The Edinburgh Evening News continues the serialisation of Long Way Down by Tony Black, the city crime writer hailed by Irvine Welsh as ‘Britain’s best’
I staggered on to a No 26 bus heading back to the east end of the city. The air inside was rank, filled with a grim dampness that misted the windows and clung to the fabric of the seats. The grunting engine, evacuating diesel fumes, and the slow revolution of the lumpy wheels made my guts churn. Two teenies played a tinnie tune on a phone that had them laughing and guffawing like burst drains. I was tempted to turn round, blast them one, but I kept schtum. I couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t chuck up some Guinness if I opened my mouth.
The orange glow of the street lamps battered the top deck of the bus and sent a sickly sheen all the way down to the tarmac that was taking another battering from the rain. I reached out to steady myself, gripped the silver rail, and got looks from an old giffer in a bobble hat. She had a mouth as tightly pursed as a cat’s backside and I’d have been surprised if anything half as pleasant came from it. I wasn’t fazed. So she had me down as another one of Edinburgh’s drunken jakeys — who didn’t? I’d fallen pretty far from the days of desk diaries and pinstripes. If I’d been somebody of note once, I’d forgotten. My past was as far behind me as the reek of the Porty sewage outflows that spewed into the sea.
At Abbeyhill I thanked the driver and stepped out.
The wind was blowing down London Road, a procession of black cabs lined the street hoping to pick up those afraid of the rain. Some young girls in high-heels and tight dresses, likely heading to a George Street-style bar, took the bait and climbed in. I mean, there was no point spending an hour with the hair straightners to get pished on, now was there?
As I passed the old Station Bar I felt tempted to take another scoosh home with me but I clocked the laundrette’s lights burning and remembered my washing.
‘Oh, man ...’
The little Dot Cotton woman in there would have a lecture for me, like the last time, and the time before.
She was what the Scots call thrawn. She was what I called an aul’ witch. Something happened to a certain type of women in their bad fifties that boiled the bile in them.
They just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to spit out some spite.
The bell above the door chimed as I walked in. Empty. I looked around.
The machines were silent, a few had the pay boxes removed. I was heading over to the counter when a small blonde head appeared through the window in the door to the back of the shop.
The face lit up, a heartmelter smile. I didn’t recognise the girl but I was already glad Dot wasn’t filling tonight’s back-shift.
‘Hello,’ she said. The accent was hard to place, I’d have said Italian but I’d likely have been wrong.
‘Hi there ...’
‘I have your things. I put them in a bag for you, I hope that is okay.’
She handed over the bag. Everything was neatly folded. I didn’t know what to say. Christ, had she folded my boxers as well? I felt the burn of my cheeks flaming up.
‘Thank you,’ I said.
She smiled again, straight white teeth. The Ultra-bright variety. ‘Did you forget something else?’
She started to laugh, reached under the counter and put something behind her back. ‘From earlier, when you were in?’
I twisted my neck. Put eyes on her. ‘You’ve lost me?’
A hand swung round from her back, produced my beaten-up iPod. ‘Tah-dah!’
‘Oh, I see ...’
She was grinning as she spoke. ‘It must have sat there on the bench all day ... no-one even touched it!’
‘Well, it’s hardly a worthy find.’
She put her hands behind her back again, looked content with her good deed.
‘I’ve seen you with it before ... I recognised the, er ...’ She pointed to the sticking plaster. ‘The Elastoplast ... had ran out of tape.’ I tucked the iPod in my pocket.
‘I played some songs through the speakers ... I hope you don’t mind.’
‘No, not at all.’
‘I hadn’t heard of Love and Money. They’re good ...’
‘I liked The Stagger Rats too ... Fuzzy, Fuzzy.’ She held my gaze for a moment and then looked away suddenly.
The conversation seemed to have bottomed out.
I picked up my bag and slotted the iPod on top.
‘Look, thanks again,’ I said. ‘Much appreciated.’
‘Not a problem.’
At the door I turned back before I reached for the handle, ‘Where’s that accent from?’
‘Poland,’ she said. ‘I’m from Poland.’
‘Oh, I’d have said Italy.’
She turned down the corners of her mouth, sneered. ‘Too sunny for me.’
‘Me too, for sure.’ The bell sounded as I gripped the handle and walked out into the rain-spattered street.
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.