Michael Caine’s new novel
When Dave looked back and remembered seeing the box for the first time, he could have sworn it had been glowing. Well, he couldn’t be sure. He was a bit hazy about the whole thing, truth be told, what with the concussion, the general commotion and the state of his nerves in general. But that’s what his memory told him: a sort of low glimmering around the edges of the black metal.
Even now, in a lumpy hospital bed, waiting for the X-ray and the results of other tests the doctors were a bit vaguer about, he couldn’t quite piece it together.
The whole thing made next to no sense, especially the speed – and the violence – with which it had all happened.
One minute, he was making a phone call. The next, he was woken up by half of uniformed London, asking him again and again if he was okay and if could he tell them, just once more, please, sir, what exactly he had found and how.
Dave looked down at the frayed gown they had put him in: the usual embarrassing hospital uniform; the drab spotted pattern barely visible in the grey-white fabric.
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All he knew for certain was that somebody, somehow, was using a hammer drill inside his skull – or at least that’s what it felt like – and that, whatever he and Terry had stumbled into that morning was, somehow or other, for someone somewhere, very bad news indeed.
As Dave had told any number of coppers – uniformed at first, then in hazmat gear, and finally in suits – it had been a day like any other.
He had arrived at the hut at 8am as usual, got a brew on, and waited for Terry, who always turned up at ten past eight on the dot. When it came to hauling a beam of timber or a loose headboard off the back of an open truck, most of the job was lifting and sorting. Heaving stuff from open-backed lorries and Transits into the dump and then – after a fashion – putting everything into the right pile, ready for “recycling”.
This was what the council rules required, though Dave had never seen much evidence of the half-hearted sifting and categorising making any difference. The piles got bigger, the world turned, and nothing much changed.
The dump was five minutes’ walk from Stepney High Street and surrounded on three sides by old warehouses, two of which were being converted for office use.
The other side, next to the road, was hemmed in by a 20-foot-high chicken wire fence, with a gate big enough to allow vehicles to reverse, and a few fake CCTV cameras to put off tramps and druggies.
Very occasionally, somebody made it over the top and was found sleeping their previous evening off on a decaying Chesterfield sofa under a tarpaulin. More often, they found stuff that had been hurled over the top in the night. Fly-tipping. Big sacks of noxious garbage. Smaller items of furniture or household tat.
Rotten meat, fish, fruit and veg dumped by market-stall traders or restaurant staff on their way home. On those days, you really needed your face mask. That morning, Dave set off on his quick tour of the site, leaving Terry engrossed by a row on talkSPORT between Laura Woods and Ally McCoist about Spurs.
Stepping out of the hut, Dave was struck by what a lovely morning it was turning out to be: the sky cloudless and resolutely blue, but with a nice breeze cooling his brow as he trudged through the rubble, rust and ruin. Over by what amounted to the site’s compost heap – a hillock of soil, decaying plants and vegetation that stunk to high heaven in the summer – was a metal box. That was definitely a fresh arrival and an odd overnight discovery on several levels.
First, there was its size: a big suitcase, or a small packing case, depending upon your point of view. It looked like it was made of black steel, or something similar; scuffed, as if it had been on a bit of a journey. Heavy-looking, anyway. Much too heavy to have been chucked over the fence and reached this far into the site.
Second: when he took a closer look, he could see that much of the metal was covered in rows of letters, numbers, and what he could only assume were coded symbols of some kind. Not the alphabet, anyhow. Every edge was plastered with circular markings that indicated some kind of warning – toxic? Poisonous? None of it added up.
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They had special places for this sort of stuff, didn’t they? Like 600 feet underground. Third: it was completely sealed.
He tried flipping it over onto the other side and was surprised by its sheer weight as it tumbled with a menacing thump to the ground. Whatever was inside – if anything was inside – was not meant to be easily accessible, to say the least.
What could it possibly be? No bloody idea. None at all. What happened next mostly eluded Dave as he lay on his hospital bed and tried to remember. Having called the police, they were back in the hut, that much he recalled, and sipping their teas. And then, in his peripheral vision, something outside, a blur – fast, determined, heading towards them pitilessly. Next, the hut door smashed open and there was a flurry of violent activity. He did remember a figure in a black balaclava hitting Terry hard on the head, interrupting the protest forming in his throat.
And just as Dave was himself saying: “What the f**k?”, an arm came around his neck and a ferocious blow struck his temple that was both intensely painful and completely disorienting. But before he could absorb and think about how painful and disorienting it was, much less ask whoever was doing it to stop, another haymaker hit its mark. Then everything was blackness.
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Harry Taylor was trying to have a lie-in for (he reckoned) the first time in six weeks. Not that he felt he’d earned it. If there was one thing he hated, it was unfinished business.
And last night definitely qualified for that bloody annoying category – and then some. It made his bad leg ache. Every time he closed his eyes, he heard the whistle of bullets and the hiss of smoke grenades. The shouting of angry and wounded men, and the whine of an SUV speeding away. Chaos. A f**ked-up operation, in short.
For almost a year, he and his team had been chasing a seriously high-value target: the Crick Syndicate. The third-generation London villains ran a decent slice of protection, prostitution and narcotics in the capital. Two brothers, Lionel and “Sweety” Ray, and a younger sister, Bren, had turned the old-fashioned cockney firm into an international going concern that you could probably list on the stock exchange. But, after God knows how many arrests over the years, not one of the three had been charged, much less sent down.
True, a few of their lieutenants, well down the food chain, were already doing time at His Majesty’s pleasure, but an organisation like the Cricks’ could afford to lose a few junior bosses now and then, as long as they didn’t squeal.
Which they never did. And that, as Harry had told his superiors at New Scotland Yard time and time again, was no bloody good. His years as a soldier had taught him that to kill a target – a gang, a team of assassins, a rogue state – you had to aim for the head. Clean decapitation.
The top brass, having spoken to their political masters, had finally given Harry the green light. The Crick temple was to be brought crashing to the ground, by all and any legal means available. “Clean the stables, DCI Taylor,” said one assistant commissioner with an eye on a headline, not to mention the top job at the Met.
Sir Michael Caine has written his first novel
Easier said than done, of course. The operation had involved many, many months of round-the-clock surveillance (both real-world and digital), as well as hours of painstaking trawling of documents and databases.
Then three strands had converged: a tip that a helicopter and private jet had been chartered, very discreetly, at the last minute, to take a group from “Furnival Commodities” from Monaco to Nice, and then on to London City. Furnival, it transpired, was a shell company formally owned by two Parisian lawyers but, in reality, according to Five, a front for Crick operations.
Second, the National Crime Agency had mid-grade intelligence that there was going to be some sort of auction in London, with interested parties from the underworld, or their most trusted representatives, allegedly converging upon the capital to inspect the lot, whatever it was, and bid for it.
No further information on what “it” was, or who was coming, but it made the Cricks’ apparent snap visit to town more interesting. What were they after, and who might they be bidding against?
And third, a corrupt customs officer had spilled the beans about a large shipment of high-quality heroin due to be shipped in a container to Dover the following day.
He was in on the deal for £50,000 – to clear his gambling debts – in return for which he had to do everything in his power to get the goods across the border. It should have been the chance to catch the Cricks… instead, the operation had turned into a confused shoot-out that left two dead.
No sleep in Afghanistan
Harry got up and stretched. Touched his toes with gratifying ease and checked the state of play in the mirror by the bed. Not too bad, all things considered. He had turned 45 a month before and, though he admitted this to nobody, he was starting to feel it.
Not exactly losing a pace just yet, he sensed nonetheless that he might do so quite soon. The aches and pains of the job were taking a little longer to get over than they used to.
Even so, he could still get by just fine on three or four hours a night: exactly as he had when it was his turn to grab some kip during an op in Helmand.
Though he’d never slept properly when he was in Afghanistan. If you knew what was good for you, you kept one eye open for the Taliban blade that would – and did – come flashing in the night.
No room for mistakes against that lot. And no room for mistakes when your adversaries were as brutal as the Cricks. And yet, that had him wondering. Were the mistakes of the night before his fault? As Harry sat on his bed, he saw only failure. All three Cricks still at large and unlikely to stick their head above the parapet anytime soon. And a young copper taken out in a messy firefight. The stables had not been cleaned.
It was a f***ing mess, and that was on him. His phone rang at 10am, and he immediately recognised the voice on the other end of the line. “All right, sleeping beauty?’ said DCS Bill Robinson. “Thought you might have a cushy one today, did you?”
“It had crossed my mind, guv, yes,” Harry mumbled. “Well, forget it. Get your arse into work now.” He was about to ring off but added, “Oh, and Harry?”
“Yeah?” “It might be an idea to check the news on your way in.”
© Michael Caine 2023. Extracted by Matt Nixson from Deadly Game by Michael Caine, published by Hodder priced £20. To order, visit expressbookshop.com or call 020 3176 3832. Free UK P&P on orders over £25