Lone Wolf - Robert Muchamore
Kentish Town, north London
There was ice on the pavement from snowfall a few days earlier and the wind had a sting that made Craig Willow pull his Spurs scarf over his ears. He was a big man, with a boxer’s flattened nose, but two decades past glory days in the ring.
The street was all Victorian houses. Most had been refurbished by posh types, but number sixteen was shabby, with a tumbledown garage and ancient sash windows faded to the dull green of something you might hack up after a dose of flu.
Craig pulled a front-door key out of grubby tracksuit bottoms. The place had been used as student accommodation until a few summers earlier. The hallway had pre-pay gas and electric meters, pigeonholes for mail and a long-disconnected payphone.
There was no heat, but it was still warmer than outside. Craig pulled off sheepskin gloves and gave numb fingers a rub before banging his fist on a metal door. Someone sped downstairs on the other side and spoke with a tetchy Welsh accent.
‘That you, Craig?’
Craig sounded irritated. ‘Nah, it’s Father bloody Christmas come a week early. You can see me on the CCTV.’
‘Hagar says you’ve got to say the password. Nobody gets in or out without it.’
‘OK,’ Craig said, taking a big breath and tightening his fists. ‘The password is, Open the door you little knob head, or I’ll stick your skull through the wall.’
After a pause, bolts started clanking inside the heavily reinforced door. When it swung open, Craig advanced three steps and gently cuffed the skinny teenager on the other side.
‘Password,’ Craig snorted. ‘You’re going the right way about getting a slap.’
But Jake didn’t take the threat seriously. ‘Boss’s son,’ he teased, as he led Craig up steps covered with frayed carpet. ‘You’ll probably have to call me sir, some day.’
‘You’re Hagar’s stepson,’ Craig corrected. ‘When he loses interest in your mother he’ll ditch you like week-old bread.’
The conversation dropped because they’d rounded the top of the stairs and stepped into a large room. There were blackout blinds at all the windows. At one end was a pair of long desks, and an electronic money counting machine. The other end of the room was a chill-out area, with wrecked couches and a big-screen TV showing Sky Sports with the sound muted.
The two men in the room were touching fifty and seemed intimidated by Craig’s bulk.
‘What’s been happening?’ Craig demanded.
‘Three hundred and sixteen thousand,’ the taller of the two men said, as he pointed to a large safe. ‘Vacuum-wrapped into 10K blocks. The other safe’s got two hundred and twelve. And there’s eighteen KGs of cocaine in the sports bag.’
Craig’s brow shot up and one of the men took a frightened half-step backwards.
‘Are you messing with my head?’ Craig blurted angrily. ‘Who said to send drugs to the count house? Why didn’t someone call me?’
Jake answered. ‘Piece of business went bad. It were an emergency, like. Hagar said it’s a lot of merchandise and this was the safest place.’
Craig shook his head with contempt. It was a basic rule of drug dealing that spanned millionaire kingpins to kids hustling £10 bags on the street: you always keep money and merchandise separate. ‘Any pick-ups scheduled?’ he asked.
‘It’s just you and Jake on guard, unless something changes.’
‘OK then,’ Craig said, looking at the money counters. ‘Get yourselves home to them wives and not a peep to anyone about our eighteen packets of powder.’
‘A couple of crews came up short,’ one of the oldies said, pointing to a notebook on the table. ‘Archway firm, as usual. It’s all in the ledger.’
‘A few swings of my old baseball bat usually loosens their pockets,’ Craig said, relishing the prospect of some violence.
Jake gormlessly mimed the gesture of a swinging baseball bat as the two cash counters headed for home. Once they were through the steel door at the bottom of the stairs, Craig made sure they’d cleared the building on a security camera before going down and putting the bolts back across the steel door.
When he got back up, he was again irritated by the bulging sports bag filled with eighteen kilos of cocaine under one of the desks. Apart from a few assault charges, Craig had always stayed out of trouble with the law and had never been to prison. Getting busted guarding a house full of illicit money would mean a three- to five-year prison sentence. A house full of drugs and money would up the sentence to ten years and