MARK FRANKLAND

I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

IF ONLY 'YES' COULD FIND A JURGEN TO TAKE US TO THE PROMISED LAND



We're living in an age of flags. More often than not, they provide a fluttering backdrop to the news. The stars of the EU compete with Union Jacks outside the Westminster Parliament. The cross of St George hangs from peeling window frames from Hartlepool to Huntingdon. The Stars and Stripes has become a must have fashion accessory to go with a 'Make American Great Again' cap.

Sometimes a sea of flags is all about anger and the threat of violence. There wasn't a great deal of peace and love about the oceans of Swastikas at Nuremberg.

Other times, a sea of flags can be all about hope and a vision of something better. Like the flags you can see at the top of the page.

Fair enough, I'm biased. Completely, hopelessly biased and if this pisses you off, you might as well stop reading.

Basics.

I wasn't born and raised in Liverpool, but I consider myself to be proud Scouser.

I wasn't born and raised in Scotland, but I consider myself to be a proud Scot.

I'm not a flag kind of a guy, but I would happily wrap myself in either the Liver Bird or the Saltire.

Is it frivolous to put a football club and a country on the same page? In the same sentence? Probably. And yet there are similarities. Both entities command allegiance. Both release emotions which otherwise stay buried. Emotions which are really hard to explain.

But I'll have a go anyway.

I first saw Anfield when I was twelve years old. And it was absolutely love at first sight. The vast, roaring sprawl of the Kop. The chip shops and the terraced streets and the foul mouthed dockers. Toshack and Keegan. Tommy Smith. And the whole thunderous symphony was directed by a small animated man from the Ayrshire coalfield. Bill Shankly. Our Messiah.

Over the years, things changed and deepened. In the dark days of the 80's, the men in red ruled Europe whilst the city was systematically smashed by Thatcher's wrecking ball. Smashed, but never beaten. Not even close. And Liverpool became an island of defiance. A sanctuary in an England of growing racism and greed.

The 80's made it about more than football. When we went to Wembley for Cup Finals, we all booed the National Anthem. It wasn't our anthem. We had our own anthem, a Gerry Marsden makeover of a showstopper from a Broadway musical. And as the city was picked to pieces by the relentless cruelly of the Westminster Tories, nobody ever had to walk alone. Not once.

And then on a sunny day in April 1989, the sky fell in. I stood and watched as 96 of my fellow fans were crushed to death in cages unfit for cattle waiting their turn in an abbatoir. I watched South Yorkshire's finest as they stood and watched. I watched as the Westminster cover up machine cracked into gear and buried the truth for the next twenty five years. And as I watched it all unfold, any last lingering allegiance I may have held for the Union Jack disappeared.

Forever.

After Hillsborough, it was about more than football. Winning trophies was secondary to securing justice. Truth. Breaking the wall of silence. Smashing down the doors to the vaults where all the secrets were hidden. Silencing the smug, smirking fans from London and Manchester who chanted 'Murderers' at us.

I like to think I did my bit during that long fight which for 25 years felt like a classic case of smashing our heads into a towering brick wall. I wrote two books - 'The Drums of Anfield' and 'The Long and winding road to Istanbul' – where I tried to get that indefinable Anfield thing down onto paper. I wrote blog after blog about those desperate minutes on a sunny Sheffield afternoon. And at long last, I was able to finally step up to the plate to give my evidence to the Hillsborough Enquiry. It was a pretty rough hour and a half. The South Yorkshire Police had shelled out hundreds of pounds an hour on the best attack dog their money could buy - John Beggs QC. He took the gloves off and called me a liar and a fantasist. I took a deep breath and thought about the bodies on the pitch. I thought about the families who were watching on from the back of the court in silent rage.

I did the best I could and when the verdict finally came out a few months later, I pretty much fell apart as years and years of buried grief bubbled up to the surface.

And all the while, the proud defiance of city and club didn't go unnoticed. All over the world tens of millions bought into the story. The miracle in Istanbul added steroids to the brew. The baying mayhem of Anfield in full cry on one of its fabled 'European Nights' became a thing from Shanghai to Sydney to Stockholm. Now tens of thousands make a pilgrimage to the city to see the place in the flesh. Liverpool has become the world's most popular weekend destination.

Last weekend, this strange allegiance hit new levels of ridiculous. Sixty thousand Scousers from all corners of the world made there way to Madrid like pilgims drawn to Mecca. Just to be there. To be a part of it. To wave red flags. 'Scousers' from Asia and Scandinavia and America. Tens of thousands more flew into Liverpool to be a part of the half million who lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the lads on the bus.

The numbers were ludicrous. The numbers were surely conclusive proof this was all about more than football.

Would this have been the case had we won the European Cup five years ago? No. Not even close. The evolution of the Anfield legend has been turbo charged by our latest Messiah who hails from the Black Forest and goes by the name of Jurgen.

Jurgen Klopp watched the defiance of the 80's and saw something unbreakable. A sleeping giant in the heart of a on old school socialist city was a cause he couldn't resist. When he took the reins in the autumn of 2015, Anfield was not in the best of places. Depressed. Ageing. Wearily hanging on to old glories.

What has happened over the last three and a half years has been a masterpiece of leadership. Jurgen dusted down the old Bill Shankly playbook and used it as a template to create his own twenty first century version. Shankly brought tens of thousands of Liverpudlians to his dream. Jurgen's version has reached tens of millions.

Check this out. It is a two minute video the club came up with a year ago. And of course it is all part of a branding exercise. And yet it manages to touch on something which is hard to explain. Well, I think it does.


All of which brings me to my second flag. The Saltire. Scotland. My second flag. And I like to think I played my small part in pursuing the dream of independence. Two books - 'Toxic' and 'The Last Colonial War' - and a whole bunch of blogs and 2014 Indyref debates.  

On the day Jurgen walked into a depressed Anfield, those of us who dreamed the dream of 'Yes' were also at a low ebb. Down but not out, but down all the same. Waiting for a leader. A Messiah. Someone to take us to the promised land.

The country of Scotland and the city of Liverpool have much in common. Between us, we both provided London with the cash and resources to go out and rule half the world. We both played our part. We both did good things and we did bad things. And when we stopped being a useful cash cow to our London masters, our London masters kicked us both in the teeth.

Hard.

The 80's saw us both knocked to the canvas, but we both managed to beat the count and get back onto our feet.

On Saturday night, Liverpool's resurrection was all but completed. Up here in Scotland we still have a way to go. From a flag point of view, 'Yes' is winning hands down. A few weeks ago in Glasgow, our colonial masters only managed to muster a hundred or so Union Jacks to counter a hundred thousand Saltires.

And yet......

And yet polls tell us that half of our fellow Scots are still minded to vote to stay with London. And yeah, I know. It's mind boggling. Inexplicable. Infuriating. Against any kind of logic.

But it is what it is.

'Yes' should be running at 80% in the polls, but we're not. Which doesn't mean we won't win Indyref 2 when the time comes. I'm quite certain we will. But it will be closer than it should be. In the light of the post Brexit humiliation, incompetence and chaos, it really should be an absolute landslide.

Just imagine how things would be right now if 'Yes' had a Jurgen. We have so many things we should be shouting from the rooftops. Our schools are better. Our hospitals are better. Our prisons are better. Our air is cleaner. We have a tonne of space and resources. Tourists are drawn to us in their millions. We don't do racism. We prefer bridges to walls. And most crucially, people all over the world actually like us. They instinctively want to be a part of us. Just like sixty plus million people all over the world have signed onto the Anfield dream.

Just imagine if we had a Messiah willing to make a video like Jurgen's video. This is Scotland. This is who we are. This is who you can be too. Why not come and join us? Why not be a part of it?

A famous Scouser called John once upon came up with a song called 'Imagine' . I'm pretty sure you'll know it. He flogged quite a few copies. Well, imagine if Scotland started to sell the dream of Scotland like Jurgen has sold the dream of Liverpool. Fair enough, our London masters don't allow us any say on immigration, but there's not a thing they can do about internal migration. Imagine online viral videos selling the dream of Scotland to the millions who are suffering the petty hate and nastiness of a bitter England. Imagine tens of thousands of billboards on tens of thousands of English street corners.

Are you sick to the stomach with all the racism and the polluted air and the crumbling hospitals? Are you sick of waiting for six weeks to see a doctor?
Are you sick of Brexiteers and corruption and privatisation and nasty cretins in Farage T shirts and 'Make America Great Again' caps? Are you sick of of being in a country determined to live in the past?

Well, why not head north to a country determined to live in a better future. A place where it does'nae matter if your black, white, pink or blue. Free prescriptions and universities and old age care. Prisons without rats and hospitals with Richard Branson. A thousand bridges to be built and no walls required. No nukes required.

The dream of Scotland is every bit as powerful as the dream of Liverpool. And in the world of Farage and Trump and Putin and Mohdi, there are hundreds of millions out there desperate for a better dream to hook up to.

If only we could find ourselves a Jurgen to sell it!

In case you're interested, here are the Kindle Store links to the books I mentioned. 








Wednesday, May 29, 2019

IN BRITAIN 2019, IS IT BETTER TO BE A DOG OR A HUMAN BEING? YOU KNOW WHAT, I THINK OUR FURRY FRIENDS MIGHT JUST HAVE IT!


So here's a phrase you'll be familiar with. We all are . It's a phrase which has been kicking around forever and a day and it is used to describe someone who's having a rough old time of it.

'Treated like a dog, so he was.....'

Real bad, right? As bad as it gets. And our minds form images of wretched puppies all beaten up and miserable.

Well, yesterday morning I got to wondering whether these well worn words have any truth about them. As in now? As in Britain 2019?

It was nine in the morning and I was parking my van up at Morrisons. The mission at hand was to clear the shelves of packets of 'Market Value' instant custard. This is one of our food parcel staples. Add boiling water and you have something sweet and filling without the need for any cooking skills whatsoever. Less than thirty pence a pack.

But I digress. As I climbed out of my van, my eyes were drawn to small convoy headed my way. Two vehicles, both brand new and gleaming a vivid yellow in the morning sunshine. Even the tyres looked like they had been polished. The sides were branded to the standard demanded by a high flying marketing guy from the shores of Lake Michigan.

The largest, boldest letters demanded the attention of any watching pedestrian.

'DOG AMBULANCE'

Boomf! No messing. Black on gold and bold as brass.

Next up, some context. 'A dog is for life'. No capitals for this old favourite, but pretty bold all the same.

Then to complete the picture, there was a picture of a lovable looking pooch nestled into a blanket.

Hard on the heels of this twenty grand's worth of double wheelbase came a car bearing the same livery. Shiny clean and fresh off the assembly line.

Well, I couldn't help turning around and giving my own van a quick once over. It looked pretty sorry in comparison with the golden convoy which had swept by with such a swagger.

Eighty thousand on the clock and in dire need of a wash. It isn't a First Base Foodbank van. It is my van. Fair enough, I get reimbursed for the mileage which runs to a thousand miles a month. Our foodbank has about as much chance of shelling out for £20,000's worth of fully branded double wheelbase as Cowdenbeath have of buying Lionel Messi from Barcelona.

I guess I afforded myself a small smile. Only the night before, the Channel 4 news had run a piece about the impact of us all feeding our garden birds. Many species are thriving like they have never thrived before. Not bloody surprising. We're spending £200 million a year on bird feed for the feathered treasures. I did some maths as the reporter wrapped his piece to camera. How many food banks are there in the UK right now? About a thousand or so I guess. There or thereabouts.

£200 million divided by 1000.......

Can you do it in your head? I couldn't. But my calculator could....

£200,000 each. Yup. I'll say it again. Two hundred bloody grand each! At First Base we run on £75,000 a year plus £45,000 worth of donated food. £120,000 a year all in to dish out 5000 emergency food parcels.

So were we to receive the bird feed windfall, we would have £80,000 change having settled every last one of our bills.

The small print on the shiny vans was made up of two short words. 'Dogs Trust'.

So. Google time. And five minutes worth of Google was more than enough . I'll just do the highlights.

Reserves - £168 million.

Annual income - £111 million.

No wonder they can run a fleet of gleaming vans. Christ, they could run a small army if they chose to.

A couple of minutes on Google images took be to a construction company's website where they showcased some work they had done for the Dogs Trust. A rescue centre in Basildon. This is the kind of bang you can get from eight million quid's worth of buck.


Check it out.

A very far fry from the leaking ceilings and peeling walls of our nerve centre in Dumfries!

A scan of the Dog's Trust accounts threw up some detail. They spend twenty million a year on marketing themselves to people approaching the gates of death. Lots of subtle messaging no doubt. Do you really like your relatives? Face it, the bastards have ignored you for years and only now are they turning up. Why is that? Maybe they have set their hearts on building a new conservatory like the one their next door neighbours put up last year.... think about it .... do the greedy bastards really deserve it... or maybe you can take the opportunity to stick two fingers up at them and leave it all to the dogs. Our lovely, cuddly, loyal furry friends..... go on....

It seems most of the Dogs Trust £111 million a year comes from wills. So it seems the £22 million they spend on marketing themselves is money well spent.

First Base has been around for 16 years now and we have only once received anything from a will. Obviously we're not spending enough on pushing ourselves forward. But would it make any difference if we did? I doubt it. Poor people or dogs? Not exactly a fair contest, right? Our furry friends will win the day every time.

Last year about a million emergency food parcels were handed out in the UK. If foodbanks like First Base enjoyed the a Dogs Trust level of income, then we could all have dished out Fortnum and Mason hampers and still had plenty of cash left over to award ourselves state of the art offices, gilded pensions and fat salaries.

And brand, spanking new double wheel base vans.

Dream on Frankland.

So I bought my packs of instant custard and went back to First Base. The phone rang. A support worker with the day's first tale of woe.

A man. 57 years old. From Latvia. Been in Scotland for twenty years and working every step of the way. Until now. Until his doctor diagnosed the pain as liver cancer.

A rejected claim for Universal Credit. An appeal in place. Probably nine months until any kind of decision. Income right now? Zero. Savings? Zero. Family to offer support? Zero.

Lots of zeros. Our man is in a small town and the landlord is running out of patience. Are they going to wait nine months for his appeal? Of course they're not. He'll be evicted long before, cancer or no cancer.

So I explained he could call into the local library to pick up one of our food parcels whenerver he needed one. And I said the worker could call in for £50 to keep the lights on for a while.

What about getting in touch with his MP?........ Ah. Right. His local MP is none other than Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Scotland, the Right Honourable David Mundell. Lots of e mails had been sent and and not a single one had been honoured with any kind of reponse. Business as usual in our wonderful United Kingdom.

On a particularly rock bottom day, our man made his way to the local police station and begged the duty officer to arrange for him to be deported. The duty officer had explained he couldn't manage this. Not his department. Prison maybe, but deportation... sorry pal. No can do.

If only our guy wasn't a human being. If he was a lost dog with liver cancer, things would be so very different. A shiny yellow dog ambulance would come racing to the rescue and he would be whisked away to a state of the art centre where no expense would be spared.

How my man would just love to be treated like a dog. But he won't be. Not right here, right now. In Britain 2019. In the parliamentary constituency of the Right Honourable David Mundell MP, Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Scotland.

Not in a month of Sundays.

And I don't suppose our name is going to feature in any wills either.

Helping out poor people isn't the way to get yourself a shiny new van and a roof which doesn't leak. 

Maybe it's time for the merest touch of emotional blackmail? What the hell, why not …….

If by any chance these words have made you feel sorry for us, then the link below will take you to our online fundraising page!

THE FIRST BASE FUNDRAISING PAGE

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

HERE IS CHAPTER ONE OF MY NEW BOOK, 'THE LAST VALLEY'. I HOPE YOU ENJOY IT ENOUGH TO WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT


If you would like to give my new book, 'The Last valley', a try before you buy, here is Chapter One for you to check out. If the next few pages do the trick, all the links you need to read the rest of the book appear at the end of the blog.

Enjoy. 



THE LAST VALLEY

CHAPTER ONE

A MISSION

Looking back, the day I set out down the road into the darkness couldn't have been more ordinary.

It was February. It was raining. It was Glasgow. It was another day in my life.

The alarm on my phone let me know it was seven o'clock. It didn't have to. I was awake already.

Just like every day.

Had I slept? Maybe. Probably. A couple of hours.

The car crash of my sorry life was laid out around me in the thin grey light which seeped in through a small window.

I lay on my back staring up at a ceiling which was in dire need of a lick of paint. A bare bulb, not lit. Cobwebs in three out of four corners.

No heating.

I was fully clothed on a lumpy camp bed bought from the charity shop three doors down.
When was the last time I had managed to take off my clothes and get under the covers? A while.
The table in the middle of the room told the story of the night before. An empty bottle. A full ash tray. A half eaten take away.

It was all laid out in the grey light like a Van Gogh for the twenty first century. Just another middle aged guy gone to seed.

As in me.

I'm Malone by the way.

Just Malone. People stopped using my christian name many years ago. Including me. When I mutter to myself, I address myself simply as Malone. Why? I have no idea. Somewhere along the line my first name just got lost.

To be honest, and I might as well be honest, I have little or no desire to write much about myself. I would rather avoid the whole subject. I would rather wash it away.

Along with all the rest of it.

The grinding, ongoing, never ending car crash of my life. Who wouldn't?

But it's not an option.

You see, this is the thing. The stark reality. The unavoidable issue.

There is no way I can tell the story of Gregor Curtis without also telling my own story.

Now, as I look back with a small degree of clarity, I can see it was no accident I became the guardian of the memory of Gregor Curtis. Just like waking up to a screaming headache and a sand paper mouth on that grey February morning was no accident.

If my life had been in a happy, smiley place, then I would never have heard the name Gregor Curtis. I would never have been chosen to follow his tracks down the road into the darkness.

My shit life made me the ideal candidate. I ticked every one of their boxes. I just didn't know it. Not then. How could I have?

I wanted a few things as I lay there staring up at the ceiling. I wanted to piss. I wanted to throw up. I wanted a sweet cup of tea. I wanted to make some bloody money. I wanted to clear the pile of bills in the drawer of my desk. I wanted to find something, anything, to make the day less empty.

I wanted a mission.

And like room service, a mission was duly served up.

It was a mission which took me thousands of miles away from the greyness of Glasgow. It was a mission which took me into the waiting darkness.

A choice mission, as addictive as uncut heroin.

A mission which quickly became an obsession.

And when the mission was done, I would never want another one.

So.

At times I have been considered to be an orderly sort of man. So I guess a potted history is as good a way as any to lay out my life. The bare bones. The sad and the sorry. The four and a bit decades which took me to a camp bed in the back room of a small shop come office on Craigie Road in Glasgow.

I was born in Airdrie in 1974. Dad was with the Council and he wore a suit to his work. Mum was a primary school teacher. I had an older sister and no brothers. We had a dog and we went on holiday to Spain once a year.

We lived in a council house. Our scheme was dull. Nothing much happened. Crime was low and most people knew each other. People said good morning when they walked their dogs.

I was neither bullied nor abused. I wasn't particularly popular at school, but I wasn't a loner either. I had mates, none of them close. I played for the school team. Right back. I followed Rangers because my uncle supported them and he took me to games every now and then.

I did well enough in my exams to warrant an offer from Strathclyde University to study history.

In my first year I hooked up with Elspeth who also studied history. In years two and three we shared a flat along with two of her pals.

The time duly came to start making career decisions. I put my name in the hat to become an officer in the British Army and was mildly surprised when they said yes.

In 1996 I passed out of Sandhurst, joined the Military Police and married Elspeth. And I did OK. I did Bosnia and Kosovo. I banged heads together on Saturday nights in Germany. I banged heads together on Saturday nights on the streets of garrison towns at home.

I made Captain.

And in 2003 I flew out to Iraq.

Let's just say things didn't go so well. I wasn't in trouble or anything. Instead, I was disgusted. With my country. With the army. With myself. With the things we did. With the way we behaved. With the abject, cheap-skating shoddiness of it all. With the endless lies. With the misplaced arrogance. With our complete and utter lack of understanding.

My mind was infected with a choice selection of sights and sounds. Snap shots, frozen in time. Decisions which looked OK at the time. Prawns sewn into the lining to fester and rot.

I became an arsehole. Suddenly I was always angry. Elspeth stuck it out gamely for a while before fleeing to her mum and dad's house in Bathgate.

Our divorce was finalised in 2006. I resigned my commission in 2007 and joined the police.

I was a detective with the drug squad for nine years. I did the dawn raids. I kicked in front doors. I marched guys out into the street in their underwear. I pulled addicts off the street on Friday afternoons and left them in the cells to shiver and rattle before sitting them down for interrogation in the early hours of Monday morning. I ran informers and I traded tenner bags of smack for the names of dealers.

And it was OK. I didn't have any problem with any of it. Sure, we cut corners. But to my way of thinking, we were dealing with the worst of pond life. Stuff the rules, right? We weren't exactly a band of brothers, but we were tight enough.

For eight years, my gaffer was DI Richard Walker. Rich was in all respects a cartoon version of a Glasgow copper. He was old school. He drank hard, smoked hard and was three stones overweight. He was long divorced and spent his evenings in pubs where every drink was on the house.

Was he bent? Of course he was. And when they investigated him they found a Nationwide account with an inexplicabe balance. They suggested a quiet retirement would be best for everyone.

So Richard quietly retired and set himself up as a Private Investigator. 'Walker Investigations'. A cheap office on Craigie Road with no business rates for his first year. The place had been many things. Asian grocery. Hairdressers. Computer repairs. Then it had became just another boarded up window on a street of boarded up windows. The landlord was more than happy to sign off on a peppercorn lease.

When I called in for a brew, Rich told me the address was immaterial. It wasn't like he was looking for passing trade. His work would come from thirty years worth of time on the Force. Contacts and connections. Favours owed. It was a place to keep his filing cabinets and to receive his snail mail. As ever, his real place of work was a chain of long familiar pubs.

A year after Rich started up on his own, it was my turn to resign quietly having cut one corner too many.

Rich offered me 50/50 partnership and I said yes. I did the leg work whilst he talked us into business. Most of our customers were from the wrong side of the tracks. Dealers who we had once upon a time chased down and arrested. Now they were more than happy to pay good money for what Walker Investigations had to offer. We gave them information on their competitors and helped them to identify weak links in opposition chains of command.

Things were good enough from a money point of view. Morally it stank to high heaven, but by this stage I was pretty much past caring. I spent my days watching scum bags going about their business and my nights in the pub with Rich. I started sleeping in my clothes. I started waking up from Basra nightmares. I started to unravel.

And then Rich died from a classic Glasgow heart attack and I became the sole owner of Walker Investigations.

Slowly but surely, the business drained away. To cut costs, I left my flat and moved into the back room of the office. I bought a camp bed. I stopped drinking in the pub and instead drank on my own. In the back room of the office. A bottle of scotch a day. Sometimes two.

The bill drawer filled up. My landlord threatened me with mates with baseball bats. And one by one, things fell apart. I stopped washing. I ate junk.

And I drank. All the time. Sometimes enough to acquire some oblivion. Most of the time not.

All the way to a grey, February morning. Lying on my charity shop camp bed. Staring at the same old ceiling. Fully clothed on the top of the covers.

Lost. Done. Gone. Shot.

I dragged myself to my feet. Kettle. Tea. Three sugars. The first roll up of another day. Two pints of tap water.

A piss.

Three bouts of vomiting.

Six 500mg Paracetemol.

More tea. Three rounds of white toast. No butter. There wasn't any butter. There was never any butter. Remembering to buy milk was about my limit.

After a while, my head calmed down to a dull ache. The dryness of the toast settled the nausea. The water and the tea pushed back the dehydration. Rolling Brexit talk poured out tinnily from my radio.

And the light coming in from the filthy back window turned from dark grey to light gray. I put on my shoes and carried my third mug of tea through to the front office.

One desk. Two filing cabinets. A phone. A coat stand. A 2016 calender from a local garage. A large front window giving a view across a busy road to three storey brownstone tenements.

Pedestrians hurried by. Cars splashed through puddles. Buses advertised new movies. Someone yelled to someone called Danny.

There was mail on the mat. Two brown envelopes and and one white envelope. Two cheap envelopes and one expensive envelope. Two bills and one......

One what? Grainy to the touch. The paper was almost thick enough to be deemed cardboard. My name and address was hand written in careful letters. Blue ink from a fountain pen. I turned it in my hand.

An address on the back in a severe font.

Hamilton and Brown,
Solicitors and Notaries Public
42 Dale St
Glasgow
Est 1876

No post code.

Would a firm of briefs boasting of being established in 1876 really stoop so low as to chase a nickel and dime private investigator for a bunch of nickel and dime debts? Most of the people I owed money to preferred the baseball bat option to the blue ink and fountain pen option.

Hopefully.

I opened up and pulled out paper to match the opulence of the envelope.

A letterhead with the same address plus a phone number. No website. No e mail address. A vague scent of something Dickensian. Pale clerks and not a sound beyond a ticking wall clock.

'Dear Mr Malone.

Mr Hamilton would like to discuss a proposal. He is available at the above address at 3pm on Tuesday, February 17th.

Regards,

Miss V. Done
Secretary'

If Mr Hamilton was chasing debt, he would have probably tried harder to sugar the pill. After all, the objective of the letter was get me to turn up. In person. In Dale St. A hundred and forty three years after the formation of Hamilton and Brown, Solicitors and Notaries Public. Solicitors seldom bother to threaten in person. They like to do it in writing. They like to have a record for their files.

A proposal then. A job. Maybe a daily rate sufficient to see off a few of the overdue bills. More than everything else, it was something. The first something in weeks. A reason to endure the shivering misery of a sponge wash care of the back room sink. Enough to yank out my one and only suit from the wardrobe. For a more or less presentable white shirt. I even jettisoned any last residual feelings of pride and knotted my old regimental tie around my neck.

The result? Not great. I looked myself over in the greasy mirror and turned down the corners of my mouth at the sight in the glass. Tired hair in dire need of a wash. Skin with far too much grey and yellow. A thin, sallow face with lines running in all the wrong directions.

Nondescript, ill and bitter.

Malone, 2019.

I can't pretend to have had any deep philosophical conversations with myself. I pushed a roll up into my mouth and lit it up. I stared into my refected hollow eye sockets. I drew in and blew out.

I spoke to myself.

"Fuck it."

Outside the damp air soon got the better of my rain coat as I waited on the bus along with a 'Jack the Lad' type in headphones and a large black woman clutching handfulls of stuffed carrier bags.

I holed up in a once familiar pub and quietly stiffened myself with a couple of pints of Heavy complete with chasers. Then it was Dale St in the rain.

Number 42. A glossy black door. A small name plate. Discreet. A place feeling neither the desire nor the need to advertise itself.

Hamilton and Brown
Solicitors and Notaries Public.

I rang and was imediately buzzed in. A hallway. Crimson carpet and cream walls. A line of sentimental nineteenth century water colours of the Highlands. A door to the right.

'Reception'.

A desk complete with a bird like woman. Bunched grey hair. Charcoal jacket. Black polo neck. A string of pearls. The face of a hawk.

"Mr Malone."

"Yes."

"Please take a seat."

I took. The room lacked a clock to tick. Raptor lady pecked at her key board. Was her desk an 1876 original? Was she an 1876 original?

I guess about three minutes passed before a starched sort of man opened the door from the hallway. A coal black three piece suit. A watch chain. Pure white hair swept back from a bland sort of a face. Gleaming shoes. A handkerchief in his breast pocket.

"Please come with me Mr Malone."

I left the sound of clacking keys behind and followed the man who I assumed to be Mr Hamilton up the stairs to the first floor. We entered an office of dark wall paper and green leather. He took a seat behind a large hard wood desk. I sat opposite and took in my surroundings. Book cases and yet more watercolours of heather clad mountains.

"I'm Hamilton. Thank you for attending."

No hand shake. Not even eye contact. Instead he busied himself with some papers which he carefully laid out like a card dealer.

"I require some details. You are the sole owner of Walker Investigations?"

"I am."

"Malone. Christian name please."

"I don't use one."

"All the same. I would be obliged. For the file."

"Next."

"Excuse me?"

"You wrote to me, remember? So maybe you can stop the fucking about and tell me about the job. If I decide to take it, then maybe we can decide what goes in the file. Or not. So to speak."

He lifted his eyes and fixed me with a kind of bleak stillness. He wasn't remotely intimidated.

"I see. Fine. Am I correct in assuming you undertake missing persons work?"

"You are."

"Good. I represent a client who wants a missing person found. My client is willing to pay a daily rate of £300 plus any reasonable expenses. A bonus of £10,000 will be paid if and when you deliver the aforementioned missing person to my client."

"So not just find then. Find and deliver?"

"Quite."

"And is your client expecting me to deploy force to make the aforementioned delivery take place?"

"Obviously not. Persuasion only."

I eased back into the green leather. "OK. I'm listening. What is your client's relationship to the missing person?"

His eyes were latched onto mine now. And not in any kind of friendly way. He weighed up my question for potential insolence.

"Father."

I nodded. "How long has the person been missing?"

"Since 2016."

I greeted this with a quiet whistle.

"That's a while."

"Yes it is. My client is dying, Mr Malone. He has little time left. He will leave a not inconsiderable estate when he passes. The son is his only heir. My client desires a degree of reconciliation before he passes. He wants to know his estate will pass into safe hands,"

"Am I to take it your client isn't so sure about how safe his son's hands are right now?"

"You are."

"Why?"

This made him consider carefully. He fiddled with the small pile of papers in front of him before delivering weighed words.

"In the months before my client's son went missing his lifestyle, his way of thinking, his whole aspect..... well.. it became... unsound. Unsound."

"Unsound?"

"Yes. Mr Malone. Unsound."

It was my turn to weigh a few words. I had plenty to weigh. I had a desk drawer filled to bursting point with unpaid bills. I had a landlord threatening me with the kind of pals who liked the feel of baseball bat on shin. I had an empty fridge. I had fuck all. And £300 a day was way above my normal pay scale. But years of hard won experience had taught me to look every gift horse in the mouth. Every tooth."

"Why me?"

"Excuse me?"

"Come on Mr Hamilton. Let's not fuck about here. You've obviously done some research. Walker Investigations are hardly 'A' list. We don't get too many calls from Notaries Public since 1876 offering £300 per day plus all reasonable expenses. There has to be some kind of back story, right?"

Hamilton's only reaction was an all but imperceptible twich of the mouth. I gave myself a small smile. Of course he had underestimated me. I was pretty sure he knew only too well how flat broke and fucked I was. What he hadn't considered was the power of muscle memory. He was way too focussed on Malone 2019. He had forgotten Malone 1996 to 2016. Malone the Military Policeman. Malone the DS on the Glasgow Drug Squad. Malone who didn't take well to being pissed about.

To my great surprise he produced a bleak sort of smile.

"Your point is well enough made, Mr Malone. I contacted you having undertaken extensive research. Of course you were not the first choice. I engaged the services of a large firm of private investigators three months ago. Their results were disappointing to say the least. I asked them to look into someone who might be better suited to this particular task. They gave me your details."

"Did they say why?"

"They did. They suggested you are well qualified to take on the task. You have a strong military background. And your time with the Drug Squad has made you familiar with what we might call the underbelly of the city."

"Underbelly?"

"Yes, Mr Malone. The underbelly. The dark corners. The nooks and crannies. The shadows where the secrets are kept. Do I need to go on?"

"No. You don't. That was actually quite poetic. For a Notary Public."

"They also informed me you are not averse to cutting corners."

"And you reckon corners might need to be cut?"

"I do."

"Hence the £300 per day plus all reasonable expenses."

"Indeed."

"OK. You have my attention. Maybe you can tell me more?"

He hestitated like a man about to make a first parachute jump. It was obvious he hated every inch of the cut of my gib. His problem was that the cut of my gib was precisely what he was looking for. With an air of resignation he eased the small pile of papers across the desk to a place where I could pick them up.

"Read."

I read. And from the get go I could see this was no run of the mill missing person.

Gregor Eric Curtis.

DOB 23/9/1985

Place of Birth : Inverness.

Gordonstoun School, Cambridge University, Sandhurst, The Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders

Father : George Elison Curtis. Glenlarich, Sutherland, IV20 7TD

DOB 13/5/1937

Majority shareholder The Curtis Group BVI Ltd

Mother – Helen Curtis – DOB 21/11/1951 - Died of cancer 1991.

Gregor Curtis was medically discharged from the British Army in August 2013 having spent 11 months at the Headley Court Recovery and Rehabilitation Centre.

I checked the back of the paper to see if there was any more text for me to read. There wasn't. Instead there were some photographs. Gregor Curtis scrubbed and serious in the uniform of his Prep school. Gregor Curtis in filthy rugby kit looking ill at ease holding a trophy. An older Gregor in another school photo. 15? Maybe 16? A seriousness. A stillness. A certain composure. An oddly other worldly air. And now Gregor graduating from Cambridge. Maybe the merest hint of resentment. Not so much as a trace of a smile. And finally Gregor passing out of Sandhurst. This one got my attention. I recognised the bejewelled General who was presenting the sword for the year's 'Best of Intake.'

Christ.

Gordonstoun, Cambridge, 'Best of Intake'.

The boy was clearly a player. And yet not one of the carefully posted shots showed so much as trace of happiness. Or contentment. Instead he seemed detached. Almost bored. Not quite there. I had met a few like him in my time. The ones who always sat a little apart. The ones who were never quite on the same wave length. They tended to be the guys you wanted to have your back once the shooting started.

Gregor Curtis was well and truly on the fast track. But now Hamilton had chosen me because of my connections with Glasgow's underbelly. Nothing seemed to fit.

One last sheet of paper. A print out from some kind of online news site. 'June 2015' was scrupulously hand written at the top of the page.

'New help for Glasgow's homeless Vets'

A grainy picture. Some kind of industrial yard. High breeze block walls with broken glass cemented on top. A beat up looking bus. And a figure in the foreground, half turning away from the camera. Long hair and a beard. Jeans. Work boots. A parka. One arm raised to sheild the face from the camera. Raised a second too late. Just a second.

A flash of anger. And a vicious scar running from ear to chin.

The story was only a couple of papargraphs long. War hero Gregor Curtis is still fighting hard for his comrades. A bus. Food cooked over a brazier. Warmth and comradeship on cold Glasgow nights. For the lost. For the broken. For the ones left behind by a heartless country....

A medical discharge. Nearly a year in Headley Court. And now here he is helping out the city's broken vets.

I flipped one of the sheets of A4. I pulled out a Bic. Armed and dangerous, right?

"This is all of it?"

"It is."

"OK if I ask a few questions?"

"By all means."

"When did father and son last speak?"

"At Headley Court. In 2013."

"Was it amicable?

"I rather think it wasn't"

"Do you know why?"

"No."

"Have you an address? I presume he didn't live on the bus."

"A flat in Sighthill. Vacated in 2016. No forwarding address."

"And then nothing?"

"Correct."

I tapped my teeth with the pen.

"Dad's address. A house name and a county. Big place I presume?"

"It is. A little over 2000 acres. The house has twelve bedrooms."

"So pretty much a castle then?"

"You could say that."

"The Curtis Group BVI Ltd. BVI as in British Virgin Islands, yeah?"

"Indeed."

"What is it? The Curtis Group?"

"A hedge fund. My client founded it in 1985."

"What kind of funds do they manage?"

"A little over two billion."

"Last year's yeild?"

"11%"

I tapped some more at my teeth and did the sums. "Two hundred and twenty million and not a penny of tax to pay. Nice work if you can get it. I presume his share is half a percent?"

"0.65%"

"Hardly minimum wage then. So. Glenlarich. Is this a hereditary thing?"

"No. My client is originally from Edinburgh. He purchased Glenlarich in 1992. He also has property in Hampstead."

"Where did Gregor call home? The Highlands or London?"

"Glenlarich. Always. He hated the city."

"And now daddy is worrying about his legacy. Has the Curtis Group always made this kind of cash?"

"Most of the time. Obviously there have been one or two lean years."

"And Gregor never married? No kids?"

"No."

I dropped my pen on the desk and folded my arms. "You know what Mr Hamilton, I wish I'd read this lot before agreeing £300 a day. But there you go. Such is life. Is that all you have for me?"

And now for the first time I sensed a certain unease.

"There is one more thing. It is a little incomfortable. Since 2013 Gregor has left messages on the Glenlarich answering machine. Three in all. One in 2016. Two in 2017. The messages were recorded in the early hours....."

He glanced down to his notes.

"..... 2.43, 3.12 and 4.22.... I will play them for you.... just give me a moment please..."

He pecked at a keyboard for a few seconds.

And then the silence of the room was interrupted by an almost gentle voice. Low. Clear diction. A light Scottish accent. Measured and yet somehow threatening. The line was clear enough, but somehow the words felt like they were coming in from the depths of outer space.

' July 22, 2016

"Hello father. Here's something for you to chew on with the chaps. You know, those good old boys who come up in August to bag a few of your grouse. Contacts. Colleagues. Pals. Maybe even partners in crime. So why don't you all have a wee dram and ponder this. What is the definition of a terrorist? It is a man who throws a stone at a tank. What do you think father? You and all your pals....."

'February 3, 2017

"Try this on for size my dear father. Just try it. I think you will deem it to be filth. Garbage. Bloody communist claptrap, right? Of course it is. Here we go father. Here is what the man says. We can easily find the money needed to eradicate poverty but we will never, ever have enough money to satisfy the rich. Are you satisfied yet father? Are you sated.........."

'November 13, 2017

"GPS father. Oh don't you just love GPS. How did we ever manage without it? Life isn't worth living without a good old guidance system. The real deal. The best a man can get. Capable of delivering high explosives enough to explode a child into a thousand pieces and all from the comfort of home. From afar. From anywhere you like. Accurate to ten centimetres, right? All hail the age of the smart bomb. All hail the surgical strike. All hail the return on capital. All hail the bang for the buck. House by house and village by village and town by town and city by city. Let's just cut out the middle man and kill them all. Every last single fucking one of them. Every last one......"

Hamilton pulled the handkerchief from his breast pocket and dabbed at his lips.

"As I said. It seems Gregor's state of mind has become unsound."

But I wasn't really listening to what Hamilton had to say. The paperwork had already got my attention. But the voice? Christ. The voice sank hooks into me. The voice reached all the way into the dark places in my soul. The voice sent my head spinning like a hard pull on a crack pipe.

I stood. I folded the papers and pushed them into my inside pocket. I reached an open hand across the old desk. Hamilton duly shook it. Then he cleared his throat.

"I have prepared a basic contract. You can read it at your leisure. If you leave your bank details I will transfer £5000 by the close of business. Is that agreeable?"

"It is. I need you to arrange for me to speak with Geoge Curtis. Let's say the day after tomorrow, shall we?"

"That is completely out of the question. My client is not a well man and...."

"It's non negotiable. If he wants me to find his son, then he can grit his teeth."

"I will see what I can do."

"I also need you to email me the audio files. The messages."

A nod.

"I'll be in touch."

"Goodbye Mr Malone."

"And goodbye to you, Mr Hamilton."

At the bottom of the stairs I flicked a glance into reception and my eyes met the eyes of hawk lady. And then she passed out of my view.

I walked out of the glossy door and into the street. Into the grey. Into the damp.

And I took my first steps along the road into into the darkness.

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