It starts with a telephone call. Casual, chatty, friendly, no business. You arrange to meet, neutral venue, preferably public. You have to be careful, regardless of the caller, regardless of the meeting place. Every eventuality planned for, nothing taken for granted. Tempting to begin to trust; tempting, but wrong. A person could be your friend and conﬁdant for twenty years and then turn away from you in an instant. It happens. Anyone with sense remembers that bitter reality; those without sense will learn it.
Saturday afternoon, football on the radio in the background, sitting on the couch with a book. The Painted Veil by William Somerset Maugham, if you must know, and he’s fascinated by it. It has lured his attention away from the radio; he doesn’t know what the score is any more. The older he gets, the less important that seems. The telephone rings – landline, not mobile – taking his attention away from everything. A marker placed across the line he’s on (never fold the page to mark your place), and he’s getting up.
‘Calum, how are you, pal? John Young here.’
‘John. I’m well. You?’
‘You know, same old. Been a while since we saw you down the club. Thought I’d call you up, see how you were. You keeping busy?’
‘Busy enough. Comes and goes, you know how it is.’
‘I do that. You hear about old Frank MacLeod – in having his hip done? Yep, out of the world for a few months at least. Hell of a thing, for a guy so active.’
‘I heard. Shame for him.’
‘Sure is. Can’t picture him with his feet up. Be good to see you again, Cal, been too long. You should come down the club tomorrow, after lunch. We’ll shoot a few frames of snooker, have a few drinks. Be fun.’
‘Sounds like a plan. I’ll drop by about two-ish.’
‘Good stuff, see you tomorrow.’
The clues are all there if you care to look for them. Perhaps you don’t care to; most people don’t. A casual conversation: two people who know each other on a ﬁrst-name basis, without being too close. Friends who see each other on a weekly rather than daily basis. Friends who don’t care. Phone calls like that are made so often, so why care? It’s a job offer. A very definite offer of something long-term and lucrative. Does he want long-term and lucrative?
Small ﬂat, small car, small savings, but always enough. He works for need, not luxury. Long-term means risk, and risk is to be avoided. There are gamblers in the business, but they all lose eventually, and the cost is ﬁnal. So don’t gamble. You don’t need to. There are two reasons why people do: one acceptable, and one not. The unacceptable reason is greed, the prospect of more money, which they don’t actually need. The other reason is the thrill, and that’s different.
He hasn’t been in the club since he heard about Frank’s operation. Old man goes into hospital to have hip replaced. It’s no news to most. Those who know Frank – what he does – know different. He’s old, but he’s still great, still important. Like a boxer who loses speed but learns tactics, he’s as dangerous as he has ever been. He’s from a generation ago, the golden-olden times before the intrusion of modern technology, modern policing and modern sensitivities. So many were left behind. Time marched, but Frank had always moved a step faster. The work he had done in the past was still needed, just the process was different. Now he was gone, for a few months at least, and would have to be replaced. He would be replaced by a younger man. A short-term replacement, for now.
Now Calum can focus on nothing. Another job is another job – nothing more. That doesn’t concern him. Being enveloped in the suffocating bosom of the Jamieson organization concerns him. For the likes of Frank MacLeod, it was comforting, a guarantee of work and security. For Calum MacLean, it’s a threat of enforced regular work, a loss of freedom. What is worth that?
The club is in the city centre, a small entrance leading into a large building. Nobody on the door on a Sunday afternoon. Usually a handful of people in at the bar, upstairs at the eight snooker tables. Not today. Today on the door a sign: Closed for cleaning. A tatty sign, trotted out every time privacy is required. Suspicious, obvious, but people didn’t ask questions. Calum ignores the sign, opens the door and walks in.
It always seems dim inside, even with every light on. On his right he can see the large, scuffed dance ﬂoor, and on the far side the DJ’s booth. There’s a bar running the length of the side wall, gaudy lighting, bottles of every variety – none that he likes. He doesn’t drink alcohol, although he’s never understood in his own mind why. Self-control, most probably. It’s not a moral thing. He loathes the club too, loathes that lifestyle, the sweaty cattle market, the pointless racket. It always came back to him that he hated it because the point was to attract women, and he isn’t deemed attractive to women, no matter how dark it is.
A wide carpeted staircase in front of him, short steps that are easily misjudged. A lot of people have tripped going up them, overreaching. Calum is always careful, fearful not of being hurt, but of looking stupid. At the top of the stairs is a pair of wooden double doors with rectangular windows. He pushes one open and steps into the snooker hall. Eight green tables, two rows of four, plenty of room between each. Scoreboards on the walls, little machines beside each one. Pay a pound, get thirty minutes of light on your table. They make little money, not enough to justify the space they require, but they’re one of Peter Jamieson’s bewildering array of improbable passions. There’s a bar against one wall, small, old-fashioned. No ﬂavoured vodka here, just beer and whiskey. It’s closed today. Cleaning, apparently.
John Young is standing at a table in the middle of the room, chalking his cue. The balls are scattered about the table, none yet potted. He may just have started, he may have been hopeless. Calum has never seen him play before, doesn’t know. He knows Jamieson is good. Everyone knows Jamieson is good. Everyone knows Jamieson has had lessons from professionals. Young must have learned something from his boss.
‘Calum, how are you?’
‘Fine.’ He’s walking across to the cue rack and picking one out. He’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt; he can only play well in a T-shirt. Sleeves get in the way.
Young shoves all the reds back into the centre of the table and racks them in the triangle. He carefully places the balls on their spots. Everything precise, placed by a man who plays often, and plays with a serious partner. ‘Good weather out,’ he ﬁnally says.
‘It is. You break.’
Young bends, lines up the shot and hits it. Only one red runs loose, the white coming right back up the table. Safe – a break to make the next shot difﬁcult. No letting you win.
It stays serious until it becomes obvious that Young is going to win, and easily. Calum has effort, Young has skill, and it takes ten minutes for those two to be widely separated. Then talk.
‘You been working for anyone lately?’ Young asks. This is the ﬁrst real mention of business, the ﬁrst open acceptance that this is what the meeting is really about.
The question is misleading. Calum works, he has to. What Young wants to know is if he’s been working repeatedly for the same person, or just drifting around. He probably knows the answer already; he wants to see if Calum can surprise him. He can’t.
‘No. Bits and bobs. Freelance. As ever.’
Nothing for another minute or two. More shots carefully picked out, even when the frame is won, even when the maths prove it. When it’s over, and the balls are being laid out again – best of three – Young speaks again.
‘We’re without anyone now. Shame to lose Frank for a few months.’
‘Didn’t see it coming?’
Young laughs. A short laugh, not a happy one. ‘Frank’s one of those guys that can’t admit when there’s something wrong with him. Not until it’s too late. He should have warned us. He knew for ages and said nothing.’ He shrugs, a what-can-you-do shrug.
Calum’s turn to break. It’s messy: reds everywhere, white in the middle of the table. Trying too hard. Young feels conﬁdent enough to talk early.
‘How old you now, Calum?’
‘Gettin’ old.’ Young laughs, self-deprecatingly; he’s a podgy but youthful forty-three. His eyes twinkle when he laughs, like he means it; his forehead crinkles and his tousled dark hair seems to fall forward. He looks jolly, but you never forget who he is. ‘You thinking about settling down?’
It’s a professional question, not personal. ‘I haven’t thought about it at all. Time might come. I don’t feel like I need it. I like my freedom, but I’ll see how the wind blows.’
Young nods. It’s a demand. He’s saying that if he settles with Jamieson, then he doesn’t want to be overworked. It’s a demand that Young can live with, one that ﬁts with other wishes.
Talk quiets. The frame is getting more serious. Young was too casual, too conﬁdent. He’s missed three shots that he should have made, and Calum is ahead. Calum misses a shot he would usually miss. Young concentrates. He starts knocking in shots, making a break that requires skill. He needs to get as far as the blue to guarantee the win, and he gets there at the ﬁrst attempt. They shake hands. Young thanks him for coming.
When he knows the boy has gone, he puts his cue back on the rack and crosses the room to the back corridor. At the far end is Jamieson’s ofﬁce. Two knocks and Young enters without waiting for a reply. They’ve been friends since they were in their late teens, since they were both starting out in the trade. Thrown together by circumstances – a chance meeting on a shared job – they recognized immediately how much each could do for the other. Jamieson was in charge, that was clear; Young the right-hand man. No other right-hand man earns so much or is given so much control. He’s trusted.
‘You are the brains,’ Jamieson would tell him when drunk, ‘I am the balls. It works.’
It wasn’t that Young lacked courage, or that Jamieson wasn’t smart. Young could get his hands dirty, but Jamieson’s instinct for the nasty work was unrivalled, and evident from a young age. Jamieson was intelligent, but Young was tactical, and that was an important difference. Separately they were talented; together they were lucrative.
Jamieson has to be in charge. He has to be seen to be in charge. It doesn’t matter what either of them thinks; their employees and their rivals have to believe that the man they fear most is the man in charge. Perception. PR. You would be amazed how important that is in a trade like this. Being in charge comes with a downside, though. You’re at the top of the tree, where everyone can see you, where so many others want to be. Jamieson can handle that, no problem. Besides, their operation isn’t yet quite big enough to spook the top dogs into action. Yet.
Jamieson is sitting where he always sits, on the swivel chair behind his desk, facing away from the door. The desk faces the door, the chair rarely does. There are two televisions on a long stand behind the desk, both showing horse racing, another passion. He gambles, not because he needs to, not because it’s a thrill, but because he has a need to beat other people. In this case, the bookies. He isn’t trying to be rude when he sits with his back to you; he’s just the sort of person who can be consumed by the things that interest him.
Horses don’t interest Young in the least. Miniature Irishmen torturing dumb beasts in the name of a sport funded by the gullible and controlled by the idle rich. His seat in the ofﬁce is on a small leather couch at the right side of the well-lit room, just beside the large window. There are newspapers on the table, mostly local, some national, scanned for any references to their work. These days you need to spend more time checking websites to make sure people don’t make unfortunate references to you. Young sits and waits.
‘I spoke to the boy MacLean,’ he tells Jamieson when he’s sure both races have ﬁnished.
‘Boy? How old is he anyway?’
‘That all? Feels like he’s been around for ages. What did he say?’
‘I think he’ll do it, if he’s one of two or three. Doesn’t want the full workload.’ Jamieson is concentrating now, sitting forward, hands gently tapping on the table. This is his tool to focus on what matters, the constant patter of hands on desk. ‘He ain’t exactly a bag of laughs,’ Jamieson smiles. ‘But I like him. He’s good. Smart. Quiet. Frank says he’s the best of the new breed. I agree. We’ll make him an offer.’
Young waits three days before he calls Calum again. The current job can afford to wait three days. It’s also like dating – you mustn’t seem too desperate. If you give the impression of hurry, then people will demand more in return. With Calum, it could scare him off. The boy is clearly wary of commitment. That’s naive; Young’s experience tells him that. In a few years he will be craving it. The regularity, the comfort, the safety net. Doing a job in this business is like being ﬁred from a cannon: doing it freelance is being ﬁred without a net to land in. The big organization, it protects you, it has ways of keeping you safe. Eventually the pressure of the job will wear Calum down and make that safety attractive. But not yet.
Calum is back on his couch, playing video games. God of War III, if you’re interested. He ﬁnds it frustrating. The phone rings – mobile this time. He pauses, picks up the phone, looks at the screen. Young.
‘Calum, it’s John Young. How are you, busy?’
‘No, not busy at all.’
‘Good, come down the club. Me and Peter want to speak to you, okay?’
A job offer, obviously. Important? Maybe, but he’s waited three days, and that suggests not urgent. Perhaps that’s what it’s supposed to suggest. It’ll be temporary, but it could be designed to draw him into something longer. Frank MacLeod isn’t going to last forever. Nobody in this business does. Calum switches everything off, leaving nothing on standby. He gets a coat; it’s a colder day. Blustery outside. He picks his car keys from the top of the fridge in the kitchen, and leaves the ﬂat.
There’s nothing in the ﬂat that can tell you what he does for a living. There’s certainly no gun. No one who works with a gun and has any sense keeps a gun in their home. There’s no documentation. Keep no reminder. Some people keep souvenirs. Those people are stupid. Dangerously stupid. Maybe a bit sick. They will be caught. A police raid will tell nothing about Calum. No emails. No tweets. No text messages. Tracking phone calls would tell that he was in touch with people like Young, but you can’t go to jail for the friends you keep. Calum has never been arrested, no convictions, never seen the inside of a jail cell. He’s been in the business for ten years. He won’t gloat about avoiding arrest until he’s retired.
Avoiding arrest is not the same as avoiding suspicion. Not sure how he’s doing on that front. Do the police know that he exists? Surely. They must know about Jamieson; everyone else does. Jamieson is the up-and-coming ﬁgure. Calum has done work for Jamieson before. He’s done work for one or two more established ﬁgures as well. He’s not tied to any of them, though – that’s important. He’s a moving target. A chance that the police don’t know him. A chance they don’t know what he does. That’s what he wants for himself, and what Jamieson wants from an employee as well. Starting with a clean slate.
He goes into the club by the front door as he always does. No point sneaking in. If people are watching the club, then they’re watching the back as well as the front. Sneaking in the back only makes you look more suspicious. Up the stairs, through the door. The snooker hall is open to the public, the bar open. Six people using three different tables, another four people at the bar. One of the men at the tables is Kenny McBride, Jamieson’s driver. Driver is a broad description. Jamieson can drive himself most of the time. Kenny’s a taxi for the boss. He’s a driver on important jobs. He delivers things. He picks things up. Anything that needs a car. Calum nods hello, walks past.
Along the corridor, all the way to the end. Nobody outside the ofﬁce door, no obvious security. Never is. No paranoia yet, although that will probably come. It does with most. Jamieson is mid-forties. Not old. More youthful than most people his age. Not big enough yet to be plotted against. So most people think. A hands-off approach to security. Ruthless, yes, but casual too. Calum knocks on the door three times and waits to be shouted in. He doesn’t have the sort of relationship that allows him to enter uninvited. Somebody calls for him to come in. He opens the door, steps inside and closes it behind him.
It’s just Jamieson and Young. The TVs are off, which means business. Jamieson is behind his desk. Is he trying to look like a businessman, trying to look respectable? Unlikely. He has bucketfuls of self-awareness, he doesn’t feel a need to try and look like the good guy. The desk isn’t to make him look respectable; it’s to let you know he’s in charge. Young’s sitting to the side on the couch, as always. Neither one of them is intimidating. But then neither one of them is trying to be. Young isn’t capable – too podgy and relaxed. Jamieson can do it. He can scare, when he wants to. His eyes, that’s what does it. It’s almost always about the eyes. If your eyes can’t do scary, then you can’t do scary. Jamieson could give a look when he chose.
‘Good to see you, Calum, been a while,’ Jamieson says, nodding for him to sit on the chair in front of the desk. ‘Take your coat off.’
Calum does as he’s told, because you do what you’re told. He places the coat over the back of the chair and sits in it. Now he’s facing Jamieson, and Young is only just out of view. That’s disconcerting, deliberately. You don’t know what Young is doing. You don’t know if he’s mouthing something to Jamieson. You don’t know if he’s made a gesture or not. You can’t see his reaction. You don’t even know if he’s paying attention. That’s the point. You will leave that ofﬁce not knowing what at least one of them is thinking.
‘Let’s get down to business,’ Jamieson says, with that cold face that tells you to pay attention. ‘Have you been doing much work lately?’
He wants to know if Calum has killed many people lately. Kill too many in a short space of time and you will inevitably draw attention to yourself. Jamieson’s clever about that, good instinct. Don’t hire someone who’s been too busy. Don’t hire someone who hasn’t been working at all. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right. A Goldilocks employee. You answer because you have to, but it’s awkward. Nothing wrong with Calum’s answer, but you have to trust Jamieson with the answer. You have to trust that the only people who hear it are the people in the room. No bugs. They’re rare, but not impossible.
‘I’ve been keeping to a regular schedule,’ Calum answers. ‘I don’t like to overstretch.’
It’s the right answer. It means little, but it’s right enough for now. Jamieson knows Calum is smart. Calum knows what answer Jamieson wants to hear. In this case it’s true, and Jamieson believes him, but takes everything with a pinch of salt.
‘I might have a job for you, if you’re interested. You know we’re short.’
‘I heard. I might be interested. Depends, though.’
‘On?’ Jamieson’s frowning now. He doesn’t like conditions. He particularly doesn’t like guys who haven’t even hit thirty making demands, when people like Frank MacLeod rarely do.
‘The schedule I work is good for me. I don’t want to break that.’
Jamieson nods. Not unreasonable. Also ﬁts with his own plan. No more relying on one man to do such important work. Frank was great, but now he’s broken and there’s nobody to step in. They have to recruit from outside. From now on, they always have at least two.
‘You know Lewis Winter?’
Now it’s real business. It’s considered that the job has been accepted. Calum hasn’t said he’ll do it, but he’s laid down a single condition and, by moving on to the job, Jamieson has accepted the condition. You don’t talk money. They both know what the ballpark ﬁgure is. Now it’s speciﬁcs for this job. Calum is on board. Jamieson and Young have both accepted it. Now they will treat him as though he’s one of their people, in the organization. Maybe just for this one job. It’s been like that before, when they had a big job and Frank chose him to ride shotgun. You’re in the family for one job. Then you’re on the outside, with them keeping an eye on you, making sure you don’t say anything you shouldn’t. Also making sure you stay useful to them, for moments like this.
‘I know of Lewis Winter. Met him once, brieﬂy. Wouldn’t say I know him.’
But Calum knows enough. He knows who Lewis Winter is, and he knows what Lewis Winter does. That’s enough. Lessons from Frank MacLeod, lessons from others with experience. Don’t learn from the ones who have been caught and tell their stories to all and sundry. Don’t learn from those who know how to do it; learn from those who know how to do it well. They tell you to learn everything. Not a glib comment. Learn who everyone in the business is and what they do, because you don’t know when you’ll run into them. So you learn who people like Lewis Winter are, even though they’re not important people. You learn every nook and cranny of the city, because you don’t know when you’ll be there. Calum has done it. He’s kept himself up to date. He drove around the city, exploring areas he didn’t know. He made sure he knew the industry better than it knew him. He made sure he knew Glasgow better than it could ever know him. If he needed to move quickly, he would know the route. He might only need the knowledge once in his life, but that once could decide the length of that life.
He had met Lewis Winter through a mutual friend. They were at a party where Winter didn’t belong. He was there with his much younger girlfriend. It was only three or four months ago, and someone had introduced them for reasons inexplicable to Calum. Perhaps because they were the only two criminals the mutual friend knew, and he thought they would get along. Winter is into his mid-forties. He has grey hair around the temples; he’s struggling to keep his weight down. He looked as though he had just lost. He isn’t a man for a party. He isn’t a man blessed with great success. If he’s the subject of this conversation, then things aren’t liable to get any better for him.
‘Winter’s become a problem. The job would be for you to deal with him.’
Calum nods. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Surprising that Winter should have become a problem to a man like Jamieson. Winter is small-time, always has been. He is a man cursed. Every success was swiftly followed by a crushing failure. Twenty-ﬁve years of it, no sign of a change.
‘Sounds simple. Anything I should know?’
Jamieson shakes his head brieﬂy, a slight shrug of the shoulders. ‘Anything you think you should know?’
A key distinction to make. What you should know is what you need to know, not what you want to know. You want to know why Jamieson plans to murder this man. You don’t need to know that. Lewis Winter is a long-term, small-time drug dealer. Jamieson is involved in many facets of criminal life, drug dealing included. Lewis Winter steps on Peter Jamieson’s toes. If Jamieson’s not seen to take action, then he could look weak. Perception is vital. The things you need to know relate only to your ability to do the job well, and to the consequences. You need to know if there’s anything hidden that could catch you out; if your target has friends or contacts who might catch you up. Only what will help you do the job. Only what will help you live with the consequences.
‘Does he have any sort of security that I should know about?’
Not a question he would usually ask about Lewis Winter.
Winter is small-time, he has no security. At least none to speak of. He has no bodyguards. He has no hangers-on who would be capable of causing trouble.
‘He might own a dog, that would be about it,’ Jamieson shrugs.
‘He doesn’t,’ Young chips in from the side, his ﬁrst contribution.
‘There you go,’ Jamieson smiles. ‘He’s living with his girlfriend now, that wee trollop.’
‘Zara Cope,’ Young says. ‘A slut, but a smart one.’
‘A smart slut,’ Jamieson is saying with a smile and a shake of the head, ‘those are the ones. Man, those are the ones. You know she had a kid with Nate Colgan six or seven years ago,’ he’s saying to Calum.
‘Does the kid live with them?’ Calum’s asking, always worried about that scenario.
‘Nah, with the grandparents.’
Nate Colgan. It’s a name that conjures images that are better left unseen. A hardman. Not a caricature of a hardman. Not someone who walks around ﬂexing muscles, covered in tattoos, playing the role of the angry man. A real hardman. A man that people like Jamieson use, but treat with care. A man you would all do very well to avoid upsetting. A man Calum is worried about upsetting. He met him once. Colgan seemed surly. When he spoke, he was surprisingly intelligent. Not unpredictable. Not an explosion of anger for no good reason.
That’s not hard. That’s crazy. Hard is people knowing what you’re going to do to them and being unable to stop you. Calum didn’t know what the relationship between Colgan and Cope was these days. Better to avoid her, if possible.
A thought occurs.
‘Is Winter still working alone these days?’ Calum asks.
This matters. Winter alone means killing Winter. Winter in an organization means killing Winter and paying for it later. People can’t be seen to be weak.
Jamieson is glancing across at Young. Calum can’t see the response.
‘As far as we know,’ Jamieson begins, ‘he’s still working alone. He’s been making moves in my areas, though, and not being subtle about it. Like he’s trying to piss me off. Like he knows he has backup. I don’t think he does. Yet. I think he will. I want to get him before he gets backup.’
That’s as much as Calum should know. No more detail. No word on who the backup is, how close it might be. It hints at something bigger, though. An ugly hint.
A nod of the head accepts the job. No shake of the hand, not necessary. This isn’t a gentleman’s club, after all. This isn’t a gentleman’s agreement. This is business. Calum has agreed to it. If he fails, then he will probably be punished. Not killed. If you kill a man for failure, who else will want to work for you? You ostracize him, though. You make life tough. Calum knows this. He’s seen it happen to others. It’s happened to talented people. Mostly it happens to the loudmouths, to the idiots who think they can do the job, but can’t. It’s easy to kill a man. It’s hard to kill a man well. People who do it well know this. People who do it badly ﬁnd out the hard way. The hard way has consequences. Even the talented must be wary of that fact.
Excerpted from The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay. Copyright © 2013 by Malcolm Mackay.
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