Men – Just Men


Having quite clearly gone insane, Russell had called me over to the house to show me just how low he’d sunk and how he was very definitely not coming back and he was taking us all with him. Honestly officer, I think he wanted it to happen. I was a little bit on the sad side when I walked in. More so when I saw him, Patrick, my boss, my best mate.

“Patrick don’t you have meetings today?” I had asked him, officer. “Aren’t you supposed to be in Liverpool?”

I stood behind him looking down on the back of his bald head. There he was, in his boxers and T-shirt. He had obviously been awake for a very long time. He was covered him wet, pathetic tears. Someone had nicked this car, his jaguar. I imagined it must have been left unlocked on the drive from the state of him. You should try and get it back officer, it’s packed with goodies.

When he was fit, back in the day, Paddy looked you in the eye sized you up acted; kept his hands in his pockets or at his side. Patrick Russell took leaps of faith mate; if the road looked blocked then maybe there’s something in the obstruction that you can use to your advantage or maybe you just take another road or maybe you cancel the journey it all depends. He was strong. A strong man.

He was a thinker. Ever since school he’d been capable of doing weird stuff in order to get things done. Lately, however, the boss had been keeping things to himself explaining nothing.

I asked him some more run-of-the-mill stuff and he grunted. He was pissed and pointless. He was controlling his desire to vomit, and every additional expense of energy was painful. He failed.

He started to cry, which filled me with a confused feeling that I should do something.
“Let’s get you up boss, let’s clean you off. Stop crying. Just stop fucking crying mate. And put the gun down.”

Officer, when I knew him best Patrick Russell liked to think of himself as an amoral kind of man. I mean a moral kind of a man. I don’t know what he meant, you could never pin him down. He was a thinker. He thought. I left him to it. I should not have done that. This is my failure.

Last time I’d remember him making any sense, officer, he was already failing. He was sick scared and in his living room. His car was gone from the expensive gravel drive outside his expensive house. The room he was in was small, full of fluffballs, the carpet apparently shredding in front of him. He slurred at me on the phone, I thought he was high. He was just weak.

I drove over in a car he’d paid for from my place in the middle of the city, which he’d paid for, to him in the golfing suburbs. I went to see him and to shake him out of this bollocks. He’d written a lot of old chat on a pad. He scrawled a bunch of drawings too. None of it made sense to me. But I needed him then for a while at least, so I went over.

That was the end of Patrick Russell. That’s when I had to turn on him in. He was too paranoid. Too weak. Too high. In that order. Reverse that order and you get a different night out, officer. Keep any of the elements in any order and you’ve fucked your life up.

When all is said and done, he had murdered that bloke in cold blood, with malice aforethought and with several weapons. From what I heard, it was a long, nasty, vicious and thoughtful way to go; no one wants to go with paint inside their genitals. At least I imagine not, but each to their own, officer, I have never been one to judge.

Except in the case of those, like Mr Patrick Russell, who judge everybody else.

When I walked in, Patrick’s missus, Samantha, her voice soft like a child’s pillow over a child’s face was coming out of the phone. He must have called her. She was asking what he was hoping to achieve, how had things come this far, how had things come to this? Was this on purpose? How did he feel? Was this a fucking joke?

He was unsure what to do or say. That was unusual. As you are aware, officer, someone had stolen his prized car from his prized drive outside of his prized front fucking door. He couldn’t believe that. She couldn’t believe that. I could, I’d arranged it.

If you ask me though, he deserved it. Guard down. Confidence down. Pants down. The deserving poorly prepared got what was coming to him. However you look at it, officer, if something gets knicked off your property it’s your fault. You are to blame.

Not enough offensive security in the preceding months, too much thinking about things that had already happened, that had gone. Overthinking never works. Things just are. As I always say, “It is what it is” and that even applies to cold blooded murder. No point crying over spilt milk.

It is not a complex matter, officer, protect your shit because it is yours. Build some fucking walls. Put rigid systems in place – use acceptable force, set the rules. Look at King fucking Paddy Russell and his mistakes of over fucking complexity and bad memory. See what happens? And I liked the bloke.

Thinking too much turns you mad. Over planning results in gaps. You have got to get the right balance and, in my opinion, officer, that usually means a bit of fear, a bit of pain, some goal setting and the ability to move on when necessary.

Not Patrick Russell. No moving on for him.

He had spent his entire life working up to a home where his prized motor would never get stolen from the drive.

When he’d seen that the car was gone, he’d called Samantha. Crazily weeping, sobbing and blame. 

He blamed her for his lack of preparation and loss of reputation. He screamed that she must have arranged for the theft of the car to send him into some insane fight with the thieves. He blamed her for the space on the drive, in the bedroom, in his heart. They were all his fault, officer. So was hitting her and ripping up the photos of her child, their child – well my child to be fair – and forcing the shreds down her blouse and into her mouth.

She told me this at the airport hotel bedroom after he’d done that. She had finally given up. It had taken eight years. I was unbelievably fucking glad to see her go to Portugal or America or somewhere. I was especially glad to see the back of the kid.

She said gently and with reason, “I can’t forget the common ground, that was good common ground.”

I could not imagine if she was talking a piece of actual common ground. Who could tell officer? Who would tell what a woman driven to leaving a man might mean about any fucking thing?

He couldn’t decide anything at all when I got to him. He said, “I am so sorry but I’ve got to.” He kept saying sorry. I hated him before but I bloody despised him then.

He wasn’t sorry. At least I couldn’t imagine him being sorry. Why be sorry? Why does that achieve? You did it? Own it? A bit of violence, lose your rag, it happens. He was embarrassed and angry. He was furious and scared to death. He didn’t want his car nicked or his drive polluted or his missus to finally leave through not much fault of his own. He probably regretted killing that teacher. Or at least regretted the way he had killed him. He wanted the opposite. He was furious at himself. He was starting to panic. I had seen it coming, I knew the signs, officer. I had seen them in other people.

His fury was aimless. It should have been aimed at a deal or a snowflake or a pedo’ or something useful.

If I am being strictly straight-up, officers, it should have been aimed at me as well. It’s not as if he didn’t have enough fury but by this point it lacked focus. It, like him, had grown flabby.

It should have been aimed at his extended family. Inside that grotty knot of people was a kind of dumb misery only felt by other people on Christmas. Dumb, silent, seething, an atmosphere that was pure fucking mind, body and soul murder all the time. Miasma. Yes officer, I read that. No, officer, not the prison library. Never having been banged up, not prison libraries. I once purloined a dictionary. Joke.

Russell’s family enjoyed winning competitions that they never announced as competitions. Because they were constantly competing without each other’s knowledge they were sure that they were being competed with. One way to lose was to admit you were playing. One way to guarantee derision and a knock back down the pecking order away from Mum’s big table was to outwardly involved. Communicating the state of play was basically instant death inside the Russell clot.

Fuck knows how that family, Patrick Russell’s extended blood clot of mum and dads, uncles and aunts and cousins and sisters, would have dealt any single member actually announcing victory though.

His family, via its grandfather and straight through his mother to him, was a low colour illustration of the kind of group that emerges from all civilised nations and has done since civilised nations began. It was not a clan nor a tribe nor a group. It was a family.

It hated itself because it knew it was imperfect. It had some small authority over others but it lacked the authority that came from the love and respect by those others.

It secretly thought that they were right and true so it hated those things, thinking them stupid and dull. Those others were honest, even in their stupid, dull ugliness.

Patrick’s family had cowardice and cruelty in the face of resolution that had to be seen to be avoided at all fucking costs officer. It saw tastefulness and classiness as ideals. Taste and class were too terse. It loved things that had acceptability.

“Et hoc est inconveniens” was the family motto. “This is Fucking Well Unacceptable”. A lot of stuff was but you had to be sure of your ground to know what from what. Quiet rules, unspoken.

The family toed all the necessary lines and bent all the rules that decency called for. You can’t learn that sort of certainty, this sort of assured self deception can only come with generations.

You fight to maintain it. You fight anybody who challenges it and you fight dirty because if you come out with even the tiniest sense of the real situation – that you are just about rubbing along everybody else – then you will know that the expensive chandelier in the hallway is no good for lighting and takes hours to degrease.

My family yelled at each other. We were clever enough and hard enough and hungry enough and we educated ourselves as we could with books and websites and talking to folk who knew more than we did, which was most folk. We yelled and screamed and kicked and fussed and bruised and spat sentiment at each other at Christmas and birthdays. But we loved each other. We stuck together.

We liked people to think we were fucking thick as cunts. That was good. That was enjoyable. That worked a treat. We had just the right amount of ambition.

My family hated each other one minute and said so on to the next. We loved each and we said so. Our problem was lack of leadership. We just went from thing to stuff, from job to nick to school to car to bar as the fancy took.

Patrick was a fucking leader who hated people who hated him. So, and I’ve seen this, he repeated the most repeated of all his family’s many arse-tight traits in that every so often he would become firm friends with one person. He would single them out and sing their praises. He would trust them and listen to them no matter what kind of advice they gave; even in the light of factual evidence he would treat their word like a child would trust a priest or a dog.

He would pour all of the pent up love and hope, trust and respect into one other living soul. Then, somehow, he would discover that he had been let down. There would be some slight or fucking confidence knock, the friend – sometime of years, once of two decades – would go one step too far. They would admit to playing the game of affection and bond. It never happened to me on the grand scale, but I’ve seen at least three other people cut completely.

His family refused to speak unless every word had been spoken in their heads first and wrung dry of any angles. They refused to open up after his dad died, so they didn’t lose the grief and the pain. The old fucker died decades ago, decades and they still won’t talk about him – and they loved him. This encourages hypocrisy. When it came down to it, Patrick’s family just wanted to hate other people as much as they hated ourselves.

Fuck knows why. Should have had a sense of humour about it. Everybody else did. Old Frank Russell was a cunt of high order. He died quickly, hit by a van crossing the road from the pub to the town hall to complain about something or other. Huge bloke. Square head. Thick leather belt. One half closed eye. Rumours that he liked kids, rumours that he liked his own kids. Rumours abound. Came up through the Stock Exchange, started as a delivery boy, ended as an office manager. Liked a drink, don’t we all officer? Hated the French. Could fight his way from one end of the motorway to the other if the mood was on him. Married young. Died old. Cunt.

Patrick never knew his paternal side, save for Aunty Olive, who his unbelievable old, dear mum rejected as common and embarrassing. His maternal side, his grandfather, was ex-army. Quiet bloke. Exploded once in his life as far as anybody remembered. Never really heard much of him after. His maternal side , his grandmother was, well, nothing, she was a vapour. She was his mother’s mother… she wasn’t there despite being there. He dear mum made up for that in spades.

I learned from that. I liked his granny. She was clever. She was like me. She learned to fucking hate the Russell family, so she walked out and they noticed that. She got drunk as a kiddie one night and strode out the door, all fucking five foot two inches of her. Tiny angry, high and violent telling it like it was and moving to Australia in front of their very eyes. Bless her.

I can pass through people. I have gadgets for that. New ones. The sort of chat that gets Patrick got from Sam would not have phased me. I would probably have walked out, given her the silence, the menace. Patrick’s problem was one of loneliness, which he expected in other people. Him and Sam had been parents, they had a history of love and remorse.

I hadn’t. I didn’t. Not yet and I reckon not for a while.

Sam had learned to hate the Russell family, she had just taken her time before hating Patrick. It came and she went.

Now, in the right now, me and Patrick have known each other for about twenty years. We met at a car auction in Spain when we both bid for a 1979 Aston Martin Lagonda or some car like that. You name it officer, it could be yours now, officer.

If you let me away from this Victorian brick-sick building you are interviewing me in the depths of right this seconds, well, I would love you officer. But not as fucking much as I loved that Paddy Russell.

Back then, when this all began we were really still a bit fresh to each other; a bit in love, a bit disrespectful, a bit untrusting, too fucking loyal by half. Things like that are bound to change, right now I can’t stand the piss weak excuse for a man. I don’t kill on a whim though, officer.

Anyway, back to Pat. We used to get very, very out of our heads all the time. We could afford to. We made lots of money out of people. We’d talk a lot. We’d talk about things that we hoped the drugs and the drinks would erase from the night. I don’t do drugs now, I don’t drink a lot. I am straight. Patrick was the boss. He stopped that when he went soft. He went soft because he broke. He broke because he would not stop talking, letting it all out. I think Sam leaving was a problem there.

Don’t get me wrong though.

He killed people too. He even killed people that we liked.

By the end though, by the end officer, officer, he told me too many things about his life that I did not need to know in the great scheme of things.

Anyway, officer, Samantha moved on and I was stuck with Pat. He wanted revenge. He wanted his car back and he wanted revenge, he wanted to prove himself.

“Mate,” he told me, high. “The colours are saturating, taking on all the water they can before the street lamps take over from this weak winter sun.”

Stop looking away when I am talking, stop it now, officer. Your eye flicks are immediate, they fuck me off when I am trying hard to give you the evidence you need to make your first mark and your promotion. Officer, stop thinking, start writing fuck down. Fuck your digital recording system! Show some fucking muscle. Put some body into it. I fucking murdered my best friend for fuck’s sake and he deserved it.

“You’re fine,” I said. “I need to smoke.” I went out for a smoke. I went up the drive, across the road, into the park and sat down with a bottled beer in the rain on a bench marked out for Maureen who loved this place. He could have been fine.

It was rush hour. Everything was crawling along the road. Everything was crawling like sin catching up, or weakness. Sin almost never gets you. Weakness takes its time but always gets you, soaks you to the bone.

Back in the house, there he was, all tears and shaking and making no sense. All the time he was trying to soak up all the drenching pain.

He was soaking up the town that once appeared around him and a Jag. This was a very different town from the one that had appear around him and his first car, and me.

He didn’t want to think of that, that scared him. Some boring little beige, plain thing full of fag smoke and fast food wrappers, all cheap, all dull. That scared him to death.

That scared him like a big, damp and empty place on his gravel drive. Going backwards into memories was a daft thing to do for most of us but for him it was death.

I came back in and thought about cocaine or a football match or a super-hot curry or a motorbike run or a fight to wake him up and bring him back. He looked out at his memories from his shell and he cried and he told me about it, like I was supposed to fucking understand and care.

It was the car and the car shaped space that I was supposed to fill with my fucking dead mum or dad or brother or aunt or sister or fuck off replacing his. Fucking hell, not everything is related to everything else, officer. It is possible to lose one thing and for that not to be a symbol of everything else.

People and things go missing, officer. He wanted me to understand something obvious. He wanted me to make him understand that it didn’t matter. It was part of life. I understand that. He understood it, but the car space made him forget and he wanted reminding, he wanted to be pointed in the right direction, back to where no cunt would steal from Paddy Russell. Or more like, I guessed – I had to, he made no sense – where Paddy Russell wouldn’t give a shit. Would have a laugh. Extract some revenge. Move on quickly and decisively. The Old Days are armour not fucking tissues.

He only ever really wanted me to take him back to the simple straight line that goes from born screaming to dying silent. I am doing the same for you too, officer.

History changes though, officer. You’d suppose that it couldn’t but it does. Facts do too, depending on who you’re talking too, but you know that don’t you.

To my boss and best friend, my brother, mother, aunty, uncle, sister, were my bosses’ missing fucking car. They were. That scared me. Fucked me off like looking into a train station when I had nowhere to go. There was no point in that.

Back in the old days, Patrick Russell had found me at Paddington Green. Before you, officer, after you. I known you didn’t get that last bit. “After you”, was once a courtesy, a strength not a weakness.History changes though, officer. You’d suppose that it couldn’t but it does. Facts do too, depending on who you’re talking too, but you know that don’t you.

Paddington was where we’d met again, where Patrick Russell had delivered me from evil and had given me that day the first daily bread that I had eaten in a week. He had been riding high in first class, up from Bristol Parkway, up from a deal.

I had been going nowhere except up Praed Street and into trouble or a quiet Irish bar or both. We had been old school pals Patrick and I. Known associates. He had been pushed along and presented with the kind of luck that makes its own luck. I had been expelled for some violent behaviour involving a sports teacher that I called Mr Dickhead even though his real name was Mr Dixon. He lived with his boyfriend we all said.

It was to do with an argument about a tackle with studs up, him on me.

Pupils versus teachers, end of term. Fucking hell, officer, fucking hell I was fifteen and he must have been at least 22 but I got to him so that he had to come screaming across the mud of that sloping windswept winter and try and take my legs out at the knees.

Him and his expensive, embarrass me branded fucking footy boots and fearful eyes when he saw what this lack of control could mean. Mid-slide it hit the cunt’s imagination. His instinct to hurt me and teach me an actual lesson disappeared faster than it had started because its origins had taken months if not years.

Cunt. Stupid, weak cunt. He was startled.

It hurt, but I got expelled for retaliating without imagination. Nevertheless, in the long run, it was as worth it as not getting expelled. I am here, this December evening, with the rain gashing down outside in the city, with you wanting to get home with all the paperwork wrapped up but I won’t stop talking so you can’t just in case. You probably even went to the same school as me officer.

I saw you, I saw you a little less bored when I mentioned the name Mr Dixon. Your left hand flexed and your head came up. Shall I also tell you how Patrick Russell killed that lad?

You probably know the most of it. A scene of torture, a waif, a stray, no apparent motive beyond a gang thing. Wrong way to go officer. It was certainly a turf war, that’s for sure but this one was not about physical geography. This was Paddy giving me payback for back in the day.

Simply put, officer, Patrick Russell sliced and electrocuted and waterboarded and fagboarded that teacher out of fear. He told me afterwards about how he had finally worked out why he did it, then how to do it; after a meal of beer and vodka and expensive speed.

I’d been out of the country, in Portugal when it all went off. I’d told him not to worry. I’d forgotten about being excluded, water under the bridge, it was years ago. But he’d just decided to do it, because he wanted to show me that he remembered how bad I’d taken it. I was in Portugal on business as I say and apparently he thought I wouldn’t come back – Sam had said something in a fight. He wanted me back.

It’s all about making your mind up and sticking with your decisions. Not complicated, fighting rules. Back then he knew that or I thought he did. Turns out doing that favour was a mistake – I didn’t want it, didn’t need it and he shouldn’t have done it because it broke him.

Your DCI has had it in for me and Patrick for quite a few years you see, ever since we proved not to be guilty all over some fit up based on verballing and ratty witnesses that had taken too long constructing evidence. The jury had taken minimal shrift in dismissing the judge, bless him, he had strongly advised them to think deeply about the security of the general peace.

Christ, I look at you here, in this interview room and I have to tell you that the last thing he said to me was that he loved me. I knew that. I loved him to. I shot him too.

Let’s wrap up now, officer, I need a piss.