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 was somewhere I shouldn’t be. Locked in reverie with my beloved late brother and less-than beloved, but just as late, father.
Michael had the noose round his neck that he’d taken from the clothesline, the one my mother had across her back when Cannis Dury came home out of pocket and pride. Everything was a blur that somehow burned in my eyes and my heart and my head. Someone was screaming but I couldn’t make out who — was it Catherine or my mother? I never heard my sister scream, she was always locked in silence but I knew my mother’s cries all too well. Jesus, who was it?
‘Debs? ... Debs, is that you?’
As I uttered my ex-wife’s name my eyes widened.
I was still in the bar.
A table full of empty glasses.
My heart-rate ramped; I looked about me. Only a few old bluenoses and a dole-mole nursing a pint of heavy.
My mobile was ringing. I dipped a hand in my pocket and took it out. ‘Hello ...’
It was Mac. ‘Jesus, you still on the sauce?’
‘What? ...’ I looked out the window. Blackness. ‘I mean, what time is it?’
Mac’s voice rose, became lyrical. ‘Gone ten anyway ... where are you?’
I had to think, tried to lace up my thought patterns. ‘Portobello ... I paid a visit to Barry’s missus.’
I heard Mac scratching the stubble on his chin. ‘Yeah, I bet that was a waste of shoe leather.’
‘Well ... something like that.’ I felt my head start to reconnect with reality; my mouth had dried over, I drained the last of my warm Guinness.
Mac dropped his voice, tipped in some serious tones. ‘You wanted to know about Shakey and what he had in mind for your friend, Barry ...’
My breathing stilled. ‘You found something?’
‘Well, that depends.’
I knew what Mac’s depends meant. It could be delivered in two instalments. The first was the grim facts. The second was the grim facts and a warning dressed up as advice.
‘Go on then ... spill it.’
Mac drew breath. ‘Shakey has been hearing a few things about your pal, Barry ... things he doesn’t like the sound of.’
I couldn’t see Barry in the same starting blocks as Shakey — the idea that he might be likely to put a chink in Shakey’s armour was laughable. ‘What? How is that even possible?’
Mac’s voice rose. ‘Seems Barry made some very interesting contacts in Saughton. Heavy mob, Irish ...’
Barry was an affable bloke, he could make mates anywhere but he had the nous to shy away from the 40-watt variety of criminal. I hoped he hadn’t latched on to someone as serious as the word ‘Irish’ suggested. ‘What do you mean, heavy?’
‘I mean what I say ... bloody loyalist nut-cases. You know the type.’
I did indeed. The type — if they were over here — were not getting enough action at home. The end of the Troubles didn’t sit well with them so it was over the water to pastures new — expand and conquer, pick a fight.
‘Bloody hell ...’
‘Aye, well, that’s what I thought.’
I sighed into the mobi. ‘What else did you hear?’
‘Jesus, Gus, your pal’s about to kick off a turf war ... with some big-time players, isn’t that enough?’
I couldn’t get my head around it. ‘What do you mean ... what exactly has Barry got himself into, Mac?’
He dropped his voice to a whisper. ‘Gus, he’s planning a job on Shakey’s turf ... but if that’s not bad enough he’s planning it with some Irish hardies and that just doesn’t sit well with a good patriot like Shakey.’
My thoughts started to mash. I could feel a hot band tightening around my skull. ‘We need to find, Barry.’
‘Eh, what’s this we?’
If Mac the Knife was in retreat it was more serious than I imagined. ‘Come on, Mac ... since when did you go pussy on me?’
He laughed. ‘Aye, nice attempt at reverse psychology, mate ... not working.’
He seemed to be moving, I heard a car door open, an ignition bite. ‘No, Gus, you can count me out on this one. I don’t know the guy from Adam but he must be a decent enough sort for you to stick your neck out for him ...’
‘He is ...’
‘Yeah, just don’t go as far as slapping your neck on the chopping block!’
He hung up.