Ninth in the Best Defence Series
I hadn’t seen Cammy Foster in years. To be honest I hadn’t missed him. Once upon a time we’d played football for the same amateur football club, and I remembered going to his wee sister’s funeral along with the rest of the team. I couldn’t recall us ever having been particularly close friends. Apparently Cammy could, and, on the strength of that alleged friendship, enticed me out for a drink.
Wednesday lunchtime I met him in the Red Corner Bar. He had a worried face he’d not shaved that morning and a crumpled suit he’d not bought yesterday. Since neither face nor suit was making any discernible movement in the direction of the bar, I shouted up a heavy shandy for myself.
‘What are you having?’ I asked him.
Cammy was having Jack Daniels and Diet Coke. American whiskey was bad enough, but a mixer? The balance of the man’s mind was clearly disturbed. The drinks hadn’t been poured before I realised this was to be less of an old pals’ reunion and more of a request for help.
‘I’m not asking you to actually do anything, Robbie. I’ve just come to pick your brains.’ It was what people said when they didn’t want to pay for a lawyer’s stock in trade: advice. Worse than that, it didn’t look like Cammy was keen on paying for the drinks either.
‘Let me know if I can do youse any more cocktails,’ Brendan the barman called after us, as we moved to a table next to the fruit machine. I’d drunk most of my shandy, looked at the clock on the wall three times and failed to stifle several yawns, before Cammy had finished filling me in on his predicament.
‘Call me old-fashioned, Cammy,’ I said, staring into the depths of my pint glass, ‘but I usually advise people on how to get off with a crime after they’ve committed it - not before. It’s sort of a tradition with us defence lawyers.’
Cammy, who thus far hadn’t touched his drink, removed the ironic slice of lemon that Brendan had wedged onto the side of the glass and knocked it back in a oner. Diet Coke? Anyone who was worried about the calories in their mixers, didn’t have a weight problem, they had a drink problem.
‘Tell me, Cammy,’ I said, ‘what do you do for a living these days?’
It turned out he sold electronic gadgets. ‘I can get you audio devices to spy on your business competitors,’ he said, ‘Trackers so that you know where your wife is...’
‘I know where my wife is, thanks. She’s... She’s at work, in court or somewhere...’
Cammy gave me a look of sympathy. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes, I’m sure. I trust her.’
Cammy took a lemon pip from his mouth and set it and his empty glass down on the table between us. ‘Okay, okay. You trust your wife. What about your house?’ There was a slate loose, but nothing Joanna’s dad couldn’t sort. ‘If you like I can fix you up with wifi-capable, domestic appliances. You could control your home using your mobile phone.’
I had difficulty controlling my mobile phone, using my mobile phone. ‘Cammy, I didn’t ask you what you did for a living because I wanted to hear a sales pitch. I was trying to make the point that you probably don’t do much murdering people in your line of work.’
Cammy leaned back in his chair. Trying and failing to look nonchalant, he glanced around the bar to see if anyone might have overheard me. He needn’t have worried. There were no Jehovah’s witnesses in the Red Corner Bar, only Jehovah’s bystanders. Satisfied no one was listening in to our conversation, he moved his glass to the side and folded his arms on the table top. ‘No, I don’t, but I’d be happy to start with Ricky Hertz.’
That name. A name everyone in Linlithgow knew and was ashamed of. Ricky Hertz had killed three girls. They’d found the bodies of the first two in a stretch of scrub ground between the lower of the Rugby Club’s pitches and the embankment of the Edinburgh to Glasgow railway line. The last time the children had been seen alive they’d been walking a dog not far from the swing park on Mains Road, a mere two hundred metres away. Cammy’s sister, Emily, had been Hertz’s final victim. Her body had never been found They'd buried a small, white, empty casket.
Hertz had been tried and convicted, and it was very much hoped he’d die in prison. Indeed, over the years, a few inmates had done their best to see that hope fulfilled, for there is no one more self-righteous than a fellow-lifer doing time for a proper murder, and a child-killer makes the ideal target. Now, after many years inside, Ricky was outside again, bailed pending an appeal into a possible miscarriage of justice.
‘A miscarriage of justice?’ Cammy flicked a finger at the lemon pip, sending it sailing across the bar. ‘What a lot of shite.’
‘The Appeal Court wouldn’t let him out unless they had some good reason to believe his conviction was unsafe,’ I said. ‘When was his trial – two thousand?’
‘Two thousand and one.’
Enough said. Although by 2001 the European Convention on Human Rights had been adopted by the newly formed Scottish Parliament, it was slow in taking effect.
‘There weren’t all that many safeguards for accused persons back then,’ I told Cammy. ‘I’m guessing Hertz’s solicitor has raised some kind of Article Six issue’
Cammy lifted his glass and stood up. ‘I don’t care what technicality some smart-arsed lawyer has dug up. This is my opportunity, can’t you see that? What I need to know is how to do it and not get caught.’
Yes, it was really as simple as that. All Cammy wanted me to tell him was how to commit the perfect crime. I should have felt flattered at being asked.
‘And if you did kill him, who do you think would be prime suspect?’ I said, guessing I wasn’t the first person Cammy had met in a pub and shared what he’d like to do to his sister’s killer.
He looked at my depleted pint glass. ‘Same again?’ I asked for a whisky this time, any single malt. It would be quicker for me to drink, and once I had I was leaving.
‘I assumed that you’d tell me to set up an airtight alibi for myself,’ Cammy said, on his return from the bar with another JD and Coke for himself and something that smelled distinctly blended for me. ‘And get someone else to do the actual…You know...’
He glanced around again. ‘Yeah.’
‘Good luck with that.’
‘Actually, that’s the main reason I came to see you. I’ve been asking around. I hear you know people.’
‘But you must do, in your line of work.’
‘I’m a defence lawyer. I don’t run an agency for hitmen.’
‘Is it about money?’
‘Have I said anything about money?’
‘No, but it’s always about money with you lawyers.’
I took a tentative sip and confirmed my worst fears of a cheap blend.
‘I might have known it would come down to money,’ Cammy muttered, picking up his own glass and taking a slug.
‘Look, Cammy, I’m very sorry about what happened to your sister—’
‘Then why are you trying to protect that scumbag?’
‘I’m not. I’m trying to protect you. Protect you from having to spend the rest of your life in prison with scumbags like Ricky Hertz.’
He shrugged the shrug of a man who just wouldn’t be told. ‘After what he did to my sister, what would I get for killing him? A couple of years? The jury would probably not even convict.’
‘No, Cammy,’ I said, ‘the jury would be directed to convict, and the sentence would be the same as it always is for murder - life imprisonment.’
‘Come off it. For ridding the world of a piece of filth like Ricky Hertz?’
‘Up at the High Court they call that taking the law into your own hands,’ I said. ‘And what the boys and girls in the wigs and red silk jerseys really don’t like, is folk doing their jobs for them.’
He grunted and rolled his glass between the palms of his hands.
‘Cammy, what happened to your sister was terrible. I don’t blame you for feeling like you do. If it was me I’d feel the same way, but you have to stop and listen to yourself for a moment. What you’re talking about is just plain stupid.’
‘Oh, I’m stupid, am I? For wanting justice?’ He sniffed. ‘Yeah, well thanks for nothing.’
My turn to shrug. ‘You wanted my advice and I’m giving you it. Let it go. Let the law deal with Ricky Hertz. You or anyone else going to prison for him is only ruining another life. If in fact he did kill your sister—’
‘If? How can you say, if? It was your dad who caught him.’
That was something my dad hadn’t allowed me to forget over the years, and I was as proud of his role in the child-killer’s capture as he was. Well, nearly. ‘What I mean is that there may have been some legal problem.’
‘I don’t understand. How can there have been a problem? What kind of problem, exactly?’
I had no idea. All I knew was that the Appeal Court didn’t release convicted child-murderers on bail unless a great big problem had come floating to the surface.
Cammy banged the table with a fist. His tall glass toppled. By the time I’d righted it, most of the contents had spilled and were dripping onto the floor. I could see Brendan behind the counter, hands on hips, grubby towel draped over one shoulder, glowering across at us. I lobbed a couple of beer mats into the midst of the small lake that had formed and shouted to him to bring over a cloth.
By this time Cammy was on his feet. ‘I’d like to say it’s been nice seeing you again, Robbie, but—’
‘No, it’s fine. I understand,’ he said. ‘You’re right. I am stupid. Stupid to ask for advice from someone who makes his money defending folk like Ricky Hertz. Maybe it’s your dad I should be speaking to.’
Seriously, what had he expected me to say? Here’s a list of hitmen I recommend. For more information visit my website, www.hire-a-killer.com? No, this meeting was less about Cammy’s warped sense of justice and more about him trying to salve his conscience. The man who killed his wee sister was out, and he thought he should avenge her death. But how was a gadget salesman going to do that? When he’d come to see me he must have known I’d tell him to take a hike, but, because of my unwillingness, he now had someone to blame for his own inaction. What did I care? I hadn’t seen Cammy in more than seventeen years. I could happily wait that long before seeing him again.
Brendan appeared at my side with a damp cloth and a bucket. ‘Problem, ladies?’ he asked.
‘No, problem, Brendan,’ I said, standing up to let him in and give the table a quick wipe. ‘Mr Foster was just wondering if I knew anyone who might kill someone for him. You free tonight?’
‘Sorry, I don’t kill people on a Wednesday,’ Brendan said, wringing the cloth into the bucket. ‘Not unless they spill two drinks.’
‘It’s all a big laugh to you, isn’t it Robbie?’ Cammy snarled, after Brendan had sauntered off again. ‘Well, my sister never found it very funny.’
‘Go home, Cammy,’ I said. ‘Nothing that happens to Ricky Hertz is going to bring your sister back.’
‘No, but at least I’d have the satisfaction of knowing that the evil bastard got what he deserved. If the government had more balls they’d hang folk like him.’
I unhooked my jacket from the back of the chair. Cammy walked over and stood a bit too close. He was tall. I recalled he’d played centre-half. I’d played centre-forward, usually when I was supposed to be playing right-back. It had only been a lack of sporting ability that had prevented either of us from playing professionally. He pushed his face at me. ‘I won’t forget this.’
‘Really?’ I said. ‘What you going to do? Use your mobile phone to turn my houselights on when I’m out?’
There was plenty of room for me to walk past Cammy, and yet he still managed to arrange it so that our shoulders collided. ‘It would be different if I had the money,’ he shouted after me. ‘You’d know people then, wouldn’t you?’
I turned. ‘Yeah, I would. The sort of people who’d take your money and leave you bleeding up a close. That’s the trouble with paid assassins. Very unreliable. You want a job done?’ I called back to him. ‘Stop trying to blame other people and do it yourself.’