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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Extract from The Chinese Girl

Extract from The Chinese Girl

Danny Boy, one of Shooter’s inner circle, crept up on Heartbreak that morning. Usually Heartbreak would have been off the estate and back home in his house on Newland Avenue by ten o’clock, but a cat had got in with Shooter’s chickens in the night, and he’d had to stay behind to clear up, get the birds settled down.

‘If they stop laying,’ Danny Boy said, ‘Shooter’s gonna be pissed off.’ He was leaning against a corner of the shed, paring his finger nails with a curved-blade hunting knife, his face looking as though it had been sprayed with blackheads. ‘And if Shooter’s pissed off he takes it out on whoever’s closest. Might be Cuddles, in which case I don’t care. But it might be me, in which case I’ll turn up here one night and skin you alive.’ He sent a poisoned smile across the gap which separated him from Heartbreak, and Heartbreak swallowed it.

If he played this right he could be back home in half an hour without any bruises, but if he made a wrong move Danny Boy would nail him to the door. Violence was one of Danny Boy’s skills, second only to his persistent brown-nosing of the boss. ‘They won’t stop laying,’ he said. ‘It’ll be all right.’

Danny Boy concentrated on his nails. He held the smile on his face, but he didn’t reply or look at Heartbreak. When he heard Shooter approaching he ducked inside the shed.

Shooter came up to the chicken run with a tall redheaded man. They both ignored Heartbreak. Shooter’s hair was cropped close to his head. He was scowling, looking like he wanted to hurt someone.

‘She’s a Chink,’ said the redhead. ‘Maybe half-cast. Dunno. But she must be holed up in the flat.’


‘On Spring Bank.’

‘Could be dead?’ said Shooter. He cleared his throat and gobbed through the chicken wire.

‘No, it wasn’t that bad. I reckon she’s inside the flat, and the guy’s looking after her.’

Shooter kicked out at a small blackcurrant bush. ‘Sort it,’ he said. His lips were a thin line. ‘I want her out of my hair.’

‘OK,’ said the redhead.

‘Piss off,’ Shooter told him.

When the redhead had gone Shooter stood by the wire for a couple of minutes watching a bantam hen scratching in the dirt. Eventually he focussed on Heartbreak.

‘I heard something about a cat,’ he said.

‘Yeah, got in in the night,’ Heartbreak told him. Took two birds.’

Shooter thought about it for a couple of shakes, then he turned towards the house. Without looking back he said, ‘If I don’t get me eggs I’ll throw you to the fucking dogs.’

Danny Boy’s chuckle came from the interior of the shed. He reappeared still paring his finger nails. ‘See what I mean?’ he said. ‘The boss’s keen on his eggs.’ He looked back towards the house. ‘The redhead is called Harvey,’ he said. ‘He’s a cop.’

Heartbreak stuffed a few loose feathers into a sack. He affected not to have registered the information. Knowing too much always led to trouble. He walked into a fence-post, gave himself a black-eye. Couldn’t understand why it was he felt as though he’d been pushed.

When he’d finished with the chickens, Heartbreak got his coat from the shed and walked through the garden towards the house. Shooter was with Cuddles in the old-fashioned terrace. Heartbreak slowed down and stood under a maple for a few minutes.

Shooter was sitting on a wrought iron chair with his legs spread wide, and he held out his arms towards the girl. Cuddles smiled. She looked as though she was twenty, but some of the guys reckoned she was no more than sixteen. She went over to Shooter and sat on his knee, and Shooter enfolded her in his arms and buried his face in her neck. He was tender with her, as though he was afraid she’d break.

Shooter groaned and said she felt good, and Cuddles sighed, and then the two of them started sucking face like a couple of teenagers. Heartbreak moved away, started for home.


Later in the day Heartbreak scored a bunch of cut flowers and took them round to Nell’s house. He held them behind his back until she opened the door, then thrust them towards her and watched the look of amazement on her face.

‘For me?’ she said. ‘I haven’t had flowers since . . . I don’t know . . . since I was a girl.’ He pushed them into her arms. Watched as she leant forward and planted a big wet one on his cheek.

‘Come in,’ she said. ‘I’ll find a vase. Oh, Heartbreak, they’re lovely.’

He followed her into the house, feeling a warm smile spreading itself over his face. Once or twice lately he’d called round and offered to clean her car, or weed the garden, and usually she’d looked disappointed when she opened the door and saw it was him. But the flowers seemed to have made him more attractive.

Heartbreak had been grieving the loss of the love of his life for forty years, and had not had time for another serious affair. Whenever he’d felt the urge he’d gone to see a tart and got rid of it as quick as possible. But in the last weeks Nell had seemed to look better every time he’d seen her.

She found a vase and put the flowers into it, placed it in the centre of the table. ‘Brightened up the day,’ she said. ‘I can’t think of anything nicer.’

She looked at him with her head cocked to one side. ‘What happened to your eye?’

‘Walked into somefing,’ he said. ‘Down at Shooters.’

She shook her head. ‘Shooter Wilde. Why d’you work for him?’

‘It’s a living,’ he said.

‘You don’t have to get yourself cut up to make a living these days. There’re laws.’

‘Aw, I can mange Shooter,’ Heartbreak said. ‘Been keeping my end up with guys like him since Eve went into the fruit and vegetable business.’

‘A knee-slapper, that, Heartbreak. You’re making my eyes water.’ She leaned over the table and moved the vase of flowers fractionally to one side. ‘D’you come across Stone?’

Heartbreak shook his head. ‘Shooter won’t have him on the estate. Just does odd jobs on the outside. Can’t be earning much. How’s he doing?’

‘OK,’ she said. ‘He’s not dependent on Shooter. Got a part time job on the Internet. Got himself a flat down Spring Bank, and now there’s a girlfriend.’

‘I’ll keep me fingers crossed for him.’

‘Lovely girl,’ said Nell. ‘Chinese. Somebody beat her up and left her on his doorstep.’

Heartbreak did a double-take. He didn’t say anything. He leaned forward and took a good whiff of the flowers on the table. ‘I’ve got to go,’ he said. ‘Just wanted to drop these off on you.’ He made for the door. ‘One thing,’ he said, as he stood on the path. ‘What’s Stone’s address. I could call round and see him sometime. Talk about old times.’