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A FRIEND IN NEED

aGNES sALTON

They’d arranged to meet at ten, so where was he? This was risky enough, without the added worry of Jacko going rogue. Shaz paced up and down the narrow alley at the back of Manchester Piccadilly, wary of every shadow. She should never have agreed to this, it was too dangerous. Jacko was a loser with a habit and Logan wasn’t the only vicious bastard on his tail. If anything went wrong, she didn’t fancy a spot in the crossfire.

  There was a whistle, long and shrill. Shaz turned, cocking her head at movement behind a row of bins.

Keeping her eyes peeled, Shaz hurried towards him. ‘I wasn’t sure if you’d come,’ she greeted.

  ‘No worries, I was looking for you anyway, I need your help.’

  ‘What have you got yourself into now?’ Shaz hunkered down beside the crouching figure. He looked tired, face gaunt and grey, as if he hadn’t slept in days. She felt a fleeting pang of sympathy. The man used to run a successful business, he’d commanded respect in the community but not any longer. Logan had seen to that when he’d recruited Jacko as one of his dealers. Jacko swiftly became an addict himself, let the business slip and lost everything. These days he spent his time begging on Manchester’s streets. Every penny he got his hands on funding his habit.

  ‘Logan thinks I crossed him. Last night he went to the squat, dragged Alf into the street and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t tell him where I was.’

  Jacko’s shaking unnerved Shaz, she couldn’t be sure if it were the cold, his fear or his need of a fix. Logan was dangerous enough when he wasn’t in a rage but when he was, the man was capable of anything.

  ‘Is Alf okay? Logan didn’t hurt him too much, did he?’ Alf was an old man with a dicky heart. He didn’t deserve a beating on Jacko’s behalf.

  ‘He fainted before things got out of hand so Logan did one.’

Logan was one of Manchester’s major drug dealers, a hard man with henchmen to match. No one on his payroll was brave enough to cross him as the punishment was swift and brutal.

  Jacko had been in some fixes in his time, but this was mega. Even when he’d lived on her street the quiet life and Jacko hadn’t been mates. An affair with a neighbour’s daughter led to a stand up fight in the street that put him in hospital. Within weeks his wife left him for some other bloke then the final straw, Logan. ‘What’ve you done to upset him?’

  ‘I was supposed to deliver some stuff. It didn’t work out as planned, now he wants it back or the street value in full.’

  ‘You mean drugs?’

Jacko nodded and with shaking hands lit a fag.

  ‘Crack, all made up in little bags and ready for sale.’

  ‘Logan wanted you to sell it?’ These days Jacko could barely stand up straight, his memory was non-existent. So it seemed incredible to Shaz that Logan would trust a job like that to an inept addict.

  ‘Yeah, the lot was earmarked for the student bars at the bottom of Oxford Road.’

  ‘The solution is simple, do what he wants or give it back but be quick about it.’

  ‘Can’t, can I?’ Jack pulled heavily on the fag then blew out a plume of smoke. ‘I had a skinful last night, didn’t have my proper head on, did I? Harry from the “Sportsman” offered to buy the stuff from me, no questions. He said he had a ready market and a more lucrative one than the colleges. He promised me half the profits too. He convinced me that I’d be stupid to refuse.’

  Shaz could see where this was going. That swindler landlord, Harry, had seen his chance and grabbed it. ‘Please, tell me you didn’t?’

  Jacko nodded his head and Shaz’s heart sank. ‘You do know what you’ve done? How much trouble you’re in? Logan isn’t a man you cross. Not if you want to live,’ she warned.

  ‘You think I don’t know that! But I need the dosh, Shaz. I owe people, people every bit as dangerous as Logan. Harry said he’d get a quick turnaround on the dope and give me my money today. I went to meet him this afternoon but he’s scarpered down to London.’

  ‘You’ve been had. You never learn, Jacko. Harry is a conman but Logan is a bloody killer. He gives you a job, you do it, you carry out his instructions to the letter. You’ve mixed with the dregs of this city long enough to know that.’

  ‘I thought I could turn a quick profit, get away from here. Find a room for a few nights, get some proper rest. I’m sick of the streets, Shaz. I can’t do it anymore.’

  There was real pain in Jacko’s eyes. Shaz knew he meant every word. He really wanted his life to change, but this wasn’t the way to do it.

  ‘There’s no way I can pay Logan back, not yet anyway. I’ll have to find Harry first, make him give me what I’m owed.’

  ‘That’s not likely, not if he’s in London. You’ve been taken for a fool, Jacko. Harry’s run off with Logan’s crack and left you to pay the bill.’

  Jacko nodded and hung his head. ‘He’ll come back soon, he has to. I just need to convince Logan to give me a few more days.’

  Shaz knew full well that wouldn’t happen. Logan’s reputation was important. Cheat him, make him look weak or foolish and you paid the price. ‘You’re a first-class idiot, d’you know that. You’ll never see a penny from Harry. He saw his chance, took it and sod who gets hurt. You know as well as I do that Logan doesn’t do excuses. He’ll have you in his sights. Without the stuff or the money to pay him back you’re a dead man.’ Shaz inhaled deeply. ‘You have to get away, Jacko, somewhere Logan won’t find you.’

  ‘That’s why I wanted to see you,’ he smiled. ‘I’m getting a coach and going north. I have a cousin in–’

Shaz shook her head. ‘Shut it, better I don’t know.’

  ‘It’ll work, has to, by morning I’ll be well out of Logan’s reach.’ He smiled again. ‘I just need one last favour. I need money for the coach fare and a room when I get there.’

  She gave him a long, hard look. ‘I don’t have any spare money, you know that. I live hand to mouth, Jacko, like everyone else we know.’

  ‘I don’t need much,’ he gave her a sheepish look. ‘You’re the only one I can ask, the only one left who’ll help me.’

  ‘Logan finds out and it’ll be my neck on the line.’ Shaz stood up and turned her back on him. ‘You’ve no right dragging me into this, Jacko. This drugs thing you have going with Logan has nothing to do with me.’

  ‘Please Shaz, this’ll be the last time.’

  ‘Too right. Logan gets me in his sights for helping you and I’m a goner. What do my kids do then?’

  ‘He won’t find out, only us two know about meeting up. Please Shaz, help me or I’m dead. I just need a few quid to tide me over.’

  ‘You know how I’m fixed. I haven’t earned owt in months. What with the rent, and the kids to feed, I’m as broke as you are.’ Shaz was angry, Jack had no right putting her in this position. ‘But even if I wasn’t broke, Logan would guess it was me who helped you. I mean, who else would it be? I’m the only person left who gives you the time of day.’ She leaned forward and glared into his eyes. ‘I don’t have a death wish, Jacko. Look elsewhere for your money.’

  ‘I’m desperate!’ He pleaded. ‘If I’m not gone within the hour, they’ll be pulling my body out of the canal.’

Shaz shook her head. She had to put a stop to this. Time was running out and she needed to get home. Jacko didn’t know it but Logan was well aware of the double-cross. He’d guessed too who it was Jacko would turn to and got in first.

  When she’d left home earlier, Shaz hadn’t been sure which way this would go. She was torn, faced with the impossible choice of helping Jacko, or handing him to Logan. She looked at the crouching man one last time, her mind finally made up. ‘Wait here,’ she said. ‘I’ll go the hole-in-wall round the corner. See what’s left in my account.’

  ‘Thanks Shaz, I won’t forget this.’

  The relief on his face was touching. Poor Jacko, if only he knew. Her choice made meant his fate was sealed. Jacko didn’t know it but Harry wasn’t in London, he was lying in the corner of a disused cotton mill in Longsight with a bullet in his head.

  Shaz walked off leaving him hunched in the shadows desperately trying to stay out of sight. Poor man, all that misery caused by a drug habit and too much booze. She was doing him a kindness really.

  ‘He’s all yours,’ she whispered, as she passed the man waiting in a shop doorway round the corner.

  ‘You’ve done the right thing, flushing him out for us, Logan is grateful.’ He pushed an envelope into her hands.      ‘Something to ease the pain, call it a little gift for being so helpful.’

  It was no good feeling guilty, there was nothing she could have done. The moment Jacko double-crossed Logan he was a dead man with no way out. Everyone knew it so why shouldn’t she cash in. Peering inside the envelope Shaz saw the pile of fifty-pound notes and smiled. The kids would have a treat and she’d fill the fridge full of goodies for once. Logan had been as good as his word. The money was all there as promised.

 

END

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Image by Mitch Harris
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