Make Them Pay (Brock and Poole Mysteries) Online - Graham Ison

ONE

When the man arrived in Birmingham, he stopped at the first newsagents he saw. Alighting from his Volkswagen Polo, he entered the shop and spent a few minutes browsing the shelves. Finally he found what he was looking for: a copy of a local newspaper.

Returning to his car, he sat for a few minutes perusing the columns of small ads that listed rooms to let. Selecting an address at random he set his satnav – a recent add-on extra to his old car – for a road in Sheldon.

Parking his car some distance away from the house he had decided upon, he walked the rest of the way. It was an old house with paintwork that needed some attention and brickwork that was overdue for pointing. What had once been the front garden was now overlaid with concrete to provide hard standing for an ancient Toyota saloon car and a motorcycle. He made his way towards the front door, carefully avoiding a couple of wheelie bins and several black rubbish bags. It was not the ideal sort of place at which he would have chosen to stay, even in the short term, but he had no intention of staying there at all.

‘Mrs Patel?’ the man asked, when a woman opened the door in response to his knock. He immediately detected a strong smell of curry. Not that it bothered him; in fact he enjoyed a good curry, but he would not be taking advantage of the landlady’s culinary skills.

‘Yes, I am Mrs Patel.’ She was wearing a sari and her long shiny black hair was fashioned into a plait that, when she turned, he could see reached almost to her waist.

‘I understand that you have a room to let.’ The man extended a finger to indicate the advertisement in his folded newspaper.

‘How long do you want a room for? It has to be at least a month otherwise it’s not worth my while.’ Mrs Patel looked searchingly at the man, as though assessing his ability to pay. But he was neatly dressed in a blazer and a collar and a striped tie, and that satisfied her. In fact, he appeared to be a little more respectable than most of her usual paying guests.

‘It’ll be at least a week, Mrs Patel, perhaps even a little longer.’ The man told the lie easily.

‘I’ll show you the room,’ said Mrs Patel, and led the way upstairs.

‘Oh yes, this will do nicely,’ said the man, having given the sparsely furnished bed-sitting room a cursory glance. That the accommodation comprised only a bed, a chair and a wash-hand basin didn’t matter; it would serve the purpose for which he wanted it.

He agreed the rent with Mrs Patel and paid for a week in advance from a roll of banknotes. Mrs Patel gave him a rent book in which she had entered the man’s name in block capitals together with the address. She took a large ledger from a drawer and made an entry in it. ‘For the tax people,’ she said, by way of explanation. ‘We are very particular to keep good records.’

‘Thank you, Mrs Patel.’ The man put the rent book in his pocket. ‘I just have to go to New Street station and collect my baggage. I’ll see you later.’ But he never returned.

Instead, he drove to a gun club, the address of which he’d found on the Internet.

The club secretary and the armourer were talking in the office when the man entered.

‘Can I help you?’ enquired the secretary, glancing up at the well-dressed man. The armourer particularly noticed the man’s tie; it could have been that of an army regiment, but the armourer had been in the Royal Air Force and was not able to identify it.

‘I’m considering applying for membership, if that’s possible,’ said the man.

‘Always glad to recruit a new member,’ said the secretary warmly, and took a form from a drawer in his desk. ‘Just a few particulars and a chat with the armourer-instructor, and then you’re in. Do you have anything to say who you are?’

As evidence of identity and place of abode, the man produced the rent book that Mrs Patel had given him.

The secretary recorded the applicant’s name and address and returned the book. ‘This is a very active club,’ he said. ‘We’re open for practice most weekday evenings and on Saturdays and Sundays.’

‘Have you handled firearms before?’ asked the armourer.

‘Yes, I was in the army,’ said the man, preferring not to mention the circumstances under which