The day hadn’t started the way I’d hoped. I wasn’t late for work, which would have been a bad thing. But I was late for court, which wasn’t too bad a thing. Last couple of days at the High and mighty Court I stood about like the fat kid at the school dance. People skittering past. Nobody meeting my eyes. Sure know how that felt, because I was the fat kid at the school dance. Didn’t hang about, make toast for breakfast or even splash a dash of Old Spice under my oxters or around my neck to make myself human. Made a run for the train station, but was out of puff before I reached the flat of Dumbarton Road.
Needed to pee. Decided to give myself a rest and had a quick breather in The Club Bar which smelled like a municipal toilet. On the corner, near the station, handy for a quick getaway. A working man’s pub. Nipped into the Gents. It tended towards a beginner’s guide to plumbing, a bucket dripping into another bucket. Curtains closed in the main bar to hide the slash marks on the seats, joined dot to dot by blue duct tape. Got chatting to a plasterer I’d worked with when I served my time. Benny hadn’t changed much. Sharp nosed, denim jacket with the collar up. Chirpier than a grasshopper with an Elvis quiff. Couldn’t even get sitting on a barstool or filled my lungs with the new-fangled gizmo of passive smoking, but he’d pushed a half of whisky in front of me. Took a deep breath. Avoided looking at myself in the smudge of gantry mirrors and dived right in. Benny was a great man for believing the barmaid fancied him, telling stories that weren’t always true and buying rounds. Nobody would every call me a chiseller. He bought me a round. I bought him one back. That was the law as we understood it. Besides we were fellow tradesmen. Between half and halves we carefully measured it out. Trains into the town were evenly spaced. And as Benny said raising a glass to his lips, ‘Every twenty minutes. If I left now, I’d be there before I knew it.’
I was in the High Court before I knew it. One of those days when it was pissing down and it puts ticket collectors in Central station on a downer. Everybody looking for shit on their shoes, including the procurator fiscal. Nobody could find me. Should have sneaked away then. Pulled a sickie or whatever the judicial equivalent was. Dodged my way past the cops standing snug indoors guarding a High Court nobody was likely to steal. Made my way towards the room were witnesses sit or if they are feeling a bit woozy sometime pulled a bit of shuteye. Thought a defence lawyer would have kept me right. But he was too busy telling me all the things I’d done wrong.
‘What happened to your face?’ Mr Cameron QC asked in that snooty way, as if I was on trial.
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘It looks worse than it is.’ Lip was cut. Puffed up purple socket gummed over a wet eye. ‘Could happen to anybody.’
‘I’m sure Lord Morrie will be delighted,’ he said. ‘He wants to see you in his chambers. And he wants you to explain personally to him why when your name was called as a witness in a very important Crown case you didn’t appear.’
One of Cameron’s colleagues in a crow black gown passed us standing in the corridor. She slowed to get a proper look at my face before hurrying on.
‘Don’t see it makes any difference. He’ll still get paid big bucks. Go back to his big fancy house. Likes of me’s got to defend myself. That’s why I’m late. When somebody thinks you’re being funny, when you’re no’ tryin’ to be funny, and attacks you and your pal when you’re mindin’ your’re own business ‘n’ lettin’ them mind there’s, well…’ I could see from the expression on his face he didn’t give a toss. But I bumbled on, wagging my fingers at him. ‘The thing is places like this.’ I craned my neck to look at the vaulting ceiling seventy feet above us. ‘They’re no’ built for the likes of me. We’ve got to defend ourselves. They’re built for the likes of you. To protect your property. Your sort. And when I see Lord Muck I’ll fuckin’ tell him that too.’
Q. C. Cameron leaned across and gave me a piece of advice. ‘I’d rather you didn’t. And strongly advise you not to.’
Thought I knew best. Ended up in the cells below the court rooms. Contempt. You bet. Breached all of my human rights. Strip lighting that was always in your face. I planned to take it to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. I was being tortured. Treated like a political prisoner, without the politics. It was like Gautama Bay without the barbed wire. These thoughts were going through my head when the cell door punched open. Charlie boy slipped into the cell beside me. The lock clicking shut behind him. I was sitting with my back against the wall.
‘Whit you wantin?’ I said.
Feet splayed in front of me, he kicked the soles of my feet. ‘Always nice to see a friendly face,’ he said. No need to explain to him they’d taken my shoelaces in case I hanged myself. And my shoes in case I ate them. They don’t give you option A or option B. Tell you all kinds of crap and make you swallow it. When I got to Strasbourg I’d tell them.
‘How the hell did you get in here?’ I asked.
‘Heard you were down here and I just asked.’ He made it sound reasonable. ‘Push along so I can get a seat.’
He slotted in beside me. We sat shoulder to shoulder. He glanced across at me. Chest and belly shuddering and he howled with laugher. ‘You’re such an arsehole,’ he said.
‘Fuck off,’ I said. ‘At least I’m no’ gettin’ tried for murderin’ six or seven women.’
‘True,’ he said, sobering up. ‘But I’m sure they’ll no’ turn up. No bodies. Habeas Corpus. All circumstantial evidence and really it doesn’t amount to cat’s piss.’
Despite myself, I was impressed. Then I remembered—I wasn’t the only one that had overdosed on Crown Court. ‘How come all those beautiful woman fling themselves at you then? Act all funny? Doesnae make any sense.’ He stunk of the cells, of fag smoke and ill-digested food. ‘Is it right enough? You the devil… or just a normal prick like the rest of us?’
He screwed his face up, blotted his lips together. ‘Well, technically I am devilish, since I always get my own way. That’s the difference between me and you Jim. You never asked for anything. I ask and I get. I used to be really jealous of you.’
‘Aye,’ he said, ‘cause Myra thought the sun shone out of your arse. Thought you were great. You could do no wrong.’
‘Don’t talk shite,’ I said.
‘See. There you go again. Think about it for a second?’
I did. ‘You’re still talkin’ shite.’
The cell door banged open. Turnkey stuck his head in. Charlie put his hand on my shoulder to help himself stand.
‘When the time comes,’ he said. ‘Don’t go against me.’
‘I’m no’ scared of you,’ I drawled.
Turnkey looked along the corridor. Jerked his head. Hurrying Charlie out the door. But he hung back in the cell. ‘Aye you ur,’ he said.
I held a finger up. ‘Technically you’re right.’
Cell door slammed, leaving me to unsettled solitude.