Extract: The Hackman Blues by Ken Bruen

Jack Dunphy is in the building game. To hear some of them tell it, he is the game. Leastways he used to be, all over south-east London. What’s known as a ‘plastic paddy’. Third or fourth generation down the pike and as English as toast. But could shovel the brogue as the occasion demanded. A flash git too. Liked to show he’d the dosh. Word was, he’d married a game-show hostess and hit the top of some minor B list. A name among the ‘could-‘ave-beens’.
Hard bastard. Odd stories surfaced of punters getting done with baseball bats and the blow-torch. Anyway, not a fella to fuck with. I knew him for years on a vague basis. The, ‘How you doing?’ dance. Bags of brief enthusiasm and no follow-up. If you never met again, how much would you be hurting? Like that. So, I was a little surprised when he offered to buy me a drink. The local bookie got married and there was a knees-up in the backroom of the Greyhound. My sometimes pub next to the Oval tube station. I was standing at the bar while a karaoke merchant mutilated ‘That Loving Feeling’.
‘Paul, whatcha drinking?’
Yeah, he gave it the best south-east London twist. To put me at ease?
‘I’m all right.’
‘Go on then, ‘ave somefin’. Yo’ barkeep, couple of double scotches before Tuesday.’
I gave him the full look. He was the spit of Henry Cooper, but Our Henry with a bad drop. Dressed in a good suit, hand-made shoes, and washed to a sheen. No electric razors or Bic disposables for this guy. It was the barber’s chair and an open razor job, then the face hand-massaged to a rosy hue. He’d tip good too, ask about yer missus and frame yer balls if you crossed him. A villain with communication skills.
The drinks came and he nodded, picked one up, indicated I should do likewise. I did but put it down, untasted, and he said:
‘Cheers Paul. Best of British, eh?’
‘It’s not Paul.’
‘What?’
‘My name – it’s not Paul.’
That threw him. He was a man who prided himself on information. But he rallied.
‘Shit I’m sorry, could have sworn…’
I had some scotch, it tasted okay, like hope.
He put out his hand.
‘Let’s start over, I’m Jack Dunphy.’
The thought flashed, Who gives a flying fuck? but I let it slide. I was taking my pills. I was mellow and I shook his hand. The grip was solid, let you know he was a man of integrity. You get one of those ‘tight with sincerity’ shakes, watch your wallet. I didn’t have any more of the scotch.
‘It’s Tony… but most people call me Brady.’
He reached for the lighter touch:
‘But what do your friends call you… eh..? Call you Tone?’
‘No.’
A silence for a bit, not a problem for me, then:
‘Look Tony, I’ll be upfront here…’
Watch that wallet.
‘I’ve been told you’re dependable and… that you could help me.’
I reached for the lighter touch too, said:
‘It depends.’
Took a moment, then he laughed… badly. A laugh a long way from his eyes.
‘Oh I get it, yes – very droll. The thing is Tone… Tony, I need to find a woman.’
I ran the gamut of replies:
(1) What, you think I’m a pimp?
(2) The game-show run out of juice? or,
(3) Join a lonely hearts club.
Wittily enough, I opted for, ‘What?’
‘My daughter, she’s gone missing.’
‘Did you contact the Old Bill?’
He gave me a look reeking in ‘Do us a bloody favour’, and said, ‘It’s not a police thing. Those fucks couldn’t find peace.’
I wasn’t sure what to think, said, ‘I’m not sure what to think.’
‘She’s twenty, she’s my only child. I think she’s in Brixton. She was up at Cambridge reading English and just dropped out. I need someone discreet to find her. Rosie, the missus, is going frantic.’
‘I’ll need a photo, some personal details.’
He took a large manila envelope from his jacket, laid it on the bar, said:
‘It’s there… and cash… you need more, you call me… anytime.’
The package looked thick, fat with readies, I guessed. No cheques with this outfit.

Click to visit ‘The Hackman Blues’ page

Also by Ken Bruen:
A White Arrest
Taming The Alien
The McDead
London Boulevard
Blitz