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Authors: Paul Cornell

London Falling

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For Caroline, for putting up with me.


































Costain entered the service station and stopped when he saw Quill standing there, not even pretending to look at the chocolate bars displayed in front of him. Costain headed
for the toilets, and Quill immediately followed, as if he didn’t care who noticed. Costain made astonished eye contact with him just before the door, turning to take in the SUVs he’d
left on the forecourt outside, with Mick and Lazlo currently filling up the first two vehicles with diesel. No, nobody was watching. He closed the toilet door behind them.

They stood in the cubicle, with the door bolted: the seat gone, the toilet bowl blocked, everything smelling of shit, a single bulb making it all ghostly white. The cold made their breath bloom
around them.

‘What the fuck is Toshack doing?’ asked Quill. He was speaking too loudly.

‘I don’t know.’

‘“I don’t know,

‘I don’t know,
. Do you want me to recite my rank, nick and surname, too, in case Lazlo pops in for some fags?’

Quill looked affronted, as if a detective sergeant had never talked back to him in his entire life. He seemed to choose his next words carefully and, thankfully, they were closer to a whisper.
‘You know how long it’s been for us lot on Operation Goodfellow? Four years now, from you first getting in with Pa Toil’s gang. And maybe you ought to have stayed in the Toil,
because now you’re in Toshack’s sodding Chelsea tractor, leading this convoy or whatever it is, and him looking as if he might run for an airport any second.’

‘He’s not going to do that.’

‘How do you know, if you don’t even know what he’s doing?’

‘’Cos he’s looking for somebody. He said we’ll be going house to house.’

‘So you
know what he’s doing. But earlier you said you didn’t.’

‘I meant that I don’t know what he’s doing in the wider sense,
Detective Inspector
. I don’t know who he’s looking for – or why. He went off on his own,
and couldn’t find them, came back to the Bermondsey house, decided to take us lot with him. He’s off his head tonight, playing with his guns. He’s been at the supply.’


‘Chisel. Crack.’

– as a little treat on New Year’s Eve?’

‘His first time. Ask the second undercover, if you want.’

‘I don’t want anything unpredictable tonight.’

‘Well, what you

Quill put a finger to Costain’s lips. ‘The top brass are pushing Superintendent Lofthouse to end this right
, understand? Right now,
are the lead UC in the least
successful operation SCD 10 has ever mounted in the capital, and that, my son, is a fucking highly contested honour. The boom is
to come down tonight, or tomorrow or the day after. We
have run out of money and good will, so the bastards are going to settle just for the small fry. Toshack will laugh his arse off at us again, get off any charges brought against him again, and just
a few of his soldiers and toms and lads down the chop shop will get put away, but none of the fucking terrifying ones. The risks you and Sefton have taken for the last four years, and all the
working hours of your comrades back at the nick, will have been basically about
. And if that happens, I will make sure that you
. Now, what do you have to say to

Costain licked his lips.
Oh, piss off
: that’s what he wanted to say.
Don’t you think I can see it coming? You’re setting me up to take the fall for this. You’re
going to burn me anyway
. This fucking insane meeting, with no real excuse for being here, could have been achieved by a brush contact or a dead letter box. And never before had Costain dealt
with a DI in charge of an operation who’d even known what he looked like. He’d been sold the lack of a handler this time on the basis that Lofthouse had her own way of doing things, and
she had been given the freedom to pursue it this way because of all that Toshack had previously got away with. But now Quill was raising the stakes on him, deliberately pushing him. He made himself
take a deep breath, then realized that was a mistake. The coke was roaring through him, putting him in charge, but he knew it made him paranoid too. He had no way any more of telling what was true,
but, looking into Quill’s eyes, he knew he couldn’t trust him. ‘He’s not making a run for the airport.
I know it
. So tell Lofthouse that’s the opinion of the
lead UC.’

‘Sefton’s in there with you, does he share that opinion?’

Why do you want to know?
‘’Course he does. We’ve got a window. In this present state of his, Toshack might start talking about his supply and his connections at any
moment, but while I could be listening, you’ve got me in

‘’Cos you’ve done everything so well already, haven’t you? You’re in his car and you’ve established access like that, but, over four years, the quality of the

‘You think I’ve gone native?’

‘Oh, you don’t catch me out like that, sunshine. I wouldn’t dream of using such ill-considered language to a gentleman of West Indian extraction . . . who’d be on to
Professional Standards like a shot.’

If I had a gun I’d put it on his forehead, see him sweat!
‘I’ve tried to tell you. He doesn’t talk about the bodies he’s dropped, his supply, how he absorbed
the other gangs. When it needs to be done, he goes off on his own and
goes with him. He must hire freelancers, but we’ve never had a sniff of them. There’s been nothing
heard over the lines, and obviously nothing from probably a dozen approaches you haven’t told me about, or you wouldn’t even be here.’

‘Oh yeah.’

‘So why do you think I am at fault, sir?’ He let a little of the Guyanese accent creep in, the way a lot of soldiers did when they wanted to act hard.
Blam! Quill flew back!

‘Because you’re a wrong ’un.’

‘Sefton will have corroborated
of this.’

But, of course, Quill didn’t have a word to say about Sefton. ‘Wrong ’un, I said, and Lofthouse shouldn’t have picked you.’ Quill reached into the pocket of the
enormous old overcoat that smelt of mints, and took out a Nagra tape recorder. A bloody Nagra – last century’s recording device of choice. ‘If I were you, I’d be highly
motivated to grab one last chance.’

Costain considered the device for a long moment. ‘I don’t know when I’d get a chance to switch it on.’

‘Do it now, then.’

. Or else bow your head. Fuck it. Fuck him. Costain dropped his jacket onto the hook on the back of the door, pulled his shirt out of his trousers and reached around to attach the
Nagra to his belt, at his back. He hadn’t used one of these devices in years, but he remembered the awkwardness of them. He found the little hook on top of the recorder, and flicked it to the
On position. Then he tucked his shirt back in and put his jacket back on over it, careful not to touch the hook again. Judges took a dim view of interrupted recordings.

‘I am a serving police officer,’ he said, making eye contact with Quill, who seemed to be wondering if the UC would remember the necessary words, ‘who for the purpose of this
operation will be known as Anthony Blake. I can, should a court require, produce my warrant card. The date is 31 December. The time is twenty-two-oh-four hours, and I have just switched on the

Quill nodded to him. ‘Two hours of tape,’ he said. ‘Last chance – for all of us.’ He unbolted the cubicle door. ‘If the suspect heads for the airport . .
.’ And then, mindful of the recorder, he gestured to Costain and then pointed upwards with a grim little smile.

Then you make sure you go with him.

Costain allowed himself another minute after Quill had left. He splashed freezing water on his face. It made him start panting.
Quill had set him up to fail. He needed a
sacrifice, letting Costain burn. No, no, keep going. Get through it. Work it out.

He walked out on to the freezing forecourt, the warm breath billowing out of his mouth, to the sound of the convoy of SUVs revving their engines. UK Grime beats were pumping out through their
open doors. A sample of the Clash looped in and out: ‘London Calling’
The Asian blokes at the tills were staring worriedly out at them.

Rob Toshack stepped out of the lead car, holding a pistol in his hand. He was beyond caring who saw it.

The Asian blokes dived for cover.

Toshack was red-faced and sweating. He was shivering like an old horse. For a second, Costain wondered if he would find Quill’s corpse lying somewhere out here.

No fear, now. Fear will kill you.
Costain made himself become not the hiding, shameful traitor but the star of this picture. With a dirty great supportive soundtrack blasting from those
cars, and now this guy with a gun, eyeing him worriedly, not betrayed – nowhere near it – just impatient, and a bit lost, high for the first time in his hard protective old life . . .
This guy hadn’t just shot anyone.

‘I was getting worried, Tony,’ Rob Toshack explained. ‘We’re running out of time.’

‘What?’ Costain went over to the door of the lead vehicle and grinned at his boss. The star of this picture, yes, but never appearing melodramatic. Always the class joker, always
relieving the tension that might one day kill him. ‘I was only having a shit.’

They raced through the London night, heading for somewhere on the North Circular, up near Neasden. Mick had to swing the car back and forth, every now and then, to avoid the
potholes. Not much traffic this late on New Year’s Eve. Rob was keeping the SUV so hot inside that everyone was now in shirt-sleeves. Sefton had somehow managed to move himself up into the
lead car, and was now sitting beside Costain. Which was just fucking perfect. The second UC was looking pretend-concerned for Rob, with that round, frigging black children’s
television-presenter face of his. Chill out everybody; let’s all be friends and play a rap music game!

Costain made grudging eye contact with him. He held on to it a moment too long, taking some small pleasure in making Sefton start to react.
Costain turned back to glance at Rob, at
that worried drinker’s face, with something weak and unused about the muscles with which normal folk smiled. That lack of tension connected his loose jowls to those lost eyes. The king of
London, the first ever. Even gangsters of old, like the Krays and the Richardsons, had had to deal with rivals. Toshack had made his money on drugs and brass, miraculous warehouse and container
robbery and high-performance car theft. He was the man for whom it had fallen off the back of that lorry. Or, rather, just vanished from it. It was usually Toshack kit that got auctioned out of
cardboard boxes in empty storefronts in the dead-eyed towns of the south coast.

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