An Excerpt from Zulu Hotel

by Paul Keenan

Jerome Livingstone looked up from the cash he had been counting into his lap. "Where, Man?" He peered at the sodium-lit streetscape, distorted by the torrential rain cascading over the windscreen, and slipped his right hand to the nine-mil Beretta tucked under his jacket.

From the BMW's passenger seat, Street gestured to the alley on Jerome's right. "Me thought me saw sometin' move there." He stared into the dark mouth between the buildings, trying to reacquire what he thought he saw a moment before. He shrugged then. "Mighta been just da rain."

Jerome blew an exasperated breath. "Aw, fuck it, man, don't be givin' me a heart attack. Me sittin' here wit two and a half grand in me lap." He neglected to add another hundred's worth of rock which he had tucked down the front of his trousers.

"Sorry." Street shrugged and pointed to the money. "Ya happy?"

Jerome's mood lightened again as he fingered the pile of money. "Yeah, man. Ya done good, Street."

Street nodded somberly. "Well you tell Benson appreciate dat. Lotta work this week with dem Oakfield dealers rivallin' up me trade. Me thought you said twas handled."

"Patience, me bruddah," Jerome assured him with a wink. "It's all gonna be put right."

Street sucked his teeth bitterly.

Jerome understood his frustration. The incursions were becoming too frequent to ignore. Dealers all across the borough were reporting problems and loss of trade every week. It was all down to that pussy-clot white-boy, Ernie Biggs and his Oakfield Crew. With his own supply of crack, Biggs had built his own empire north of the river and now clearly had designs on the lucrative trade controlled by Jerome's crew, the Chandler Posse, in south London. The fucker even had black dealers on his team for penetrating the Chandler estate itself. Jerome had wanted to send one of them back minus his cock, as much for working for a white man as for daring to infringe, but the bossman, Benson Ives - Crack King Benson Ives - had ordered everyone to hold off. Knowledge is power, Benson had said, and he wanted to know exactly what he was dealing with in Ernie Biggs. Access to his own crack meant Biggs was no bit-player. That meant he had backing. Benson's Posse received its supply from the 'kitchen's' of Kingston. If the Oakfield Crew were dealing through Jamaica too, then action against Biggs in London could provoke a response back home that would leave Benson's trade interrupted. Therefore, everything was on hold while Biggs was profiled.

Jerome pushed from his mind what could not be dealt with by wishing and turned his attention to Street's girls. His friend had earned his moniker from the fact that he had spotted the opportunity in hard-up female junkies and started his own sideline in streetwalkers. While other dealers were accepting blow-jobs, Street was creating his own stable and getting the financial returns.

Opposite the car, six girls paraded under umbrellas in slow circles by the light of the BT showrooms. As Jerome watched, a car pulled alongside one of the whores and, after a brief exchange, she collapsed her umbrella and ducked into the vehicle before it pulled quickly away.

"Where's Victoria tonight?" Jerome asked, straining to see past his companion.

"She's there," Street said. "You want?"

"Yeah, man," Jerome replied. "All this money making me hard." He laughed as he folded the bills. "Me hide this while you get her."

Street nodded and clambered from the vehicle. He ducked his head against the downpour and jogged between traffic to his women.

Jerome reached up to the sun-visor and tucked the money into the document flap there. That would do for now. Looking to where Victoria was preparing to cross his way, he eased back his seat and relaxed. Tonight he would be like the other dealers and settle for a blow-job.

His peripheral vision picked up on the movement towards him from the alley, but by the time he turned to face it, it was too late. A split second was all he had to regard the extended hand and the pistol it held before the flash from the muzzle blew the driver's window into his face. He felt a blow to his throat which made him gag and he began spitting blood. His mind raced, deciding whether to send his hand to his neck for more information, or to his gun. As fingers scuttled about his waistband, his attacker's weapon shoved through the window and against his eye. Jerome arched back against his seat and tried to cry out, as he could hear Victoria doing, but his ripped throat was useless to him. He found his gun just before the killing shot opened his head and sent him flailing between the seats in a crimson spray that covered the entire rear compartment.

"Wake up, Gotham needs help! Wake up, Gotham needs help!"

Jimmy Dolan jerked from sleep. Bloodshot eyes widened in confusion as he took in the Bat signal where it projected onto the ceiling of his room.

"Wake up, Gotham needs help!" The tinny voice drilled into his hangover and he rolled arduously towards it. The stern miniature of Batman faced him from the bedside cabinet, standing guard by the twinkling model searchlight. At the hero's feet a quartz display announced four a.m.. "Wake up, Gotham needs help!" Jimmy stabbed at all available buttons on the novelty clock until the electronic voice was silenced and the room plunged back to darkness.

With a grunt, Jimmy rolled back onto the bed. Something popped and cracked between back and mattress and he arched reflexively from the tiny daggers poking through his shirt at one of his kidneys. Reaching back to push and protect at the same time, his hand was pricked and torn as he lifted himself off the breaking glass. Crying out, he rolled hard over. The edge of the bed loomed from the dark and he tipped headlong, smacking his temple on Batman's perch on the way to a thunderous impact with the floor.

For a time in the dark there was nothing but the tingle and warm wetness on his hand and the pounding of his heart against the wound in his head. He lay in the confined space between bed and wall and gritted his teeth against everything.

"Wake up, Gotham needs help!"

"Friggin' hell," he groaned. Reaching up with his good hand, he shut the clock off again and fumbled to switch on the bedside lamp.

Three small slivers of glass protruded from his palm between clawed fingers. Blood was still flowing from the wounds, soaking his arm to the elbow and seeping over the left side of his shirt. With a silent curse, Jimmy remembered it was a job shirt.

He pressed himself up on his right elbow and rose grunting to kneel against the bed, his addled brain seeking the origin of his injury. He saw the Jack Daniels bottle first, drained and propped upside down by he pillow.

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