This week, the manuscript has come back from the proofreader and I've been changing the errors and typos that she's picked up.
For the next few days, I shall be reading it back for the final, final, final, final, final, FINAL time. I kid you not when I say I am so tired of the book by now, but it's always a good experience to download the book onto my kindle and read it as a reader sees it for once last check.
So here you go. My apologies for the formatting - it comes out as one large blog.
What happened to Billy Whitmore...
Billy Whitmore lay on the settee, waiting for the effects of the afternoon he’d spent in the pub to disappear. At least he’d managed to sleep some of it off, although he needed to go home soon, or else he might not have a bed for the evening.
‘Get me a coffee,’ he spoke to the man who was perched on the armchair across the room.
Andrew shot to his feet and into the kitchen.
The sound of running water going into the kettle reached Billy as he checked his phone: no irate messages from his partner yet. It was five past eight. He’d been here four hours. After his drink, it was time to make a move.
A few minutes later, Andrew placed a mug on the coffee table in front of him. He then went back to the armchair, sitting upright, his hands in his lap.
He was a nice enough lad, Billy would give him that. Harmless, more vulnerable than anything, and exploited by them all. His flat was a great base, always clean and tidy, which was a bonus with the people he mixed with. He wasn’t particularly fussy where he laid his hat, but he did notice when others made an effort. And there was always plenty of food for when he was peckish.
He stayed another half hour before finally deciding to leave.
‘I’d best be off before the dragon sends out a search party for me.’ He laughed.
Andrew gave a faint nod.
‘Oh, chill out, man. I’ll be out of your hair in a few minutes. Have you got my cash?’
Andrew scuttled over to a side unit, pulled out some notes from an envelope, and gave them to Billy.
He counted it out and then passed one back to Andrew.
‘Out of the goodness of my heart.’ He sniggered. ‘Get yourself something nice. A good bottle of whisky will do the trick.’
‘I don’t like whisky.’
‘Well, get something you do like.’ Billy sighed in exasperation. ‘Unless you don’t want it?’
Andrew held on to it, his eyes dropping to the floor to avoid further confrontation.
‘Clever move.’ Billy pushed himself to his feet, groaning with the effort. He was more wasted than he’d realised. Fiona was not going to be impressed.
Outside, he trod carefully up the steps to the pavement. Across the road, the old Red Lion stood empty and forlorn. The pub had been closed for three years now. Luckily for Billy, it was an ideal place to deal from.
Occasionally, he got raided by the police or a rival gang. Other times the neighbours had a go at him and told him to shift himself before he’d got rid of his gear. Still, it was better now the days were shorter, the darker evenings keeping him hidden from prying eyes.
Billy glanced around to see if anyone was watching, waiting in the shadows for him. He’d been keeping a low profile since Danny Burton had taken a beating last month. Danny must have been doing wrong for Kenny Webb to have dished out such a fierce punishment.
February’s bleak weather wasn’t cold enough for a frost, but even so there was a bitter wind that made it feel that way. Billy thrust his hands into the pockets of his thin jacket to keep warm. He staggered with the effort, cursing himself for finishing off a stash he’d had from the day before, taking two lots within a few hours.
He was a fool to still be dealing at his age. He should have quit when he last came out of prison. But Kenny had got on to him the minute he’d been back on the estate. He hadn’t had much choice but to be drawn into the fold once more.
It had taken a matter of days for him to be hooked on the brown stuff again. Since then, it had been luck that had kept him out of jail. To be fair, he was surprised he hadn’t been used as collateral damage, taking the rap for someone else’s misdemeanour. Maybe that was because he wasn’t reliable anymore since the drugs had addled his brain.
Billy swivelled when a noise sounded behind him and turned to see a man in a dark coat and trousers. A black woollen hat covered his head, strands of curly grey hair coming out at the sides. Billy peered at him. There was no light for him to recognise who he was.
‘What’s up, fella?’ he asked. Perhaps he’d know his voice if he spoke.
‘I need a fix.’
‘Not tonight, mate,’ Billy muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets, and walking on. ‘I’m all out.’
‘I – wait!’ The man grabbed his arm. ‘I need something.’
‘Get off me.’ Billy shrugged his hand away.
‘Please. I have money.’ He pointed to the disused pub and pushed himself through the gap in the chain-link fencing.
‘Who told you about me?’ Billy shouted after him.
The man disappeared. When he didn’t reply, Billy followed him, curious to see what was in it for him. Maybe he could do a deal to get him something for tomorrow. ‘Hey, I’m talking to you!’
He watched his step but, before his eyes had adjusted to the dark, a knife was thrust into his stomach. He grunted, hunching up at the pain.
The man came at him again, several times; the knife slicing through the air, the gleam of the blade catching the moonlight. It caught him on his hands, his arms through his jacket, until finally the fight left him, and he fell to the ground.
Rolling over onto his back, resting for a moment before trying to pull himself up, he groaned. Nausea washed over him, a warmth in his torso that he didn’t recognise. He flopped back to the ground, pressing a hand to his stomach, feeling the wetness of his blood seeping through his fingers.
Billy’s shout came out as a whisper. Then he watched as the man walked away, leaving him there with no means of getting help.
He wasn’t sure how long he lay there but, all at once, a complete sense of calm engulfed him. He tried to focus on the stars, twinkling in the black void, pointing at them with a shaky hand.
It was the last thing Billy saw. His arm dropped to his side as he took his final breath.