From the author: Strong-Armed and Dangerous is a tale of a badass old woman and why you shouldn't mess with her. A hard boiled noir tale with blood, pain and swearing, it's not for the squeamish. This story originally featured in the all women author issue Switchblade: Stiletto Heeled, available on Amazon in kindle and paperback at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Switchblade-Stiletto-Heeled-Special-Issue/dp/0998765082/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=switchblade%3A+stiletto+heeled&qid=1561540646&s=gateway&sr=8-1
Ida Brown had learned a great many things from her long life, and some of them were always true. Prices would go up, men would cheat, the poor would be hurt first, and crime usually paid. This knowledge had kept her house in order and money in the bank, and at seventy-two she saw no reason for these things to change.
It didn’t come without a price – many’s a spell when she had to be more participatory than she would have preferred. Nursing for forty years, she was strong backed and steady handed, so it didn’t worry her other than ensuring it was never traced. And so she carried on.
It had worked, right up until the lad turned up on her doorstep; earnest and bitter and looking a fright.
“I’m here to ask about some trouble,” he said, flashing a badge at her and pocketing it just as quick. It was such a poor fake she had to stop an eye roll. He was a young one, pale as yoghurt and just as moist looking, far too skinny for the suit someone had stuffed him into.
“I can’t think of having had any trouble that would need police intervention, the worst that’s happened is the cats getting into my bins,” she said, chain still on the door.
“They’re not yet public knowledge ma’am, it’s initial enquiries.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, has someone been hurt?” she asked, watching his eyes shift to and fro at the doorway.
“It’s really best discussed inside. May I?” He nodded to the chain and she smiled, nodding in turn.
“Naturally, Officer, just let me get this.” She undid the catch and let him in, leading the way back to her kitchen. It was a good size, everything handy, and she busied herself making tea while he paced at the table.
“If I could just get you to have a seat,” he said as she poured milk into a jug.
“Of course, of course, I’ll just bring the tea pot over,” she called back, glancing over her shoulder to see his sweating stain his shirt. Poor boy, what a sap. “It is terrible with these police cuts, they used to send you round in twos and now you have to comfort an old lady alone.”
“Just a sign of the times I suppose,” he said, muscles in his jaw jumping as he chewed at something.
“Such a shame. Could you be a darling and pick two mugs out of that cupboard behind you? Easier than my old bones reaching up,” she said with a laugh, pouring a bag of sugar into the kettle once he turned around. She let it boil up and filled the wide lipped pot, plopping it down on the table. They took a seat across from each other and she poured tea for them both, smiling as he added enough milk to turn it as pale as he was. Of course he liked it weak.
“Thank you,” he said, wincing as he took a sip. He at least had the manners to pretend to be grateful for the tea. “A bit sweet.”
“You know what us old ones are like, a sweet tooth till the end. Now, what can I do for you?”
“It’s more what I need to do to you,” he said, reaching a hand into his jacket pocket. A knife came out, flicked and ready. “Sorry about this, but-”
She grabbed the tea pot, flicking the lid off with one easy movement and dumping the boiled sugar water into his crotch. He shrieked, hips thrusting up to escape the burning liquid, and she back handed him with the pot as his chair tipped backwards. The crunch when he hit the floor was accompanied by stillness, and she nodded neatly. Much better.
Standing up she kicked the blade away and slammed the tea pot into his head once again for good measure. He didn’t even groan: excellent. There was blood oozing from a cut to his cheek and she liked the fact he’d need stitches. Flicking his jacket open she fished out the fake ID, pocketing it, and a phone that was probably stolen. It didn’t need a passcode to access it and the last message was her address, from a number she didn’t recognise. How tiresome.
Standing, she strode over and plucked the knife up, glancing back over to her guest. She could tie him to a chair in the old room and get information out of him slowly, or she could leave a message with him and see who he scurried back to. Someone would have to come looking for him, eventually.
The trouble with the mob was the new ones always thought they’d found some fresh way to make a mark, shake up the system. They kidnapped children, left bodies on car bonnets or stole from the rival boss’s house. As if that would get you anything but a knife between the ribs! The old methods were less refined, easier to trace, but there had been a wonderful simplicity to them.
“Right my lad, lets get you somewhere else,” she said, scooping under his armpits and dragging him back into the basement pantry. Ida’s pantry was a thing of wonder – always well stocked, full of all sorts of handy things, and with a thoroughly soundproofed set up thanks to her husband’s earlier efforts. Philip had been a darling thing, and while she had disliked his dalliances with the women he paid for she was willing to overlook them the way he overlooked where her money came from. It had worked, and she’d mourned his passing.
The man in her hands began to moan as she slipped him into the chair, strapping the belts around his chest, arms and wrists. She forwent the one around his hips; they would probably be tender enough already. She wasn’t totally unforgiving – he’d need cosmetic surgery for that particular area if he survived, that was bad enough.
She slapped him a couple of times, love taps if anything, and he tried to focus on her figure in front of him.
“You didn’t do a very good job, I’m afraid,” she said, pulling a chair to sit in front of him, out of kicking distance.
“What’s going on?” he slurred, and she rolled her eyes at that.
“You cocked up a solid assassination attempt if that knife was anything to go by,” she said, pulling the same out to hold it up. “It’s not a very sharp one, I’m not sure if that was deliberate or incompetent.”
He shook his head, as if to clear the fog in his mind, then bucked in the seat as his pain returned.
“What did you do to me?” he groaned, flinching on the chair as the belts held him tight.
“I poured hot sugar water on your dick and knocked you out with a tea pot. Next time you’re trying to impersonate the police I would get a better ID, this one looks like it came out of a cereal box. But then you’re the right age for that too, aren’t you? Surely they have more experienced members they could send to try and get me.”
“Won’t no one go near Granny Death,” he said, spitting on the floor and then tensing as his skin pulled with the movement. “And I’m twenty.”
“Is that what they call me now? What a horrid nickname.”
“Not wrong though, is it? What type of mad old bitch has a torture chamber in her house.”
“The same type that would cut your eyelids off if I thought it would send the right message. So, who sent you?” His eyes went wide and he screwed them shut, a move so naive she had to wonder how he’d survived in the criminal world. “Not very good at this, are you?”
“Fuck you, I’ve not done a hit before. Said you were just an old woman with a bad history, useful one to take out, get blood on the streets. Said if you went under others would think twice about crossing us.”
“Let me guess, ‘us’ is a new gang?”
“Nah, we’re a brotherhood. Only way in is blood, only way out is death. We’re gonna blow the old dogs out of the game.”
“Unless that is with some literal explosives I fail to see the likelihood. What’s your name?”
“You got any kids, Francisco?” Ida asked, toying with the blade. She cleaned under one nail with it, smirking at the confusion on his face.
“No, not had any yet.”
“I think you’re a bit late for mothers and toddlers,” he laughed and she sighed, shaking her head.
“If you don’t get to hospital for your par-boiled cock, your testes will start to sever from your body. If you’re really unlucky, and today seems to be a bad day for you so far, they’ll go necrotic. What that means is the bacteria currently feeding off all that sugar will attack them, making them rotten: they’ll turn black. Then they get cut off, along with the rest of the plumbing, and you get to walk around like a Ken doll someone took a lighter to. That doesn’t have to be your life, Francisco, but I can make it so it is. You tell me where your little group is based, and maybe I’ll call you an ambulance. If not, it’s goodbye kids and any chance of sex for the rest of your life. Hell, I don’t mind slicing you into bits and donating you to a dogs home. They really value fresh meat.”
“You are one pyscho bitch, you know that?” he asked, shaking his head at her.
“It has come to my attention. I just want to make sure no one else has the same bright idea as you.”
“Wasn’t my idea, I just drew the short straw. I fucked up an online job and this was my penance.”
“Spilling blood for abdication, how very good of you. Are all of you religious?”
“The brotherhood is righteous.”
“How righteous do you feel knowing the closest you’ll get to a woman is one you can pay not to laugh at where you used to have something?”
“Man, fuck you.”
“Might be the last one you could – shame that.” She raised her brows at him, lips pressed thin.
“This is bullshit.”
“This is what happens when you try to kill old women. Next time be quicker about it – less talking, more stabbing. You were going to stab me I take it: this knife isn’t any good for anything else.”
“I would have slit your throat. Sends more of a message.”
“Not quickly you wouldn’t have.” She laughed, pulling the blade over a palm and showing him the clear flesh. “They really didn’t do much to help you here Francisco.”
“I would have figured something out,” he snarled, leaning against the belts only to yelp again at the burns.
“Tell me where they are.”
“They’ll kill me if I do that.”
“Not if I explain your predicament. Fosters a lot of sympathy when you explain how you boiled someone’s balls off.”
“Christ, woman, have you no decency?”
“Runs about as deep as a knife wound, I find,” Ida said with a smile, pushing herself out of the chair. “I could make it stop hurting, you know. I have morphine, upstairs, that would make the pain a little bit different. A little but further away. Or,” she slapped the top of one thigh and he squealed with it, “I could boil the kettle again. Talk.”
He chewed it over for long enough that she turned away, ready to go back to the kitchen, before he spoke again.
“Ok, fine. I tell you where they are, you call me an ambulance. I want to be in the hospital when they shed your blood.”
“Sounds good to me, Francisco. Would you like that morphine?”
“Yes.” He nodded, the sheen of sweat on his head flashing under the bare bulb.
“That’s fine, I’ll bring you some down.”
He sang like a choir boy and Ida was as good as she promised. She put a patch on his neck and got him to swallow a spoon full of the good liquid stuff, enough to knock off his main functions. Leaving him tied to the chair she went upstairs and into Philip’s study, a dusty tomb to his former interests. She had never had the heart to clear the place out, and she knew he’d left her some gifts in the locked cabinet at the back. Now was as good a time as any for those.
Taking his old travel bag out from under the desk she collected the gifts up and checked the directions she’d tapped out on Francisco’s phone. This Brotherhood was still mostly underground, and smart enough to keep themselves moving. Ida could admire that, there was sense to it. So why try to start something in ending her?
Trudging back to the basement she checked Francisco – eyes rolled back, a bit of drool pooling on the shirt collar as he lolled forward. She took the patch off him and slapped in onto the back of her arm instead, fingers tracing the corners to make sure it stuck. They could be tricky little sods, she’d been finding them on the back of stockings for weeks when she had first started needing them.
Ida waited for the bus at the end of her street, as she always did when she wanted to go into the main city, and counted up the people she knew who owed her a favour. Some of the toffee nosed pricks out at Kensington still had a few to repay, and Croydon had plenty of doors she could go and knock on. She counted them off as the route took her towards the metropolitan centre, checking the list in her mind. She wouldn’t bother any of them, really, but it made her smile to know she could if she wanted to. She was owed a lot in her old age.
The Brotherhood met most often in a converted church, now a bar because that was cheaper than knocking them down. Ida walked in and sat at the bar, bag on her lap.
“Gin and tonic, please, double slice.”
“Are you sure you’re in the right place?” the bartender asked, her eyebrows going high. A pretty thing, tan skin and snaking tattoos crawling up her shoulders. Her hair was streaked through with electric blue and it suited her, brought out the green in her eyes. Ida felt a pang for who she had been once, waist just as slim, though she’d always been built strong: broader shoulders, a battle axe bust that didn’t suit the nursing uniforms.
“I’m looking for a friend,” she replied, putting her money down on the bar. “He seems to have mislaid this at my house and I want to give it back to him.” She set the knife down on the bar next to the money and the woman’s eyebrows hiked further, disappearing into the mop of hair, before she moved off to make the drink.
“I’ll have to ask round the back who’s being so careless,” she said as she handed Ida’s change back to her.
“You do that. Then if you’re smart, take a cigarette break.”
“I don’t smoke,” the woman said with a wrinkle of her nose.
“Now would be a good time to learn,” Ida said, sipping her gin and taking the blade back. “And call an ambulance to this address.” She handed over an address card, watching the woman slip it first into her hand and then a back pocket. The bartender shook her head and walked off, through a side door.
Ida sat with her drink, smiling to herself. If the woman wasn’t smart enough to scarper then that was on her head, but she hoped there was some sense under the trendy hair. Her musings were interrupted by a brute of a man sitting down next to her.
“I understand you have something a friend of ours has lost,” he said, accent broad as a barge.
“I have, I wanted to give it back personally.”
“That could be troublesome, Bachiarus is a busy man. He doesn’t take uninvited guests.” He was at least in a suit that fitted him, though barely – he had shoulders that could carry a coffin.
“Not even ones who are pretending to be police officers? Because your friend was very rude to me, Mr?”
“Jacques,” he said with a tilt of the head. Bald and a bruiser, he would be the muscle.
“I don’t think that’s what your mother named you,” she said, grinning at him and taking another sip.
“Truly, no. But my mother was never devout, and Rodney doesn’t have the same esoteric associations.”
“Seems about right. Well I’m sorry to disturb your boss, but sending an inexperienced chap like Francisco to my house was a poor choice. I think it at least deserves a meeting.”
“And Francisco is?”
“Tied to a chair in my basement with his cock half cooked in sugar water.”
Jacques stilled at those words, turning his massive head to look at her. “Did I hear you right?”
“Lad tried to try to kill me. Self defence is all a lady’s got.”
“So you flambéed his junk?”
“No, sugar water, not flames. I’m not totally inhuman, Jacques. Not so much anymore.”
“Are you going to try to stab my employer?” he asked, scooping a beer from under the bar and popping the cap off on its edge. He took a long drink from it and set it down in front him, hands curled loosely around it.
“I wouldn’t dream of it. The knife’s shit anyway, it would probably bend before it broke the skin.”
“Alright. If you do try to stab him though, we’ll have trouble.”
“I’m not looking for trouble, I promise you that,” Ida told him with a smile, following him as he slipped off the stool.
Bachiarus was frankly disappointing: middle aged, fat, bald on top and in the sort of loose cotton clothes that rich men wore pretending to be casual. Jacques pulled a seat out for her and she sat, bag on her lap, looking the alleged leader over.
“This is Granny Death? She looks like a Russian grandmother.” Bachiarus frowned at Jacques and flicked his hand at her, as if to wipe her off his vision.
“London, rather than Russia, as is half your cohort if these accents are anything to go by. Not you though, you’re a bit further afield – that a Derry accent?”
“Close – Boston. We’re a bit tougher round the edges.”
“A Yank thinking he can out Irish the Derry folk? No wonder you’re in trouble. Should let that lump of gristle lead you if that’s where your head is,” Ida said, laughing as she pointed to Jacques. He shrugged, straightening one jacket sleeve.
“Jacques here tells me you’ve been unkind to our poor Francisco,” Bachiarus said, turning his attention back to Ida.
“He did mean to stab me, what’s a woman to do?”
“Jacques says you boiled his dick.”
“Only part way, he’ll still have something working down there if he gets to a hospital. I did say for your girl at the front to call an ambulance. And I gave him a lot of morphine so he didn’t seem too worried when I left.” She trailed off, tilting her head to one side. Bachiarus was shifting in his seat like he had a hard on and she wasn’t sure she would even be surprised at this point. “I wanted to ask why you sent someone to see me off. I’ve not been active for years and I’ve had no dealings with you.”
“No, but you’re famous – Granny Death, the torturer turned OAP.”
“I didn’t turn into an old person, I aged. Some of us do manage that.”
“It’s rare enough in our field to be noticeable. Lots of people have their eye on you.”
“Lots of people have eyes thanks to me. I was a nurse you know.”
“That’s a bit fucked up,” Jacques said and then coughed, eyes going back to the ground. He was well trained gristle, she would have liked him years ago.
“And what’s so special about you that they kept you alive, huh? Most places you only get out when you go in the ground.” Bachiarus said it with a sneer, one ruddy lip curling over teeth too white to be his own.
“I was very good at what I did and no one thought it was sensible to piss off the woman known for extracting information.”
“What else? I have five guys who can turn screws, I’d still put them in the ground if they tried to get out.”
“And I presume you see that as totally justified? Francisco did mention something about righteous fury or similar shit.” Ida didn’t bother to hide her distaste.
“The Brotherhood has a code and we are bound by it: only a coward leaves behind his duty. And their duty is to my cause.”
“Wipe out the corruption of the old gangs, and lead the new criminal world towards the light. They’ll pay a tithe to us, for the glory of our cause, and we’ll ensure no one else interferes.”
“A protection racket – old fashioned, but effective,” Ida said with a nod.
“It isn’t that, it’s for our cause.”
“So far your cause is your own pocket. No funding a church for dodgy priests, no long-term goal? You’re an amateur.” She laughed, shaking her head at the excuse of a man in front of her. “The old lads, they had a vision. Wasn’t always a pretty one, sometimes it was bodies in the river, but they had a plan for the years and guts to back it up. I don’t see any of that here, except maybe the suit over there.”
“Jacques is a good man, but ill suited to leadership. Too hot headed.”
“Thanks, boss,” Jacques said with a nod.
“It’s what makes it such a shame, really, that he’s here. You see, I have a slight confession to make – probably in the right place to do that. I’ve been dying for a few months; cancer, too close to the spine to operate, going to get me one way or the other, and I had a real worry about going off with a whimper. Feels like it would be a shoddy way to leave the world, like that. So when you sent that little streak of piss to do me in, it was a great excuse to get out again.”
“You came here to die on my carpet?” Bachiarus asked with a bark of a laugh.
“Not at all my boy, I’d be haunted by the tackiness of it. No, I came to offer you something. A memento from the city. Now if you’d done your homework on me you’ll know I lost my dear Philip five years ago and have been living alone ever since.”
“Yeah, so? Get to the point, hag.”
“Philip was a good man in most ways, and a smart one too. Worked for the Ministry Of Defence for a long time as a chemist. And when he knew it was his time to go he left me a few things to take care of myself with. One of those things is in this bag.”
“Has she gone mental?” Bachiarus asked Jacques, looking over Ida’s head.
“She has a knife, no mention of anything else,” he replied, leaning forward to peer over her shoulder.
“Thank you for reminding me, Jacques,” she said, slipping the knife from her pocket and thrusting it up, through the corded muscle of his neck. He grunted in shock and reared up, the knife tearing out of the side of his throat as Ida clung onto it. She ducked out of the swing he took towards her and jabbed the knife to his face twice, three times to confuse him. He stumbled back and she heard the shriek of wood as Bachiarus jumped out of his seat.
“What the fuck you mad old bitch?” he shouted, drawing his own knife out and holding it in front of him.
“I decided, if I was going to be targeted by some upstart little shit who thought he could teach the mob a lesson, then I would teach back in turn. You see, I’ve had this little ditty ready to go ever since poor Phil left me. He knew I might want a good way out some day, and I think it’s high time I took that option.”
“What are you going on about?” Bachiarus shouted, swinging his knife at her in a wild arc, like it would scare her off.
“I mean it’s time to go meet your maker, you draft little prick, and I’ll take my chances with my own.” Scooping the bag up Ida opened the main compartment and took out the two containers Phillip had left for her, warmed nicely by the trip into town. Nitroglycerin was such a tricky compound, but ever so effective once the chill wore off. She smiled over at Bachiarus, a cackle bubbling up in her throat as she watched the piss running down his leg in those trendy cotton trousers. “Here you go – catch.”
She threw the container up, arcing over his desk and on course to land square on his shoulder when it came down. Nodding to herself she threw the other to the floor, laughing over the sound of the smashing glass and the explosion that would take them both.
This story originally appeared in Switchblade: Stiletto Heeled .