When Mike Bray is forced to live someone else's life to protect his wife and twin daughters, he learns how to lie and sidestep until the borders between himself and Tommy become blurred, leaving him questioning his own identity, and hostage to his own temptations.
How well do you know yourself?
What follows is the prologue and opening chapter. I hope you enjoy reading it, and go on to read the complete book.
I'd only stopped in the bar for one drink on the way home, but then ran into Davey McCall, and one drink turned into three.
It was almost seven when I knocked back the last of my beer. 'I'm out of here, Davey. Keep that fat nose of yours out of where it doesn’t belong.'
He started to say something offensive but I was already heading for the door.
Friday night and the twins would be up late with no school the next day. Saturday morning Catherine would take Sarah to under fifteen's hockey and I'd take Sophia to tennis. Then we'd meet up for lunch at the girls chosen fast-food place. It was the one time a week I let them eat junk food. They called me mean, Catherine called me honey, and at work I was known as Midnight Mike because of the late hours I used to pull when working to a deadline. As workshop manager and part owner of a steel fabrication company employing twenty people, I often had no choice. I also had a big mortgage payment to find each month which gave me incentive to keep my head down.
My HiAce van was off the road with a blown engine, an added expense I could have done without. The hire van I was driving was parked two-hundred yards away. I pulled up the collar of my jacket to ward of the encroaching cold of the October night. The Norfolk wind was said to be lazy, going through you rather than around you, and tonight it felt just like that.
I walked fast, head down, feeling the effect of three beers. The van lights flashed as I pressed the remote to unlock it, then something crunched against my head, red turned to black, and the pavement rushed up at my face.
There were muffled voices, muffled to me at least in my semi-conscious state. I was dragged out of the van and fell to the floor. Then it went quiet.
As my senses returned, I could hear the sound of leather soled boots scuffing on concrete.
For a brief moment I thought it was a prank, that I was in my workshop, and the work boots I could hear belonged to one of my mates, or employees. Same thing really. We worked as a team with little thought of status and rank. Getting the job done was our focus. But the smells were wrong. There was no smell of cut and welded steel, no smell of grinding dust. What I could sense was the smell of new things. That smell you get when opening a freshly delivered cardboard carton with presents for the kids, or a mid-year surprise for the wife.
My hands were bound behind my back, my ankles tied, and what felt like duct tape wrapped tight around across my eyes. Nobody had spoken.
Strong, rough hands grabbed me by the jacket and shoved me against a wall, then a rope was passed under my arms and pulled tight somewhere above my head, trussing me up.
I couldn’t hold out any longer. 'What do you want from me?' There was no reply. Nothing.
The rope cut into my shoulder muscles. I tried to stand more upright to ease the pressure on the rope. Leather scraped concrete and the rope was tightened.
After what seemed like an hour of being trussed up I sensed somebody close to my left ear. 'Where is it?' he said quietly, his voice calm and reasonable as if asking the time.
'Where's what? I've got no idea who you are or what you're talking about.'
'Tisk tisk tisk. Wrong answer, Tommy.'
'Wait. My name's Mike, not Tommy. I'm not Tommy —' my words were cut off by a huge punch to the side of the head. More tape was wrapped tight across my eyes and then around my mouth.
The calm voice said, 'We'll try again in a while.'
I couldn't move, see, or speak. Confusion was giving way to panic.
Who was Tommy, and who were these men who thought I was him?
The punch had dulled me, and my head was wracked with pain. My nose seemed partly blocked and hauling in air was made more difficult my having the rope tight against my chest. Even pushing up on my toes didn’t help.
Time passed slowly. The only comforting thought I had was that if they thought I was a man called Tommy, they wouldn’t go after my family, Mike Bray's family. It was all I had to hang on to.
Much time had passed, and I'd lapsed in and out of consciousness when I heard the familiar footsteps stop in front of me. My breathing quickened as I waited to get hit again. I flinched as something cold touched my face, pushed up beneath the tape across my eyes, then twisted and cut.
It stung like hell when they ripped the tape away. I blinked a few times to clear my vision, then tried to focus on the short, balding man standing in front of me.
He was smiling, more in amusement than friendliness. 'Hello, Tommy.'
I closed my eyes, hoping it would all go away, but when I opened them again he was still there, still smiling. The tape made my attempt to reply impossible. I tried again to shake my head and say 'I'm not Tommy', but only managed to chafe harder on the rope and blow blood and snot from my nose.
'You're a real disappointment to me, You know that?'
The man speaking was short and overweight, well dressed and self-confident. The two standing behind him were big, fit, and dressed to fight. They both stared me down, the bigger of the two showing me his balled fist, and I guessed it was him who hit me.
'All this time I trusted you, made you rich, kept you safe, and what do you do? Shit on me, that's what.' He gave one brief nod, and the balled fist slammed into my ribcage.
I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t get enough air through my nose, and started to black out again.
The knife slid inside the tape and cut. Somebody tore the tape away, taking skin from my lower lip with it.
I gulped air, spat blood.
'Was there something you wanted to say?'
'I'm not Tommy.' I gulped more air. 'My name's not fucking Tommy.'
The short man turned to the muscle. 'Does this look like Tommy?'
'Looks like Tommy to me, Boss.'
'Does he sound like Tommy?'
'Sounds just like him, Boss.'
'I'm not him!'
'You know what they say around here, don't you? If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck then it's a fucking duck. And you, you deceitful lying piece of shit are not talking your way out of this. Get me a chair.'
He didn’t speak to anyone in particular, but within seconds a third man came in carrying a chair and placed it just behind him. I wondered how many more there were, what my fate would be, and how much it would hurt.
His accent sounded London, or Essex. Who was Tommy? Whoever he was, there must be a very strong resemblance between us. I even sound like him according to The Boss.
My thoughts turned to Catherine & the twins. How would me being kidnapped, tortured and killed affect them? The girls were already studying for their GCSEs. Dad being killed could throw that into a loop. Sarah is set on science. Both the science teacher and principal says she's gifted in that area. Sophia is the artistic one and loves reading and drawing. Funny how they look so alike, but are such different characters. Just like Tommy and me from the sounds of it. And what if they dump my body and it's never found? Will the girls think I abandoned them? Will Catherine think I ran off with another woman? Surely not. And then there's that crushing mortgage. Catherine could never keep up with that and they'd have to sell and move into some dingy rental.
The Boss sat down with an audible sigh of relief. 'Any idea what problems you've created? How much running around we've had to do?' He splayed his arms indicating the other three men. 'You've really given us the run-around. You know that? Driving back and forth to darkest bloody Norfolk. And why pick that frigid hole to run to? Think we wouldn’t find you there?'
'This is where I live, where I've always lived. My name's Mike, not Tommy.'
'But you're not there anymore. This isn’t bloody Norwich. You're back on home turf now, Tommy boy. Back in town. Amongst your friends, so to speak.'
Tipping his head slightly to address the other men he said, 'Any of you know about Tommy being an identical twin?' There was a snicker followed by murmured 'no boss'.
'Wait. Wait. Look in my wallet. Please.'
I hated pleading, but I was terrified. I didn’t want to be hit again, and didn’t want to die either which seemed like a real possibility.
'What will we learn from that? That you had the foresight to get false papers. Credit cards and a driver's licence in another name?' He raised a finger. 'Okay. Let's have a look inside his wallet.' The big guy who hit me before moved forward, then his boss said, 'But hit him first.'
He did, and again I was left fighting for breath as he ripped the front pocket of my trousers and took my wallet. He stepped back and handed it to his boss, then took up his position behind him, a self-satisfied grin on his face.
The short, well-dressed man who I know thought of as The Boss opened the wallet, pulled out the cash and dropped it on the floor beside him.
'Let's see.' He held the licence at arm's length so he could read it. 'Mike Bray? Is that the best you could come up with? Mike bloody Bray?'
'It's my real name.'
'I'm a steel worker. Look at my hands. Look at the scars. I bet this Tommy hasn’t got hands like mine.' His eyes registered the first shadow of doubt, but then it was gone again.
'Don't worry about your hands. These guys are going to take care of them shortly.' Without looking round he said, 'Any of you want to give Tommy a manicure?'
I wished I hadn’t said anything, and tried to slow my breathing, knowing that a manicure would involve pruning shears. When the big guy reached into his pocket I feared it was about to begin, but his hand came out holding an iPhone. He read something, then walked forward and spoke close to The Boss's ear. The Boss gave a brief nod but I couldn’t read his face, then he left the room, two of the others leaving with him. It was just me and the big hitter. I braced for what I knew was coming. He stared with the malevolence of a tightly-wound psychopath.
An hour passed before a door to my left crashed open. A man was bundled into the room by two others I hadn’t seen before. One of them hit him hard in the kidney sending him sprawling on the floor in front of me.
When he turned his head and looked at me, my blood ran cold. He was me, my doppelganger, an exact replica, even down to the way my hair won't lay flat on the top of my head. Something Catherine often teased me about. We stared at each other until the big hitter walked between us and used his foot to push Tommy onto his back.
He looked down at tommy, looked at me then back to Tommy. 'Well, I'll get stuffed.'
Before he could say or do anything else the Boss came back in, his face dark, the corners of his mouth set downward.
The two men who'd brought him in started going through Tommy's pockets until the boss shouted, 'All of him. Search all of him. Get his fucking kit off and make sure he's not wired.'
They ripped and tore at his clothes until the hapless Tommy lay naked on the floor. Again I was gob-smacked how even his physique was the mirror image of mine. My girls are identical twins, but most people can tell them apart once they know them. I doubt anyone could tell Tommy and me apart.
So far, Tommy hadn’t said a word, and since he'd been dragged in, neither had I. They knew I wasn’t Tommy and would let me go soon.
The boss was on his feet and stood over naked Tommy who wouldn’t meet his eyes. Without warning, he kicked Tommy in the gut. Tommy writhed around on the concrete floor, but still kept his silence.
'I'll have more to say to you later, you greedy, thieving little shit.' Then he turned to look at me. 'And what am I going to do with you, Mike Bray?'
'Just let me go. I won't say a word. I promise. I just want to get out of here and go home to my family.'
'Family important to you, is it?' He raised a thick hand. 'Don’t answer, that was rhetorical. I know you love your family, Catherine and the girls. Such pretty girls, too. I bet you'd do anything to protect them, wouldn’t you? Again, a rhetorical questions so don't say anything. Now, Tommy here, who, by the way is remarkably similar to you in appearance, has been a bad boy, so I'm going to have to punish him.' He turned and kicked Tommy, then took two steps closer to me, until his face was less than a yard from mine.
'Remarkable, wouldn’t you say so, boys?' There were affirmative murmurs, and the big hitter shuffled his feet and said "remarkable boss".
He studied me, like an anthropologist who'd just discovered a new specie. 'Remarkable,' he said again. 'You're not related to him are you—to that snivelling piece of shit laying on the floor?'
Through the fear and dry throat I pushed out, 'No. Never seen him before.'
'Except every morning, staring back at you as you shave. You must admit you two look very alike. So alike in fact, that nobody would know you're not Tommy, and Tommy's not you. Wouldn’t you agree?'
'Good. You see, Tommy's bad behaviour has left me with no choice but to kill him. Wouldn’t you boys agree?' Again the murmured affirmation. 'But doing that leaves me in an awkward situation with some business acquaintances who this soon to be dead arsehole was negotiating with. Very awkward situation indeed. Not only that, as if that's not enough, killing him will upset his lovely wife, and I don't want to upset his lovely wife. But I do want to kill him.' He took a step closer to me. 'Now, how could I possibly get around this dilemma? Any ideas, Mike?'
Despite it being crystal clear, I said, 'No.'
'Oh, I think you do. I think you get my drift.' He sat back in the chair. 'Untie him, Danny.'
The big guy, Danny, moved forward grinning at me as he approached. He cut the tapes binding my ankles, then untied the rope that trussed me up against the wall. My arms fell and pain seared through my upper body.
'Give him a drink.'
Danny handed me a bottle of water. I shook my head, not trusting what it might contain.
'Drink. It's water, not bloody poison. I want you alive and healthy.'
The water felt good, but I only took a small drink. 'Why?'
'Why do I want you healthy? Because you're going to do a little job for me. It's not hard, and you'll enjoy it. Or most of it.'
Refusing wasn’t an option. 'And after that?'
Danny stepped close to me, but the boss held up a restraining hand.
'After that, you'll return to Catherine and the girls. Sophie and Sarah, isn’t it? Nice names. Traditional. Not like so many nowadays. Sky, Meadow, or bloody Paris. Why would you call your kids names like that? Bloody stupid.'
He would have learned the girl's names from the photograph in my wallet. He also had my address, and his words were thinly veiled threats to my family.
'I asked you a question, Mike. People who work for me answer my questions, don’t they boys?'
The predictable murmured "yes boss".
'Yes, Sophie and Sarah.'
'Get him a seat.'
The second guy, not Danny, stepped forward and picked up the chair the boss had been using. The boss yelled, his voice echoing off the bare concrete walls, 'Not that one, fucking retard, that's mine. Get another one.'
He left with a mumbled sorry boss, then came back in seconds later and placed a painted wooden chair behind me.
'Sit. Sit down, Mike. ' His voice was kind, reasonable.
I did, and watched as he picked up the cash he'd dropped on the floor, and stuffed it back in my wallet, then dropped the wallet into his jacket pocket. He dragged the other chair close and sat so that our knees were touching.
'Well, this is a funny situation, isn’t it? Not funny for you as in make you laugh funny. Not for me either. But you know what I mean, don’t you?' He waited.
'I'm not finding it funny at all.'
'I'm sure you're not. Sure you're not. Come on.' He stood, then gripped my upper arm and helped me stand. 'Let's go and talk in a more comfortable place. Are you hungry? I bet you are after all this excitement. You, Ken, go up to High Street and get some fish & chips and some beer. Haddock, get haddock, I didn’t like the cod last time.