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Payback by Peter Barns

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Genre/Category: Crime, Thriller, Mystery
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Payback by Peter Barns
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Ex con, Frank Collins, had a new life and a new love. Until the day his daughter's suicide brings his whole world tumbling down.

Determined to find out why his daughter had done such a terrible thing, he returns to a life he thought long behind him. Desperately trying to deal with emotions that threatened his new found stability, he follows his daughter's lonely downward journey into drugs and prostitution.

Finally discovering that a London gang had used and abused her, he has a choice to make.

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“Mandy is dead!”

The bald statement stunned Frank Collins and everything moved out of focus. The room shimmered through a shifting mist. His knife slipped from his fingers, crashing to the plate, making every head in the café to turn in his direction. Crushing the mobile against his ear, he hoped the painful pressure might somehow negate the words he’d just heard. It didn’t.

“What?” he managed around a mouthful of half-chewed bacon.

“I said, Mandy is dead. She killed herself,” the voice repeated.

His face grew cold and the world smash back into his consciousness with a frightening intensity: Lady Gaga extolling the virtues of giving birth; the over-loud chink of cutlery on china; footsteps passing outside the large steamed-up window.

A pain throbbed behind his left eye.

“Frank, you there?” The voice had a muted quality, muffled - as though speaking from the end of a fur-lined tunnel. It was a voice from a past he thought long dead.

Trying his best to stop the memories from flooding his mind, Frank screwed his eyes shut, but the complex patterns of constantly changing colours, shapes and sounds still bled through, dredging up feelings of deep guilt - along with an even deeper feeling of rage.

Mandy is dead!

He had pushed the memories so deep down in the past that he thought they would never return. Now here they were, bubbling back, lingering just out of reach, merging unbidden with those truly awful words.

She killed herself!



“Frank, what’s the matter? You look terrible.” the waitress stared down at him, concern widening her pale blue eyes. The overhead lights glinted from her flame-coloured hair, and for one terrible moment Frank thought he was looking into the fires of hell.

Shaking the image away, he spoke into the mobile, his words quick and thick with anger. “What the hell? How could you let that happen?” Then realising how he must sound, he took a deep breath, fighting to keep his temper in check. “There must have been some signs that something was wrong. How could you let her do that to herself?”

Frank’s eyes stung, his fingers numbed by the tight grip he had on the mobile. Swapping it to his other ear, he wriggled his fingers, hearing a sharp sob from the phone, followed by the rustle of someone taking over the call.

“Frank, this is Duncan.” A deep voice, laced with concern. “I understand that this must be a terrible shock for you, but upsetting Marcia this way isn’t on. It’s unreasonable. Can’t you forget your ego this once and appreciate just how hard this is for all of us?”

His rising temper almost getting the better of him, Frank clenched his teeth, nostrils flaring. All he wanted to do right now was scream at Marcia’s pompous ass of a husband. Get right in his face. Tell him just how bloody unreasonable they’d both been in keeping Mandy from him all these years. Now it was too late to ever get to know her - ever.

This was their fault - not his. No way his.

Instead, Frank unconsciously flipped the knife back and forth on the plate with trembling fingers. He nodded, even though the caller couldn’t see him. “Yes, you’re right. I’m sorry.” He glanced across the table as Karla settled herself into the opposite seat, blinking back unshed tears.

“We’ll let you know when the funeral is going to be as soon as we’ve settled it. Goodbye Frank.”

He sat for a long moment, replaying the conversation back in his mind. Then, without a word, thrust the mobile into his pocket, scraped back the chair, snatched his crash helmet from the floor and left.


Frank pulled the big bike onto its stand, tossing the ignition keys back and forth between his hands as he strode up the overgrown path towards the low front door of his cottage.

It had been a long hot summer and the garden was a riot of colour, choked here and there with clumps of couch grass. A tightness choked his own throat - he knew just how those bloody flowers felt!

Banging the door shut, he entered the cool interior, dropping his crash helmet onto a small side table before stalking through to the kitchen.

The interior of the cottage was immaculate, but there were few personal possessions on show. Whilst functional, it had a comfortable, if manly, feel about it.

The small lounge was low ceilinged, with thick beams, and Frank had gained quite a few thumps on the head before learning to walk with a slight stoop when using the room. A large kitchen extension was built on the back of the cottage, giving it a good view over the fields leading up to the wood above the property.

Picking up the kettle, Frank paused, then changed his mind, going back to the lounge where he slumped into a leather chair. Eyes closed, thumb and forefinger rubbing the bridge of his nose, he sighed as a feeling of deep hunger unexpectedly swept over him.

Somewhere in the distance a dog barked and he sat forward, elbows on knees, face cupped in hands, staring at the floor. He felt numb, disconnected, adrift amid emotions he couldn’t deal with.

Muttering a thick, “F**k it,” he crossed to a cupboard alongside the big brick fireplace and tugged on the door. It caught, as it always did when it wasn’t opened just the right way. In his impatience to get in the cupboard, Frank almost pulled the handle right off.

Grabbing a bottle of Vodka from inside, he returned to the chair and half-filled a tumbler. Holding it aloft, he turned the glass back and forth, studying the clear liquid. It had been a long, long time.

The alcohol burnt its way down his throat, the sharp odour making his nose wrinkle. The first sip was quickly followed by another, then another - then a series of large gulps.