Lorenzo de Luca turned off the motorway into the suburbs of South Manchester. Back in the day, he’d had a little bedsit around here. It had been fifteen years since he’d been here. Surely they hadn’t changed the roads, though.
A building that used to house a tailor’s and now held a vape shop told him he had the right street. As he drove up, his heart sank. The little row of terraced houses that had been converted into bedsits was long gone. A soulless red-brick block sat in its place with a ton of cars outside. He supposed this was progress.
To be fair, the bedsit had been pretty ropey. One of the windows never fully shut and the neighbour used to play music at all hours of the day and night. Lorenzo hadn’t cared. He had been in his twenties and loving that he had a place to call his own. But he wouldn’t be seen dead having a coffee in a place like that these days, never mind staying the night. He had come a long way since those days.
His old home hadn’t been his main destination anyway. He parked up and walked in the footsteps of his twenty-seven-year-old self.
Many a time, he, Jonny and Harry had staggered up this street after spending some of their ill-gotten gains in the bars nearby. They’d been untouchable in those days—Lorenzo and Harry had helped Jonny take control of Manchester’s criminal underworld. Everyone cowered when Jonny Wellingham’s Boys swaggered past—their reputation for swift justice had been earned tenfold.
Lorenzo crossed the road and soon found the path he wanted. It ran up a back alley of the next street. The red brick walls of the terraces hadn’t changed. Memories flooded into his mind like a tsunami.
At the end of the alley, he came to a big car park where he and the lads would set up shop every Wednesday. A regular community operation trading out of a clapped-out Volkswagen campervan. The police had never known a thing.
At the weekends, they’d only dealt in town. However, Jonny had soon realised that a lot of people liked to have their drugs before a night out. So, he would arrange for the van to be in this out-of-the-way spot and punters would come under cover of darkness to do their shopping. One man exclaimed they could only do better if they had a reward points system.
For a moment, Jonny had actually considered it.
A number of public pathways led off the car park. They followed a network of man-made waterways that had been dug to save the area from flooding. As a by-product, they had also created a thriving nature reserve. City dwellers, starved of green space, used them for cycling, jogging and dog walking.
The area had been gentrified since Lorenzo’s day. When he had been here, these walkways were the domain of alcoholics and working girls whose customers didn’t mind a bunk up against a tree. It was hilarious to him that the middle classes now brought their kids here to study wildlife.
Lorenzo hadn’t come here to see insects or birds today. He could remember running through the car park as though the devil himself were after him. Tracing his previous footsteps, knowing what had awaited him that night, sent chills across his skin.
There had been few times in his life when he had experienced real terror. That night, fifteen years ago, still haunted his nightmares.
He’d been watching television in his little flat when they’d burst through the door. Two of them had grabbed his arms while Frank, one of Jonny’s lads, had walked up to him.
Lorenzo and Frank had always got on well. The distress at why they had come to inflict pain on him burnt as hot today as it had then. That was before Lorenzo had learnt that true loyalty was a rare diamond, to be cherished when found.
“Wellingham doesn’t like your sort,” Frank had sneered, grabbing his face. “Shirt-lifters. Problem for you is, he can’t just sack you. That leaves only one way out, Lorenzo.”
A flash of metal told him all he needed to know about Frank’s intentions. Before he could aim, Lorenzo had broken free and leapt through the downstairs window.
The scars on his calves still told that story. His legs had been burning with pain as he’d run across the tarmac, desperate to get to the darkened paths. His thinking had been that he knew this area well. He hoped his attackers didn’t.
Retracing that fateful night, he followed the twists and turns. They seemed so innocent in the cold winter sunlight. He could still remember the taste of metallic dread in his mouth. In those days, Lorenzo had been fast. Yet his pursuers had fanned out so he didn’t know which way to turn. Voices sounding from every angle sent him into a whirlpool of fear and confusion.
He rounded a hawthorn bush and stopped in his tracks. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. The little pool where my flight came to an end. The first bullet hit him like a juggernaut smashing into his shoulder. He’d lost his balance and fallen face down into the pool. The pain had seared through his body like hot knives. Instinctively, he reached up and touched where only a scar remained.
Two more bullets had hit him after that, one puncturing a lung. The other had narrowly missed any organs and gone straight through him. Doctors in his future would tell him how lucky he had been. Lying in that ice cold water, waiting to die, luck hadn’t felt very close to him.
He’d silently prayed to God to take him quickly, yet he hadn’t lost consciousness. Instead, he’d lain there, as still as possible, while his would-be assassins discussed if they’d killed him or not. Every second, he expected an insurance bullet to blow his brains out.
Then his hopes had soared when he’d thought they might be retreating. He’d barely been able to trust his ears as the sounds of his attackers faded.
Lorenzo crouched down and ran his hands through the water. The silt made it a dirty brown. He could imagine a time it would have been deep red with his blood.
Standing up, he filled his lungs with Manchester air. “I am back,” he said out loud.
Seeing the place he’d lain, terrified to even breathe, brought a resolve to him. His body had almost frozen as he lay there, waiting to be sure they had gone. Once he could take no more, he had crawled out of the pool, the blood loss and cold making him limp and unable to get up. Instead, Lorenzo had crawled to the car park. Eventually he had got to the main road and thankfully someone driving past had seen him.
They’d saved his life, and he had no idea who they were. He wished he did. They had gone before the paramedics arrived. He supposed they’d recognised him and wanted nothing more to do with it. He could understand that. A man with three gunshot wounds screamed danger. He’d been lucky they’d even dared make the emergency call.
Today he planned to be the one to make an anonymous call. Adrenaline coursed through his veins as he got out the piece of paper with a number written on it. He’d got it from his nephew’s friend. She’d thought he intended to use it to taunt Jonny. In a way he did, although he had a much more important outcome on his mind too.
With a shaking hand, he connected the call.
“Who is this?” came the voice that he hadn’t heard in decades yet still seemed so familiar to him. “This is a private number. How did you get it?”
“It’s a blast from your past,” Lorenzo replied.
“Tell me who you are.”
“Meet me at the location I message to you,” Lorenzo continued. “And all will be revealed. Come alone if you want me to show myself.”
He terminated the call. The fish was on the hook. Now he just had to reel it in.
* * * *
Nerves and excitement surged through his body like a runaway train. In every other part of his life, he held control with a tight fist. No one dared change his toilet detergent without checking with him first. He’d buried his feelings for so many years, opting for meaningless sex and making money. Now he had to face them. Lorenzo prided himself on his reputation of fearing no man. That wasn’t the case today.
He walked to the exit of the car park and out onto a little square lined with restaurants and shops. It resembled a set from a sci-fi movie. A huge chrome building dominated the place. It housed a theatre and gallery. When he’d lived here, it had only just opened. Now it presided over an entire entertainment complex.
Salford Quays had certainly changed. The Manchester Ship Canal curled around the buildings full of TV channels and media outlets. What had once been the centre of industry now led the way in technology. He supposed Jonny Wellingham had lapped up all this new media money. They spent big and a lot of them on the product that Wellingham specialised in. He wouldn’t take kindly to losing it. The thought made Lorenzo grin.
He strolled along the water’s edge, pulling his collar up against the icy wind that blew over the water relentlessly. I wonder what else has changed in Manchester? Ever since he’d arrived, he’d spent his time organising things at the farmhouse hideout his nephew, Marco, had set up. He hadn’t had much of a chance to seek out his old haunts.
The other side of the theatre lay deserted. It only housed a goods entrance. There was a walkway with benches facing the water. Lorenzo clocked a CCTV camera on the building. It couldn’t be more perfect. Quiet enough for privacy but no one would attempt anything here.
Leaning against the iron railing, he stared into the water.
What if he doesn’t show?
Before he even thought about the consequences of that, he heard footsteps on the stone staircase he’d just come down. It had to be him.
“So, who the fuck are you then?”
Lorenzo turned, and there he stood. The man he had loved more than anyone in the whole world. The man he’d dreamt about and the man he’d almost been killed for. To have him standing in front of him was more than his heart knew what to do with.
A movie reel of memories spun through his mind at warp speed. So many times, he’d wanted to reach out and tell him everything. His thirst for revenge had always trumped his need for reconciliation.
“Hello, Harry,” he said.
Harry frowned. “Do I know you?”
Lorenzo made a face. “I haven’t aged that much in fifteen years, have I?”
Still Harry stared as though he’d never set eyes on him before. This moment reminded Lorenzo of being at the top of the rollercoaster. Chaos awaited and there wasn’t any other option than to wait for it all to play out. Except these days, he drove the rollercoaster.
“Stop fucking me about,” Harry said. “Either tell me who you are or I’m out of here.”
Lorenzo walked a little closer. Harry instinctively gripped something in his pocket. Of course, he might have come alone, but he was clearly armed. Harry always had been the more paranoid of the two of them. Lorenzo had had a cockiness that drove a lot of people mad. That bravado had nearly cost him his life.
“Steady on,” Lorenzo said. “I survived one shooting. I might not make it through another.”
Realisation dawned on Harry’s face. “What…it can’t be.”
Strolling over to him, Lorenzo stared him in the eye. “Take a good look. Surely you remember this face.”
Poor Harry looked like he was about to pass out. He wobbled for a second and Lorenzo ran forward, grabbing him. “Do you need to sit down?” he asked.
Harry just nodded. His breathing came in little gasps for air and his legs shook violently. Lorenzo guided him over to a bench and sat him down. Harry put his head between his legs and for a minute or so, remained stock-still.
Did I overdo the drama? Imagine if I killed Harry before we’ve even had a chance to say hello.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know how else to tell you,” Lorenzo said as calmly as he could manage. “I wanted you to see me, otherwise you might not believe it was me.”
Eventually, Harry raised his head and just stared at him. “Can it be?”
Lorenzo nodded. “It’s me, my love. Back from the dead and so fucking pleased to see you.”