The following is a draft from The Longest Night, my debut novel! Let me know what you think in the comments or on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MagicOfAStory
Tasha O’Brien had a love-hate relationship with the early morning cold. She loved how her breath billowed in front of her. But she slammed her feet onto the ice cold footpath as she walked, hoping that it would banish the frozen numbness. The golden bloodhound glanced back at the sudden strange sound, but continued to pull at his lead.
“Slow down Toffee, we’re nearly home!”
Toffee bayed in excitement, and Tasha smirked. At the word ‘home’ he yanked further on his lead, his excitement almost choking him. The dog was the strangest beast she had ever encountered. What type of dog gets excited about going home?! she wondered. A sudden winter breeze blew and found a gap between her jacket and trousers, and she yelped at the cold.
They turned a corner and Tasha squinted her eyes against the barely rising sun. They walked down a narrow roadway towards their home. Terraced red-brick houses stood as a guard of honour, the windows and doors watching the pair silently. Mostly the lights were on and some of Tasha’s neighbours were leaving their homes for the day ahead. She smiled at anyone she saw, and nodded at the occasional returned smile.
“How was the walk this morning, Tasha?”
She turned towards Sophie’s voice, coming from the front door of the house across from hers.
“Gorgeous clear skies, lovely sunrise, but it was baltic girl. I know it’s December, but it’s not the south fecking pole!”
Sophie laughed as she pulled a woolly hat over her blonde ponytail and closed the door.
“Well at least you’ve your exercise done now for the day!” she said as she crossed the road towards them, “I haven’t walked or gone to the gym in yonks. How’s Toffster?!”
She bent down and ruffled Toffee’s ears, and then reached into her pocket.
“I have a wee present for ya, Toffee! Are you a good boy?!”
She pulled out a small bit of cold bacon. Toffee stiffened at the scent and wagged his tail so hard it drummed against the wall. The two women laughed as the well-trained dog didn’t jump up or bark, but patiently waited.
“Ah, Sophie don’t torture him! Give it to him!” said Tasha with a laugh.
Sophie giggled in return and threw the bacon towards the dog. It didn’t even get close to the ground.
“I better go catch the bus,” announced Sophie, turning on her heel. “Don’t work too hard today, chat you later!”
“Yeah, see ya later!”
Tasha looped Toffee’s lead around her wrist and fumbled about for her keys. They felt as though they had been cut from ice, even though they had spent the last hour or so in her jacket pocket. She blew in frustration as her slow numb hands gradually guided the key in the door and twisted it. The dog leapt inside and bounded up the stairs to the door of her flat.
She followed her hound up the stairs and twisted another key in another lock. Toffee bounded into the flat ahead of her, snapping the door away from her hand. Immediately he began barking like a lunatic at the screeching alarm. She chuckled slightly, stepped in, and shut the door behind her. She typed in her pass-code and a robotic voice said “Pass-code accepted.” She had the hot water turned on before they left, so she quickly stripped and jumped into the shower, to warm up more than to clean herself.
Her mind flipped through her chores for the day. Get to the office. Smile at her co-workers, hoping yet again that they didn’t cop onto her cover. Grunt work at her desk, and then… Her meeting with Hughes. The man she’d be hunting down all this time.
It was back in September when Tasha’s editor called her in for a rare one-on-one meeting.
“Jim?” Tasha knocked and poked her head around the door. It was uncharacteristically quiet. Jim was sitting at his rickety wooden desk with both elbows on it, reading something on a tablet that made his brow furrow.
“O’Brien. In you get.” He didn’t lift his head at all.
She closed the door. It was freezing outside but thankfully the office was much warmer. She unwrapped her scarf as her steps towards Jim echoed in the bare office. Jim wasn’t one for decorating or showing off accolades. He liked things plain and simple. She sat down and waited. She knew from experience to wait for Jim to be ready for her.
Jim’s eyes peeked over his half-moon glasses. His wiry white eyebrows furrowed together even further.
“Sorry, O’Brien, I’m almost done here.”
“I’m in no rush. I’ll wait.”
Eventually, Jim put the tablet on the desk screen down and leaned back.
“I was finished anyway. It’s your violent crimes piece-“
The one I wasn’t ready to submit! thought Tasha, How did he-
“-and it’s damn good. A few needless phrases, a little bit of an opinion sneaking in here and there. It needs some going over but not much more than an hours work for you I’d say.”
“Jesus Jim that wasn’t ready “
Jim’s raised his palm.
“Natasha, you’re a damn good journalist. You’ve good instincts. You’re passionate, tenacious, and fuck me you’re fearless to a fault. I think it’s time you took on that passion project of yours.”
Tasha’s heart gave a flutter, but she composed herself. She had quickly learnt that a good journalist keeps her emotions under control. Jim took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He had walked around from the behind the desk and was standing between it and Tasha. He sat on the desk with a smirk.
“I think it’s time we let you go after the guy that you think killed your brother.”
Tasha’s stomach dropped. No fucking way. No mother-fucking way.
“Jim… Are you sure? You know I’ve wanted to do that story for so long.”
Jim rolled his eyes and fixed Tasha with a reprimanding glare, but tinted with admiration.
“Don’t lie to me O’Brien. You’ve been doing this story for as long as I’ve known you. The difference is now you can dedicate your full time to it.”
Tasha took a breath to calm herself, and then thought it was better to be quiet. She didn’t want to get too excited in front of Jim. He knew it meant a lot to her, but he didn’t know just how much. Her brother’s disappearance four years ago was what drove her to become a criminal journalist. She had finally made it to where she wanted to be.
“Of course Jim, this is… thank you. You won’t regret this. I know it’s personal but I’ll still be professional.”
“You’re not doing this alone O’Brien. You have the paper behind you. Now if you want a head start, Simon Hughes.”
“From Hughes, Kenny and Ennis?”
Jim nodded. “The very same.”
“What about him?”
Jim’s lips, so unused to emotion, curled into a twisted smile.
“How do you feel about some… undercover work?”
Four months later, Tasha was walking in the door of the Carlissian. The well-known and very popular restaurant was the only one in Ireland to have three Michelin Stars. Getting a reservation there told others less of your fine choice in dining, and more of how much money you had to spare. Simon Hughes liked to have his lunch there at least once a month.
Tasha steeled her nerves with a calming breath before striding right through the door and past the receptionist. Before the receptionist caught up with her, she quickly scanned the room to get an idea of how to get closer to Hughes. Although she had worked in his office for four months, she never really spoke to him before. There was an elderly couple in the far corner, three young suits laughing loudly, and then there was Hughes, suspiciously alone.
“Excuse me,” said the receptionist, whirling Tasha around, “Unless you have a reservation you’ll have to leave.”
“But I can’t leave! I have an interview with Mr Hughes!” returned Tasha. It was times like this that her short stature and youthful looks came into some use. She made sure to look as doe-eyed as possible while amplifying her Kerry accent ever so slightly.
“You?” replied the woman, “With Mr. Hughes?!”
“I know, I know I hardly believed it myself. But his assistant told me where to find him and to come right away, I mean, I can’t blow an opportunity like this. I really can’t. I mean I’m going to be late if I don’t, oh please, you’re so good! “
Tasha poured on the country mouse act as thickly as the receptionist could take, and allowed the tall Amazonian to mull it over for a second. Tasha watched her eyes flick from the door to Hughes and back, and the second she saw a glimmer of doubt, she turned and strode straight to Hughes and called over her shoulder,
“Thanks girl! You’re so amazing, thanks for letting me through!”
Hughes was sitting alone sipping at a large glass of red wine.
Reading something very important I’m sure, thought Tasha. She took a second to take him in, her target for the last few months. His large bony nose supported a pair of flimsy, but expensive looking glasses reflecting a few spreadsheets laid neatly across the table.
She confidently pulled out the chair opposite him and placed herself at the table, snatching up a menu.
Here we go.
“I beg your pardon?” Hughes looked up, his thin lips pressed together, his beady eyes looking right through her.
“Sorry, Mr. Hughes. I’m a bit early. I didn’t intend on having this meeting until after Christmas at the earliest,” she shrugged. “But here we are.”
Hughes exhaled forcefully through his large nose and pushed his glasses up.
“Right. Now tell me, who the fuck are you, and what the fuck do you want?”
Tasha put on an irritatingly cheeky smirk.
“Oh… you don’t remember my interview? You hired me as an assistant clerk back in September? I think you said that I had a glowing recommendation that seemed ‘too good to be true.'” Tasha leaned forward, both elbows on the table and whispered, “Well, that’s because it wasn’t.”
With a wave of understanding, Hughes’ eyes swept the room as he gathered the spreadsheets from the table and placed them carefully into a folder. As he did, Tasha reached into her satchel and took out a large brown envelope.
“So, undercover hmm? Who sent you? Avalanche? The Noonans? Or are you a filthy fucking journalist?”
Tasha leaned back in her chair and folded her arms.
“Third time’s the charm.”
Hughes shook his head in disgust.
“You know, I think I’d rather it was one of the others.”
Hughes pushed his chair back to leave, but Tasha slid the envelope across the table towards him. He froze for a second, his eyes locked on it. Tasha’s heart was pounding, but she was well able to keep her cool.
She said nothing and let him open it. She spoke as he went through it.
“Look Hughes, I don’t want an interview. I know full well about your main clientele in Hughes, Kenny and Ennis. You take the assets of certain… let’s call them ‘syndicates’… and help them turn their assets into less legally grey ones. All for the nice tidy fee of thirty per cent from the top. Now that means you have the trust of just about every major… Let’s say ‘CEO’ in Western Europe.
“I think you know what I want. Full details at all times of every red cent that you launder for these bastards, and where it’s coming from. I only want information, never money. If I get what I want, the proof in that envelope will stay off my editor’s desk.”
Hughes had stopped listening a while ago. He had opened the envelope and was sorting through its damning contents. Photographs, signatures, letters, invoices… everything that he had worked so hard to hide all these years.
“Do you realise that not only would I go to jail for this, I’d probably be tortured and murdered in my cell if this ever got out?”
Tasha reached across the table and took the envelope from him. “Do you realise that some of those bastards you launder for specialise in child porn and human trafficking? If it’s pity you want, you’re not getting it from me. I’m heading off. But first, you have a homework assignment.”
Hughes glared at her through his glasses.
“Four years ago, nearly to the day, a small gang burned down a Catholic church in Kerry. I want you to find out who did it, and why.”
“What makes you think you’ll last the day. I could have you killed in an instant.”
“Oh no doubt you could,” Tasha leaned in, prepared for his threat, “But if I don’t email a security code to a colleague of mine every day, everything you see in there,” she tapped the envelope, “will be sent to every newspaper in the country.” She kept her finger on the envelope and slid it closer to him.
“Four years ago. Church. Kerry. I want names. See you later.”