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the day came when he left things that fraction too late, and the hit and run driver left most of his leg mashed to a pulpy mess on the tarmac. That was the day his adoring fans left him as well.

The Chicken stayed in the hospital for just on a year and came out changed. The feckless youth was gone. In his place a deeply embittered and crippled man viewed the world with a profound and vengeful hatred from a wheel chair. Unable to lead a normal life himself he had found a perverse gratification in turning the innocence of others to corruption while making a profit at the same time. His dubious business affairs were diverse and rumoured to run from prostitution to drugs, protection to white slaving, and even the occasional hit if the money was right. Word had it that no fast cash transaction of any size went down on the coast without The Chicken's knowledge, which was why I needed his help. With a couple of tons of muscle snapping at my heels he was the only man who could.

He waited until I had pulled out a chair and started to sit down before jerking his head at the menís room with a growl. "I ain't finished yet. Gimme me five." He watched impassively as I stood up again, waiting until I was out of earshot before leaning forward to continue his whispered conversation.

The menís room was empty. I ran a comb through my hair, washed my hands, then crossed over and stood in front of one of the urinals. After that hot sweaty walk from the beach and only a mouthful of beer the gesture was empty and automatic, but I had to pass the time somehow and what else can you do in a menís room. I wondered what sort of job The Chicken had found for me and hoped it wasn't too risky. Not that it mattered. The kind of men looking for me always found the people who owed them money; in their line of business they couldn't afford not to. Anything was preferable to that.

Suddenly someone was standing at the urinal beside me. In normal circumstances I would have ignored him, men make a point of not noticing each other at such times, but I was too edgy to bother with the niceties and turned to check him out. Standing there impeccably dressed and still wearing that ridiculous hat, was the same guy who had walked out of the sea earlier on. With a shake of his head he treated me to another of those sickeningly familiar smiles. Then his expression changed and I could see he was running scared too.

"For Christ's sakes leave the Chicken alone! He'll only make things worse, people like him always do. Their whole lives revolve round misery, it's the only currency they understand. For God's sake man, we're only one step from the big one as it is. We can't afford such risks, not now, not when thereís so much at stake. Make a run for it or face the goons, they're ministering angels compared to the alternative. You're on a tightrope Joe, it only needs one false move and we're both lost!"

"Oh yeah! Just what makes you such a fucking expert on my life all of a sudden? What the hell business has it got to do with you? Just who the fuck do you think you are Mr. Out Of Bloody Nowhere? What right do you have to tell me to sit around like some dumb rabbit and wait for those creeps to turn up with their arm crackers and razors? Are you nuts or something? Were the loaves left out of your bread basket this morning?"

But I was yelling at some poor ineffectual little guy in a blue shirt with a bad case of the shakes. The face with the white fedora was gone. But by now I was badly scared and had to take it out on someone. "OK, OK. Go on, tell me you didn't see him." I hollered, eyeballing the little squirt."Well just maybe I didn't see him either. Maybe we're both fucking crazy!" I shouldered the poor guy roughly aside and slammed the door behind me. But it was all show. No matter how big and tough I acted, I could sense everything was falling apart and my legs were jelly.

The Chicken jerked his head at the chair across the table."Sitdown, shuddup, listen. You got two minutes," he rasped round his cigar butt. "You say you need a job. OK, well that guy I was talking to needs someone for a bag run. I told him about you, and now he's looked you over and the jobs yours if you want it." His mouth twisted in malicious humour. "It pays ten percent, ten big ones less my cut." His blank little eyes stared at me without expression, like dead squid's from a marble slab in a fish market.

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