When you are an ex-cop and an ex-doper scratching a living as a private investigator in the unromantic streets of south London, you take what you can get. Even a dreary little debt collection job for some toe-rag of a used-car dealer. But when Nick Sharman collects the money due on a classic Bentley he finds himself stepping into another world. A world where a reclusive rock musician in a secluded mansion, complete with its own recording studio - and firing range - broods on the royalties stolen from him by a crooked management - and decides Sharman is just the guy to get them back.
Taking the job could be the worst decision of Sharman's disaster-ridden life. And when rock'n'roll's godfathers take on the mafia, south London explodes in a maelstrom of violence. Rome's Tune is an uncompromising thriller from London's answer to Elmore Leonard. The cold rain angled down and beat a faint tattoo on my office window. The water was trapped against the glass by the vicious wind and blurred my view of the outside world. The gas fire bubbled blue flame, and the air in the room was warm and comforting.
I sat in my office chair and read the new John D.
MacDonald novel. I rested my foot on the open drawer of my desk as I relaxed. The weather was cruel to the walking wounded at that time of the year, the early months when the bills come in and people give up and die quietly in their beds.
I longed for the touch of sun on my body. My old beaten-up cat seemed to agree with me. He was stretched out on the carpet in front of the fire, fast asleep. He was dreaming as cats do and his body twitched with the excitement of his fantasy world. For a change I was fairly comfortably off, money-wise. Charlie was an old friend who owned a garage located a mile or so from my office.
He looked after my transport and I owed him one or two. I told him you might be able to help. I suppose that I hoped that Charlie would go away and leave me alone. Fat chance. I capitulated. Find out the details from your mate, or better still, get him to give me a call. How come he let the car out without payment? I hate to see him get ripped off. We go back a long way. I was the proud owner of three cars then. All illegally parked by my office.
My VI2 E-type had been repaired by Charlie after a little contretemps with a firm of particularly nasty villains the previous year. And come up for a drink soon, perhaps I can sell you something else.
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The call from Ted Dallas came about an hour later. I was right there with good old Trav on his houseboat moored on the Florida Keys. Plenty of sun, sea and sand. And I was ready to shuck the bikini bottom off any bronzed beach bunny who might happen along when the sound of the telephone bought me back to reality. The rain outside had let up slightly, but the wind was still howling around the building. At least, I thought as I reached for the receiver, I had a date that night. The only trouble was she always made me think of jokes about meat. I caught the phone on the third ring.
He sounded like a DJ on local radio. Machine-Gun Sharman, he called you.
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Can we meet? Is that OK? By that time I was ready for a drink. I slid into my double-breasted Crombie overcoat and battled the wind across the road to my local pub. I sat amongst the early lunch-time drinkers and ordered a brandy. No one spoke to me. I sipped at the liquid and checked out the bar in the mirror behind the optics. Everything was quiet. Just the way I liked it.
I drained my glass, then ordered another drink. I could feel the liquor warming my insides. It was an illusion. The second glass went the way of the first. I ordered a third and paid with a ten pound note. Big spender. Cat cried for food and I fed him. As I knelt and pushed meat from a tin on to his plate a huge sadness engulfed me like a black tide. He ignored me except for one, quick sideways glance. I hung up my coat and sat behind my desk again. I flipped it into my desk drawer and slammed it shut. Cat meowed his agreement. A huge Cadillac pulled into the cul-de-sac where my office was situated.
I stood at my window and admired the beast. Its bright-red paintwork shone through the raindrops and the chrome gleamed like silver in the harsh winter light. He saw me standing at the office window and waved hesitantly. I lifted my hand in salute and he walked across the street towards me.
I opened the office door for Ted Dallas. He was effusive in his greeting. I shrugged off the crap and sat him down in a hard chair.
If I wanted to remember, I just needed to close my eyes and sleep. The images of the past were clear enough without reminders. I sat down opposite him with my desk between us. Have you got all the details of the debt with you? He placed a sheet of paper in front of me. Do you know how much those motors cost? This particular customer was looked after by my chief mechanic.
He was told that there was an account in the name of McBain at that address. And there is. The account used to be settled by a firm of city accountants, very prompt they were too. Unfortunately my secretary authorized its revival without reference to me. The bill was passed to the accountancy firm in due course, who informed us that they no longer acted for McBain.
Dallas looked blank so I left it. It was someone else. He said he worked for McBain. He had a letter of authority.
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Used to be very big years ago. He was in a group. At one time we used to do lots of work for him. Flash cars. You know pop stars. I refrained from making any comment about the Caddy parked outside. McBain may have gone skint by now.
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It was an interesting observation and I filed it away for future reference. I looked closely at old J.