The News concludes the serialisation of Long Way Down by Tony Black, the city crime writer hailed by Irvine Welsh as ‘Britain’s best’
Hospitals set me off. Too many bad memories. The familiar smells, the disinfectant, the industrial floor polish; they all just stick painful pins in me. I walked to the front desk and took directions from a sister called Agnes who had hair like a crash helmet, there was a tin of lacquer somewhere sitting empty that was to blame. Still, she smiled widely enough and that was something to be grateful for in Edinburgh these days.
I followed the signs to Danny Murray’s ward and hoped I wasn’t going to be greeted with too much of an eyesore. Shakey had a reputation for being thorough. It was just Danny’s bad luck that he was the one who had been sent to find Barry — but then the Romans would have killed the messenger so maybe his luck was in.
The ward was split into a series of private rooms, almost cell-like; he must have loved that. I turned the handle and went in.
‘Hello, Danny,’ I said.
He looked at the brown paper bag in my hand. ‘I hope that’s wet.’
He looked away. I spotted the monitor at his bedside and the drip attached to his hand. His head was bandaged tightly but there was little or nothing the medical staff could do with the bruising and cuts on his face.
I pulled out a chair as Danny directed the remote control to the small television in the corner. Jeremy Brett as Holmes faded to black on the screen.
There was an uneasy silence for a moment or two and then Danny spoke, ‘What are you doing here?’
I sighed. ‘What are any of us doing here, mate?’
He shook his head. ‘Bloody riddles.’
I offered the grapes, they were refused. I placed the bag on the bedside table. ‘I thought you’d like to know that I found Barry ... like you asked.’
He huffed. ‘Fat lot of good it’s going to do me now.’ The plastic chair was stiff, I eased my back further into it. ‘Fat lot it was going to do you in any case.’
He turned, a wince crossed his face. ‘What the hell are you on about, Dury?’
‘You didn’t want Barry, or should I say Shakey didn’t want Barry ... it was what he had you were after.’
Danny looked away, held firm.
I leaned forward a little, lowered my voice. ‘The job, Danny, you were after the details of the job.’
He turned to face me. ‘And?’
I grinned all over him. ‘Don’t worry, I have all the details for you.’ I fished in my pocket for the piece of paper where I’d written down the particulars of a horse trader called McCarthy with a property in the wilds of Midlothian. Danny pressed himself forward in the bed, the stiff white linen creased. ‘They’re turning over a stables, are you kidding me?’
I shook my head. ‘Mc Carthy sells all over the place, it’s all cash too, they reckon he’s holding three-quarters of a mill’ at any one time.’
A pained smile crossed Danny’s face, ‘Aye, bet he’s selling to all those bloody Irish tinkers!’ He leaned towards the bedside cabinet and retrieved his mobi. ‘Christ, Shakey will love this ... hates horsey types at the best. All those wax jackets and wellies ...’
I let him dial the number and headed for the door.
At the jamb I turned. ‘Put in a good word for Barry, eh.’
Danny nodded, then started to tell his tale.
It was getting dark when I jumped off the number 26 on London Road. A black lab shook itself and showered me with the water on its coat.
It was that time of night when people started to rush about. The end of the day.
Time to be home. You could be jostled, elbowed, knocked on your arse if you weren’t careful. I trudged into the Booze and News store and picked up a copy of The Hootsman; there would be nothing in it but old habits die hard.
As the lad on the till rung up the paper I eyed the neat rows of bottles on the shelf behind him.
They had The Famous Grouse, my favourite brand, but I declined the instinct to indulge.
‘Keep a clear head, Gus,’ I told myself, sotto voce.
‘I’m sorry, sir?’
I was jolted back to reality. ‘Eh, twenty Benson’s, mate.’
The young lad turned for the smokes and rung them up. I added a pack of mint gum from the rack and passed over a twenty: the last of Danny’s pay packet.
On the way out I ducked under an old woman’s umbrella — a stray metal insect leg stabbing at my eyes without mercy. She was unaware or didn’t care. I kept on with a craving for a cig on me but the smirry rain was back. I opted for gum.
The traffic was backed up all the way to the lights at Abbey Mount. I could see the bloke from the little art shop wrestling with the shutters.
The windows of the laundrette were bathed in condensation, too much to tell who was holding the fort, but I stuck my hands in the pockets of my Crombie and trudged in that direction anyway.
Arthur’s Seat was still visible between the gaps in the tenements — like a gloomy old man crouched on the edge of the city, and passing judgement, no doubt. I tipped him a wink, we were almost brothers in arms after all.
As the bell above the door chimed I walked into the laundrette and looked about.
It was empty, at least I thought that at first. I was turning back for the door when the Polish lass appeared at the far end, her face pressed into a paper tissue. ‘Hello there,’ she was eating, her mouth half-full.
She wiped the edges of her mouth, lost some lip gloss. ‘I’m just feeding my face!’ She smiled, spluttered a little. ‘I have cake, would you like one?’
I shook my head. ‘No, thanks anyway.’
She walked behind the counter and dropped her tissue in the waste-bin. She was smiling again as she rose up on tiptoes to take the stool. ‘You don’t have washing with you.’
I removed my hands from my pockets, ‘No ... I, eh ...’ The CD was inside my coat, I handed it over. ‘Well, here, as a thanks for the other day.’
She looked embarrassed.
I felt embarrassed.
She spoke first, ‘The Stagger Rats ... thank you.’
‘You said you liked them, so I thought, y’know ...’ I was getting tongue-tied. It was time to depart. ‘So, anyway, thanks again.’
She wagged the CD, ‘There was really no need. But thank you.’
I turned for the door as I reached for the handle I caught her turning over the CD, reading out the tracks.
‘They’re playing at the Caves this weekend, you know,’ I said.
‘Oh, really ... Are you going?’
I shrugged my shoulders. ‘Don’t know, maybe.’
The bell clanged as I pulled the door wide.
‘Then maybe I will too.’