Thursday, 29 September 2016

Say An Ave There For Me, part 3

Not Quite A Dairy Queen In Nebraska
Who to tell? People needed to know. It would be in the papers, yes, but not tomorrow…call that today, now. So, the first inkling would creep out online, somewhere. Nobody should find out that way…then again, is a bereavement delivered on Twitter any worse than the shock of a headline in the Daily Record?
I eased the laptop open and Chrome came to life with the BBC website. I clicked on the Scotland tab, then Glasgow and West. According to the BBC, nobody had been shot dead by the Ballater Street bridge tonight. Other things had happened - five tennis balls packed with poison had been found in McGillivray Park...a passer-by put them in a bin but somebody else had taken them all back out again. Why? Poisoning foxes? Greenock man admits shaking his girlfriend’s baby until it sustained brain damage…sentence deferred until next month, pending background reports, since he was a first offender. 

Overturned car discovered empty in Castlemilk, but not reported stolen. Bad move there, driver. You flip your motor and run away, first thing you have to do is call it in stolen, even if it's 3am and you're calling on your mobile from a location the police will determine a day or two later is in very close proximity to where the car will have been "found". Or, maybe somebody really had tanned the motor and the owner just hasn't noticed a T-reg Cavalier missing from their extensive collection?
McGillivray Park…which one is that? Is it down by the Clyde, where the George V Dock used to be, a Garden Festival legacy? Or is it one of those tiny corner triangles poked between tenements on the Gallowgate, that the squads of job-creation youth used to “build”?
Christ, Bernie – listen to yourself, you’re babbling. Focus!
You’ve got the rest of your life for displacement activity. Now – soon – people need to know, people need to be told. People like Dee – she would be out of a job, too. How about that, Stevie? You’re adding to the unemployment statistics, on top of everything else, you bastard.
*** *** ***
“Good to see you in early, Dee. I’m guessin’ it’s to catch up with the huge backlog of voicemails from last night?”
“Hi, Stevie. Don’t be backing those guesses with pound notes any time soon. Although, the good news is that there areny any less voicemails than yesterday.”
“Fewer – fewer, not less.”
“Put whatever frock on it you like, it all counts up the same - zero is still zero.”
“Aye, it always was. And am I hearing there’s actual bad news, too?”
“Couldny call it anything else. Guy was waiting outside the office when I got here, handed me this.”
“Ah. That looks like the Sheriff Court logo and address on there. Not necessarily the end of the world, that…this is the kinna business that we do.”
“Very philosophical, Plato. Let me know when your next slim volume is due, would you? The hand delivery was a G1A form, with all the other stuff in there, too. You’re bein’ sued.”
“Sued, for what? By who?”
Whom,  not who.”
“Touché. Live by the sword, I guess…”
“And it’s that Mrs Scanlan, her that runs the private nursery? You thought she could actually be good business when she walked through the door, although she turned out to be an arsehole, if I remember correctly.”
“What, her? I remember Mrs Scanlan. Thought her manager had banjoed the accounts. She sat there and nodded at me, wasted my time – and aye, she was an arsehole. I think she got altitude sickness, bein’ so low as to be sittin’ in here. But she never paid us a penny, so she’s a stranger, legally. She canny sue us for that conversation.”
“Actually, Stevie…she did pay somethin’. Coupla days later, BACS transfer straight into the account, hundred quid. I checked – the transaction note says ‘retainer’. Never noticed it at the time.”
“Aw, hang on now….what does she say she’s suing for?”
“Money, you mean? Fifteen grand. For cause, you gave her bad advice – that’s where she nodded at what you said – and made her spend money that she didny need to, that also led to financial losses in her business, plus interest, plus costs, plus punitive damages, blah blah blah. Her manager ripped her off, she says, and you helped that to happen cuz of what you said she should do.”
“Aw, this is well wrong. Somethin’ is hooky here. Is there a lawyer’s name on the papers?”
“Course there is.”
“Campbell Western?”
“Course it is.”
“Aye, course it is. This claim is bullshit, it’ll get punted, rapid. I never gave her ‘advice’ and if she did anythin’ based on that conversation, that’s on her own head. But she knows that, anyway. This is nothin’ but hassle for its own sake.”
“The retainer, even. We never invoiced her for it, it’s a donation, more like -”
“- aye, but most of the lawyers in town, including Campbell Western, know how to pay us, whether we ask them or not. We’ll return the money, that’s the paperwork clean, and there’s no legal issue anyway. And if there was, if I had given her any bad ‘advice’ that she actually paid for, we’re insured for that kinna claim. She must know that as well – no need for pistols at dawn.”
“Sure, but in the meantime, there’s the hassle factor. You have to answer the case, costs you time and money to do that. And mibbe the word goes round – more woe at Stevie McCabe’s. This is just another ‘hing we don’t need. Stevie…I don’t understand why this is happenin’, any of it. Why business is shite, why the phone never rings the way it used to...well, sometimes used to, anyway.”
“Told you – it’s the blowback from all the Doune family mess, mostly. You get tangled in that kinna sickness, it’s hard to get the stink off you.”
“But you were the…you sorted it. You’re the good guy…stupid expression, sorry, but that’s how it was.”
“Aye, you know that, but if somebody’s only half listenin’, they don’t get the story, just the headline. The Dounes? Christ above, what a squad of rockets, man, d’ye see what they were all into? Whole buncha them’s sick as fuck. Every man jack – the women an’ all, in fact, they were worse’n the men… It’s just background noise, but it’s out there in the ether and cuz I’m in the mix, somewhere, never mind if I’m on a white horse, nobody wants to hear about what’s real and what’s not, it all just gets remembered as part of that giant Doune mess. That’s the truth.”
“That makes no sense – people only had to read as far as the second line to see what it was really about.”
“…well, you say that – but it happens every day…you know the Springsteen song, Born in the USA?”
“Know it? Obviously, everybody knows it. Punchin’ the sky and wearing a flag, Uncle Sam to the rescue, gawd bless Murica. Yew-ess-ay, yew-ess-ay, yew-ess-ay.”
“Well, there’s my point, in one. Everybody knows that song and – like you just did – they call it arse-backwards. The song’s actually about the opposite of what you said, more or less, but people see the hundred-point headlines and never get to the second verse. And if you can make that mistake, so can anybody else. The Dounes? It’s like that. I’m in there somewhere and everything  about it is rank rotten. So nobody wants to come in through that door there - no good deed goes unpunished.”
“And this Campbell Western stuff? Got to be the Agnews, right?”
“Them or JP Docherty. One of that mob. Campbell Western are lawyers for every last one of them.”
“Is this still about Florida? Seems like an awful lot of pigeons comin’ home to roost all at once. And, anyway, from what you said, old man Agnew bein’ in jail quite suits Bobby Petrie.”
“Canny see it being that. I don’t think Petrie holds grudges – at least, not that way. And if he’s got some kinna point to make, I don’t think this is how he does it. Kiddy-on lawsuits? Naw. He’s much more direct – less ambiguous. This is much more Docherty’s style, far as I know.”
“Mibbe Petrie’s just thought up a different way to do it – like Al Capone? The FBI couldny do him for actual crime, so they got him on the tax evasion. This could be the Agnew crew goin’ all collar-and-tie on you – instead of coming heavy, they knacker your business with a paper chase.”
“Aye, mibbe it’s them that got the council on my case, cuz I don’t have planning permission for this to be an office. Ye ‘hink?”
“Jeez, Stevie, don’t admit that – the council’s paperwork is shite, they’ll never nail that down. Could be worse, this whole ‘hing, though - at least nobody’s sendin’ pizza we never ordered.”
“Dunno – you could eat that, save a few quid…”
“But this is a lot of hassle for them, too - why would they even bother…with any of it?”
“I wish I knew.”
“One day, we’ll find out – did I tell you I was goin’ out for lunch today? Seein’ somebody at a Brazilian steakhouse.”
“Hope it’s somebody that can give you a job, the way this conversation’s gone.”
“Mibbe, dunno. We’ll see.”
“Ask them for me while you’re at it, eh?”
“That bit, no can do. They probly only want people with talent.”
*** *** ***
“I could tell you I don’t know how bad it is, Bernie, but I do. It’s me knows a lot better than Stevie what goes in and out of the books there. Biggest problem he’s got, as far as the costs go, that’s me. I’m still gettin’ paid regular. That and the office, but at least that gets him a roof over his head as well. Did he tell you we’re gettin’ grief from the city about using half the place as an office? No planning permission for that, is the story. Although I don’t ‘hink they can prove that, personally.”
“Who complained? The same woman that’s faking the lawsuit? Or somebody wearing the same jersey, at least?”
“The water always flows the same direction, right? It’s nobody that wants us to stay above water, whoever’s doin’ it. Listen, this…what is it?...picanha, right? It’s great. Don’t think I’ve had Brazilian food before. Here’s me, thinkin’ mibbe I’d try the vegetarian thing, y’know? Better for your body, better for the planet, all that guff. Really meant it. But all this meat? Canny whack it. Think I’ll go for the alcatra next – more steak, I know, but like I say… meat. Or mibbe the garlic version.”
“There’s the caramelised pineapple, if you fancy giving your colon a break tomorrow. Still barbecue roasted, all the same.”
“Aye, but there’s gammon, lamb and chili chicken. So…”
“What would you do, Dee? If Stevie -”
“- if McCabe Investigations went tits up? I thought about it, and I dunno. Good answer, eh? I just thought, well, we’ll see. Don’t think I’ll be back on reception at Centrus Office Solutions, somehow, callin’ myself Joanna and smiling at all the roasters in the city…‘I like your new suit, Mister Devaney – is it Paul Smith?’ All that shite, don’t see it.”
“Centrus? God, I forgot that’s where Stevie…”
“…discovered me? Aye. Not quite a Dairy Queen in Nebraska, but then I’m not Lauren Bacall or whoever. That was in the days when Stevie couldny afford his old office, and now he most likely canny even afford Centrus.”
“And now there’s the council and the lawsuit as well. Jeez. Dee, can I ask you…do you like your job? I mean, the day to day, what you do for Stevie, d’you like it enough to be doing it in the long term?”
“Would I do it for a living, for somebody else, or even on my own, you mean? Like a…a career? Naw. It’s just for the moment, or until it gets dull. So, if Stevie heads off to America…”
“Does he talk about that? Might be he could go looking for talent in a real Dairy Queen?”
“He says it’s a…a thing. He disny say it’s his ambition, nor his nightmare. It’s just there, like a hill or a river. But if he did, y’know, go? I said to him I dunno what I’d do…but that’s a lie cuz I do know, really. It’s borin’, but. I don’t like to look that in the eye, cuz it’s too sensible. I’d become a student, law if I could manage to get in somewhere, that’s what I’d do. My age, it’s easier, right? And, if it comes to jobs, I’d rather be you than Stevie, truth be told, but I don’t have the spark to make that decision myself, that’s why the wait-and-see, see?”
“Hang on…you don’t like that picture of yourself, being boring? Boring, like me?”
“Aw, no offence – don’t laugh, I can see you’re windin’ me up! But no, that’s right. It’s not how I see me. I try to know myself, cuz I ‘hink a lotta people don’t and they end up making mistakes because of it. That’s how come lives get buggered up from the inside. Doin’ law, it’s something that Joanna would do, not Dee.”
“It’s not a spark you’re missing, Dee. You’ve got plenty of that. Too much, maybe. You just don’t want to grow up – half the time, I wish I’d never done it, either. Cuz once you do, all your mistakes start to matter, then you’ve got commitments and you can’t always just move on to the next show in the next town.”
“Like you movin’ to Florida? That seems like mibbe you can just walk away.”
“Well, Georgia, or Tennessee, maybe. Nobody’s said Florida so far, but aye, why not? Stevie’s got form there.”
“Sounds to me like ‘anywhere that’s far enough from here’. I know that feeling, but I don’t know what the answer is.”
“These conversations usually all go the same way. You end up with the question gift wrapped, but you’re right, what’s the answer? So, sometimes, you just have to pull the trigger whatever way you’re pointing.”
“It’s definite, then? You’re really doin’ it, gonny be a for-real Yankee?”
“Well, this thing’s not got a decide-by date on it. Ah, shit…why can’t I say it out loud? Yes. Yes, I have to do this. Now, or soon.”
“No use me askin’ you for a reference, then? For my application, I mean. And then – might as well ask – a placement, or whatever you’d call it, job experience in Hutchison Barclay Skivington? Me wantin’ to be Perry Mason, that is.”
“Oh? Ah. Well, that’s different. Dee, that’d be a pleasure. Truly. Just get something to me in time, CV or whatever, and I’ll get whatever you need arranged personally, for whenever you need it. Absolutely. Sounds like you were never really in much doubt about what to do next, even the details.”
“Mibbe. There’s been a lot of thinkin’ time lately, with the business bein’ so slack. I know it’ll be hard work and all, takin’ on a whole new thing I’ve never done before, but I’m a fan of my Volkswagen – I’d like to keep it.”
“Oh? You don’t want to defend the innocent and fight for justice?”
“Huh – don’t mind that, but I’d like to move out of my mum’s house at some point. There’s a low ambition for you. I’ve stopped using her car, so that’s a start, eh?”
*** *** ***
Sweet Dee. Sweet, sour Dee. She never asked me what happened to the hundred and thirty thousand pounds fee Stevie made from resolving ‘that Doune family mess’ and why, despite that money,  McCabe Investigations was sliding towards financial collapse so easily, so irresistibly.
But, then, the real Dee was already gone, already somewhere else, long set out on another journey. Maybe, when she arrived, she’d be Joanna again. And she would still have that Volkswagen.
I’d tell her about what had happened to Stevie first, before I told any of his “family”. That was what she deserved, much more than his last-of-kin.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Say An Ave There For Me, part 2

Grief I : Denial
Of course he couldn’t be dead. Not my Stevie. This was a mistake, a lie, a misunderstanding, the world’s shittiest joke. Everything was normal, and it was going to stay normal, always. Nothing had changed. How could it? Not now, of all times.
This whole nightmare was a midnight-black error – it was some other Stevie McCabe found bleeding on Glasgow Green, dead on the gravel under the wilting horse chestnut trees. Some other woman should have had that doorstep epiphany, whey-faced police burbling out inadequate sympathies. Christ, how will it be for her when her own bell eventually sounds and she meets a moment she never imagined, what yawning black pit will open up when the truth snaps her by the throat, at some bleak hour of the grey tomorrow?
I weep for you and your pain, unknown sister, but oh, I hope you exist. You must. You must be real, because this is a cruel mistake - my Stevie was fireproof. I know that’s true…he told me that himself.
It was just that business was slow, he said, and if that meant you had to waste time listening to the woes of pound-shop mobsters…well, so what, he said.
The fact they were threatening to kill you, that’s what.
Maybe they did.
*** *** ***
“So, what d’ye ‘hink I’m sayin’ here?”
“I’m pish at quizzes, Bobby – just say what you mean, then we both know for sure. Doubt’s a bastard, I’m sure ye’ve found that to be a fact.”
“Aye, okay…it’s like this…what’d they call it, back in the day, when the Russians and the yanks had all those atomic bombs pointin’ at each other? Durin’ the Cold War and that?”
“Dunno, before my time. But don’t knock the 60s - I liked the Flintstones.”
“There ye go - so smart, Stevie. All they words, jist tumblin’ out…and where’d’s’it leave ye? Ye still don’t know what I’m gettin’ at– so ye tell me, anyhow. So, what is my point here? Stalin and Reagan, whatever, right? They both of them knew…if the one kicks off, the other does an’ all. Fuckin’ kaput, everybody, right? So that’s it, you and me, we’re like that.”
“Eh? You and me doin’ what? Nobody asked me to take sides, not in any’hin I can recognise. This’s only inside your head.”
“Disny matter, this‘s how it is. You and me, we don’t get to pick and choose. Point is, the Russians and the Americans actually put all that shite to one side, when it mattered, cuz a Hitler. They joined forces. Deadly enemies – so long as they have respect – could end up workin’ together. You follow me?”
“Not sayin’ I love your…er…analogy, or even understand it, but…if that’s ‘how it is’…can I be Stalin?”
“Ach. Sounds like more words to me, Stevie. Nothin’ but words, no answers to my question. D’ye want the work? Or don’t ye?”
“Sure it’s words. When every’hin else is busted, there’s always words. Still and all, here’s me, about to walk out that door and reckon you’re jist a dick, unless you make some kinna case that I should stay. Not that I’m askin’ you to convince me…”
“…‘balance of terror’, that’s what they cried it. When the Russians and Uncle Sam got right up in each other’s gubs. Haw you? Come ahead and I’ll fuckin get in among ye, ya Russki bastard! Aw that stuff, love it. Two guys, playin’ for the biggest stakes and everybody else is jist like this…mammy daddy, the fuck’s gonny happen? Pure drama, Lenin and that. But co-operation’s better, aye?”
“Chrissake, Bobby. Are you trollin’ me here? Your story is mince. I can see the door, I can work the handle, that means I’m done. See ye.”
“But if ye go now, that leaves me here on my lonesome, still wonderin’. That’s never how this works, never.”
“Aye, right. Me? Door? Done deal. Catch ye later.”
“What I’m thinkin’? What if we canny ignore our differences? If – hear me out, now – despite this wee conversation, we still couldny reach any kinna agreement? How’d’s that go, at the end-up? See, there’s always the old way of doin’ business. I could do this and I could do that…”
“See you around.”
“– two more minutes of yer time! Ye know it’s true, and anyway….I said ‘could’, right? But – here’s my problem – if I started on that nonsense…I know you’d be a load a fuckin trouble. A real load – I respect that, seriously, I do. But…chances are, I do you quick, some night, no warning. Six-nothin’ to me, away goals do not count double. Hoo-fuckin-ray. But what a waste, eh? Still, why would I not do that? Matter a fact, I could get it done – takin’ care of your good self, I mean - right here, right now….but that’s a pure waste. Pointless. And all of it would jist be, like…a problem for me down the road, hassle I don’t need, right? Cuz there’d be blowback. But – cracker of a ‘but’ right here, Stevie – I need to threaten, even if it’s jist to keep your attention. And you? You could say the same – you could mibbe do me right now, up to you. I don’t doubt that. But if you did, I can guarantee your family would be the ones paid the price, no’ you. And there it is, your dilemma – if you come heavy, the very minute ye win, ye lose. Game, set and the other ‘hing, know? So…there’s your problem ye canny solve. You and me, we kinna cancel each other out. Ye still want to be Stalin? Disny matter to me.”
“Spell it out for me – cuz, if you just said what I ‘hink you said, that’s you comin’ at my kids? Seriously? Did you just say that? If you did…”
“Not at all, big man. Never any kinna threat from this quarter. I’m not that kinna man. I’m jist sayin’…anythin’ happens to me, somethin’ that you did….somebody’ll mibbe get over-excited and that’s how it’ll go, is my guess. Somebody. Not me.” 
“Aye? Well, somebody disny exist and so everybody’s happy, then, cuz here’s me gonny catch my bus and there’s you, your normal cheerful self.”
“What about what I said? Forget the pissin’ contest. We don’t need to be enemies, you and me. How about the other way? You’d be great for business, I know it. Win-win. What say you?”
“I heard you, Bobby. And…hear me say this as well, now…that’s some strategic thinking you laid on the table there. Caught me short, tell the truth. Never thought big picture was where you’d shine. But all I really hear is: why disny everybody mind their own business and we can all live happily ever after? That’s the best way, cuz we’re not Batman and Robin, you and me, not while that yella sun shines. So what’s the point of this conversation?”
“What I said – somethin’ needs to get done. Why not try an’ figure out whit that would be – takin’ it all into account, I mean. Okay? Now, we’re done. Catch ye another time round the block, big man – hope yer bus isny late.”
*** *** ***
“You’re best just taking this straight to the police, Stevie. If one of your own buddies won’t deal with it, then talk to Mick. It’s a clear threat to your own life and to others. That’s a crime – you know that, right?”
“Oh, aye. I’m sure the polis will give it plenty tut-tuts, especially Mick, especially cuz his sister’s one of the ones in the firing line, seems like. But you know their favourite song – that’s not evidence, tra-la-fuckin-la.”      
“Get them evidence, then. Get Petrie to repeat what he said and tape him or something.”
“And when I’m done with that, why don’t I get a chimp to fake a moon landing? You know he never made a direct threat anyway, just ‘we don’t want to fall out’ and ‘I see your kids are back in the country’. That kinna stuff. There’s nothing in the words, it’s all in the way he said it.”
“Well, get the coppers to lean on them. Tell Petrie they know what’s been said and if anything happens, he’ll be deep in the shitter.”
“Strathclyde Police – sorry, Police Scotland – have never been the biggest fans of me tellin’ them how to do their job. That won’t be changing any time soon.”
“Is this a macho thing? It is, isn’t it? You’re scared you’ll lose face with the uniforms if you put your hand up and say ‘over here’? Once you do that, you’re never going to be a tough guy again – that it?”
“Christ, Bernie…gimme a wee bit credit for not lettin’ ego get in the way of other people’s safety.”
“I do, I just don’t know how wee that bit of credit should be.”
“What difference would it make? Say I went to Mick, or Paddy Haldane, or Annie Simpson? Or some other copper that’s got a reason to give the Agnew crew a boot in the baws?”
“Are they not calling it the Petrie crew now? Jimmy Agnew’s never comin’ back from his fun time in the everglades and if he did, he’ll hardly make it off the plane. He’ll be a puddle on the runway, if he’s lucky. Even if he made it to dry land, he’d hardly make any kind of trouble for Petrie and the rest. The thing he got sent away for is an extinction event in his line of work.”
“Doesny matter what they call the crew, everybody should have realised by now it’s JP Docherty really runs it.”
Really? Docherty really runs that business, does he? What’s ‘really’ mean there?”
“It’s the oldest song there is – follow the money. Petrie’s got the goons and the connections, but it’s his boys pick up the convictions, too. And who’s got most of the money? John-Paul Docherty. I’d say that means he really runs that business.”
“Petrie’s not short a few bob.”
“Aye, he’ll have plenty money in moody stashes and he’ll own houses and businesses, but compared to Docherty, he’s a swamp-dweller. And there might be the vague chance he’ll get huckled and make like his old boss Agnew, but none of that is in John-Paul’s travel plans. No jail time, ever. He’s an arm’s-length away from anything pure illegal – in fact, he’s somebody else’s arm’s length away from it.”
“Right. So, he’s a businessman – a smart businessman knows when something’s too much hassle to keep doing it. That’s how come he’s kept himself clean this far. All that business with the Arab money, he was making sure he wasn’t eating out of the same slop bucket as the likes of Agnew and Petrie? That’s his style. If the police show him there’s gonny be grief if he doesn’t back off you, he’ll see sense, too. He’ll go ‘fuck it, I don’t like McCabe, but I don’t like grief even more’. He won’t let his ego get in the way – there’s that word again - and he won’t confuse business with what’s just personal. That’s the smart move, for you and for him.”
“Aye…that all sounds like wisdom.”
“Right, then. Hit the speed dial to Stewart Street. If you won’t, I will. I’ll talk to Mick.”
“But he knows what Petrie’s sayin’ to me already, right? If he doesny know from you, he knows cuz he’s a good copper.”
“Aye, he does. What were you expecting? Marked cars parked outside your flat? He only knows, nobody’s asked him to do anything. That’s your job.”
“It’s not only a question of protectin’ my place, the way Petrie thinks. Or Docherty. There’s this place, and all. And my kids’ house, too. He made a song and dance about that, a while back.”
“Stop finding reasons why this is difficult, Stevie. Get on the offensive. If you don’t do that, you’re just a cork on the water.”
“There’s always plan B, where me and Petrie make like Butch and Sundance.”
“That? If that means anything at all, it’s him trying to take a step out from under Docherty.”
“Ach, in the end, it’s all just talk, anyway. These wee fuds, it’s the only way they know how to behave. Hot air and pish.”
“Is that where you leave it, really and truly? Hot air? So, you’re about to ignore Bobby Petrie’s phone calls, and him poking his finger in your eye, like he was some ned in the street, just blowing smoke? This guy kills people. He’s about as serious as it gets.”
“Mibbe he kills people, mibbe he -”
“The Agnew crew killed people. That’s for sure. They won’t have stopped cuz they changed the name of the company.”
“Okay – what I was gonny say was, the people they kill don’t include people like me.”
“What? Who’re you, now? How come you’re different? You sayin’ you can walk across the battlefield untouched, unless they’re packing Kryptonite? No – these people do harm.There was that accountant guy over Pollok way, the Agnews made him disappear.”
“He was a jumped-up moneylender. Just cuz he had a book with numbers in it, never made him an accountant.”
“The woman used to work at the Clydesdale Bank? Her body washed up at Dalmarnock, she was buying businesses for the Agnews.”
“The reason why she -”
“- I’m only saying the ones I can think of, right off the bat, white-collar types. Not everybody the Agnews send on trips to the tin table is some scummy corner-boy or a hopeless junkie – although, granted, there’s plenty of those. You’re not bulletproof, you daft bastard!”
“Her from the bank? Her mistake was workin’ with these people, goin’ over to their side. Once you cross the tracks, they own you and then…then…one foot out of place and you’re swimming minus your limbs. And that’s exactly what Petrie wants me to do, put on the black hat.”
“Christ, Stevie, I never said you should do it, obviously. I just want you to find the best way to make sure they get off your back when you say no. I mean, if  they ever ask you again. They might not.”
“See? That’s right, might never happen. That’s what this is – ‘what if’ and ‘just in case’.”
“Ach, I shouldn’t have said that, should’ve known you’d throw it right back at me. Aye, they might never come back at you, but you need to act like they will.”
“Don’t over-think it.”
“Don’t you under-think it either, McCabe. You make mistakes, I’ve seen them.”
“I know I do. But I try not to make the same one more than once.”
“Maybe that’s where you go wrong. Everything ends up being 50-50.”
“I’ve seen worse odds. Listen, don’t you have a mother to get to an airport?”
“No. She called it off again.”
“That’ll be getting expensive.”
“She’s good for it – and don’t change the subject.”
*** *** ***
It was them, wasn’t it, Stevie? Petrie and the gangsters you disdained, and in the end, they swatted you and then went out to dinner, entertained their families, caught a movie, gazed into the lambent depths of a VSOP, slept the sleep of the just. You were never more than a distraction, an irritation to those men, and irritations get dispatched.
You never meant anything to them.

You did to me.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Say An Ave There For Me

Chapter 1 - An Ending
I didn’t think that I was in harm’s way when I walked out to meet Bobby Petrie.
I didn’t think it was strange that he was on his own when he parked his Porsche by the banks of the Clyde, half-draped in the shadow of the trees by the Ballater Street bridge, still speckled by street-light glimmer.
I didn’t think anything of the way he lit his cigarette as he unkinked himself from the driver’s seat, nor how left his jacket hanging open when he slid the Marlboros back into his inside pocket.
I began to wonder, simply, why he wasn’t saying anything to me.
But I still didn’t think he was going to shoot me dead, there, on the spot.
You’d think by that point that I’d have seen it coming, right? If not the homicidal detail, then at least some kind of…danger.
But no, right up until his first and last word to me, there was no more threat in the air than on any given night.
That word, muttered over the barrel of the gun he drew from that inside pocket, was “cheerio”.
That’s when he killed me.
My name is Stevie McCabe…
Well….my name was Stevie McCabe, and this is the last you’ll be hearing from me.

Chapter 2 - Next of Kin
The day was crawling unwillingly towards midnight and even a half dozen Tunnock’s teacakes had failed to make wrestling with forty pages of appellant declarations seem like a rewarding way to spend this sharp-whittled night – or morning, soon.  I glared at the empty yellow box as if I had been somehow let down by the chocolate-coated marshmallows with their tasty biscuit base, the feckless bastards.
Sitting in a feeble pool of mood lighting and laptop glow, mind drifting from declarations to more urgent matters that jostled for attention, I was startled to hear the buzzing ring of the doorbell, this late, this dark. Stevie had his own keys, and anyway, he was far away, so…
Through the frosted glass of the front door, I could see the silhouettes of two dark figures wearing…hats. Hats? I clicked the outside light into life.
The blurred headgear remained monochrome in the bulb’s illumination and there was no mistaking the black and white checks of the Sillitoe Tartan on the police hat bands.  At the moment I moved to open the door, the land line began to ring – glancing, I could see the readout telling me it was my brother on the line; well, he could wait until I found out why two coppers - two coppers besides him, that was - were at my door at this hour.
The female half of the duo tipped her brim as she asked me my name and I confirmed I was who she thought. She had some very bad news, she said.
“I’m awful sorry, Mrs Feeney, it’s about a Stephen McCabe…”
“It’s not Mrs Feeney, it’s…What? Aw no…what’s happened to Stevie? What is it? Tell me! How bad is this news? Tell me now!
“Well, I am awful sorry….but a man was found at Glasgow Green tonight, critically injured.”
“Not him, he’s not in Glasgow at all – he’s out of town, so…”
“The man was taken to the Royal, but…like I say, it’s awful bad news. He was dead when he got there. Sorry. Sorry to bring you this, as I said, uh…unfortunate information.”
“Whoa, hang on now, let me understand you right. Are you telling me Stevie McCabe’s dead? Seriously? Dead…tonight? That can’t be right.  No. No way, no how. Listen to me – he’s not even in the city, so he cant’ve been at Glasgow Green tonight. It must be somebody else and you’ve made a mistake. This isn’t true. You follow me? Check your facts.”
“I’m afraid it’s true. He was found at the Ballater Street bridge. Like I say, awful sorry to have to -”
Listen to me, you stupid woman! I don’t give a shit how sorry you are cuz it’s not true – why are you saying it is?”
“He’s been identified. Superintendent Walker knows Mr McCabe and he confirmed the identification. It’ll be done formally later, but there’s no doubt. All his personal documents back that up. I know this must be an awful shock for you. Do you want to call somebody? Or get us to call somebody for you?”
“Oh…uh. What? Well. I don’t know. Somebody…somebody else should’ve called me and…the phone was going off there just now, when you were just coming to the door? So, uh…right? It was ringing? Was it? Is that right?”
“Uh-huh. We heard it go.”
“I could see it was my brother – he’s a superintendent at Calder Street. He must have been phoning to….he must have heard what happened just when you were walking up the path there…and he called me so he could…so it would be him and not you that told me.  Not…strangers.”
“Can we come in and sit with you for a bit? Until you can call somebody?”
“Well, I need to, uh, think about this and…you’re sure? Definitely? I mean, now I must sound crazy to you, but…I can’t believe this.”
“Everybody reacts to it differently. We can spend some time with you…”
“No….no thank you. I need to…I want to go and see Stevie, see if this thing is real. Can you take me to the Royal, could you do that? I don’t want to drive myself just now, I don’t think.”
“Superintendent Walker’s in charge of the case – he did say he didn’t want anybody coming to the hospital tonight.”
“Case? Why is this a case?”
“Mr McCabe had gunshot wounds – we’re treating it as murder.”
“Jesus…this couldn’t’ve happened, we made sure it couldn’t. This is the biggest mistake…listen, I know Cammy Walker – let me talk to him. I just want to -”
“I’m sorry, Mrs Feeney - Superintendent Walker was very definite. He mentioned you by name, said you shouldn’t be up there tonight. Mr McCabe’s brother and sister have been contacted, or people are trying to contact them now. To make arrangements, you know?”
“But I’m his next of kin.”
“No, you’re not. Superintendent Walker knew who Mr McCabe was and made arrangements for you to be contacted, but his brother and sister are on record.”
“Record? What bloody record? How do you know who his ‘next of kin’ would be? His so-called family? Well, one of them’s on the run in America and I’ve never even met his sister, she’s a stranger to him. I think Stevie might be in need of something a bit more human than that tonight, whatever’s happened…thanks for your offer to help, but that’s okay, I can make some calls myself. And I can get to the Royal myself, too, since it seems I have to.”
I shut the door on them, the gangly male half having never actually opened his mouth. I hit “delete” on the telephone to erase my brother’s message. I could talk to him later, but right at the minute I didn’t need another police officer telling me Stevie was dead.
Just me, in my hallway, spinning and staggering.
Shaking, quivering, stumbling.
Stunned, numb, blank.
Roaring, howling, shrieking.
Stevie McCabe was dead. My Stevie.

Jesus fucking Christ, Stevie. What have you done now? 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Just Your Usual Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, 
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone 

Midwinter? How does December 24th suit you? Bleak? Glasgow, solstice-blasted, locked in a frozen embrace that would not yield, shivered and trembled, choked and constricted by its relentless sheen of white. And yet, here we stood on the silent street in a midnight dark, breath billowing in sinuous coils around our faces, subsiding slow and cold into the depths of shadow. Me and Linda Guthrie, the two of us wrapped and bumfled against the bitter cold, looking everywhere, saying nothing.

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, 

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Well, not snow, in fact, because Glasgow would never be party to anything so heart-warming, rosy-cheeked and delightful as a white Christmas. It wasn’t the sentimentality we resisted – no, we loved that, properly calibrated. Try to pry a Glaswegian from a jukebox howling with the high-lonesome country wail of loss, prison, divorce, deceit and death – you can’t. But that is a different beast entirely. Tonight, there was no snow, just the hard bite of frost and ice, a spear of cold to the core. Long ago? Yes. How long? Try this: so long ago that I was still police constable Stephen McCabe, based at the old Orkney Street station, and Linda Guthrie was not a lover (not that night, not ever), she was another copper like me, exhaling great gouts of cloud into the still of midnight.

Linda Guthrie and I, in plain clothes, motionless in the cold, working a night-shift on Christmas Eve. Well, bad men didn’t (all) take the day off, and we were junior, so junior we still had damp patches; there was no doubt who would pull this shift, and this job.

“I don’t mind workin’ with a Catholic.”

“That’s awful fuckin big of ye, Linda. And I’m not, not so you’d notice.”

“The Pope’d still claim ye.”

“He’d claim a pawn ticket for a chocolate watch. Times are tough, over Rome way. Crowds are down. You have to count everythin’ you can.”

“How d’ye figure you’re not a Catholic anyhow? Thought that was you for life?”

“Well, that’s you and the Pope on the same page then. I beg to differ. You were a kid once, Linda, right? And you had no say in it? Nobody asked you, you couldny help it, it was just how it was? Ye’re a kid. Bein’ a Catholic is like that to me. Somethin’ somebody else made me without askin’ when I had no say in it. Now, you’re not a kid any get me?”

“Whatever you say – but it sounds like big MacPhee wasted his time sendin’ you down here the night then?”

“Sorry, don’t follow you – wasted his time how?”

“Well, he says to me, you’re on the night, aye? So I goes, aye, and he says we need to get a hold of Franny Meara, he’s been out of sight for a while. But...and here’s your bit, Stevie...we’ve got the nod off one of the CID’s wee narks that Meara always take his wee ma to midnight mass at Lourdes chapel. And...tonight’s Christmas Eve, so he’ll be above ground and we can take him. Who’s the biggest fenian on the night shift?”

“Whit? Me? That’d be Jackie Driscoll, no’ me! Christ...”

“Eh? Is he?”

“’course he is – you seen his tattoos? Fuckin sacred heart, virgin Mary...”

“Er, excuse me? How’d I see Jackie Driscoll’s tattoos? No’ my type. Nor my age, neither.”

“...right. Well, don’t be holdin’ yer breath waitin’ on detective, Linda. You’ve got a wee gap in your observation skills there.”

“Aye well, fuck you anyway, McCabe, but here we are all the same, eh?”

“And I’m here cuz I’ve got specialist skills in standin’ outside midnight mass? Big McPhee’s at it. Any tube could stand here and freeze their haw-maws off.”

“He said...he said mibbe we could do it at his ma’s house – Meara’s ma, that is. Cuz he’s got to go there to pick her up, like? But it could’ve kicked off, mibbe his brothers are there an’ all, mibbe we don’t see him go in and out, cuz she lives in they high flats over behind the college and there’s four lifts...anyhow, McPhee thought Meara would be less likely to get rowdy at the chapel. So, here we are. Here you are.”

“The other way to have played it would be to have sent a bunch of coppers over to the flats mob-handed, got Meara when he walked out the front – enough people, cover all the exits and also you’ve got enough bodies to stop any trouble. Stops all this drama outside the chapel.”

“No way, not tonight. McPhee’s got everybody else sweepin’ up all usual Friday night shite, plus your extra Christmas knob-ends. Only reason we’re here and not doin’ a tango through the puke at Govan Cross is that Meara’s show-up is one-time only. Jist cuz it’s Christmas and jist cuz it’s midnight mass. And give big McPhee credit for one thing – he knew that you’d know it started at half-eleven. Me mysel’, I’d’a shown up and wondered how I missed them all goin’ in.”

“Well, Sherlock, you coulda phoned up the chapel, or just made a big mistake. Modern police work. Fuckin great.”

“Well, would you rather be at Govan Cross or outside Lourdes chapel? Them’s yer choices, cowboy. How long’s it last, anyway, midnight mass?”

“A bit longer than usual. Kinna like a greatest hits.”

“Or a special on TV, like you get Christmas. Here, is this them comin’ out now?”

“No, just the early leavers. You have to laugh, they turn out in the middle of the night and don’t stay until the end. It’s not like they’ve got a bus to catch, or they need to beat the traffic rush.”

“One or two of they guys look pished.”

“Traditional. Bit of guilt, bit of a laugh, bit of Christmas spirit, bit of confusion. Plus, it does save them havin’ to go tomorrow, when they might be sober.”

“D’ye know what Meara looks like? I’ve just got his file picture. McPhee thought you might know him. Personal, like?”

“He’s not wrong. I do know him. He’s older’n me, obviously, but he used to be a face, y’know, around?...he knew my da, definitely. He should know me an’ all, in yon roundabout kinna way. I’ll clock him, don’t worry. He’ll not be movin’ that fast, if he’s got a pensioner in tow.”

“Here, see that women, nickin’ out early, is that...her off the telly?”

“Dunno, who?”

“Y’know, her, the...she reads the news.”

“Dunno, could be – they let Catholics do just about anythin’ nowadays.”

“See, there ye go – the Pope’d definitely claim you.”

“Okay, get ready. Sounds like the mass is about over. The music’ll start and they’ll be comin’ out in big numbers. Canny imagine Meara’ll be out early, but just in case they were sittin’ at the back, get your picture out and I’ll get up next to the door. Watch me. If they get past me in the crowd, I’ll point and you clock them. Go and talk to his mother. Just babble – ‘hello, Mrs Meara, long time no see, d’ye not remember me?’ Stop them for a second and I’ll be there.”

“Who gave you the stripes?”

“Fine, then. Hook him on the jaw and drag him to Orkney Street behind your chariot, I don’t care. Right, here everybody comes, arse in gear...”

The crowd ebbed out of the church, as if reluctant to leave its candle-infused glow and undulating shadows for the uncertainty of a chill midnight. The side doors had not been opened, so the worshippers were funnelled into one snaking exit rope, stepping gingerly down the stairway, easy for me to observe and discern, despite their dark, muffled overcoatage. One or two faces I recognised – was that Lorna McGunnigle, almond features easing awkwardly into a premature middle-age, rumpled and stretched by those prams she seemed always to be pushing and by the men she turned the lights out with? And Andy McGovern, his feet crunching on the stair-spread grit, stepping lightly down for a fat man, no resistance to the doughnuts and steak bakes of the shop he worked in.

The flow slackened, thinned and drained almost to a halt, a sprinkle of slow movers and priest-chatters finally ambling through the doors, bye Father and happy Christmas to you cast over shoulders into the warm yellow-glowing chapel. Last of all, arms linked, were Franny Meara and an old woman who was owning the role of Franny Meara’s old ma. They were oblivious to me, or anything else, as they tiptoed down the salty steps, the least icy square feet in the neighbourhood, but still, that underfoot bite warned ‘be careful’. I waited until they negotiated the last stair and stepped forward, warrant card proffered and laid my hand on Franny Meara’s arm. I felt him tense and then slacken as he saw, first, the card and then my face.

“Francis Meara, you’re under arrest. You do not have to say anything -”

“Fuck, man, you serious? Right in front of my wee ma? At midnight mass? That’s no’ for real.”

“How’d ye prefer it? Gunfight at the livery stables? Five in the mornin’, drag you out yer kip in the scud, bounce yer arse down three flights and never mind the skidmarks? This way is good, Franny, this is wise.”

“Hey, it was that Wee Pedro grassed us up, right? Wee Pedro the wanker.”

“’mon we’ll get into this motor here and you can worry about who you’re blamin’...come with us, Mrs Meara, we’ve got some business with your Francis here. We’ll give you a run home, eh?”

“Are you...are you the polis?”

“Aye. Who else’d have business with him?”

“Huh. Fuckin typical. Ye can stick yer run.”

“Long walk home. Franny’ll not be with you. Dangerous town, this, they tell me. Long walk home.”

“Aye, well, if I get raped and murdered, you’ll be to blame.”

“Mibbe, but it’ll be you gets raped and murdered. I’d rather be me.”


“Car’ll be warmer. And we know where you live, sure.”

Franny Meara had no interest in the conversation; he knew his mother could hold her own in a row with coppers. Instead, he was looking at me – or, as he would probably regard it, looking into my face.

“Whoa, hold up there...I know you. You’re Joe McCabe’s boy. Aw aye, that’s who you are. Whit a fuckin gyp. Lifted by Joe McCabe’s wee snotter.”

“My name’s on the card I showed you, so aye. Mrs Kerr’d be that happy you kept up with yer readin’.”

“...ah, how is he, yer old da? Aw, that’s right, faithful departed intit? Heard he came second in a wee bit metalwork. That right?”

“No secret, that. But the world’s doin’ okay, all the same, eh? Funny how that goes...not for you, obviously, not this minute, but...big picture? S’okay. Eb’dy’s happy, foreby Franny Meara. What’s that tell you?”

“Look at me, takin’ my ma to midnight mass, and you, pishin’ on yer da’s memory, and I’m the bad guy?”

“Correct again. You are the bad guy. But since I never finished the caution, that won’t count as a confession.”

Linda, standing next to Mrs Meara without touching her, clapped her gloved hands together. I expected her to say “abracadabra!” She didn’t.

“...if you two are finished showin’ your dicks? I’m freezin’ and, much as I like the OT, there’s a fridge fulla chardonnay at home I’d like better. In the motor? Now?”

I manoeuvred Meara over to the car and Linda, scrambling quickly out of the cold, kicked the Mondeo into life. She opened the back doors to let Mrs Meara climb in; she couldn’t, not unaided, and I was not letting go of her son until she was inside. 

“Linda, a hand? To get the lady into her taxi?” Grunting, she clambered back out of the vehicle and opened both the rear doors, easing the old woman in, without thanks but also without reproach. Handcuffed, her son followed.

“If you see that wee fud Pedro, tell him his card’s marked.”

“I dunno who it was put the word on you, Franny, but don’t blame him. Or her, whoever it might’ve been. We caught you at the chapel. I was you, I’d blame God.”

I locked the car door on Franny Meara and his bradawl-eyed mother, muttering low words of bad intent at me.

Peace on earth, or something.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.