Today is my slot on the Blog Tour for A Sinner’s Prayer by M. P. Wright, and I am sharing an exciting extract from Chapter 5!
About the Book
1970, Bristol. What’s buried doesn’t always stay buried.
It’s a new decade and JT Ellington has taken himself out of the investigation game. But when an old friend asks him to help a doctor whose son disappeared hours after his wedding, JT’s commitment to a life lived under the radar is tested. His quest hurls him back into the underworld he’s worked so hard to leave behind.
Charred remains in a churchyard, the savage beating of a Hindu priest and a series of cold-blooded threats are stark warnings to JT, and to everyone he holds dear. Amid his terrorised community, JT locks horns with the vile underbelly of British far-right politics and a notorious gangland king.
It’s not until JT uncovers a name from his own tragic past that the pieces of the investigation slot into place. But, with dark forces intent on destroying him, JT is pitted against an extraordinary enemy. He must play as dirty and dangerous as those who want him dead.
Release Date: 27th August 2019
Genre: Crime / Thriller
Publisher: Black and White @bwpublishing
Author Twitter: @EllingtonWright
Extract: Chapter 5
When the best your day offers you is little more than a kick in the teeth and the promise of a bucketful of misery at the end of it, there’s not much more a man can do than wade in and take whatever’s thrown at him on the chin. I’d just been thrown a job I’d not gone looking for nor had any appetite to undertake, and the fact that a high-ranking police officer had proffered me such gainful employment set my teeth on edge. Superintendent Fletcher wouldn’t have crossed the road to piss on me if I was on fire. Him turning up outside my gate door like the tooth fairy with some half-baked missing-person story and the promise of easy money stank like week-old garbage, but the threat of a day or maybe longer stuck in some cold cell at Fletcher’s behest didn’t fill me with joy.
Telling the copper to stick his job would have been the smartest move, but heeding my own wisdom had never brought me a great deal of luck in the past – or lined my pocket for that matter. I picked the passport photo up from the kitchen table and looked at the grainy black-and-white image of Nikhil Suresh and wondered what kinda trouble, if any, this stranger had landed himself in, and what the hell any of it had to do with me. Unable to give the nagging voice in my head the answers it sought, I did what I’d always done when confronted with hard questions I had no way of answering. I shrugged ’em off and soldiered on.
I decided to take the superintendent’s thirty pieces of silver, and his advice to tidy myself up.
I was out of my house by eleven. I’d bathed, trimmed my nails and was wearing my best wool suit in two shades of grey, with a white cotton shirt and kipper tie, and my black brogues were spit-shine polished. Only thing I needed was a decent shave, and I knew just the place to go get one.
Twenty-Two Moon Street on the furthest edges of St Pauls was the home of the Déjà Vu barbershop and hairdressing salon. The red-brick, three-storey building sat at the end of a row of terraced houses and was just a stone’s throw from proprietor Loretta Harris’s own home on Brunswick Street. Loretta was the widow of one of my closest friends, Carnell. Straight-talking and with a fiery disposition to match, Loretta had taken on the barbershop after the previous owner had got himself deep into a gambling debt with my cousin, Victor. Vic, never one to waste an opportunity to benefit from the downfall of his fellow man, quickly snatched the place up, no questions asked, to expand his ever-increasing property collection, which in turn would expand his flourishing criminal empire. He put Loretta in as manger and the legitimate front of the business while his various and many crooked activities went on behind the scenes.
Most folk came through the front door without knowing a damn thing. Ladies queuing for their weekly afro tint and the fellas for a quick trim were never the wiser. Meanwhile, on the others side of the joint, the back door was wide open bringing in caseloads of knocked-off booze, stolen cigarettes and Cuban cigars, fancy French perfume and wooden pallets with short hessian sacks stacked a half-dozen high on them, the contents of which only Vic knew.
I liked getting a regular shave at Déjà Vu because it was old-fashioned. Loretta used real barbers’ chairs and straight razors sharpened on leather straps attached to each station. There was always good company and often a card game going on in the corner. Women nagged about their idle husbands or the kids, while fellas read their newspapers, discussed the cricket or a horse race and moaned about the rising price of a pint. Hot towels were wrapped around your face and you could close your eyes and relax for a few precious moments. I peered through the glass panel in the door to make sure my friend was there, then headed on in.
Inside, the sweet cologne-smelling room was crammed to the rafters with customers. The Four Tops’ ‘It’s All in the Game’ blared out from a transistor radio perched on the edge of the counter next to the till. Two female hairdressers and one male barber were lined in a row, each with a customer sat before them. Half a dozen men waited along the far wall, sitting in chairs made of red leather with arms and legs of dark wood.
Loretta rose out of a lead barber’s chair and put her hands on her hips. ‘Well, look what tha cat dragged in.’ She wore a multicoloured smock over a purple crushed velvet jumpsuit, her tight-curled hair raised, bunched up and tied high on her head. She looked me up and down suspiciously and grinned. ‘What tha hell you dressed like a pimp fo’?’
‘Job interview,’ I lied.
‘A job! You gotta be kiddin’ me. With all that nasty stubble you got goin’ on? What damn fool gonna take you on lookin’ like you just walked offa skid row?’ Loretta laughed then pointed a finger down at the seat she’d just vacated. ‘Git over ’ere and sit your sorry ass down in dis chair.’
I did as my friend ordered. Loretta unfolded a white apron and spread it over me then ran her fingers playfully through my short-cropped, greying hair.
‘You want me ta’ put you a little colour on dis mop o’ yours, Joseph?’
‘Yeah, ta hide some o’ this ole-man shit you got goin’ on up here. You startin’ ta look like Uncle Remus.’ The barbershop suddenly erupted with laughter. Loretta winked at me.
‘Git the hell outta it, woman. Jus’ gimme my damn shave!’
Loretta picked up a cut-throat razor from out of a pot and began to sharpen it on the strop next to where I sat.
‘I was next!’
The objecting voice belonged to a big-set black fella walking towards me. He hwas dressed in a dark blue Bristol bus-company uniform. He stood over me, close enough for me to get a good whiff of the stink coming off his massive hide; a mixture of three-day-old sweat and stale tobacco smoke. Loretta sniffed the air, ignoring the irate customer and began tying the apron at the back of my neck.
The bus driver took a step closer, his fat gut hanging over the buckle of his trouser belt. ‘Did you hear me? I said I was next!’
I felt Loretta place her hand on top of the headrest at the back of my chair. When she spoke, there was ice in her voice. ‘You want a haircut or a shave, you better sit down, brutha.’
‘Sit down! Shit, I bin sittin’ back there fo’ the better part o’ half an hour,’ he complained.
In the mirror I saw one of Loretta’s work colleagues come forward to nervously chip in. ‘Sir, did you make an appointment?’
The man snapped his head round to bite back at the young hairdresser. Loretta, having none of it, quickly stepped in to protect her stylist neighbour.
‘Dat’s okay, baby, dis man here, he don’t need no appointment, do you?’
The bus driver turned back to face Loretta, a smile creeping across his face. He looked down at me, clearly impatient for me to climb out of the chair. Loretta put her hand on my shoulder and stuck a steady finger out towards the man’s face.
‘Befo’ you start itching to get you fat ass in dis seat, you best know I got a straight razor in ma hand an’ one hell of a bad temper.’
The bus driver’s face twitched and Loretta walked round the chair to go toe to toe with the fella. I could see the man was afraid, but at that moment he was stupid enough not to want to back down.
‘I’m . . . I’m jus’ sayin’ I bin waitin’ all this time and this chump, he waltzes on in and you sit him down like he the Duke of Edinburgh!’
‘Who tha hell you callin’ a chump? Joseph, you want me to take dis sheet off or you gonna beat tha shit outta him with it on?’
Loretta’s outburst made it easier on the fella. Two against one meant that he could get the hell out without a mask of shame hanging over him. Loretta raised the cut-throat at her side and took a step forward. The big man began to back up, tripping over his feet to get out of the way of the oncoming blade.
‘Git your fat butt outta my place fo’ I tear you a new ass’ole!’
I watched straight-faced as the man spun on his heels then ran across the salon, falling through the door and tumbling in a heap into the gutter. Loretta followed, cursing him from a pig to a dog. The bus driver hobbled away down the street, his limbs and extremities still intact, his uniform dusty and his dignity in tatters.
Loretta had me clean-shaven and feeling good in no time. She’d been unusually quiet as she’d worked, doing nothing more than giving me the occasional quizzical look as she lathered shaving cream on my face and ran the cut-throat across my stubbled jowls. After the hot towel around my face had cooled, she anointed the skin around my cheeks and jaw with shave talc and splashed on some Tabac aftershave.
I looked up at her and smiled. ‘I need to ask you a favour?’
Loretta undid the apron tie at the back of my neck, spun the barber’s chair towards the wall and pointed to the door that led out back. ‘Git your ass through there, Joseph.’
I did as I was told and walked into the staff tearoom. Loretta pushed by me and kept on going along the hallway, finally coming to a halt outside another door marked storeroom. She kicked at the bottom rail, flicked on the light switch and stabbed her thumb in the direction of the salon’s private annexe. Inside the room was an Aladdin’s cave of contraband and hooky goods. Loretta leaned back against a row of grey metal shelves laden down with boxes of Johnny Walker Black Label, then gestured her head towards me in a curt and accusing manner. ‘So, what you playin’ at?’
Loretta put her hands on her hips, her bottom lip about to curl itself into a savage pout. ‘Don’t gimme any o’ your horseshit, Joseph. You come in here dressed up to tha nines. I know you got sum’ting shifty goin’ down.’
‘Like I said, job interview.’
‘Job interview, my ass. You got wuk at tha school!’
‘I lost it.’
‘You job? How, man?’
‘It’s a long story.’
Loretta looked at me blankly. ‘Well, let’s hear it, then.’
I gave a heavy sigh. ‘In short, some woman called me a black bastard under her breath. I told her to stick her job.’
‘You bin tryin’ to put you doggy in her poky?
‘Whaddya take me for? She’s the school’s deputy head. She accused me o’ stealin’.’
I heard a sharp intake of air cut between Loretta’s teeth. ‘You too damn high-minded ta steal – any fool know dat. Mebbe not so righteous not ta lie to you friend though?’ Loretta looked me up and down, her hard gaze burning into me. ‘So, the trute. Tell me, what kinda job you goin’ fo’, needs you to be dressed up like a dog’s dinner?’
‘One I already got.’
‘I been asked to do a little sly work for the po’lice.’
‘Fo’ tha Babylon! You outta you tiny mind, Joseph?’
I shook my head. ‘I need the cash, Loretta.’
‘I give you money. You don’t tek from tha Babylon.’
‘The po’lice ain’t giving me the cash.’
‘Then wha’ fool is?’
‘A detective called Fletcher has put me on to some fella who’s gonna pay me to look for his missing boy.’
‘Some Indian shopkeeper over at Cotham.’
Loretta looked down at the ground, shaking her head. She kicked at the lino with her shoe before setting her crushing stare back on me. ‘You must be dotish, man! Didn’t God give you a brain, enuff ta tell you bein’ used as a lackey fo’ tha Babylon?
‘It ain’t like that.’
‘It always like dat, Joseph. White po’liceman ain’t got no use fo’ the black man unless he doin’ his dirty wuk fo’ him. You of all people know dat.’
‘It ain’t about what I know, Loretta. It’s about necessity. ’Bout me bringin’ in a wage.’
‘Wage . . . It’s blood money, man.’
‘Look, you wanted the truth. You just got it.’
‘Trute, shit! I woulda bin better off settlin’ fo’ you lies, fool!’ What’s the damn favour you wantin?’
‘I need a motor? Some wheels so I can get about over the next few days.’
‘You got some cheek, you know dat?’ Loretta stamped over to a wall cabinet that hung behind a tired mahogany roll-top desk and after rifling through it a while, turned and threw a bunch of keys at me.
Loretta’s top lip curled, the lines on her forehead tightening in exasperation. ‘I don’t want you damn gratitude.’ She pointed at the keys in my hand. ‘Brook Lane lock-up. One o’ dem’s fo’ the garage door, other fo’ the motor. Bring the damn ting back in one piece or Vic’ll have my hide.’
I winked at her. ‘I’ll treat it with kid gloves, promise.’
The grim look on Loretta’s face lifted a little, but she shook her head disapprovingly then clicked her fingers at me. ‘What ’bout Chloe?’
‘What about her?’
Loretta made a huffing sound. ‘Who’ll be lookin’ after the pickney while you off playin’ pretend po’liceman?’
I shrugged. ‘Same as usual. Gabe picks her up from the school gates and I collect her later on round teatime.’
Loretta nodded. ‘You git stuck, you can bring her over ta me if you like. I can walk the child ta class with Carnell Jr, befo’ I start here.
‘Okay, thanks. I’ll do that.’ I smiled and turned to leave. Loretta called after me.
‘Hey, fool. You need ta remember sum’ting.’
I looked back and Loretta and I made eye contact. ‘Yeah, what’s that?’
‘Nuthin’ spells trouble like a white man knockin’ at a black man’s door.’
True and prescient words that I should have heeded, but which at the time fell on deaf ears.
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Let me know if you’re going to be reading it!