Authors: Craig Robertson
They made their way down another flight of stairs along an identical corridor to the one above, picking their way through a small group of men sitting on the floor, sharing
cider from a bottle and smoking roll-ups in the gloom. None of them seemed aware of the cops strolling by, or of much at all. The door to a communal toilet and shower area opened as an old man
lurched out, pools of what might have been water or urine on the floor behind him, and an almighty stink overrode even the smell of the corridor.
The TV room held maybe a dozen men, most slumped over or holding each other up. All were old before their time and the truly old ones looked ancient, like drunken Methuselahs. A single TV screen
on the wall held the attention of a couple of them but most stared into space or argued over cigarettes. Empty bottles of cider, vodka and Buckfast were spilled round the room and others were on
their way to joining them.
Doig signalled for Narey and Toshney to stay where they were and went over to a corner where a small, neat man, much more awake than his brethren, sat reading a book. Doig bent down to talk to
him and gestured over to where the cops stood.
âAnd I thought zombies didn't exist,' Toshney muttered as he looked round the room. âJust made up pish, I thought, but they've been here all the time.'
âShut up, Toshney. A bit of respect wouldn't kill you. Right, looks like we're in.'
The man in the chair was nodding and Doig thanking him with a pat on his arm before standing up and going back over to the cops.
âThat's Walter. He's sober and he'll talk to you. That's all I can do though. You'll find your own way out?'
âSure.' She was already past Doig and heading for the old man, Toshney following closely behind. He was aware of the looks that Narey was getting from some of the more awake
residents and was uneasy about it. Still, he got the feeling the DI was in the mood to defend herself without much problem.
âWalter? I'm Rachel Narey.' She held out a hand and the man shook it. âMickey said why I'm here?'
âHe did, lass. Not that I couldn't see you were police. What do you want to know? I'm not a grass. Can't be seen to be one either.'
Walter looked to be about seventy, so Narey guessed him to be five, maybe ten years younger than that. His eyes were busy but dulled, giving the impression of a sharp mind that had been blunted
by booze. His shirt, the collar showing signs of fraying, was buttoned to the neck and he wore a heavy V-neck sweater over it, the sleeves rolled double at the wrists to make them fit. His shoes
were worn but recently polished. Everything was as trim and in place as he could manage.
âWe're not asking you to grass on anybody, Walter,' she assured him. âThe man we're looking for is dead.'
Walter's eyes slid over and he shook his head. âWe're all dying. I don't mean people generally. I don't mean Glasgow. I mean
in here. Killing ourselves
right enough but no one cares enough to do anything about it. There's a guy in here who . . . you got time to hear this?'
Narey nodded for both of them. She had time to listen.
âA guy in here named wee Sammy McClune. Nicest wee fella you could ever meet. Do anything for anybody. Get your shopping. Go and see your mammy or your daughter and tell them you're
doing okay. Slip you a bit of cigarette when you're short. A gentleman. Always time for everybody, you know? And the best mouth-organ player this side of the Rio Grande. Could play a moothie
like Stradivarius could play a fiddle. What most folk don't know is that Sammy had a wee boy that died the day he was born. Broke Sammy's heart. Broke his marriage too and sent him into
a bottle of vodka. Then another one. Couldn't find his way out. Sammy died two days ago. We're
dying in here, Miss Narey. Every one of us.'
Narey didn't have the words. Her heart was breaking but she knew the man didn't want her sympathy and she sure as hell couldn't tell him anything would be all right. Instead,
she nodded with all the understanding she had and repeated the description she'd given to Doig.
Walter thought on it, his right hand massaging at his temples. âWasn't a drinker or a junkie, you say? Few of those men on the streets and that's for sure. There was a guy a
while back though . . . Aye, it could be him, I suppose.'
Her pulse quickened as she sensed a light in the dark. âWho was he, Walter?'
âA young guy. Young to me anyway. Under forty for sure. He just stayed a few nights. Didn't seem the type for this place, you know? He maybe took a wee drink but no like the guys in
here. No like me. And he wasn't a junkie. I called him the Saint on account of him being sober. He asked a lot of questions. Wanted to know how the place worked.'
âAnd you told him?'
âCourse I did, lass. Like I said, he didn't seem the type. You need to learn the ropes quick in here or you'll never survive. Guys think you're soft they'll break
into your room in the middle of the night and take your smokes or your booze, whatever they can get. I told the Saint to watch himself. You think it's him? Jesus, I hope I'm
Walter leaned in closer before Narey could reply and she managed to bite on her impatience and let him speak.
âWhat happened to him? If it wasn't the sauce or that junk they put into themselves?'
She didn't want to lie to the old man but she couldn't tell him the truth either. Not all of it at least. âWe're not sure yet, Walter. Looks like he was
The man closed his eyes again and he pinched at the top of his nose. It was a small age before he spoke. âNo wonder I drink, hen. No wonder we all drink or get stoned or whatever.
What's the point in staying sober when that's all the good it does you. He was a decent laddie, that one, compared to some. What's the point in being decent if you get yourself
killed? And wee Sammy's McClune's baby. Never done harm to a soul, never had the chance. See some of them in here? Bad bastards, pardon my language. We all die just the same, good and
bad. No wonder I take a drink.'
Narey could see the thirst growing in the man as she looked at him. Walter wasn't going to finish this day as sober as he was now.
âWhat can you tell me about this guy, Walter? When was he last here? Do you know what his name was?'
âLast here?' Walter looked surprised at the question. âHen, I'm no very good with dates. Head's too muddled with the drink if I'm honest. I think his name was
. . . hell, let me think. Like I said, I called him . . . Wait. Brian. That's it, Brian. That's what he told me anyhow.'
âI don't suppose you know his surname?'
Walter laughed. âHen, you've had all the memory I've got left.'
Narey nodded, her hand resting on the old man's arm. âThanks, Walter. You've been a big help.'
The man's eyes were moist now. âSee if you can find out what happened to him, Miss Narey? Will you? If they start killing the saints, what chance have us sinners got?'
âI'll do my best, Walter.'
âAnd, Miss Narey . . . I wouldn't normally ask but . . . all thisâ'
âDon't worry about it, Walter. I understand.' She opened the hand that was resting on his arm just long enough for him to see the two twenty-pound notes that were in it. She
then pressed them quietly into the man's fist.
He looked up gratefully and managed a weak smile. âThanks, lass.'
Narey and Toshney were making their way back down the stairwell, avoiding fresh dumps of vomit, when he spoke.
âBoss, hope you don't mind me asking. But you do know he's just going to spend that money you gave him on getting plastered, right?'
She turned on him and he took half a step back despite himself, shoved there by the anger that was pouring out of her.
I do, Fraser. Like he said, it's no wonder he takes a drink. Living in a place like this, in a world like this. If it was my dad . . . well I'd rather he was
sober than drunk but if he was a drunk then I'd rather someone bought him a fucking drink. I just gave Walter another reason to be drunk by telling him about this. Least I can do is pay for
They stopped by the front desk on the way out and Narey wasn't in the mood to go round the houses this time. She told Cochrane that she wanted to look at their register to see if they had
anyone signed in by the name of Brian.
âI don't think I can do that.'
She smiled, glad of the challenge. âOh I think you can. Or else you can just give me the excuse to rip your head off and shove it up your arse.'
He stared back at her for a few moments, trying to think of a way to argue. Finally, he gave in. âYou may as well. It's all public record anyway. I don't remember any guy
called Brian though.'
âDo you really care what their names are?' Her insinuation was paper-thin. Cochrane just glared back and pushed the open register towards her.
She went back four weeks and saw no one named Brian. Five weeks, the same result. Then there it was, one entry six weeks back, a booking that only lasted for four nights. The name beside it was
âWhat about this guy?' She pointed at the name. âRemember him?'
Cochrane shrugged. âMaybe.'
âSo tell us!'
âIf it's the guy I'm thinking of, he told us he'd lost his job and been thrown out by his wife. He said he'd be signed up for housing benefit by the end of the
week. It never came through and he didn't stay long.'
âFive eleven with reddish hair?'
âI think so. Aye.'
âDid you check for a previous address? See any ID?'
Cochrane laughed sourly. âWhy would anyone? Who would anyone want to stay in here if they didn't have to?'
It wasn't unusual for Narey to want to wash off the dirt of a day on the streets but this one demanded it more than most. She stood in the shower for fully fifteen
minutes letting it soak her, lathering herself so much that her feet stood in a pool of bubbles. Staring up into the needles of the shower, she took the hit on her face and let the water run down
into her open mouth.
She could feel her fists clenching and forced herself to open her hands wide. She placed them palm first against the tiled shower wall. Being angry wasn't helping but she couldn't
shake it off. She slapped her hands against the tiles and liked the sound of it, so did it again.
She stood long enough to calm down. The anger was all still there, curled up and smouldering inside her like a sleeping dragon, but she was fairly sure that she was in control of it. For now at
Wrapped up in a towelling robe, she marched into the front room and dropped heavily onto the sofa. Air rushed from her and her eyes closed over. She wanted wine. It wasn't a good idea
though, given that her head was as muddled as it already was.
âGlass of wine?' Tony, mind-reader and bad influence, was sitting in the chair opposite.
âYes. I mean no. No.' She didn't open her eyes. âAnd I really mean no. But thanks.'
âOkay. Want to talk about it instead? I'm guessing it was a bad one.'
Her eyes flicked open but her hesitancy was obvious. There was a line. One or other of them had first joked that it was police crime scene tape and it was there to keep him out. The line had
been set a long time ago but they both knew it had become blurred since then. The choice of ditching it altogether was hers though.
âUp to you? Tell me as much or as little as you want.'
She sighed heavily and rubbed at her eyes. âOkay. But only because this is therapy and an alternative to wine.'
âYou know the Rosewood Hotel?'
âThe dosshouse? I've never been in it but yes. I know of it.'
âOf course you've never been in it, why would you? And you don't want to, believe me. It's a hellhole. And it's not a dosshouse, it's a bloody waiting room.
Just full of people waiting to die.'
He couldn't miss the emotion in her voice. She was in a bad way and he needed to tread carefully, for her sake, not his.
âCan the owners not be done for something if it's as bad as that?'
âLet's hope so. They will be if I can find something to stick on them.'
âWant to tell me why you were there?'
Another big sigh. âOh why not? It's the Molendinar case. We think our man had been living in there for a while. Poor bastard is almost better off dead than being in there. Shit, I
don't mean that. Long, long day.'
Winter's itch pulsed. The guy in the burn. The guy lying under the streets. The voice that he couldn't quite hear.
âSo you think the guy in the tunnel had been homeless?'
âLooks that way. We think he'd only been in there for four nights though. God knows where he'd been staying the rest of the time. But that place . . . Everyone in this city
should be ashamed that it's there. We all just shut our eyes and pretend that places like that - people like that - don't exist. Well they do. It made my skin crawl. It made me . . . so
He wanted to ask a hundred questions. He wanted to know everything but he was also wary of her shutting down, pointing at the police tape and telling him not to cross. The voice in his head had
become quieter. He didn't know anyone who was homeless. At least he didn't think he did.
But he heard something else too in what she was saying. Her anger wasn't just at the Rosewood. He knew it was also at places like it, places where people were left to be forgotten, left to
die. He crossed to the sofa and sat with his arm round her.
She made a half-hearted effort to push him away but quickly gave in, her head slumping onto his shoulder. âI'm supposed to be professional,' she protested. âSupposed to
be detached. Can you just imagine all those sods in the station if they knew how this got to me?'