A son seeks to solve the mystery of his father's brutal killing in Niall Leonard's gripping thriller, “Crusher.” Here's an excerpt.
It really was ringing, his phone—my phone—vibrating so wildly it was about to dance off my bedside table. No glass of orange juice. I picked up the phone and squinted at the screen. Number withheld. I pressed “answer.”
“Finn Maguire,” I croaked.
“Be at the Iron Bridge five p.m. Tell ’em I sent you.” It took me a second to register who was calling, but then I recognized the sneer in James’s voice.
“Five p.m.? Today?” Dad’s body was going to be laid out in the undertaker’s today. From the brief, angry pause before James replied I got the impression he didn’t like having his instructions questioned.
“You want this f__king job or not?”
“Yeah. I mean, thanks,” I said. “I’ll be there.” He hung up.
I checked the screen for the time. It was just gone seven. I’d always supposed professional criminals slept late and did their gangstering at night. But maybe James was just going to bed. He’d done me a favour anyway; spring sunshine was streaming in the window, and my legs felt twitchy. I hadn’t been running for a few days, and I needed to make up for lost time.
While I ran I thought about the arrangements I’d made for Dad’s funeral. The undertaker, Mr. Stone, was a pale, podgy guy in his late twenties, with beautifully manicured hands and a practised sympathetic expression that looked even graver when I’d mentioned how skint I was. He’d asked me if I intended burial or cremation, and I’d gone for cremation. Dad had always found graveyards depressing, and I presumed he hadn’t wanted to end up in one. He’d never visited the graves of his own parents, and didn’t feel guilty about it—he said once that he’d done his bit while they were alive and could still appreciate it. The undertaker explained smoothly that cremation required another doctor’s signature, but that he would see to all that. I guessed that service would be added to his bill as well.
One of Elsa Kendrick’s leaflets had explained the government grants that people with no income could get to help with funerals. The money went direct to the undertaker, but it didn’t cover everything, and I got the impression that under his sad, calm exterior Mr. Stone was taking every opportunity to bump up his bill. Of course, most people burying relatives don’t want to be thought stingy, and are too embarrassed to haggle, but I didn’t care what people thought. Especially when it came to my dad—finding a bargain was almost a vocation, for him. I sensed Stone the undertaker was getting a bit fed up with me insisting everything should be done on the cheap—like when I went for a Monday service because it cost less than one on a Saturday. When I asked if he was related to any of the Parkers, he explained smoothly there were no Parkers any more. The firm had been bought out years ago by a big national chain. I could see why big business had got involved: a market where the product never goes out of fashion and the clients think it’s bad manners to haggle. Not that I envied Stone his steady job.
I got back home from my run forty seconds over my average time, and scolded myself mentally for slacking off. After a shower and a shave I ate my breakfast out of the bowl I’d left on the table. I rinsed it out first—I’m not a total slob.
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I still wasn’t sure how I was going to pay for the funeral. I had no idea what this job at the Iron Bridge restaurant would pay, presuming they gave me a job. For all my attempts to cut corners, Stone’s written estimate suggested I’d end up owing him a few hundred quid. I still had most of the money McGovern had given me, but I was saving it for a piss-up for Dad’s old mates at the Weaver’s Arms. I was pretty sure that Dad would have preferred that to being cremated in a posher coffin.
But now the whole business of money was really starting to get to me. The bank, the benefits people, they’d have to be told. What would happen when I couldn’t pay the mortgage? Would the bank take the house back? Or was it my house now? Did I inherit it from Dad when he died, or was he supposed to leave it to me in his will? I didn’t even know if he’d made a will. Jesus . . . maybe it would end up belonging to my mother. Where the hell would I live then?
If Dad had ever made a will, I had a good idea where I might find it.
I pushed open the door of his room. The curtains were still open. Dad always made his bed right after he got up, but that was usually as neat as he got in here. Shirts and jeans of varying degrees of dirtiness were still piled on his bedside chair. His chest of drawers was strewn with copper coins not worth the trouble of gathering up, old pens, and dried-up bottles of antiperspirant he hadn’t thrown away. The room still smelled of him, I noticed, but the scent was fading, succumbing to the smell of gathering dust. I transferred the clothes to the bed, dragged the chair over to the wardrobe, and climbed up onto it. Under a crushed, musty collection of hats was a Chinese fibre suitcase with two clasps, one busted. I grabbed the handle, dragged it down, plonked it onto the bed and flicked the good catch open.
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The case was crammed with documents, some in manila folders, others in envelopes, in no particular order that I could see. The first envelope I looked into held yellowing official certificates. The topmost had the word “BIRTH” at the top. In a column on the left I made out my birth name, Finn Pearce Grey. The next document had the word “MARRIAGE” at the top. Noel Patrick Maguire, actor, to Lesley Helen Grey, actress. I put the certificates back. They were no use to me.
A second bulging manila envelope held a whole wodge of printouts, all similar. I recognized the bank logo on the top left-hand corner, but the entries and the figures and the endlessly repeated phrases merged and blurred as I stared at them. I did make out three words that kept reappearing at the head of each page: Interest-Only Repayments. I stuffed them back in the envelope and went on searching. After half an hour my eyes were aching and my head was pounding and I hadn’t seen the word Will anywhere.
I stuffed the envelopes and folders back into the suitcase, flipped the lid shut and clicked the catch. I was going to shove the case back on top of the wardrobe, but decided not to bother; I’d probably need it again soon. I slid the case under Dad’s bed, picked up his shirts and stuffed them into the laundry basket. Then I wondered why. He wasn’t going to wear them, and I didn’t want them. But I wasn’t ready to stuff them into a bin bag and dump them in the doorway of a charity shop. I wasn’t being sentimental, though part of me wished I felt that way. I just couldn’t be arsed.
Excerpt from Chapter Six of Crusher, copyright © 2012 by Niall Leonard. Used by permission of Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive