Charlie Fox book two
'I am a violent man, Miss Fox,' Garton-Jones said, without bravado or inflection. 'I can − and will − do whatever is necessary to control this estate. Remember that.'
A self-defence expert with a motorbike and an attitude, Charlie Fox doesn't need to go looking for trouble. It generally finds her. House-sitting for a friend seems like an easy favour at first but the house in question is in the Lavender Gardens estate. Teenage gangs are running riot and Charlie's desperate neighbours have been forced to employ an expensive − and ruthless − security firm to apply rough justice where the legal kind has failed. The situation gets even uglier when a young Asian boy is fatally wounded in what appears to be a racially motivated shooting.
". . . grabbed me within the first few pages . . . I read it straight through"
Caught in the middle of an urban battlefield, Charlie's more than able to take care of herself but then she comes face to face with a spectre from her army past. As the tensions rise, lives will depend on Charlie working out just who she can really trust.
From the author's notebook
I started writing RIOT ACT at the end of 2000, and was hoping people would believe the plot because at that time there hadn't been any race riots in northern cities for around five years. I was amazed when Bradford, Burnley and Oldham erupted into violence during the summer of 2001.
Friday, the Rhodesian Ridgeback Charlie is looking after in RIOT ACT, was originally going to be a very peripheral character, but he rewrote his part when I wasn't looking and grew into a major player. The first draft didn't tell you what happened to the dog at the end, but complaints from my test readers ensured I added a note into the epilogue about the dog's fate.
My sense of complacency lasted until I reached the far crumbling kerb and we threaded our way through the line of close-packed empty vehicles.
Friday lurched to a halt so abruptly that I ran into his rump and nearly stumbled. It only took a second before I realised the reason for the dog's sudden check. For me to register a bulky figure rising behind a parked van.
Shock made me gasp, sent me reeling backwards. Fear convulsed my hands, so that I tightened my grip on Friday's lead.
A harsh laugh greeted my recoil, as though that was the effect its owner always hoped his appearance would have, and had yet to be disappointed.
'A tad late to be walking the dog, isn't it, Fox?'
The man swaggered forwards into the glow of a streetlight, sending a spent cigarette butt sizzling carelessly into the gloom. Three other shadows solidified behind him, keeping station. All of them were dressed in military surplus urban cam fatigues, and carrying an assortment of makeshift weaponry that would have been laughable if it hadn't been so deadly serious.
Friday settled for giving out a low growl. It was difficult to tell if his hackles were up, because Ridgebacks have a line of opposite-growing hair down their spines anyway, but the sight and sound of him was enough to stop the men in their tracks.
I unwound slowly, trying to steady my heartbeat. 'What are you doing here, Langford?' I asked sharply. 'Bit outside your territory, isn't it?'
With one eye on the dog, he treated me to a humourless smile, glancing round at the men behind him for back-up. 'We go where we're needed,' he said piously.
'Well, you're not needed here.'
'No,' I snapped. 'These people have got enough problems with law and order without your bunch of bloody vigilantes joining in. Get back to Copthorne. There's plenty for you to do over there.'
'Oh, don't you worry,' he said, voice sly, 'we've got Copthorne all sewn up.'
'Well, that'll be a first,' I threw back at him, starting forwards again. The one nearest to Friday moved back quickly, but the other two made sure I had to shift course to step round them. The cheap little power play brought grins to their faces.
Langford, self-styled leader of the local vigilante group, shared the same basic mental genotype with playground bullies and third world secret policemen. I'd recognised it the first time I'd met him and his cronies, and I'd gone out of my way to avoid contact ever since.
Commotion broke out further up the street. I turned and started to run again, Friday loping alongside me, ignoring the heavy footsteps pounding along behind.
Shahida was standing in her nightdress in the middle of her driveway, wailing. She had nothing on her feet, and her normally neatly-plaited greying hair was a wild halo around her head.
Several of her neighbours clustered round, trying to soothe her. Their efforts only served to enrage her further. 'Of course everything is not all right!' she shrieked at them, half demented.
I skidded to a halt and pushed my way through. 'Shahida,' I said urgently. 'Where are they?'
'In the garden.' She waved towards a gate that led round to the side of the house. Then, having passed on the baton of responsibility, her face crumpled into tears. 'Please, Charlie, don't let him do anything stupid.'
Langford's men shoved past me, making it to the gloomy back garden first. Where the lawn had once been was now a square of gravel and artistically-placed rocks, leading down to the box hedge at the bottom.
The shed where Fariman kept his tools was a squat wooden building that stood over by the hedge on a raft of concrete slabs. It was a dingy corner, despite the orange glare of streetlights reflected by the low cloud overhead, and the light spilling out from the open kitchen doorway.
Even so, I could see that the lock that had once secured the shed had been ripped out, leaving a jagged scar, pale against the dark wood that surrounded it. It should have left the shed totally exposed, but the door was firmly closed, all the same.
Shahida's husband was thrusting his not inconsiderable bodyweight against the timber frame to wedge it shut as though his life depended on it. His bare feet were digging in to the edge of the gravel to give him extra purchase. Fariman wasn't a tall man, but what he lacked in height, he made up for in girth.
He looked up, proud and sweating, as the group of us burst into view round the corner of the house.
'I have them! I have them!' he shouted.
Something hit the inside of the door with tremendous force. It bucked outwards, opening by maybe three or four inches, before Fariman's sheer bulk slammed it shut again. His thick, black-framed glasses bounced down his nose, and almost fell.
The fear leapt in my throat. 'Fariman, for God's sake come away from there,' I called. 'They can't take anything now. Let them go.'
Langford treated me to a look of utter disgust and strode forwards. On the way past, he swung a provocative fist at Friday's head.
The dog made a solid attempt at dislocating my shoulder as he leapt for the bait and the lead brought him up short. Goaded, he let out half a dozen rapid, raucous barks before I could quieten him. The deep-chested sound of a big dog with its blood up, raising the stakes for whoever was sweating inside the shed.
Langford flashed me an evilly triumphant grin. 'Keep the little bastards pinned down,' he bellowed, breaking into a run. 'We'll take care of them. Come on lads!'
The trapped thieves must have heard Langford's voice, and if they didn't know the man himself, they could recognise the violent intent. Behind the small barred shed window, I could see movement against torchlight. It grew more frantic, and the hammering on the door increased in ferocity.
'Don't worry, Charlie,' Fariman cried, the old man's voice squeaky with excitement. 'I have them. I ha− '
There was another assault on the shed door. This time, though, it wasn't the dull thud of a shoulder or boot hitting the inside of the panel. It was the ominous crack of metal slicing straight through the flimsy softwood. Fariman's body seemed to give a giant juddering twitch. His eyes grew bulbous behind the lenses of his glasses, and he looked down towards his torso with a breathless giggle. Then his legs folded under him and he slowly toppled sideways onto the gravel.
Behind him, sticking out a full six inches through the shed door he'd been leaning into so heavily, were the four vicious stiletto prongs of a garden fork. Where the exposed steel should have glinted brightly under the glare of the lights, instead it gleamed dark with blood.