The trouble with people like him is that they think that they can brush off people like me. Like I was nothing. They don't understand the type of world we're living in now; all those menaced souls clamouring for attention and recognition. He was a very arrogant young man, so full of himself.
No longer. Now he's groaning, blood spilling thickly from the wounds in his head and his yellow, unfocused eyes are gandering around, desperately trying to find clarity, some meaning in the bleakness, the darkness around him. It must be lonely.
He's trying to speak now. What is it that he is trying to say to me?
Help. Police. Hospital.
Or was it help please hospital? It doesn't really matter, that little point of detail because his life is ebbing away: human existence distilled to begging for the emergency services.
You pushed me away mister. You rejected me. You tricked me and spoiled things between me and my true love. I've seen you before. Long ago, just lying there as you are now. Black, broken, dying. I was glad then and I'm glad now.
I reach into my bag and I pull out my claw hammer.
Part of me is elsewhere as I'm bringing it down on his head. He can't resist my blows. They'd done him in good, the others.
After two fruitless strikes I feel a surge of euphoria on my third as his head bursts open. His blood fairly skooshes out, covering his face like an oily waterfall and driving me into a frenzy; I'm smashing at his head and his skull is cracking and opening and I'm digging the claw hammer into the matter of his brain and it smells but that's only him pissing and shitting and the fumes are sticking fast in the stillwinter air and I wrench the hammer out, and stagger backwards to watch his twitching death throes, seeing him coming from terror to that graceless state of someone who knows that he is definitely falling and I feel myself losing my balance in those awkward shoes and I correct myself, turning and moving down the old stairway into the street.
Out on the pavement it's very cold and totally deserted. I look at a tin-foil carton with a discarded takeaway left in it. Someone has pished in its remains and rice floats on a small freezing reservoir of urine. I move away. The cold has slipped into my bones with every step down the road jarring, making me feel like I'm going to splinter. Flesh and bone seem separate, as if a void exists between them. There's no fear or regret but no elation or sense of triumph either. It's just a job that had to be done.
Woke up this morning. Woke up into the job.
The job. It holds you. It's all around you; a constant, enclosing absorbing gel. And when you're in the job, you look out at life through that distorted lens. Sometimes, aye, you get your wee zones of relative freedom to retreat into, those light, delicate spaces where new things, different, better things can be perceived of as possibles.
Then it stops. Suddenly you see that those zones aren't there any more. They were getting smaller, you knew that. You knew that some day you'd have to get round to doing something about it. When did this happen? The realisation came some time after. It doesn't really matter how long it took: two years, three, five or ten. The zones got smaller and smaller until they didn't exist, and all that's left behind is the residue. That's the games.
The games are the only way you can survive the job. Everybody has their wee vanities, their own little conceits. My one is that nobody plays the games like me, Bruce Robertson. D.S. Robertson, soon to be D.I. Robertson.
The games are always, repeat, always, being played. Most times, in any organisation, it's expedient not to acknowledge their existence. But they're always there. Like now. Now I'm sitting with a bad nut and Toal's thriving on this. I've been fucking busy and he's told me to be here, not asked, mind you, told. I got it all from Ray Lennox who was first on the scene with some uniformed spastics. Aye, I got it all from young Ray but Toal of course needs his audience. Behind the times Toalie boy, be-hind the blessed times.
He paces up and down like one of those fuckin Inspector Morse type of cunts. His briefings are the closest to action the spastic gets. Then he sits back down on his arse, petulant because people are still filing in. Respect and Toal go together like fish and chocolate ice cream, whatever the spastic deludes himself by choosing to think.
I got three sheets last night and this lighting is nipping my heid and my bowels are as greasy as a hoor's chuff at the end of a shift doon the sauna. I fart silently but move swiftly to the other side of the room. The technique is to let the fart ooze out a bit before you head off, or you just take it with you in your troosers tae the next port of call. It's like the fitba, you have to time your runs. My friend and neighbour, Tom Stronach, a professional footballer and a fanny-merchant extraordinaire, knows all about that.
Tom Stronach. Not a magic name. Not a name to conjure with.
Talking of timing, Gus Bain arrives, red-faced fae Crawford's with the sausage rolls. He's passing them around and looking like a spare prick at a hoors' convention as Toal starts his brief. Niddrie's looking on in the usual disapproving manner of the bastard. My fart-gas has wafted over to him. Result! He's waving it away ostentatiously and he thinks it's fucking Toal!
Toal stands up and clears his throat: - Our victim is a young, black male in his early thirties. He was found on Playfair Steps at around five o'clock this morning by council refuse workers. We suspect that he lives in the London area but there is at present no positive identification. D.S. Lennox was down at the morgue last night with me, he says, nodding to young Ray Lennox who wisely keeps his features set in neutrality in order no tae flag himself up as a target for the hatred and loathing which floats aroond this room like a bad fart. My bad fart, most likely.
There was a time when we could exempt each other from that hatred and loathing. Surely there was. I feel a bit light, then it's like my brain starts to birl in my head sending my thoughts and emotions cascading around. I sense them emptying into something approximating a leaky bucket which is drained before I can examine its contents. And Toal's high, sharp voice, reaching into me.
This is where he starts to play silly buggers. - It seems to have been a fruitless night for our friend. He was in the Jammy Joe's disco until three a.m. this morning and went home alone. That was when he was last reported alive. We can perhaps assume that our man felt very much an outsider, alone in a strange city which seemed to have excluded him.
Typical Toal, concerned with the state of mind of the cunt that got murdered. Fancies himself as an intellectual. This is Toal we are talking about here. It would be amusing if it wasn't so fucking tragic.
I bite into my sausage roll. The pepper and the ketchup I normally have with it are up the stairs and it tastes plain and bland without them. That spunk-bag Toal's wrecked my fuckin day already! Wir only jist in the fuckin place!
As my fart retreats via the airvent I clock Niddrie exiting from the door, improving the room's atmosphere in much the same way. Even Toal's sprightlier now. - The man was dressed in blue jeans, a red t-shirt and a black tracksuit top with orange strips on the arms. His hair was cut short. Amanda, Toal gestures to that silly wee lassie Amanda Drummond, who's doing all that she's good for, a psuedo-clerical job, dishing oot copies of the description. Drummond's had her frizzy blonde hair cut short, which makes her look even mair ay a carpet muncher. She has bulging eyes which always give you the impression that she's in shock, and she's hardly any chin; just a sour, twisted mooth which comes out of her neck. She's wearing a long, brown skirt which is too thick to see the pant line through, with a checked blouse and a fawn and brown striped cardigan. I've seen mair meat on a butcher's knife.
I think not.
- Thanks Amanda, Toal smiles, and this crawling wee sow coos back at him. She'd suck his fuckin knob right there in front of us if he asked her tae. No that it'll do her much good; she'll be away soon, some cunt'll knock her up the duff and that'll be her playin at being polis over.
- Our murder victim left the nightclub and . . . Toal continues, but Andy Clelland cuts in on a wind-up: - Boss, a wee point of order. Maybe we shouldnae stigmatise the guy by referring to him by such a pejorative term as victim?
You have to raise your glass to Clell, he always hits home. Toal looks a bit doubtful, and Amanda Drummond's nodding supportively, completely unaware that he's taking the pish.
- The cunt's fuckin well deid, disnae matter what ye call um now, Dougie Gillman says under his breath. I chuckle and Gus Bain does n aw.
- Sorry Dougie? Care to share that with us? Toal smiles sarcastically.
- Naw gaffer, s'awright. It's nothing, Gillman shrugs. Dougie Gillman has short brown hair, narrow, cold blue eyes and a big, powerful jaw you could break your fingers on. He's about my height, five-eight, but is as wide as he is tall.
- Perhaps, craving your indulgence gentlemen, Toal says coldly, now trying to stamp his authority on the proceedings in Niddrie's absence, - we might continue. The deceased was probably making his way towards hotel accommodation on the South Side of the city. We've a team out checking the hotels for someone of his description. Assuming that was the case, the route he took to get there was interesting. We all know that there are certain places you shouldn't go to in a strange city after dark, Toal raises his thick, straggly eyebrows, slipping back into his showboating mode, - places like dark alleys where the ambience of such surroundings might incite even a reasonable person to perpetrate an evil deed.
The self-indulgent cunt's on one of his trips the day alright. Thinks that we're a bunch of fuckin bairns tae be spooked by his bedtime stories.
- Now that twisting staircase which is the city's umbilical cord connecting the Old Town with the New Town is one such place, he says, pausing dramatically.
Umbilical fuckin cord! It's a fuckin stair you fucking clown. S-T-A-I-R. I know that spazwit's crack; the bastard wants tae be a fuckin scriptwriter. I ken this because I got a sketch of what he had up on his VDU when he went to answer a private phone-call in the quiet anteroom from his office. He was trying to write a telly or film script or some shite. In police time as well. Lazy cunt's got nowt better tae dae, and on his salary too. That shit-bag leads a charmed life, I kid you not.
As he began his ascent, perhaps the victim pondered this. Did he know the city? Possibly, otherwise he might not have known of this short-cut. But surely, had he known about it, alone, and at that time in the morning, he'd have thought twice about climbing it. That staircase, too dangerous and urine-soaked for even the most desperate jakeys to crash in. The guy must have felt fear. He didn't act on that fear. Is fear not the way of telling you that something's wrong? Like pain? Toal speculates. People shuffle around nervously, and even Amanda Drummond has the good grace to look embarrassed at this. Andy Clelland stifles a laugh by coughing. Dougie Gillman's eyes are on Karen Fulton's erse, which is not a bad place for them to be.
Toal's so intae his ain shit though, he's totally oblivious tae all this. The ring is his and he doesnae want tae spoil his own fun by going for a knockout punch so early. - Maybe he felt it was all paranoia, distortion of emotion. Then the voices. He must have heard them coming, at that time of night you'd be bound to hear people on these steps.
No, he wants us to throw in the towel. Sorry Toalie, but it's not the Bruce Robertson style. Let's joust. - Nae eye witnesses? I ask, glad that I omitted that term 'gaffer'. That fucker's my boss in name only.
- Not as yet Bruce, he says curtly, upset at having his flow interrupted. That's Toal; have a wank in our faces, never mind those wee practical details that might actually help get whoever topped this coon banged up.
- Then they were on him and they kicked him down to a recess in the stairs where a savage beating took place. One of the assailants, only one, went further than the others and struck the man with an implement. Forensic already say that the injuries left are consistent with those that would be made by a hammer wielded at force. This assailant did this repeatedly, caving in the man's skull and driving the implement into his brain. As I said earlier, our friends in the council cleansing department found the body.
Your friends in the council cleansing department Toal. I have no scaffy friends.
- Left him lying like rubbish, Gus shakes his head.
- Maybe he wis rubbish.
Fuck. That slipped out. I shouldnae have said that. They're all looking at me. - Tae the scumbag that did him, like, I add.
- Are you postulating that it was a racially motivated attack Bruce? Drummond quizzes, her mouth twisting downwards in a slow, agonised movement. Karen Fulton looks encouragingly at her, then at me.
- Eh, aye, I say. That starts them chattering, too loudly for them to notice that my teeth are doing the same. This fuckin hangover. This fuckin place. This fuckin job.