Fifth in the Best Defence Series
‘Okay, so you’ve got seven million pounds. What do you do with it?’
University of Edinburgh Student’s Union, November 1999. We’d all chipped in and bought a lottery ticket. Suzie Lake took a sip from a French Martini, set her glass down on a table crowded with pint tumblers and stared around at those others who’d gathered to refresh depleted brain cells after a mind-numbing, two-hour accountancy tutorial.
‘It’s tax-free, remember,’ said Lewis, whose last name I couldn’t remember. Tax-free? Unlike me he must have been paying attention at the tutorial. ‘I know what I’d do,’ he said. ‘I’d stick it in the bank and travel the world living off the interest. Either that or I’d donate it to worthy causes, like cocaine dealers and strippers.’ Lewis liked a beer and a laugh. Pity that after graduation he’d taken his law degree to the diplomatic corps and now, I imagined, spent a lot of his time drinking spiced-tea with angry Arabs.
Max Abercrombie, my best bud, was up next with his wish-list. ‘I’d buy my mum a house, myself a three hundred ZX Turbo, no, wait, an Aston Martin, and pay someone to go to mercantile law lectures for me. What about you Robbie?’
Nineteen-year-old me pondered the question over a mouthful of Tartan Special. ‘Let me see... How much does it cost to buy a distillery?’ The consensus was that even one on the holy isle of Islay could be acquired for a good chunk less than my imaginary winnings. ‘Then I’d buy my dad a distillery.’
‘It’s sweet that the first person you think about is your dad,’ Suzie said.
Max laughed. ‘Robbie’s only saying that because he knows his dad would drink himself to death.’
‘After that,’ I continued, ignoring Max and happy at having said something to please Suzie, ‘I’d buy Linlithgow Rose, build a great team: Malky at centre-half, me at centre-forward, and win promotion to the Premier League.’
‘Seriously,’ Suzie said. ‘What would you do, Robbie? Would you stay on at Uni or drop out?’
‘Seriously?’ Lewis chirped. ‘Seriously, I think Robbie would give you the whole seven mill if you’d go out on a date with him.’
I laughed along with everyone else, though I suspected I wasn’t the only male present who would have given anything for one night with Suzie.
‘Stay on,’ I decided. ‘With that kind of money, I could set up my own business, take on the most difficult cases.’
‘Pro bono?’ Suzie asked.
‘Of course,’ the teenage Robbie Munro replied. Looking back, I wasn’t sure if I’d meant the part about working for nothing, but it made Suzie smile when I said it and I used to love it when she smiled. ‘Even if I didn’t have seven million, even if I wasn’t getting paid, if I believed my client was innocent I’d do everything and anything to get him off.’
Lewis rolled his eyes. ‘Let’s face it, Robbie. If you really did win the lottery tonight, you’d probably buy a Ferrari, get rat-arsed and wrap it around the nearest tree.’
Amidst the ensuing laughter, I could see the expression on Max’s face change. He pointed a finger in Lewis’s face. ‘That’s enough from you.’
Lewis looked confused.
‘It’s okay, Max,’ I said, ‘Lewis didn’t know.’
My mum had been killed in a car crash. No Italian super-cars involved; just a police vehicle, a wet road and an elm tree. I’d been a baby at the time. You didn’t miss what you’d never had.
I told Lewis that there was no apology necessary, which was just as well because he didn’t seem inclined to offer one. He turned on Max. ‘So, it’s okay for you to talk about Robbie’s dad drinking himself to death, but I can’t mention a car crash in case I inadvertently cast-up the memory of his mother?’
‘Yeah, well, Robbie’s mum is actually dead. His dad isn’t,’ Max said. He pulled apart a bag of Scampi Fries and threw one into his mouth. ‘And you’ve never met his dad,’ he added with a crunch.
Suzie entered the fray again, lightening the mood once more. ‘Well, I still think it’s great that Robbie’s first thoughts were about his father. Life is not all about money. When it comes down to it, your family, your parents, your children, that’s all that’s really important. I hope when I have kids they all turn out to be like Robbie.’
‘I’m sure that could be arranged,’ Lewis muttered into his beer.
‘I don’t mean it like that,’ Suzie said, amidst the laughter, and rather too quickly than was good for my ego. ‘But you’re probably right, Lewis. Knowing Robbie, he’d do something stupid with the money and end up dead or in jail.’
‘I would need to be dead, then,’ I said, ‘because with seven million on my hip, there would be no shades of the prison-house closing on this growing boy, that’s for sure.’
‘Shades of the prison-house?’ Lewis enquired, simultaneously nicking one of Max’s Scampi Fries.
‘Wordsworth,’ Suzie said.
The puzzled expression remained on Lewis’s face. ‘The daffodil guy?’
Max pulled the bag out of Lewis’s reach and looked at me as he thoughtfully munched on a fish snack. ‘So, what you’re saying is that if you do win the lottery that’ll be like a lifetime get-out-of-jail-free card?’
‘Totally,’ I replied, overlooking the fact that I hadn’t the means to buy a lottery ticket, having already tapped money from Max to buy Suzie’s cocktail.
‘I don’t get it. What good is the money going to do?’ Lewis asked. ‘This is Scotland. You can’t buy your way out of prison here.’
I begged to differ. ‘Unless whatever crime I may one day commit is witnessed by the Pope, the Queen and the Dalai Lama, seven million in the right hands will get me out of any scrape. That’s all you need to stay out of jail – a lot of money and a little imagination.’
‘Then, what you really mean is seven million pounds in the wrong hands,’ Max said.
‘Wrong/right, it depends on how you look at things,’ I said.
Suzie disagreed. ‘No, it doesn’t. What’s wrong is wrong and two of them don’t make a right.’
The discussion quickly became a debate, with Lewis, Suzie and Max on one side and me the other. ‘Is it wrong to break the law to ensure that justice is done?’ I asked.
‘There’s no logic to that statement,’ Suzie said. ‘Justice and the law - they’re one and the same thing.’
I was about to explain how wrong she was when Max interrupted. ‘Don’t get Robbie started on one of his jurisprudential rants. He still hasn’t explained why it is that unlimited funds win cases. If that was true, the Crown, with all the resources at its disposal, would win every prosecution.’
If it had been 2001 and not 1999, the snappy answer would have been to refer Max to the Lockerbie trial. The Crown, that is to say the Government, wins the ones it must, and by whatever means.
Lewis stood, stared off into the mid-distance and said, in what I took to be a Churchillian tone: ‘in this proud country of ours, we have the finest legal system in the world. A system of justice iron-bound by a code of ethics, practised by an upstanding profession that tries its utmost, whether briefed for defence or prosecution, to ensure that justice is done. One that plays by the rules and will never resort to bribery, corruption, cheating or sharp practice. One that ensures the truth will out.’
I let Lewis finish, raised a glass to toast his fine words, necked my pint and reminded him it was his round.
‘He’s right, though,’ Max said, once we had shoved Lewis in the direction of the bar. ‘The Scots legal system...’ He lifted the bag of fries and emptied the crumbs into his mouth. ‘Best in the world.’
And nineteen-year-old me could only agree, because it was the best - then - and I dreamt of the day when, clad in a black gown, I’d be part of it: exposing corruption, using my forensic courtroom skills to secure justice and set the wrongly-accused free.
Fast forward to the present. Livingston Sheriff Court, Friday, June thirteenth. A date regarded by many as unlucky, but for me no worse than any other day when Sheriff Albert Brechin was presiding.
‘Mr Munro, would you like to ask the officer any questions?’