Read All the Lonely People Online

Authors: Martin Edwards

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All the Lonely People

BOOK: All the Lonely People
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Title Page

ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE

by

Martin Edwards

Publisher Information

Copyright © 1991, 2012 Martin Edwards.

This edition published in 2012 by

Andrews UK Limited

www.andrewsuk.com

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior written consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published, and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

The characters and situations in this book are entirely imaginary and bear no relation to any real person or actual happening.

The right of Martin Edwards to be identified as author of this book has been asserted in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the Copyrights Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Introduction © 2012 Frances Fyfield

Appreciation © 2012 Michael Jecks

Excerpt from Suspicious Minds © 2012 Martin Edwards.

Dedication

Dedicated to my parents.

Quote

Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all

Aristotle:
Politics
, trans. Jowett, bk. I ch. 2

Introduction

Harry Devlin is a real lawyer, operating at the blunt, sharp end of the law that features the smell of the cells, the scent of desperation, the small time crooks, desperadoes and drunken losers who are the stock in trade of his native city, once known as the Venice of the North. However, his Liverpool of the early nineties is not glamorous; nor is Devlin's trade. He deals in litter and detritus; his judgement is not always sound and he knows the symptoms of loneliness like the noise of his own breath. He can hum the song, too.

Marin Edwards breaks boundaries with his hero, creating not the slick, American advocate beloved of the times when this book was written. Nor a self sufficient loner who listens to jaz, nor a cynic, but a flawed man who has never learned to ration compassion or realise that not everything is his fault. It's a brave move to make a hero out of a loyal and jilted man whose wife has betrayed him big time. El machismo Devlin isn't: brave in the real sense, he certainly is.

What distinguishes this book and those that follow and what makes them classics of a kind is this marvellous quality of compassion and the celebration of all that is heroic in the corrupted ordinary. Devlin and his author love and forgive their clients and their friends even when they hate them, and that is the lot of the humane man. You don't stop loving people because aren't nice and you can't stop loyalty if it happens to be in your blood.

She said you weren't a fat cat, more like Robin Hood in an old suit.
So says Liz, Devlin's wife, but bravery is not sartorial, anyone more than loyalty is founded on reason.

Another distinguishing feature of this book is the descriptive prose. Martin Edwards excels in his evocation of a place he refuses to romanticise, and as a fellow lawyer, I have never read better descriptions of the criminal circus down in the cells below the Magistrates Courts on a Monday morning, where pity, brute force, ambition and pragmatism juggle for space against a background smell of bleach. If you're lucky, that is. Edwards wins on smells alone.

Influenced as he is by the best of English lawyer writers, such as Michael Gilbert and Cyril Hare, Martin Edwards has produced a character of which Raymond Chandler would approve, i.e, a man who goes down mean streets and is not himself made mean.

And who, in true English style, gets it wrong before he gets it right.

Smashing, honest to God, right up to the mark stuff.

Frances Fyfield

Chapter One

Your mind's playing tricks, Harry Devlin said to himself.

As he reached for the front door key, he could hear a woman laughing inside his flat. Yet when the police had called him out on duty four hours earlier, he had left the place in darkness, empty and locked. For a moment he paused, as if frozen by the February chill. Had she come home again at last?

The laughter stopped. In the silence that followed he glanced up and down the third floor corridor, sure he must have been mistaken. But a long evening in Liverpool's Bridewell, trying to persuade grizzled detectives that two and two did not make four and that his latest client was innocent, had drained his imagination. It was midnight and he was too cold and weary for make-believe.

She laughed again and this time he knew he was not dreaming. He would have recognised that sound of careless pleasure after an eternity, let alone a lapse of two years. A wave of delight swept over him, succeeded after a moment by puzzlement. He realised that the door was ajar and, taking breath in a deep draught, strode through to the living room.

“So what kept you?”

She spoke as though resuming a conversation and the lazy tone was as familiar as if he had last heard it yesterday. Curled up in his armchair, she was watching television: Woody Allen's
Love and Death.

He drank in the sight of her. The black hair - in the past never less than shoulder-length - was now cut fashionably short. Nothing else about her had changed: not the lavish use of mascara, nor the mischief lurking in her dark green eyes. All she wore was a pair of Levis and a tee shirt of his that she must have found in the bedroom. She had tossed her jersey and boots on to the floor. On the table by her side stood a tumbler and a half-empty bottle of Johnnie Walker. She scarcely glanced at him as she murmured her greeting; she was captivated by Diane Keaton, turning Woody down.

“Liz.” The croakiness of his voice was embarrassing.

In response she favoured him with the gently mocking smile that he remembered so well from their time together. She said, “Your reactions may be slow, darling, but there's nothing wrong with your memory.”

“How did you get in here?”

“The duty porter. I told him I was an old friend. The truth, if not the whole truth, you'll agree. I explained it was your birthday and that I wanted to give you a surprise. He seemed to think you'd be pleased to see me. Showed me up himself.” She pulled a face of comic disapproval. “You ought to complain about the lousy security. I might have been your worst enemy.”

With a rueful grin, he said, “Aren't you?”

“Careful, that's almost grounds for divorce.”

The heating in the room was oppressive. She had switched it up to furnace level. Already he felt a moistening of sweat on his brow. Shrugging off his raincoat and jacket, he dropped into an armchair, scarcely able to take his eyes off her.

“Nice place you have here.”

A wave of her slim hand encompassed the lounge. It was furnished in the same home-assembly teak they had bought during their engagement. In one corner, a top-heavy cheese plant leaned precariously towards the curtained windows. The walls were lined with book-crammed shelves:
Catch-22, Uncle Silas
and
Presumed Innocent
sandwiched a clutch of old movie magazines and an ink-stained guide to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Sheaves of paper spilled from every available surface, covering half the carpet. Legal aid claim forms awaited completion amid scrawled notes about his cases and a jumble of junk mail.

“Splitting up must have suited you,” Liz said breezily. “No one to nag about tidiness.”

Crazy, he thought. He'd rehearsed this moment a thousand times, when she came begging for a second chance. The right words should come easily. So why did he feel a schoolboy's tongue-tied inadequacy?

He contemplated an elegant tracery of cobwebs, hanging from the ceiling above her head. “Life's certainly different these days.”

“I'll bet. So where have you been, you old stop-out? I was here before nine. Good job you don't lock the drinks cupboard.”

“The police lifted a client of mine. A petty burglar, trying to finance his taste for smack. I've been down in the interview room all evening.”

“Harry, why do you bother?”

“Guilty or innocent, he's entitled to justice. Same as you or me.”

Liz groaned as if hearing a joke for the hundred
th
time. He knew that she knew that for most of his criminal clients, conviction was an occupational hazard. And once more tonight, after the drawn-out sequence of questions and lies, bluffs and denials, the ritual had ended with the man's signature scratched on the statement that would send him to jail, enabling everyone else to go home, their jobs done. Chances were that tomorrow or the next day he'd have a change of heart and solicitor and some cowboy from Ruby Fingall's firm would try to get his name in the papers, building a case on police brutality.

“I know what you're going to say.” He mimicked her old refrain: “‘How can you defend those people?' But it's my job, remember?” Fishing in his pocket for a pack of Player's, he said, “So why have you turned up after so long?”

“I thought you might want someone to celebrate with. Thirty-two today, or is it Thursday morning already? Only a couple of birthday cards up, I notice,” She hiccupped. “Sorry I haven't brought a present. You'll have to make do with the charm of my company. Many happy returns, anyway.” She raised the tumbler and added as an afterthought, “Am I right in thinking you've put on weight?”

In the background, Woody Allen was soliloquising. Harry strode over to the television set and switched it off with a force that almost snapped the knob.

“You bastard. I was enjoying that.”

“You didn't tell me what brings you here.”

She shifted in the chair, stretching her slim figure like a self-confident cat. “Aren't you glad I'm here? Surely you've missed me, just a little?”

He sighed. “You were my wife, for God's sake.”

“Still am, Harry.”

“Yes.”

He watched her finish the drink. Curious, he said, “Have you run out on Coghlan?”

“Sort of.” She bit her lip. “But - I'm frightened, Harry.”

The smile had vanished and her eyes, large and luminous, held his. Liz hadn't forgotten how to hypnotise him. To break the spell, he got to his feet and walked to the window, pulling the curtains apart. The flat was on the river side of the Empire Dock building, a converted warehouse which had once stored tobacco and cotton, with walls built to withstand fire, tempest and flood. In the distance, he could hear teenage delinquents shouting unintelligibly. Joyriders, hooligans or petty thieves perhaps. Tomorrow's clients, anyway. A police car siren wailed and nearer by, the site security guard's Alsatian began to bark. Meanwhile, the Mersey below snaked away into the shadows. A string of lights gleamed along the water's edge, trailing beyond Empire Dock as far as Harry could see. On the opposite side of the river, he could make out the angular outlines of the shoreside cranes, looming like creatures on an alien landscape. It was a Liverpool night, like any other.

He swiveled to face her. “I don't believe you've ever been frightened in your life.”

The long-lashed lids were lowered now. “Harry, it's the truth.”

“Convince me.”

She studied her crimson fingernails. “Mick and I have drifted apart. He's back in his old ways, hanging around with his cronies up at the gym. Keeps making mysterious phone calls and throwing a fortune away on the horses. Sometimes I don't see him for days on end. I'm on my own so much, I even started working again. With Matt Barley at the Freak Shop.”

“So I heard.”

“You did?” She sighed. “Poor Matt, he's always been kind.”

“You work part-time, he told me.”

“Yes.” An evasive look flitted across her face. “It fits in well with - other things. And it's a break. I'm not made to be the little lady, sitting at home whilst my feller spends every spare minute with a bunch of Second Division crooks.” She resumed her scrutiny of her hands. “I've finally decided to ditch him, Harry.”

His stomach muscles tightened. He hardly dared hope that she was back to stay. Forget that idea, he warned himself: a re-make is never as good as the original movie. But he could not forget it. Not wanting to say anything, he gazed at a bit of the carpet which was free of his papers. It was patterned in grey; he had chosen the colour that would best hide the dust.

Liz began to speak rapidly, the words running into each other. “I know you think I'm reaping my desserts. I can't blame you, there's no excuse for the way I behaved. I'm not asking for sympathy. But these past two years haven't been easy. I reckon I loved Mick once, but now I hate him and he hates me. He's mean and he's selfish and his temper is vile.”

Harry waited.

Head bowed, she said, “And I've met somebody else. I need him badly. Don't wince - I'm serious. I've made all my mistakes. This is for real.”

He closed his eyes, said nothing. There was nothing to say.

She talked on, though he hardly listened: “I thought Mick had no idea. I was afraid of how he might react. We've been so careful to keep it secret. But Mick's been too quiet lately, it isn't natural. Withdrawn, scarcely bothering to rant or rave if I burn his meal . . . as if he's planning what to do with me. He's even had me followed. I'm scared, Harry, I swear it. I believe - I believe he wants to kill me.”

Liz always had a flair for melodrama, he thought. Like a heroine from one of those soap operas that used to glue her attention to the TV screen. Why did she never go on the stage? No actress could match her talent for fantasy. Long ago in their married life he'd learned that she would never be content; she had a child's thirst for new excitements.

Eventually, she said, “Well?”

“What are you asking for, Liz?”

She stifled an exclamation of impatience. “Your advice, of course. That's your job, isn't it? Giving the lawyer's impartial view. Solving problems. I don't know why you never made more money.” She flushed. “Sorry. Me and my big mouth. But I do need your help. I trust you, Harry, always did. Tell me what to do.”

He made a don't-care gesture with his shoulders. “If you're worried about Coghlan, move in with your new fancy man. He'll protect you.”

“That's difficult.” She licked the tip of her forefinger; an old, unconscious mannerism. “Trouble is, he's married.”

Typical, Harry reflected. Aloud, he said, “And his wife?”

“His wife is - well, let's just say she's neurotic. He needs to pick his moment to break the news that he's walking out.”

That struck a chord. He recalled the slow torture of those last few days before she finally left him one winter's evening. The skirting round of conversational no-go areas. Meaning less small talk at the dinner table. Silence in bed. And the awareness of a marriage rotting like so much dead grass.

“I get the picture.”

She averted her face. “Mick's away at present. Down in London, or so he says. All the same, I can't go back to that house tonight, can't take the risk that he might turn up. Harry, he's violent! Dangerous. I daren't imagine what he intends to do. It's best to hide until everything's worked out. So - it occurred to me - I mean, would you mind if I stayed here for a day or two?”

Only Liz would have the nerve to ask, he thought. Her gift for making an outrageous request seem logical would be envied by any lawyer who ever made a speculative application for bail. The darkness of her hair, the height of her cheekbones, were the only clues to her Polish ancestry: in her instinct for the main chance, she was Liverpudlian through and through.

Wryly, he said. “Are you sure you'll be safe here?”

She treated him to her best knee-melting smile. “As safe as anywhere in the world. And I won't give you any hassle. I'll be out of your hair soon, I promise.”

He stubbed out his cigarette and immediately lit another. She frowned and asked, “When did you start smoking again?”

“Day after you last saw me.” He blew a smoke ring and waited for her to make a know-all comment about lung cancer or the nicotine stains on his hands. But for once in her life she had the sense to keep quiet and eventually he said, “Okay, you can stay.”

“Thanks. That's wonderful.” Almost to his surprise, he sensed that her gratitude was genuine.

“Where are your things?”

“I travel light, remember? I have a bag with me. Tomorrow I'll pick up the other odds and ends, if I'm sure Mick's still out of town.” She smiled. “Let's talk more in the morning. I've so much to tell you, you wouldn't believe it. But there's plenty of time. Tell you the truth, right now, I feel as if it's my birthday, not yours, and there are a hundred candles on the cake.”

Yawning, she stood up. Even her simplest movement was invested with that feline grace. He couldn't help saying, “You look no different from the woman I married.”

“Flattery will get you anywhere.” Their eyes met for a moment, before Liz moved away and said, “Well, maybe not everywhere. I went on a tour whilst you were out. You only have one bedroom.”

The bed was their old kingsize. “It's all I need.”

An I'm-not-to-be-tempted look flitted across her face. Her tone was gentle but firm. “The last few weeks have been hell for me, Harry. Truly. I must have a good night's rest. So what are the options?”

He weighed up her expression for a moment and then said, “The sofa folds down.”

“Would that do for you? I mean - you know how it is?”

When he didn't reply, she leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the cheek before disappearing into the bathroom. Already she was at ease with the geography of the flat, gliding around as if it were home. He heard the shower running and said to himself: That's your wife in there, this is your chance to make it happen again. But he knew that he, too, was in danger of succumbing to fantasy and all he did was pour himself a whisky and settle back in his chair.

BOOK: All the Lonely People
10.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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