The News continues the serialisation of Long Way Down by Tony Black, the city crime writer hailed by Irvine Welsh as ‘Britain’s best’
I crossed the street to the grimy drinker with the fag-bound boyos outside; the chatter was on Rangers now, voices were being raised.
‘Mark my words, this fella will shaft the club!’ said the snoutcast.
I shook my head as I took the pavement, the club was already on Poor Street.
‘Aye you’re all right, yer all wrong ... I knew that the second I saw his name was Green.’
Holy Christ. This actually amounted to reasoning. I stepped up to the plate. ‘And here’s something for you both to think about, the fella that he replaced was called Whyte!’
I saw the half-sozzled, slow-blinking eyes turn to saucer shapes. There was the hint of a cog turning, maybe the sound of the rodents working the controls in their heads moving, as they tried to piece together the significance.
I helped them out. ‘Green and Whyte ... something to think about.’
I grabbed for the door and tipped the daft lads a wink. I could tell I’d kicked off a conspiracy theory already.
The bar was dark, dingy. In days gone past there’d have been a pall of grey smoke you’d struggle to shine headlamps through. Now the nicotine-stained walls and ceiling looked painfully over-exposed — the woodchip papering would turn to writhing maggots after a few scoops.
I slotted myself on a stool behind the heavily scarred and scratched-up hardwood of the bar. There were bars in Edinburgh that Stevenson frequented in his drinking days when he was known as Velvet Coat; if he ever got as far out of the New Town as Porty, I’d have sunk money on him supping here.
I ordered up a Guinness and a low-flying birdie to chase it. The bar man dispensed a gruff acknowledgement that came topped with a thin-eyed stare in my direction. Okay, I was looking rough — in the ball-park of a jakey to be truthful — but this was hardly the bloody Ivy. The pint and chaser were laid in front of me and a hand went out, I waited for a ‘make those your last’ but it never came.
Say one thing about the mess the Tories had made of the country lately, the shortage of cash and the surfeit of those drowning their sorrows spoke to publicans like a whore with a lullaby.
I took a seat by the window and stared out at the entrance to the flats where I’d just left Baz’s Katrina in a perplexed state. She didn’t exactly look sorted for Es and wizz — and I’d put those stairs beyond her withered legs, she could hardly stand, never mind make ambulatory. The chances were she’d be getting a visit from Mr Fix-it sooner or later.
I downed a full draught of my pint and took out my rumpled paperback of Trocchi’s Young Adam whilst the wee goldie stood sentry.
In a brief moment the pint did the trick, sent my senses swirling as I luxuriated in Trocchi’s dulcet prose. So what if they called him a pornographer, and accused him of pimping his wife, the guy could write and who ever said being a genius was easy? Give me some grit, someone who knows the wild side over Jeeves and Wooster any day.
The barman stood over me with a white towel in his hands, he was wringing it like he had hold of a game bird’s neck.
‘Why not ...’ I said.
He nodded and I clocked the three or four black hairs on his glabrous scalp that he’d greased back, likely with Brylcreem.
He was an anachronism, the whole place was — maybe that’s why I felt so at home.
My second pint was in motion, that creamy head of goodness making its way towards me as I spotted a familiar face on the street outside.
He was jinxing between cars halted in the road and looking far too cocky for my liking.
‘Aye, aye ...’
I turned a tenner in the direction of the barman but kept my gaze on the scene through the window. It was Weasel. One of Devlin McArdle’s runners. He did odd-jobs for the Deil but I’d be very surprised if he was ever given anything more than the scrapings on the bottom of the barrel. Weasel was one of those shifting faces that attached himself here and there wherever the opportunity arose. He’d turned out for Shakey once and he was rumoured to be on the job with Barry when he got put away. It was only a rumour because Barry would never confirm it — others would — but Barry had loyalty.
‘You clown, Barry ...’
‘What?’ The barman was back, holding out my change.
I shook my head, ‘Nothing ... just thinking.’
‘Jesus above, why would you want to do that?’
I smiled and took my change. ‘Why indeed?’
As I turned back to the window, Weasel was taking the door of Katrina’s flats. He stood with the door open, blocking it with the sole of his Adidas Samba, and looked furtively up and down the street before ducking inside.
‘What are you up to, Weasel you little scumbag?’
I watched him ascend the stairs towards Katrina’s floor; the barman was wiping a tabletop as I downed a fair pelt of my Guinness.
‘Keep them coming, mate,’ I said.
The low-flying birdie called out to me, singing that golden oldie that always strummed the chords of my heart.
IRVINE WELSH’S FAVOURITE
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, former journalist turned reluctant private investigator Gus Dury is trying to find an old friend wanted by a notorious gangster.