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You reap what you sow

CHAPTER 1

‘THEY’RE GOING TO NAIL my hand to the wall.’
Hugh McIntyre blinked angrily as he looked around the kitchen, hands flexing at his sides, as if he was looking for someone to hit. At the moment, there was no one available. That wouldn’t be the case for much longer if she didn’t start taking him seriously. He downed the last of his drink in one gulp and slammed the glass on the counter, felt the liquor sledding through his blood.
‘You watch too much TV,’ Lisa Stanton said, her stock answer for most of the world’s problems.
She held a wine glass up to the light, turned it back and forth, inspected it for greasy fingerprints.
‘And you’re over-reacting as usual. They wouldn’t do that.’
Satisfied the glass was spotlessly clean, she put it in the cupboard, a small contented smile on her lips. She picked up the next one, a big balloon red wine glass.
McIntyre’s jaw tightened, his eyes bright and mean. He swung his arm in a vicious backwards arc and sent the glass flying out of her hand. It sailed across the room into the wall and shattered.
Her mouth dropped open, her face looking like she’d sat on a hot coal.
‘Did you even hear what I said?’
She ignored him, turned her back on him. He wanted to kick her across the room. She got the dustpan and brush out of the broom closet. He snatched it out of her hand and grabbed her by the soft flesh of her upper arm.
‘Ow! You’re hurting me.’
‘Did you hear what I said?’ he shouted, his face inches from hers.
She tried to pull her arm away. He dug his fingers in tighter, his nails biting into the delicate skin.
‘I’m not deaf. Something about your hand. Let me go.’
He threw her arm away from him in disgust, thought about grabbing her by the back of the neck, forcing her head down onto the counter and smacking the back of it with the dustpan until he got her attention.
Something?’ The word rode out of his mouth on a stream of spittle. ‘They’re going to nail it to the wall.’
He stared at the dustpan in his hand, oh-so-tempted, thought better of it. If he was going to do it, he’d do it with something heavier. He hunkered down and swept the broken glass into the dustpan. The balloon had smashed into half a dozen jagged shards. The base and stem were still in one piece, the tip of the stem snapped off in a vicious point. His gaze shifted back and forth between the broken shards and the stem. It got very quiet.
Behind him Lisa massaged her arm, pretending it was a much bigger deal than it was. He wasn’t paying her enough attention. Bastard.
‘You hurt me.’
Christ, he hated it when she whined like that.
Times like this he imagined his hands around her perfect throat, with its cords and hollows and the pulse thumping first urgently and then slowly as he squeezed. He took hold of the wine glass stem. In the background her tireless vocal cords kicked in, the lemon-sucker lips working overtime. He’d bruised her arm, she was sure he’d damaged a nerve, she couldn’t lift it properly, what would people say when they saw the bruise, you’re not even listening to me. He placed the dustpan gently on the floor, careful not to make a noise. She didn’t even notice.
Whine, whine, whine, whine, whine.
A hot little worm of excitement started moving through his belly, his chest tight like a horse was sitting on it. His pulse quickened, the sound of it loud in his ears.
He stood and turned in one quick easy movement, surprising her. She stopped mid-whine as his left arm snaked out towards her. He grabbed hold of her slim wrist, his strong fingers easily encircling it, and slapped her hand down on the kitchen counter. His right hand was still behind his back. His fingers flexed around the smooth glass stem.
‘Hurt you?’
He squeezed her wrist spitefully making her gasp and bite her bottom lip.
‘You want me to show you what hurt is?’
Her mouth dropped open, her eyes wide, as he brought his right hand out from behind his back, brandishing the wine glass stem. She stared at it, horrified, not seeing it, her mind a blank page, a helpless, hopeless look on her face.
She tried to pull her hand away. It might as well have been already nailed to the counter. An adrenal spike of fear filled her belly, turned her insides to ice water.
He gripped the stem tighter, rested the broken point between the tendons on the back of her hand, the razor tip kissing her skin. A surge of panic rose up inside her, her stomach heaving. She twisted her body away from him, then grabbed his forearm, clawing at it, trying to pry his hand away.
‘Don’t make me slip, Lisa. I’d stop struggling if I was you.’
He increased the pressure on the back of her hand. The sharp point dented the skin, didn’t break it. She sucked in air, a small hissing sound.
‘Don’t. Please.’
He let out an ugly laugh.
That’s more like it.
‘Let’s try that again. Did you hear what I said?’
She nodded mechanically, her eyes blinking rapidly.
‘This is what they’re going to do to me. The only difference is, when I say don’t, please, what do you think they’re going to do?’
She shook her head, a helpless gesture.
‘What does that mean, Lisa? Does it mean, no, they wouldn’t do that. That’s what you said a minute ago, wasn’t it? Or does it mean they’ll get a big heavy hammer and go BANG!
He screamed it in her ear, his hot breath blasting the side of her face. She shrieked, a screeching inhuman sound dwarfing his own cry, fear lending her the strength to rip her hand out from under his. The razor-sharp point scratched her skin as she pulled away, drawing a trickle of blood.
It was no worse than her cat did every day. From the noise she made, you’d have thought he chopped off one of her fingers. She held her other hand over it, protecting it, clamped them both into the safety of her body. She shrank away from him. She shot him a look of such hatred and loathing, he wouldn’t have cast it on the bastards he owed the money to, people who killed as if it were a reflex action. It seared the organs in his body.
He took a step towards her, grabbed her by the hair at the nape of her neck. He towered over her, pushing his face into hers as he bent her head back, his eyes clear and cold. The smell of the liquor on his breath made her want to gag as he spat words into her face.
‘That’s what they’re going to do. It won’t matter how many times I say please, they’re going to nail it to the wall anyway.’
He watched her grow small and covered up in front of him. She kept moving her mouth, and still no words would come. He let go of her hair. When she breathed again she shuddered. He hadn’t realized how close she was to crying.
Good. Let her cry.
‘I don’t know what you want me to do about it. It’s not my fault—’
‘Really? If you hadn’t got bored with Kevin, hadn’t gone looking for somebody with a bigger johnson, then maybe he wouldn’t have hanged himself in the garage’—he spat the word at her, making her flinch, knowing the memory of her husband swinging from the rafters still gave her nightmares—‘and then your father would’ve lent us the cash. The company wouldn’t have gone down the drain. Then I’d be able to pay them and they wouldn’t nail—’
‘Stop saying that. I’m sick of you saying it. And it wasn’t my fault. You—’
His eyes bulged as if they were trying to escape from their sockets. For a moment he was the one couldn’t find adequate words. He laughed the way lunatics must laugh when their medication is late.
‘I what? You’re not suggesting I seduced you, are you? Jesus Christ. You took off your panties in the ladies’ bathroom and sat on my lap at the Christmas party—’
‘I did not—’
‘Just shut up will you, for once in your life. It doesn’t make any difference to you anyway. You’ve got Kevin’s money, you’re okay, thank you very much. Do you know what they do if you still don’t pay them after they nail your hand to the wall? Do you?’
She bit her tongue, her jaw moving tightly. It took more self-control than she thought she had to stop herself from saying she’d like to be there when they did it, lend a hand. She breathed deeply through her nose, held it right down inside her, let it out slowly.
‘What do you expect me to do?’
He looked at her as if it was the stupidest question he’d ever heard. It was.
‘Give me the money, what do you think?’
‘I’ve told you. I don’t have it. I can’t sell the house just like that—’
‘What about the life insurance?’
She shook her head, dropped her eyes quickly.
‘It was suicide. I don’t know if they’re going to pay.’
She said it a little too fast, like it was an answer she’d practiced in the mirror.
He gave it an irritated head shake, his mouth twisted, twitching in the corner. He’d caught the look before she deliberately dropped her eyes, seen something pass behind them. He’d seen it before—every time her husband’s suicide came up. He knew what it was too. Confused suspicion, like she’d just heard a joke she didn’t get. Except this wasn’t funny at all.
She was having doubts—doubts about whether it was suicide at all. She wasn’t all the way there yet, but she was steadily inching her way towards the idea that he had something to do with Kevin Stanton’s death.
She knew he’d caught her.
‘I suppose you’re going to say it’s all Kevin’s fault now,’ she said, ‘because he was so inconsiderate as to kill himself.’
Your fault,’ he muttered under his breath.
‘What did you say?’
‘Nothing. What about Daddy? Frank, I’ve got so much money I don’t know what to do with it, Hanna.’
She looked at him like he was making up words.
‘He hates you, Hugh. He wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire.’
‘That makes two of us.’
Three of us, she thought to herself, wishing she had the balls to say it to his sneering face.
‘At least I’ve got a good reason to hate him.’
Self-pity now. What did she ever see in him?
‘Now it’s his fault you owe all this money, is it? Typical man. It’s everybody’s fault except—’
He realized he was still holding the broken wine glass stem. He needed to do something with it before he poked her in the eye with it. He threw it against the wall and kicked the dustpan over, sending the broken glass flying.
‘Feel better now?’ she said.
‘Much.’
He was sick of arguing with her. He had to get out before he did something he’d regret later. Something that might jeopardize any chance of getting the money out of her or her father. He turned away from her, his blood settling to a temperature just under a rolling boil.
‘Where are you going?’ she said as he gave the dustpan one last kick and headed for the door.
‘Out, what’s it look like.’
‘Where?’
He stopped and turned to face her again. He crossed his arms, stuck his thumbs in his armpits. He knew what she wanted him to do. This was where he was meant to go to her, put his arms around her, hold her tight. Aw. Say he was sorry. Tell her he loved her.
Yeah, right.
‘What the hell do you care?’
She shook her head.
‘I’m scared what you might do when you’re like this.’
She had good cause to be.
She knew exactly what he was going to do. He was obsessed with her father, with her father’s money. And trying to find a way to get his sweaty hands on some of it. For days he’d been threatening to have it out with the old man. She hated to think how that meeting would turn out. Two stubborn, pig-headed men going up against each other. One with a lifetime’s experience of getting his own way, the other so desperate he’d stop at nothing to save himself from the animals after his blood.
‘Don’t you dare go around there.’
Too late.
She’d been lucky in a way. Lord knows how he might have reacted to the word dare, if he hadn’t already been gone, the angry slamming of the door like the slap on the face she was going to give him the next time she saw him.

CHAPTER 2

IT WASN’T VERY OFTEN Frank Hanna wished he drove a small white Hyundai sedan or something equally nondescript, instead of his ostentatious Bentley Mulsanne. Today was one of those times.
Somebody was following him, he was sure of it. And the Bentley was making it very easy for them.
He’d spotted them as soon as he left the house. The car had pulled away from the curb when he rolled down the driveway and turned onto the street. It was still behind him now, a couple miles later, hanging back the exact same distance whatever speed he drove.
He had to lose whoever it was before he got to Buckley’s office.
He goosed the gas, the big engine responding with a massive surge of power. The three-ton car accelerated hard until he was alongside a semi-trailer truck lumbering along in the inside lane. He glanced in his mirror. The car following was steadily making up the ground it just lost.
He still couldn’t see who was inside, couldn’t even tell if it was one or more people. He had a good idea though—that loser McIntyre. Or the people he owed money to.
There was a turning on his right just up ahead. The timing had to be perfect. He waited to the last second and wrenched the wheel into a hard right, swinging the big car in front of the semi-trailer and into a narrow side street, missing the truck’s bumper by inches. There was a loud blast on the horn and the angry squeal of rubber as the truck slammed on its brakes. On the far side of it, the car following him shot past. Hanna glanced in his mirror, saw the side of the semi-trailer completely blocking the entrance to the street, the truck at a standstill.
He was in the clear.
He stomped the gas and shot forward between the cars parked on either side of the narrow street towards safety at the far end—so long as they didn’t loop around the block and cut him off from that end. He stole another quick glance in the mirror. Still okay behind. His eyes snapped front again and almost bulged out of their sockets. He stomped the brakes and the car nose-dived to a halt, the front end sliding sideways on the greasy pavement.
He couldn’t believe his eyes.
In the split second it took to look in his mirror, a delivery truck had reversed into the street and was coming towards him. He twisted in his seat. Behind him the semi-trailer was on the move again. He hit the horn but the truck kept on coming. He leaned right into it and the truck stopped with a jerk, rocking on its suspension. It had nothing to do with him. The driver jumped down from the cab and made his way round to the back. Hanna hit the horn again and the driver held up his hand, fingers splayed—five minutes.
He turned in his seat again, saw the back end of the semi-trailer clear the end of the street and disappear from view. Behind it, the street was clear—for the moment. Any second the car would appear again after making a U-turn or backing up. It would pull into the side street. He’d be boxed in if the idiot in front of him didn’t get out the way.
The delivery driver had opened up the back of the truck and was climbing out again, a stack of boxes in his arms. He smiled apologetically at Hanna, then stopped again, the boxes balanced between his body and the back of the truck, supporting them on his raised thigh. He fished in his pocket, pulled out his cell phone.
Hanna couldn’t believe it. The guy was taking a call on his phone instead of getting out of his way. He hit the horn, realized his stupid mistake too late. The driver looked at him with a scowl as Hanna changed in the blink of an eye from an important businessman in a big hurry to an arrogant rich bastard who thought he owned the whole damned road.
Hanna could almost see the guy’s bodily functions slowing down in front of his eyes—his pulse, his breathing, the movement of his limbs grinding to gradual halt like a kid’s toy as the batteries ran down. The slow smile that crawled across his face confirmed it—he was deliberately antagonizing him.
Then the guy looked past him. He froze for a split second, his face incredulous.
Hanna’s head snapped around, his heart in his mouth. A cold triangle of sweat stuck the back of his shirt to the leather of the Bentley’s seats. The street was empty. There was nothing there.
What the hell was he looking at?
Then the driver laughed, said something into the phone and laughed again. He hadn’t been looking at anything behind Hanna. It was something the person on the other end of the line said made him stop and stare into space.
Hanna couldn’t believe the car still hadn’t turned into the street. They might have given up. Maybe the driver was looking in his mirror as Hanna threw his car in front of the semi-trailer truck. He’d lost them.
Or they’d looped around the block already to cut him off.
He opened his door and stuck his head out, trying to see past the truck. The driver got the wrong end of the stick, thought he was going to shout at him as well as lean into the horn.
‘Okay, okay. I told you five minutes. Jesus Christ. What are you, in a hurry to get to the office? Didn’t you fire enough people yesterday? Got a bunch more you need to do today?’
Hanna ignored him, ignored the sound of him laughing at his own joke. He leaned further out. He still couldn’t see around the truck. He got all the way out of the car and stepped to the right. The driver got the wrong idea again, stepped forward to meet him, blocking his view. The boxes were still balanced precariously on his arm as he tried to do too many things at once.
‘What’s your problem? You think because you’ve got a car like—’
Hanna looked up at the sky in frustration, then suddenly snapped, a red mist descending on him, the like of which he hadn’t felt for thirty years. He put his hands under the edge of the bottom box and brought them up sharply, pushing up and away. The boxes flew into the air, over the driver’s head and rained down onto the ground behind him.
‘Hey! What the—’
He didn’t get to finish. Hanna put both hands on his chest and shoved. The guy yelled and went sprawling backwards. He landed on his butt on top of the untidy heap on the ground, half of them bursting open with his weight.
Hanna stepped over him, muttering idiot through his teeth. The street beyond the truck was clear, nothing blocking the end. He walked back to his car, gave one of the boxes a good kick as he went past. The driver yelled a mouthful of abuse at his back.
He didn’t care if anyone was following him now. He felt wired, in the mood for anything. Or anyone. There wasn’t much anyone could do to him now anyway. He got in the car and backed all the way down the street, the parked cars either side a blur in his peripheral vision, and shot out into the main street without looking or caring. He floored it, burned rubber all the way to Buckley’s office.
He sat in his car in the parking lot outside Buckley’s office with his arms on the steering wheel, his head resting on them. He felt tired, that hazy crashed feeling you get when the adrenaline stops flowing.
He couldn’t put it off any longer.
He got out and went to put right what had been eating at him for fifty years.

END OF EXCERPT

© JAMES HARPER