Martin Edwards: All the Lonely People

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Martin Edwards All the Lonely People
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    All the Lonely People
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Martin Edwards

All the Lonely People

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.”


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.”

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