Authors: Ray Banks
for preferring bloody violence to bloody sex.
Published by Blasted Heath, 2012
copyright © 2007 Ray Banks
First published as
by Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn, 2007
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission of the author.
Ray Banks has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cover photo by Vitaliy Urazov
Cover design by JT Lindroos
Formatting by Jason G. Anderson
Visit Ray Banks at:
ISBN (ePub): 978-1-908688-33-0
“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”
“So, Callum, how are things?”
“Things are fine, Mr Burgess.”
Derek Burgess is another in a long line of people with a feigned interest in my mental health. He's about my age, he's never heard a decent song in his life and it shows. I've been seeing him for the past thirty months, and he's worn the same outfit to every appointment: that dull grey suit — jacket on the chair behind him — the white shirt, dark blue tie that doesn't quite match. He looks like a probation officer. Which is precisely what he is.
“All this time, you still don't call me Derek,” he says. His fingers are normally in a state of motion. This time is no different; he's bending a paperclip out of shape, smoothing it into a straight metal rod. Normally he'll bend it back to its original shape, but he's set it aside for a purpose.
“Think of it as a sign of respect,” I say.
“Or a sign of distrust.” Burgess uses one end of the mangled paperclip to dig some unseen dirt from underneath his fingernail. The faint clicking sound makes my teeth itch.
“Either way, it's a little late to start getting pally now, isn't it?”
“Mm. I suppose so.”
Burgess lays the paperclip on the desk just so. Then he scratches at a razor burn above his collar before he looks down at my notes. Our early appointments were textbook examples in how to knock the ex-con down a peg or two. I came out with a proper prison-hard attitude and Burgess had all the condescension to combat it. As we progressed I dropped the sneer — it required too much energy to maintain — but Burgess stayed as patronising as ever. It's the curse of the civil servant. They find a behaviour that works, they'll stick to it come hell or high water. All the better to keep that line in the dirt clear: I am the one in charge here, and you are the criminal. So I've kept the formality, calling him Mr Burgess while he addresses me by my court name. Gives Burgess the power trip he needs in a thankless fucking job and it lets me sit here without suffering bullshit questions.
“You're still working for Paul Gray?” he says. Still nose-deep in my file. I wonder what they have in there, apart from my record. Vital statistics. Whatever probation officers doodle while they talk.
“Paulo,” I say.
Burgess looks up. “Sorry?”
“His name's Paulo. And yeah, I'm still working for him.”
“How's that going?”
“Fine, good. As well as can be expected, y'know.”
“It's steady employment?”
“As a rock.”
I'm not lying to him. The PI days are over, if they'd ever been there in the first place. I've been concentrating my energies on caretaker work, whatever errand Paulo needs me to run. Sweeping floors, picking up the focus pads, grunt work. Whatever pays the bills and keeps me clean. Because God knows, being on licence isn't all it's cracked up to be. Probation's a barbed wire leash. And I've already felt it dig into my throat once before.
No, all I need now is for people to leave me alone, let me get on with the simple life and stop questioning me about my state of mind. Since I got back from Newcastle, that's been the hot topic with Paulo and it's got so I'm second-guessing myself. That'll lead to full-on senility if I let it. So sack that.
“You plan to keep working at the boxing club?” says Burgess.
“Man plans, and God laughs,” I say.
I smile. “Yes, I plan to keep working at the boxing club, Mr Burgess.”
“Okay then.” Burgess plucks the paperclip from his desk, drops it into a metal bin. From the sound of it, the bin's empty. Burgess is a stickler for cleanliness. “You're sure you're doing fine? You're okay?”
Keep the smile going. “I'm doing dandy, Mr Burgess.”
Burgess gazes through me, like he's trying to read my mind instead of asking me straight out. Probably thinking that if he did ask something, he'd get a fistful of lies in return. Some blokes I know, that stare puts the shits up them, makes them paranoid. Others just take it as a confirmation of their recidivism, makes them think their record marks them like a bad dose of acne, that they haven't got a chance in the outside world. And that's what they call a self-fulfilling prophecy. I start thinking that if Derek Burgess hadn't gone into the probation service, he'd have made an excellent psychopath. Maybe he was anyway. It doesn't matter, but that stare of his doesn't do anything to me but make my back ache.
“Okay,” he says. And refers back to his notes.
I sneak a glance at my watch. Right on cue, it's time for another pop of codeine. But I'm not about to start necking prescription pills in front of my PO. For one, he doesn't know about my time in Newcastle. If he did, I'd be in Strangeways instead of his office. Secondly, if painkillers come into the equation, that's me fucked. Prescription medicine on the fly spells addiction in day-glo letters to these blokes, an arrow pointing straight to rehab and therapy and God knows what else.
So I wait.
“That's about it then,” he says. “How do you feel?”
“How do I feel about being a free man? Pretty good.”
“You don't have any … anxiety?”
“I've been thoroughly rehabilitated, Mr Burgess. I've been eased back into society. No anxiety whatsoever.”
“Glad to hear it.” Burgess pulls a form from one of his many pigeon holes and smoothes it out on the desk between us. He moves the plastic holder with his name on it and looks up at me. Then he pushes the form across the desk as if he can't bear to touch it. “If you'll read this through, sign where I've marked, that'll be it.”
I pick up the piece of paper and start reading. Or pretend to read, looking at it for enough time to make him think that I've scoured every last word. I can feel the sweats start, know that the pain in my back's only going to get worse.
Burgess does what he always does: asks me if I understand what I'm reading.
“Yeah, I get it,” I say. I grab a biro from his desk and slash my signature on the dotted lines. Push the form back to him.
Burgess doesn't touch the paper. “So.”
I get to my feet, fight a show of pain. Burgess picks up the biro between two fingertips. No final handshakes, no stirring words of encouragement, certainly nothing in the way of tearful farewells. This time we've spent together, it's been forced by a court of law. I didn't tell him anything but the bare essentials and he didn't care enough to push. With Burgess' caseload, that's the safest option. Besides, he probably thinks he'll be seeing me again soon enough. Definitely no love lost, and I don't think either of us has come out of this thing any the wiser. But what the fuck. Not everything has to be a learning experience.
So I nod to him, head for the door.
As I walk out of there a free man, I'm sure I hear the biro hitting the bottom of the bin.
The last person I expect to see when I get back to the Lad's Club is Mo Tiernan. And what I really don't expect to see is Mo Tiernan come flying out of the club. But there he is, tumbling through the double doors and rolling into the road.
I slam on the brakes. Instinct, even though he's nowhere near me. And then I think about speeding up. Instead, I get out of the car and light a cigarette. Take a moment to bask in the bastard's pain.
Paulo comes storming out the door. His face is bright red, fists balled at his sides and there's blood on his shirt. A quick glance at the pair of them, and it's definitely Mo's blood. Mo's taken a proper battering, his Berghaus jacket ripped at the collar. He struggles to his feet. His right leg gives out, but Mo wraps himself around a lamp post and hangs on, spits blood at the ground.
“What did I tell you, Mo?” says Paulo.
Mo spits more blood.
“I told you, I saw you around here again, I'd put my foot in your arse.” Paulo slows as he crosses the road. “And I know you fuckin' heard us, because you were there when I said it.”
Paulo peels Mo from the lamp post and short-jabs him in the side of the head. Mo twists, his hand up over his face, then drops. I take a drag off the Embassy and start walking over. Part of me thinks it's great to watch Paulo kick the shit out of Mo Tiernan, but enough's enough. Paulo's got a face on that means a red mist is falling.
“Paulo,” I say. “Leave it.”
“Where've you been?” he says, not looking at me.
“Had an appointment with my PO.”
Mo groans, pulls himself up onto his knees. Paulo makes a move to put the boot in, but I get in the way. Hold up my hands, smoke blinding me. “That's enough, mate.”
“This fucker's a dealer,” Paulo says, leaning round me and pointing at Mo.
“I know he is. Fuck you doing round here, Mo?”
Mo shakes his head, tries to grin.
“He was dealing is what he was fuckin' doing. We got to take this to your dad, Mo? Your dad want to know what you're doing in
“Fuck off, nonce,” says Mo, his voice thick.
Paulo pushes past me, kicks Mo full in the head. Once, hard. I put my hands on Paulo, ease him back. “C'mon, mate. You're gonna fuckin' kill him you keep that up.”
Mo rolls over onto his back, makes a choking sound. He's smiling, one hand extended to make a wanker gesture at Paulo.
I push Paulo back into the club. “Don't play to it, man.”
“He deserves it. Me and that little twat had an agreement. He comes back in here, I got every right to knock him into a coffin. I got every right to
stomp his fuckin' head into the ground
“Get in the office, mate. Come on …”
Paulo points over my shoulder as we head to the office. The other lads have stopped sparring, talking, whatever they were doing. Standing around watching the floor show. “You. Simpson, you little bastard, you're
. Don't give us none of that shit about not buying, I know it was you, I saw you buy, you're out. I got no time for them what don't want to be helped, you know that. You
know that. I warned you the last time, you bring it in my place, you're out and I'll be having words with your fuckin' social worker.”
I kick open the door to the office, push Paulo inside. He pulls himself away from me, shakes his hands out. His shoulders hunched, breathing still heavy. And the colour's yet to drain from his face. Bloke's a mess of aggression and he can't seem to shift it.
“You need to calm down, mate. You're about to turn green and start smashing shit. And I don't want to see you with your clothes ripped up, alright?”
“I'm calm, Cal.” Paulo runs a hand over his head. “You do me a favour, will you? Make sure that prick's packed his bag and gone. I don't want to see him when I get back out there, know what I mean?”
“You going to be alright in here?”
Paulo slumps into a chair. “Just make sure he's out.”
I watch Paulo for a second, just to make sure he's settled, then head back into the club. The lads are still standing about, caught in a freeze-frame of shock, heavy bags and speed bags either swaying or hanging still. They've seen Paulo lose his temper before, but not to that degree. I have to say, it kind of scared me, too. And then there's Ewan Simpson, standing all alone but giving it some with the righteous indignation. Fronting like a fucker, Ewan's a short, fattish bastard with hair brushed forward to hide what I think might be a slappable forehead. As I get closer, I'm positive the lad's balding.
“You want summat?” he says.
I grab his arm, dig my fingers right into the muscle. “You heard the man. You're out.”
“I didn't buy nowt, man. Gerroff us.” He tries twisting out of my grip, but I pull him towards the door.
“Doesn't make any difference to me, Ewan.”
Ewan ducks; I let him go. “Yeah, the fuck you gonna do about it?”
The bastard's giving me gyp. Hangs around with Tiernan, he's bound to have a false sense of his own importance.