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.

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