East of innocence, p.1
East of Innocence, page 1
EAST OF INNOCENCE
First published in trade paperback in Great Britain in 2014 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.
Copyright © David Cadji-Newby, 2014
The moral right of David Cadji-Newby to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities, is entirely coincidental.
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Trade paperback ISBN: 978 1 78239 220 0
E-book ISBN: 978 1 78239 221 7
Printed in Great Britain.
An imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd
26–27 Boswell Street
My thanks go to my agent, Tina, and editor, Sara, for all their support, guidance and belief. Thanks also to my family, for being there. I am grateful to Nick and Ligeia for their help along the way, and to Sue Fry and John Hibbs for their early inspiration.
IT’S AN OLD joke, well-worn. What’s the difference between God and a lawyer? The man sitting across the desk from me, eyes fixed on my face, doesn’t look like he’d appreciate the punch line. God doesn’t think he’s a lawyer? No, that’s not the problem right now. The problem, at this moment, is that this man seems to think I’m his salvation, some kind of avenging, all-powerful deity backed up by, and hence rendered invincible by, the full weight of the law. When the reality is I have no idea what the fuck he expects me to do.
His name is Terry Campion, someone I have known casually from school upwards. His father was TJ Campion, a volatile, troubled man who ran a used-car business on the north side of the Southend Arterial Road before bad luck or, more plausibly, a well-placed match burned it to the ground. The aftermath of the fire was fed by rumours that he’d sold a portion of his business off to some local hard cases who weren’t impressed by the returns, which were on the very low side of TJ’s promises. These stories were no more than playground gossip when I was a child, given extra colour by the sight of Terry, a lonely, solitary but defiant boy who quickly dealt with other children’s jibes with his fists. I recall him once defending his family’s reputation with his teeth, leaving a much bigger boy in tears, bite marks on the boy’s stomach weeping blood. The son of his father, everybody said. He at least proved them wrong on that score.
‘You always looked out for me,’ Terry says. He sounds desperate. I looked out for him? The Terry I remember was two years below me and at the very periphery of my consciousness. More likely it’s wishful thinking, some subliminal emotional persuasion to try to up my enthusiasm for his case. Because right now, I’m looking anything but enthusiastic.
‘I don’t know where else to go,’ Terry says. ‘There’s nowhere.’
He’s got a point. After all, he can’t go to the police. He is the police, a career choice that always surprised me but, I suppose, was as good a way as any of escaping the shadow of his father’s misdeeds. I, as much as anybody, can appreciate that.
‘I’d like to help,’ I say. And it’s true, I would. I really would. ‘But this…’ I gesture at the discs he’s placed on the desk. ‘It’s not anything I do.’
What Terry has brought with him, and what I’ve just watched, is footage from the CCTV of Gaynes Park police station, dated five nights previously. He’d called in a favour, got a duty sergeant from that nick to get hold of them for him, someone who owed him one, Terry didn’t say what for. Copied, not stolen, he was quick to assure me, perhaps worried that I’d refuse to view them on some petty legal point. He really doesn’t know me as well as he claims.
Considering the upbringing he’s had, the story he’s just told me seems all the more unfair. Are some people simply born with bad luck hiding behind every coming hour, always minutes away from some unjust catastrophe?
Terry described to me his time as a policeman with the disillusioned, disbelieving air of a man who has recently escaped the clutches of a cult and cannot understand how he could have been so deceived in the first place. But after such an uncertain and confused early life, perhaps it’s not surprising that he threw himself into the police force with such unquestioning vigour and abandonment; in its unambiguous righteousness and arrogant, self-assured camaraderie, he found a moral certainty he had never previously imagined existed. His guileless enthusiasm and uncomplaining conformism didn’t go unnoticed; over the years, he was continually handed the assignments nobody else would touch. Policing sink estates where feral children spat and urinated on you from third-floor walkways, raiding crack houses filled with the odour of human faeces left in rooms where people with ruined lives slept; the jobs that only the truly fervent would take on without complaint. Back then, he accepted this work without question, seeing it as an opportunity to prove his commitment. Now, he told me, he saw it for what it was: the exploitation of a naive fool.
Whatever the truth of the matter, this willingness to go where nobody else would explains how Terry found himself one warm night on a ‘prime’ assignment, but one for which he was completely, crazily out of his depth: working under-cover, sourcing and then buying a quantity of marijuana from a Turkish man with terrible burn marks on the backs of both hands who ran a network of cannabis factories across Essex, mostly in the attics of rented properties.
The man was busted by the local drugs squad at the precise moment Terry was loading five kilos of the man’s product into the back of his unmarked police car, a case of wrong place, wrong time that would make anyone question just what terrible crimes they’d committed in a previous incarnation. Unwilling to compromise his cover, Terry held up his hands, allowed himself to be arrested, cuffed, bundled through the frantic blue lights into the back of the waiting van.
‘The problem began,’ Terry told me, ‘when we got back to the station. One of the officers, Baldwin, turns out he’s some kind of zealot. Like, a real fucking headcase. We park up and I’m pulled out of the van, I’ve been sat next to this Turkish nightmare who keeps fucking spitting, he’s been looking at me like I’m the reason he’s here, right? Like I set him up or something. So I think, I need to prove my credentials,
Baldwin struck Terry with the practised casualness of a man pushing a dog’s snout away from the dinner table. Choking, hands cuffed in front of him, Terry staggered back against the van in the police station’s car park. He tried to say something, tried to say Baldwin wasn’t allowed to do that, ready to come out of character if this was the way things were going to go down. Baldwin gave one of his colleagues an aggrieved look and that man, clearly well used to unquestioningly following the whims of his superior, took out his baton, took a step back and hit Terry in the kidneys, twice, then across his knees, beating Terry to the tarmac.
Terry may be twenty years from those defiant days defending himself in the playground, but his instincts for self-preservation, so long honed and if anything enhanced by the dangers of police work, remain sharp. He waited for his head to clear then raised himself up on one arm, kicked out at the policemen surrounding him, made contact. There was a collective intake of breath from them, amused rather than shocked, tickled that this little man on the floor felt he could go toe-to-toe with their undisputed might, thought he could compete. Somebody sang the Rocky theme, chuckling. They were as relaxed, as at ease, as if they were watching the game in their own home.
Then Terry, coughing out the blow to his throat, rocked back on his heels and punched Baldwin in the balls with both hands.
What followed Terry described to me as ‘a fucking good old-school working over’. Having watched the footage, I can’t help but think he’s being deliberately glib. He was kicked back to the ground, helped up and punched, dropped and stamped on, battered with batons, the Turkish dealer all the while watching on, quietly thankful it wasn’t him at the receiving end. The footage I watched was dark and hard to make out properly, the assault a flurry of action with only the occasional blow caught in detail as one of the car park’s lights caught a raised hand or the gleam from a polished baton. But it gave a good idea of what happened. Terry’s face across the desk from me, purple and cut and stitched and swollen, gave an even better one.
‘So what?’ I said. ‘Report them, get them thrown out of the force. You’ve got the evidence, right? Good riddance.’
Lying on a cell floor bleeding, Terry told me, that had been exactly his plan. But then later, could have been ten minutes, could have been hours, he can’t really remember, Sergeant Baldwin came back in with two colleagues; the same two, he believes, who’d inflicted the damage in the first place. Baldwin explained that they’d confirmed who Terry had eventually told them he was, a brother officer, and hey, listen, no hard feelings, right?
‘No hard feelings?’ said Terry. ‘You’ve broken my fucking nose.’
‘See, thing is,’ said Baldwin, standing over Terry, ‘thing is, I thought you were trying it on. Why I put you down.’ He spoke with the slow assurance of a man who believes his place in the world is safe, inviolate. ‘A mistake. We’ve all made them.’
Terry watched Baldwin through one eye, the other already closed, noted his lack of remorse, his unshakable self-belief, and knew that here was a very dangerous man. But years of looking out for himself had left him intrinsically disinclined to forgive and forget.
‘We’ll see what a tribunal thinks about that, shall we, dickhead?’ said Terry.
Baldwin took a deep breath, fixed Terry with a stare that didn’t know how to flinch.
‘Let’s not,’ he said.
He’d done his homework, Baldwin, while Terry was on the cell floor, done some digging into Terry’s private life, turned up a sister, a mother, the only family Terry had alive and all the leverage Baldwin needed.
‘Say anything, word one, and I’ll burn their fucking houses down, I’ll have your sister raped. Understand?’
Terry, defiant and punchy as he was, knew when the game was up, knew when to wind his neck in. He lay back in his own blood, closed his good eye, sighed, said, ‘Just fuck off, all right?’
‘What is it you want me to do?’ I ask Terry now. His family have been threatened with violence, he has had violence visited upon him by a team of policemen who think nothing of beating suspects into submission, who place their own moral authority above the law. This is not my territory; as I told him, this is not anything I do.
Terry swallows, shakes his head. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what he’s doing here. He’s desperate, at the end of his tether and thinks, because I’m a lawyer, I’ll have the answers. When, as far as I can see, there’s only one.
‘Let it go, that’d be my advice. Drop it. You took a beating. Big deal.’ I look up at Terry, raise my eyebrows, best I can do. ‘You’ll live.’ But looking at him, at the set of his body, rigid in his seat and fists clenched, I just know that’s advice he can’t take.
‘Either that or lodge a complaint, get the internal people on to it.’
‘Baldwin and his mates’ll be suspended. It’ll go to a tribunal. Everyone’ll know I grassed, end of career, and Baldwin, know what he’ll do to me, to my family, before it even goes anywhere near a trial?’
I let it hang; Terry sighs, his shoulders drop. Whatever magical solution he was hoping for in the dilapidated office of Daniel Connell & Nobody, Solicitor, he now knows it isn’t going to materialise. No protection, no huge media exposé, no glory. No gung-ho lawyer willing to assume the risk, go gunning for the bad guys. You’re on your own, son, just like you’ve always been. There’s a brief silence, then a passing bus makes my window shudder.
‘Just keep hold of them. Look after them.’ He nods at the discs. ‘Anything happens to me, you’ll do the right thing.’
Do the right thing? The truth is, I don’t even want to be in the same time zone as these discs. I don’t want anything to do with them, with this case, with Sergeant Baldwin and his out-of-control colleagues, with fucking Terry Hard-Luck Campion and his poor, blighted life. But looking at him, I can’t help but see again that bewildered, frightened but ultimately brave little boy in the playground, fighting his corner against all comers, however much bigger and stronger they were. So I nod, meet his eye, try to give him something, some sense that there’s somebody in this life who gives a fraction of a damn about his plight.
‘Okay. Leave them with me. But, Terry, seriously? Fucking drop this, yes?’
Terry looks at me. ‘Yes,’ he says. And I know he doesn’t mean it.
I leave the office early, my mind taken up with how a father’s influence can shape our lives for decades even after they stop being a real, tangible threat to our day-to-day existence. My premises are on a tired parade of shops, pizza delivery and letting agents and cheap furniture stores, outside the tangle of commuter towns of Chadwell Heath, Collier Row, Seven Kings, Romford; outside London, outside civilised society, an almost laughable climb down from my previous office in the heart of the City, sixteen floors up. Terry, I think, we’ve all got problems. I lock the door, check my watch and figure it’s about time I went to see my father.
I FIND HIM in his garden, already half-drunk, no doubt just back from the pub. He is garrulous, good-humoured in his usual unpleasant way, stretched out on a lounger, drink on the tidy grass of the lawn.
‘Oh look, it’s Perry fucking Mason,’ he says, waving a hand at the garden table, which holds a bottle of gin, a bottle of tonic. ‘Help yourself.’ He holds up his glass. ‘And help your old man too.’
I take his glass, pour, not as generously as he would have judging by the look he gives me as he takes a drink. ‘Forgot the fucking gin, son,’ he says.
‘Garden’s looking good.’
My father grunts, doesn’t answer. Incongruously, for a man to whom sentiment is an aberration, he has a passion for flowers, for chrysanthemums and gerberas and roses, so many roses
My father lives in a drab house, the same small place I grew up in, pebble-dashed and crazy-paved and unchanged since the seventies. It is on the outskirts of town, lonely, isolated, surrounded by fly-tipped washing machines and failing farmland, a twenty-minute walk to the centre. It is a walk I know well as my father is a far more diligent gardener than he was a parent, and a lift in to school was out of the question. Don’t even think about money for school uniform. Keep out of the way, especially during drinking hours. Disappear.
‘You remember TJ Campion?’ I say.
‘Who?’ He remembers, but you don’t get anything easily from my father, he’d make you grovel for the time of day.
‘TJ Campion, sold cars. His place burned down, everybody said it was an insurance job.’
‘Short little prick, had a heart attack, couldn’t keep off the booze? Yeah, I remember. You making any money?’
‘Met his son today. Know he’s a copper?’
‘Fuck me, is he now? That what gave his old man the heart attack?’ He laughs, a hacking cough, feet jerking up from the lounger with each exhalation, gin and tonic slopping over his open shirt, over his belly. My father is not a tall man but, if he’d been a boxer, would have made cruiserweight comfortably. His forearms are massive, something I have inherited from him, tattoo-covered hams, you’d need two hands to encircle each one. I’ve seen him laugh a lot, a head-back full-throated malicious bark, but I’ve never in all my life seen his eyes smile. I’ve seen people leave pubs as he walks in.
‘Anyway, what about him?’
‘Nothing. Just a face from the past.’ I look over the garden, my father’s downed tools. ‘Do anything for you?’
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