LONG Way Down is a novella by acclaimed author Tony Black. Born in Australia and based in Edinburgh, his work has drawn praise from 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.
Walking cleared the head. Walking in Edinburgh, battered by gales and likely as not rain in stair-rods, washed the head right out.
After leaving Katrina’s flat, I took to the high street in Portobello and bought a thank you for the laundry girl. It was nothing much, just a CD. But it set me in mind of earlier days; I couldn’t say happier ones.
Myself and Debs had never worked out; the reasons too multifarious to go into. But she was still there with me – never far from the back of my mind.
She was like my conscience and my caution rolled into one. If I was left to my own devices, I’d be six-foot under by now. That voice, though, that shrill, pedantic whine that she always berated me with at the worst of times was never far away. I could hear it now as I turned the CD into my pocket.
‘What the hell are you playing at, Gus?’ that’s what she said.
I wasn’t playing at anything. The Game of Life had long since ceased to be of any amusement to me.
I was just going with the flow. Rolling with the punches.
Maybe I’d be lucky and get some sense knocked into me. Sure as shooting this business with Barry wasn’t going to end without a few tasty blows being struck. If past form was anything to go by, then I’d be on the receiving end.
The thought gored me, made me feel even more pity for Barry. He’d had it tough enough without having friends like me.
It seemed every shop in the street was selling cute and cuddly pandas. Their sad eyes dug at me. I couldn’t see past the fact that they were captive beasts. There was something unsettling about a city getting so excited about having the animals locked up in the zoo. Was I the only one who saw how miserable they really were? Keeping them behind bars wasn’t helping them – it was helping us. It made us feel a little bit better about having ballsed up the entire planet. In Paris, during the war, they ate all the animals in their zoo – that shows what they really thought of them. From the pandas my mind latched back on to Barry’s plight: it seemed like he was actually better off behind bars. He’d gone from the big house to the poor house in one fell swoop.
Try as I might, I just couldn’t get my head around his drop. It had been gradual, a slow steering towards the long way down, but he’d hit rock bottom now. Nietzsche said you needed to strike the lowest depths before you could bounce back, but Barry wasn’t bouncing anywhere from his dark pit of despair. Not unless it was back inside, or worse yet, into Shakey’s hands.
I flagged a Joe Baxi and the driver in the Nigerian footy shirt tapped in the Craigmillar address on his TomTom.
“Cheers, mate, and quick as you like, eh.”
I checked my mobi for messages: zip. Unless you call a text from my mate Hod with a link to Frankie Boyle’s Twitter account a message. It seemed the Pope had made his first tweet and the bold Mr Boyle had taken his chance to address the pontiff directly about abusive priests.
I smiled inwardly; there was something about the direct approach, about speaking the truth to power that I liked a whole lot.
The taxi pulled over at the foot of the street like I’d told him. I passed the fare through the hole in the safety glass and stepped out.
The rain had stopped.
That was something.
The address that Katrina had given me for Weasel was a boarded-up council flat — the affectionately termed cooncil curtains. The whole street was a tip.
Awash with rubbish that had attracted a couple of scavenging dogs: they eyed me like competition for a lick at the Lean Cuisine container they’d liberated.
“Grow sense, dogs ...”
I stamped a Doc on the road and they took off, paving the way for a feral gull to swoop down on the salvage. I was in no rush to crash Weasel’s gaff so I sparked up a cig and took myself to the sheltered side of the street where I could watch the goings on from the lee of another derelict building. I was two draws in to my red-top when my mobi rang.
“Mac . . . what is it?”
“I’m glad I found you.” His voice was gruff.
He took a sharp intake of breath. “I just had word that your friend is not in a good way.”
My mind spooled with images of a bloody and battered Barry. “What?”
“Danny Murray’s been done over.”
Relief washed over me. “Dan the Man . . . blow me, I thought you meant Barry.”
A tut. “Yeah, well, the only reason Barry’s not being fitted for a cement overcoat I’d say is because he’s managed to duck under the radar, but that can’t last.”
I was lining up my reply as a stocky figure started walking down the path towards Weasel’s flat. I ducked into the ruin as the pug in trademark black leather stepped up to the door and slapped the rain from his shaven head. I couldn’t help but notice the hefty holdall in his hand had a suspicious shape. I dropped my voice. “Look, I have that under control.”
“Are you out your tree, Dury? You want to drop this, now. Didn’t you hear me? Danny’s up on bricks at the Royal and your time’s running out.”
I kept my gaze on the big biffer, as he walked to the back of the property and looked up to the back windows. When he headed back the door opened again and Weasel scurried out into view. They seemed to have some business to do, but Weasel wanted it kept away from his door.
“Yeah, look, thanks for the tip, mate,” I told Mac. “But I have this under control.”
He loaded in the panic. “Where are you, Gus?”
There was no avoiding the concern in his voice, he’d had a change of heart, this whole situation had suddenly got serious enough for Mac the Knife to get involved.
“No dice, Mac.”
I clicked off. And started out for the other side of the street.