Harry's Justice (book 1) (paperback)
Following a chance meeting with a man whose daughter has gone missing and an offer of payment to find her, Harry begins a search. That search draws him back into London’s criminal underworld and into conflict with Russian organized crime and his former crime boss, as well as being arrested for murder.
Harry’s search becomes a journey of survival, retribution and justice, dark secrets and exorcising the demons of his past - but how will his journey end?
(contains some violence)
Harry was finding it difficult to breathe. The arm wrapped around his throat was tight, strong, and unrelenting.
Harry’s assailant had attacked him from behind and was now holding him in a vice-like neck-lock, the crook of his elbow hard against Harry’s Adam’s apple, his beer gut against Harry’s lower back. Harry could feel hot breath on the side of his face as his attacker made disparaging remarks about his advancing years and questionable parentage while trying to squeeze the life out of him.
Harry sensed the approach of attacker number three just before he entered his peripheral vision. He cursed himself for getting involved and for not minding his own business.
Harry had gone out for a couple of beers ‘early doors’ after what had been a busy and difficult day fitting kitchen units. Harry was not, by any means, a qualified or experienced tradesman, but he generally achieved what he set out to do by dogged persistence and a grim determination not to be beaten - not to mention a considerable amount of cursing and swearing.
His local pub was the Kings Arms in Crouch End, North London, and five minutes’ walk from his home. Harry liked the Kings Arms because it was a traditional pub with a traditional clientele. To the younger crowd, this meant boring, which is why they generally passed it by in favour of the more popular drinking places - another reason Harry liked the Kings Arms.
Still, in his work clothes of jeans and tee-shirt, Harry had thrown on his old army surplus combat jacket to brave the November chill and walk to the pub. He didn’t own a car; he either used public transport or walked. And he didn’t mind the extreme weather, either, he quite enjoyed it.
The creak of un-oiled hinges on the heavy timber door noisily announced his entrance to the pub’s few customers, the smell of coal and wood smoke welcoming him in as he approached the bar. He gave a curt nod of the head as a greeting to the Barman.
‘Usual?’ the Barman asked. Harry simply nodded in reply. The Barman picked up a clean pint glass and then angled it under the pump. ‘You ok?’ he asked, conversationally and without curiosity, as he pulled back on the hand pump: one, two long strokes, and then a short third to top-up the pint of bitter.
‘Fine,’ replied Harry, equally noncommittal, putting the few pence in change into a plastic charity box that sat on the bar, before then adding, ‘You should get that fixed down.’ He indicated the charity box. ‘Someone might nick-it.’
‘Don’t get that kind of clientele,’ said the Barman.
Harry took his pint over to a table close to the open fire.
The Kings Arms consisted of one large rectangular room, with the fireplace at the far end to the entrance door. A solid oak bar ran partway down the back wall, opposite to the mullioned windows that overlooked the London streets. The bare floorboards, tables, chairs and bench seats were scarred with the passage of time. The yellow staining of nicotine on the walls evidenced the pre-smoking ban. Dusty plate racks supported porcelain figures, Toby jugs, and trophies showing success in darts competitions of long ago. Beer mats, horse brasses, and notes of foreign currency were pinned to the exposed ceiling beams.
Once seated, Harry checked out the other customers: two male London Underground workers standing at one end of the bar - probably having just finished their working shift - discussing the merits of the English game of cricket; at a table towards the other end of the bar, quietly playing dominoes was an elderly couple. The elderly lady, sensing she was being watched, glanced up to meet Harry’s gaze with a kindly smile before turning back to her game. Harry returned her smile, conscious he’d been caught intruding on a quiet moment.
That was the total amount of the pub’s custom.
He took a sip from his pint, opened up a copy of The Evening Standard newspaper, to then settle himself down for a relaxing couple of hours.
Harry Windsor - given name, Henry - was in his early forties. He was a lean six foot two inches tall and broad in the shoulder. His dark hair was collar length, casually swept back and beginning to grey at the temples. Harry’s idea of unwinding after a busy day was a couple of pints in the pub - maybe more if it’d been a very busy day. He rarely interacted with the locals, other than a polite greeting when required. Another advantage of the Kings Arms was no one bothered you with inane banter unless you wanted it. He’d always preferred his own company, the solitude of his own thoughts. The irony that he did this in a public place was not lost on him.
He didn’t get his relaxing couple of hours because the creak of door hinges had announced new arrivals.
A wall of sound preceded the group of five young people who entered, closely followed by a thick fog of aftershave and perfume: three guys who looked to be in their early twenties and two young women, a blonde and a brunette who were probably in their late teens - though, to Harry, they looked like they’d barely left school. It was a Saturday evening and judging by the way they were dressed, they were on a big night out. The guys were wearing smart trousers, clean shiny shoes and their best multi-coloured shirts and which of course were not tucked into their trousers; the girls were wearing... not a lot, as girls seemed to do these days, more flesh on show than cloth.
Harry then wondered when he’d turned into a grumpy old fart.
‘Fuck me!’ said the shortest of the three guys. ‘It’s like a fuckin’ mausoleum in ’ere.’ This got some laughs from his mates. ‘All right, grandad?’ asked ‘Shorty’, as they passed the elderly couple.
The Underground workers reluctantly and warily moved away from the bar to give the new arrivals more space. Shorty winked at them, acknowledging their giving way. ‘Mind the gap,’ he said, ‘the train now arriving at the bar is the lager express. All aboard, toot, toot.’ He then mimed the pulling of a train chord, which his friends also found highly amusing.
The Barman asked what they were drinking.
‘Three lagers,’ Shorty replied, before then turning to the two girls. ‘What’re you girls ’aving?’ The girls surveyed the range of optics and the bottles in the chilled cabinet, clearly uncertain. ‘Brandy and coke?’ said Shorty, trying to be helpful, an arm around the waist of each girl.
Of the other two guys and the biggest of the three, was a bear of a man with a shaven head and who was closely examining the foreign currency pinned to the exposed beams; the third was taking a keen interest in the elderly couple’s game of dominoes, a man of a similar build to Harry, with spiked gelled hair, a thick gold chain around his neck and two or three gold bracelets on each wrist which jangled as he pointed out the next move the elderly couple should play in their game of dominoes.
At the bar, Shorty continued to suggest drinks for the girls. ‘I know what you’d like,’ he said, as he squeezed their waists, ‘a Harvey Wall Banger!... Or... a Screwdriver!’ he said, putting emphasis on the words ‘banger’ and ‘screw’. ‘No, no. Better still, a Muff Diver!’
‘I don’t think I’ve had one of those. What do they taste like?’ asked the blonde.
Shorty licked his lips and assured her they tasted divine, while his hand reassuringly patted the thin cloth that covered her backside, which he then lifted to expose her bare buttocks. The blonde - who continued to study the row of optics in search of inspiration - seemed either not to notice, or care. Shorty then looked over to the Underground workers and gave them a conspiratorial wink of the eye. Their returned smiles were half-hearted.
He glanced in Harry’s direction, also looking for approval. Harry looked him squarely and levelly in the eye, before returning his attention back to his newspaper. The youth smirked, thinking he’d won the ‘staring-out-your-opponent competition’, that so often seemed to determine the pecking order between males.
Harry knew and appreciated the value of posturing and how it could determine if conflict was to happen. He’d looked away in embarrassment rather than fear. Looking at the exposed buttocks of a girl young enough to be his daughter - not that he had a daughter - was something he found uncomfortable.
Harry then wondered when he’d turned into a prude.
Raucous laughter drew Harry’s attention back. ‘Spike’ had picked up a domino and was stamping it down upon the table, shouting, ‘Check-mate!’ while the elderly couple were rigid with fear, intimidated by the youth’s loutish behaviour. Bored with playing dominoes, Spike then turned his attention to the elderly lady’s handbag, snatching it up from the chair beside her. ‘What ’ave we ’ere?’ he said. ‘What exactly does a lady keep in her ’andbag?’ The elderly gentleman - unsure what to do but feeling an obligation to protect his wife - started to rise from his seat, while Spike’s friends looked on, curious to see what would happen next. ‘Sit down granddad, if you know what’s good for you,’ Spike told the old man.
The elderly gentleman didn’t need to be told twice.
Harry looked across to the Barman - who was studiously polishing glasses - to catch his eye and then raise questioning eyebrows, but the Barman quickly broke eye contact to continue his polishing.
Harry sighed heavily as he folded up his newspaper. No respect.
By this point, Spike had had a good rummage in the old lady’s handbag, before plucking out her purse and to then hold it aloft. ‘Bingo!’
‘Please,’ the elderly woman said, holding out her hand.
Grinning, Spike quickly turned away from her to shield his next move, but as he did so, he bumped into six foot two inches of muscle and attitude standing right behind him.
‘Put it back,’ said Harry, to which a look of surprise and uncertainty crossed Spike’s face. ‘Put it back and apologise to the lady.’
Spike stared at Harry. He then looked across to his friends. All conversation had stopped, all eyes on Harry and Spike.
Spike just shrugged. 'Hey, man, just fooling. No 'arm meant,' he said while grinning at Harry, who regarded him coldly. Spike again looked across to his friends for support, to see them grinning back at him. 'See, just fooling.'
Harry continued to hold Spike’s gaze. Waiting. After an uneasy moment, Spike then turned around to the elderly couple and placed the old lady’s bag on the table in front of her. ‘Sorry darlin’,’ he said, still grinning and with no trace of sincerity or remorse.
From his position behind Spike, Harry saw him once again shoot a glance across to his mates, and when he saw the muscles in the youth’s neck and shoulders start to tense, he slowly and subtly eased his weight and balance to his back foot. A fraction of a second later, Spike spun around, his right arm and fist swinging towards Harry’s face, but with his weight and balance now on his back foot, all Harry had to do was just simply duck.
The punch sailed harmlessly over his head.
The momentum of the swing had left Spike’s body open and exposed. Seeing this, Harry dipped his shoulder to deliver a powerful right jab to Spike’s ribs, before quickly adjusting his balance in preparation of delivering a follow-up left hook and bringing the fight to an end.
But Spike stayed down on one knee, holding his side and clearly in pain, yet for the moment, going nowhere.
While the fight had lasted only a matter of seconds, time seemed to have stood still. The onlookers had not moved, had not spoken. But the fight had also finished with Harry having his back to the bar and to Spike’s friends. He was exposed, and he knew it.
That was when the ‘Big Guy’ launched himself on to Harry’s back.
Harry was finding it difficult to breathe. The arm wrapped around his throat was tight, strong, and unrelenting.
Big Guy was holding him in a vice-like neck-lock, the crook of his elbow hard against Harry’s Adam’s apple, his beer gut against Harry’s lower back. Harry could also feel hot breath on the side of his face as his attacker made disparaging remarks about his advancing years and questionable parentage while trying to squeeze the life out of him.
The two girls were screaming hysterically. The elderly couple were cowering in their seats. The Underground workers’ faces showed their indecision about whether to get involved or not. The Barman stayed behind the safety of the bar, shouting for the fight to stop or he would phone the police.
Harry sensed the approach of Shorty, just before he entered his peripheral vision. He silently cursed himself for getting involved and for not minding his own business.
Shorty took a swing at the captured Harry, the punch catching him low on the cheek. Harry felt soft flesh make contact with hard teeth, closely followed by a metallic taste, the blow serving only to annoy him rather than inflict any serious damage. Shorty’s lack of height meant he’d been unable to get any weight behind the punch. ‘Hold him still,’ said Shorty to Big Guy, as he prepared himself for a run-up at Harry.
As Shorty launched himself forward, Harry kicked out, his steel toe-capped safety boot connecting with Shorty’s groin area. Shorty dropped to the ground, pole axed and screaming like a girl.
Taking advantage of this surprise turn of events - to everyone but Harry - Harry then planted both feet firmly on the ground and pushed hard backwards, propelling himself and his captor towards the oak bar. Big Guy hit the bar with a resounding crash, the small of his back taking the full impact. Harry heard the rattle and breaking of glass as he felt the vibration of the impact through Big Guy’s body, yet the grip around his neck loosened only slightly.
Harry couldn't afford to lose the momentum of attack, so he dipped his head forward to then whip it back, the crown of his head, hitting his attacker in the face. Without pausing, he did it again, feeling the man’s nose, shatter. Then, raising a foot and using Big Guy’s shin as a guide, Harry stamped the heel of his work boot hard down on the arch of the man’s leather brogue, to feel fragile bones give way. Big Guy screamed with pain, finally releasing his grip. As he did so, Harry drove his elbow backwards into soft flesh, aiming a few inches deeper than contact point, to maximise impact.
As his attacker slowly slid down the bar to the floor, Harry turned, poised to strike, fists clenched, body tense, adrenalin racing to deliver the killing blow. But the big man's eyes were glazed and unfocused, his face a mask of blood and snot.
He hit the floor, body slumped. Unconscious.
Harry stepped away to study his attacker. Some might have said he looked a little disappointed.
But the fight was not yet over. While Shorty was still in the foetal position on the floor, whimpering in pain and wondering if sex would ever again be a possibility, Spike was back on his feet. And he was holding something.
A faint ‘snick’ sound was then heard.
Harry turned, once again putting his back to the bar and with even less room to manoeuvre. But the danger now lay in front. Spike had plenty of space and, in his hand, a flick knife. He was still hurting from Harry’s blow but now fancied his chances.
He grinned at Harry.
He then feinted a lunge with the knife. Harry leaned away from the strike. Spike feinted another lunge. And then another. Each time, Harry swerved away, the bar top pressing against his back, Big Guy unconscious at his feet, restricting his movement. Harry knew Spike was testing him. That he was weighing-up his speed and agility and would soon strike, proper. He also knew he had to end the fight. And end it soon.
Harry shifted his weight to his back foot, and then flicked out a side kick towards Spike’s surprised face, which he evaded by quickly leaning back, as Harry knew he would.
Harry had to get him off balance.
He aimed a roundhouse kick towards Spike’s left side. Spike skipped to his right. But Harry didn’t follow through with the kick. Instead - and in anticipation - he swept his left arm across the bar, scooped up the heavy coin-filled charity box, to then bring it crashing against Spike’s right temple.
Spike’s legs gave way, and he also crumpled to the floor.
A hush had fallen.
The silence was broken by the chink of coins, as Harry replaced the charity box back on the bar. But not before glancing at the name on the box: Barnardos. The irony brought a smile to his face.
The two young girls were clinging to each other, rigid with fear, their faces frozen, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, tear-streaked mascara staining their cheeks.
Kneeling down next to Spike, who was semi-conscious and trying to blink away the dizziness, Harry picked the flick knife up from the floor and inspected it. It was shiny and new. The handle was of bone, the blade keen. The weight felt good; balanced.
Aware of a movement within his line of vision, Harry looked up to make eye contact with the elderly lady. He saw appreciation... yet also uncertainty and apprehension. For a brief moment, he was looking into the eyes of another woman. A woman who he’d held dear, and who’d loved him dearly also.
He blinked. The image was gone.
He looked back at Spike, who was now watching him carefully, fear in his eyes. He flinched as Harry reached out towards him, but it was only to pick up the elderly lady’s bag that had fallen to the floor. Standing, he placed the bag back on the table in front of her. As she retrieved it, her fingers lightly and tenderly brushed the back of Harry’s hand.
That intimate gesture left Harry feeling awkward and humbled.
He looked at the knife, wondering what to do with it. He retracted the blade, then placed it in his pocket. Nodding a courteous farewell to the Barman, he then collected his jacket and newspaper and drained his glass, before sauntering out into the chilly November evening.