A Robbie Munro Thriller
It all started with a dog. Well, really, it started with two dogs.
I met the first dog by the reception desk of HM Prison Addiewell while I was passing through the security check. Having removed my jacket, belt and cufflinks, I was leaning against the frame of the metal detector, holding up my trousers with one hand and trying to untie my shoelaces with the other, when I was approached from the rear by a couple of cops. They were dressed in the sort of black combat gear one dons before abseiling down the front of the White House and assassinating the President.
‘Do you have any objection to being sniffed, sir?’ Wasn’t a question I had been expecting, so I thought it only reasonable to seek some clarification on who exactly would be doing the sniffing.
The answer was Sam, the big black Labrador they’d brought with them, and, just in case I held hopes of clinging to a shred of self-respect, the sniffing would be swiftly followed by a search of my oral cavity. Whether this examination was to be undertaken by man or dog was something I didn’t bother to ask, because I refused and brought the whole humiliating process to a halt.
Thereafter, I was visited by a series of prison officials of increasing rank and better suits, each making it very clear that I would not be allowed to visit my incarcerated client unless Sam was permitted to sniff my gentleman parts and some, as yet unidentified, individual had a look inside my gob for rope ladders, nail files and getaway cars. It was at this juncture I granted myself early release and returned, dignity almost intact, to the office.
‘So you never saw him?’ Shannon Todd was the partner of George ‘Genghis’ McCann, the inmate I’d decided not to see. Like Genghis, Shannon was a drug addict. She was also a proficient pickpocket, an occasional prostitute and handy with a knife.
I told her about the sniffing-dog scenario. She wasn’t impressed. ‘Who cares? Dogs sniff. That’s what they do. You’ve got a dog, haven’t you? Are you telling me it never sniffs you?’
Shannon clearly didn’t understand the principle of the thing. One day the prison authorities wanted to X-ray your briefcase, the next they had a dog trying to stick its cold, wet nose where it shouldn’t. If no one took a stand, before long the screws would be snapping on rubber gloves and cracking open tubs of Vaseline.
‘It was a stupid mutt that started all of this,’ Shannon said, introducing dog number two. ‘I wish I’d never bought the thing.’
‘You bought a dog?’
‘Aye. I paid a hunner and fifty for it.’
Like most heroin addicts, Shannon had to steal, deal and do all sorts of other unpleasant things to feed her habit. We both knew that if she had a spare one hundred and fifty pounds, there was no way she was using it to buy a dog. Not while there was a tenner-bag left in West Lothian.
‘Not a hunner an’ fifty quid. A hunner and fifty skoobies.’
The skooby, or diazepam tablet, is a currency as yet unrecognised by the International Monetary Fund but on the streets it’s as good as gold.
‘I got a script a while back and been saving them up,’ she said.
‘Okay. Let’s backtrack a little.’ I picked up my copy of Genghis’s charge sheet and read it again. Nope, there was definitely no mention of either dogs or drugs. It was a straightforward charge of housebreaking. I squinted at Shannon across my desk. ‘What’s the dog got to do with anything?’
‘That’s what I’m trying to tell you,’ she said. ‘It was all the dog’s fault.’
‘Are you saying the dog’s a thief? What is it? A pinscher?’
But my comedy genius was wasted on Shannon, as it is on a lot of people. ‘Naw. It was a nice wee, white fluffy one. Would you just listen for a minute?’
And I did – for the next ten minutes – while she rambled on as to why her partner should be pleading not guilty to a charge that had all been down to a terrible misunderstanding. Over the many years I’d acted for Genghis McCann, I knew just how many times Her Majesty’s Advocate had misunderstood him.
‘I was at the chemist getting my methadone script and Genghis and the mutt were waiting outside. Then this woman came up to Genghis and said it was hers.’
‘And was it?’ I thought it only pertinent to ask.
It had been. Even the dog had thought so.
‘Genghis said the thing was all over her, barking and yelping.’ Shannon coughed, sniffed up a snottery one and continued. ‘The woman telt him if he didn’t give her back the dog, she’d call the cops. When I found out what had happened, I went mental. I telt Genghis he was getting my dog back, or my skoobies, or else.’
I could understand why Genghis had agreed. Well acquainted as she was with various bladed and/or sharply pointed instruments, Shannon Todd was not a woman whose benzodiazepine stash I’d have wanted to play fast and loose with.
‘Who’d you buy the dog from?’ I asked.
‘Davie Bell. Genghis went to see him to try and get my gear back.’
Davie Bell was a bigger fence than the US/Mexico border. As far as I knew, he didn’t offer a refund policy. ‘How’d he get on?’
‘How d’ye think? He told Genghis where he’d got the dog from and said if he wanted it back, he’d huv tae get it himself. That’s why Genghis went there an’ broke in.’
‘You might want to avoid words like “broke” and “in” if you come to give evidence on Genghis’s behalf,’ I said.
‘But he broke in for a reason.’
‘You’re doing it again, Shannon.’
‘It was hardly even a proper break-in. He got in through a windae.’
‘Careless of someone to leave it open,’ I said.
‘I’m not saying it was open. Not exactly.’
Upon further clarification, it turned out Genghis had cunningly overcome the security of the house with a half-brick. We weren’t talking Mission Impossible.
‘An’ after all that, it turned out it wasn’t even the right house.’
Okay, now we were getting somewhere. I mulled it over. Breaking into a house was only a crime if something was stolen, or if it could be proved the accused had intended to steal. There might be some mileage in a not guilty plea right enough. With Genghis’s record, what was there to lose? First off, we’d have to jettison the dog story. A jury would take one look at Genghis and feel sorry for the animal. But poor wee misunderstood George McCann, full of drugs and accidentally stumbling into somebody’s house – if I could take that material and stitch it up into a defence, the jury might wear it.
Shannon wasn’t slow on hitching her wagon to my alternative scenario. ‘That’s right, Robbie. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ She laughed. ‘It was just a stupid mistake.’
I laughed too. ‘Doesn’t sound too bad. With a bit of luck, I can turn the whole thing into a Section 57 or, at worst, a vandalism. At least there was nothing stolen…’ I stopped laughing because, I noticed, Shannon had.
‘Was there?’ I asked. ‘Anything stolen?’ I glanced again at the charge sheet. There had been: three bottles of whisky, some cash and a cell phone. A load of other bits and pieces had also gone missing, so much in fact, that it looked like Genghis must have accidentally stumbled in and out of the wrong house several times, removing items as he went.
‘How do you know so much about it all, Shannon?’ I asked. Shannon and Genghis were something of a double act when it came to stealing stuff, and had been found guilty art and part on a number of occasions. ‘Were you keeping edge for him?’
‘Naw. Genghis telt me about it when he got back. He said the stuff was sitting there in a cardboard box, an’ he just lifted it and bolted.’
‘But why would he do that? Why steal anything at all? I mean, if it was the wrong place…’
Shannon screwed her face up. ‘Ach, you know how it is, Robbie. He’d gone to all that bother and, well . . . he was there anyway, wasn’t he?’
‘Where’s the stuff he took?’ I asked.
‘He sold most of it to Davie.’
I wondered. ‘Think there’s any chance of buying it back? It might help me do a deal with the PF, and Genghis would definitely get less of a sentence if the property was recovered.’
Shannon looked doubtful.
I stood up. ‘See what you can do.’ It took Shannon a moment or two to realise the meeting was over. ‘I’ll speak to the PF and see if I can sort something out,’ I said. ‘I can’t promise anything. I’ll let you know how I get on, and you can visit Genghis and tell him what’s happening.’ The Legal Aid Board only paid enough for one pre-trial trip to prison and, thanks to my high principles, I’d used up mine. I showed Shannon to the door and down the steps leading to Linlithgow High Street, even though it was for her, like the road to prison was for her partner, a well-trodden path.