By Stephen Thom
Shu-Kee Leung sat rigid on the armchair in his living room. A tumbler of whisky sat on the circular side table to his left. A cigarette smouldered in an ashtray. He reached for it absent-mindedly, fumbling the tip between his lips.
Zhi Ruo and Bai Li burst into the living room, and he flinched. The two children chased each other round the dining table, laughing and shouting. Zhi Ruo fell onto a stray cushion and Bai Li was on top of him, reaching underneath his stomach, trying to wrest a ball from his hands.
Leung took a long drag and exhaled. Hui Yin barrelled in after the children. She lifted Bai Li from Zhi Ruo's back. Leung heard the phone ringing as he watched his wife scolding the children. He shifted in his chair, made to grab the whisky tumbler, and knocked it onto the floor.
Hui Yin looked at him. The kids screamed and flapped at each other. The phone spat a shrill buzz. A puddle of amber fluid sunk into the carpet. Leung swallowed, stood, and walked through to the hall, avoiding Hui Yin's gaze. His legs felt weak and shaky, and by the time he reached the phone he wanted to be sitting again.
The hallway was dim. His shadow moved as a warped marionette on the wall below the staircase. He pressed the receiver to his ear and listened. He nodded, grunted, and moved to the front door. The twisty phone cable strained. He tilted his head, wedged the receiver between his cheek and shoulder, and parted the blinds.
A black Buick was parked out front. He muttered into the phone, backtracked down the hall and replaced the receiver. Glancing into the living room, he watched Hui Yin. She was sitting cross-legged on the carpet now, talking patiently to the children. Their heads bobbed and they giggled.
Afternoon sun spilled through the windows, washing a warm yellow rectangle over the little arrangement of humans he had found in this world. These humans he had found, out of all the humans in the history of all time.
No-one was paying him any attention.
He looked at the whisky stain on the floor.
He pulled on his jacket and walked out the door.
The chunky driver watched him in the rearview mirror. Leung cracked a window and chain smoked, flicking butts into the traffic. They turned onto Marchmont Road and cut through the Meadows. Leung watched couples lazing in the grassy fields as they slid by, enjoying a rare bit of sun. Picnics. Folk walking their dogs. Folk jogging. A rabble of pasty-faced jaikies slouched by the fence near the public toilets, passing a cider bottle round. He sniffed. Pictured the girl on the floor in the Annabel. Hanging down the stairwell. He blinked rapidly, smoked desperately.
They passed into Tollcross and edged down a row of Victorian tenements on the west side of Leven Street. The driver pulled over and opened the door for Leung. He was taken up a dank, narrow stairwell to a second floor flat.
The interior of the flat was dark. Curtains blotted out the bright afternoon. Suitcases and bags were stacked by the entrance to the living room. Mr Hasin and the man who'd worn the white t-shirt were sitting in armchairs, smoking in the murk. The man was wearing a black shirt now. Mr Hasin smiled warmly at Leung and raised a hand to beckon him in. The driver remained slouched in the doorway.
'Shu-Kee!' Mr Hasin said. 'How good of you to repay your debt. Does it feel good to be free of it? Debt weighs on a man. It is like an albatross.'
Leung was silent. His eyes drifted to the man in the black shirt. Mr Hasin tapped his cigarette over the ashtray on the armchair rest.
'There are always beginnings, Shu-Kee,' he said.
The man in the black shirt intertwined his fingers and stretched his arms, pressing his cojoined palms outwards.
'A knife taken from the Dragonara Hotel has been left in the Annabel's office, along with the slip of paper you wrote your name and address on. The amount in your workplace locker has been padded,' he said.
Leung thought of the Dragonara Hotel. His tables, his tips. He doubted he would have a job for much longer. He found himself nodding, like he was agreeing; like he was saying how clever, how resourceful.
He knew his bravery, his heart had been tested, and the results were pitiful. He felt numb, confused and carried along in an unstoppable current. Perhaps he was brave. Perhaps he did not want to sit at the dining table opposite Hui Yin every evening and hear about her boring day. Perhaps did not want to tell Zhi Ruo to chew with his mouth shut during every meal.
'It wasn't supposed to happen,' the man in the black shirt said. 'She wasn't... it wasn't supposed to happen like that.'
Leung lowered his gaze. Perhaps he did not want to ferry steaks with peppercorn sauce and glasses of Rioja to entitled fucks anymore. Perhaps he wanted everything to go tits up. Perhaps he wanted to hang bodies from stairwells more than he realised.
Mr Hasin rose from the armchair and crossed the room. The driver nodded to him, picked up two suitcases, and disappeared into the corridor.
'Everything is levelled out, Shu-Kee,' Mr Hasin said. 'You should feeled cleansed. There are always beginnings. Change. Change is the most exciting concept available to man. Change, the possibility of change. You have performed wonderfully, and under some duress. You should feel cleansed. Come, we shall drop you back home.'
He rubbed Leung's shoulder lightly and brushed past him, out into the corridor. Leung's bottom lip quivered.
'It's enough,' the man in the black shirt said. 'It gives us time.'
He rose and grabbed a bag. Leung heard the front door opening behind him. He stood staring at the milky, blockish trails leaking onto the carpet from the gaps at the edges of the curtains. It was as if the lining of the world was unravelling in soft threads.
John 'Paddy' Reilly sat on a beer keg in the Annabel's cellar. He sucked in air through his teeth. Twelve men were crammed into the cramped, chilly area. They straddled kegs and leaned against the cage bars. A maze of coloured tubing threaded from the keg couplers on the walls. Fobs danced in the cellarbuoys. Gas hissed.
Jimmy Roccio was talking. Reilly wasn't focusing but he heard big words. Family. Redemption. Loyalty. He swigged from a bottle and his throat burned. A thin juicy thread snaked down his stubbled chin. He jerked his arm up and smashed the bottle onto the floor.
Jimmy Roccio flinched. He stopped speaking. Men shuffled, glancing at one another. Reilly stood, crunching in shards of glass. He wore a full-length black Crombie coat. A Hibs lapel pin on his green-and-white striped tie. His grey-flecked hair was greased into a side-parting.
'I fucking saw her. I saw her at lunchtime. Stopped by the office to sign paychecks, didn't I? Came back in the evening... found her. Found her hanging in the fucking stairwell.'
He spat. A fob rattled on the wall. The ice machine crunched as it dispensed a fresh load.
'My fucking daughter. My fucking daughter.'
The cellar was silent. Someone coughed. Reilly ran his fingers through his hair and blinked back tears. His voice croaked when he spoke again.
'They tried to make it look like she'd fucking... like she'd... why the fuck would she do something like that? Pauline? My Pauline, my little girl, a fucking... carefree... '
He drifted off and slumped back onto the keg. Roccio handed him a fresh bottle. He swigged and spat.
'And an empty fucking safe. They must think we're... they must think we're fucking mugs.'
He lapsed into silence again. Most of the men in the cellar bowed their heads. The sight of Paddy Reilly in this state was a shock to most of them. They all knew his heritage. His history. Nobody fucked with Paddy Reilly.
Reilly had been a big player on the city scene for years now. He had influence. Sway. He mingled with the demi-monde. He mingled with other high powered businessmen; some of who operated only just within the law, and others who orbited a great deal outside of its reach. He'd invested in pubs and clubs down the years, sometimes saunas. Walkers - a nightspot in Shandwick Place - and the Teenage Club on South Bridge came first. A profitable partnership with fellow 'entrepreneur' Peter Williamson saw them launch the International Club on Princes Street and the Grafia Club, a casino, in Tollcross.
The men in the cellar knew he carried a rolled-up brollie, rain or shine. The point of the umbrella was sharpened and blackened so no-one would notice. He tended to slip a sharpened screwdriver inside the folds.
Nobody fucked with Paddy Reilly.
Yet here he was, bubbling on a beer keg in a cold cellar. Jimmy Roccio hovered. He seemed to be waiting to see if there was more to come. Nooses of snot ran from Reilly's nose and Roccio turned to the assembled group. His eyes darted around and he scratched at his cheek.
'A man named Shu-Kee Leung's been arrested. Japanese lad, waiter at the Dragonara. Polis found a note with his details in the office. A knife from the Dragonara. Four thousand in his work locker. Looks cast in stone. Being held at St. Leonard's station the now.'
The cellar door swung open and everyone looked round. A glaikit boy wearing a black shirt and apron bustled in, froze, and started backing out. Roccio threw his hands up.
'Fuck you want?'
'Deuchar's is off,' the boy mumbled.
'Fuck the Deuchar's,' Roccio hissed.
The boy tripped retreating. Roccio squeezed past crates of wine and slammed the cage door. Rustling in his pockets, he produced an enormous set of keys and locked it. He turned and glanced at Reilly, sat hunched on the keg in the corner. His eyes were red and scored with lines. He'd bitten into his lip, and blood trickled from the puncture.
A man wedged between two kegs raised his hand tentatively.
'Did you say a note with his details was in the office?' He said.
Roccio shot him a glare, but Reilly interrupted.
'That's what he fucking said, wasn't it? Do you want me to draw you a fucking picture?'
The man fidgeted with his shirt collar. All eyes were on him.
'No, it's nothing, I just... it seems a bit on the nose, doesn't it? Why would you leave a - '
'Sorry, are you his fucking lawyer?' Reilly snapped.
The man sat down on a keg and drew his shoulders in, making himself small.
'We'll sort it out with the night officers,' Roccio said. He walked forward, threading between kegs, looking each man in the eye. 'Two folk to pay Leung a visit tonight.'
Men clenched their jaws and stuck their chests out. The toilet door opened across from the cellar. They heard a burst of gruff laughter and profanities. Two old men stared at them through the cage door as they walked past and hurried on up the stairs. Roccio turned to Reilly.
'Paddy. Who you for?'
Reilly looked up and scanned the cellar. He drank. He flapped an arm towards a heavy-set older man hidden at the back, near the ice machine.
Several men stepped aside and Davey Turnbull lumbered forward. His head was a hefty block atop his shoulders. He appeared to have no neck.
Reilly rose. He swayed a little and peered amongst the small group. His eyes fell on a skinny lad sitting by a beer puddle at the base of the wall. He wiped the back of his hand under his nose and moved forward.
'You, you wee shite. I've heard about you rucking. I ken about you and your fucking hammer. Do some real fucking work.'
The lad's cheek twitched. His left foot rattled nervously on the concrete floor. Men stared down at him dubiously. He was slight and waspish. His hands were frail and there were spidery tattoos on his knuckles. He pressed his chin into his chest and avoided their collective gaze.
Reilly looked at Roccio.
'Jimmy, get on to St Leonard's. Ask for Lyle. Or McIntyre. Whatever it takes.'
Davey Turnbull was heading for the cage door. On the way past he looked down and nodded to the lad sitting on the floor.
'Sim. Come on.'
The lad sniffed. He pulled himself up, rolled the stiffness from his shoulders, and slouched after Turnbull, chewing his nails.
Roccio unlocked the cage door. As he swung it open, Reilly called out to them.
'Keep it clean. You know how to make it look.'
Turnbull raised a single hand in acknowledgement, his back turned. The cage door screeched as it closed.