One Bad Decision
By Douglas Shepherd
Douglas Shepherd is the fiction editor of Crime Scene Scotland. The right side of forty but the wrong side of thirty, he used to dream of being a PI when he grew up, but those dreams turned to ashes and he currently works as a technical support assistant. He lives in Dundee, Scotland with his longterm girlfriend and tolerates her two pet cats.
How did it get to this?
Oh Jesus fuckin’ Christ, how did it get to this?
Brian felt like his chest was going to explode; his fucking lungs weren’t filling up right, he wasn’t breathing. Christ, he was going to have a heart attack, a fucking heart attack!
He gripped the steering wheel hard, so hard he thought he might tear it off. He’d been needing the toilet since they got out the car, and now he knew if they didn’t hurry it up in there he was going to piss all over the driver’s seat.
Outside, a pretty girl walked past. She looked like a student with that air of privileged fucking intelligence they all had. Her hair was long, died in red, green and white stripes. She was trim, with good legs and a nice arse under the tight skirt. Brian thought if he could get – and maintain – an erection, maybe he wouldn’t piss himself.
Sirens? Fucking sirens already?
Any thought of an erection died. Water swirled in his stomach. His eyesight went hazy; what a time to need glasses. Is that how it happened? All of a sudden? One minute you were seeing everything clear as day, the next minute it was like you’d been drinking pints all night.
Drinking pints all night.
It was fucking pints got him sitting here in the first place.
It was just a pub of convenience. Maybe he should have thought about it a bit more but he’d needed a pint. Actually, he’d needed several pints if he was going to forget the shouting match with Irene. Stupid bitch, saying how it would be nice to have a kid, like she didn’t know he was fucking defective. Okay, he hadn’t told her, but she’d known; he could see it in her eyes that what she really wanted to do was make him feel bad. She’d succeeded in making him feel mad, so that was close enough. And then he’d smacked her one across the jaw. Fuck those domestic violence adverts, he wasn’t a wife-beater, didn’t make a habit of it or anything like that. Treated Irene like the Queen or something, always bowing and scraping. But sometimes a man just has enough. And it wasn’t like she didn’t give him a slap every once in a while. Usually when she was pissed on the gin and thinking Brian was giving one to her sister.
The fact that Brian was giving one to her sister – had been since the morning before he married Irene – didn’t actually matter. Irene didn’t know and she’d been out of order with the slapping and the kicking and the throwing of the cups and that fucking slash from the kitchen knife across the back of his hand.
So after this particular argument – the one about the babies – Brian had walked out, gone to find a pub and get pissed. Maybe he’d go round and see Dawn, and maybe she’d let him stay the night. But before any of that he had to get slaughtered. Good and proper.
So there was this pub, off Guthrie Street, a proper place where men went to drink. The only women you saw were attached to bullet-headed football fans or else offering blowjobs discreetly for a little cash compensation. And Brian had only been in once, but now it looked inviting; the kind of place where nobody knew him and nobody gave a fuck who he was.
He should have walked out when he saw them at the table, all sitting together, laughing like Billy Connolly was up on the table doing the routines he used to do before the whole fucking Iraq hostage debacle showed him up for the insensitive prick he was.
But Brian didn’t even think – not even when he saw the shaved heads and the gold chains – that this wasn’t really his kind of place. He just went up to the bar, ordered a pint of Tennents and proceeded to throw it back when the fat-bastard bartender unceremoniously thumped the glass down on the bar.
Three pints later, he was still sure he was in the right. He was thinking maybe he should go back, tell the bitch he was leaving her, see how she liked that! But he knew he wouldn’t do that; he loved her, right? Yeah, he loved her. He couldn’t leave, same as she couldn’t leave him. Complex business, after all, love.
He looked up, saw one of the baldy blokes standing beside him.
“This is our pub,” Baldy said. He had little eyes and a flat nose.
“It’s a public house,” said Brian. “Public house for the fucking public. I just want a fucking pint, aye?”
“Mouthy little tosser, aye?” said Baldy.
Brian wouldn’t believe it later – it was beer bravado, surely – but he put his pint down on the bar, turned to face the baldy beast and said, “You want tae see if I’m all talk, pal?”
In almost any other pub in the city he would have been beaten to shit. That’s what should have happened and that’s what would have happened except, for some reason, the Baldy Beast started laughing. It was a belly laugh, deep and heartfelt like Brian was the best comedian this guy had ever seen.
He slapped Brian around the shoulders, almost pushing him through the floor such was the strength in those arms, and said, “Ye’re allright, Goggles, ye ken that? Ye’re alright.”
“Goggles.” No one had called Brian that for years. It had been the nickname they gave him in the school playground, sure, but since he’d left and come into the adult world no one had much use to give him a nickname past “Tosser,” or, “You, y’fuckin’ eejit!” He hadn’t cared much; the nickname had hurt him after all. He couldn’t help being near blind as a bat, forced to wear the fucking monstrosities that the doctors had assured him were perfectly respectable. He’d never had enough money to afford the fancy pairs they always had in the opticians, had to make do with whatever the NHS could give him. But hearing the way the Baldy Beast said it, “Goggles,” with an air of camaraderie to it that Brian had never known before, it made him feel proud. And it felt even better when the Baldy Beast invited him to come over, sit with the others, have a few pints.
The night passed him by in a whirl. The herd of Baldy Beasts welcomed him to their table, laughed with him, joked with him, made him feel like he maybe he was a fucking Baldy Beast, too. He began to feel like he was pumping up, like maybe he was just a strong man trapped inside a fucking weakling’s body. Aye, that was it, alright. He was Brian fucking McMillan and he was a hard bastard, just like he’d always wanted to be.
And, then, at some point, the first Baldy Beast – his name was Ally – took Brian and aside and planted a tree-trunk arm over Brian’s shoulders, leaned his bull-head in close to Brian’s ear and said, “Can ye drive?”
“I havenae got a license,” said Brian. Which was true enough. He was on fucking probation for that. Trumped up Drunk Driving charges. He’d been in perfect control, caught by one of those random patrols the pigs do every once in a while just to make it look like they’re taking a hard line on something.
“No what I’m asking, Goggles,” said Ally. “I’m asking, can you drive?”
Never agree to do anything while you’re drunk.
Brian should have known better, should have fucking through it over before he said, yes. Thing was, Ally could have snapped Brian’s neck like a twig so there was no way Brian was saying, “no,” to the guy’s friendly request.
The sirens were getting closer.
Fire engines zipped past the bottom of the street, on their way elsewhere.
Thank. The. Fucking. Lord.
Brian looked down at his crotch. He felt like he should have pissed himself, but there was no sign of it.
He looked at his watch.
What was taking them so long?
And then they were out of there, all stocking masks and bulging biceps and big fucking bags filled with cash. They’d tried to tell him what they were going to do, what their plan was, but Brian had at least been sensible enough to tell them that he didn’t want to know.
They piled into the van. Ally got in the front beside Brian, shouted, “Pedal tae the fucking metal, Goggles!”
Brian drove out of there like a man possessed. In his mind he heard sirens, saw the jam sandwich police cars swarming behind them. He looked at Ally, saw blood stains on the overalls. He wanted to say something, but then the sound a car horn cut into his head like chainsaws and he pressed harder on the accelerator, let that fucker in front know he was in a hurry.
They screeched out of the town centre and hit the Kingsway. As they followed the ring road round the outside of Dundee, Brian calmed down, merged with the rest of the traffic. The boys took off their masks and cheered.
Finally, Brian really did piss himself.
Most of the money was being kicked upstairs, so Ally said. The Baldy Beasts were working for someone else, implementing some other tosser’s get-rich-quick scheme. They were the muscle. The brains of the outfit, well he wasn’t daft enough to get involved with the rough stuff.
So only a percentage went to the crew. How they shared that out was up to themselves and how that worked out was really up to Ally. They weren’t going to be crying about their share either. Brian was grinning from ear to ear when they gave him the cash.
“Don’t go daft,” Ally said. “Dinnae put it in a bank account. Anyone starts asking question, first one they’ll ask is, how the fuck did ye get aw that cash? And why the fuck are ye no paying any fucking taxes on it?”
They were back in the pub where it all started, sitting round the same table. The landlord was in on the scheme as well. He got a small kickback for turning his attention elsewhere when the Baldy Beasts were discussing their plans. It was beginning to feel like home to Brian. He was itching for the next job. He didn’t even mind the fact he’d been so scared he’d pissed himself. As Ally said, everybody reacts differently. Ally always had to take a shit, although he usually waited till he got to the toilet first.
Brian took the cash, put it in the bag they’d given him. He kept it close while they celebrated the big score. He left early, saying he’d better get back to Irene before she started asking all those fucking questions about where he spent his time, what kind of company was he keeping and all that other shite.
When he got home, he opened the bag, let Irene see the cash, said, “Mebbe a baby’s no such a bad idea,” thinking it would get him in her good books and maybe if they were canny about the way they spent the takings they could have a pretty fucking good life.
He’d expected a roll in the sack, maybe some bareback riding since he’d been so nice about the baby issue. After all with the kind of money he could bring in working cars for the Baldy Beasts they could afford someone to look after the wean when it was born.
What he hadn’t expected was a slap across the face so hard it made bells ring between his ears. He cowered back from Irene, holding his burning cheek and feeling his blood boil. “What the fuck’s that fer?” he yelled.
“Y’fucking eejit!” screamed Irene, her arms stretched towards him like she wanted to wrap her long, wrinkle-skinned fingers round his neck. “Whit the fuck were ye thinking?”
“Have ye seen this!” he shouted, holding out a wad of notes and waving them so she couldn’t miss them. “This is the fuckin’ answer tae everything, ye stupid fucking bitch!” “It’s no the fuckin’ answer,” she said, shaking her head and looking like Brian’s mother the way she stood with her arms folded, her back straight and her chest puffed out. “It’s a go tae jail card.” She explained to him – like he was a child – that sooner or later the Baldy Beasts were going to get caught by the police. “Maybe no today. But its gonnae happen, Brian McMillan and I’m no gonnae be the wife of a fucking criminal, never mind one that’s goin’ tae the jail!”
Ten minutes later, she was on the phone to the police. Brian was in the bathroom, the door locked, clenching his fists and trying not to punch the mirror. He heard her hang up and his fists swung up and out of their own accord. Glass shattered, fell around him. He pulled back his fists, saw his knuckles, looked at the blood.
He stumbled back; fell arse over tit into the bath.
Irene was fixing his glasses, wrapping sticky tape round the bridge. He was sitting on the armchair with the rough cover – the one they’d inherited after Irene’s mother died, with the ugly floral decoration – clenching and unclenching his fists, trying not to cry at the sharp pain that persisted round the ugly cuts on his knuckles.
The doorbell rang. Irene went out into the corridor, answered the door. He heard her talking to the police, heard her flirting with the officers, maybe thinking if he did go to jail she could have a wee wing-ding with a man in uniform. She didn’t just collect those calendars every year for a laugh, he supposed. She really thought about it. He wondered if she imagined he was a policeman when she was with him, if maybe she was disgusted with her poor choice in a husband that the only way she could reach any kind of satisfaction was thinking about another man.
Nah, he decided. Fuck that. He may be the skinny eejit with the thick glasses but where it counted he knew he was more than enough man for any woman and anyone who thought otherwise was asking for a good kicking.
Irene came into the living room, her two fancy men in tow. She passed him his glasses and he looked up as the two faint black blobs turned into two big men with dark uniforms and darker scowls.
“Is there something you want to tell us, Mister McMillan?” said the larger of the two officers. He looked like he was in charge. Actually, Brian was thinking he looked like that fellow off the telly who played the gangster that was always passing out. The other one – smaller, daintier than his companion – didn’t look much like anyone. Maybe some TV poof, that one did the late night phone calls and gave old biddies vibrators to play with, perhaps. Or maybe Brian was looking too hard for a connection.
“We know you appreciate how serious this matter is,” said Poofy Policeman. Even his voice was lighter than that of his friend.
“And we know,” rumbled the Gangster, “that you understand your civic duty. You got in over your head, Mister McMillan. It happens to the best of people.”
Brian wanted to stick them the finger, show them what the best of people thought about the pigs. But he kept his fingers balled, let his nails dig into the palms of his hands. Even though he kept them trimmed down, they still felt sharps.
“There was a girl in the bank,” said Poofy. “Sixteen years old. Sixteen, Mr McMillan. Your friends shot her as an example, blasted her in the chest with a shotgun.”
Gangster shook his head. “Right mess,” he said. “Jesus Christ, poor girl had her whole life ahead of her.”
Poofy said, “These aren’t men, Mr McMillan. They’re animals.”
Gangster leant in close and said, “So tell me, Mr McMillan, are you a man?”
“I think,” said the solicitor with the receding hair and the brown suit that hung loosely over his skeletal shoulders, “that my client’s been fully co-operative with your inquiries.”
The DI who’d been conducting the interview waved his hand dismissively. The solicitor – his name was Weyers – placed hand on Brian’s shoulder. He had long, thing fingers. Between those and his oddly shaped head, he could have played an alien on the X-Files. “Come along, Mister McMillan,” he said. Brian stood up, followed the man out of the room.
Outside the police building, the solicitor offered Brian a cigarette. Brian took it, grabbed the light when it was offered. He took a long drag on the fag, smiled as he blew out a long, lazy plume of smoke. Irene had been right. All this shite, like a weight lifted off his shoulders.
“I did the right thing, eh, man?” he said to Weyers.
Weyers nodded, smiled without showing his teeth.
“Aye, fuckin’ right I did,” he said.
“You’re still an accomplice,” said Weyers. “What we did in there was we made sure your co-operation would be taken into account.”
“Right enough,” said Brian. He felt good, he was a good man, he’d done his part and him and Irene, they could work on whatever it was that was wrong. He was realising now why he’d pissed himself in the car. It was the excitement, it was the fear. He had been afraid because he knew what he was doing was wrong, he knew the Baldy Beasts weren’t really his friends.
“So what now?”
“You’re in my custody, Mr McMillan,” said Weyers. “I’m responsible for you not running off between now and the next time the police want a word with you.”
“D’y’think,” said Brian, who had begun to realise all the possibilities of the situation during his interview with the DCI, “they’ll pay a lot tae talk to me.”
“Who?” said Weyers, who was holding his cigarette without actually smoking.
“The papers, man,” said Brian. “Fuckin’ Sun, News of the World, aw them bastards!”
Weyers chuckled. “I need to pop by my office,” he said. “I’ll give you a lift back to your good wife when we’re done.”
Brian followed Weyers to the car; a brand new Merc of all things, black and gleaming like it had just come out the wash.
Weyers’ office was up the Hilltown, third floor of a building that had seen better days. Weyers asked Brian if he wouldn’t mind coming up. “I could be a minute or two,” he said. “You can have some coffee.”
Brian thought it would be asking too much if he could have it Irish.
Weyers unlocked the door of the offices of Weyers, McIntosh and Weivel, and walked inside. Brian followed, walking into dark. “Ye no got lights?” he asked, unable to see where Weyer had gone.
The lights came on.
Brian felt his bladder jerk.
The Baldy Beasts were lounging around the reception area. Some had their arms folded. Others lounged on the secretary’s desk. Ally was at the head of the crowd, smiling when he saw the goldfish look on Brian’s face.
“Awright, Goggles,” said Ally.
Weyers closed the door. “Luck of the draw,” said Weyers. “When they called me.”
Brian looked at Weyers. “Aw no, man,” he said. “Fucking hell, tell me this is a joke.”
“No joke,” said Weyers. “These gentlemen work for me. I’ve done them more than a few favours.”
“Saved me from daein’ time on more than one occasion,” said Ally. “Aw these other cunts, too.”
Brian felt his balls tighten, thought he’d piss himself again. “I’ll take it back,” he said, his voice sounding unnaturally high. “Tell the bastards I made a mistake, tell them I made it all up so’s I could some attention!”
Weyers placed a thin-fingered hand on Brian’s shoulder. “Isn’t it funny, Mr McMillan, how just one choice can fuck us up so completely. I mean, you know what that choice was, don’t you?”
Brian knew. Anyone else might have said it had been saying yes when Ally had offered him a job. But even by then it had been too late.
The TV said it all the time; drinking too much wasn’t good for a man.
Brian would have laughed if he hadn’t been so scared. Those bastards on the telly, in the papers, they didn’t know how right they were.
Douglas Shepherd ©2005
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