Authors: Gerald Seymour
'I think I can live with that - yes . . . '
It was, Henry Arbuthnot thought, a moment of almost classical symbolism - not that Dubbs would have noticed, and certainly not Albert William Packer.
The words marked the transfer of power.
.. Yes -1 don't have a difficulty with what you're suggesting. You'll not find a problem with me.'
The man sidled out of the room. They heard his footsteps scramble down the steep staircase. The door on to the street slammed shut and there was the noise of a powerful car accelerating away, then the quiet that was broken only by the rumble of the machines spinning in the launderette below. It was a fine afternoon in early winter and the windows of the first-floor room were open. The launderette was always busy on a Friday and the motion of the machines shook the room above, making the dust from the files and the leatherbound books dance in the light. The room was seldom cleaned. Arbuthnot rarely used a vacuum cleaner, and he would never have allowed casual staff into his office.
Three men had come that day to visit the premises rented by Henry Arbuthnot, Solicitor at Law. He had expected a fourth visitor until he had noticed the cuffs of Albert William Packer's shirt where they peeped out from under his jacket sleeves. There was blood on them, still rich red, not yet darkened with age. It was fresh, and the fourth visitor was conspicuous by his absence.
Three men had come, and had pledged that their commercial activities would in no way impinge on the business dealings of his employer. The transference of such power - the granting by rivals of control of the capital city - should have been celebrated with a good bottle of Veuve Clicquot, but that would have offended his employer. Dubbs swung his shoes off the table and grinned then slapped the employer's back.
Arbuthnot offered a pudgy hand that was held, squeezed, and dropped. There was no triumphalism.
Flanked by his accountant and his solicitor, Packer had listened as three men, shuffling and mumbling, had acknowledged his superiority.
'Good as gold, weren't they?' Dubbs's little voice trilled in the shadowed office. 'Well, that's it, isn't it?
We run London. We got there - we got to the top of the tree . . . I do the money, he does the law and keeps us clean, and you do what you do best - keep the business flowing . . . A day to remember.'
And that was it. That was the end of the moment of victory.
A short, heavily built, florid-faced balding man, Arbuthnot - three days short of his forty-first birthday
- took the opportunity to reflect that he was now the legal representative of a man who exercised supreme power with chilling ruthlessness. Not that day, but in a week or a fortnight, he would find the opportunity to raise the question of increased remuneration with his employer. He thought he was now worth a minimum of a fifty per cent hike. Cheap at the price. His job for nearly twenty years had been to keep that employer's liberty intact, and he had no doubt that he had the skills to accomplish the same role in the future, but then the stakes would be higher.
He rubbed his hands together and smiled wanly. He knew what he should say, but it would be a cold douse for the others, and he hesitated.
He looked at Dubbs. Couldn't stand the little bastard. His mind raced. He thought Dubbs a chimpanzee with a fresh banana. Dubbs's grin split his narrow lips. But just as an employer of status needed a legal adviser, so he needed a totally trust-worthy man to mind his assets, and they were considerable. Dubbs was short, slight, sallow and neat, and his hair, probably dyed, fell lank on his forehead. He smelt of a pungent body lotion. He wouldn't have invited Dubbs, common little creature, across the threshold of his home, however acute the need. But as he was brilliant in his understanding of the law, so Dubbs was expert in his manipulation of money.
They were both, the solicitor and the accountant, of equal importance to their employer, and though their dislike of each other was mutual, it was hidden, suppressed.
His glance roved on until it rested on the face of his employer. Albert William Packer's appearance was ordinary. His was of medium height and medium build, his hair was carefully cut, his hands were neither heavy nor lightweight, his clothes were . . .
Arbuthnot looked away. His employer did not like to be stared at, and always focused his eyes on the target who watched him. A cobra's eyes, Arbuthnot thought.
If he had ever been asked, and he sincerely hoped he never would be, to help in the creation of a photo-fit image of Packer, he would have concentrated on the eyes as the only distinguishing feature of the man.
The brutality that had taken his employer to the top of the heap was in those eyes. They never ceased to frighten him.
'What I'd like to say, before you both leave, Crime Squad and the Church, they'll hear soon enough about the new order of things. I would urge a period of consolidation, nothing flash too soon. Build on what we have, then expand. Sort of one step at a time.
Great caution should be exercised . . . ' Arbuthnot looked at the mouth, not the eyes ' . . . because, from today, they will chuck at you every resource they can muster. You are, now, their Target One.'
Dubbs giggled, but Packer was silent, merely gave a wintry little smile.
The meeting was concluded.
Arbuthnot escorted them to the street, watched as they checked for tails, went through the basic but thorough counter-surveillance drills, and they were gone, Dubbs turning right on the pavement, Packer going left. Slowly, because they were steep and the carpet was threadbare and loose, Arbuthnot mounted the stairs. He was trembling and his knees were weak.
It took him an age to get back to his office. His client was now the king of the capital's criminal world. And he felt its implications keenly. He had made a pact with the Devil: he was Faust.
When would the Devil come for him?
He had sold his soul for wealth. Back in his office, he used a grubby handkerchief to wipe off the table the smears from the heels of Dubbs's shoes, and then he moved back the chair that Packer had used, lifted it from behind the desk to its usual place against a bank of shelves that bent under the weight of legal texts.
There was a knock at the door and his clerk brought in a tray to clear away the coffee cups and the water jug, left him the evening newspaper, and backed out respectfully. He had attached himself, voluntarily, to serious money. He picked up the newspaper . . .
Margaret Thatcher had left Downing Street that day
. . . The Iron Lady was gone with a tear in her eye, usurped in a palace coup . .. Vicious, but bloodless?
He turned the pages. That transference of power was of secondary importance to the one that had been played out in his small office. He found the news item.
A man from south-east London had been discovered in the early hours of the morning in Epping Forest. His legs had been severed by what police believed to have been a chain-saw. Death was due to shock and blood loss, a Scotland Yard spokesman had said, and added that the murder was assumed to have been a further atrocity in the capital's current gang-land turf war.
He put the newspaper in his brimming wastepaper bin.
In his mind, he recited,
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike, The Devil will come, and Faustus must be damned.
Not today - not tomorrow, old cocker - not ever. He was entwined with Albert William Packer. Packer was a clever bastard, the top man. Packer would look after him. Of course he would . . . The light was slipping.
The room seemed darker.
When dawn came, the body was snagged in the branches of a tree. Not that it was easily recognizable as a corpse.
In spite of the foreigners' alternate pleading, threatening, and throwing money at the city's municipal authorities, refuse collection had again broken down.
In many of the streets back from the river rubbish was piled high outside business premises and at the doors of the old apartment blocks. The residents of the blocks facing the river, not believing that the dispute between the foreigners who nominally ran the city's affairs and local officials was about to be settled, had taken to heaving their plastic bags into the water. The body was wedged between two plastic bags, and was disguised.
The tree, holding it fast, was marooned on a spit of gravel half-way between two of the bridges straddling the river. One bridge was overlooked by the scaffolded and screened building where the National Library of historic documents without price had been housed before being hit by incendiary shells, and the second bridge marked the position taken by Gavrilo Princep eighty-seven years earlier in the moments before he had raised a handgun and fired the bullets that killed an archduke and an archduchess, and con-demned Europe to a conflagration of a scale unknown before.
The roads running either side of the Miljacka river
- the Obala Kulina bana on the north side, and the Obala isa-bega Isakovica on the south side - were already jammed with cars, vans, lorries and the foreigners' military jeeps and trucks. No driver had time to waste peering down into the river to notice the tree. Pedestrians crowded the bridges, smoking and hurrying, gossiping and continuing last night's arguments, and none of them, young or elderly, paused to stop and stand against the rush of movement to look down at the mud-brown water, the spit of gravel and the tree beached on it. As they had in the recent siege of the city, people hurried to complete their journey.
To linger and look around them had been to court death; for four years the city had been called the most dangerous place on earth and habits of survival died hard, but now the tide of inhumanity washed on other more distant shores: Dili in East Timor, and Grozny, and Mitrovica in Kosovo.
There had been five successive bright spring days over the city. The piled snow banks on the pavements beside the river, compacted by bulldozers in the winter months, were finally dribbling away. High above the city, dominating it, where the siege guns had been sited with a clear view of the river, the bridges and the streets, the ski slopes were melting.
Mountain streams seeking escape into the Miljacka cascaded down steep escarpments, and the river running through the heart of the city swelled and rose.
Its force grew. As the early rush of foot-sloggers and vehicles thinned, the strength of the water's flow lifted the body sufficiently for it to break free of the tree's branches.
There was nothing romantic or noble about the Miljacka. It was not a Thames or a Seine, a Tiber or a Danube; perhaps that was why none had bothered to stop and gaze down at its movement. Flanked with concrete and stone bank walls, fifty paces wide, if measured by a man who had a good stride and had not lost a leg in the shelling, broken up by weirs, it was more of a dirty drain than a majestic waterway.
As it continued its journey down-river, the body was sometimes submerged, caught in powerful deep currents, sometimes swirled to the surface before it was again dragged down and sometimes just the buttocks of the dark grey trousers protruded above the water.
There was no dignity for the body as it was taken through the unseeing city.
Behind him, he heard the scrape of the spy hatch being opened, then the clatter as it was dropped on its hinge against the outside of the door. He didn't look up.
Packer. Cappuccino. Two measures of sugar, granulated and brown.'
He pushed himself off the floor, wiped the dust from the knees of his trousers and went to the cell door. He reached out and took the polystyrene beaker from the hand stretched through the hatch. He didn't thank the prison officer for bringing him the coffee, with two measures of sugar, but then he hadn't asked for it to be brought him, not that day or on any of the days that he had been in the Central Criminal Court.
He smiled briefly, as if that were sufficient indication of his gratitude. He could see the prison officer's face through the hatch, the blinking eyes and the flash of teeth, and he knew that his smile had been sufficient to lighten the stupid bastard's day. He understood why he was brought coffee, why this and others of the stupid bastards apologized to him for the dirt in the cell and the state of the toilet, and why they always grimaced when they put the handcuffs on him before leading him back to the wagon for the evening journey to HMP Brixton. They were all, every last one of them, frightened of him. They feared that he would remember rudeness, sarcasm, a sneer, and they thought he would have a good memory. They also knew that he could find out where they lived, what car they drove, where their women worked, at the snap of a finger. His reputation went before him. More importantly, he was going to walk, as certain as night follows day, and they all knew it. He was always brought coffee with sugar from their canteen when he was first put in the holding cell before being escorted up to Number 7 Court, and at the lunch recess, and in the evening after the court had risen and before he was loaded into the wagon.