Long Time Dead: An Extract
By Tony Black.
The Doctor was a no-nonsense west-coaster, type that called a spade a shovel and if you didn’t like it would add, ‘You got a problem with that?’
Problems, I had. In spades. Or should that be shovels?
‘What were you drinking?’ he said.
‘Rum … the condemned man’s tot.’
Like I’d argue. He laid hands on my head, tilted my face to the light, opened my eyelids with his thumbs.
He motioned me stand, said, ‘Open your shirt.’
The unbuttoning was a trial. My hands shook like fluttering starlings. The Doc looked at his watch.
‘You in a hurry?’ I said.
A frown, ‘Are you?’
I got his meaning, didn’t answer.
The stethoscope felt cold, made me flinch. What made the Doc flinch, I could have done without knowing.
‘You’re dangerously underweight,’ he said.
I hadn’t been on any scales that I could remember, said, ‘You weighed me with your eyes did you?’
He took off his glasses, frowned again. ‘Mr Dury, I can count your ribs.’ He put back his glasses, stood fists on hips, ‘You’re malnourished.’ Then the killer, ‘How frequent are the hallucinations?’
I hadn’t told anyone about those, either this guy was good or moonlighting as a stage hypnotist.
I sat upright in the bed, ‘Halluci … wha-?’
A hand on my shoulder, was meant to calm me, ‘You were flapping arms on Princes Street like Freddie Kruger was after you … you’re a sorry state, son.’
My heart stilled when he called me son. My own father never showed such concern; I grabbed the crisp white linen of the bed sheets, lifted them up to my throat. I could remember nothing. ‘How did I get here … I mean, what happened?’
The doctor exhaled slowly, I felt like I was back at school, in the headmaster’s office after some dust-up or a smashed window. ‘An old lady on a mobility scooter ran into you, she must’ve been going at a fair clip mind … put you into the window of Burger King, out like a light you went.’
He didn’t even smile; I had to fight to suppress a laugh. Well, if you can’t laugh at yourself, you really are in bad shape.
‘She’s okay, by the way,’ said the Doc.
Like I gave a fuck, she put me in hospital; lied, ‘Glad to hear it.’ I touched my elbow, the skin was broken and reddened. As I looked at my fingers I saw they were stick-thin, yellowed by nicotine and black under the nails. I was plugged into a saline drip. I looked, and felt, like complete shit. Worse, I was choking for a drink.
The door behind the Doc opened, I caught sight of Hod; he held out a bottle of Lucozade, bunch of grapes. He was motioned in, Doc said, ‘Try talking sense to him, eh … He’s living on borrowed time.’
I’d heard it all before. Been to the meetings, the therapy, the interventions. The ex-wife couldn’t help me, what made them think anyone else could. I felt like a man at the end of a long road; I was tired, done. I needed no more looking after than I could give myself, and that wasn’t much. I didn’t care though, because I’d lost all cares. As you stare down into that dark well of despair, there’s the most astounding sense of relief, a release almost. A surrendering. A feeling of putting it all in the man upstairs’ hands. Fuck it, like anyone could do a worse job of it than me. I looked at the clock on the wall, it said 3pm. I’d be off by half-past, if I could get a drink in me.
‘What’s this?’ I said to Hod.
‘You serious? Nothing else ..?’
Hod bridled, ‘Gus, your liver’s fucked. You’re up shit street, and you want me to bring you sauce.’ He shook his head, sliced the air with his hands, ‘No can do, buddy.’
I tried to get out of bed, my head swam.
Hod flattened me back with his forearm, ‘Don’t be so fucking stupid.’
Oh, I was that alright; ran over by an old grunter on Edinburgh’s main drag – this was a new low, even for me. I wanted out. I wanted a bottle to climb into. I wanted to wash away the contents of this banged-up head of mine. I needed out, away. Anywhere but here. I struggled with Hod, but I didn’t have the strength; I was piss weak.
‘Okay, okay … you got me,’ I said.
‘Are you quite settled?’
‘Good, because I need you to get yourself together pronto …’
Hod’s eyes widened, he had that stare of his on, one that says, ‘Whatcha make of those apples?’ He had my full attention as he handed me a copy of the evening paper – front page splash was a story about a hanging at one of the city’s universities.
‘The fuck’s this?’
Hod snatched back the paper, read aloud: ‘Lothian and Borders Police announced the death of seventeen-year-old Ben Laird at a capital press conference this morning … blah-blah … his mother, the actress Gillian Laird, dismissed police claims of an erotic asphyxiation accident and pledged to spare no expense to root out her son’s killer.’
‘Erotic … what?’ I said.
‘Asphyxiation … think they call them gaspers, y’know tie themselves up to get turned on.’
Sounded like too much work to me, I took the paper back, ‘This him?’
I could see the family resemblance now; the lad’s mother was Scottish acting royalty, but she’d been front-page news herself recently, said, ‘Hod, this is the chick that came out, yeah?’
A grin spread over his chops, ‘That’s the one … left her husband, some big film director, for some twenty-year-old glamour model.’ He put open hands in front of his chest to mimic a sizeable rack.
‘She just dumped the film guy and swapped sides?’
‘He was a bit of a swordsman, lives over in the States now … put it about for years; I’d say she got fed up and took the dramatic course of action.’
I shook my head, ‘Some family … The glamour girl was a pole dancer, yeah?’
‘I dunno what nationality she was!’
‘Ha-fucking-ha … the one she’s sleeping head-to-toe with, she’s the one the papers ran the scoops on, had worked in the Pubic Triangle, and been a junkie and all that.’
‘Aye, aye, aye …’ Hod clicked fingers at me, shook his head, rapid-style, ‘Look, that’s neither here nor there, mate. What you need to know is, Gillian Laird is looking for someone to go and poke about in her son’s murder, and she’s paying big money.’
He had my full attention.
I was flat broke. Jobless. Hod had lost his last means of income, the Holy Wall pub, which I’d sold to him. The last thing I needed was any more grief in my life, but shit on a stick, I needed something. Fast. My situation was worse than a fly sliding down a razorblade using its balls as brakes. Something had to give here, could this be the something?
Said, ‘Go out that door and keep shoatie, Hod.’
‘Till I get dressed … You don’t want me creeping out of here in a hospital gown, do you?’
Hod grinned, ‘Nae danger … let’s get ready to rumble, eh.’
‘Yeah, whatever …’
On his way out the door, Hod spoke, ‘Seriously, Gus, you won’t regret it … I have a good feeling about this.’
I’d heard those words from him before; nothing ever shitted me more.
As I picked up my trousers the belt buckle rattled so much in my shaking hands that I was like a leper with a bell, said, ‘Fucking hell, Gus, what’re you thinking?’
I was in no state for this whack; I was in no state for anything.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Black was born in Australia and grew up in Scotland and Ireland. Based in Edinburgh, he is an award-winning journalist, editor and Irvine Welsh’s favourite British crime writer. He is the author of the Gus Drury novels, Paying For It (2008), Gutted (2009), Loss (2010) and Long Time Dead (2010).
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, December 8th, 2010.