Stay Dead

Jessie Keane

Stay Dead

The sixth book in the Annie Carter series, 2016

To Cliff

Yo, Bitch!

What a year, eh?

OMERTA

(The Mafia code of silence)

PROLOGUE

Outside the Shalimar nightclub, London, June 1994

Annie Carter had lived through her fair share of bad days, but this one had to rank among the worst. She had only two close friends in the entire world. One of them had just told her to piss off, and the other one was dead – and that broke her heart in two. She came out on to the pavement fighting back tears, unable to fully believe what was happening to her life. She didn’t know where her husband was, or what he was up to, but visions of naked sweaty limbs and glam young girls danced in her brain day and night, like fairy dust or a gigantic snort of coke.

Added to all that, she had a secret, a big, big secret that she’d been carrying around with her for years. The burden of it was heavy, and terrible. She couldn’t share it with a single living soul. And she feared there was worse to come.

She was coming out of the Shalimar, one of three lap-dancing clubs owned by her husband Max, the other two being the Palermo and the Blue Parrot. She was looking a million dollars because she always did, even when she was feeling like shit. She was wearing a Gucci black skirt suit, white chiffon blouse and Italian-made high-heeled boots, and her long chocolate-brown hair bounced on her shoulders. Even in the depths of emotional torment, Annie Carter took trouble over her appearance, and she’d slicked on red lippy and a flick of black mascara.

Right now, Annie felt like her whole world was caving in on her. People who had once treated her with respect were behaving toward her as if she was diseased, dirty. Ellie and Chris Brown. Steve Taylor. Gary Tooley. Even Tony, who had been first Max’s driver, then hers, and then Dolly Farrell’s.

Maybe they know, whispered a voice in her brain.

The thought of that sent a vicious, bone-deep shudder of dread through her.

No. Impossible.

They couldn’t know.

Could they?

She stood there in the dismal drizzling rain. Summer in England. A bike shot past. Then a long dark car swerved into the pavement with a screech of brakes. Horns tooted, taxi drivers hollered out of their windows and waved their fists. Annie walked on, uncaring, thinking about Dolly, feeling the awful gnawing grief grip her, shutting off the world around her, filling her whole being with blackness. Suddenly there were two big men standing on either side of her and one of them was shoving what felt like a knife into her side.

‘In the car,’ said the one with the knife. She looked up into a big plug-ugly face with a bulbous nose dotted with blackheads, mean piggy eyes and thick curling black eyebrows that met in the middle.

I know you, thought Annie.

He jabbed the knife deeper into her side. ‘Don’t fuck me around,’ he warned.

Annie saw that the other one was shaven-headed, his tanned face pitted with adolescent acne.

‘Do it,’ said Eyebrows.

Annie got in the car, and off they went.

Baldy stopped the motor by a warehouse down by the docks and together him and Eyebrows dragged her out. Annie’s heart was pummelling her ribs like a drum, but she thought the best thing would be to front it out.

‘You don’t know what you’re playing with here,’ she said, gulping and breathless.

Ridiculously, she heard the next phrase coming out of her mouth, a phrase she openly laughed at when it was uttered by politicians, film stars, people who were so far up their own arseholes that they had lost all sense of reality.

‘Do you know who I am?’ she said.

Eyebrows looked at her. Baldy’s face was like stone.

‘Yeah, we know who you are. And what you are too.’

‘I’m warning you-’ started Annie, and Eyebrows slapped her hard across the face.

She flew backward as if shot from a cannon. The stinging pain of the blow was shocking. She tottered unsteadily on her feet and grabbed her face as if checking it was still attached to her head. She couldn’t take it in. This fucker had the nerve to hit her – her, Annie Carter. She drew in a breath. Her eyes were watering. She started to speak again, and Eyebrows came in close and punched her mid-section.

All the breath went from her in one almighty whoosh of exploding air. She fell to the ground and lay there, unable to breathe, her mind in shock, her body clenched, her stomach a fiery ball of agony.

You bastards! You can’t do this! I’m Max Carter’s wife, are you fucking mental…?

Her mouth formed the words but she couldn’t speak. She had no breath to speak with. Groaning, face screwed up in pain, she tried to crawl away, thinking this can’t be happening. Eyebrows kicked her hard in the ribs and there was a snap and unbelievable pain rocketed through her as she felt something give. She went face-down into the muddy gravel, the rain washing her hair into the dirt, covering her clothes with yellow slime.

She was choking, half-vomiting with the anguish of it, crawling, trying feebly to get away. It wasn’t possible. They were following her, both of them. Kicking her in the guts. And in the end it was easier to just stop moving, to just hope that it would end.

It did end, eventually. In this century or the next, she wasn’t sure. But not before she’d passed out; not before she’d prayed for oblivion, even for death, just to make the pain stop.

Help me, she thought.

But no one came.

Oh yes. It was a bad, bad day.

PART ONE

1

February 1994

The calls started late one night, waking Gary Tooley, the manager of the Carter-owned Blue Parrot nightclub, from his peaceful slumbers alongside his latest squeeze, Caroline Wheeler.

‘What the fuck?’ he asked, because actually it wasn’t even late one night, it was early the next morning.

To be precise, it was three o’clock, and he was pissed off to be woken up like this. He’d had a crazy Friday night, punters kicking off and complaining left, right and centre, staff arsing about and people shooting up in the toilets, and all he wanted now was some kip. Was that too much to ask?

Of course Caroline, the idle bitch, didn’t lift a finger to answer the phone. She’d been working the bar a couple of months when they’d started getting friendly, and friendly had quickly turned into fucking the life out of her down in the stockroom, then in the empty bar, then in the cellars, then in bed.

Now here she was, snoring like a hog and taking up most of the quilt. Christ, he would really like his own bed to himself for a change. Caroline was good in the sack – she was even good on the floor - but sometimes all a bloke wanted was some sleep. He leaned over her huddled form and snatched up the phone.

‘What?’ he demanded.

And then came the voice. Female. Foreign accent. But speaking English. Saying that there was a crash, she knew about it, Constantine had planned it.

What the hell? wondered Gary, brain fogged with sleep.

‘Who is this?’ he said, when she’d babbled on for a full five minutes.

There was a long pause. Then a decisive: ‘I am Gina Barolli.’

‘OK. Right. And why are you phoning me in the middle of the night?’

‘You work for the Carter family.’

‘I do. Yeah.’ Gary scrubbed a hand wearily over his face. Caroline snored on, undisturbed.

‘It was all for her. Annie Carter. The crash.’

‘The what?’

‘The plane crash.’

Gary’s attention sharpened. Was the mad old bint talking about the plane crash in the seventies, the one that should have put an end to those mad cunting Irish the Delaneys forever? Sadly, it hadn’t. Redmond Delaney survived. Gary knew all about the plane crash; all the trusted people close to Max Carter did. So what?

‘My brother, Constantine…’ she said, and paused.

‘Yeah. Your brother. What about him?’

‘I’ll tell you everything,’ said the woman, and the line went dead.

That was the first call. And then came others, and that made Gary think. Maybe it was time to cash in on some of this info. Caroline had expensive tastes and he had a bit of a gambling habit, loved the dogs and the horses; a bit more wedge would come in very handy right now. And he knew exactly who he was going to get it from.

2

It was a pity, Redmond Delaney thought, that he’d been ousted as a priest. A real shame, because the priesthood had suited him nicely, given him a standing in the community that he’d missed after being forced to abandon his previous existence as an East End gang leader.

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