Could it be the end for Nick Sharman? The latest from the Spillane of Brit Noir, as hardboiled as they come
For seven years, ex-cop Nick Sharman has lived in "exile" on a Caribbean island, his life of luxury funded by the proceeds of a bank robbery where he was the last man standing. A phone call out of the blue changes everything. The voice from the past belongs to the only woman that he loves, his daughter Judith. Like father, like daughter, she's a police officer, but the family resemblance doesn't stop thereJudith is in big trouble with the law, and has no one to turn to except her father. Returning under an assumed name to a bleak mid-winter England, Nick finds he's grown older, but perhaps no wiser, and his once beloved London is moving too fast for him. Vowing to clear his daughter's name by any means necessary, Sharman finds himself enmeshed with blackmailers, murderers, the security services, and Russian gangsters all baying for his blooduntil he, Judith, and his old sparring partner Jack Robber take on all comers in a dramatic finale on the mean streets of London.
About the Author
Mark Timlin is the author of more than 30 novels, including All the Empty Places, Answers from the Grave, Guns of Brixton, and Stay Another Day, as well as Gangsters’ Wives and Lipstick Killers under the pseudonym Lee Martin. His Nick Sharman novels were made into a television series starring Clive Owen.
Read an Excerpt
Stay Another Day
The Eighteenth Nick Sharman Thriller
By Mark Timlin
NO Exit PressCopyright © 2010 Mark Timlin
All rights reserved.
It was three in the afternoon when I got the message. A typical afternoon for me, sitting under a sunshade by the pool I'd dug at the back of the little house I lived in, or trying to finish the Telegraph crossword in a two-day-old newspaper, which was how long they took to reach me. I didn't care. Old news suited me fine. Put everything in perspective, if you get my drift. The pool was fed by the ocean, and as I dipped my feet in the water little creatures would come and nibble at my toes. Very friendly, and if I put a net in later, I could haul a few out, toss them in boiling water and eat them for my evening meal with some rice and peas. Maybe not so friendly, but as I've discovered over the years, it's a harsh world. My only other companions on that afternoon, as most afternoons, were several feral cats that I fed, because I've always had an empathy for cats. They don't belong to anyone. Plus there was an old teddy bear. He was a reminder of past times, and someone I once loved who's buried three thousand miles away, in a cold grave in a cold country. But here, the air was warm, smelling of salt, fish and vaguely of spliff, which was one of the local cash crops.
So there I sat that afternoon, on one of the dozens of beautiful islands in the West Indies, thinking that this life would go on forever. But another fact I've discovered over the years is that things don't always go to plan.
I was still puzzling over three down when I heard the sound of an engine ripping through the afternoon quiet. I mostly ignored it. The coast road ran over a rise just a few hundred yards from my front door, so I often heard the sound of motors. But this one stopped, and I looked up to see Clive, the owner of a little bar and restaurant half a mile down the beach, come over the hill and jog in my direction. He was dressed similarly to me in a vest, shorts, flip-flops and shades, and his dreads flipped from side to side as he approached.
'Hey Clive,' I said. 'What's up?'
I expected him to tell me he had slaughtered a goat for curry and invite me round for supper, but instead he said, 'You got a phone call Jim. From England. She gonna call back in an hour.' He sounded excited at the thought.
He called me Jim because that's the name on my passport. James, that is. James Stark. But that's not my real name. And why don't I have my own phone? Because I don't care to talk to anyone much. More or less everything on the island is within walking distance. Everything I need that is. And as for mobiles, forget it. This was the original dead zone. There had been talk of a mast, but why? Anyway, I don't want a phone. Also, I have a past. But more of that later. And why the excitement? Well, I've been here for seven years, and this was my first phone call. That's what the excitement was about.
'She?' I said, trying to gather my thoughts. But I knew who she must be. My daughter Judith. One of only two people I'd given the phone number of Clive's restaurant to back in England.
'Yeah man. Sounded nice, but a little distraught. I've come to give you a ride.'
Distraught. I liked that. For all his dreadlocks and spliff and reggae, Clive was an educated man. Like me, he'd just wanted a quiet life.
I got up from the side of the pool, found my flip-flops and said. 'OK mate. Let's go.' I tried to sound cheerful but I felt a cold lump in my stomach that even the heat of the afternoon sun couldn't dispel.
Clive's little Honda bike was parked by the side of the road. Those single seaters were the vehicle of choice around the island. Clive jumped on and fired up the motor, and I perched on the luggage rack at the back, holding him tightly round his waist. It was a bloody uncomfortable way to travel, but even more uncomfortable to come off. Street pizza is a very unattractive injury, and the nearest doctor and hospital was a way off. The thirty-year-old ambulance was more often off the road than on. As I sat down I shifted the little pistol in the back pocket of my shorts. The pistol I'd grabbed when I heard the Honda's engine stop by my house. It doesn't do to take chances. Even here. Even after seven years. Like I said, I've got a past.CHAPTER 2
It was just a short trip thank God, made even shorter by Clive's driving style, which was flamboyant to say the least. Another reason I usually chose to walk when I popped into the bar for a drink and a bite to eat. He preferred the hooter to the brakes, and revved the little engine so hard it sounded like a banshee on its last journey to hell. So just a few minutes after we left my place he powered the bike onto the shell-covered parking space outside the beach shack he called home in a cloud of dust, scattering the chickens that supplied fresh eggs to the restaurant, skidded to a halt, and switched off.
The bar overlooked the ocean just like my house. The ocean could be a useful friend, but could be an enemy too, as several fishermen from the island had discovered to their peril. The building, if you could call it that, was made of scaffolding poles sunk deep into the sand, holding up a thatched roof, walled with wooden slats. The bar itself was fronted with mismatched stools, a tiny kitchen, and half a dozen tables and chairs that looked like they'd been rescued from a skip. But somehow, Clive and his business partner/chef Cyril had managed to create an ambience that brought people from all over the island, and further afield, to talk and eat and drink in an atmosphere of friendliness that I'd rarely found anywhere else in the world. Of course it helped that Cyril had trained in a Michelin-starred restaurant back in England where he'd been born, and could cook like a dream. At the back was a more substantial building where Clive and Cyril were house mates, and entertained a variety of the female visitors who fell under their romantic spells.
That afternoon a few locals sat at the bar drinking from cans of Red Stripe and two tourists were drinking mai-tais at one of the tables and digging into plates of jerk chicken and sweet potatoes. It was just like a lot of afternoons I'd visited the place, but I knew it was different. It felt like the end of an era. A full stop in life's pageant.
I nodded a greeting as I went inside, and the locals raised their hands in salutes, as Clive went behind the bar and poured me my usual gin and tonic. He looked at the diver's watch on his wrist and said, 'Won't be long man.'
I said nothing back, just fished a cigarette from the battered pack in the side pocket of my shorts, lit it with my Zippo and took a long drink. This was one call I wasn't looking forward to taking.
Ten minutes later the phone rang with that peculiar sound that the phones made on the island, and my stomach lurched. Clive answered on the second ring, then held out the receiver to me. 'Here she is, Jim,' he said.
I walked into the short corridor that led to the kitchen under the gaze of the customers and took the phone from his hand. 'Hello,' I said in a voice that sounded strange to my own ears. 'Jim Stark.'
Then the voice of the only woman alive I loved came across half the world. 'Hello Dad.'
'Hello love, what do you need?'
'You,' she said in reply. 'I'm in trouble.'
'What kind of trouble?'
'Not on the phone.'
'Can you come Dad?'
'Of course. You know I will.'
'Try and stop me.'
'It's been so long.' And I heard her start to cry.
'Don't,' I said. I've never been good with outbursts of emotion. 'Please.' Aware of all the ears in the room listening to me.
'Sorry. It's not like me. I just need you Dad. When will you get here?'
'Just as soon as I can. Got a number for me?'
I gestured for Clive to pass me a piece of paper and a pen and I took down a London number. 'Give me a couple of days,' I said. 'It's complicated.'
'Quick as you can.'
'Trust me, love' I said. 'What time is it there?' I could never work it out.
'Morning. And cold. Very cold.'
'Smashing. Don't worry, I'll be there. Love you.'
'You too,' and she rang off. The phone was slippery with sweat when I put it back on the hook. And it wasn't just from the afternoon heat.
I went back to the bar and finished the G&T in one gulp. 'Once again please Clive,' I said.
'You leaving us man?' he asked as he dropped ice and a slice of lemon into a fresh glass, free poured the gin and topped it up with tonic.
'Looks like it.'
'Ladyfriend in trouble back in Blighty?'
'Jesus, man, you never said.'
'You never asked,' I said.
'Your business,' he said, shrugging.
'That's why I like this place. What happens elsewhere stays elsewhere.'
'Best for all concerned. When you off?'
'As soon as I can get sorted.'
'No idea,' I said, and I meant it.
'There'll always be a seat for you at the bar, you know that.'
'Cheers mate,' I said and raised my glass to him. For good? I thought. Doesn't sound like anything good to me.CHAPTER 3
By the time I left the bar the sun was sinking into the sea like a big red blister. I walked back home. I was just a bit unsteady on my feet, as I'd had several more G&T's, and a toke or two from a huge spliff from Cyril in the kitchen as he grilled me a red snapper with fat sweet potato chips and homemade lemon mayonnaise. He grilled me about the mystery phone call too and was as surprised as Clive that I had a daughter I'd never mentioned. But then, I'd never mentioned much about my life before the island. And anyway, as Judith hadn't told me exactly what kind of trouble she was in, I was no wiser than him.
By then the midges were swarming about. The locals call them no-see-ums because you don't until they start to bite. Some settled on my bare shoulder for an early supper. I should've been wearing a long sleeved shirt, but I hadn't expected to be out so long. One of the few downsides of living in paradise are those damn bugs.
I just brushed them off as I walked, and I let my mind drift back to the past. Back to the dim and distant old life when I was in London.
Like I said before, my name's not James Stark. It's Nick Sharman, and I used to be a policeman until I resigned — before I was fired and prosecuted. I'd stolen a load of cocaine from the evidence locker at Brixton police station, and flogged what I didn't use. I had a wife and child to support and several expensive habits. Women, booze, fast cars and drugs mainly. I'm not proud of what I did, but it was the eighties, and things were different then. Also, I had a relationship with a very heavy south London villain named John Jenner. I did him some favours and he did me some back. Mostly, in small denomination used notes. Then I became a private detective. Don't laugh. See, I had no pension, a dodgy foot after being shot, and I still had some bad habits. A lot of people died during those years. My first and second wives, my unborn child, friends and enemies alike, some of them at my hand. Then finally, I got involved in a big robbery, where I was the last man standing. But I'm rich now, though you wouldn't know it from my lifestyle. I got out of London, and thought I'd stay out for the rest of my life. But now it looked like I had to go back. But to what?
And my daughter? Believe it or not, she's a copper too. I bet that raised some eyebrows at Hendon. But then she's not me. She's smart. Went to university, got a good degree and signed up to the Met. Fast track. She's still only in her twenties and she's a detective-inspector. That's what really worried me about the phone call. She shouldn't need me. And if you wonder how I know about her career without a single call in seven years, it's because the Caribbean bank where I've got my ill-gottens stashed away occasionally receives a postcard, which they hold for me. So they should. There's a lot of credit on my account. When I take a trip off the island I pop in and pick up my post. I don't answer them. It's just comforting to know what's going on, and that she still thinks enough about me to let me know how she's doing.
When I finally got back to my tiny house I fed the cats, grabbed a shirt and a beer, put Hank Williams on the CD player, lit a smoke bomb to keep the midges away, and went back to the pool. I fell asleep in a comfy old armchair next to the water as Hank and the sea lulled me off.
Tomorrow was another day, and something told me that my life here would never be the same again, no matter how much I wanted it to be.CHAPTER 4
At dawn, the sun rose over the horizon, zapping me in the face. I came to, still sitting in the chair. I got up to make a cup of tea which I drank as I walked across the beach towards the incoming tide, wondering whether it would be for the last time. When I'd finished I went back inside and squinted at myself in the mirror in the small bathroom. What I saw wasn't fit for travel. You see, I'd grown a beard and my hair was so long I usually tied it up in a ponytail. A real Robinson bleedin' Crusoe. Something would have to be done before I returned to civilisation and that meant Rita. I'd met her and her mother Gloria at Clive's early on in my stay on the island. Rita was the widow of one of the fishermen lost at sea a few years earlier. His body was never found, and there was an empty grave in the churchyard, with a wooden plaque above it. She had two kids, a son and a daughter, and ran a little hairdressers in town. We'd had a bit of a thing for a while; it fizzled out as those things do, but we'd stayed friends. We often met for a drink and a meal at the bar, and I knew she'd give me a trim if I popped round to her house, which was just a few minutes walk from Clive's place. I wasn't going to shave my beard completely — I was tanned nearly as dark as the natives of the island, and I would certainly cause some comment with half a dark and half a white face. And comment was the last thing I needed where I was going.
Next, I checked the safe I'd sunk into concrete under my bed. Inside was a bundle of cash in dollars and sterling, my other guns and ammunition. I had a nice little collection. The .22 auto I carried at all times, a .45 Glock and a 9mm Sig. There was a sports shop in the town where I'd bought them over the years. I didn't bother with licences and nor did the owner of the shop. Every so often I'd rent a jeep, buy a few watermelons, then drive up into the mountain in the centre of the island where it was quiet and shoot the shit out of the fruit. Very satisfying. I took out the money, folded it into a wallet, stuck the .22 next to the other weapons, and locked the safe again. There was no way I was going to try and take a weapon with me. I knew all about the increased security since 9/11. Christ, I remember that day so well. Time after time we'd watched the planes crash into the towers on the cranky old television in the bar, until we couldn't take any more, and by consensus had shut it down. There's only so much shit you can take before you become hardened to it.
Then I walked to Clive's. He was pottering around, and I asked if I could use the phone to call Jack. He was the owner, mechanic and pilot of the plane that hopped around the islands. We fixed a price that would keep him on the airstrip until I arrived later that day.
'You really leaving?' asked Clive as he cooked me ham and eggs, which he served with black coffee laced with a slug of dark rum.
'Yes,' I said.
'I still don't know.'
'Remember what I said about the seat.'
'I will mate.'
'We'll miss you Jim.'
I couldn't leave it like that. 'Listen Clive,' I said. 'You and Cyril, and everyone here have been such good friends to me, I can't leave you with a lie. My name's not Jim.'
'I think we figured that one out years ago. But like I said before, your business.'
'Yeah. I imagine it was that obvious. Anyway, my name's Nick,' and I stuck out my hand.
He took it in his. 'Pleased to meet you Nick,' he said. 'Clive.'
'Clive,' I replied, and hugged him tight. 'Now listen,' I said. 'You've got a spare key to the house. Feed the cats and look out for the place will you?'
'It's bought and paid for. And if I don't come back soon, it's yours.'
'I'll guard it with my life,' he said.
'No need to go quite that far. There's a safe under the bed.' I wrote down the combination on a scrap of paper. 'There's all sorts inside. Probably illegal some of them. Do with them as you see fit.'
'Here's some money for my tab and the cat food,' I said, pulling out some notes.
He waved it away. 'Tab can wait 'til you come back. We'll have a party. You can pay after that.'
'It'll be my pleasure. Where's Cyril?'
'At the market.'
'I'll catch him before I go. I'm off to Rita's. Get spruced up for the journey.'
'You could use it man,' he said, laughing.
'Cheers. And one other thing.' I put my old teddy on the bar, that I'd carried up in my pocket. 'Put this fella somewhere. Somewhere to keep an eye on you lot.'
He grinned. 'My pleasure,' he said, placing the bear onto a shelf next to the TV set.CHAPTER 5
When I'd finished my breakfast I headed for Rita's. She was getting the kids, Jacey and Little Gloria, ready for school. It was the last few days of term before the Christmas break, and they were going crazy, all excited about the play they were going to be in that day. When I knocked on her back door she shooed them off to clean their teeth. 'What can I do for you big man?' she asked. She never called me Jim. I'd told her my real name when we were an item, but she knew not to call me that either.
'I'm going back to England,' I said.
'So I heard.' I couldn't read her expression.
'I couldn't leave without seeing you, and I can't go looking like this. I wondered if you had your scissors handy.'
Excerpted from Stay Another Day by Mark Timlin. Copyright © 2010 Mark Timlin. Excerpted by permission of NO Exit Press.
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