Books - Icelight

‘Don’t be silly, Derek,’ said Ayrtoun. ‘I’m offering you fifty per cent more than you’re getting now. Do you understand that?’
Derek nodded.
‘Of course, you also understand the offer is entirely conditional,’ Ayrtoun said. ‘You do realize that, don’t you? Let me repeat – there are some new things you’re
going to have to do to earn it.’
No one spoke. After about five hundred yards, the road turned again by the Royal Oak.
‘The person beside me,’ said Ayrtoun, ‘is Mr Cotton. Colonel Cotton as was. A real soldier, Derek. While you were fumbling with nylon stockings and ducking down
alleys to get away from the police, he was hunting down and killing our enemies. You will be reporting to him. Now how can I put this? Whether dither or necks, Mr Cotton cuts through things. Is that clear to you? And he has assistants for less lethal work. One is a rather fearsome Jock, from Glasgow, who keeps piano wire and razor-blades in his hatband. Mm? I imagine for you a fate worse than death would be to have that waifish little face chopped up, wouldn’t it, Derek?’
Cotton had never been cast as the bogeyman before, knew of no razor-wielding Jock assistant and was not sure how effective Ayrtoun’s words would be until he saw that Derek had been unable to resist glancing at him in the rear-view mirror. They were approaching a place called Purley.
‘Pull up near the cinema, will you driver?’
Ayrtoun got out a small pad the size of cigarette papers. ‘Jot down your telephone numbers, will you?’ he said to Cotton. ‘All right, Derek, out you get.’
Cotton wrote, Derek got out and Ayrtoun wound down his window. He took the paper and handed it to Derek.
‘Commit those numbers to memory,’ he said.
Derek looked somewhere between surprised and nonplussed.
Ayrtoun looked at his watch. ‘Shit. We’ll give him a minute,’ he said. ‘What were those numbers again?’
Cotton told him.
‘Good,’ said Ayrtoun. ‘One more time perhaps.’
Cotton shrugged. He repeated his telephone numbers again slowly and clearly.
‘All right Derek?’ asked Ayrtoun. ‘Eat the paper, will you? ...  It’s rice paper, man.’
Derek blinked. Ayrtoun snatched the rice paper out of Derek’s hand and stuffed it into his own mouth.
‘You see? It’s not bad at all. Rather sweet.’
Ayrtoun swallowed and so did Derek.
‘You have those numbers in your head?’
Derek told him what the numbers were.
‘Good.’ Ayrtoun got a ten-shilling note out of his wallet. ‘Go and have something you can eat, Derek. Isn’t there a Dorothy’s Café here?’
Derek let out a noise like a rabbit sneezing. ‘And there’s a Palm Court for those who like dancing with fat women!’
Ayrtoun pretended surprise. ‘Oh no,’ he said, ‘not those awful foot guards from Caterham barracks? I am so sorry. Well, how about the cinema back there?’ He
looked round. ‘Yes, the Astoria. That’ll be ladies for the matinée and some sort of mixed grill.’
Derek looked uncomfortable. ‘My mother goes there sometimes,’ he mumbled.
‘Then invite her to lunch, man!’ said Ayrtoun. ‘And an ice. Oh, look!’ There was real delight in his tone. ‘I see they have Great Expectations coming on Boxing Day and A Matter of Life and Death after that.’
Derek looked round at the posters, as if checking those were real titles.
‘You will call Mr Cotton next Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. You will arrange a meeting – so you can get to know each other a bit more.’
‘All right,’ said Derek.
‘No,’ said Ayrtoun. ‘Colonel Cotton will tell you what he wants and you will do everything you possibly can to comply with his orders. Have you got that? It’s
your choice. Seven pounds ten a week, Derek, or your face like a bloody fishing net.’
Derek looked more resentful than impressed, as if he did not need that much insistence.
‘Do you understand that, Derek?’
‘Yes, sir.’