The News continues the serialisation of the Gus Dury mystery Long Way Down by Tony Black, the city crime writer hailed by Irvine Welsh as ‘Britain’s best’
There was a time in my life when leaving Robbie’s, or any pub for that matter, with only a couple of drinks in me was a non-starter. Call it maturity because I couldn’t call it a lack of funds with the best part of three grannies stuffed in my pocket, or call it whatever, but I was back pounding the pavement. And thinking of Barry.
We’d done the school together and those types of ties you don’t unpick for the hell of it. He’d been Baz then, a bit of a joker and a bit of a wido, all the teachers hated his guts. We lads loved him for it. He had a carefree, cut-the-crap way about him that was always on the verge of being out of control. Some folks are never far away from the self-destruct switch, I knew the territory, but Baz took it to a whole other level. In third year I watched him implode a Bunsen burner by clamping the rubber feed. The explosion burst a girl’s eardrum and set some heavy-duty school curtains alight. The fire-brigade’s attendance is still my highlight of six years’ stoop-shouldered study. It was also memorable as Baz’s last day — he got expelled. There was another school. A stack of McJobs after that and a power of what the Eagles might call witchy women. Katrina, or Kat as she was known, was the worst of the lot. She was still on the junk, last I heard anyway, and still in possession of the kind of nasty mouth you might never tire of plugging. She was a full-on bitch and bad news for Baz but also my best chance of tracking down the lost soul. I took the bus out to Porty and got off outside an old-school drinker where a couple of snoutcasts were spraffing away outside about the current state of the Jam Tarts’ finances. It was ‘beyond a joke’ apparently that players weren’t getting paid. I had to clamp it when the thought of eleven near-millionaires being out of pocket for a little while bit; my old man never saw that kind of money in his whole playing career. Shudder the thought, what kind of damage would that sort of wealth have done to him; and the rest of my family? I dreaded to think. To me family was what you made it, no more, no less. Blood counted for little.
Katrina’s gaff was part of the boxy high-rise that sat in Porty’s main drag. This end of the town used to see the well-heeled promenading during Victorian times.
I pushed the bust door-front and made my way to the first-floor gaff. The yellowing net curtains in the window of the door would have had my Mam reaching for the Daz. I depressed the bell and stepped back. In a few minutes a hazy black shadow started to stagger behind the frosted glass and manky curtains.
‘Hello, Kat . . .’ I said.
She squinted, dropped her neck further into her shoulders and tried to discern something in the ball-park of familiarity.
‘It’s Gus . . . Gus Dury, I’m Barry’s mate, remember?’ I felt like I was talking to a child, she scrunched up her brows and started to grip at her sides with two lank arms that didn’t look strong enough to lift stamps. The woman was in a worse state than I had imagined possible.
‘Gus . . . oh, aye,’ she said. ‘Barry’s not here . . .’
The reply came a little too practiced for my liking; this moron didn’t have enough marbles left to crank out a reply like that.
‘What makes you think I’m looking for, Barry?’ She stepped back into the flat, fiddled with the edges of her cardigan.
She was too scoobied to manage a reply. I felt like putting her out of her misery, felt like ending Barry’s misery to tell the truth. I pushed open the door and walked in. She managed to look surprised after I’d got to the end of the corridor and turned back to face her.
‘Hey, hey . . .’
‘Shut the door, Kat.’
She slow-blinked in my direction, vague bloodshot eyes above heavily crenulated bags. I’d seen too many junkies to summon a single atom of sympathy. She’d given up, like they all had, but it was the rest of us that had to live in Zombieland with them. And people like Barry had no escape from them; they remembered the before, the time when junk wasn’t a way of life, or more accurately, death.
Kat raised a thin mitt to the door and pushed it to. She stumbled in her blue-fluffy baffies as she walked towards me. The cardigan was getting wrapped tighter and tighter round her thin waist in an effort to shield her from something: life, at a guess.
I turned into the smoke-thick living room. There was a TV stand but no television. A burst couch, spewing foam from one arm. A patchy, manky carpet and a coffee table, replete with dirty works. I looked around, thought about opening the curtains but didn’t want to shed any more light on the place. The one thin sliver of a yellow sunbeam that erupted through the gap in the curtains was dust-filled, sent motes dancing in my eyes.
‘I don’t understand . . .’ said Katrina. She had a bunch of limp black hair in her hand now, she twisted it. ‘I don’t know why you’re here.’
I knew she was lying. There was an old Gola holdall sitting beside the arm of the burst couch; I hadn’t seen one of those since they came back in fashion about a decade ago. I walked over to the bag and peered inside; seemed liked Barry had been round to drop off his gear.
‘Where is he?’
‘He’s not here.’
‘Oh, aye.’ I walked over to the Gola bag, gave it a tap with the tip of my cherry Docs.
She gripped her sides and swayed. ‘Aye, he was here . . . but he left again.’
At least she was coming clean, I didn’t fancy tearing the gaff apart to look for him; not without a tetanus anyway. ‘What do you mean . . . left?’
She leaned on the wall, looked woozy. ‘The night he got out he dropped his stuff off . . . then he went again.’
I was ready to rattle her chops, took a step closer and let my impatience hit her. ‘Went where?’
I poked her in the shoulder, one finger, it was enough to near fell her.
‘Stop that . . . I don’t know where he went.’
‘Was he alone?’
She shrugged again.
I pointed my finger, it was enough.
‘No. Some guy was with him. He said they had some business, that he’d be in touch but he wouldn’t be back . . . look, leave me be, he’s not here!’
I didn’t like the sound of what she had told me, for the simple reason that it rung true. Katrina wasn’t in possession of the faculties to manufacture a cover story. She wasn’t in possession of faculties, full-stop. She was near the end of the black tunnel that all junkies travelled. Another hit, if she could find a vein capable, and she was over. That’s what her days were about.
When I left her, closed the door, I knew she wouldn’t remember seeing me inside of five minutes. Barry must have got the same impression when he showed, least I hoped he had; the heart has its reason, and all that.
LONG Way Down is a novella by acclaimed author Tony Black. Born in Australia and based in Edinburgh, his work has drawn praise from the likes of Irvine Welsh, who branded Tony his “favourite British crime writer”.
He has three novels due out in the coming months, crime fiction duo The Inglorious Dead and Artefacts of the Dead, as well as The Last Tiger, set in Tasmania.
So far in Long Way Down, we’ve read how reluctant investigator Gus Dury is considering a job tracking down an old friend wanted by a notorious gangster.