“Where’s Johnny?” she asked.
Robin watched Billi sly-like, his dark eyes twinkled in the lamplight. “What says I brought him?”
Billi laughed. “Come on out, Johnny.”
A shadow broke from the corner of Middle Temple Lane. The light caught on a shiny bowler hat and the guy stepped out, his hands tucked deep into his overcoat.
“M-m-miss SanGreal,” he said with a bow. He wiped his round face with a yellow handkerchief and tucked it away in under the hat. He looked like a clown, Big round waist and baggy trousers held up with red and white striped suspenders. The jowls wobbled as he walked and his hair, two tufts either side of his ears, seemed to slid across his face as they formed a pair of archaic mutton-chops. Johnny Little’s face was simple and open, except for the eyes. Small, sharp and darting, something unpleasantly ratty.
“Come in,” said Arthur as he leaned out the upper window. “But guns by the door, alright?”
“I am unarmed, Art,” answered Robin.
“I was talking to fat boy.”
Anyone else would have been collecting their guts off the floor. It amazed Billi, even now, how her dad got away with it.
“Of, of, of course, Mr Arthur.”
Billi took their coats. Robin slid his umbrella into the waste bin beside the door and Johnny unholstered a pair of Berettas hanging from shoulder holsters. He reached around his back and unclipped a shiny Smith and Wesson revolver. Then he lifted up his right trouser leg, he wore suspenders on his socks, and a small antique Derringer came out of the band around his thick chubby calves.
“That it?” asked Billi.
Johnny smiled shyly and took off his bowler. A Glock 26. He peeled off the tape and handed it to her.
“A girl’s gun,” said Robin. “You keep it, Billi.” He sighed. “Lord knows you should update your training. How many times have I told you father? All these swords and axes, it’s all very traditional, to be sure, but where’s the efficiency?”
“Swords don’t jam.” But it was more than that. Guns attracted a lot of unwanted attention. They were noisy and left a lot of clues. You brought a sword, you left with a sword. No shell casings lying around. No smell of cordite. No bullet holes in the wrong places, or the wrong people. You couldn’t fight the Bataille Tenebreuse with guns.
The three men settled around the dining table while Billi put on the kettle. Billi was more than aware how they were arranged. Arthur let Robin sit at the head, with Johnny opposite him. Johnny was going to regret that.
“Any Redbush?” asked Robin. “I’m trying to cut down on my caffeine.”
“Getting the jitters?” asked Arthur.
“My life is exciting enough, Art.”
Billi leaned against the worktop, watching the silence.
Robin, ganglord of Nottingham, rarely came south. But he still knew everyone and everything of interest in London. Johnny and Robin’s cousin, Much, kept tabs on the underground activities of the capital. A lot of people made the mistake of taking Johnny’s stutter as slowness. But his guns spoke like heavenly choirs.
Robin drummed his well-manicured fingers on the plastic table covering. “I see you’ve done up the place. You know, I do have a beautiful set of Chippendale tables and chairs I could have –”
Robin looked over at Billi, shaking his head. “There’s a truck not far from here that ... strayed en-route to Stella’s on King’s Road. Billi, why don’t you go with Johnny and have a look, while I talk to your father?”
“Billi will stay and listen,” replied her dad.
“Money, Arthur. Where is it?” snapped Robin.
Robin leaned forward, the humour gone. “Don’t be facetious, Art. You are much in arrears. I’ve let it go for old times’ sake, but I have my reputation to think of.”
“We had a deal, Robin. Payment for information.” Art didn’t move, but his voice fell flat. Not good. Billi glanced at Robin but he didn’t pick up the change in tone. Maybe he’d been out of London too long. “You didn’t deliver, Robin. And I lost good men.”
“That was unfortunate.”
Billi stiffened and her fingers tightened on the wood. Unfortunate. Kay’s death was unfortunate. Somehow her hand found the heavy ceramic jug. She forced herself to put it back down.
“No more until you demonstrate you’re value for money.” Arthur laughed. “Anyway, isn’t robbing city boys keeping you green? Or is the market’s flooded with stolen Rolexes?”
“It’s the credit crunch, Art. The city boys have taken to wearing Hong Kong knock-offs. It’s a sad day when you can’t trust a banker.” He looked cautiously at Arthur. The gap between then was about a metre. It wasn’t a wide table. “I appreciate that I was late in delivering, but you know that isn’t how it works. You owe me.”
“I beg to differ.”
“That’s a shame. A terrible shame.” Robin lifted his hands. “I’d hate to think what might happen if I lifted my guardianship. The dangers lurking out there, you know all too well. But without my eyes keeping look-out? Well, I don’t fear for you, Art. But Billi.” He held out a hand. “Poor Billi has lost so much already.”
Arthur smashed the stool across Johnny’s forehead. Robin leapt up, knife springing to his hand but Billi buried her boot in his guts. Her knee followed through into his nose and she swung the jug across his temple. Robin dropped, gasping. Arthur whacked Johnny again, to be sure.
“Never threaten me and mine. Ever,” he whispered. He leaned down and lifted Robin up by his hair. “London is my city. It always has been, always will be.” He wiped Robin’s face with his hand, making sure the man saw his clearly. “You’re not a fool, Robin. You’re a business-man. Think what it will cost you to drag this out. We fight to the finish, remember that. To the finish.”
He straightened up and pointed to the door.
“You’re dripping all over the new vinyl. Get out.”