- Pub. Date:
As the owner/manager of a gym, life for Finn Maguire is mercifully quieter after the murderous events of CRUSHER. But when his business partner Delroy is targeted by vicious loan sharks, and Finn's trusted lawyer Nicky apparently absconds with all of his money, he is dragged back into the murky criminality of the London underworld.
Dark secrets run deep here - and there's danger at every turn. Someone wants Finn to lay low and stop asking questions - and will stop at nothing to silence him...
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About the Author
Niall Leonard is a successful TV screenwriter with a long list of credits including international hits such as Hornblower, Wire In The Blood and Monarch of the Glen.
Niall grew up in Newry, Northern Ireland and now lives in West London with his wife and their two teenage sons. He studied English at the University of York and trained as a screenwriter and director at the UK National Film and Television School. Niall’s wife recently won fame as a novelist in her own right when as EL James she created the publishing phenomenon Fifty Shades Trilogy. It was James who challenged Niall to write a book. So last November he took part in the 2011 NaNoWriMo novel writing event in which writers create a book in a month, and thus his debut YA thriller Crusher was born. Niall is currently writing the sequel to Crusher.
Read an Excerpt
I'd have to buy a new mop. No matter how much bleach I used on this one I could see a faint pink tinge to the trail it left, and I suspected it had cleaned up a lot of blood and teeth in its time. I'd found it in a musty cupboard when we'd first moved into this place, and I kept putting off buying a new one because after spending thousands on the lease and the equipment I couldn't bring myself to cough up for a new mop when there was nothing wrong with the old one, apart from the blood-stains . . .
Out for a run a few months earlier, I'd passed the old gym where Delroy had taught me to box, on the first floor of a tall narrow red-brick warehouse above a second-hand furniture shop crammed with plastic sofas and sad chintzy armchairs cleared from old folks' houses when they'd been carted off to care homes.
Between the front windows of the gym an estate agent's sign had been nailed up. I could just about read FOR SALE without stopping to decode it. Somebody ought to buy that place, I thought. Open it up again, hire Delroy to teach boxing. Fill it with workout equipment. There were plenty of fitness freaks around here, judging by the number of runners in the parks, and no decent gym for miles. It would take someone with energy and imagination and a ton of money, of course . . .
I'd been running for another twenty minutes before I'd realized that somebody could be me. The money I'd inherited after my dad died was sitting in a Spanish bank account doing nothing. Why the hell not?
I decided to bounce the idea off Delroy.
Years before, when he'd taught me how to box, Delroy had been a huge black bear of a man, for all his bulk unbelievably fast. The gym back then was full of vicious half-wild kids who would have a go at anybody--I was one of them--but Delroy had never needed to throw his weight around or even raise his voice. None of us had ever wanted to see him angry.
Now he spent most of his time slumped in his front room watching boxing on a big cheap TV with a lousy picture. He was still a big black bear, but he wasn't as fast as he used to be--he couldn't even get out of his chair without a stick. The stroke had paralysed the entire left side of his body, and he'd spent something like eighteen months in rehab and recovery.
I'd been to visit him a few times and always left feeling bored and frustrated that I hadn't been able to help him. But the day I'd told him my idea about re-opening the gym, and how he could run the coaching again, Delroy's face lit up. His grin was still crooked, but he seemed to grow ten years younger before my eyes. He wasn't available for hire, he said, but he'd go halves with me on the lease. Winnie, his loud, huge wife, clapped her hands and started praising Jesus, saying I'd been sent from God to heal her man. I'd always loved Winnie, so I didn't ask her who'd sent Delroy the stroke in the first place.
Here came Delroy now, stumping up the stairs, grunting and panting. I knew better than to go and offer help. Early on I had suggested he didn't have to turn up at six just because that was when I opened the doors, but he had insisted. "You and me is partners, Finn. I need to be there. You'll probably sleep in anyway."
I went to empty the mop bucket. A few coats of paint had brightened the place up, and I'd fixed all the broken windows. We still needed new lockers--only half of the old ones opened, and half of those wouldn't lock--and as for the plumbing . . . when I tipped the grey-pink water into the old-fashioned earthenware sink the whiff from the plughole suggested something fat and hairy had crawled down the drain and died.
But surveying the place, with its rows of running machines and elliptical trainers, and the refurbished boxing ring and the floor-to-ceiling mirrors, I still felt an electric buzz of excitement. Maguire's Gym. I actually owned and was running a business, at seventeen, even if I did have Delroy as a partner.
He'd reached the top of the narrow stairs by now and stopped to catch his breath. I smiled as I heard his voice boom, "You mopped the floors already? God's sake, Crusher, you is the boss of this place. You shouldn't be doing the skivvying."
I didn't want to hire a cleaner for the same reason I didn't want to buy a mop--we didn't need any more staff. Sam and Daisy, who looked after the front desk, were in their twenties, and from the day we opened I had to insist they stopped calling me "Boss," because it made me cringe.
"I don't mind mopping the floor, Delroy, honest."
"I know you don't mind," said Delroy. "It's just you do such a shit job. You should stick to boxing. And making the tea."
"You want some tea?"
"Boy can take a hint."
"You know where the kitchen is."
Twenty minutes later the joint was jumping. Delroy had hooted with laughter when I'd told him I wanted to open at six every day, but I thought plenty of people would prefer to work out first thing in the morning, while they still had the energy, before schlepping off to the office. Maguire's would never be the sort of setup you'd see in a style magazine, with flawlessly beautifully models on treadmills grinning like idiots and never breaking a sweat, but I reckoned if we kept the prices low enough and the place clean enough we'd attract customers who wanted a basic gym with no frills.
So far it seemed to be working. The house my dad and I had lived in I'd rented out to a young Polish family, and now I lived over the shop, in the tiny apartment on the top floor. It was dark and dingy, and damp enough to grow mushrooms, but I didn't do much up there anyway except sleep.
While I acted as manager-cum-janitor Delroy looked after the fighting. His body might have been crippled but his mind was as fast as ever and his eyes missed nothing. He could spot bad habits before you'd even properly acquired them and double the force of your punches just by telling you how to place your feet. He could analyse a fighter's strengths and flaws by listening to them spar, or maybe smelling them; how his instincts worked was a mystery to me, but they worked, and fighters who listened to him could see and feel the difference his input made.
When I had started training with Delroy there hadn't been many female boxers, but that had all changed since the last Olympics. The first time I signed up two women for boxing lessons I saw him raise an eyebrow--the one that still worked--but if the prospect of encouraging girls to thump each other bothered him, he said nothing.
Fifteen minutes later he'd been driving them as hard as he'd ever driven me: "To hell with glowing, ladies, I want to see some sweat!"
There were two women in the ring this morning, circling each other, throwing jabs, dodging and feinting while Delroy observed, calling out advice. I was pounding away on one of the treadmills, seeing how long I could hold my top speed, and I found myself staring at the door before I even realized why. She's usually here by this time on a Sunday. I felt Delroy's eyes on me and glanced over. He was frowning like I'd screwed up, but before I could figure out what was bothering him he'd turned his attention back to the sparring.
"Nicky, hey." She must have slipped in while I wasn't looking.
It was five kilometres from Nicky's house to the gym, and it looked like she'd run all the way, but she didn't stop for a breather; she slung her bag on its usual hook, checked the band that held back her honey-blonde hair, climbed up onto an elliptical trainer in front of me and went straight into her workout. I kept running, trying not to stare at the muscles flexing in her ass. It was unprofessional. I stared anyway; I just couldn't help it.
I'd seen a lot of Nicky in the last few months, but then she was my lawyer, and I needed to. She'd sorted the money I'd inherited from my dad, and got hold of the title deeds to that house in Spain I still hadn't seen. When I'd come to her for advice about the gym she'd helped me buy the lease and set up the partnership. She'd handled all the negotiations, arranged the transfer of the funds from Spain and even found me an accountant to keep the books. Our meetings consisted mostly of her handing me forms and telling me what they said and where I should sign, and me signing them. Reading had never been my strong point, but I didn't feel embarrassed about that when I was with Nicky; she managed to make me feel as if severe dyslexia was kind of cute.
The day we opened she had turned up with a bottle of champagne, which I helped Delroy to drink even though I hated the stuff. She even signed up as our first member, though Maguire's Gym was kind of downmarket for a girl as classy as her. But it was all strictly business . . . or that's what I kept telling myself.
Nicky clambered down from the elliptical trainer, returned to her bag and pulled out a towel. As she wiped her face I admired the play of muscles across her back and the way her skin glowed, even under these cold neons. She turned and caught my eye before I looked away. I could feel my face burning, and hoped she'd missed it. I focused on keeping my speed up, but she wandered over in my direction.
"Finn, has Judy been in yet?"
"Judy?" My mind had gone blank.
"We were meant to be sparring together. Kind of early in the day for it, but . . ."
Judy! I remembered her now--a wiry short woman with frizzy hair tied back in a bun, and a hell of a right hand.
"Haven't seen her, sorry." I reached forward, switched off the treadmill, and hopped backwards from the running bed as it slowed. "I'll spar with you if you want," I said.
She grinned. "Finn, you've got twice my reach. I'd end up smeared all over your glove."
I turned to the two women in the ring, who had finished their session and were clambering down through the ropes. "Tracey? You or Marcia up for a round with Nicky here?"
Tracey glanced at the clock. "Sorry, Finn, I've got a Sunday lunch."
"I'll do it."
I turned to find Bruno behind us. He'd only been coming to the gym for a week or two, but he was in good shape. Slim, gangly and dark, he looked Arabic, even if Bruno didn't exactly sound like an Arabic name. But our members could call themselves anything they liked as long as they paid their subs. He struck me as slightly clueless and I wondered if he knew what he was letting himself in for, but he only outweighed Nicky by a kilo or two, and he was pretty much her height.
"OK . . . but both of you take it easy, yeah?"
Across the ring I saw Delroy watching. He seemed dubious. I remembered he'd quickly taken a dislike to Bruno, for some reason I'd never been able to fathom. But I thought if I kept an eye on proceedings there shouldn't be a problem.
"I'll go glove up," said Nicky.
"I'll help," I said. I'd shown her plenty of times the right way to wrap her hands before putting gloves on, and she was perfectly capable, but she let me do it anyway. She seemed a little distracted as I fastened the bindings off and slipped on her gel sparring gloves.
"Hey. Focus," I said.
"Sorry." She grinned, blew her fringe up out of her face. "Stuff at work."
"This will sort all that out."
"I hope so." I glanced across to where Delroy was checking Bruno's gloves. He'd switched from bag gloves to heavily padded sparring ones, heavier than Nicky's, but she was too slight to wear the exact equivalents. "Remember what I told you. Keep moving. He'll hit harder than you're used to, so try not to let him."
"Thanks," she said.
"And Nicky . . . go easy on him, yeah?"
For the first minute or so she did. They circled each other, weighing each other up, throwing the odd jab, but then Nicky stepped in with a right hook that connected clean with the point of Bruno's jaw, snapping his head back. She had plenty of strength, I knew, but it surprised me how much force she put into the shot--almost as if she had lost control. Bruno closed up his guard and increased the distance between them, forcing her to come closer if she wanted to make contact.
She was up for it. She smacked at his raised arms with left and right, then dodged back, all the time moving, side to side, switching direction. I was reminded of a tiger I'd seen once in a run-down zoo near Brighton, endlessly pacing up and down, staring through the plate glass at the slack-jawed punters staring back. Even as a kid I'd understood that that tiger was slowly going crazy. It wasn't a good image to come to mind.
It occurred to me that I really didn't know that much about Nicky. She'd always struck me as calm, level-headed, unflappable, but now I realized that as a lawyer she must deal with stress and conflict every day, and all that pent-up frustration and aggression had to go somewhere. I was starting to think I was seeing it now.
Bruno was cooler and more patient than I'd expected, but you could tell he was getting fed up with getting whacked by Nicky, padding or no padding. I suddenly realized how little I knew about Bruno, too. He'd been to the gym less than half a dozen times and would always work away quietly for the best part of an hour before slipping out again. Occasionally he'd linger nearby when Delroy and I were having a conversation, and if we addressed him, he'd just grin and carry on with what he'd been doing as if he didn't really speak the language. When he did speak his accent was pure London, with only the faintest hint of Arabic, so I guessed that was just shyness on his part. But Delroy always said that you only saw a man's true character when you put him under pressure in the ring.