The opening scene of my novella, Scrutiny on the Bounty, which is the starter for my Mad Bill series. Order it here
WILLIAM realised something was wrong as soon as he came in and saw his secretary wasn’t at her desk near the front door. Miss Jones always told him if she had to go out.
When he saw two silhouettes through the frosted glass of his office, he stormed past the empty reception desk and flung open the office door.
William was going to give them a piece of his mind. What in the blazes did they think they were doing in there without permission? But when he saw the size of the men, his words came out in the same manner he might offer directions to a lost tourist. ‘Can I help you?’
The men both wore suits that looked two sizes small. Second thoughts, perhaps the men were two sizes too big. The one who looked like a weightlifter gone to seed was leaning back in William’s leather chair and blowing smoke rings from a cigar, the lankier one was standing near the window scrunching a piece of paper into a ball with his huge hands.
‘Come in, but shut the door. It’s freezing in here.’
His accent was American. He sucked on his cigar, and made a series of O shapes with his mouth, which sent more little puffs of smoke into the air which hadn’t been polluted by tobacco fumes like this since William’s father had occupied the office.
This was Hobart, Tasmania in 1974, hardly the place and time you’d expect to find gangsters.
But everyone knew the opening of Australia’s first legal casino in Sandy Bay some months before would come to no good. The wagons were circling, and not a cowboy nor Indian was in sight, only large swaggering men in dark suits, dark shirts, dark hats and white ties.
‘I figured you’d look different.’
‘Different?’ William felt awkward standing in the middle of his own office still in his overcoat. He wanted to cough but suppressed the urge.
The American didn’t seem to mind he was making him feel uncomfortable. ‘I thought you’d stink of expensive after-shave, be better dressed and be much taller. Is it right they call you The Magician? Because I gotta say you look more like a ventriloquist’s dummy to me?’
William’s voice came out all squeaky. ‘How did you know I do magic?’ He didn’t usually talk like that, but he usually felt more in control of situations so was less nervous.
‘You can make things go away?’ The man in the chair snapped his fingers. ‘Like that? Am I right?’
‘Rabbits, mainly.’ William looked at the man. Actually it was his black shirt he was looking at. Did they even sell that neck size off the rack or were his shirts all tailor-made? ‘I do tricks in my spare time.’
The intruders exchanged looks, and smirked.
The man in the chair looked at his watch and blew out a stream of smoke like he didn’t have the patience to produce smoke rings any more.
He looked around and settled on William’s tea mug to flick ash into. It was William’s father’s old mug, which William had inherited with the business after his father had died on these very premises. William tried not to show emotion as he watched it being used as an ashtray.
The weightlifter sighed. ‘You’ll have to do. The boss is due in court soon. Take a seat, Charlie McCarthy.’
William turned and pointed to the back-to-front image of a name stencilled on the glass panel at the top of the door. ‘I thought you would have seen my name when you came in. William Clarin.’
‘Yeah, yeah. We know who you are. The boss is calling in your services. Shaddup and sit down.’
‘I can’t.’ William said. ‘You’re in my seat.’
The American pointed to one of the empty seats on the other side of the desk. ‘Why can’t you sit there?’
‘He can’t sit there, Benny,’ the other man said. ‘He’ll be in my line of sight.’ Just then, a flying paper ball grazed the rim of the waste-paper basket beside the desk before falling on to the rug.
Benny raised his voice. ‘How many times do you need to miss, Luigi, before you get it into your thick skull you ain’t no Wilt Chamberlain!’
Luigi stormed over and grabbed another legal document from the in-tray and started pounding it into a ball as William sat down tentatively. ‘Yeah?’ He went back to the imaginary three-point line by the window. ‘You think I can’t shoot over his head?’
‘We’re here to talk business, goddamnit.’
William’s eyes were watery from all the smoke trapped in the room. He ought to open the window but he sensed these men wouldn’t appreciate a blast of frigid air that had blown up from the Antarctic.
Benny leaned back further in the chair and as he did so his coat opened just far enough for William to get a glimpse of a revolver in a holster.
‘You help us, we help you. Capiche?’
The lawyer cleared his throat and tried to sound more authoritative. ‘What kind of trouble does your boss find himself in?’
‘What can I say? He likes to take the wheel.’
William smiled weakly, and reached over to pick a pad up from the desk. He took a pen out from his shirt pocket and started writing. ‘If he was involved in an accident, I’m sure the lawyer I’m recommending to you can make that charge go away easily.’
Benny looked darkly at him. ‘The boss was very specific. He wants you to represent him. Anyway, it weren’t no accident. That other stupid bum was driving on the wrong side of the road.’
William’s false smile disappeared. ‘You do know we drive on the left side of the road in Australia?’
‘Do you?’ Benny frowned. ‘Really? That just ain’t right. What’s wrong with you Aussies? Everyone here have death wishes?’
‘Please don’t tell me he killed the other motorist? Because I’d definitely be out of my depth if that’s the case.’
He sucked the end of his pen. ‘Hmm, now who is the best barrister I know who’ll take on homicide cases?’
‘Looks like you’re in luck then because the boss didn’t kill him, not yet anyway.’ Benny took a final puff, and stubbed out the cigar butt on the inside of the mug. The stub made a ssssssss noise as it sank into the Robur dregs. ‘Both drivers saw each other in plenty of time and slowed down to a crawl. But it was a matter of principle for the boss. Why should he move when that jerk kept coming straight at him?’
‘Let me guess?’ William rolled his eyes. ‘The cars collided.’
Benny cleared his throat noisily and looked around as if he were looking for a place to spit. It’s probably why he started talking like he had a mouthful of marbles. Probably green ones made from saliva. ‘I’ve seen worse damage on bumper cars at fairgrounds. Lucky for the other guy, Luigi and me didn’t have time to lay a glove on him because two cops saw the whole thing and issued the boss with a summons to front the court. And that’s why we’re here.’
William was trying to choose diplomatic words to tell the gangsters they really did need to find themselves a proper mob lawyer when Luigi cried: ‘Fuck.’
When something slammed into William’s right ear, he realised he might have heard that wrong.
‘Will you cut it out,’ Benny growled.
‘It’s not my fault. I did warn him to duck.’
‘Quit messing about.’ Benny looked at William and smiled. ‘I’m sorry about that.’ The smile turned sinister. ‘You know anything about body language, Charlie?’
William clutched his ear. ‘Body language? No. What are you talking about?’
Benny kept smiling at him. ‘In our line of work, I guess it’s an important skill. It helps us to read people. Capiche? I gotta say I don’t like your body language.’
‘Is it that noticeable?’ William inspected his hand for blood.
Benny nodded, and then he thumped the desk, which made the cup shatter and spill its contents. The soggy butt landed in the in-tray and lava streams of cold tea and ash snaked out in three directions. ‘Although I can’t condone Luigi’s behaviour, it does serve as a warning if you’re unwilling to help us with this one little thing, the next warning shot to the head is gunna hurt a lot more.’
Benny rose and buttoned his coat, and walked around the desk, pausing to spit into the rubbish bin. He looked William in the eye. ‘See you in Court Number Three at 2.15pm. Don’t be late. Or else!’ He aimed a finger at his head and pulled it back like he was pulling a trigger. ‘Bang, bang.’
This novella is now on preorder at Amazon for release on February 28, 2018. It’s the first in my Mad Bill series. Order it here