There is a vacancy in the way Tony looks out the car window at the sweep of tenement building they pass and a sense of unease that they are going in the wrong direction, away from Clydebank, but he’s too tired to think and sinks into the padding of the chair and his eyes close.
‘C’mon son.’ The engine has been left running and the heater keeps the car toasty warm, but there is a draught from the door, the front seat pulled forward. ‘We’re here.’ The policeman with the nice brown eyes reaches in and scoops Tony’s sleeping body up from the seat and lifts him up out of the car and onto the pavement in front of a Police Station. Usually, Tony would have complained about being treated like an infant, but he quite liked being close enough to whiff aftershave that reminds him of his da’s and the contact makes him feel calmer. The policeman's partner, leaves them standing, and drives the car around the back of the two-storey blackened sandstone monument to law and disorder.
They push through the swing doors into the building. A phone rings on the bar of the front desk. A policeman with a grey side-shed haircut over his pale forehead, wearing a white shirt and tie picks up the receiver. ‘Partick Divison, Tom Lawson here, how can I help you?’ A fag dangles from his lip. He screws up his eyes at them as they pass.
A hand on Tony’s shoulder guides him along corridors, high roofs with the stalk of bulbs outlining piss-coloured and flimsy panelled walls diving the building into doors with desks behind them. They come to a kitchen area, a scatter of formica tables, ashtrays overflowing and tubular grey polyurethane chairs on a tiled floor. Rubbish, crisp bags and fag packets fall from the bin situated underneath the window, hooked inward, to let in some air, but the radiator on the wall means its stifling hot. An officer with ginger hair, his tie askew and top button of his shirt undone, holds court. He half sits on the edge of the sink and shares an ashtray with the other two policemen both of whom look younger than him, one with a pimply forehead, the other a crew cut that leaves a bluish stubble like a tattoo on his head.
‘I said to the stupid cunt, yeh cannae pish there.’ The ginger haired glances at Tony and the policeman escorting him, but continues on with his story. ‘“Where kin I pish then?” he said to me and I said, I dunno, up a close or something and I let him go. He wanders away. And the next thin’ I turn ‘round and he’s peeing up against a traffic light on a pedestrian crossing. He sees me comin’ and pulls up his fly. “It’s alright,” he says, “I checked, red light, it said don’t walk but it didnae say don’t pee”. The explosion of laughter makes the ginger-haired man’s eye crinkle and he pushes his bum off the sink and stands up. ‘Scott, you want in here?’ He’s smaller than the policeman with Tony, but somehow to the boy, perhaps because of his sharp broken nose seems bigger.
‘Aye, that would be good Alan,’ Scott says. ‘Need to make the wee man a hot chocolate or something.’ He nods in Tony’s direction.
‘You’ll be lucky,’ the plukey faced policeman says and points at the fridge, ‘the milk’s—’and shakes his head and makes a face.
‘And there’s nae biscuits,’ says the policeman with the close crop in a doleful tone. ‘No’ even a Custard Cream.’
‘Fuck off you, wae your Customer Creams!’ Alan slaps his companion playfully on the shoulder, and they laugh together.
‘Whit’s he done anyway?’ Alan guides his audience’s attention away from himself to Tony standing outside the kitchen, and the bright shine of eyes makes the boy stares at his feet. He hears the punchline, in a ragged, laughing tone, ‘Chasing the women?’ And Tony’s cheeks pink and burn. Alan takes a few steps and squeezes the boy’s shoulder in commiseration and includes him in his act. ‘Whit’s his name anyway?’
Scott has slipped into the corridor between fridge, cupboards and sink, fills the kettle and plugs it in. ‘Eh, dunno, he’s no’ said yet. Didnae want to hurry him.’
‘Fuckin’ hell.’ Alan struts, pigeon chested. ‘A few of the high, heid yins willnae be happy wae that. You’ve had him in here…’ and he looks at his companions, ‘all of ten minutes and you’ve no even got him on a charge sheet and you’re offerin’ him tea and biscuits! That’s an official reprimand in anybody’s book.’
‘There’s nae biscuits,’ the pimply-faced cop says and grins.
The kettle boils and Scott rinses with cold water two mugs brown ringed with tannin and searches the shelves in the cupboards for t-bags.
‘Whit’s your name son, anyway?’ the pimply faced cop asks.
‘You got a second name?’
He answers with adult seriousness. ‘Connelly.’
‘So whit are you here for?’ The jovial tone is deflated.
Tony considers before answering. ‘I was lookin’ for my da’. He’s no’ been home.’ His shoulders jerk and he starts crying.
‘How long, son?’ Alan asks, a note of commiseration in his voice.
‘Four days and nights.’
‘And where do you stay?’
‘726 Dumbarton Road.’
‘Jeez,’ says the plukey faced policeman. ‘Sounds like a great bet for the body we found on the Clyde.’
‘Shut up, yah stupid cunt.’ Alan spits out. ‘You’ve got about as much brains as plant food.’ He gestures towards the boy.
Clink of mugs, Scott stoops shoulders, to keep tea from spilling, guides him towards a table at the back, pushing and sheltering Tony from his colleagues.
Scott’s knees poke under the table as he sits close sideways close enough to Tony that they graze his leg. He blows on the tea. ‘Sorry, there’s nae milk.’ He pushes the sugar bowl from the centre of the table towards him. A tarnished silver spoon stands upright in the bowl. He takes a deep breath and searches his pockets and lights a Woodbine. Dragging deep on it, he apologises, watching Tony sip cautiously at the tea. ‘That thing he said, don’t listen to him. But,’ he pauses to take another draw on his cigarette, and coughs, ‘you’re too young to be on your own, so we need to get your mum to come and pick you up. Don’t suppose you’re on the phone?’
‘Nah. And my mum’s deid.’
‘Jesus,’ he says, temporarily beaten. ‘Whit about an auntie or uncle?’
‘I dunno where they stay.’
He rests the tip of Woodbine in the ashtray acrid smoke coming from it with other jumbled douts, colouring the air grey. He flicks his sleeve up and glances very quickly at his wristwatch and sighs. Well, we’ll need to get a social worker here.’ He peers down at him. ‘You know whit a social worker is?’
‘Aye,’ he says, a note of defiance in his voice. ‘we had one before’.
Out of the side of his eyes Scott watches the other policemen drift away. He leans back in his chair, stretching, makes a sign to Alan, pointing at the cigarette-tained ceiling and mimicking holding a phone to his ear. Alan signals he’s understood with a nod. Scott leans in again. ‘This social worker, don’t suppose you remember her name?’
‘Marie. That was her name. She was nice.’
‘Don’t suppose you remember her second name.’
Tony sips at his tea and shoves the mug aside. ‘Nah, she didnae have a second name.’
‘Fine. You did good. You did really good. Let’s hope we can get Marie here to take care of you.’
Tony’s eyes narrow. ‘Whit happens if she cannae, can I come home with you, or you gonnae lock me up in the cells?’
Scott laughs and his mood lightens. ‘Aye, you could come home with me, I’m sure my wife would love you, but I don’t think that’s allowed.’ He rustles the back of Tony’s hair as if he’s a dog. ‘And the only people we put in the cells downstairs are stupid people. And you certainly aren’t that. You’re a very brave wee boy.’