The Confession by Ian Rankin
When a criminal is arrested, one of the first things that happens is the interview at the police station. Questions, and answers. The detective asks the questions, and the criminal answers – or not. Some of them won’t say a word; others talk and talk… and talk.
Ian is a great talker. He wants to tell the detective everything, from beginning to end, every single detail…
‘It was Tony’s idea,’ Ian says, moving about in his seat.
‘Tony’s my brother, two years younger than me, but he was always the clever one. It was all his idea. I just went along with it.’
He’s still trying to get comfortable. It’s not easy to get comfortable in the interview room. The detective could tell him that. He could tell him about the chair he’s sitting in. It’s a special interview chair, with its front legs just a little bit shorter than its back legs. Very uncomfortable.
‘So Tony says to me one day, he says: “Ian, this is one plan that cannot fail.” And he tells me about it. We spend a long time talking about it, and I’m trying to find things wrong with it, but it’s good, it’s a really good plan. That’s why I’m here. It was just too good…’
Ian looks around again, studying the walls, looking for two-way mirrors, secret listening spy holes. The one thing he hasn’t expected is the quietness. It’s eleven-thirty on a weekday night, and the police station is like a ghost town. Ian wants to see lights, action, lots of police uniforms. Yet again in his life, he’s disappointed. He goes on with his story.
Tony had noticed the slip-road. He drove from Fife to Edinburgh most Saturday nights, taking a car full of friends for a night out. On the A90 road south of the Forth Road Bridge, Tony saw the signpost for the slip-road: DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORT VEHICLE CHECK AREA ONLY That’s what started his idea. The next morning he went back and drove up the slip-road, which took him to a kind of roundabout in the middle of nowhere. He stopped his car and got out. There was grass growing in the middle of the road. He didn’t think the place got used much. There was a hut nearby, and another slip-road went back down on to the A90 road. He stood there for a while, listening to the noise of traffic below him, and the idea slowly grew in his mind.
‘You see,’ Ian went on, ‘Tony had two guard’s uniforms at home. He’s always had the idea of robbing some place, and always knew those uniforms would be useful. And one of his old friends, a man called Malc, was good at getting false papers, so Tony brought him in. Have you got a cigarette?’ The detective points to the NO SMOKING sign, but then raises his eyebrows, and says, ‘OK.’ He gives Ian a packet of ten and some matches.
‘Thanks.’ Ian lights up a cigarette, breathes noisily. ‘So you see,’ he goes on, ‘it was all Tony’s idea, and Malc, well, he’d done this kind of thing before. I was just family, that’s why Tony brought me in. I’m not saying I wasn’t part of it. I mean, that’s why I’m here now. I just want it in the police report that I wasn’t the leader, the clever one.’
‘I think I can agree with that,’ the detective says.
‘Aren’t you going to write all this down?’ asks Ian.
‘We’re trained, boy. We remember everything.’
So Ian nods, goes on with his story. The interview room is small and airless. It smells of all the people who have told their stories in there. A few of the stories were even true…
‘So we drive up this slip-road a few times. Nobody notices us, asks what we’re doing. Tony’s happy about that, and the plan is fixed for last Wednesday.’
‘Why a Wednesday?’ the detective asks.
Ian shakes his head. ‘Tony’s idea,’ he said. He moves around again in his chair, remembering Wednesday night.
Tony and Ian were dressed in the uniforms. Tony had a friend with a big truck. It had been easy to borrow it for the night. The story was, they were helping someone move house. They took the truck up to the roundabout, left the car near the bottom of the slip-road. Malc was dressed like a truck driver, and he and Ian waited by the truck. Tony went back down to the A90, stood by the Department of Transport sign, and used a torch to stop a lorry on the road. Then he told the lorry driver to drive up the slip-road, to the Vehicle Check Area. When he got there, the driver would see a man in uniform (Ian) interviewing a truck driver (Malc). That way the real driver wouldn’t think anything strange was going on, it was just normal Department of Transport interviews.
‘It worked,’ Ian says. ‘That’s what’s so amazing. The driver brought his lorry up to the roundabout, stopped it, and got out. Tony comes driving up, gets out of his car, says he wants to check the cargo.’
The detective has a question. ‘Suppose the cargo had been bananas or fish or something?’
‘We send that lorry on, and stop another one, until we get something we can sell. But we were lucky first time. Washing machines, twenty-four of them, three hundred pounds each. We just got them into our own truck, and away we went.’ Ian stops. ‘You’re wondering about the driver, aren’t you? There were three of us, remember. We just tied him up, left him in his lorry. We knew he’d get free in the end.
‘Tony had two lock-up garages, and we took the washing machines there. We were already thinking about who we could sell them to. There’s a man we knew, name of Andy Horrigan, who does bits of business, doesn’t ask questions, you know. I thought maybe he’d be interested. We wanted to be careful who we sold to, see. When the news got out about the robbery on the A90…’ Ian stops again for a minute. ‘Of course, we’d already made our big mistake…’
One mistake. Ian asks for another cigarette. His hand is shaking as he lights it. He can’t get it out of his head, the huge bad luck of it.
Before he’s said a word to Andy Horrigan, Horrigan has a question for him.
‘Here, Ian, heard anything about a robbery on the A90? Washing machines. Off the back of a lorry.’
‘I didn’t see anything in the newspapers,’ Ian had said, which was true. All three of them had been surprised by that. Why hadn’t the robbery been in the news? Ian could see that Horrigan knew the reason why, and Ian could also see in Horrigan’s face that it wasn’t good news.
‘It wasn’t in the newspapers, and it never will be,’ says Horrigan. He goes on to explain why, and Ian feels his life coming to an end. He runs to the lock-up garage, finding Tony there. Tony already knows; it’s written on his face. They have to move the washing machines, throw them away, somehow, somewhere, fast. But they don’t have the truck any more. Where can they get a truck?
‘Wait a bit,’ Tony had said, starting to think again. ‘Eddie Hart doesn’t want the washing machines, does he? He only wants what he put in them.’
Eddie Hart. The name made Ian’s legs go weak. ‘Steady Eddie’ was Mr Big in Dundee, a man who controlled most of the criminal business in the town. The stories about him would make your hair stand on end. If you made Steady Eddie angry, you didn’t wake up again the next day. And now, Horrigan had said, Eddie was looking for blood.
He was in the drugs business, and needed to move drugs around a lot. What he did was this. He hid the drugs in fridges, washing machines, dryers, freezers, and his lorries went up and down the country. All they needed was a few false papers. It just so happened that Tony had stopped one of Eddie’s drivers. And now Eddie wanted blood.
But Tony was right. Find the drugs, get them back to Eddie, and maybe Eddie wouldn’t kill them. So they started pulling the packing out of the washing machines, taking the backs off, searching for hidden packets. They went through every machine, in both garages, checked them once, twice, three times. And found nothing.
‘Wait a bit,’ said Tony. He started counting the machines. There was one missing. The brothers looked at each other, then ran to Tony’s car.
At Malc’s mother’s house, Malc had just fitted her new washing machine. Malc’s mother was as pleased as anything. She had a crowd of neighbors in her kitchen. ‘My boy’s so good to me,’ she was telling them. ‘He saved his money and bought me this as a surprise.’
Even Ian knew they were in real trouble now. Everyone in town would get to hear about the new washing machines… and everyone meant Eddie Hart.
Tony and Ian took Malc outside and explained. Malc went back inside, pulled the machine out again, and started taking the back off. His hands were shaking so much, it took him a long time. But at last he had the back off, and began to pass brown – paper packets to Tony and Ian. Tony explained to the neighbors that these were just heavy things used in packing, to stop the machines shaking in the lorry.
‘Like bricks?’ one neighbor asked, and when Tony agreed with her, sweat running down his face, she added another question. ‘Why cover bricks in brown paper?’
Tony, beyond explanations, put his head in his hands and wept.
The detective brings back two cups of coffee, one for himself, one for Ian. He’s been checking things, using the computer, making some phone calls. Ian sits ready to tell him the end of the story.
‘We had to think of a way to get the drugs back to Eddie. He has a nightclub in Dundee. We drove up there, night before last, and put the drugs in one of the rubbish skips at the back of the club. Then we phoned the club and told them where to find the packets. The problem was that their rubbish skips are emptied at night. So sometime that night, the skip got emptied. And… and it was me who made the phone call… and there were two numbers in the phone- book. I meant to phone the office number, but I got it wrong and phoned the other number, which is a phone by the bar. Anyway, someone answered, I said my piece, and put the phone down. Maybe it was a customer, maybe they went outside and got the drugs for themselves before the skip was emptied… maybe they thought I was crazy or something…’ Ian’s voice is shaking, he’s almost crying.
‘So Mr Hart didn’t get his drugs back?’ the detective guesses. Ian nods. ‘And now your brother and Malc have gone missing?’
‘Eddie’s got them,’ says Ian. ‘He must have.’
‘And so you want us to protect you?’ the detective asks.
‘I’m in terrible danger,’ Ian says. ‘I mean, there’s a price on my head now. You’ve got to help me!’
The detective shakes his head. ‘If somebody needs protection, we can do it,’ he says. ‘But there’s no report of a robbery of washing machines on the A90. Yes, we would love to catch Mr Hart and put him in prison. But there’s nothing to prove that Mr Hart is doing anything criminal.’ The detective moves his chair closer to Ian. ‘You see, I know that you lost your job after arguing with your boss, and you told your boss that your brother would come and break his bones. I found that out from the computer. What I didn’t find in the computer was anything about washing machines, drugs in brown-paper packets, or missing persons.’
Ian jumps up from his seat, begins walking around the room. ‘You could go to the place where they empty the rubbish skips. If the drugs are there, you’ll find them. Or… or go to the garages, the washing machines will still be there… unless Steady Eddie’s taken them. Don’t you see? I’m the only one left who can speak against him!’
The detective is on his feet now, too. ‘I think it’s time for you to go home, son. I’ll take you to the door.’
‘I need protection!’
The detective comes up to him again, his face very close to Ian’s.
‘Get your brother to protect you. His name’s… Billy, isn’t it? The one who breaks bones. Only you can’t do that, can you? Because you haven’t got a brother called Billy. Or a brother called Tony.’ The detective stops, begins again. ‘You haven’t got anybody, Ian. You’re a nobody. These stories of yours – that’s all they are, stories. Come on now, it’s time you were home. Your mum will be worried about you.’
‘She got a new washing machine last week,’ Ian says softly. ‘The man who brought it to the house, he said he was late because he’d had to stop at a checkpoint…’
It is quiet in the interview room. Quiet for a long time, until Ian begins weeping, weeping for the brother that he’s just lost again.
– THE END –