‘And what about the gun?’ the detective asked.
‘I didn’t have no gun,’ Warren said wearily. They had been at it for at least three hours, he thought, on and off, though there was no clock in the room. From time to time one of the detectives would look at his watch and say the time out-loud for the recording machine behind them, but he didn’t always catch it, or think too much about it. Yeah, about three hours.
‘So the one we found in your bag?’
‘Like I said, you planted it, you bastards, trying to fit me up.’
The shorter detective snorted, and turned to his mate. ‘How many times have we heard that, eh?’
‘Hm,’ said the tall one. ‘Look, I’m getting tired of this, eh? Why don’t you just start telling us the truth?’
Warren lowered his head and looked at the table in front of him. Beside him, his solicitor sighed audibly.
There was silence for almost a minute. The recording device was making a continuous hum, and his solicitor, obviously coming down with a cold, was breathing loudly through his mouth. Just my luck to catch a cold from this idiot, Warren thought.
The taller detective, an older man, balding and untidy, his tie askew under a grubby collar, slapped the table suddenly, making Warren jump. ‘Right,’ he said loudly and decisively. ‘Interview terminated at eleven fifteen.’ He rose and went to the recording machine and switched it off with a snap. The shorter detective rose and joined him at the door.
The tall one turned and looked at the solicitor. ‘You’ve got five minutes,’ he said, then the two of them left the interview room and closed the door behind them.
Warren heard the key being turned, and relaxed. He turned to the solicitor expectantly.
The solicitor sighed loudly again, then fished in his pocket for a handkerchief, blowing his nose explosively twice. Warren leaned away from him.
‘You’d better tell me what all this is about,’ the solicitor said.
‘I wasn’t doing nothing. I been in the pub with a couple of mates. I was on me way home when they stopped me. Told me I’d been thieving, which I 'adn’t. Looked in my bag and lo an' behold, a gun comes from nowhere. He was like a bleeding magician, he was, the short one. Sleight of hand or something. Anyway, he 'ands it to me and like a fool I took it and they immediately snatched it away, so me prints are on it.’
The solicitor was taking notes, and looked up when Warren stopped. ‘And?’
‘Well, nothing else. They brings me down here and they been at it all morning, asking me over and over. Who was with me, where did I get the bleeding shooter, what was I doing at that time of night… you name it, they been on about it.’
‘So, who was in it with you?’
It was Warren’s turn to snort. ‘Whose bleeding side you on? I wasn’t in it with anyone. There wasn’t any bleeding ‘it’ to be in.’
‘Okay,’ said the solicitor in a measured way. ‘You were just walking down the street by yourself and the two detectives stopped you, planted a pistol in your bag and arrested you. You hadn’t done anything, and you don’t know what they’re talking about?’
‘That’s right. You catch on real quick, don’tcha?’
The solicitor ignored this. To say he was used to jibes from his clients was an understatement. The desire to respond in kind was as hard as usual to resist. He blew his nose again. ‘So where were you when the break-in occurred?’
Warren looked mystified. ‘Dunno,’ he said. ‘They ain’t said anything. When was it supposed to be?’
Oh Lord, the solicitor thought, give me strength. He raised his eyebrows. ‘Sometime between eleven o’clock and eleven thirty last night. So where were you then?’
‘With me mates. You ask em.’
‘Well, the police have, and your friends deny they were with you.’ He flicked back through his notebook and found the place. ‘Jimmy Trent reckons he left the pub at ten thirty and was with his girlfriend Alicia Brent. Wayne Stevens claims he wasn’t there at all, but playing snooker.’ He looked at Warren sceptically.
‘Yeah, well, those buggers will spin any line to wriggle out of anything, won’t they?’
‘And you haven’t any other alibi?’
‘How could I? I said I was with them, and that’s the truth.’
‘Which pub were you in?’
‘And what time did you leave?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. Around midnight. Maybe a bit after. I ain’t got a watch.’
‘And who saw you in the pub?’
‘Jesus, I don’t know, do I? It ain’t my usual pub. Wayne took us there, said there’d be some loose stuff there, but there weren’t, was there?’
‘Women.’ I’m going to kill those two lyin’ bastards when I get out of here, Warren thought.
The solicitor looked at him inquisitively, wondering what was going on his head. ‘Now,’ he said at last, ‘let’s look at your record, shall we?’
‘That’s all in the past. I turned over a new leaf.’
‘But it’s still here on your record, isn’t it?’
Warren turned away as though injured by this suggestion. ‘Give a dog a bad name,’ he said, almost under his breath.
The solicitor paused. Despite himself, despite his experience, he found himself almost believing Warren in his wounded innocence. He looked at his notes once more. ‘The gun, then. You’ve never seen it?’
‘Just when he put it in my hand. I was surprised, I can tell you. Why would a detective put a loaded pistol in the hand of a suspected crim?’ He paused, a little smile passed over his face. ‘Well, a crim, then. Stands to reason, don’t it? To get my prints on it.’
‘It does seem odd,’ admitted the solicitor. ‘But if you had never seen it before, how did you know it was loaded?’
‘It was a revolver. You can see the ends of the bullets, can’t you?’
‘Can you? I’m afraid I’ve no personal experience of these matters.’
By the time he got home, James’ cold had turned into a streaming,
sneezing head cold.
Elizabeth, his wife, was alarmed to see how ill he was. She helped him off with his coat and made him sit down at the kitchen table, tucking a thermometer under his tongue. After three minutes she removed it and peered at it, then looked at him resolutely. ‘Thirty-nine!’ she said. ‘Bed for you.’
‘Oh Liz, stop fussing. Give me a scotch and let me sit down.’
‘You can have a scotch, but you’ll have it in bed. Now come on, upstairs.’
He was actually quite relieved, and though he smiled to himself at Elizabeth’s bossy attitude, he was very glad to have her to care for him. He slowly climbed the stairs and began to undress beside the bed. He dropped his clothes on the armchair in the corner, pulled back the doona, plumped up the pillows and took one of Elizabeth’s too, and climbed in, pulling the doona high over his chest.
A minute later Elizabeth came to the bedside with a generous scotch. He took it gratefully, and took a large sip. ‘And some hankies,’ he said. ‘Quite a few. I’m soaking one a minute.’ His nose was already blocked, and his voice was distorted.
‘A rough day?’
‘You said it. An absolute bugger.’
‘Well forget it now. Drink that slowly and I’m bringing you some hot lemon and honey.’
James did as he was told, sipping the scotch slowly and relaxing. There was something odd about this gun thing. The break-in had taken place at a camera shop in the middle of the night. Why would the burglars have needed a gun? And though a fair amount of money had been taken, so had hundreds of cameras. Where were they? Why were the police spending so much time interrogating Warren, a mindless low-life if ever there was one?
When Elizabeth returned with the lemon and honey, he told her Warren’s story. He often did this, with troublesome cases, and more often than not she helped him clarify things. ‘Sounds pretty odd to me,’ she agreed.
‘How about a refill?’ he suggested, holding out his scotch glass. She gave him her ‘I know I shouldn’t, but maybe just this once’ look, and went downstairs. When she returned, he was still sipping the lemon honey, holding the glass in both hands as though desperate for the heat. She put the scotch beside him.
‘You know, I think this gun is the key to this mystery. It just doesn’t fit anywhere. I wonder if I can find out more about it?’
‘How about the lack of alibi?’ Elizabeth suggested.
‘Mmm, that’s a worry. But look, where were you yesterday evening between seven pm and nine pm?’
‘I was here. You know that.’
‘No I don’t. I believe that, but you’ve no alibi. I was at the council meeting, so I can’t vouch for you.’
‘What’s that got to do with anything?’
‘Just that most of us don’t have an alibi for most things. Actually, Warren did have an alibi; it’s just that his mates have let him down, probably for their own reasons. Why haven’t the police checked out the Station Hotel?’
In the morning, James was feeling much better. Not well, but better than the day before.
‘We did,’ said the shorter detective, Morrison, James discovered. ‘No-one remembers them at the Station Hotel. They weren’t there.’
‘And did you check the alibis of the other two?’
‘Yeah. They weren’t at the break-in, not if you can believe a girlfriend and the word of snooker players. Which I don’t, incidentally, but I can’t do anything about that.’
James paused. ‘So,’ he said slowly, ‘what about the gun. You must have a report on that.
Morrison nodded, searched in the file in front of him and handed James the gun in a large plastic evidence bag and a printed report. James scanned the report.
‘So, no serial number, then?’
‘Filed off. But we can do better than that nowadays…’ he pointed to a section further down the report.
‘Oh yes. So you can actually identify the gun, then.’
‘But look here, it says the gun was previously used in a hold-up three years ago, and was used in evidence then… how come you claim Warren got hold of it?’
Morrison looked uncomfortable. ‘That we can’t tell you. Not yet. It’s being investigated.’
James looked him in the eye. ‘You mean,’ he said thoughtfully, ‘that someone stole the gun from the evidence room and it was back in circulation.’
‘That’s what it looks like.’
‘Or maybe someone is fitting-up someone?’
Morrison coughed, then, breathing rather more quickly than before, said, ‘Maybe you might reconsider that suggestion, Mr. Harris.’
Catching the look in Morrison’s eye, James thought so too. Or at least, he might save it for the courtroom.
‘I think you should come clean, Warren,’ James said. He was in the cells with Warren this time. ‘I believe you about the break-in. They’ve simply got no evidence to place you there. But this matter of the gun…’
‘I told you everything already. Look, if I wanted to buy a shooter I could do that any time, easy as pie. ‘Specially a revolver, common as muck.’
‘So tell me, Warren, why would they want to fit you up for this job when they’ve got no evidence? All they’ve got on you is possession of an unlicensed firearm. That’s not going to win them any kudos.’
‘You got a copy of my record. You tell me, is there anything in there about weapons? Even a knife? Why would I suddenly get hold of a shooter? And if I did, why would I be carrying it around with me?’
‘He’s got a point,’ he said to Elizabeth that evening. He was still coughing occasionally, but the worst of his cold seemed to be over. Nevertheless, he had still demanded a scotch when he got home.
‘So, given all the evidence, seems to me it should be easy enough to get him off this possession charge. I mean, it looks very much as though someone is trying to incriminate him.’
‘Trouble is, Liz, I think there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye. I mean, look at Morrison and Trelawny… they’re not stupid. Not stupid enough to fit Warren up with a pistol stolen from the evidence archive. Why would they do that?’
‘Maybe you’ve just got too much faith in our coppers, darling. You haven’t been watching enough crime shows.’
James smiled. ‘Perhaps you’re right,’ he said.
‘Allo allo, I thought you was banged up?’
‘Shut up Harry. I bleeding nearly was. Only got off with it because my brief was as keen as mustard, the bleeding idiot. That, um, object you dished me with was as hot as hell.’
‘Never,’ Harry protested. ‘It were clean. No serial numbers, no background. Clean as a whistle.’
‘Yeah? So how come it was nicked from a cop-shop, then?’
‘Straight up. Now I want a clean, cheap shooter, loaded. And I want it now.’
‘You ain’t asking much, are you?’
‘Look, Harry, I ain’t playing about, and I ain’t paying you again, either. I got some outstanding business, and I got to ‘finalise’ it now, got it?’
Harry looked at Warren sceptically. Warren looked straight back at him, and Harry felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He shivered, then pulled himself together. He leaned closer to Warren. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I wouldn’t do it for no-one else, but I see what you mean about the other… object. So I have got something. It’s not hot, but it’s a bit old, like.’ He went off into a dark corner of his warehouse, and came back holding something wrapped in a rag. ‘It’s not in bad nick, though.’ He handed it to Warren.
It was indeed old. Warren weighed it in his hand. ‘Looks like a cowboy six shooter. Got a low-slung holster, have you?’ He broke the revolver and squinted down the barrel. It looked alright. ‘And the ammo?’
Harry pulled out a box and opened it. ‘I can give you nine of these,’ he said. ‘That’s what it takes.’
‘What, twenty twos?’
‘Yeah. You got to be up close, see.’
Warren held the revolver out and twisted his wrist one way and the other. He liked it. He’d only be using it twice, then into the river it would go. He had a couple of scores to settle.