Sierra by Chris Green
Treet might be a nice-sounding name, but trust me, you wouldn’t want to spend time there. It might be situated in what you think of as a nice part of the country, but don’t be fooled, Treet has little to recommend it. Crime figures of a city ten times its size and the second-highest unemployment rate in the country. People don’t like living there. Should you care to look, you will find the town has a sizeable entry in Crap Towns. A larger entry than Nuneaton and even Bridgwater in its small town classification, and if the town were a little larger, it would rival Rotherham in the larger town category. It boasts the most damnable comments on My Home Town social media pages. Hell on Earth and the place where evolution took a break are two of the headline descriptions of the town.
On a visit to Treet, you will be treated to huddles of crusties quaffing White Lightning in front of the boarded-up shops, chavs selling stolen phones from the back of stolen vans and half-dressed chavettes whooping it up in the streets at 2 a.m. after the seedy clubs close, desperate, it seems, to add the town’s record-breaking babymama stats. Pre-teenage hoodlums from the Toker’s End high-rise blocks gather on the steps of the burnt-out jobcentre sniffing Noz from balloons and blasting out hip-hop tunes. But the worst thing about Treet is the threat to personal safety posed by the permanent state of gang warfare. The only good thing about Treet, it is said, is the road out.
I am not on the road out. I don’t want to be, but I am on the road in. It is thirty-three miles. I have twenty-one minutes to get there. The Sierra I’m driving is thirty-two years old. The numbers are not in my favour. The blacked-out windows are deceptive. This is not a Cosworth Sierra. It’s not even a Ghia, just a bog standard mark ii, 1.3-litre model with a slipping clutch and a knackered exhaust. In a word, I’m not going to make it to Treet in time. Given the circumstances, it’s a no-brainer. I don’t have to be in Treet. It’s a choice. When all is said and done, there are other choices. There are always other choices. Sometimes you have to let go of responsibility. I could simply leave Errol Flint where he is. I don’t owe him anything. What’s the worst that can happen? Danny Coyne might put a contract out for me, but I could be long gone.
In the past, they’ve given me better vehicles. BMWs or Audis, in neutral colours. Grey or dark blue are best. Fast but discreet. The car of choice for serious muscle. Had the car Danny gave me for the job been quicker, I would have been able to finish this assignment and be out of there. The Sierra would blend in nicely in Treet, Danny said. How does a thirty-two year old Sierra with blacked-out windows come over as inconspicuous anywhere, Danny? Even in Treet where all the cars are old, a motor like that is going to attract attention. Even without the thunder of the blown-out back box, people are going to notice it.
Beirut House, Dark Street, Danny said. Side entrance. Eleven o’clock exactly. At eleven, Errol Flint will be shot if the ransom is not paid. The ransom was not going to be paid. How did he know there would only be one gunman to take out, I asked? He didn’t. This was a chance I had to take. Straight in and straight out, he said. No hanging around. I had a window of five minutes. No phone communication. No GPS. No digital footprint. A simple operation. Bring Errol back safely.
‘We’ve got to move again? Is that what you are telling me, Chet?’ Ellie says. ‘What is it this time?’
‘Never mind, what it is,’ I say. ‘We have to be gone today, babe. You need to get packing.’
‘And you think it’s all going to go in that clapped-out old Ford outside? You must be joking.’
‘Not the Sierra. That’s not going anywhere. Harry is sourcing a van for me. He’ll be here in a minute. But you need to be real quick.’
‘Why do we have to move anyway, Chet? It’s not like your lot are proper gangsters. You are small time.’
‘Try telling that to Danny Coyne. Or Errol Flint. Except, of course, you can’t tell it to Errol Flint, can you, because he’s no longer with us. I don’t imagine Danny’s going to take the rap for that, do you? So who do you think he’s going to come after? I’ve ditched the burner he gave me, so he’s probably already on his way. Or more probably he’s sending Rico. If you think Rico Varga has small-time attitude, you’re in for a shock.’
‘How the fuck did you get yourself into all this, Chet? What happened to the chilled dude, I met at the dog track six months ago? The one who wasn’t like all the others. The one who was smart and didn’t fall into the traps they set for you. The one who had it all worked out. The one who was going to take us places. I should have got a hint of what was to come when none of the dogs you picked came in that night.’
‘Oh, come on! It’s not been all bad. One or two things have paid off. We managed a month in Jamaica after that little number for Joe Higgs. That was a professional op. We had that month in North Africa after the heist, and you had that boob job in Copenhagen out of the cash from the continental meth run I did in the 7 Series.’
‘But it’s all dodgy deals with dodgy dudes, all one-offs or short-term fixes. Even when you have something that’s guaranteed, you don’t stick to it. You have to face it, Chet, you’re not cut out for this kind of life. You haven’t got what it takes. You’re a fuck-up. Something like this happens and you’re on the run, and you expect me to drop everything and up sticks. For what? Tell me that!’
‘I think this time you may have to, babe. You don’t really have a lot of choice. This isn’t going to turn out well. These people don’t do compassion. They don’t negotiate outcomes. They’re more from the nuclear option school. Trust me, we need to be long gone.’
When you are not used to it, France can seem like a strange place. They do things differently there, the biggie of course being the language. Many of them don’t speak English and the ones that do speak English pretend they don’t in order to cause you maximum embarrassment by forcing you to try out the little bit of French you might remember from your school days. In my case this being the days messing around in the back of class and not listening to the ineffectual French master, Russ Conway. It does not help that Ellie, who might have a better command of the language, rather than come along, has decided to go her own way.
Realistically, France was always going to be too close to home for me to feel safe from my pursuers, but Germany doesn’t work out any better. The language barrier here is formidable and the chances of getting a job or accommodation are nil, so I quickly move on. After a brief look at Italy, Spain and Portugal, I realise wherever I go, there are going to be problems around not being able to speak the language, dwindling funds, and viable accommodation, and Brexit has put the kibosh on getting visas anywhere in Europe. So reluctantly, I return via Ireland to the UK.
The problem with being on the run from the likes of Danny Coyne and Rico Varga is that you are always looking over your shoulder. You don’t feel comfortable giving your phone number out and you are conscious of the dangers of having a social media presence. Everything has to be done incognito. You can’t have a public profile. In an attempt to stay beneath the radar, I look for an out-of-the-way place, and after a false start or two, I find myself servicing yurts for vegan vacations in a village with no vowels in its name in mid-Wales. The likelihood of anyone connected with Danny or Rico pitching up here is a remote one. Satnav doesn’t work at all in these parts, and it is possibly not even on the map.
Living in the vowel-free village in mid-Wales isn’t an exciting existence, but being around a community of hippies does have its perks. The clientele for yurt rental here seem to come up with some dynamite weed from time to time and are usually not averse to sharing it, so long as I keep the glamping facilities moderately clean and make sure the hot tub and sauna are working. But you can’t live like this indefinitely. New-age ideas are all very comforting, and you do come across some blue-sky thinkers, but the temptation to get in touch with old friends or family and get back to the real world is too great.
Marlon is surprised to get the call.
‘My God, Chet! I wondered what had happened to you. When I heard you were mixed up with those heavy dudes, I feared the worst. You don’t mess with guys like that. So it’s really good to hear from you. How are you, mate? How’s Ellie?’
I explain that I am well but I am not ready to give out my location to anyone yet and I don’t know where Ellie is.
‘That’s a pity,’ he says. ‘I thought you were doing all right there. Ellie was pretty fit.’
‘Look, Marlon!’ I say. ‘I’m setting up an online profile and will now be known as Dean Runner. I think I’ve deleted all online accounts for Chet Lenham. Look out for messages from Dean. You can let Dennis and Nicky know that I’ll be in touch with them as Dean Runner, but no one else for the moment.’
‘Cool name, bro. As in on the run.’
‘Well, that wasn’t the intention, Marlon. I let a random name bot pick it for me.’
‘A chatbot. That’s how writers do it, according to this dude called Yo I met at the place I’ve been working.’
‘Where is it you are working, Chet, I mean Dean? What are you doing?’
‘It’s safer if I keep that under wraps for now, Marlon. In any case, it’s only going to be temporary. I’m looking to change things around real soon. But if you could keep your ears open and let me know if you hear anything that I might need to know.’
When gangsters are looking for their victims in thrillers, they put extra pressure on them by targetting their families. Contacting my family therefore seems more of a risk. This is why I haven’t done it since the shit went down. But I owe it to my sister Sara to let her know I am OK. She has always been there for me and me for her, and it’s been months now since I’ve had any contact. I find the number I have for her is dead. I’m hoping that this does not mean that Sara is dead, but as I go through the numbers I have for other family members and no one picks up, my heart sinks. What has happened to them all? Is this all down to me? Surely Coyne and Rocco can’t have got to all my family. Despite the risk in doing so, I decide to go back home to investigate.
The taxi to take me to Machynlleth railway station arrives, and to my horror, the driver is Errol Flint. How can this be happening? Errol is a hood, not a taxi driver, and anyway, he is dead. But if he is dead, no one seems to have told him. This is definitely Errol Flint. Although I’ve given my name as Dean Runner, I’m can tell straight away that Errol recognises me. I’m waiting for him to get out his gun to shoot me, and wondering how I can escape. I am about to open the door and make a run for it, when Errol breaks the silence.
‘No need for that, Chet,’ he says. ‘You are safe with me. Do you know, it’s sometimes strange how things turn out, but by not turning up in Treet to rescue me that day, you did me a favour. I managed to engineer my own escape, and in doing so, I made the decision there and then that the life of crime was not for me. After all, the likes of Danny Coyne never did me any favours. I mean, sending a novice like you in a thirty-two year old Sierra to liberate me. That showed me how little he valued me. I decided instead to get out of the game, seek out a quiet rural place to settle, and begin to earn an honest living. It has worked out well. Since I’ve been a taxi driver here in Wales, I’ve never been happier and the family are happier too. I’m a country boy. What’s not to like about Wales? Well, there’s the rain and the poor mobile signal. And Shakin’ Stevens, But apart from that, nada. Nothing that I can see. It’s all good, man. So I have to thank you, Chet.’
My relief would be greater were it not tempered with the feeling that, without realising it, I seem to have messed up yet again.
‘That’s all very well,’ I say. ‘But what about me? By not sticking around after the debacle with the Sierra, I lost Ellie, my home, my possessions, my dignity. Big shitshow all round, man. And I’ve been unable to get in touch with my family. So now I’m catching the train back home to find out what is going on there. At great risk. Obviously, I’m worried something bad might have happened as a result of my failure to get to you or report back.’
‘You might find your people are alive and well, Chet,’ Errol says. ‘When you get back to Greatbridge or Wolverton or wherever, you’re likely to discover Danny Coyne is no longer around. As you will know only too well, in the underworld, you have a permanent state of hostilities. It’s dog eat dog.’
‘That’s how I saw it for sure,’ I say. ‘How the fuck did I become be involved in all of that malarkey? Just trying to earn a fast buck, I guess. Ellie liked her holidays. She liked having nice things around and not having to work. Her role as she saw it was to be decorative. I suppose that’s why I stuck with Danny. But the thing with the Sierra! That was the end of the road.’
‘It’s no life it all, is it?’ Errol says. ‘However tough you think you are, there’s always someone more ruthless. Last I heard, things had become pretty contentious in Danny’s neck of the woods. His downfall was always on the cards. It had been brewing for some time. That’s why Razor Ramirez’s goons had me locked up in Treet in the first place, remember. Basically, Danny wasn’t as tough as he made out and wasn’t as ruthless as his rivals. Word is he took a hammering and had to leave town. And with the law were about to flush him out too, Danny Coyne will be long gone by now. My guess is he’ll be hiding out somewhere in Ireland.’
‘Well, that is some comfort, Errol. Much as I enjoy Tom’s green, green grass, it is good to know I may have other options.’
We arrive at Machynlleth railway station, a building Errol tells me me was built from local quarry stone and dates from 1863. This distracts me sufficiently to not notice straight away that parked in the taxi bay in front of the station building is an old Sierra with blacked-out windows.
Copyright © Chris Green, 2023: All rights reserved.