. No surprises there.

I felt the change beneath me as the van's tyres rumbled over Wheelan's brick driveway but the driver didn't pull up in front of the house. Instead, we drove past the side of the mock Tudor where there was a range of brick outbuildings. The van stopped.

Riordan told me to get out. It was good to jump down from that cluttered, stinking van but my immediate future didn't look much better at this point. No point my shouting as Wheelan's house was a fair way from any neighbours and surrounded by thick tree-lined hedges. I looked around at the businessman's extensive gardens. There were some children's toys out on the lawns.

"In there," Riordan said, pointing to a shed that looked like it had doubled as an old wartime air-raid shelter in its time.

I stepped into its dank, gloomy interior. The shed was empty of anything useful. There were a couple of children's bicycles with pink tassels dangling from the handlebars leaning against the wall next to a skateboard. A deflated paddling pool, half filled with enough footballs to supply the Premier League. There was a broken basketball hoop and a folded up table tennis table. Like I say, nothing obviously useful like a baseball bat so unless I wanted to play some sports whilst I waited I was stuffed.

Riordan shut the door behind me and I heard the key turn as he padlocked it. The only light came from an arrow-slit window far too narrow for me to climb out of. I set up the skateboard and sat down on it and waited as the light outside faded to night.

I waited. I was good at waiting.

Later, when I was cold and hungry, I heard footsteps and then the key inserted in the padlock. By the time the door creaked open on rusted hinges I was standing on the balls of my feet and waiting for them.

Riordan stepped back from the door and Wheelan took his place. But he didn't enter the brick shed. Very wise.

Security lights on the side and rear of his house lit the scene with a harsh, brilliant glare that made the shadows even deeper and darker. I must have been standing in pitch blackness to Wheelan.

The so-called businessman wore a navy polo shirt with some logo on the breast pocket and khaki chinos. Wheelan was tall – six two, something like that – and his arms had gym honed muscles. Although only in his early to mid thirties, he was already balding so he'd taken to shaving all his head. In my opinion this was a mistake as it made his ears appear to stick out further from his head than they did.

Behind Wheelan was Riordan and the other man from the man. The one who'd driven my Audi. Wheelan glanced back to his two thugs.

"Let's send a message back to McTeague. But I want Hennessy's message to reach my old boss – not the hospital or the morgue. You with me?" he said to them.

Riordan cracked his knuckles. At that point I heard Claire McTeague call out from the big house. Wheelan turned away and crossed the patio area back to the kitchen.

Riordan cracked his knuckles again, waiting for his boss to leave.

"I don't like hittin'...," Riordan said, pushing forward. That was all he managed to say before I kicked him square in the balls. Hard and faster than a striking rattlesnake. Riordan gasped and bent forward, the stuffing knocked out of him. Just the opening I was looking for. I karate chopped him straight in the throat, smashing his voice-box against his spine. His hands didn't know what to do – go for his crushed testicles or his neck. Ultimately, that was his problem to work out and deal with. Not mine. Riordan collapsed on the floor making strange, strangulated sounds.

Only one man at a time could enter the shed. The other stepped over Riordan's twitching body, his fist drawn back ready to pulverise me. Some men never learn. I grabbed his arm, drawing him deeper into the darkened interior. He swung wildly but had no real idea where I was. Using his extended arm, I slammed him into the brick wall. I pounded a quick one-two into his kidneys before the man pushed away.

He started to turn as I knew he must. I hooked a leg around his calf, pushed my hip into his; twisted and turned and the man staggered and almost fell. I must admit I had a little luck at this point. But you use what fate hands out. As he stumbled forwards, he trod on the skateboard, lost his balance and fell forwards. I pushed him down, helping him on his way until gravity took over and he fell. I heard a crash as he hit the concrete floor. I picked up the folded table tennis table and smashed it down on the man's head. I heard a sickening crunch. A second blow finished the job.

I couldn't see my watch in the dark but if the fight had lasted more than fifteen seconds I was losing my touch.

Feeling glad to leave the shed, I stepped out into the night air. The padlock was still dangling from its hasp so I locked them in and threw the key as far as I could into the bushes. I didn't see it fall.

Keeping to the pitch black shadows, I jogged around the side of the house. I heard Wheelan gobbing off to someone on the phone. My Audi was still out on the driveway, near the double garage. Its keys were still in the ignition. I suppose Wheelan's aim was to leave me just capable of driving back to McTeague's. With my face messed up, minus most of my teeth, a broken nose, cracked ribs and pissing blood from my kidneys for the next week or so.

That was the message Wheelan wanted to send – that nobody messes with him.

Not wanting the hood to know I'd gone, I didn't switch on the Audi's lights until I had driven out of Wheelan's and was back on the road. What had just happened made me think. Wheelan must be feeling supremely confident if he thought he could take McTeague's woman for his own and give me a beating. Confidence racing over the dial towards arrogance.

Like I say, I was still hungry so I drove out of Sleaford until I saw the golden arches above a drive-thru shining bright in the Lincolnshire darkness. I say I gave my order to the Pole working the window but the guy might have been a Lithuanian for all I know. He spoke as much English as I speak Polish. Or Lithuanian.

Eventually, I collected my food, drove round the back of the restaurant out of sight of the road. Behind the parking lot, the flat empty Lincolnshire fields stretched all the way to the North Sea. The wind blew against the side of my car but inside I felt all warm and secure inside like I was snug in a cocoon. The burgers filled my Audi with savoury aromas increasing my hunger ten-fold. Hungry like a wolf, I tore the paper bags open and ate. The hot, greasy food hit the spot. As I was on my own I belched long and loud after I finished. I smiled to myself. You can't do that in polite company.

After eating, I wadded the paper and polystyrene and tossed the bundle in the trash on my way over to the rest rooms. There I washed my face and brushed down my dirty suit under the driers and tried to make myself look presentable at least. Someone who followed me in with their toddler in tow looked at me strangely as I tidied myself up. They were glad when I'd finished, I think. If it wasn't for the quality of my suit I must have looked like someone with mental health issues to them.

Next to the drive-thru was a 24 hour garage with a mini-mart attached. With what I was going to make happen later tonight; there was no way I wanted my face appearing on any CCTV cameras. So I slipped my oversize grey hooded chain store sweatshirt over my jacket before driving across to the garage and filling up my Audi's tank. It covered my face nicely. No way could anyone I.D. me now.

After replacing the black nozzle I walked into the mini-mart to pay. At this hour, there wasn't much happening but I sort of guessed I could walk in at any hour and there wouldn't be much happening. I strolled along the aisles and picked up a few things from off the shelves I'd need later tonight.

Like you, I think it's amazing that these places stock so much booze. Haven't people heard there's laws against drinking and driving? All the same I bought half a dozen bottles of cheap white wine – the sort of stuff only one step above the industrial cider the park bench alkies drink – a box of super absorbent extra large Tampax tampons, mints and a lighter. The woman behind the glassed in counter gave me a funny, sympathetic look as she bagged them all up.

Reaching into my pocket, I paid using a credit card that had been cloned from one of Wheelan's, of course. It seemed appropriate in a way – making Wheelan pay for the devastation coming his way. After all, he should never have taken Claire McTeague. He must have known what would come his way.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. What about my vehicle numberplates? They'd be recorded by the CCTV cameras. Except they were cloned plates, of course. After the ordure hit the air conditioning unit, some poor Audi driving woman in Sutton Coldfield; a pillar of the community no doubt – have you noticed they always are? – was going to lose a few hours of her life being sweated in some basement police cell until the cops established her innocence. She'd probably look back on the experience as the high spot of her year. It would give her something to talk about at her no doubt mind numbing dinner parties. Makes a change from talking about house prices, stable fees or her kids' private schools.

I drove back to the diner's car park and stopped furthest away from the glassed-in building. One of the security lights was out and that part of the tarmac expanse was almost as dark as the field on the other side of the wire fence. Getting out, I noticed the wind had got up and blew in a flat whine over the field and it cut though my clothes.

Crossing to the nearest drain, I poured away the cheap plonk. You didn't think I'd drink it, did you? I then unlocked the gas tank before pushing a length of plastic tubing into the tank. Grimacing with disgust at the foul taste and stink as I sucked petrol into my mouth, I then siphoned off enough gasoline to fill the six bottles. I then stuck the tampons into the bottles' necks. They make great wicks. It took most of the tube of mints to mask the petrochemical taste filling my mouth.

Then I carefully put my Molotovs in the passenger footwell and covered them from view. Not that anyone was likely to see them in the darkness in the middle of nowhere.

Once again, I used the rest rooms in the diner. One of the Polish or Lithuanian girls recognised me as I left and gave me a look as we passed but really, what interest is someone lucky to scrape by on the minimum wage and doesn't speak the language too well expected to take? Why should they care if someone uses their boss's nearly empty parking lot to crash out for a few hours during the night? I nodded to the girl as she entered the Ladies in turn.

Back in my Audi I set my cell phone's alarm, pushed the seat all the way down, wrapped myself up in my hoodie and fell into a thin doze for a few hours.