Thursday 27 September


Electric gates opened in front of the Range Rover. Wrought iron, black, with gold spikes, between two pillars topped with stone acorns. The car drove through and up a long tree-lined avenue of a drive designed to impress. It didn’t impress Tooth.
The incline increased sharply as they approached a turreted granite mansion in the style of a French chateau. A vista opened up to the left of the Atlantic Ocean and a lighthouse on a rock at the end of a causeway.
‘Some view!’ the driver said. ‘Got great views everywhere on this
Tooth said nothing.
Mr Barrey, who was his current employer, had summoned him. This was Mr Barrey’s place. Good for him. Mr Barrey was a rich man, with the same kind of taste in showy grandeur as many rich men who had hired him in the past. One day Mr Barrey would have the honour of being one of the richest men in the graveyard of his choice. The showiest mausoleum. Black marble, carved angels and cherubs, that kind of shit. If Mr Barrey annoyed him, he could help speed up that process.
A shaven-headed bodyguard, all in black, with the physique of a walk-in safe and the charm of a mortuary slab, led them inside, followed by the driver. Tooth didn’t care for the suits of armour in the hallway, nor the fine art on the walls, as he was led through the house.
Another bodyguard stood outside double doors, with a bulge in the left breast of his collarless jacket where his piece was.
Tooth could have taken it off him in seconds, leaving both this one and his driver lying on the floor with broken spines, but he reminded himself that he needed the shitty money this job was paying – and the temporary refuge Mr Barrey had provided for him in Munich.
The one with the piece spoke to him in a foreign accent he couldn’t place. ‘When I take you inside, you do not look at Mr Barrey.
Understand? No one is permitted to look at Mr Barrey. Nor do you look at the men in there with him. You do not look their faces. None of them. Yes?’
‘Kind of them to spare me the sight because they’re all so ugly, is that what you’re saying?’ Tooth retorted.
The man did not react.
But Tooth was only half jesting. He had done his research on his employer, which had not been hard – it never was. Steve Barrey had a badly disfigured face, despite two decades of regular plastic reconstructive surgery. His press release was that it had happened in a helicopter crash, but Tooth knew the truth. It was a revenge sulphuric acid attack by a Romanian lover who had found him in bed with her best friend.
‘So where do I look?’ he questioned.
‘At the floor. If you look up, you dead.’
Tooth bristled. He allowed himself to be frisked by the gorilla guarding the doors, then led through into a room which was dimly lit, with blinds drawn. He heard the doors close behind him. The room smelled of smoke and all he could see, from his peripheral vision, was the tiny red glow of a cigarette in the far distance. He continued looking down, as he was bidden. Anger festered inside him. He thought about lighting up himself, but he needed to keep his hands free.
‘So, my disobedient friend, Mr Tooth,’ a man with an English accent said in a voice that was utterly devoid of charm. ‘It is very good to finally meet you.’
Tooth did not reply.
The man he presumed was Steve Barrey continued. ‘Mr Tooth, you are not in any position to negotiate terms with me. You know that you cannot return to your home in the Turks and Caicos without being arrested. You cannot return to the United States without either the FBI arresting you or the members of a crime family seizing you for what you did to your last employer there. And you are not exactly flavour of the month with the police in England.’
‘But you want me to go there,’ he answered, testily.
‘Of course, because you know it so well, Mr Tooth. You are an excellent choice for the task. But first explain to me, why did you disobey my orders and fail to protect Lena Welch and warn off the Ghanaians?’
‘I did not disobey your orders,’ he said flatly, attempting to wriggle out of the truth that for the first time in his career he had failed in his mission. ‘I was given wrong information. No one told me Copeland would have his shitbag accomplice, Ogwang, with him. Maybe you should choose your intelligence sources better in future.’
Barrey roared with laughter. When it subsided, Tooth saw a flare of light. Barrey had lit another cigarette. ‘Of course. You are such a scary man, Mr Tooth. On your next job for me, Mrs Suzy Driver in Brighton, you will protect her from my former partner, Jules de Copeland, and his sidekick, Dunstan Ogwang. That’s all. End of. Do you understand? You protect her in any way you need. But try not to kill these two. With the police there, killing people in England is never a good idea, as I think you have found out previously, no?’
Tooth risked a glance up. It wasn’t much of a risk, in reality. He had one bodyguard behind him, two in front of him and Mr Barrey behind his desk. He didn’t like being here.
‘You are trying to look at me, are you not, Mr Tooth? You are curious to see my face. Do you not know about curiosity and the cat?’
Tooth felt the tension in the room. All his time as a sniper in the US military, where he’d had to remain hidden for days at a time, had taught him awareness of the slightest movement around him. He could feel the flunkey coming closer behind him. Saw the two in front taking an almost invisible step towards him. He did not like that. The gorilla was right behind him now and that was really not good. He focused, tuning out everything except his three potential enemies, two in front, one behind. What he was about to do would not endear him to his employer, but he really didn’t care. If he had been a scorpion he’d have denied them the pleasure of his company, he thought, by simply exiting the world with a flick of his tail. Instead he had other choices, and only one suited his current mood. He focused hard and fast. One, inches behind him.
Two, a couple of yards in front. Surprise was an element that had always served him well. He arched his neck back, delivering a fierce reverse headbutt to the man’s face, striking him in the nose, hearing the crunch. He sensed him reeling back, giving him enough space to fire out a powerful reverse kick to the man’s liver, which sent him crashing to
the floor in spasm. Then for good measure, with a quick glance, he brutally stamped on his head, knocking him unconscious. As the two men guarding Barrey advanced towards him, Tooth ducked under a clumsily swung punch and put one guard in a choke hold, using him as a human shield against the punches being thrown by his colleague. As he felt the man he was choking go limp, he dropped him to the floor, leaving him one-on-one with the remaining guard. With clinical precision, Tooth threw out a violent low leg-kick and heard the faintly audible crack of snapping knee ligaments. As the guard fell to the floor, shrieking in pain, Tooth delivered a bludgeoning blow to the temple with his elbow.
Then, with the three guards out of it, he looked at the shadow of his employer. Or rather, at the shadow of the barrel of the Sig Sauer handgun his employer was holding.
‘Nice gun, Mr Barrey,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you shoot me?’
Barrey said nothing.
Tooth opened up his arms, presenting his small frame as the biggest target he could make himself into.
Barrey switched on his desk lamp, turning it towards Tooth, then illuminating the three unconscious men on the floor. ‘What the hell have you done?’
‘You want a detailed medical report or just the press release?’
‘I would happily shoot you,’ Barrey said. ‘But, for the moment, you are useful to me.’
‘I know that. You hired me on my reputation, because you knew I’d get the job done. But your bad intelligence is making everything a lot more complicated than you’d told me. That’s why I feel a renegotiation of terms is due.’
‘You see, Mr Barrey, I don’t care if you shoot me. But I know you won’t because your scuzzy empire is already starting to fall apart at the seams due to your bad choice of business partner. Didn’t your mother – if you have one – ever tell you that you judge a man by his shoes? If you don’t mind me saying, this Copeland guy was a bad choice, man! And, you know, some of your victims are not stupid people. All over the globe they are doing Google searches and rumbling the scams. You don’t want to be found out, with all the millions you are raking in, do you? All those men and women who
are salivating over you around the globe. Or over who they think is you or one of your dozens of phoney images. All those alter egos you have, male and female. The twenty-eight-year-old Colombian fashion model. The thirty-seven-year-old blonde sports trainer. The fifty-eight-year-old seismic shipping guy, soon to be a multimillionaire.
The sixty-two-year-old former US Marine.’ Tooth lunged forward and twisted the desk lamp until the beam shone directly
onto Barrey’s ravaged face.
Barrey wore a Stetson tipped low. Wisps of fair hair protruded from either side of it. His eyes were bloodshot and his facial skin was all contorted into ridges and troughs, like a partially stretched and deflated balloon. He barely had any lips. His body was large, bordering on obese. He continued holding the gun, but the threat
had gone.
‘Does it make you happy to destroy lives, Mr Barrey?’
‘Mr Tooth, after surviving my helicopter crash and spending the next two years on and off in the burns unit at Queen Victoria Hospital in Sussex, England, I had a lot of time to reflect. Do you want to know what I concluded?’
Tooth looked at him. ‘What?’
‘That life is a game. You win, you lose. Lots of people never
understand that. But that’s all it is, just a dumb game. I’m helping all those poverty-stricken Ghanaian kids who never had a bean to count in the world, or an opportunity, because for five hundred years European colonialization enslaved them and plundered their country. Now, thanks to me, some of them are rich beyond their wildest dreams.’
‘From scamming decent folk in the West and ruining their lives?
And now your trusted business partner has scammed you. You want me to stop him, and his charming lieutenant, Dunstan Ogwang. The machete boys, right? You know their background, don’t you?
Boy soldiers. All they understand is brutality. Humanity’s not in their make-up. That’s why you brought them to Germany, right? To run your nasty little training camp.’
‘Academy, Mr Tooth.’
‘Academy. Right. Academy for internet scammers. You know,
you have a very skewed moral compass.’
Tooth had visited the place, housed in the fortress of a hilltop schloss in Bavaria, the former residence of one of Adolf Hitler’s least charming buddies, who’d been executed at Nuremberg. Steve Barrey had exploited Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-doors policy to asylum seekers, bringing in over one hundred so-called Sakawa Boys. He arranged coach trips to England for them to help them better understand the culture and hone their skills at targeting their
‘You’re a good one to talk about moral compasses, Mr Tooth.’
‘What we have to talk about, Mr Barrey, is renegotiation of contract terms. You hired me to protect Lena Welch against someone who was a threat to her. You told me to frighten them but you didn’t tell me it was two psycho crazies. The game is changing. For your business to survive, you may need me to take out Copeland and Ogwang, correct?’
‘That’s about the size of it.’
‘But not the size of my fee. Protection is one thing, eliminating is another. My fee is one million dollars per hit. Up front. You know where to find me. When I hear from my bank the payment’s made, I’ll start work. This Mrs Suzy Driver looks a nice lady. Your former business partner and his pal seem to think by applying the rules of violence they grew up by, they can protect their business. You’re worried they’re going to bring down their business – and yours, too, as collateral damage.’
‘Mr Tooth, I have over one hundred decent kids from Ghana who’ve been studying hard to try to better themselves and make a nicer life for their families. Copeland’s greed and violence is going to destroy all that.’
‘You really believe your own press release, don’t you, Mr Barrey?
You glamorize your disfigurement and you try to justify your shitty
business. Steve Barrey, Saviour of the Dispossessed Third World.’
‘So give me your press release, Mr Tooth – I’m all ears.’
‘Not really,’ Tooth replied. ‘Both yours were burned off by sulphuric acid.’