Bill Bailey

Author, Actor



In the third novel of the Haug Quintet the action roars from London to an Eagle's Nest in the Rockies and to Washington DC as the British opposition joins with its American counterpart. The Secretary of State is implicated in the murder of a whistleblower in the pharmaceutical industry. The President himself is swept up in the turbulent action as this resistance to the sinister Community of Association - spearhead of the global cartel of multinational companies - is very nearly demolished. Beautiful Jennifer Montgomery sets out on a secret mission that leads to her personal degradation, while in England Haug makes dubious alliances with the largest and most dangerous gang in London. The hellish depravity and destruction of the finale threatens to skewer every hope as global profit engulfs the world in a mudslide of lunatic greed.



D O W N L O A D  T H I S  E X T R A C T


R O L L I N G     T H U N D E R
B I L L   B A I L E Y

Chapter One


Late Fall...

Jimmy Service stepped out of the Transit van into the freezing night air and clenched his teeth as he looked at the huddled figures around the tiny fire. The dim dancing light cast slow moving shadows on the concrete walls. There were no street lights under the arches. The South Bank Arches. And, later on, after the fire went out, it would be much darker. And colder. Lonelier, too. The luckier ones had found boxes big enough to crawl into, while others used thick layers of cardboard as insulation from the cold, hard surface. Tonight the wind was blowing, and Service tucked in his scarf, zipping up his leather jacket as a chill rose slowly from his feet and gripped his bones. Memories seeped up from their deep burial ground, black and bitter. He stamped his feet and walked slowly towards the fire, jamming his hands into the warm pockets of his jacket.

Several of the figures around the fire stared at him with a mixture of fear and hatred and resentment as he approached them, the heels of his handmade Italian boots clicking on the pavement as he walked. The huddled men and women looked at the approaching man and smelled money. They also sensed danger as well. There was something about the way the man held himself as he walked, moving his shoulders loosely, almost aggressively. They saw he wasn't a big man. But you don't have to be big to be dangerous.

'What the fuck do you want?' one man shouted at Service from the shadows. 'Just slumming on your way to the opera?'

A man sitting near the fire wrapped in a stinking blanket wheeled toward Service as he walked into their circle. He turned his alcohol-red, whiskered face up toward the stranger and held out his hand. 'Any loose change, mate?'

Service glanced down at the man in the blanket and noticed one of his eyes was damaged by a cataract. He ignored the request as he looked from face to face around the fire. There were older ones, like the man below him with his hand out, but many were youngsters, rejects from broken or poverty stricken homes all over Britain. They came to London hoping their fortune would change. It did. It usually changed for the worse.

There was a woman sitting against the wall on a thin mattress, a pink kerchief round her head. Bleached blond hair sprung out from the edge of the kerchief in dirty coils. The woman was in her early forties. She had her knees drawn up to her chest and was holding a can of Special Brew in her hand. The woman was not looking at Service. Instead she stared off into the middle distance, lost in earlier memories.

'Hello, Julie,' Service said softly.

The woman looked slowly towards him and stared for a moment. 'Well, I'm buggered. Scotch Jimmy.'

She got up slowly, still clutching her can of Special Brew, and walked towards the man who had spoken to her. With her other hand she tucked a stray curl back into the kerchief. As she moved she could hear other voices in the darkness. 'It's Jimmy. Scotch Jimmy's back. Who? Jimmy! I told you about him! Scotch Jimmy. You remember!'

Julie looked into Jimmy's ice blue eyes and nodded her head, smiling. 'Looking good, Jimmy. Good to see you, love.' She reached out and touched his leather jacket. 'Oooo. That looks expensive.'

'You can have it, if you want,' Service said quietly.

She laughed and took a pull from the can. Then she shook her head. 'Always were generous, Jimmy. But you know what would happen, eh? Some bugger'd kick my head in and take the coat. Lucky to get through the night with it. No, you keep it. Look good in it. Very fit. Healthy.'

He looked toward the fire. 'How are you, Julie?'

She snorted and pulled her old wool coat tighter around her thin body. 'Well. You know. It's the same. Don't get any better. I heard about you, Jimmy. Heard you'd done well.'

'Yeah,' he said turning back to her. 'A little luck.'

'So,' she replied. 'You just here for a visit? Come to see your old friends?' She waved the arm holding the can. 'Some of the same ones still here. George. Dusty. Kev and Sally. Tinsel Pete. Tarty Trace...'

They had pushed around the fire, those who knew Scotch Jimmy from the old days. He leaned across and shook their hands, some in fingerless knitted gloves, some bare and dirty and horny.

As he shook hands he could feel the distance between them grow. They were deferential, grinning sheepishly. Yet they were also proud they knew him and the rest did not. It gave them something. Not much, but even small things were valuable when people had nothing.

Service turned back to Julie and jerked his head in the direction of the van. 'I brought you some stuff. Meant to do it a long time ago, but I've been busy.'

'I knew you wouldn't forget, Jim,' she said. 'That's what I kept telling 'em.' She turned to Tinsel Pete. 'Didn't I? Didn't I tell you?'

Service had turned and was walking back towards the Transit. The small crowd followed him in strict pecking order. Those who knew Scotch Jimmy were first, those who didn't came after.

He opened the rear doors and turned on the interior light. He pulled out a large space heater and lit it. It roared to life, and the warmth was immediate. It seemed to warm the frosty air all around them, almost as if they were in a heated room. The crowd gathered around, all of them trying to peer inside the van. Clothes were stacked on one side. Trousers, a few dresses, body warmers, good quality insulated anoraks, gloves...and shoes. Of course they went for the shoes and boots first. Jimmy Service knew they would. He made them be orderly about it, explaining there were plenty for everyone. Julie and Dusty handed the stuff out, pushing back those who tried to grab or force their way into the front or come back for seconds. Then there were sleeping bags. Not used. Brand new and expensive and warm looking. Service knew a lot of the gear would be gone by tomorrow night, stolen or lost or bartered for drink or money. It didn't matter. It would still be circulating amongst the people who needed it.

When the clothes and bedding had been sorted out, Service pulled an insulated locker down to the back of the Transit and opened it. It was full of hot pizza in individual cartons and fish and chips. The fish and chips came from the best fryer in North London, and the pizza had been ordered from a West End restaurant he used and liked himself. As the smell of the food drifted out of the van, there was almost a riot as the beggars pushed forward, hunger overcoming their tenuous self discipline.

Jimmy Service stepped between the mob and the van but didn't raise his voice. 'There's more than enough for everyone here, lads. One at a time. Like a caff. Or I'll close the van up and take it away.'

'He will, too,' Julie said quickly.

'There's more of us than him,' a surly voice cried from the rear.

Dusty laughed shortly. 'You don't know Scotch Jimmy, mate. Queue up.'

They grumbled, and there was still some pushing and shoving, but they formed an uneven queue as the food was handed out. Service jumped up into the van and pushed two crates of beer toward the back. Then he leapt down and put them on the ground, one on top of the other.

'Your Special Brew, Julie,' he murmured. 'You take a couple extra. The rest gets divided fairly.'

She had her mouth full of pizza but threw one arm around his neck. 'Oh, I love you, Jimmy!'

'Yeah,' he said and kissed her on the cheek. 'You saved my life once, you old bag.'

Julie bridled in mock anger. 'Who you calling an old bag?'

He smiled for the first time as he watched the crowd sitting on their new clothes around the space heater, stuffing their mouths with pizza and fish and chips. Dusty handed out the beer as several ragged cheers went up. Service leaned against the van door and watched them. Inevitably his eyes drifted back to Julie. He had thought about her often, hoping she was well, hoping she was still alive. In fact he felt damned guilty. But he had been so busy. So much pressure. So much business.

Julie - he didn't know her last name - had saved his life. He had been down from Glasgow for only ten days when he was flattened with the worst case of flu he ever had in his life. It was cold, like this night, but wet, too. While he lay shivering with chattering teeth, somebody stole his blanket. Just pulled it off him. And his boots went, too. But he was too ill to stand, nevermind fight. He could remember trying to get to his hands and knees, cursing the men who robbed him. That's when he got the boot in the face. Unconsciously his tongue went to his two front teeth. He only had them capped later. When he could finally afford it. Julie was younger then. Seven years younger, he thought with another pang of guilt, nearly eight. She gave him a blanket, a small extra one she used for a pillow, and made him drink some of her Special Brew.

During the night, though, he got worse. Chills wracked his body, and he began to hallucinate. The concrete walls danced with demons, and there were bright balls of orange fire bursting on the vaulted ceiling above. At some point he recalled being dragged on his cardboard. It was Julie. She moved his bed closer to hers. Then she was wiping his face and forehead, alternately crooning to him and swearing softly. Finally she tookher own coat off and threw it on him and then her cardigan. Cradling his head in her arms, she pressed her warm body against his shivering one. Even to this day Jimmy Service could remember the feeling of that warmth. He had put his arms round her like a baby, hugging her to him, so desperate was he for the heat in her body. It was a long, long night. He couldn't remember sleeping, but he may have dozed off a few times before dawn.

The following day Julie carried and dragged him to the casualty department of the local hospital. He was taken in immediately and put into a sweet warm bed. One of the doctors informed him later he was only a whisker away from death when they brought him in.

When he returned to the streets he always shared his takings with Julie. He also protected her. When word got round he had tracked down and killed both men who robbed him that night, Julie's belongings no longer disappeared, and she was treated with respect. For it was soon known Scotch Jimmy was not to be crossed. He was built with piano wire and was as quick as a mongoose, afraid of nothing, not even the police. Two coppers were once kicking Julie awake for sport, laughing and saying they wouldn't fuck her with each other's dicks, when Jimmy pounced on them like an ocelot, leaving the two policemen with broken faces. They had to hide for weeks after that incident, but his reputation grew amongst the homeless of the City.

Jimmy Service shook his head as he watched Julie eating her pizza and finishing another can of Special Brew. They had made love, too. She was a little older than him and taught him something about sex. The gentleness of foreplay, waiting until your partner matched your excitement, whispered humour - and playfulness. Before Julie he simply got a woman's knickers down and plunged in. When finished, he went to sleep. Now he remembered just how much Julie had helped him and how valuable it had been for him.

He turned away from the crowd toward the darkness and fetched a roll of fifty pound notes from his pocket, peeling off six of them which he folded and palmed. Then he turned around and called her name.

She came over, putting the last bite of pizza in her mouth before washing it down with the beer.

'You're going now, aren't you, Jimmy?' she asked as she wiped her greasy hand on her coat.

He reached for the hand, squeezed it gently and could see her respond with her eyes to the feel of the pound notes. But he held on to her as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his card with his other hand. 'Get in touch, hen, if you need anything. I mean anything. A place to stay. A flat, a house...'

Julie smiled sadly and shook her head. 'You know me, Jimmy. Too much of this...' She held up the hand holding the Special Brew. 'And the smack. I've tried. I can't...'

He stuffed the card into her top pocket. 'Yeah, well, whatever, Julie. I'm sorry it's been so long. I didnae forget. Call me when you need something. Or get any aggravation. You know...'

As he released her hand, he felt her fingers claw away the notes. He leaned over and kissed her forehead under the fading coils of hair before turning to switch off the space heater without another word. He threw the heater into the van and slammed the doors, then walked briskly to the cab and got in. As he drove away he could see her waving the can of Special Brew in the rearview mirror. He tooted his horn. The whole area was now strewn with empty pizza boxes and fish and chips papers.

Driving back through the City into North London, Jimmy Service shuffled through the deck of his past again. He had begun earlier that evening as he sat in his sitting room with a glass of tonic water craving a real drink. The television had been shit as he flipped through the channels, and he was in no mood to answer the telephone. Every few minutes it rang, but he left the answerphone to take the messages. He had started thinking about the present, and the present led him back to the past. Finally he went out, loading up the transit again to look for Julie. How many times had he been out already? It was never a wasted trip. Every group was glad to see the clothes and food. It was the second time he had tried the South Bank Arches, and finally he had found her.

He hadn't seen her since he went to prison but knew she was still alive because faces he had known told him she was.

He had left her one morning, angry that she shot up first thing before breakfast. Angry at how she had got the money, lifting her dress at Kings Cross. He had gone to his pitch on Waterloo Bridge, one of the best in London during the rush hours. A few coins had dropped into his cap when the bastard stopped in front of him. Service looked up slowly. Expensive and highly polished shoes. Dark grey flannel cut by expert tailors. A gold Rolex on the wrist holding the briefcase, the other hand holding an umbrella. Cold grey eyes, a lot lighter than the flannel, set into a pasty face over thin sneering lips. His voice cut through the morning air like a axe.

'Why don't you get a job!' It wasn't a question. It was a statement. By a voice which must have carried all the way to Waterloo Station.

'Why don't you go fuck yourself?' the Glaswegian responded aggressively.

With a snarl the man in grey flannel hooked the tip of his umbrella into Service's cap and flipped it smartly into the Thames.

'Now get out of here,' grey flannel said. 'Off with you. Bloody beggars everywhere these days. Damned if I...'

He never finished because Scotch Jimmy had snatched the umbrella away and had broken it over the head of the man with the loud, plummy accent. Then he swiftly grabbed the lapels of his expensive jacket and headbutted the man as hard as he could. The pasty face exploded as the man sagged to his knees. Service then kicked him as hard as he could in the ribs, and as he rolled over, kicked him again in the head. He was so angry he wasn't even aware of the unmarked police car which had pulled up at the kerb. He wasn't aware of anything else at all except the bleeding bastard on the pavement and his overwhelming hatred of him and his kind. Until the three English policemen jumped on his back. He continued to fight, though, and the coppers had to call for help. Within minutes a waggon arrived, and they swarmed all over him. All the way to the nick he was beaten and punched and kicked with his hands handcuffed behind him. He kicked back, though. He butted them. He bit. He kneed. The waggon rocked from side to side as the unequal struggle raged on inside. He was carried into the station unconscious. When he woke up they came for him again in the cell, six big ones. He fought without hands and almost without vision, as his eyes were closing up. He fought until he again lost consciousness. When he woke they were there once more. This time he could hardly see at all, but he still butted and kneed and kicked and bit with his remaining teeth. They threw a mattress over him and jumped up and down on him. When they took the mattress off, he spat in the face of the copper who leaned forward to gloat. Regaining consciousness again, he found his hands free but noticed his right forearm was bent. Broken. So he shat on the floor and threw it at them with his left hand when they came at him the next time. For Jimmy Service that morning, war had broken out between him and the world. Or that part of it which had plenty and guarded that plenty with apes who tried to break him. But the coppers only broke his bones, and he was extremely happy to hear at his trial that he had sent five of the buggers to hospital during the first battle in his war.

He got two years. They had asked for a lot more, but the judge was a Scotsman. Maybe that helped. Service was not unintelligent, and he did not want to spend his life in prison by continuing his war against the screws. So he kept his mouth shut and did what he was asked, never argued, never complained. He didn't mix much with the other inmates at first, either, not more than he had to. There was another Glaswegian in Parkhurst at the time, one he knew by reputation because he came from the same part of Anderstown. Callum Douglas. In fact he discovered he was Callum's second cousin when they first spoke. Callum was older, about forty and took Jimmy Service aside to give him some advice, like a father. Service listened and didn't say much, and Callum seemed to approve of that. The word had already circulated about his form, how he had put five coppers in the hospital, and his own injuries were still evident.

Callum Douglas was a hard man and had arrived in London ten years earlier. The London firms often used Glaswegians for their soldiers, especially for hits, and Callum was serving twenty years for murder. He worked for a North London firm, which was mainly the Harris family, the biggest in the city.

Meeting Douglas was the beginning of Jimmy Service's luck. Luck was a feature of life he had never encountered before. Luck was one of those things he read about, something had by other people. But it was the only reason he hitch hiked to London. In fairy stories a lad put his belongings into a handkerchief, tied it to a pole, put it over his shoulder and walked out to seek his fortune. Jimmy Service wasn't looking for a fortune, just a little luck. He had always been good with his fists on the streets of Anderstown, and he knew how to use a razor, too. And his feet or a lump of wood or half brick. His father had given him worse beatings than the one he got from the London police. They didn't know anything about real violence. The weekends at home had been the worst times. Their flat was one of the 'modern' ones put up in the sixties after they razed the Gorbals. It was on the fourteenth floor and was bad every day of the week. On the weekends it became an inferno. Both father and mother stayed drunk from six o'clock on Fridays to Monday mornings - that was when his father had work. When he didn't it was even more foul. The inferno extended to the whole week. Jimmy was the middle child of three, and his two sisters probably got the worst of things. When he was younger he never knew why they were alternately dragged screaming into his father's bedroom late at night, but he soon found out.

When Jimmy was fourteen he began to fight back. In fact he had always fought back and had been bounced around every room of the flat for his efforts. But adolescence brought something of adult strength as testosterone began to surge through his body. In a hellish fight one Sunday evening he bit clean through the first joint of his father's little finger and spat the bloody tip in his face. Even then he didn't win the fight, but he made his mark. His father was more wary after that. His mum, Sylvie, got the same as the kids, of course. First the verbal abuse, closely followed by the physical.

Their flat was a horrible damp and smelly home. Wallpaper peeled from the outer walls, and the plaster was soft and coloured grey and green by bacteria usually found at the bottom of dirty aquariums. There was only half a carpet left in the so-called sitting room, and it stank of stale beer, tobacco and vomit. It wasn't a flat. It was a pigsty. And it certainly wasn't a home. It was a place to leave.

Service was trying to avoid getting too deep into villainy by coming to London. After all, that was the only recourse open to an ambitious young man with little education, no trade and little hope. There seemed to be little point in either education or learning a trade because there was no work to be had when you finished your training. No work meant no money. No money meant misery. That left robbery or drugs.

Service had read a few books and watched television. He wanted something else, something better. Maybe in London he could find work on a building site. They were always building in London, weren't they? It was a huge city, and the English would never allow London to go the same way as Glasgow, would they? Find a building site, maybe even apprentice to a bricklayer or chippie for a while, if he could make enough to live on. He knew he was bright. That was one reason he wanted to get away from the scene in Anderstown. His friends were so dumb, all going the same way his father had gone. Grab a girl, get her pregnant, find a poxy flat, sign on the dole and drink your way through life. If you needed money, take it off somebody weaker who had more.

Callum Douglas was different, though. He was a steely little man with slits for eyes and straight thinning black hair brushed straight back. He spoke quietly with a sense of authority. Not like his father at all. And he had respect from the other cons, that was obvious. Jimmy Service liked him. Although he kept to himself most of the time, he found he was listening to Douglas when he spoke to the other inmates. The older man never bragged. That impressed Service. He never talked about what he did, his past or his exploits. He had a group of English friends, but Service didn't know who they were or whether or not they were important. Douglas didn't introduce them at first.

But Jimmy Service kept his eyes open and his mouth shut. He found prison a strange place, but later discovered it was much like 'normal' society. In other words there were layers. Clusters of groups, some big, some small. At the head of the groups were the guvnors, two or three men who gave the commands and decided the pecking order. Directly beneath the guvnors were the cronies who organised the third layer of fetchers and gatherers. If there was trouble, the cronies usually supplied the muscle.

And Service slowly became aware that trouble was brewing. He was young, he didn't know why, but he was raised on the streets. When you're raised on the streets you gain a nose for these things. That's how you survived. He amused himself by trying to sort out the protagonists, and it wasn't easy. Trouble, particularly in a prison, is a very difficult thing to spot. The screws were far too stupid. It was a subtle thing. Little electric currents rippling along under the surface. There was nothing so blatant as verbal aggression, curses or threats. Basically, it was a matter of eyes and silences. As certain people walked in certain areas or passed certain other people, they would create a minute silence, like a bow wave. Just before a man or group of men entered a room there would be the normal buzz of conversation. As the new group carried on through the room the buzz would rupture just in front of their movement and close up behind them. Eyes would flick and flicker between the occupying force and the intruders and between members of each group. Messages were being passed, threats or warnings were made and taken up or rejected or ignored - yet not a word was usually spoken. If there were words, they were normal ones - greetings, grunts, maybe even a bit of humour.

One of these groups included Callum Douglas, but Service could easily see Callum was not the leader, the guvnor. That was a slightly younger man, a Londoner, whose name was John Wilson. Wilson was a likeable enough fellow, quite popular amongst most of the other inmates. He was generous, too, because he was one of the inmates who had plenty of everything. Tobacco, extra food, alcohol, dope, you name it. Wilson palmed him an eighth ounce of hash once after Callum introduced them. It was good, very strong. Service liked dope better than booze. No, that wasn't really true. He liked whiskey alright, loved it. But he knew it made him crazy, just like his father. One drink made him want more, and then more and more and more. Invariably he blacked out and never knew where he'd been or what he'd done. Dope relaxed him, and he was more in control when he smoked. He was determined not to become what his father had become. An animal, less - much less - than a man, an evil jumble of anger and resentment and hatred, steeped and pickled in alcohol.

Often when violence erupts it is when you least expect it. Most people are never prepared, and even hard men are taken by surprise sometimes. Hard men are hard because they trust nothing. They are ready at any time to attack to the right or left, lash out and strike first if there is any doubt at all. Their trademark is giving 'lessons'. Anyone surviving an attack by a hard man would remember his 'lesson' for the rest of his life - through his injuries.

It couldn't have been planned. Therefore it was opportunistic. Jimmy Service was the only one in the toilet at the time and had just finished combing his hair. His mind had drifted back to the horrors of his parents' flat. By comparison, he thought, prison was heaven.

The three men entered through the door quietly and quickly, and just as quickly knives were drawn by two of them. In an instant one of the men spotted Service, comb stopped in mid air. The villain's look was very, very clear. It said: Stay where you are, and you don't see anything.

A moment later John Wilson came through the door to retrieve his tobacco - alone. No one was with him, which was strange and unusual. Later Service discovered Wilson had suddenly remembered, spun away and darted back to the toilet. The three men waiting in ambush obviously guessed where Wilson was going and reacted instantly. It was their chance.

When Wilson entered a number of things happened at once. The three men turned their eyes toward their victim. Wilson immediately realised he had walked into a trap. And Jimmy Service launched himself like a missile from a catapult. As the blade of the first knife flicked forward toward the unprotected midriff of Wilson, the Glaswegian's foot caught the bottom of the forearm with such force the homemade knife hit the ceiling and shattered into two pieces. The second knife was redirected towards Jimmy Service. It would have done a lot of damage if the Scotsman had not been moving so quickly. The tip sliced only the air between his rib cage and arm before beginning to turn back inwards. But by that time Jimmy Service had given his opponent a big Glasgow kiss, and the attacker dropped his knife to put both hands to his smashed face.

Meanwhile John Wilson had swiftly and silently finished off the first knifeman by burying his shoe in his groin. By that time, of course, Callum Douglas was through the door. The third man, alas, was caught by Douglas and quickly taught a 'lesson'. Wilson grabbed Jimmy Service and hustled him through the door, both of them immediately surrounded by Wilson's group. Everything was relaxed, as if nothing had happened. A moment later Douglas joined them, handing Jimmy his comb and Wilson his tobacco. An outside observer would never have known anything unusual had happened, so relaxed and natural was the denouement. From the beginning to the end not more than twenty five seconds had passed on the overhead clock. The other cons did not look at them any differently than before. They were just part of the crowd, talking quietly and walking down the corridor for their breakfast.

Running a little late, Service had been in the toilet by accident. That accident and his immediate and successful defence of John Wilson laid the cornerstone for his escape. Not from prison. From his past and his present. From the primaeval mud of society, the layer below which you cannot go. The layer of society from which few escape without assistance. This layer exists in every country, even the richest. The people in this layer have nothing and own nothing. No property, no food, no care, no prospects, no hope and no confidence. You cannot take anything else from these people, except their lives, because everything else is gone. Under other circumstances Jimmy Service may have slid along this slimy underside of society until drink and poor food and exposure killed him. Of course it is possible he could have had another kind of luck. Like someone offering him a job, then working his way up to become foreman, then manager of a vibrant business. With another kind of luck he may have become a responsible citizen, owning his own car and his own house with honest money, maybe even voting Conservative. However, that kind of luck was even more unlikely than the kind he fell into by accident. That sort of luck was almost fairy godmother luck. In fact, when you looked at it logically, it was more circumstance than luck. Entering prison he met Callum Douglas and discovered Callum was a cousin who worked for one of the most important men in the London criminal community. But even before that Service was primed and the fuse was set. Though bright, he was poor. He was a hard streetfighter. And he had no prospects at all. Ignite the blue touchpaper with match. So perhaps it had nothing to do with luck.

John Wilson was the son of Rita Harris Wilson. Harris meant North London. There were two families south of the river and one in the East End, but of all the London families Harris was the biggest and most powerful. By circumstance or by luck Jimmy Service had been in the right place at the right time to save the life of the number two in the Harris family. It was a foregone conclusion that Service now stepped directly through the front door of the North London 'firm'. Without further discussion, his hat was on the nail. John Wilson never thanked Jimmy with words. He thanked him with action. For the first time in his life he felt an unaccustomed warmth. The cloak of security. He was now under the protection of John Wilson and his firm and found that protection gave him a powerful new status in prison. And Service also had things. He was given an easy job. A nice radio/cassette player appeared by his bedside, and the bed linen was changed by another man. There was plenty of tobacco, plenty of dope and, if he had wanted it, plenty of alcohol. Suddenly life was much easier for Jimmy Service.

Service's own reaction was as important as anything else. Taking his cue from Callum he did not talk about what he had done in the toilet. During the subsequent prison investigation of the three damaged attackers, Service handled himself cooly. No one grassed, of course, not even the injured men. The Harris crowd was suspected, but no evidence was found nor was any information offered. Ranks closed around the incident, and the screws gazed at a sea of blank faces. The underworld had its own system of justice, and this was being carried out much more efficiently than the one imposed from above. Outside the prison attacks were made by the North London firm on the East London one. Reprisals were carried out and lessons taught. Like many disputes between firms, this one originated over a woman. Sex and jealousy were more destabilising than boundary disputes and conflicts of interests.

As far as Jimmy Service was concerned, a judgment had been made by the firm: he was staunch. In other words he could be trusted, he would not grass, he understood the code of conduct, he was loyal and he kept his mouth shut. A new recruit had been taken on - and, as eyes darted back and forth and heads nodded - it was a fine choice.

After his release from Parkhurst, the rise of Jimmy Service in the Harris firm was nothing short of meteoric. Not only was he extremely quick with his hands and feet, he was also a quick learner. He had a good and cool eye, along with a fabulous memory. All these things certainly helped, but what made him more valuable than anything was his judgment. He was a natural tactical player. He thought things through fully rather than let his emotions carry him along into disaster. Often on tricky inter-firm tangles, his advice was sought, and many times matters were settled amicably which otherwise would have been expensive in terms of assets and personnel. Operations were planned and carried out with great efficiency, from robberies of banks and security firms to the burgeoning drug business. It was not so much that villains approved of drugs. But the turnover was rapid and the cashflow was a torrent. The downside of the drug trade was that sentences were longer if the operation was blown out.

Less than three years after Jimmy Service left prison he was a millionaire. The next year he trebled it, and the following year it doubled. In nearly six years Service rose from Cardboard City and begging on Waterloo Bridge to a gilded life in London's underground. It happens to only a few. But it happens.

Service pulled the Transit into his driveway and turned off the lights, leaving the engine running and Capital Radio playing softly as background music more than anything else. Drumming his fingers on the wheel he stared at his reflection on the windscreen. The lean face was beginning to set with a few slight lines of age. His curly brown hair had a reddish tinge he always hated and he kept it cut short. He gazed at his own eyes for a moment before turning out the dash lights. He exhaled deeply.

Do we have a choice in life? he thought. Would I have chosen to do what I am doing if I sat down at the age of fourteen and leafed through an almanac of possible careers? Alternatively, can I choose not to do it now that I am doing it? Am I capable of changing course? Could I back out of the firm, take the money and retire to, say, Cornwall? Or Greece? But what would I do? I'm only thirty five years old, and you have to do something. Maybe get a car dealership, that was popular. Or a pub.

Some people enjoyed the excitement of villainy, the powerful flow of adrenalin before a job, the anticipation of making a really big score. For others it was the respect they gained amongst their peers. But for Jimmy Service it was something entirely different. Family. The community was close knit and interlocking, something he had never experienced before. However, now that he had found it, he didn't want to let it go for anything. He felt wanted and needed. For the first time in his life he had value. No one else in the firm would have guessed Service's tightly wound hardness was coiled round such a vulnerable soft centre. He seldom confided in anyone and kept his own counsel unless he had something to say.

He stared from his darkened van parked at the front door of the house he had paid for with pound notes. He could turn his back on that house without batting an eye. And the van and car. And walk away from more money than he ever thought existed. What he could not turn away from was the family, the Harris Family, the people he depended on, who depended on him. Thinking about it made him glow inside with a warmth that was palpable, like a strong drink of whiskey.

No, he couldn't leave, not really. Yes, he did have the choice. Theoretically. The world was full of theoretical choices, but there were seldom many real ones. At least that was the way Jimmy Service looked at life.

He put his hand on the handle and opened the door, stepped out of the van briskly and locked it. He was thinking too much recently and wondered if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Putting his hands in his pockets, he stood for a moment breathing the cold air deeply. Julie. Yeah, she did look like an old bag now. But he realised he had a lot of affection for her. She had been kind to him for no reason many years ago. Saved his life. She taught him with gentle giggles how to make love properly. Julie wasn't shit to be smeared on the pavement and forgotten, was she? Why did people do that? How did it happen?

He fumbled for his house key as he walked slowly up the path towards the door, his head down. Well, he thought, I didn't make this world. I didn't say Let There Be Light. It's not my doing. I'm not the one to right the wrongs, either.

'What am I fucking talking about,' he said out loud as he put the key in the door. 'Look after yourself, Jimmy. You'll have enough to do without worrying about every other poor bastard who finds himself overboard in a choppy sea of shit.'