Black Widow

Jessie Keane

Black Widow

The second book in the Annie Carter series, 2009

To Barrie, who would have been so pleased

about it all. And to Molly, Charlie and Sherbert,

my little writing companions, now flying free.

Prologue

1970

Terror filled Charlie ‘The Dip’ Foster’s world.

Charlie had earned his nickname by being a great ‘dipper’-a pickpocket-as a kid. From there he’d graduated with honours to GBH and armed robbery; he’d worked his way up the ranks of the Delaney mob, one of London’s finest, until he was Redmond Delaney’s right-hand man. So he was no fool. He knew he was up shit creek.

Some heavy faces had brought him to Smithfield meat market and he knew he was in it up to his neck.

They were Carter boys.

For the Cockney Carters and the Irish incomers, the Delaneys, the streets of the East End were a war zone. Always had been, always would be.

They’d snatched him; worked him over. Taken him by surprise.

He’d been at his girl’s twenty-first birthday party, key of the door. They’d been bopping the night away; they’d got all amorous and gone outside for a bit of how’s-yer-father, and he’d been caught with his trousers down-literally.

So now here he was.

They’d laughed as they put him up here. Hung him up by his jacket collar from a hook while joking about meat being well hung. Then they’d left him here while they stood around chatting. Killing time. Waiting for something, he thought. Or somebody.

Charlie was a tough bastard but right now he was scared shitless.

It was the noise. The awful noise of that thing coming down on the wooden block.

Charlie’s brain was agile, quick, like his fingers-you didn’t get well up in the mobs without having a few brain cells, but now his mind kept faltering. That noise.

Thunk!

That thing on wood.

Thunk!

Chopping through flesh and bone.

He tried again to get his hands free from their bindings, but failed. He slumped, exhausted.

He dangled there, limp, fearful, worn out. And the smell in here. The stink.

The smell of meat, of death. Pigs’ heads surrounded him, the skin flayed from the flesh. Their eyes stared at him blindly. Sides of beef nudged him, smearing him with blood.

The cleaver came down again and a trotter thumped on to the floor.

Thunk!

Oh God help me, he thought.

He knew he’d done bad things. Hurt people. Robbed people. Bad things. So perhaps God wasn’t listening.

The butcher with the gentle eyes and the bloodstained apron went on chopping patiently away at the meat.

Dead meat, thought Charlie. That’s what I am.

Sweat was dripping from his chin on to the concrete floor, even though it was cold in here.

Gonna die right here, thought Charlie.

But now the boys who had been slumped around, chatting, straightened up and fell silent.

Something was happening.

Someone had arrived.

Now he could see through his stinging eyes that there was a woman approaching. A tall woman, dressed in black.

Dark straight hair falling on to her shoulders and dark green eyes that were just this side of crazy. A real looker. Black coat. Black leather gloves. Like the angel of death.

There was a heavy on either side of her. Known faces. Jimmy Bond, he knew that bastard of old. Jimmy was moving off to the left and watching, his eyes going from the woman to Charlie, back and forth, back and forth.

The woman stopped walking several paces away and stared up at Charlie.

He gulped.

‘You’re Charlie Foster,’ the woman said. Her voice was low and husky. ‘Are you wondering who I am, Charlie? Or do you know?’

Hanging up here was killing him. His head ached, his shoulders were agony. Charlie gulped again, couldn’t speak.

‘I’m Annie Carter,’ she said.

Fuck it, he thought. That’s it. I’m dead.

1

Not for the first time, Phil Fibbert wondered what he was doing out in the arse-end of nowhere with the warming Mediterranean sun on his back as he dangled, strapped on, from the top of the telephone pole. It wasn’t hot, but this was a tricky job and he was soon sweating and cursing.

‘How’s it going?’ shouted up Blondie from below.

Phil glanced down. His calves quivered with effort as he stood braced on the metal struts. Fucking idiot, he’d only just got up here, how did he think it was going? But he bit back a sharp reply. Blondie down there was paying the bills. Plus, the man had mad eyes. There was a funhouse party going on in that guy’s head. Best not to upset him.

‘Okay,’ Phil shouted back.

The girl was down there too, blonde hair, tits to die for, straining against a tight white T-shirt. She was looking up and shielding her baby blues from the glare with upraised arms. He was on a job with a lunatic and a fucking tart, how sensible was that?

But the money.

He kept his mind on the money.

Phil found an unused pair on the cable. This was a simple REMOB or Remote Observation job. Or Tap and Trace, if you wanted it in layman’s terms. He was muscular, squat, powerful, dark haired. His hands were large, dusted with dark hair, the fingers spatulate; but now they worked with the delicacy of a surgeon, fastening on the crocodile clips, setting up the relay. He unravelled the wire and tossed the roll down to Blondie. Then he made his way down the pole, jumping the last four feet and landing in a puff of pink dust. He went to the back of the dirty old van and connected the handset. Then he looked at Blondie.

‘Job done,’ he said. ‘Whatever calls they make, we get to hear them too.’

The tall blond man nodded, satisfied. He looked at the blonde woman. At the dark, muscular man. Their contact had tipped them off, given them the perfect time to strike. That time was now.

‘Are we ready then?’ he asked them, twitching about like always. Couldn’t seem to keep still for a moment.

They nodded.

The blond man reached into the back of the van and pulled out three dark wool hoods. Slits for eyes, a slit for a mouth. He dished them out, pulled his own over his bright straight blond hair. Waited until the other two were similarly concealed. The girl was tugging on a shabby old anorak to hide the tits. She zipped it shut, put the hood up, nodded. Ready.

‘Let the games begin,’ said Blondie, and pulled out the gun.

2

Ten seconds before the pool house exploded, everything at the Majorcan finca was normal. Later, Annie would distinctly remember that. The bay that encircled their hideaway was silent but for the rush and suck of the turquoise sea against the pink-toned rocks far below. Sparrows were drinking at the edge of the pool.

Normal.

Max’s younger brother Jonjo was visiting. Jonjo was sprawled out in bathing trunks on a sunbed, beer belly oiled, torpid in the warming noonday sun. His latest blonde floozy was sprawled beside him in the bottom half of a red bikini. Max was in the heated pool, doing strong overarm laps. Max liked to keep himself fit. Layla was indoors, changing into her swimsuit.

Normal.

Annie would always remember that.

Or as normal as it got, with Jonjo and his blonde-this one was called Jeanette, but there had been so many of them that Annie barely ever registered their names any more-here on a visit. Annie hated Jonjo with a passion, but she never let it show. He treated women like dishrags.

‘Feed ’em, fuck ’em, then forget ’em,’ was Jonjo’s motto.

Annie knew her loathing of Jonjo was mutual. Jonjo hated any woman having any sort of influence on his brother. Most particularly he hated any woman with brains. The Carter boys stood together against the world, and Jonjo saw women-Annie included-as mere embellishments.

Thank God Max had always been different. Max had been her lover, her companion, the father of their daughter. Layla. Her little star. Four years old come May, the apple of her father’s eye. Their beautiful, dark-haired daughter, whom Max adored. When Annie looked into Layla’s face she saw herself there. Her own dark green eyes, not Max’s steely blue ones. Her own straight nose and full lips, and even her own cocoa-brown hair; not Max’s which was black.

Annie had loved Layla obsessively since the moment the Majorcan midwife had laid her, newborn, in her arms. Born out of wedlock, of course, and that had bothered Annie, but only for Layla’s sake.

At that time Max was still married to Ruthie, Annie’s sister, although that marriage had been a non-starter. Mostly Annie’s fault, of course, and she knew it. So she hadn’t complained. But Max had done a wonderful thing for her. He had tracked Ruthie down, got the divorce quickly, and married Annie.

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