I STOOD by the front window, waiting in the darkness for Roddy, watching the streetlights glinting on the knife I would use to cut his throat.
I’d lived in this squat with Roddy and various other transient losers for about a month or so. I suppose I was at what they call ‘rock bottom’; no further to fall, nowhere else to go. I’d met Roddy through our mutual dealer and had learned that this flat above the old bookies’ was where Roddy and his crew hung out.
It was one of those buildings from the early 1900s with a shop unit below and a flat above, once linked internally but the flat now only accessible by a stair round the back that you reached through a narrow pend between the bookies’ and the next empty shop unit. The flat had been empty long before even the bookies’ shut. I crashed there one night and never really left. I was simply accepted.
People came and went, crashed out, were sick, got spaced out and eventually left. I had nowhere to go so I was there for the duration, for the company. Then Roddy got the money.
One Saturday night he clattered into the squat carrying two bulging plastic carrier bags. I was alone in the house, watching telly, but he just burst past me, barging through the room and into the bedroom that he had long claimed as his own. Nobody else ever went in there.
They weren’t banned or anything – it wasn’t that kind of place – but it was Roddy’s den in Roddy’s place and we all respected that. He came back out without the two bags to speak to me and he was shaking and whimpering like he was coming off something.
He trusted me. All of the crew did, something to do with them thinking I was ‘posh and that’. So he spoke as confidentially as he could in his agitated state. ‘Davie boy ye have tae listen tae me man I’ve struck it big pure big fuckin big man!’
‘What’s up, Roddy?’
‘I’m tellin ye Davie boy, this is pure big by the way. Ye know Carstairs the moneylender guy?’
I did. Everybody did, whether or not they’d been in his clutches.
‘Well, anyway, a couple o his heavies were out collecting for him,’ Roddy continued, ‘and I fell in wi them and helped them and we took the money tae Carstairs lock-up place and when they wurnae lookin I took two of the bags away wi me and there’s thousands in them, Davie, Thousands!’
‘Thousands? Thousands? They’ll notice, Roddy. Carstairs will waste you when he finds out.’
‘Naw, Davie, look, Carstairs’ guys are idiots, idiots, he disnae trust clever folk. They’ll no notice the bags are gone and when Carstairs finds oot that the amounts don’t tally he’ll blame them. I’m in the clear – I just have tae make sure that I don’t do anything daft. I just sit on it for a while, weeks, months, cause it’ll look dead suspicious if I give it some, spending pure hundreds all of a sudden, know what I’m saying?’
‘Where will you keep it?’
‘I’ve got a cupboard in my room. Cannae really just shove it in the bank, eh no? Don’t tell the other guys. I mean, they’re pure diamond mates but I don’t trust them and they’re pure aff their heads, eh?’
I knew what he was saying and at some points in my life would have been touched by his naive trust in me, moved to loyalty perhaps. But as I explained earlier, I was at rock bottom. I had nothing and he had money, thousands of pounds, and I wanted it.
I thought and planned and came up with a scheme. But this scheme meant I had to get away from Roddy’s place, cut my connection to it. Just a few days later I told Roddy that I had to leave. Folks I knew in Edinburgh, I told him, wanted to see me and had offered me a place to crash and I had decided to go there for a while. He nearly cried and we hugged and I told him to go careful with all that money. I did my best to seem quite genuine in wishing him all the best.
I was the only one he’d ever trusted with a key to the place and I made a great show of handing it over. What he didn’t know was that I had had it copied at a key bar a day or two earlier, an act that had taken most of the money I had left. I left the squat with all my belongings, everything I had in the world, in a single Poundland carrier bag.
It can be a curse, having good parents. Dad had been an engineer in a machine-tool factory – when Scotland still had industries like that – and was a union official, an elder in the kirk and the kind of man everyone looked up to and respected. Mum was a primary teacher with a reputation for being behind much of the good work that happened in our community.
Of course, the children of admirable and upright parents often go off the rails. Usually, it’s a form of rebellion, making a virtue of rejecting their goodness and decency. But it wasn’t that with me. No; I admired my parents, wanted to emulate them, wanted to be like them, but I knew that I wasn’t capable. It just wasn’t in me.
I made a mess of my exams at school so Mum and Dad sent me to try and get qualifications at our local further education college. But I was on self-destruct by then and soon dropped out, left home and was on the streets. Now I was nearly 25 and things couldn’t get any worse, but I knew where there was money, perhaps a couple of grand, perhaps even more. With that kind of money I could get back on the rails, try to become a normal member of society again. There wasn’t even any need for rehab. Poverty was already cleansing me.
Of course, from the start I realised that Roddy had to go. If I sneaked back in and took the money he’d know it was me; I the only person who knew where it was and I was the only person who knew that Roddy had it. And what would he do then? Put it about to Carstairs that it was me who had got the money from his thick heavies? That would be the end for me. Yes, Roddy had to go.
I lived rough for a week, while I was supposed to be over with my pals near Edinburgh. My plan was to go to the flat when it was empty, get the money, wait for Roddy to come back, kill him, and then make my escape. I’d be in the clear. Everyone knew I was away somewhere and so what if my prints were all over the flat? I’d lived there, hadn’t I?
And so I waited there with my cold blade and cold heart, the darkness fallen and the gaudy sodium light spilling in from the street and bringing chilly fire to the blade. The two plastic bags of money – depleted, I noticed, so Roddy must already be drawing on it – sat beside me as I carried out my vigil by the window.
(Cont next column)