By Jay Stringer
Jackie jumped the jail at five past three on the third Saturday of September. The football had kicked off and, because he was an old duffer, the guards had taken to letting him sit and listen to it in their office, away from the bams. One of the benefits of being an old man, Jackie had found, is that people start to treat you like their grandpa. He would be given full reign to sit with them, talk about the game, and wander into the kitchen area to make cups of tea.
The kitchen was next to the fire escape, and the guards always left it open so they could lean out and smoke. If they wanted to forget that he was six months away from completing a twenty-five-year stretch, well he was just going to have to take advantage of that.
It was only right.
So, while the guards listened to the football and argued over the new season, Jackie slipped into the kitchen with an order for teas and coffees, then out through the fire escape and the visitor’s entrance. He was a mile away before they noticed, getting picked up at the side of the road by a passing driver. The young woman behind the wheel saw an elderly man walking without a coat, and stopped to offer him a ride into town.
She probably saw her grandpa.
Jackie was getting good at this.
Maybe if he’d been that skilled a criminal twenty-five years before, he wouldn’t have been serving a life sentence for killing a cop.
Chris Malone pushed another form across her desk. She was finally getting the hang of it. The rhythm of filling the form, adding it to the pile, starting all over again. It was like being at school.
Twenty-seven years on the beat in Glasgow, going up against gangs, drug addicts and football hooligans, only to be taken out by a hip replacement.
Chris didn’t need to be in on a Saturday. When she’d returned to work after the operation, she’d been given an easier shift. 8-4, Monday to Friday. She could get in before the morning rush hour, and leave just before the afternoon madness kicked in. And between those trips, all she was doing was sitting at a desk, with an occasional break to get up and walk around. Taking it steady.
But she’d found the boys in the office –and they were all boys to her- started to treat her like a hen mother. She figured some of them must never have known their grandparents, for the way they were trying to adopt her as one.
And that included trying to treat her like a coffee maid.
Chris had been locking up criminals when these kids were still in nappies, and now they looked at her like some high school dinner lady. Saturdays were really the only days she could come in and feel like herself, get some work done.
And the house felt empty at weekends.
Staying indoors drove her mental. Ever since Tony had passed away, her life had come to be defined by negative space. His absence in the bed. The lack of his smell in the bathroom. The air around where he used to be. Her only other relative, her brother Tommy, was into his last hours at the hospital. The nurse had already called to tell her today would be the day. Chris kept thinking that, maybe, staying here would keep him alive a little longer. He wouldn’t go until she’d said goodbye.
The call came through on the scanner, then the intranet and emails;
Chris braced for the name.
John William Dunlap.
Chris had been waiting for this moment.
Jackie got the lassie to drop him off by the river in Dalmarnock, to the east of the city. He’d grown up there, all of his friends and family, all of his roots; everything was in those narrow streets.
Except, they weren’t.
Dalmarnock was gone.
All of it.
Jackie stood on Sunnybank Street, the only part he recognised. And that was by name only, because the buildings that used to line the street had gone. The old tenements had been pulled down, and the roads had been wiped away, as if they never existed.
There was a whole new housing estate. Modern buildings with solar panels and large windows. Jackie even saw a few balconies. What do people need with a balcony in Glasgow? Did they want to be that much closer to the rain?
Buildings being replaced was nothing new. Even before he’d gone inside, the council was already starting to tear down Glasgow’s history to replace it with concrete blocks. But there was an odd feeling of permanence about the roads being wiped away.
Jackie had counted every passing minute of his jail time, but he hadn’t really felt it until that moment. Life had moved on without him. His old neighbourhood, from the looks of things, had simply walked away and forgotten about him.
This caused a major problem.
Jackie would have to come up with a gun some other way.
Chris hobbled into Meeting Room One. The last time the police had been organising a hunt for Jackie Dunlap, they’d called in detectives and beat cops from across the whole central belt. The taskforce had been too big for any of the rooms in the police station, so they’d commandeered the assembly hall of the nearby school.
Chris had been a young WPC. Laughed at by the men in the room. They eyed her up and asked her to put the kettle on. She’d had the last laugh, of course, but nobody in that packed hall had known it at the time.
Chris had never forgotten that meeting. So it came as something of surprise when she stepped into the meeting room, and only found one plainclothes detective, briefing four uniformed cops.
“Is this it?” She said.
The detective’s name was Justin Green. He’d fast tracked to CID after graduating university. Chris didn’t hold that against him, because Justin was on his way to being a decent cop. But he still acted like the work experience kid from time to time. He looked at her, pausing with his mouth open mid-sentence, then caught himself. “Chris, what are you-?”
“I heard about Jackie.”
Justin mouthed the name, Jackie, before connecting it to the escaped prisoner. Chris guessed kids his age didn’t use the nickname anymore.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ve got this.”
“I know Jackie,” Chris said. “I can bring him in.”
The men all looked her up and down. To their slight credit, each of them tried to keep the laughter off their faces.
Justin said, “An old bank robber on the run, he won’t be problem.”
Not just an ‘old bank robber.’
“He went away for killing a cop,” Chris said. “I would’ve thought the brass would want more focus on it than this.”
“Chris,” Justin’s tone was inching along the patronisation meter with every passing syllable. “Ten years ago, maybe. But he’s just broken out six months from the end of a twenty-five-year stretch. Who does that? He’s just a senile old fart, all we want to do is put him back before anyone notices.”
Justin turned back to the uniforms and started up the briefing again.
Fine thought Chris. I’ll do it myself.
That’s what she’d done the last time. It had felt amazing, as a fresh-faced WPC, to be the one who caught Jackie. She’d taken him in single-handed. Leading him past slack-jawed detectives and beat uniforms. She could do it again.
Chris knew things about Jackie that nobody else did.
She knew what he wanted.
Jackie looked up at the church.
Saint Alphonsus was just as he remembered it. Standing on the other side of London Road, Jackie smiled up at the old brown bricks, and the stained-glass windows. Sure, the council could wipe away his old neighbourhood, pull up his roots. But they couldn’t shift the Catholic church.
His mind ran all the way back to the early services. The communions. The pride he took in being an altar boy. So much of his adult life had been mapped out by that role. The other children took to it as a way to feel closer to god, to be of service, or because it was simply something forced on them by their families. Not Jackie. He’d revelled in it. At a time before he even knew what a rock star was, he’d loved the attention, loved being watched at smiled at. He knew, right there, he wanted to stand out.
Jackie touched the small gun in his pocket and crossed the road to step into the church. He dipped his fingers in the holy water and crossed himself. He walked down the aisle, hearing his steps clopping onto the hard floor. Inside still looked the same. Brown wood panels, statues and reliefs. The podium was stood exactly where he remembered it, and the altar spread out before him.
Jackie knelt down and said a short prayer for what he was about to do. He didn’t really care if it was listened to or not. He didn’t need God’s approval today. The old man could sit this one out.
A door opened to the right, and a frail old man stepped out. He had a good twenty years on Jackie, but everyone in the parish had known Father McGready wasn’t going to leave St. Alphonsus until it was in a hearse. He was part of the fabric. McGready’s head was completely bald now, and small brown spots dotted across his scalp. His skin was thin, like brown paper, and he wore thick glasses. He leaned on a cane, but almost dropped it when he saw who was waiting.
“Jackie?” McGready said, with his words sounding brittle and weak.
Jackie stood up and pulled the gun out for the old man to see. “Time to put things right, father.”
Chris pulled her car to a stop behind the marked cruiser on London Road. She climbed out of the car slowly. Her new hip was fine. It was the strongest she’d felt on that side in years. The problem was her other hip. Now that she had one that worked, it only threw her more off balance, and led to pain in the one that hadn’t been replaced.
Walking anything more than a few feet was a challenge.
It wasn’t painful, so much as exhausting.
It took so much effort.
Chris didn’t like showing weakness in front of the other cops, though, so she’d slowed her walk right down. She would pause and look around her, as if considering things, before taking a few more steps once she had her breath back.
Outside the church, she nodded for one of the uniforms to walk over to her while she leaned against the railing, looking casual.
She knew this uniform. Bobby. His father had been on the force, and his uncle, too. Chris had worked with both of them. Decent guys, if a little slow when it came to anything that didn’t involve a betting slip or a pint glass.
“The old guy,” Bobby said. “That wan everywan’s looking fer? He’s lifted the priest.”
The old guy.
There was a time Jackie Dunlap had been a legend in this town. The most famous bank robber north of Hadrian’s Wall. He’d done pretty much every counter in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the Post Offices in between.
The people of Glasgow’s East End had talked of him as a modern Robin Hood. He would be free to walk about the town, and to live it large in the pubs, knowing that the locals would hide him if the Polis ever came looking.
And most of the Polis had loved him, anyway. He bought them drinks and meals, handed out bonuses at Christmas. The only spanner in the works was his brother. Frank Dunlap was the one who’d had the wild years. There had been something off about him. In later years, people would have said he had learning difficulties, he might have had some help, but at the time he was just a problem. Everyone knew that Jackie kept Frank in line, and it became just another reason to love the guy.
That had all ended in blood, on a violent night twenty-six years ago, in the street behind St. Alphonsus Church.
“Lifted?” Chris said.
“Aye, you know, abducted.”
Okay. So Jackie had taken Father McGready. She’d had a feeling that would be his next move. It was payback time.
Nobody on the force had ever had a good word to say about PC Jim Murphy. He was a bully and a thug. But he was one of them, so it still mattered when he was found beaten to death behind St. Alphonsus. Witnesses on London Road had claimed to see three people running from the scene. One person had seen the actual crime, though, and he only reported two people.
Father Donal McGready had placed both Jackie and Frank Dunlap in the street at the time of the murder. Jackie took the rap. Claimed his brother was already running away when the fight started. The third person was forgotten about, written off as a mistake. It wasn’t important to the cops to know who that might have been, when they had the killer in custody.
But Chris knew who it was.
She’d known ever since that night.
Jackie found that having a priest with him turned out to be the best form of identification in the world. They walked in through a secured area of Queen Elizabeth hospital, and none of the nurses in the cancer ward tried to stop them, or ask what they were doing.
Father McGready could have called for help at any time, but didn’t. Jackie reckoned the old man had been carrying this just as long as he had, and maybe he knew it was time to fix it.
The last time Jackie had been in a hospital was a few years before, when he’d been let out on a supervised day-release to visit his brother. Frankie had passed away in yet another cancer ward, in yet another hotel. His last words had been, thank you, Jackie.
Always, Jackie had said, to ears that were no longer hearing. Always.
“Tommy Malone?” Jackie asked one of the nurses at the desk.
She pointed to the third door along.
“Are you the gentleman who called this morning?” She said.
When Jackie nodded, she gave him a solemn look. “It won’t be long now,” she said. “We’ve called his sister, too. Go on in.”
Chris parked her car in the emergency vehicles only section of the hospital. It was a shorter distance for her to walk and, besides, she was polis, the job came with certain perks.
The head nurse, Janine, gave her a sad smile as she entered the ward. She knew the look. It was one she’d seen many times over the years, and she’d been on the receiving end of it when each of her parents had passed away.
It was a look that said it’s time.
It was a look that said there’s nothing more we can do.
It was a look that said you’re not as ready as you think you are.
Chris walked slowly over to her brother’s room, but didn’t go in. There were voices coming from inside. She’d known there would be.
This was why Jackie had jumped the jail early.
This was why it had to be today.
Jackie looked down through tears at Tommy Malone. He’d spent his whole life cultivating the image of the hard man, of being tough and care-free. Nobody else had seen the way he would cry every night, in his prison cell.
He didn’t want Tommy to see him like this, now.
But then, he didn’t want to be seeing Tommy looking like this, either, so it balanced out.
Tommy was small and shrivelled. He looked like someone had pulled him tight from the inside. But he still had the same face, the same eyes and jaw. As he looked up at Jackie, he still had the same smile.
“You came,” he said.
“Course I did.” Jackie choked back the emotion to return the grin.
They held hands for a long, silent, moment.
Jackie turned to the priest. “You’re going to do it now,” he said. “You’re going to do what you should have done when we asked.”
“But it wasn’t legal,” McGready said. He leaned in close, lowering his tone. “And the church still doesn’t-”
“Everything the church has turned a blind eye too,” Jackie said. “It can ignore this one last thing.”
He pulled the gun out and rested it on the bed.
Father McGready swallowed a few times and looked to be thinking it over.
“We’d need a witness,” he said.
The door opened. Jackie didn’t go for the gun. There was no point, really. It was a fake. A plastic water pistol he’d bought from a toyshop on the Gallowgate. He looked up and saw Christine Malone. She was older, and leaning at a funny angle, but it was definitely her.
The cop who’d taken him in.
And, if things had gone differently, she would have been Jackie’s sister-in-law.
“I’ll witness it,” Chris said.
“I now pronounce you Husband and…uh….also Husband.”
That was the shortest Catholic service Chris had ever witnessed. Hell, if gay marriage would mean they’d all be abbreviated a little, then she’d march on the Vatican herself to demand it.
Jackie bent down and kissed Tommy. They’d waited over two decades for that moment. Tommy had been the third person in the street, on the night Jim Murphy had been killed. He’d shown up at Chris’s door covered in blood.
It hadn’t been the first time that happened. Her older brother was often getting the crap beaten out of him, from the school playground on up. Nobody liked a queer. Until he’d been taken under Jackie’s wing. Nobody in the East End would touch someone who was a friend of Jackie Dunlap.
Except Jim Murphy.
The playground bully, given a badge and a whistle.
Jackie climbed onto the bed, and lay there next to Tommy, holding his hand and whispering in his ear. Chris took a seat beside them, holding Tommy’s other hand. Father McGready stood over them and whispered a prayer.
They all held their breath as Tommy passed away.
Jackie nodded that McGready could leave, then looked over at Chris.
“What now?” He said.
Chris wiped away a tear and let go of Tommy’s hand. Reflexively she reached out to touch it again straight after, and choked back more crying. “You know,” she said.
Was it worth playing?
Christine dialled a number into her phone, and Jackie made a run for it. Well, not really a run. Not at his age. It was more of a waddle. A slow, shuffling movement that was accompanied by his low wheezing.
“Catch me if you can, copper,” he called out, in an old time movie voice.
After phoning in her location and reporting that Jackie Dunlap was in her sights, Chris took off after Jackie.
She willed herself not to laugh at the absurdity of it. Two broken down old Glaswegians, shuffling along down a corridor in some slapstick version of a chase. Jackie kept going, but he had no real speed. He was barely moving above walking pace. Chris could move faster than him, but needed to keep pausing for breath, and to lean against the wall for moral support.
Down the hallway and through the reception, she followed him out into the loading area.
Jackie bent down for air, and smiled as she approached. The grin cracked open into a laugh, and he lowered himself down to sit on the curb. Chris started to laugh too, and slapped her knees. She eased herself down beside him.
They could hear the sirens now, getting closer.
“None of that was legal, you know that?” Chris said, between deep breaths.
At least this would be the right place, if I have a heart attack.
“Tommy didn’t know that,” Jackie said. “It was real for him.”
Chris nodded at that. She sniffed. I’m not going to cry….I’m not….
“Six months from the end, Jackie.” She said. “I don’t know if they’ll add any time on for this little daytrip, but they won’t be letting you out any earlier than they have to.”
“You know, Frank’s gone, Jack. It doesn’t matter anymore. You could confess that he did it, you don’t need to protect him anymore.”
Jackie looked at Chris like that was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard.
“Aye I do,” he said. “He’s my brother.”