Second in the Best Defence Series
‘That was quick.’ The custody sergeant stabbed my details, one-fingered, into the computer. ‘Didn’t expect to see you this early on a Sunday morning.’
It was true. A two-cop bop and a police assault didn’t normally have me leaping nimbly out of bed in the middle of the night, but I couldn’t sleep: too much on my mind and too little in my bank account.
Clipboard in hand, the sergeant climbed down from his seat and led me along a narrow corridor where shoes and belts were neatly stacked outside a row of heavy iron doors.
‘Oskaras Vidmantis Salavejus,’ he read slowly from the charge sheet. ‘Lithuanian, apparently.’ We came to a halt outside one of the doors. ‘Seems he took a sudden dislike to our Inspector Fleming.’ The sergeant produced a bunch of keys. ‘Out for a quiet curry, Friday night, next thing he knows your client’s getting torn into him.’ He handed me the charge sheet. ‘Speaks English, or maybe that’s only when he’s pished.’ He unlocked the door and held it open. It started to close as I walked in. I put out a hand.
‘Leave it, will you?’
‘He’s a jaikie, he’ll not kill you.’
I was more worried about the smell killing me than the prisoner.
‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘I’ll not let him escape.’
‘Aye,’ said the turnkey, ‘I know how much you Legal Aid fat cats hate to see a fee run out the door.’
I stepped inside and the stench hit me. Just who was the person with the bright idea to design cells with cludgies that flushed from outside? Did some over-cautious architect foresee problems with prisoners trying to launch themselves to freedom via the plumbing system? ‘Well at least pull the plug. This place is honking.’
There came the sound of running water and the custody sergeant put his head in the doorway. ‘You will let me know if there’s anything else.’
The door slammed shut. I kicked the plastic mattress on which the prisoner was stretched and elicited no response. I could have given him a shake, but that would have involved using a hand so I kicked again, harder. The dishevelled figure peeled his face from the mattress. He was tall and slim with a good head of black hair and high cheekbones. He reminded me of an upper-class bounder in a second-rate period drama. He sat up, yawned, rubbed the palm of his hand from greasy forehead to square, stubbly-chin and stared at me through bleary, blood-shot eyes.
‘Who are you?’ he asked, with no hint of an accent.
I backed away from his zombie-breath. ‘Robbie Munro - duty agent.’ He took the charge sheet in shaky hands, squinted at the page, screwed it up and tossed it aside. It hit the wall, bounced twice on the shiny linoleum floor and skidded into a corner.
‘I’ll take that as a not guilty,’ I said.
The prisoner flopped back onto the mattress. Consultation over, I picked up the ball of crumpled paper and dropped it into my jacket pocket. ‘Well then... see you in court.’
I banged on the cell door. There’d been a shift-change and a new custody sergeant, young and bristling with customer service qualifications, took me back to the front desk.
‘That you finished?’ he asked.
‘You tell me. Anyone else want the duty man?’
He went around the counter, jumped up on the high stool and consulted the screen.
‘Nope. Looks like it’s been dead quiet tonight.’ He dismounted and snatched a set of keys from the desk. The phone bleeped and he answered. ‘On second thoughts you might want to stay,’ he said, replacing the receiver. ‘That was a call about Mr Abercrombie.’
Was he talking about Max?
‘The lawyer at the end of the High Street. Did you know him?’
He was talking about Max - and in the past tense. Cold fear distilled in the pit of my stomach. Max Abercrombie was an old friend.
The young cop must have noticed the blood drain from my face. He looked embarrassed. ‘I’m sorry. I’ve just started my shift and it’s on the screen here. I thought you’d have heard. Mr Abercrombie was murdered - Friday night. They’ve got someone already and they’re bringing him in right now. He’ll need a brief and seeing how you’re the duty...’
‘No.’ I placed a hand on the counter to steady myself. ‘I’m sorry, I can’t.’