“The fuck they want this doing for?” Kieron said, flipping another shovelful of dirt into the bucket. “Massive house up there, why’d they need a cellar?”
“Somewhere to keep the maid.”
Andy pressed the button on the hoist and another load of Kensington earth accelerated up the chute and tipped out onto the pile in the garden.
“You seen her?” Kieron asked. “She’s fucking beautiful mate.”
“Christ, she must be forty-five.”
“She’s got grandkids.”
“I don’t care. I would wreck her.”
Kieron threw out more dirt, most of it hitting the bucket.
They were working from the party wall back across the cellar, taking the floor level down by five feet. Kieron in the trench, Andy up above. Supervising. He was the old hand, fifty-six, trained in nick. It was the best training you could get, he’d tell people. His first stretch he did carpentry, the second one was bricklaying. He didn’t talk about the third, his last.
“Think we could use another prop in there,” he said.
He jumped down into the pit and dragged a sturdy wooden board in after him. Kieron watched him jam one end into the ground and brace the shuttering with the other. The wall was three hundred years old, irregular brown bricks with their mortar eroded. When Andy touched them they felt damp. They were well below the water table, the dirt getting soft under foot and he was sure he could smell the river.
“Going to be up to our arses in shit tomorrow,” he said.
“You want the intelligent end for a bit?” Andy asked.
Kieron threw him the shovel and scrambled up to the higher ground. He lit a rollie while Andy started digging.
He reckoned he’d spent whole years of his life digging holes, on the pipelines then doing hard landscaping. He spent six months on a job in Suffolk constructing a perfect recreation of the Somme for film companies to use. Six months in the trenches and he didn’t know how those blokes coped with it.
The hoist squeaked dustily as Kieron sent bucket after bucket of dirt up.
“There’s a knife in this.”
Andy drove the blade down. “Yeah?”
“It’s a fucking big ‘un and all.”
“People used to chuck stuff anywhere in them days.”
Kieron came to the edge of the pit, his toes hanging over.
“It don’t look old,” he said. “What d’you reckon?”
It was long-bladed, a wooden handle with steel rivets.
“It’s a kitchen knife,” Andy said. “You’re right though, looks newish.”
Kieron dropped down next to him.
“So how’s it get buried five foot under the house?”
“None of our business, boy.”
“There’s only one reason you bury a knife,” Kieron said.
He picked up the second shovel and started tearing into the section in front of Andy.
“Hold up – come one – I’ve got a system going here.”
Kieron kept digging and Andy stepped back to give him some space; he’d soon wear himself out. Didn’t have a good day’s work in him, the kid. He was a comical little fucker though, did as he was told, kept the attitude to a minimum. Lot to be said for that when you were doing nine hours a day with someone.
He reminded Andy of the boy he celled with at Littlehey. Same whippet build. Cain had more mouth. Too much mouth in the end.
Andy felt the old claustrophobia come down on him, a woozy, gripping sensation that started at the back of his head and kept creeping until he’d be paralysed.
He climbed out of the trench and took a few deep breathes, reassuring himself that the walls weren’t falling in.
A ten by eight cell could shrink in a heartbeat but this was fine, he could deal with this.
“Cut your foot off?” Andy asked.
“Mate, seriously. Fuck.”
Kieron was looking up at him, big eyes showing uncharacteristic fear.
He stepped back and Andy saw the arm laying in the dirt.
Kieron started to clear the soil around the shoulder with the tip of the blade. He was as careful as if the person was still alive.
“What the hell you doing?”
“Getting her out,” Kieron said.
“Stop, alright. Gimme a minute to think.”
Kieron stopped digging and knelt down next to the arm.
“It’s definitely a girl,” he said. “She’s wearing bangles.”
Gold rattled against bone and Kieron swore. He held onto the jumble of small bones he’d broken off her hand.
“We’ve got to call the police,” he said. “Her watch is from Next, she can’t have been down here more than a coupla years.”
Andy pressed his hands over his mouth, trying to think with the walls crumbling towards him.
“You wanna call the police?” he said. “With your record?”
“They’re not going to care about a bit of green,” Kieron said. “Not when we found a dead body.”
“Yeah, in Kensington. You know how much this place is worth?” Andy asked. “More than the pair of us put together.”
“So they probably killed her,” he said. “She’ll be some Polish girl they got in to look after their fucking kids and he’s been shagging her and she’s found out and killed her.”
“Then we’ve got to call the police.”
“No,” Andy said. “It’ll get put on us.”
“How can it?” Kieron said. “She’s been dead years, we just got here.”
He scooped the earth away from her upper arm, the remnants of a pink jumper hanging off her shoulder, bloodstained and ripped.
“Poor cow,” Kieron said.
“Makes no different to her now.”
“What about her family?” Kieron asked. “How’d you feel if this was your daughter?”
Andy thought of his daughter, Rosa, all longs limbs and a gawky smile. He’d had a picture of her in his cell at Littlehey, taken when she was thirteen, the last day of their holiday and he was picked up by the drug squad at Heathrow. They slammed him to the ground in front of her, smiling while she cried.
She cried when he was sentenced too. Life with a minimum of thirty-five years to serve. He wouldn’t have got out until he was eighty.
Girls needed their dad about. The world was too hard to leave them to fend for themselves. Whatever you had to do…
If you had to kill some kid you celled with…you just got on a did it. If you had to have your friends make an approach to the blokes who’d be escorting you to court for the trial…well you did that too.
If you lived the rest of your lives on the run, under false names…it was a sacrifice worth making to never have to see your little girl cry again.
He slipped down into the trench behind Kieron.
“Is that a ring there?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Kieron cleaned the mud off it. “I think it’s engraved.”
Andy picked up the shovel.
“What’s it say?”
Kieron peered at it, hunched over.
“I can’t see.” He turned into the light. “I think it says – ”
Andy swung the shovel at the back of his head.
Kieron dropped in stages, to his knees and then onto his face. Blood ran out of his ear but he was trying to talk, nothing words silenced by the blade coming down on his neck.