She dripped gold and favoured gold sovereigns, their currency of old. Her clothing was the best; her shoes Louis Vuitton and her perfume a hundred pounds a bottle. These people, shunned by many in society, knew quality. They wouldn’t be fooled by anything less that the best.
It was a semi-permanent site just outside of Lancaster. She’d done her research. Her own car was modest; she’d hired a Ferrari for the day and pulled onto the site in a squeal of tyres. Two men, tending horses by an outbuilding rushed over to her as she alighted.
‘This is private property, Miss. You have no business here.’ The first man in his twenties said.
‘I am here to see the owner of this site.’ She spoke with authority.
‘Are you from the council?’ This was the second man, he was of the same age but thicker set and less good-looking than the first.
‘Don’t be soft, Wilfred, does the ‘Cil drive a car like that, I ask yer? What are you here for, Missus?’
‘Please get me the owner. I am here with a business proposition.’
‘We don’t do business with Gorges.’
‘Outsider’s, we only deal with our own kind.’
The door of a trailer, set in its own courtyard, flew open and a man strode towards them. ‘Can I help you, there? Have you lost yer way, Missus?’
‘I don’t believe so. Are you the owner here?’
‘And who would be wanting to know?’
‘As you defend your privacy, so I’m defensive of mine, Mr Lowther. Who I am is not of importance. He raised an eyebrow. ‘Let me convince you that we have business.’ She opened her clutch bag and gave him a glimpse of the wad of cash inside.
‘Are you alone?’ She nodded. ‘Junior, Wilfred, why are my horses not on the snaffle? Go and see to my beauties. Stay close to the gate and see that we aren’t disturbed.’ The men leaned in close trying to see in Connie’s bag. ‘Begone with you.’ Jacob Lowther roared and the two men scattered. ‘You’d best follow me, then.’ And he led her into the trailer.
He motioned Connie into a seat in the curved bay window. She had done her research on the correct etiquette and respectfully removed her shoes before entering, but she was canny enough to pick them up and place them inside the door where she could see them. The trailer was every bit as immaculate as any home that she’d ever been in. It was tastefully dressed, with porcelain works of art. She had to smile when she saw the same Royal Doulton tea that Violet was so proud of. It was set in a china cabinet. Violet would have been horrified to know that she shared her taste with gypsies.
‘Sheila, get the pibe on, woman.’ A voluptuous woman with hair as black as Connie’s set about making tea. Neither of them spoke again until Jacob’s wife had served them. She didn’t ask Connie’s taste and the tea was given with sugar and lemon, ‘Go on and visit wit’ yer sister now, begone woman.’ Sheila looked Connie over from head to toe. Her eyes flamed with jealousy and she glared at her husband possessively. Jacob raised the flat of his hand towards her in a backhander and with lightning reflexes Connie snatched her own hand out and grabbed him by the wrist.
‘That won’t be necessary, Mr. Lowther.’
‘To be spoken to like that in my own home. By a mort too. I should strike you to the floor, Missus, but you’ve got balls and you’ve got my interest, I’ll tell yer that much.
Connie settled back down in her seat and watched out of the window until Sheila had entered a trailer across the yard from this one. She took her time, opened her bag and took out the wad of money. Beside it, with the handle grip facing towards her, she placed a small Beringer pistol with a mother of pearl inlaid handle. Jacob straightened in the seat opposite her. He was startled but recovered his composure quickly.
There is ten thousand pounds there, Mr Lowther. If we can strike a deal, I’ll be leaving that with you today. I trust and believe that you are a man of your word and if you say that it will be safe in your keeping until you claim it as rightfully yours, then that will be good enough for me. On completion of our business it will be doubled and you will not see me again. If you proved to not be a man of honour, Mr Lowther, I’d hunt you down and shoot you like vermin. Do you believe me?’
Jacob played through a gamut of expression from anger to affront and finally a broad grin spread across his features. ‘I lass, I firmly believe you would. And it’d be a rum man that’d cross you.’ He composed himself and got down to business, ‘Talk.’
‘I’ve done my research Mr Lowther. I believe that you and your family engage in bare knuckle fighting?’
He gave nothing away to either confirm or deny this statement. ‘Go on.’
‘I want a fighter, several, in fact.’
‘We don’t do security, Missus. Hire a firm.’
‘Let me elucidate,’ he furrowed his brow in confusion but didn’t interrupt. ‘What I want is for you to organise a series of bouts, a tournament, if you will, to take place over one night.’
‘Travellers don’t fight for the entertainment of gorges .’
‘Yes, I know that. I would want some bouts to be amongst your own, for authenticity, but predominantly, I want you to fight an outsider.’
‘You’ve got us wrong Missus. We don’t fight gorges. They tend to die. We fight for family name and honour or for prize purses, but allus within our own kind. If this is some bookmaking deal, you’ve had a wasted journey.’
‘I think not. You will be paid twenty-thousand pounds for running the—shall we call it an event?—for me. I will cover the purse for your fighters. Anything you make on the book will also be yours.’
‘Are you mad, woman? For an event like that, the stakes would be thousands.’
‘I have no interest in it.’
‘This musher of yours must be one hell of a fighter to want to put him up against the best in Britain.’
‘I don’t believe so.’
Jacob looked confused. ‘So you’re putting up this prize fighter against the best and yet you don’t have the faith that he can win?
‘My reasons are personal’
‘Hey lady, we don’t deal in no hired hits. People die in these fights, sure, but we aint no murderers, if you want to off your old man, get some other sucker to spend the rest of his days in prison for you.’
‘He will be a more than willing participant. He has an ego the size of Britain. I think you’ll enjoy him.’
‘Lady, this day started with me seeing to my hosses and playin’ with my grandkids and it’s, of a sudden, become a strange day. I’m a busy man of little patience, so you’d better start talking. You can start with a name, seems only polite when you’re sitting in my home, drinking my tea.’
‘My name is of no importance. You can call me Maria.’
‘But that’s not your real name, right?’
‘Here’s the deal. I need a location. If you need money to hire somewhere, that’s not a problem. I trust you to do what you do and arrange the necessary privacy etcetera. There will be several bouts throughout the competition. The man I bring will fight in three of them. Your men will throw the first two bouts—’
‘Wait one minute there, Missus. There will be no fight throwing. We play fair and square. You don’t understand this is our pride, our culture, we are a proud people. We do not throw fights. If your gorges isn’t up to it, then you’d better hope that he has some powerful life insurance.’
‘Then our business here is finished Mr Lowther. I am sorry to have wasted your time and mine. She opened her bag and made to put the money away.’
‘Hang on,’ he licked his lips, ‘leave it with me, I’ll find somebody, but it might cost you.’
‘Fine,’ Jacob breathed a visible sigh of relief. Connie did so less visibly. ‘So, your men will throw the first two fights. Let him win. Let him crow. Then, on the third fight, I want you to beat the living shit out of him. I don’t want him walking away at the end of the night.’
‘I believe we talk the same language.’
‘Maybe, maybe not, there is one more rule. If my demand is not met, then I go back to Spain, and from there I call the authorities and blow you wide open. Do you understand?’
‘That’s an ugly threat.’
‘My final, and most important, rule, he must not be killed. I want him alive at the end of it.’
‘So be it.’
‘The venue must be arranged on a floating date, cancellable and re-organised at short notice, if he is not willing on the first date.’
‘I can put it up and shut it down with an hour either side.’
‘We will exchange numbers and when I think he’s taken the bait I will be in touch.’ Connie spat into her hand and held it out to Jacob.