.

God Put A Smile
A Cal Innes Story

by Ray Banks


.......Stop me if you've heard this one.

.......A priest walks into a pub, interrupts a conversation between two guys and asks one of them, a private detective, if he wouldn't mind paying him a visit the next day. The P.I.'s had more than enough to drink, and he agrees. Then he and his pal get back to their pints.

.......So now it's the next day, I'm trapped in the priest's chintzy living room and the sheen of comedy is tarnished by a thumping hangover. The air's cloying thanks to an electric fire turned up to eleven. What seemed funny the night before, like some bad joke, now looks to be my passport to hell. Tea in a china cup sits by my side, untouched. The tie I wore for the meeting is now a wet piece of cloth stifling me. The heat in this room is unbearable; I'm dripping sweat.

.......On top of all that, this Father Kelly is asking me awkward questions.

......."I don't know what faith I am," I say. "I never gave it much thought."

......."How were you raised?" he says.

......."Okay, I suppose. Doctor Spock'd probably have a few things to say, though."

......."I meant what denomination, Mr. Innes."

......."Catholic. But I'm lapsed."

......."You can never lapse too far."

......."That's comforting."

.......Father Kelly is sitting in a beaten-up armchair watching me with placid blue eyes. He reminds me of the priest I saw when I was a kid, Father Mulrony. That same quiet way about him, the same self-control that became evident when my dad crashed Christmas Mass one year and puked in his own lap. Mulrony kept on going, didn't miss a beat, while the rest of us scrabbled to get him out of there. My father called Mulrony a Fenian cocksucker and we were black affronted in proper Broons style.

.......And now it looks like I'm still Catholic. I don't know how comforting that is. Or what it really means to the man in front of me.

.......Kelly's fingers slip together and he looks at his knuckles. He pauses so long it looks like he's counting each grey hair. His long fingers are in direct proportion to his lanky frame and gaunt features. He looks like he's seen a lot of shit in his time, but this is the real faith-shaker.

......."Can I ask what this is about?" I say.

.......He looks up at me, crooks an eyebrow. "I know you work at the boxing club with Paulo."

......."I don't work with him, but we share the same premises, yeah."

......."Do you remember a lad called George Bailey?"

......."Doesn't ring a bell."

......."He was about fourteen when he attended the club, part of his probation."

......."Usual thing," I say.

......."He dropped out not long after he arrived."

......."Not so usual."

......."He felt he wasn't much use there, felt he was being picked on. He needed something more sedate, less confrontational. His social worker agreed that it would be best if he came to work with the church."

.......I get an image, frosty around the edges. A short, skinny lad with muscles like a knot in a piece of string. I remember him getting leathered three times a week. The other lads sniggering behind his back. Soft-spoken, almost effeminate, threw a punch like he had a handbag in his fist. His name could have been anything, though. I tell Father Kelly this.

......."That's him," he says. "It's been a few years, but he hasn't changed much. He's still quiet, reserved. He does some work with Guiding Light."

.......Now Guiding Light, I've heard of. It had a feature in the Manchester Evening News and everything, a bus that goes round the estates, bringing the power of the Lord and the PlayStation to the inner-city kids. The bus parks up, the kids go in, have a whale of a time. It's the church's way of stopping the kids from shitting on their own doorstep. Me, I never joined the welcome party. Something about it smacked of cult.

......."So what's the problem?" I ask.

......."There have been rumours," he says.

......."What sort of rumours?"

.......He clears his throat. "You have to understand, whatever I've been told was in the strictest confidence."

......."Somebody confess to you?"

......."Nothing like that. I just mean I was told in confidence. And I wouldn't want to break that confidence."

......."Then why are we talking?"

......."Because I've heard good things about you, Mr. Innes. I've heard you're -- "

......."Discreet, I know." Suddenly it's Innes karaoke. Play the tune, sing the song. "I know I'm cheap, if that's what you mean."

......."Please. This is hard enough."

.......I try to get comfortable. Should've bitten my tongue. "I'm sorry, Father. Go on."

.......And for once, Father Kelly's composure seems to gutter out. "George has been accused of sexually abusing a child on the estate."

.......I don't say anything. Kelly's looking at the floor, like it's his fault. I'm waiting for it all to sink in. But I must have a blank look on my face.

......."I need to know if these allegations are true, Mr. Innes."

......."Who told you this?"

......."It was in the strictest confidence."

......."Okay, then who is he accused of... " I can't finish. My gut churns. I reach for the tea, take a sip. It doesn't help. The tea's stone cold and a skin has formed on the top.

......."I'm sorry, Mr. Innes. I can't tell you that either."

......."Well, was the victim male or female?"

.......He shakes his head. "I was told ­ "

......."In confidence, I know. Everything you've been told, it's confidential."

......."That's right."

.......I replace the cup and wipe my mouth. "Then what am I supposed to go on, Father?"

......."You can ask questions," he says.

......."That can stir up more rumours. Where's George now?"

......."I don't understand."

......."I take it you've given him a holiday or something," I say.

......."Why should I do that?"

......."To get him out of the loop."

......."It would be as good as admitting guilt," he says. "George is innocent until proven otherwise."

......."That's very Christian of you, Father, but the real world doesn't work like that. You were told in confidence, and so were about three other people, and those people tell three others. Before you know it, the sewing circle's charged and you've got a full-blown paedo on your hands. After that, you can expect pitchforks and flaming torches."

.......He shakes his head. "You don't have much faith in human beings, do you?"

......."Oh, I have plenty faith in human beings. Especially in their ability to behave like a bunch of animals if the wrong buttons are pushed. Look, you want me to help, you're going to have to give me something to work with."

.......Father Kelly looks at the electric fire. His hands slip apart and rest on the sides of his chair. In the glow from the fire, he looks about eighty.

......."Do you believe he did it?" I ask.

.......He doesn't look at me. Just keeps staring at the orange bars. It takes me a while to realise how hard this must be on him.

......."I don't know, Mr. Innes," he says finally. "I really don't know."

.****

.......I sit in my office and play with my lighter. Click it on the desktop, flip it round and click the other end, then light it. A tiny flame appears. It must be running out of gas. I use what's left to light an Embassy and sit back, slide the lighter across the desk. From the one window in my office, I've got a great view of the bins. I've seen foxes out this window some early mornings. Right now, there's a raggy cat with one eye intent on something out of sight.

.......Information came my way. Father Kelly thought about it, started talking, and once he started it all snowballed, came spilling out like a long-delayed confession. As he talked, a clearer image of George Bailey came to mind. I remembered the skinny kid in detail. He had a touch of the Daniel O'Donnell about him then. Slender, spoke with a soft Irish lilt that the other lads took to be a sign of his homosexuality. But he was jittery, easily spooked, and when it came to the ring, the kid was roadkill. He wouldn't even try to defend himself, looked on with wide eyes as the gloves battered him black and blue.

.......I remember thinking he was a lover, not a fighter. The memory makes my throat dry now.

.......George Bailey was born to a mother who didn't want him. She'd offered him up for adoption as soon as he could scream. He'd been abused in one foster home, shuffled off to others who had too many children to pay attention to the introverted boy in the corner. When he finally took a half brick to a kid's head in a playground fight, he got himself a record.

.......And then, on to the Lad's Club.

.......I flick ash from my cigarette, wish I had a drink.

.......He hadn't any priors that'd add up to sex offender, but Bailey was an easy target for rumour. Or so Father Kelly helped me to believe. He still hadn't told me the whole story. Who'd accused Bailey in the first place? Kelly said he was protecting the victim, but that was it. True enough, if this went to court, I didn't want to be involved. It wouldn't look good. It's one thing to hire a private dick, but it's a whole different matter if that P.I.'s done time himself. Any testimony I'd give might as well be written in red crayon. But that's just fine with me. I've had my fill of courtrooms, with their pompous barristers and eye-watering stink of Mr Sheen everywhere.

......."You okay?" It's Paulo. I didn't hear him come in.

......."Yeah, I'm fine."

......."Then why're you sitting in the dark?"

.......I didn't know I was. True enough, my eyes sting. "I lost track of the time."

......."You coming for a pint?"

......."Nah, I think I'll give it a miss."

......."Kay. Well, see you tomorrow."

......."Mm."

.......He doesn't leave. I can feel him standing there.

......."You remember George Bailey, don't you?" I say.

......."Yeah, I remember the lad. Didn't last long. What about him?"

......."What'd you think of him?"

......."Not much. A little girly, maybe."

......."He strike you as funny?"

......."Funny ha-ha?"

......."Funny peculiar. Funny creepy."

......."What you getting at?" says Paulo.

......."I don't know, mate. That's the whole trouble."

****

.......The next day and I've wrapped up warm. I've got The Coral playing on the tape deck, a cigarette on the go and I'm heading towards Rusholme. I would have walked but the weather's vicious. Manchester winters drag on worse than those in Leith, and the wind smacks rain-soaked fists at the windscreen. The wipers are fighting a losing battle.

.......I can't talk to the victim. I wouldn't know what to say to him even if I knew who he was. And there are enough questions to keep me occupied. I'd half thought about telling Father Kelly where to stick his job. I didn't need this, and he wasn't paying. I was supposed to do this on my own time, on my own money. And I could think of better things to be doing. Sleeping, for one.

.......But no, he dangled the carrot and me being the biggest ass in the history of the world, I can't stop until I get my hands on it. So this is why I'm driving down to Rusholme. If I can't talk to the accuser or the victim, I'll talk to the accused. I doubt he'll give me a straight story, but I might get something out of him.

.......I come off Stockport Road, pass Longsight market on my way up to George's place. It's Saturday and the traders are out in force, stalls already set up. People have braved the weather to get their hands on some knocked-off gear and it's hell looking for a parking space. I find one on Grenville Street and get out of the car, pull the collar of my jacket up against the wind. One foot drops two inches into a puddle.

.......Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

.......I trudge up towards George's house, a shabby-looking terrace. His gate is rattling on its hinges and his front garden's turned into a jungle. The curtains are still drawn in the front room and the house is in darkness. I check my watch. Probably too early to go knocking on the door, but I'll do it anyway. Rap three times and wait.

.......And wait some more. No sound in the house. I'd told Father Kelly to give the lad a day off; he should be home. I get down on my haunches, flip open the letterbox. The hallway is dim, a damp smell coming from somewhere.

......."George?"

.......My mobile starts to ring.

......."George, my name is Callum Innes. I'd like a word with you. It's rather important."

.......My mobile keeps going. I answer it crouching. "Hello?"

......."Mr. Innes, it's Father Kelly."

.......That's about all I hear. His voice is cracking, and there's too much background noise. I stick a finger in my ear and raise my voice. "You're breaking up," I say.

......."Mr. Innes, I think you'd better come to Ordsall."

......."Is George there?"

.......The line goes to static, cuts out. Then jumps back in with Kelly saying, "... here, the bus is on Hulton Road."

.......And then silence apart from the wind whipping my head. With my heart sinking, I turn on my heels and run back to my car.

****

.......I push the engine to its limit, barrelling across Manchester. As I hit Salford, push round towards Ordsall, the rain begins spotting off. And as I turn into Hulton Road, I see the Guiding Light bus parked by what passes for a common.

.......I don't look at it long, though.

.......I kill the engine and hop out. Father Kelly is doing a King Canute, trying to hold back this bruiser with a scratch on his cheek. His composure's long gone and he looks like he's about to have a heart attack, his hands clasped to his chest. Pleading with the guy. Behind the bruiser is a mob of fathers, mothers, kids screaming about like it's their birthdays and Christmas all rolled into one. Chinese whispers has come full circle.

......."Now listen, Mr. Dalgliesh --"

......."You listen, pal. I don't give a shit what you think, we want that lad in there."

......."You already had him, Mr. Dalgliesh. He's in no state to -- "

......."Fuck off, we're not finished with him."

.......A chant is starting up. "Nonce-nonce-nonce-nonce-nonce"

......."I'll call the police."

......."You call the fuckin' police. You do that. Get him out of our fuckin' street."

.......I step up by Father Kelly. The hardcase, this Mr. Dalgliesh, looks me over like I just pissed in his cornflakes. "Who's this bastard?"

......."Easy, mate," I say.

......."Easy nowt, I'm giving him five minutes to get the paedo out here."

......."You a union man, Mr. Dalgliesh?"

......."I know you?"

......."Nah, mate. You don't know me."

......."Then I don't deal with you. You tell him, padre. You get him out here else we go in and get him."

.......I look behind me. In the bus, I can make out a shadow. George Bailey.

......."You won't do that," says Kelly.

......."Don't fuckin' bet on it. He's a sex case. He should be on the list. We'll make sure he is."

......."He's innocent."

.......Dalgliesh gets in Kelly's face. "You got five fuckin' minutes."

......."Oi," I say. "Take a step down. I'll go in there. I'll bring him out."

.......Father Kelly looks at me. I take him to one side. "What do you think you're doing?" he says.

......."I'm trying to stop you from getting killed. Listen, I need to get in that bus and bring him out before this turns nastier than it already is." I reach into my jacket pocket, give him my mobile. "You get on to the police. Once they're here, I'll bring George out and we'll let them handle it."

......."Okay."

......."Good." I look across at the crowd. The chant's still going, rippling from the back to the front. People are jostling each other, faces twisted into masks of hate. But behind Dalgliesh, a woman is holding a girl for dear life. She looks frightened, as if the swell is about to swallow her and her daughter whole. I catch her eye, then Dalgliesh notices and goes over to her, wrapping huge arms around her shoulders. The husband. The wife. The daughter. The protected family unit.

.......I back away, head towards the bus. Feels like the death mile. As I leave Father Kelly behind, he fiddles with my phone. I wish he'd get out of here to make the call, but he wants to be part of the action. Christ.

......."George, open up!" Banging on the door of the bus. "C'mon, man, I'm not pissing about. I'm on your side. Open the door."

.......I see him moving about. He appears at the door. "It's okay, George. I'm with Father Kelly. Open up."

.......He stares at me, face a bloody mess. Looks like he's been worked over already. The door opens with a hiss. I climb aboard and it closes right behind me. George moves away, never takes his eyes off me.

......."You okay?" I say.

.......He doesn't answer, just eases himself into one of the beanbags littering the floor. It's dark in here; I can't make out much. But there's blood on the carpet and George is holding a wad of tissues to his head.

......."They do that to you?"

.......He sniffs painfully. "I don't know how many," he says. "And I don't know why."

.......I lean against a bookcase. Famous Five, Secret Seven, The Hardy Boys, Tintin. Good old-fashioned stuff. Stuff I used to read. Leaflets on drugs, sexual health and alcoholism sit on a table next to it.

......."They think you abused a kid," I say.

......."Abused?"

......."They're calling you a paedophile."

.......He closes his eyes, dabs at some dried blood on his upper lip. "I didn't do it."

.......I walk towards him. He flinches. "I need to know if you're telling the truth, George."

.......George looks up at me with shining eyes. "I'm telling the truth."

.......I stare at him. From what Kelly said he'd be about nineteen, but he looks a lot younger than that. Something to do with the expression on his face, the sheer terror at what's happening, the inability to grasp it, to deal with it. It's a victim's face, not someone who's been caught.

.......Something cracks against the window like a gunshot and I duck. George's head drops into his hands. Outside, I can hear the chant hit an unbearable volume. Look down at George, his arms are up around his ears, he's curled up into a ball.

......."I need you to come out with me," I say.

.......Another crack at the window. A stone. The mob's getting edgy.

......."George, wake up. I need you to come out with me." I look out of the window. Father Kelly's nowhere to be seen. I pray he's called the police, because the crowd is advancing. We haven't got long. "C'mon. I really need you to get up and come out with me. You'll be safe. I promise I won't let them hurt you."

.......He shakes in his seat. His fingers tremble against his hairline. From somewhere under the folds of his jumper, I can hear him muttering.

.......More stones tacking against glass, the crowd getting louder.

.......George sounds like he's praying.

.......The mob hits the bus with all their strength. My legs buckle and I grab onto the bookcase. A copy of The Blue Lotus bounces onto the floor. A brick smashes through one of the back windows and I hit the deck. The bus begins to rock on its wheels. A concentrated effort, organised havoc.

.......It's too late now. There's no going back. I can smell smoke in the air.

.......A roar from outside, and the bus tilts. The television hooked up to the PlayStation slides from its cabinet, falls screen forward onto George's back. I see it in slow motion, pinned to the floor. George grunts and sprawls forward. I pull myself to my hands and knees and crawl towards him. The bus lurches from side to side, my stomach flipping. I get to George just as the cabinet topples, the door catching my temple hard in a white flash and then nothing, just the rain against the windows and the far away roar of a community in meltdown.

.......Our five minutes is up.

****

.......I come to with blue lights in my eyes and the sound of dying sirens ringing in my ears. My neck has been forced into a brace, my hands stuck by my sides. All I can see is the top of what I take to be an ambulance. I don't know how much time has passed, only that the cavalry came too late.

......."You're going to be all right," says Father Kelly.

.......It doesn't bloody feel like it. I'm paralysed from the neck down, and I hope it's from restraints. If not, I don't know what the hell I'm going to do.

......."What about George?" I say. My lips are dry; it hurts to speak.

.......There's a silence. He doesn't need to tell me. It's all right there. I knew just before I blacked out. A lad can be battered only so long before he gives up.

......."Dalgliesh?"

......."They know about him," he says.

.......Which means he legged it. Stirred it up and bolted before the police arrived. I let out a breath that cuts through me like a serrated blade. I'm suddenly very tired. This whole fucking thing was jinxed from the start. I close my eyes again and drift off into unconsciousness.

****

.......Paulo brings me a cup of tea, two sugars. He sits it down on my desk and stands there looking daft. Outside my window, the rain still falls. Whoever said it only rains in people's imagination of Manchester needs their head examined -- it's pissing it down out there.

......."You should be home, taking it easy," he says.

.......I turn as best I can in my neck brace and look at him. "I'm taking it easy. You're making the tea, aren't you? Besides, I sit here and at least I have company. I sit at home and I end up watching Fifteen To One. I can't do that. Makes me feel stupid."

.......I blow on my tea, take a sip.

......."It's not healthy," says Paulo. "You're making me all edgy just looking at you, man. Get yourself home."

......."I don't want to. But if I knew company meant you bitching at me, I wouldn't have bothered coming in."

.......He leans against my desk. "Christ, you're in a bad mood."

......."I'm on painkillers, I can't move my head properly and I fucked up major. So, yeah, I'm in a bad mood, but I think it's warranted."

......."Fine, I'll tell her to come back tomorrow."

......."Who?"

......."There's a woman outside wants to see you."

.......I reach for my cigarettes, get a stabbing pain at the top of my spine. Flick one out and light it up. The past few days have been quiet, just me and my window. I've gone over what happened on Hulton Road more times than I care to admit, tried to work it out differently, but it all ends the same way. I haven't slept. The brace and the thoughts are more than enough to wake me up every half hour. A dull ache in the back of my head and the breath crushed out of George Bailey. I talked to police, but Dalgliesh is gone, nobody seems to know where. Although from their attitude, it doesn't look like the police are going to pursue it much further. As far as they're concerned, a mob of locals bagged a paedophile and nobody's going to be shedding very many tears. Whatever ropey case the plod could have brought together, it didn't hold when their suspect was dead. Dalgliesh incites a riot, and he's a local hero. Give it a couple of months, and everything'll be back to normal.

.......In the meantime, I've done some checking up on Gerry Dalgliesh.

.......I take a drag, set the Embassy in the ashtray. "I might as well see her," I say.

......."Well, sort your head out first, man. You don't want to blow out business."

......."I know. Rent's due."

......."Too right."

.......Paulo leaves the office. I pull myself round in my chair, face the door and try to look as professional as I can.

.......When the door opens again, it's Mrs. Dalgliesh. I try not to look surprised. She stands there with her bag clutched to her stomach and stares at me.

......."Mrs. Dalgliesh," I say.

......."Mr. Innes, isn't it?"

......."That's right. You'll forgive me if I don't get up."

......."Course not," she says. She closes the door behind her, then comes over and takes a seat. She breathes in and her bag makes a squeaking noise as her fingers close tightly on it. Then she exhales.

......."What can I do for you?"

......."How are you, Mr. Innes?"

......."I'll live."

......."That's good. I'd heard things. I just didn't know. After that boy --"

......."Well, I was lucky," I say.

......."Hmm. I saw you there. So did Gerry. He said you were in on it."

......."In on what?"

......."He said it was the Fenian bastards sticking together. Catholics, you should never trust them. Stuff like that. It goes way back, Mr. Innes."

......."I'm sure it does." And it explains a lot. The whole religious bigotry thing rearing its ugly head again. I'd seen enough of that when I was kid. "What's on your mind, Mrs. Dalgliesh?"

......."There's something you should know about my husband."

......."I already know plenty about your husband, Mrs. Dalgliesh. I did some digging when I got out of the hospital."

......."You did?" Suddenly that frightened twinkle appears in her eyes again.

......."His name is Gerry Dalgliesh, he's forty years old, he was a plasterer, he's being investigated by the Social so they've put the kibosh on his dole. He did a little time as a union rep, which explains why he was dishing out ultimatums as well as his piss-poor attitude to negotiation. He's also missing in action. And that's the only thing I don't know about your husband -- where he is. Because he's certainly not living with you. Hasn't been for a good couple of months."

.......She sighs. "You've been by the house."

......."I had to," I say. "I needed to do something with my time. And I'm blaming him for my neck. Hope you don't mind."

......."You think you know it all," she says.

......."I don't know where he is."

......."What would you do if you did know?"

......."Probably shop him. Then the police'd take him in, but there wouldn't be a whole lot they could do. Everything he's done, it's vague. It'd be tricky to pin anything concrete on him."

.......She nods to herself. Her forehead wrinkles, her mouth slightly open. She's practising a speech in her head. Then she finds her voice: "Mr. Innes, I love my daughter more than anything else in this world. I want you to know that. I'd do anything for her."

......."Except tell the truth," I say.

.......Mrs. Dalgliesh stops. "Excuse me?"

......."Your husband had a prior for indecent assault. I'm no brain surgeon, but I'm not as stupid as some people like to think, either."

.......She nods.

......."He also had a scratch on his cheek. He get that brawling? Or did you give it to him?"

.......She ignores me. She came here to tell me something and she's not about to let me dictate how.

......."He'd been drinking," she says. "I heard him in Jo's bedroom. And I heard Jo --"

.......And it was all so muffled she couldn't have been completely sure. Even though their marriage was dead in the water, she couldn't believe it. Even though he stopped knocking her around after a few drinks, found some other outlet, she didn't believe he was capable. She didn't want to believe it. But when Jo collapsed at school, her mother took her to the hospital.

......."God," she says. "You don't know what it's like. They said she was bleeding on the inside, and the way they looked at me. They said they'd have to notify the police and I took her. I took her away before they could."

.......Jo could have died. She knew that all too well. She turned on her husband, confronted him. And that's when he told her George Bailey was responsible.

......."I didn't know what to believe, but I knew he was lying. He had to be lying. But then I could have been wrong. He has that way, Mr. Innes. He's persuasive. So I asked Father Kelly to look into it. I had to be sure. You have to believe that, Mr. Innes. I just had to be sure. This is the man I married, Jo's her daddy's little girl"

.......She breaks off, runs a hand over her mouth. Then she shakes her head. Tears are in her eyes; she looks as frightened as the last time I saw her. Protecting her daughter.

......."You have to call the police," I say.

......."I can't."

......."You can. You have to."

......."He's my husband."

......."And Jo's your daughter. You want to think about that?"

......."I can't put her through it. All the questions"

......."But you want to put her through what her father's doing?"

......."He's not living with us. It's okay."

.......I dump my cigarette. "It's not okay, Mrs. Dalgliesh. He's not living with you now, but if you don't do anything about this, what's going to happen when he comes back?"

......."He won't come back."

......."We both know he will."

......."It'll stop."

......."It'll stop," I say. "If it's going to stop, Mrs Dalgliesh, then what the fuck are you doing here?"

.......She shakes her head. "I can't call the police. I can't do it."

......."You know he did it."

......."I know."

.......My head is throbbing, my neck aches. I light another cigarette. "A young lad died because of him, Mrs. Dalgliesh."

......."I know."

......."So tell me where he's staying," I say.

****

.......Now I'm sitting in my car across the street from the address Mrs. Dalgliesh gave me. She wouldn't tell me, but she wrote it down. I asked her if she'd press charges. She promised me she would, but we'll see. I came here last night and watched the house, popped Pro Plus along with my painkillers. Sure enough, come eleven thirty, Gerry Dalgliesh staggered home. I sat here all night, weighing up the options, my heart beating like a fucked clock. I had a few ideas. I had more than a few. But I was in no shape to act them out. And I'm not sure I could've gone through with them anyway. There's revenge and there's justice. The way I've been feeling, the two could easily blur together like a view through a haemorrhaged eye. And it wouldn't be right.

.......Twenty minutes ago, I called the police. Told them to where to find him. Also told them to pay a visit on Mrs. Dalgliesh, that she had something she wanted to share.

.......A patrol car arrives right on cue, parks outside the house. I try to look inconspicuous, but they don't notice me. Two uniforms get out, walk up the path and ring the doorbell. They wait. I picture Gerry Dalgliesh going nuts with worry in there.

.......That's not the case.

.......When the door finally opens, he's in a T-shirt and scabby jeans. He hasn't shaved. He looks like a hangover on legs. The older constable reads him his rights straight off, but he doesn't look like he can hear it. He stares straight ahead. The guy's lost so much and he's about to lose a lot more. And normally, I'd feel sorry for him, but I'm too numb right now to feel much of anything.

.......One of the constables places a hand on Dalgliesh's arm and he flinches. He doesn't look at them. Stares straight ahead.

.......Right at me. There's a flash of something, but it's not recognition.

.......I nod to him, start the engine as the coppers do their duty and escort him to the back of the car. He's frowning, like he's trying to work out what's happening.

.......I hope he does work it out, just as the cell door slams shut.

.......The sun is shining, but there's a bite to the air. I roll down my window and breathe it in as I head towards Father Kelly's church. I need to light a candle for George. Just so he knows at least someone down here is thinking about him.

.......It must be the Catholic in me.

Copyright (c) 2004 by Ray Banks.



"Walking After Midnight" was Ray Banks' first appearance in Thrilling Detective. Previous Cal Innes stories have appeared in Handheld Crime, Hardluck Stories, Shred Of Evidence and Plots With Guns. His first book, "The Big Blind" will be published by Point Blank Press later this year. Ray can be contacted through his website, The Saturday Boy.

How's that? Not as good as being born up a tree, but there you go.

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