North of the Law
An noo, rain draps drum oan the panes while the skail pipes up a pibroch in the lum. An still the crone sits transfixed, sucks her teeth, says nuthin. An the tundra o her room is scant comfort tae the man wha bides by. An the waft o charity shop lavender hovers growthie-like.
But leuk noo; faint shudders in her faint frame. Clear yer een; her straggy heid shakes gawkily in denial an an ichor o drool dribbles roon the mole oan her chin. Preen yer lugs; her slaverin voice is wheezin an spittin oot the words: ‘Girn an greet ya mongrel ye! Ye’ll droon in rivers o pish!’
‘D’ye no dae happy endings, ya besom ye?’ speirs the man wha bides.
‘Nae call fur it son’, says the crone, ‘wur aa entrepreneurs noo.’
Ootby in the pourin freeze, a glaik kicks a squashed can alang the gutter, tonelessly singin the national anthem. The bidie-by rises obediently an grudgingly places some soilt moolah in the goldfish bowl provided fur the purpose. As forecasts go, it’s lookin gey dismal . . .
As he waits in the stair entry, gatherin his resolve fur a drookit assault oan the pub, ony casual observer might just think the bidie-by fanciable. A modern Achilles, he’s been steeped in teak-stained creosote an dried aff tae a beeswax lustre. Perched jauntily oan his napper sits a barnet o which he can claim part ownership. Shards o vitreous china huv been expensively cemented intae his maw. The slight curl tae his lip says: ‘ye’ve either goat it or ye huvnae.’
Inside the pub, the natives are workin hard oan ambience. A voluble congregation is interactin’wi the fitba oan the big screen. Hotly debatin its weekend entertainments is the bikers’ club, lookin unchancie middle-aged. It’s hotchin at the bar; orders are bawled, glasses clink, liquor skiddles an the laughter is inversely proportional tae wit an wittins.
Emergin frae the mardle, a nymphet sashays across the bows o the enterin teak heid. She’s a fit lass, tippy claes stretched taut ower her curvatures, an she attracts his dental leer. Then, forgetfully, she brecks the spell by sayin tae her mate: ‘. . . an he wiz wantin me tae start anither bottle o vodka an ah wiz like o my god . . . !’
‘Omniscient like? Almichty?’ speirs teak heid sardonic like, but keethin his book-lernin aa the same.
‘Get raffled, ya pervert ye!’ screels the maiden.
Further romantic entanglement is forestalled by the welcomin Eck.
‘Hoo’s yersel big man?’ speirs Eck.
‘No bad’, says teak heid.
‘Goat yer horoscope then?’
‘Aye, aw right.’
‘Ur we still daein the job then?’
‘Aye, wur still daein it.’
A near miss oan the big screen overdubs the jobseekers. The commentator is rabbitin oan about little threaded balls. A viewer screams back some obscenity involvin a cannibal’s rosary. The commentator ignores the riposte; possibly the general din, but mair likely it wisnae that funny.
‘Whit’s the plan then, big man?’
‘Meet ye at the fleapit at eight the morn’s nicht’, says teak heid.
‘Aye, that’s it.’
‘OK brains’, says Eck.
Teak heid shouders his way forrit tae wet his thrapple. The bikers are revvin up the machine they brocht ben tae scug the elements. Eck’s fingerin his hooter stud, thinkin it probably wisnae his roond onyway. Still, that’s ane guid thing aboot the booze: stops ye thinkin ower much.
At the appointed hour, the bold boys are shufflin aroond ootby in the snell wind an rain. The venue is aboot as appealin as the weather, but a job’s a job, an they’re professionals.
‘Whit’s the point o eight when the show startit at seven?’ moans Eck.
‘Hud yer wheesht!’ says teak heid. ‘Did ye mind yer balaclava?’
‘Naw, ye never telt us.’
‘Ah’ll go an’ fetch it.’
‘Dinnae fash, wu’ll gaun in onyway.’
So they do. Through the door. It’s quicker.
‘Twa stalls please’, says teak heid tae the perjink cashier wumman.
‘£10 please’, says the wumman.
‘£10! Ah could bevvy aa nicht oan that!’
‘Weel, ye cannae bevvy here, ya soak ye! Ur yiz in or oot?’
‘Aw richt. Here’s yer tickets.’
Eck is flatly denied popcorn on the way tae the auditorium. Maudlin, he lopes ahint o teak heid as the latter navigates by the light o the stars, the usherette huvin been long since declared extinct. The place reeks o stale smoke, interspersed with pockets o stale freshener.
‘Plant yer hurdies here!’ hisses teak heid. ‘Ah want tae stay close tae the exit.’
Eck’s scrawny torso hits velvet and they berth in the chummy seats. At the ither end o the row, the nymphet is slaisterin ower the banquet o a spread-eagled glaik. Eck professes puzzlement.
‘Whit’s gaun oan?’
‘Well, mebbe it’s the kiss o life, but mair like it’s hochmagandy’, whispers his partner.
Teak heid tires quickly o the film, an noo he’s strainin through the mirk tae establish the audience size. There’s some crisp packet rustlin an faint snorin gaen oan someplace doon tae the left, but it’s a fickle business tae see onythin gleg aboot the rest o the hoose. He’s thinkin: wur late gettin here; there’s naebody else comin’ noo; ah’m sweir tae wait fur the interval an get spied oan; panshit – time fur action!
‘Get yer balaclava oan!’ he hisses.
‘Ah telt ye, ah huvnae goat it!’
‘Just look mensefu then ya gomerel ye, an naebody’ll ken ye!’
Back they go, skirtin the popcorn stand, headin for the cashier’s booth. Teak heid’s got his balaclava oan, tappietourie an aa, an Eck’s got his hand ower his mou, though it’s no plain whither this is fur the purposes o disguise or tae quell his snirkin’.
Noo they’re by the cashier’s booth an the perjink wumman is by hersel’, flickin through a glossy celeb journal tae while away the time. She starts skeerie-like when the hooded yin sticks his neb ben the door, then keckles at the proffered wardrobe.
‘Nane o yer squaikin’ – gies the money!’
‘The till, ya thrawn besom!’
‘There’s no much.’
‘Just gie me the wampum!’
‘Here’s yer haul then’, says she, handin ower £12.
‘Eh?’ says teak heid. ‘Whaur’s the rest?’
‘There isnae ony rest.’ (No fur the wicked onyway, she’s thinkin.)
‘Whit aboot Romeo and Juliet then?’
‘Whit aboot the punters doon the front?’
‘Ya gabbit bitch ye!’
‘Ya bampot ye! Could ye no huv goat a decent mask fi the joke shop, then?’
‘Ya gibberin . . . ya . . .’
But teak heid’s run out o insults, so he just skelps the wumman ower the gebbie and makes aff sharpish. Eck’s no far ahint, but there’s still time fur him tae fire a partin one-liner in best Bond: ‘Yer filum was shite onyway.’
Someplace in the background is the muted sound o a glaik tonelessly tweetlin the national anthem.
At the polis station, they’re watchin some game show where a flannel merchant wi a turgid ego is pittin contestants through their ritual humiliations. Maist o the onlookers huv hud mair entertainment in A&E oan a Saturday nicht. The phone goes.
‘Hullo, polis’, says the crabbit wee desk sergeant, confident nae ootsourcer could mimic that.
‘Hullo polis’, says the caller, mimickin that.
‘Spot o bother at the pictures.’
‘Yer audience been abducted by aliens?’
‘Naw, but the till’s been took an Thelma’s top plate’s been broke.’
‘We’ll be richt doon.’
A small detachment gains merciful release from the tube and sallies forth. They decide against body armour and automatic weapons, so they’re fairly sharp at the scene. Well, maybe early would be a better word.
A masterful polis unveils the plan: ‘Richt, nane o yiz kin get awa till yiz huv made statements. Wu’ll start wi the audience since the cashier cannae cluck till her plate’s mendit. Let’s hae the geriatric party in the heidie’s office furst.’
The wrinklies jostle their taigled way inside. There’s Chic an his coven o three, an lucky if there’s the ane battery workin amang them.
‘Eh?’ cries Chic.
‘Ah huvnae asked ye onythin yet’, says the polis.
‘Why no’?’ says Chic.
‘Ah need accurate information’, begins the polis.
‘Zat why yer no askin’ me?’ continues Chic, fashious like.
‘Eh?’ says the coven.
‘Whit wur yiz a daen at the time o the incident?’ speirs the polis.
‘Watchin the filum. Wiznae the bingo, mind. Sookin a soor ploom.’ responds the coven.
‘Did yiz see onythin forbye the filum?’
‘Couldnae. Naw, didnae. Widnae. Hudnae ony.’ offers the assembly.
‘That’ll dae’, says the polis, exasperated, ‘bring in Pyramus ’n Thisbe.’
The polis composes himsel. He’s thinkin: time fur a change o technique. Nae need fur a guid cop, wickit cop palaver though, ah kin dae a the pairts masel’. That’s whit ah like aboot me, versatile, ken.
‘Richt, the lassie furst’, says the polis, smirkin awa. ‘Whit wur yiz daen at the time o the incident?’
‘Nane o yer business ya pervert ye!’
‘There’s penalties fur withholdin evidence, ye ken?’
‘Ah wiznae withholdin’ nuthin’.’
‘That’ll be richt!’ says the polis, thinkin thoughts o the utmost impurity. ‘So, ye were temporarily blindit, like?’
‘Ah wiz distractit’, confesses the wanton.
‘Hoos aboot yer consort then?’
‘Scott’s Porage Oats’, says the glaik.
‘Sets ye up great in the mornin.’
‘Whit’s that goat tae dae wi the price o handcuffs?’
‘Improved formula’, enthuses the glaik, ‘but ye’ll spile it wi ower much salt.’
‘Get thae boorachin ba heids oot ma sicht!’ laments the polis.
Again, the polis composes himsel an lays his brains asteep. Ah might jist fancy daen the perjink wifie masel he thinks, but mebbe it’s mair fly tae get a poliswumman an aa. So he does. Even gets her a chair. Mind you, it’s no the best chair though.
‘Richt, bring oan the cashier wumman.’ In she waddles.
‘Ye’ll no be sae perjink noo then?’ ventures the polis, sympathetic like.
‘Mmm, spltrr, shloo’, says the cashier.
‘Ye want a len o ma plate?’
The wumman mewls in fright, wrappin her arums aroon her bosom an shakin her heid.
‘Sorry, clarty me, ah’ll jist scrub it up fur ye furst.’
The polis skooshes his duty ration o Irn Bru intae a gless an dooks his plate.
‘Mmm, spltrr, shloo’, says the polis.
‘Hud oan’, says the wumman polis in attendance, ‘ah’ll speir the questions noo.’
‘Mmm, spltrr, shloo’, says the cashier an the furst polis baith the gither.
‘Richt, slap that in yer heid an wu’ll get oan’, says the wumman polis tae the cashier.
The wumman squaiks an trembles, but the ither polis deftly rams the plate home.
‘Chicken Teaky an Eck the Sneck!’ screels the wumman, then hurls the plate ower the room.
‘Weel done hen!’ says the polis wi the workin gob an the better manners.
‘Mmm, spltrr, shloo’, says the cashier an the furst polis baith the gither.
At the polis station, the crabbit wee desk sergeant is briefin the troops:
‘Yer lookin fur twa boays. Yin’s goat a heid that glows in the gloamin. The ither’s lanky an his IQ’s maist likely less than yer ain. Ye cannae miss them.’
‘Huv they goat names sarge?’
In the pub, teak heid is extollin the benefits o free enterprise tae his partner.
‘20 per cent return oan capital employed, like.’
‘Beats the mercat, big man!’
‘Wu’ve goat tae keep thinkin bigger a the whiles though.’
‘That’s no the best use o ma talents, like.’
‘Wu’ve no made it ’til we can affoard tae hire a spin man . . .’
‘Aye, PowerPoint presentations at wur AGM an aa that!’
‘That’s the gemme Ecky boay, corruption wi class!’
A biker’s gawkin at the twa eedyits. He’s picked up the polis alert frae the safe waveband. He kens a radioactive heid when he sees wan. An his talkin machine can send as well as receive. . .
The polis come breengin through the front ’n back doors o the pub, near enough simultaneous, like. The bold boys have clocked the screechin an shoutin though, an they’re awa through the snug door in the middle. The third way. Liberation, like.
‘Doon Bleachers’ Close!’ commands teak heid.
Eck’s taigled. Nuthin new there, but sumhin’s no richt, an it gies him a wee gnaw at his vitals. Still, he pits oan a gallop per instructions, shouder tae shouder wi his mate, a runaway semmit and drawers.
‘Whit the . . . !’ says teak heid, drappin anchor snappit-like.
Ahead o Cassidy and the Kid sits a barricade o scaffolding and building materials whaur the close used tae be.
‘Should huv mindit’, says Eck, ‘ah bide oan the far side efter aa.’
‘The far side’s exactly where ye bide!’ says teak heid.
‘Ah think the sodjers ur comin’,’ says Eck.
‘Weel, we cannae gaun through, or roond, or back’, says teak heid, ‘sae wu’ll maun hae tae gaun up.’
‘Aye, nosebleed territory!’
So, up the scaffolding they clammer, an coorie doon ahint some pallets o masonry.
‘Thank god fur the masons,’ says teak heid.
‘Apron love,’ croons Eck, ‘is for the very young . . .’
‘Keep a calm souch!’ hisses his mate.
The polis come traipsin doon the close in pursuit, narrowly avoidin a multiple pile-up at the obstruction. A methodical inspection o escape routes yields a blank.
‘Right boays, let’s get back tae ‘Go’ fur mair instructions’, says the polis wi the maist braid.
‘Jist a second’, says a lesser braidit species, flashin’ his torch alaft. ‘Onybody up there?’
‘Nae cunt here!’ bawls back Eck.
Teak heid jist shakes his napper waesome like, near enough lichthoose frequency.
The polis wha does the interviews has reassembled his mou, an downsized his assistant.
‘Yer mate’s turned queen’s evidence’, says he.
‘Ma mate couldnae turn milk’, says teak heid.
‘Yer mate’s gaunnae walk aff wi a suspended sentence’, gloats the polis.
‘As lang as it’s fi a gibbet.’
‘Ah cannae stand comedians.’
‘Usually it’s the comedians whit dae the standin.’
‘OK, smart erse, wu’ll move tae the alfresco session’, says the polis, lookin manic like.
Behind the polis station sits the polis stables, an behind the polis stables sits a big metal trough, three quarters full o an amber liquid, suspiciously redolent o ammonia. Every once in a while, the contents gurgle an slop as anither spleut o cuddy-pish comes roarin doon the drainpipe. Beside the trough is a wooden contraption, servin tae lower an raise a harness to an from the general direction o the effluent.
‘Yer honoured’, says the polis, ‘Latest technology fi America. Adapted tae local circumstances, like.’
‘Whit diz it dae?’ speirs teak heid.
‘Gies ye a dook.’
‘Kind tae fake tans then izzit?’
‘OK, ah’m prepared tae confess.’
‘Nae need. The machine works it aa oot by itsel’.’
‘Weel, if ye droon yer aa richt, an if ye dinnae, yer no’.’
‘It can work oot aa that?’
‘Aye, ye cannae whack it. Ye wouldnae get nuthin this good in some backward country, like.’
‘Ah’d get better odds at the bookies.’
‘Aye, but ye get mair dooks fur yer money here.’
‘OK, ah’m game then. The bath’s warmer than the rain.’
As the straps get pit roond him, teak heid’s thinkin’: this’ll no smell sae guid, but ah’m guilty aa richt, sae ah’ll survive nae bother. Must get ma money back aff the auld crone when ah’m done wi the polis.
As he’s pittin the straps roond teak heid, the polis is thinkin: that auld crone’s been gettin sharper wi the horoscopes raicently. Time ah paid her a visit masel.
Somewhere behind the cuddy rustlin is the distant sound o a glaik tonelessly croonin the national anthem. Shame he jist kens the furst verse.
[Selected by Jackie Kay for the Scotsman Orange short story collection North, published by Polygon in 2004, ISBN 1-904598-10-2]