‘Am I dying?’
Answer that. Do you lie big and say, like in the movies, ‘Naw, it’s just a scratch,’? Or, clutch his hand real tight and say, ‘I ain’t letting you go, bro’,’?
Chief Inspector Roberts was a professional; a professional liar, among other things. It didn’t teach you that in the police manual. No, that came with promotion. He considered all the lines he could use. What he said was, ‘You’re dying.’
Roberts had got the call at three in the morning. The hour of death. Coming reluctantly out of sleep, he muttered, ‘This better be bloody good.’ And heard, ‘James!‘
No one used his christian name, not even his wife. He said, ‘Tony… Good Lord… where are you? D’ya know what time it is?’ And heard a sad laugh.
Then: ‘I didn’t ring to ask the time. I’m hurt… I’m hurt pretty bad.’
He sounded hurt, his speech was coming through slow and laboured. Eventually, Roberts pinned down an address, said, ‘Don’t move, I’m on me way.’
Again, the sad laugh, ‘I won’t move, I can guarantee it.’ Roberts dressed quickly. His wife was asleep in another room. Yeah, like that.
‘Would it fuck.’ Roberts said aloud, ‘God, I haven’t much called on you… I know… but maybe this would be a good place to start.’
He’d learned from his sergeant, a dubious example of catholicism, that it was a bartering thing. You did something for God, He did something for you. Like the Masons really.
He wasn’t sure what he had to trade and said, ‘I’ll… ah… do good works.’ What that entailed he’d no idea. Perhaps buy The Big Issue more regularly and not wait for change.
Yeah, it was a place to start. He waited, then tried the ignition again.
He glanced briefly upwards, said:
‘It’s about what I figured.’
A mini-cab later and he arrived in Stockwell, where the pitbulls travelled in twos. Ludlow Road is near the tube station, a short mugging away. At that hour the streets were littered with
the lost, and
The building was a warren of bedsits. No lock on the front door. A wino was spread in the hall, his head came up wheezed: ‘Is it Tuesday?’
‘Are you sure?’
Roberts wondered if the guy even knew the year but hey… he was going to argue? He said, ‘It’s Thursday… OK?’
‘Ah, good. I play golf on Tuesdays.’
Flat six had a cleaner door than most. It was ajar. Roberts entered slowly. Entered devastation-ville. The place had been thrashed, cushions slit open, TV smashed, broken chairs and crockery, and his broken brother lying in the bathroom. He was a mess of blood and bruising. From the angle of his legs, Roberts knew they were gone. He opened his eyes, well, half opened one. The other was shut down. By a hammer it seemed.
He said, ‘James, can I get you something?’
And Roberts tried not to smile, bent down said:
‘I called an ambulance.’
His brother seemed to have lost consciousness, then said: ‘Oh good, is it a weekender?’
A south-east London maxim. You called one on a weekday, could expect it on Saturday. Roberts didn’t know what to do, said: ‘I dunno what to do.’
That’s when Tony asked if he was dying. He tried to cradle his brother’s head, there was blood everywhere, asked, ‘Who did this, Tone?’
Before he could ask more, his brother convulsed, then let his head back, and died. When the medics arrived and scene of crime boyos, Roberts was led outside to the ruined sitting room. As they moved the body, a mobile fell to the floor. The officer in charge said, ‘I’m sorry, guv, but I have to ask some questions, you understand.’
‘Did he say anything?’
The officer tried to proceed delicately, asked, ‘He called you?’
‘And he didn’t give any indication of what had happened?’
‘He said he was hurt and could I come.’
‘Right… was he… ah… conscious… when you got here?’
The officer looked round, said, ‘I see.’ But he didn’t. Went another direction, asked, ‘Were you close , guv?’
‘You know, like regular contact?’
Roberts focused, then said, ‘I spoke to him ten years ago… maybe eleven.’
‘Ah, so you weren’t, then?’
Roberts turned his full look on the officer, said, ‘No wonder you’re a detective.’
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About Ken Bruen
Also by Ken Bruen
The Hackman Blues
A White Arrest
Taming The Alien