When down on his luck used car salesman Charlie Gittings takes a lady for a test drive he’s swept away for a roller coaster crime ride through the streets of South London.
Then there’s old time Met detective Mitch Morgan hunting the brutal killer of a girl washed up from the Thames in a case dubbed by the media “the mermaid murder.”
Down river, a veteran robber is tooling up for one last spectacular job.
And deeper into the badlands, an inmate is on the run from Belmarsh high security prison, bent on revenge.
As their paths cross, shocking secrets from the past come back to haunt them. And suddenly the Southbank explodes in a whirlwind of treachery, murder and mayhem. It’s time for The Reckoning!!
Award winning crime writer Roger Busby, best known for his drugs war trilogy The Hunter, Snowman and Crackshot, is back on the beat with a sizzling cops and robbers thriller. “His policemen are as real as your next door neighbours,” HRF Keating, The Times
Charlie saw the tyre kicker come down the Old Kent Road swinging her Jimmy Choo Saba bag, the sun turning her blonde hair into a golden halo which picked her out from the usual street scene south of the river. He’d happened to look out of the window of the office on Smokey Motors lot where he worked as a commission only used car salesman when he first caught sight of her. The next time he glanced up from the litter of paperwork on his desk she was coming onto the lot, inspecting the orange sunbursts in the windscreens like they were something special. Just another tyre kicker, he told himself, desperate housewife killing time between the school runs. All the same Charlie put on his jacket and stepped out of the office. Smokey insisted on greeting the punters, even the tyre kickers. Called it his chrysalis into butterfly theory…. you could never tell when a tyre kicker would suddenly turn into a genuine sale, just one of the mysteries of the motor trade. He caught up with her beside a silver BMW coupe that had seen better days
“Can I help you”
“Maybe..I’m looking for a car”
“Well you came to the right place”
“What’s the story on this one….”
“I don’t see you in the beamer,” Charlie put on his best smile: “How about the MR2 over there….more your style, don’t you think?”
“No, not me at all….I don’t do sports cars.”
“Well how about an RV? Nice Shogun, safe as houses for the school run, trip down the shops.”
“Chelsea tractor?” She laughed, “No thanks.”
“Well maybe if you told me what you have in mind….”
She looked him in the eye. “I was thinking more of a get-away car”
“You know, like….from the scene of the crime.”
Charlie laughed: “You’re having me on.”
She pursed her lips. “Something that’d do say….nought to sixty in six…. seven seconds, thereabouts.”
Charlie looked around the lot, going along with it. “Well lets see….how about that nine-eleven over there.”
“Ought to be nondescript….kind of car nobody would remember, but would deliver the goods.
So what would you go for? Impress me?”
Impress her? That would be about it.”.Impreza,” he said, “Subaru Impreza….WRX every time, that’d be my choice, don’t look like much but quick enough off the blocks to outrun most everything except maybe the exotics.”
Charlie smiled “And guess what….it so happens I’ve got one around the back.”
“How did I know you were going to say that.”
“Seriously, just been serviced and valeted ready to come out here on the lot, nice clean motor.”
Charlie took her down the aisle between the rows and showed her the powder blue Subaru: “See….straight out of a rally stable, so it’s got the pedigree. This one’s a bargain, just shy of ten-k with a three month warranty thrown in. You could race the Dakar in this baby.”
“Well good….now you’ve got my attention….you’d better show me what it’ll do.”
“You want to try it out?”
“That’s the general idea….can’t take your word for it now can I?”
“Hang on here….I’ll get the keys.”
When Charlie returned to the office Smokey was in deep conversation with a bling dipped cousin.
“Lady wants a test drive….the blue Subaru.”
Smokey looked out of the window. “Tyre kicker?”
“Maybe….maybe not. Could be a butterfly.”
“You’d better charm the pants off her Charlie,” Smokey said. “You need a sale unless you aim to live off your fat and I don’t see much of that!”
Charlie took the keys from his desk and went back to the lot. She was sitting in the passenger’s seat of the Impreza waiting for him, Saba bag on her lap. A jumbo on finals into Heathrow passed overhead with a jet-whine of braking thrust. Charlie got in behind the wheel. Close up, in the confines of the car her scent caught him by surprise, snagged in his throat, made his heart pump. He’d already subconsciously put her at forty-something, nearly old enough to be his mother. Told himself: Get a grip Charlie.
He turned the key in the ignition and the deep burble of the exhaust brought him back to reality as he began to reel off the Impreza’s vital statistics in his best patter. Like Smokey said, he needed a sale to eat and pay the rent on his bedsit, not a spin around the block with a tyre-kicker.
She smiled and nodded:” I’m getting the picture. What’s your name?”
“Charlie,” he said, “Charlie Gittings.”
He swung off the lot and turned into the traffic on The Old Kent Road.
She said: “Let’s go up to the Elephant, Charlie Gittings, show me what she’ll do.”
“Not much chance in this traffic.” Charlie braked for the speed cameras: “Why don’t I pull over and you can have a go, see what you think.”
“No….you drive….you probably know all the rat runs around here.”
They were passing between the grey concrete cliffs of the Heygate estate with the Elephant and Castle interchange coming up ahead when she said: “Pull over there for a minute….just past the crossing.”
“It’s a red route….no stopping.”
“Be OK, keep the engine running….I’ll only be a sec.”
“I get a ticket, my boss’ll skin me alive.”
“Trust me….it’ll be all right.”
Charlie angled the Impreza into the kerb, pulled up and let the engine idle. A black cab sidling down the bus lane gave him a disapproving toot.
She got out of the passenger’s side, reaching into her bag, and ducking down Charlie watched her cross the pavement to a shop front over which a playing card shaped sign said Jack-of-Diamonds. Looked like one of those chunky chain and flash rock jewellers beloved by the denizens of the neighbourhood. She disappeared inside and Charlie scouted the street for wardens. Be just my bad luck, time wasting tyre-kicker and a red-route parking ticket both on the same day. His mind wandered to the possible deal, working out the numbers in his head. Like Smokey said, you never really knew.
Charlie looked around again; boy and girl about his own age coming down the pavement arm in arm, a woman pushing a buggy, couple of older women lugging shopping bags, youth in a baseball cap; couple of hoodies. No wardens, touch wood. Ducked down again and looked over to Jack-of-Diamonds. Come on..come on….
The burst of gunfire spun him around. His first thought was a news clip from Iraq coming from the TV turned up loud..only there was no TV. The hairs rose on Charlie’s neck: “What the hell!”
She came across the pavement fast and jumped into the passenger’s seat, the stubby Kalashnikov in her lap. Her eyes locked into his, delivering the challenge
“You choose, Charlie, floor it or get nicked.”
“What?” His head spun.
“We just robbed the man.”
“Jesus!” He stared at the gun, bug eyed
“Hit it.Charlie!..show me the getaway.”
Charlie swallowed hard, gunned the motor and the Impreza hunched down and leaped into the traffic. He hit the Heygate, racing through the estate, taking the corners fast but without squealing the tyres. Driving like he meant it.
Beside him the tyre-kicker started to laugh; reached into her zebra striped Saba, pulled out a fistful of money and threw it into the air. Banknotes swirled around inside the car like confetti.