Monday, 3 October 2016

Thirty pieces of silver - Hunting Scobie

Adam’s and Sims got lucky and found a parking space just outside the stations door. He was eager to get things rolling because time wasn't their friend. They walked through the public lounge and tapped in the access code for the office area. The door buzzed and Adams charged ahead with Sims a step behind him. It must have been serendipity because the Chief appeared on the corridor ahead of them.

“Sir,” called Adams. The tall commanding officer spun casually on his heel to face whoever was calling for him. He was always calm, always collected, a real cold fish some people said.

“Adams, I was just looking for you,” he said with a friendly smile. The Chief nodded in Sims’ direction but didn’t say anything to her.

“Oh?” said Adams, wondering what had happened that he didn’t know about.

“I wanted to let you know that the pathologist is going to release John Griffin’s body today.”

“That will really stir things up, Sir. We’d better step up coverage over the coming days,” said Adams sounding grave.

“I think that would be wise, you know how these gangland funerals attract every hack from every rag going.”

“We could do with extra manpower in that case. Do you think we could get the armed response unit up from Limerick?” asked Adams, seeing the opportunity to open the Chief’s purse strings a little bit wider.

“I don’t see why not, the situation certainly justifies it,” said the Chief looking all magnanimous and generous, all he was really worried about was getting any bad press. The last thing he wanted was some journalist saying the criminals were gathering in strength without a copper to be seen. He wanted plenty of blue uniforms in the photos with as many guns as they could muster.

“I’ll call Limerick and get things sorted,” said the Chief, beginning to turn away. Adams knew it was now or never to get the Collins spending approved.

“Sir, there has been a development I need to talk to you about." The Chief stopped and turned back.

“Carry on.”

Adams took a deep breath and dove in, “Earlier today Fergal Collins was admitted to hospital after being severely assaulted by the Griffin brothers. Collins is a member of the Kingston gang but he’s been working for John Griffin on the side, selling them information. The Griffins believe he knew about the hit but didn’t inform them, and Jimmy Kingston now knows that Collins was behind the hijacking of a drugs shipment.”

“I would suggest that Mr Collins is in a lot of trouble,” said the Chief dourly.

“He’s in the worst kind of trouble. We’ve just spoken with him and he is willing to testify against the Griffins, Jimmy Kingston and Pete Byrne on a rainbow of charges. He claims to have names and details of countless offences.”

“I can feel a but coming,” said the Chief crossing his reed thin arms across his chest.

“He knows he will never live long enough to testify unless he’s taken into protection and set up with a new identity after the end of the trials.”

“Just Collins?”

“Wife and young daughter as well, Sir.”

“I’m not sure how the DPP will react to that,” said the Chief clearly not loving the idea.

“It might be the best chance we ever get to take these two crews out of commission, it would certainly end this feud.”

“I’ll have to take some legal counsel on this. The courts may view his evidence as coerced, if it’s admissible at all. One way or the other a judge will certainly not give it as much weight as independent testimony,” said the Chief, already trying to figure out the end of the game before the ball has been even thrown in.

“We have to act now, Sir. Collins could well be on the next plane out of the country, if he lives that long,” appealed Adams, wincing at the sound of desperation in his voice.

“Detective, you know a rushed investigation is an investigation doomed to failure. I will take advice and get back to you,” said the Chief coldly, turning to walk away toward his office.

“Yes Sir,” said Adams to his back, feeling frustrated and slighted. Adams walked on in the Chief’s wake with Sims at his elbow. He felt the skin of his face prickle with heat. He was embarrassed at the less than enthusiastic reaction he had gotten, particularly because it happened in front of Sims. He felt stupid going red because of it, she knew the situation as well as he did. It was his job to try and catch the bad guys, it was the Chief’s to play the odds and make sure they made the best of the budget. Understanding it did nothing to take the sting out of the slap down.

He had to give Sims her due, she was good at reading a situation and still hadn’t said a word by the time they reached their open-plan office. She just walked along and allowed him mull over things in his mind. They stopped by his desk and before sitting he rummaged through the landslide of papers which had grown since they had left.

“I’d better get a memo out about the release of the body,” he said flipping through the new reports that had been added to his work load by unseen hands.

“I can do that if you like,” she offered helpfully.

“That would be great, if you don’t mind. I want to check in with the protection detail at the hospital and finish off this briefing paper.”

“I don’t mind at all,” she said walking away. Adams finally fished out the half-finished report which he had abandoned earlier. His eyes wandered across his own scrawl but he couldn’t concentrate. He felt uselessness fall on his shoulders like a cold wet blanket. What was the point of doing all of this top brass kept shackling them in miles of red tape and probable outcomes? He became a Guard to catch the criminals, to protect the public and to make the world a better place. Nobody had ever mentioned letting some of them slide because the chances of a conviction was less than cast iron. The pessimist in him knew the Chief was right, there was no point in rushing through an investigation, no matter how right you were, only to have it dismissed by some slick lawyer when you finally got your day in court. But hell, where do you draw the line? Adams could feel this case slipping through his fingers and if he lost Collins, he was right back where he started. All he could do was pray that the DPP came back with the right decision, before it was too late.
***
Joey hadn’t a clue where to start looking for Scobie so he decided that the best place to begin was with his mother. He rushed over to the small council house that Mr and Mrs Jennings had lived in when he was going to school and prayed they hadn’t moved in the last few years. When he got to the place, he looked over the freshly painted garden wall and admired the garden. It was bursting with flowers and pot plants. Dozens of ceramic butterflies danced on the ends of wispy rods as they were kissed by the wind. It was a garden that looked like it had fallen from the pages of a fairy-tale book, perfectly framing a cheery house bedecked in white and red paint which looked so fresh it may have only been applied yesterday. Joey opened the ornate iron gate and walked up the path. This looked like the last place on earth that should have been scared by drug use. He lifted the shiny brass knocker and let it fall twice. After a moment a tidy woman in her fifties appeared. “Can I help you?” she asked with an open smile.

“Hi, I’m Joey, a friend of your son, Sco…, Frank. I was trying to get in touch with him. Is he here?”

The woman’s smile vanished. Joey watched as pain, worry and despair sucked the colour from her being.

“Does he owe you money?”

“No, Mrs Jennings, nothing like that. I really am his friend, we were in school together and lately I’ve been letting him come round my place and tidy himself up.”

“That’s good of you. Not everyone would bother,” she said, the words sounded sad and guilt-ridden as they fell through the air between them.

“He’s a good lad, it’s just the...” he paused feeling as if he had talked himself in to a corner.

“The drugs, you can say it.”

“Yea, I guess.”

“They stole my boy, poisoned his life,” she said, the bitterness of those words caused her lovely face to crease with distaste. All Joey could do was nod and look sad.

“Has he been round today? I tried calling him but his phone is off?”

“No, he doesn’t call here anymore. Nothing left to rob I guess.”  Hearing a mother speak that way about a part of herself didn’t seem right.

“Have you any idea where he is staying or where he might be. I know he’s got a court case coming up and I wanted to make sure...”

“What court case?” she asked cutting across his words.

“You didn’t know?”

“No. People don’t talk to us much. He’s seen to that.”

“It’s nothing serious, shoplifting, a few t-shirts I think,” said Joey trying to soften the blow.

“My son, the thief. Jail might be the best place for him, he might get clean,” she said looking intently at the mat under her feet that said Welcome.

Joey knew there was nothing he could say that would make this woman feel better. Her house, her garden, her smile, it was all just window dressing for the world. Inside a huge Scobie sized piece of herself had been torn out and blackened by corruption. That corruption invaded every portion of her being and all this colour was a mask she wore for the benefit of the neighbours.

“I hoped you might know where he was staying?” probed Joey again knowing his need was greater than appeasing this woman before him. He still had hope, where she had none.

“Last I heard he was living in a derelict building across from your old school.”

At last, a lead. “I know the place. Thanks very much,” said Joey walking away down the flower lined path.

“Joey?”

“Yes Mrs Jennings?”

“Will you let me know how the court case goes?”

“Sure. Sure I will,” he said giving the woman a gentle smile.

“Thanks, you’re a good lad,” she said sadly. Joey hurried away, eager to get Jimmy’s money back, and hoping that if he ever met Mrs Jennings again that she would still think he was a good lad.

Joey knew the house Mrs Jennings was talking about, it was a right dive. It was a good twenty minute walk from the Jenning's place and no journey had ever seemed so drawn out. When Joey finally reached the house the front door was boarded up. The tiny yard was full of rubbish, some of which looked fairly new. Discarded syringes glinted in the wild grass and weeds which thrived on abandonment. He walked down the narrow path between the side wall of the house and an overgrown hedge. The back door had been forced open and hung ajar. He pulled it wider, the stink of unwashed human skin and rotting trash slapped him in the face making it hard to breath.

“Christ,” said Joey trying to cover his nose with his hand as he moved inside. Shafts of light cut through the gloom like lances of hope being driven into the heart of darkness. The room looked and smelt like a landfill. There was no sign of life, or of Scobie for that matter. Joey moved deeper into the house. In the hall, all of the balusters and the hand rail were missing from the stairway, most likely burned for fire wood, leaving only the bear steps rising up to the second floor. Something scraped across naked floorboards above his head.

Joey rushed up the stairs following the noise. He saw movement in a room on the right. No doors hung in any of the doorways, they just gaped like passageways into darker realms of misery.  Joey rushed forward and barged inside the stinking room.  The only thing he found was a strung out looking girl sitting in the middle of a filthy mattress on the floor. He rushed into the other rooms but they were all empty. Joey returned to the girl and stood over her.

“I’m looking for Scobie,” he said and the girl looked at him with huge watery eyes.

“He’s gone,” she slurred, as if she were half asleep. Joey knew she was high just by looking at her.

“Gone where? Is he coming back?”

“Don’t know, he left,” she slurred slipping sideways to lie down and draw here knees to her chest.

“Did he say where he was going?”

This time the girl said nothing, only blinking her blind eyes as she viewed a world chemically created for one. Joey looked at the cooking spoon and shooting kit abandoned on the floor and sighed. Junkies.

He shook her by the shoulder and her eyes wobbled in her head, eventually focusing on his face.

“Where did he go?”

“London, to stay with a cousin,” she said and her eyes swam away from him again.

“Shit,” he said to himself. Scobie was gone and he knew he had no choice but to go after him. He had to get to Scobie before he spent any of that money or Jimmy would kill him. Joey walked back down the stairs and out of the house as fast as his feet would carry him. The skink of the place lingered on his clothes making him wrinkle his nose in disgust. London was a big place but how many cousins could Scobie have over there? Joey retraced his steps. He would have to pay Mrs Jennings a second visit, she was now his only hope.
***
Darren, Terrance and Tony stood beside the undertaker’s hearse as John’s body was rolled through a roller shutter. Darren thought the coroner’s building should have been more impressive, less mundane. It didn’t seem right that this was the place people’s lives ended. The porters kicked on the trolley’s breaks and lifted the simple pine box into the back of the waiting hearse. One of the porters offered a clipboard to Darren and asked him to sign on the bottom line.

It felt like he was taking delivery of an amazon package not a man who had been more of a father to him than his father ever was. Darren signed and handed the clipboard back. He looked around at his brothers and felt weary. Weary of it all, never before had he ever felt so done in. From the corner of his eye he spotted the snarl on Tony’s face and felt his hackles rise. What was it that made his bother hate him so much? Was all this worth it? Was being the head of a family as fractured and dysfunctional as this worth all the agro. Right now, he just wanted to walk away for the lot of them.
He looked at Tony and asked, “What?”

“What?” mimicked Tony, acting as if Darren was a fool?

“What makes you despise me?” snapped Darren squaring up to his own flesh and blood. The porters felt the tension in the air and decided anywhere was a better place to be than here.

“What you talking about?” said Tony snidely, stuffing his hands into his front pockets. Half defensive, half dismissively.

“You, it’s always you. I’m sick of all this shit. If you want to be the boss, be the boss, don’t let me stop yea,” said Darren, feeling anger pull the muscles under the skin on his neck taut. Tony said nothing, it seemed having what he wanted laid out before him on a platter gave him pause for thought. Darren sensed it was time to push forward and kill this animosity for once and for all.

“I’m out! That is what you want. Fine by me.”

Being faced with everything he ever wished for didn’t seem to be driving Tony wild with delight. Darren started to walk away but Terrance ran after him.

“Wait, don’t leave!”

Darren turned and faced his brother. “It’s alright, Terrance. I would prefer to stay your brother than your boss. It’s up to Tony what happens now. I can’t do this anymore.” Darren took three more steps before he heard Tony’s voice call out to him.

“Wait.” The word was quiet.

“What was that?” asked Darren turning back to his brother.

“Don’t go, Darren, not now.”

“What’s to wait for? If this is what you want, I’m not going to stand in your way.” Darren watche his brother think. Eventually he spoke.

“Were stronger together,” Tony said.

“So? What's the point in that when we spend more time fighting among ourselves, than fighting our enemies?”

“What are you saying?”

“We're split. John was the one who held us together. We all knew where we stood when he was here.”

“And?”

“And, you want blood. Blood for John, let me tell you that I want it too. But I want it where it doesn’t cost us your blood or his blood or mine. You think I don’t have the balls for his, fine. Stick your balls on the line and see where the blade falls.”

Tony looked at him hard but said nothing. It was time to play the last card.

“After John’s funeral, I’m out. Without you, without your belief, there is no point in any of this,” said Darren walking away toward his car.

“Or?” called Tony behind him.

“Or, we work together and you trust me. Any time you want it, the crew is yours, until then, I need you in my corner.”

Darren stood and watched his brother work through the options. The gravity of taking charge was a leap too far for him, it wouldn’t sit well with his hedonistic lifestyle but the title had its attractions.

“Fine, you’re the boss.” Darren walked back to where Tony stood, defiant in defeat. He placed a hand on the back of his neck and drew him close.

“No, were brothers,” whispered Darren into Tony’s ear.

“Brothers,” said Tony in return and wrapped his arm around Darren’s neck. Terrance wrapped his arms around both of them and for once all four of them, John, Tony, Darren and Terrance were united if only in grief.
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