The Bloody Glove
The Chambers’ Christmas Party was now just a fuzzy memory, and I saw, from the odd-shaped gift-wrapped item on my desk, it was Secret Santa time. I moved the pink-ribboned folders to one side and squeezed the package. Soft and small, I thought. Surely clerks in this firm would get at least a bottle of something classy?
I pulled the paper apart and a mid-tan man’s glove fell onto the desk. The fingers were splattered with dark stains. It was only when I looked at the stitching that I realised it was dried blood. An oblong card had also fallen out, showing the alarming words “You’re next”.
“It has come” I said to myself. “The signal.”
Members of ‘The Club’, as we call ourselves, work like taxi drivers. There is a queue for jobs, and you dare not jump it. Assassins are not known for deference, and we have a rigid code of honour. The Club of Gentleman Assassins has an international membership, and members are known by codenames. As are their targets. The only person who has an overview of ‘operations’ is known as ‘The Gardener’. He likes to assign the names of plants to the men who are targeted for assassination. So, ‘Gladiolus’ was a crooked Korean industrialist, and ’Aspidistra’ was a famous South American footballer intending to campaign publicly against a drugs boss.
I had been working, effectively but quietly, in a prestigious Manchester law firm for eight months under the name ‘Christopher Canning’. The Gardener called me ‘Hardy’. Not as in ‘Oliver Hardy’, but ‘Hardy Amies’ because of my fondness for dapper dressing. The partners in the firm just called me ‘Dapper’ or ‘Mr Dapper’. Some might even quietly consult me on the best quality of shirt or tie to impress corporate clients.
The reverse of the oblong card had a three words on it:
This is not as cryptic as it might have been. When I put that text into the ‘What 3 Words’ app on my phone, it focused on a statue in St John’s Gardens, a small park about five minutes from the office. That is where I would find instructions for my target and next job.
Like other parts of Manchester, the statue celebrated a famous mercantile figure whose plinth now displayed graffiti and crisp packets, stuffed into the missing mortar. Behind a green crisp packet I saw and extracted a small manilla envelope with ‘Hardy’ typed on it. I looked around to ensure I was not being watched, and opened the envelope. The silky letter paper described my target as ‘Black Rose’ and the method for ‘end of the season’ was to be an accident at a suburban railway station. It gave me the map reference and the preferred time for the operation – two days’ time – and gave the usual reminder of the severe penalty for failing to complete the mission satisfactorily: ‘Death Before Dishonour’. The method of ‘pruning’ was left up to me.
I was to look for the target carrying a tan Gucci holdall, and matching loafers. I pictured a paunchy property entrepreneur, who preferred to show the hoi polloi how rich he is, rather than travel discretely.
On the morning of the operation I reminded myself of the principles of the Club of Gentlemen Assassins. That it kept its historic chivalry alive; that such a guild operated, for a price, outside ineffective ‘law and order’ and their usual futile attempts to deal with the rich and influential. ‘Justice for the Unreachables’ was how The Gardener described it.
I made sure I was at the station half an hour before the ‘zero hour’ and was surprised that it was so crowded. I was not concerned about being recognised on CCTV. I would be just one more dark overcoat with shiny shoes making his way to the financial and legal quarter of the city. Then I heard a station announcement, apologising for the cancellation of the last train. It reminded ‘customers’ to stand behind the yellow line, as the next train approached. Such was the crush on the platform that all I could see were heads and shoulders, baseball caps, the occasional trilby, and a rather striking slim black woman, her hair wrapped in a tropically coloured silk scarf.
The train halted and the customers surged towards the sliding doors. ‘Silk scarf’ moved haltingly towards the doors, but they closed before she got there. It was when the crowd at the platform edge thinned that I noticed her large holdall prevented her from moving through the throng. A Gucci holdall! And the morning sun glinted off the buckle of her Gucci loafers!
For a moment I was stunned. I had a clash of two emotions that had my heart thumping. The target was … a lady! How can that be allowed? What about our chivalric code? But, individuals with less scruples than I have paid a lot of money for my particular skills. I knew I would be completely dishonoured if I did not complete my objective.
‘Silk scarf’ had placed the holdall by her feet at the platform edge. She dipped into the bag to retrieve her jingling mobile. I heard the chirruping of the rails as the through train approached. She would be slightly off balance, and that was my opportunity. I stepped forward towards the target.
Rose Walker clicked ‘Submit’, sipped her coffee, and closed her laptop. Her evidence at the Coroner’s Inquiry had been upsetting. She felt people were blaming her for causing the accident at the station. The whole event had taken time away from her investigation of organised crime, but her editor had insisted she submit a piece on the outcome of the tragic death of a legal clerk. Rose carefully stowed the laptop in her Gucci holdall and brushed a hair off her Gucci loafers.
She would never forget her evidence of how Mr Canning caught his highly polished brogue in the handle of the holdall, started falling backwards, clawing the air to get his balance, and was fiercely shunted to the far side of the track by Manchester Piccadilly express.