Holding Out for a Hero

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Chapter One

(October 2001, Lancashire)

Walking down the usual, everyday street Heather caught sight of her reflection in the usual, everyday shop window. And modesty aside, she was impressed. Tall, raven-haired and needing no makeup at all she cut an impressive figure. Even in her student togs she was a sight to be seen; self-supporting, not needing a bra, athletic yet shapely and graced with good looks, she felt like a million dollars.

Or, if that was over-valuing herself, at least she was well worth buying a drink or three.

Smiling internally, she went into Mr Khan’s Emporium. Just anywhere else it would have been called a corner shop but, by any standards, this was a big one. And it sold everything. Think “Open All Hours” but with a guy in a turban behind the counter instead of Arkwright.

Heather had recently started her second year at university. She had been using Mr Khan’s Emporium for as long as she’d been there, buying chocolate and energy drinks to see her through the academic day. In her opinion calling it a “corner shop” would be a grave understatement. It was more like a mini hypermarket, geared up to give the customer whatever she or he wanted. In fact it was a community service, worlds away from what the local council hypocritically considered to be social support.

Ask for an upside-down coat-hanger and Mr Khan would retreat into the back and return with one in a matter of moments. Ask for something a bit trickier (an authenticated copy of the Mona Lisa, say,) and it might take him as long as a minute.

Mr Khan was cool. Heather liked him immensely. Over time they had become friends. These days he even shared his feelings about his wife with her.

‘I’m descended from warriors,’ he’d say. ‘My ancestors fought for the British Empire during the Indian Mutiny and both world wars. But Chini walks all over me. I should have married a nice young English girl like you . . . A nice girl who would cut me a bit of slack every so often.’

They always laughed at that. In reality hen-pecked Mr Khan loved his wife and they both knew it. He was also in his late forties, which was too way old, even for Heather.

Plus she was supposed to be “off men” . . .

Again!

You didn’t have to sleep with a guy to be friends, though, did you? And Heather classed Mr Khan as a friend without any question of a doubt.

Consequently she noticed when a gigantic, tattoo-faced thug burst into the shop. Ignoring the queue of customers waiting to pay the new arrival approached the counter with blatantly evil intent.

‘Cunting motherfucking bastard,’ he began, waving a knife under Mr Khan’s nose. ‘Give me the notes out of that fucking till. Give them me now.’

He said other, horrendously racist things too, spitting them out among more “fuckings” and “cuntings” than Heather had heard in all her life.

And that knife was enormous. To her it looked like the one Crocodile Dundee had . . . the one he used to frighten off New York muggers, not to mention a fair few saltwater reptiles.

Good grief, she thought, it’s more like a sword!

Bravely defending his livelihood, Mr Khan said no.

Cowardly, the thug lashed out and slashed Mr Khan’s arm. Suddenly his bright white shirt sleeve was crimson and he was gasping in agony.

‘Next time I’m taking your fucking throat out,’ the thug snarled. ‘Now give me the cunting notes.’

By then Heather had seen far too much. The rational part of her brain told her to be like everyone else and keep well out of it. But “rational” did not apply in circumstances like that. Without considering the pros and cons she crossed the shop floor and brought her right hand down in a mighty karate chop on the thug’s wrist.

Heather had been practicing mixed martial arts for a little over seven years: mostly at her posh private school, more recently at a uni that bred Olympic hopefuls. And all that training had worked. Whenever she hit someone the other person knew about it.

That tattooed thug was no exception. The side of her hand slammed down, bashing his arm onto the counter, and hard. The knife escaped his grasp and skittered away, grounding over on Mr Khan’s side of the divide.

‘Put your foot on it,’ said Heather, ‘but don’t touch it with your fingers. We need his prints, not yours.’

Bleeding as he was, Mr Khan put his foot on the blade. ‘Watch it,’ he warned Heather, ‘he’s out of his skull.’

Accurate assessment or what! She could smell the alcohol on the thug but it wasn’t booze she saw in his eyes, it was something else altogether. They were spinning and spiralling like that snake’s eyes in “The Jungle Book”.

The handful of other customers had gathered together at the back of the store, too afraid to even try to pass the raving would-be robber. Their silence wasn’t only awesome, it spoke volumes.

‘You fucking cunt,’ the thug spat at Heather. ‘I’m gonna kill you for that.’

Part of Heather wanted to reply in kind. Part of her realized she was up against a drug-crazed nut and warned her to stay alert. Holding her peace, illegal bahis she waited for the inevitable attack.

Like a buffoon, the thug charged at her.

Like Bruce Lee, she sidestepped, ducked and grabbed his arm, throwing in her shoulder, lifting him off the ground, using his own momentum to propel him over a rack of newspapers and magazines.

Stupidly, his eyes still spinning and spiralling, he got back up.

‘You should leave now,’ she said, relatively calmly, belying her rapidly beating heart. ‘If you don’t go at once I will make a citizen’s arrest.’

The thug didn’t seem to take anything into consideration. Not even the unavoidable fact she’d already hurt and humiliated him.

‘Fucking black cunt,’ he growled.

That did it for Heather. Officially she was a WASP but, being a seventh generation farm lass, her skin had always tended to being brown as a nut. And a recent month in Majorca with Mary Rose had only added to the effect.

But appearances weren’t the point. Not only had the racist so-and-so insulted poor old Mr Khan, now he’d mistaken her holiday tan and was using it against her. And, to make matters worse, he looked to be mixed-race himself. Ignorant bastard probably hated everybody of every shade and hue.

Hell, he probably had a thing against green and blue aliens, the shallow-minded git.

This time Heather didn’t sidestep or duck when he charged. This time she feigned with her right hand and then threw a palm strike with her left, catching him square on the jaw.

Palm strikes can be more powerful than punches and Heather gave that one all she had. And, maybe by switching to southpaw, maybe because the thug was as thick as pig shit, she clocked him dead on.

Yet again the thug’s momentum worked against him, doubling the impact. His mouth snapped shut in an instant and with tooth-shattering force. His head jerked backwards and the craziness left his eyes.

Pole-axed medieval soldiers couldn’t have gone down as fast as he did, or as hard. Sixteen stones of sheer, dumb muscle and bone smashed onto the shop floor.

Heather laughed.

‘I did give you chance to leave quietly,’ she said reasonably.

As if the thug was going to be hearing anything anytime soon.

Chapter Two

Still surprised by her overall calm, Heather took charge of the aftermath. The young couple ahead of her in the queue were fellow-students. She didn’t know their names or what courses they were on, but she had seen them around and about, usually hand-in-hand.

‘I’m Heather Hunter,’ she said to them. ‘Have either of you got a mobile?’

The guy was pale-faced, possibly in shock. ‘I have,’ he admitted groggily.

‘Ring 999 and ask for the police and an ambulance while I look after Mr Khan.’

‘I don’t need an ambulance,’ Mr Khan protested.

‘Yes you do,’ said a new voice. It was his wife, obviously attracted by the crashing about and worried by all the blood.

The guy was dialling anyway. Heather went behind the counter and, gently prompting Mr Khan to take his foot off the knife, made him sit on a stool he kept back there (it was for when he was watching the cricket on his overhead TV screen; the one he had switched on most if not all of the time).

‘That’s a deep cut,’ she said, ‘but he didn’t get any arteries, thank God. Have you a first aid kit?’

‘Here,’ said Chini, passing her a white box with a red cross on it.

There was no need for a tourniquet so Heather used bandages, probably overdoing it but making sure she stayed the flow of the red stuff.

‘I’m not going to hospital,’ Mr Khan said stubbornly, ‘I have customers who depend on me.’

‘You need a tetanus injection and possibly stiches,’ said Chini.

‘Jesus H Christ,’ said the girl student, her wide blue eyes fixed on Heather, as they had been for quite a while, ‘you just made Lara Croft look like a wimp. And I think you might have broken his neck.’

‘I hope you have,’ said Mr Khan.

‘Behave,’ scolded Chini. ‘Behave yourself and go to hospital. I’ll run your shop for you.’

‘You wouldn’t know how.’

‘You do it all day, every day, don’t you? How difficult can it be?’

Only half-hearing the bickering, Heather felt a flap of panic. Had she really broken the thug’s neck?

Crap, she thought, I never gave him the lethal hands warning!

At that moment two uniformed police officers arrived. The male one had to be straight out of training college. He had acne tracks on his face and an attitude. Fortunately the female was older and knew what she was doing. While the bloke strutted in like John Wayne she knelt beside the felled thug and felt his pulse.

‘Hello, hello, hello,’ the male officer began, clearly fancying himself for any imminent remake of “Dixon of Dock Green”, ‘what’s all this then?’

‘That animal attacked Mr Khan,’ the girl student said, ‘with a knife.’

Both officers’ ears pricked up at that. ‘Where’s the knife?’ asked the female.

‘It’s back here,’ Heather volunteered. ‘And we haven’t touched it with our hands. illegal bahis siteleri His prints will be all over it.’

‘Call Forensics,’ the female officer told her colleague. ‘This is ABH at least. With intent, possibly even an attempted murder.’

‘He said Mr Khan’s throat was coming out next,’ the girl student offered helpfully. ‘Just before Heather snapped his neck for him.’

‘His neck seems okay to me,’ said the policewoman, ‘he’s sparked, not dead. And he’s Blackie Amos. I’ve wanted to collar him forever.’

Blackie, mused Heather. What sort of a name for a bigoted bastard is that!

Even so she let out a small sigh of relief. Not that she would have lost much sleep over disposing of scum such as Blackie Amos. No, her fear had been about being accused of using too much force.

(Ridiculous as that was: Blackie must outweigh her by five stones or more. He was twice her size and by coincidence, a man. Eleven stone girls weren’t supposed to knock out heavyweight men.)

Serves him right for being a prat, she reckoned, and a dumb prat at that.

At that point the ambulance crew arrived. Another male/female team they were both big and powerful-looking. Indeed they made the police officers seem insubstantial. As if on cue, Blackie began to come round and asked for a lawyer.

‘You need to come with us and fix that arm,’ said the female from the ambulance. ‘You’ve broken your wrist and dislocated your elbow. And I think you’re concussed.’

Heather looked at Blackie’s arm and immediately wished she hadn’t. Dislocations are not pretty sights and he was ugly enough to start with.

The policewoman read him his rights then told her colleague to go with him to A&E. ‘Get him checked out with a clean bill of health. Then get him back to the station. I’ll get a duty solicitor in for him and we can have a laugh listening to them trying to talk their way out of this fine mess.’

‘My husband needs to go too,’ Chini put in.

Mr Khan knew better than to object.

‘There’s room in there for all of you,’ the policewoman said. ‘Danny, Mr Khan is not your responsibility. He can make his own decisions. But you need to stick to Amos like superglue. Half a chance and he’ll be gone. Just get him that clean bill of health and bring him in, as soon as.’

Back-up police arrived as the ambulance left. The other customers/witnesses had become restless by then; they were all keen to make statements and begone.

Finally introducing herself as WPC Green, the policewoman told Heather that her statement was vital to the investigation and consequently would have to be given at the station. Not knowing the protocol, vaguely worried about missing lectures, Heather nodded and went with her to the marked vehicle.

‘I’ve never been in a police station before,’ she said as they set off.

‘Don’t worry about it. You’re the hero in this little story. You’ll probably come out of it with a gong and national acclaim.’ WPC Green paused before adding: ‘If you listen to sound advice.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean that that bastard Amos has been wreaking terror for ages. And he’s had the luck of the devil. I am as good as certain he was responsible for a fatal hit and run, but the local CCTV was on the blink at the crucial moment. He’s dabbled in dealing but used too much of his own product. That led to a lot of protection demands, and now to armed robbery with intent. I want him to be eating porridge for ten or more years.’

‘Sounds like he deserves it,’ said Heather. ‘So what’s the advice?’

‘This is an un-bugged patrol vehicle, right? We can talk in here, girl to girl.’

‘Okay, if you say so.’

‘I do and we can. And I want this collar so bad it hurts.’

‘Where’s your problem?’

‘I can only see one, apart from Amos having the luck of the devil. And that’s in your statement. Do any of the witnesses know you?’

‘I know all of them by sight. They’re all regulars in the emporium. But I don’t know names or anything, so I guess they don’t really know me.’

‘You’re a fitness freak, aren’t you, specializing in self-defence and karate?’

‘It’s mixed martial arts, not karate. I’ve done very little karate, actually. Well, recently I haven’t. I did at one time, but that’s long in the past.’

‘That figures; no surprise there, then.’

‘How did you guess?’

‘It takes one to know one. And your knuckles aren’t bruised. You palmed him, didn’t you?’

Conscious of not giving that warning, seeing where WPC Green was coming from, Heather shrugged. ‘I relied on my self-defence training,’ she said. ‘I did hit him with a karate chop but it’s not something I have ever extensively practiced. I’ve seen it on TV and it seemed like the best option at the time. And then I bobbed out of his way and he crashed into a rack of newspapers, stoned out of his mind. Then, when he came at me again, I hit out in desperation . . .’

‘What, you hit him with a closed fist?’

‘I think so,’ she lied, ‘I just lashed out and got lucky. He ran onto me more than anything else. Next canlı bahis siteleri thing I knew he was down on the canvas like a beached whale.’

‘Down on the canvas? Have you ever boxed?’

‘I’ve used speedballs and heavy punch bags but only occasionally sparred. I’m too fast for most of the regular boxers.’

‘That’s an excellent reply . . . apart from the last bit. Leave your speed of hand out of it and, whatever you do, remember we’ll be recorded when we go for real. If in doubt, shut the fuck up and Ill rephrase the question. Now then, what are you going to say about his arm?’

‘I probably did break his wrist with that chop. But I haven’t a clue about his elbow. He must have done that when he went down for the count.’

‘Not when he crashed into that newspaper rack?’

‘He can’t have. That second time he charged his arm was normal,’ Heather said confidently. ‘I’d have noticed if it’d been hanging loose like that,’ she added with a small shudder.

WPC Green nodded contentedly. ‘That sounds exactly like what happened to me.’

Heather discreetly studied the policewoman as she drove them into the town centre. Her police gear hid her figure but the rest of her looked good: short brown hair, Bambi’s mother’s eyes and . . . best of all . . . no wedding or engagement ring.

‘We’re helping each other, here,’ she ventured, ‘on behalf of the good guys.’

‘Too true we are. I’d never fit up anyone, not even a villain. But this villain’s caught cold. I can’t let him slip off the hook. I’d have to go outside and shoot myself if he walks away from this.’

Heather remembered Blackie’s eyes and nodded. ‘No fibs,’ she said, ‘just a prudent selection of truth.’

‘That’s all I ask.’

‘Can I ask you something?’

‘Be my guest.’

‘What time does your shift finish today?’

Chapter Three

In the event WPC Green didn’t record the statement-taking. There wasn’t an interview room currently free so they instead took seats at a table in the canteen and downed gallons of iffy tea. Following the agreed-upon-in-advance format, Heather gave her account of the selected “truth” and Carole (yes, by then they had moved on to first names) wrote it all down, writing as “I”.

“I only went in for a bar of chocolate, Lucozade and a Daily Telegraph . . . only for the crossword . . .” Heather began, “that paper’s a bit conservative for me, but the crossword’s simply the best . . .”

Carole diligently recorded every word.

Perhaps an hour later she said, ‘Lovely job,’ and smiled as Heather signed on the dotted line.

Heather had a quick glance around, checking for snoops. ‘What about the discrepancies?’

‘What discrepancies? You were word-perfect.’

‘I mean with the other statements. They might not totally agree.’

‘They never do.’ Carole shrugged. ‘Give me twenty witnesses and I’ll get twenty different versions of the same incident, like every time. And we haven’t got twenty other witnesses. We’ve only got six.’

Heather frowned so the policewoman enlarged.

‘Amos is probably going to give a different account altogether. We need to know what that is and how it fits into the jigsaw. With any luck . . . and with us having that knife, covered in prints and Mr Khan’s blood . . . we’ll be able to convince him he hasn’t a chance and get a confession.’

‘Would that get him a reduced sentence?’

‘Probably, but he’d still be looking at ten years.’

‘What happens if he won’t confess?’

‘Then it’s in the hands of the legal bods. They like arguing over tiny differences in court. There again, at a thousand pounds an hour, who wouldn’t want to drag it out?’

‘So I just have to stick to my tale in court and all will be well?’

‘Yes, you’ll be the star of the show and everyone’s hero.’ Carole laughed. ‘And you will especially be that girl’s hero. You know; the one in the shop; the one who was taking clothes off you with her eyes. If you ask me, she’ll agree with anything you say, whether it matches her own statement or not. Same goes for Mr Khan.’

‘And we’re still the good guys?’

‘Trust me, Heather; Amos is the worst sort of slime. Never mind that hit and run, he’s caused injuries and pain to many people. For all I know he’s topped other rival bits of slime. They disappear in these parts all the time, never to be seen again.’

Heather once more recalled Blackie’s eyes and the merciless slashing of his knife. Carole was right; he needed locking up for a long, long while. ‘Okay,’ she said, ‘if you come up with any supplementary questions, you know how to find me.’

‘I know how to find you tonight,’ Carole replied, grinning. ‘Eight o’clock in the Market Arms.’

Heather grinned back at her. Getting a date had been surprisingly easy. Assuming that it was really a date; Carole had told her she’d be finished at six but had an “unavoidable appointment” in the gym, so eight for drinks was as good as she could do.

‘Will you be in uniform?’ Heather now asked, hopefully.

‘Not a chance.’

‘That’s all right, out of uniform sounds ever better.’

Carole rolled her stunning eyes at the innuendo and Heather’s grin grew wider still. Sexuality had not as yet been discussed, but she’d sent out signals with all her might. And Carole had never once tried to bat them away.

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