This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
A Cal Innes Book
HOUG HTON M I FFLI N HARCOU RT
First U.S. edition
Copyright © 2009 by Ray Banks
All rights reserved
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book,
write to Permissions, Houghton Miffl in Harcourt Publishing Company,
215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
Grateful acknowledgement is made to Michael Gira for permission
to reprint lyrics from “My Brother’s Man.”
First published in Great Britain in 2009 by Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Ltd.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
Beast of burden / Ray Banks. — 1st U.S. ed.
“A Cal Innes Book.”
1. Private investigators — Fiction. 2. Manchester (England) — Fiction. I. Title.
823'.92 — dc22
Printed in the United States of America
doc 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Declan was a suicide risk.
That's what the dumpy nurse told me, her specialist subject the
totally fucking obvious. This rough voice on the phone, rattling out
the rules, told me that if he wasn't awake when I arrived, I couldn't
see him. No exceptions. And thanks to an overhead line fault at
Dunbar, I didn't get to the hospital until well after visiting hours.
When I showed up in person, she softened a little. And when I
opened my mouth to speak, that was it. She had no choice but to
show me to my brother.
`We don't normally do this,' she said.
Declan was sparked out with the light on, which meant they'd
dosed him. Usually, my brother needed it pitch black to sleep. A
Louis L'Amour paperback sat on the bed, its cracked spine pointing
up. One of my dad's ± The Strong Shall Live. I remembered him trying
to press it on us when we were younger. It was the kind of stuff he
loved, inspirational reading for those with a Western bent, a bunch of
short stories about plucky homesteaders triumphing over adversity.
There was a heroic cowboy on the front cover, his rifle pointed to the
ground, his gaze set on the vast Wyoming landscape.
Weird that my dad liked this stuff.
I picked up the book, dog-eared the page, and put it on the
bedside table. Then I eased myself onto the chair by Declan's bed.
beast of burden 3
Uncle Kenny told me the suicide attempt was a cry for help. I
didn't think so. I thought the cry for help came on an answering
machine message Declan left me a week before he did it. I got Paulo
to wipe it without listening, had enough of my own shite to deal
with at the time, and I was under the impression his call was the
usual monthly catch-up. In fact, the only reason I knew it was a cry
for help was because Declan took the next logical step. He went out,
hooked up with an old dealer, bought enough smack to fell a horse,
and shot the lot.
He would've topped himself if it wasn't for his girlfriend. She
was an ex-smackhead herself ± they'd met through some Outreach
group he kept going on about ± so she didn't need any help to work
out what had happened when she saw Declan turning blue in the
Two or three years ago, I wouldn't have been surprised. That was
the Declan who was too mashed to pick his brother up from
outside the 'Ways on release day. It was that Declan who'd
promised me then he was off the smack. Showed me his arms,
the back of his knees, in between his toes, to prove it. But didn't
hide the works, didn't hide the foil or the black smudges on his
hands. So the same Declan got his arse handed to him by his
younger brother because he was a lying junkie bastard. And
afterwards, he'd sat there, his back to the wall with his knees
up, snot, tears and blood on his face. One hand in his straggly hair,
as he showed me his teeth but couldn't meet my gaze.
He dabbed at the blood on his top lip, fresh tears coming to his
He said he needed help.
He said it again, louder.
I put him on the next train to Waverley.
Then there was the Outreach, the girlfriend, the long road to
recovery. The monthly phone calls that hammered the point home
± he was doing okay, he was trying hard, he wasn't going to
disappoint anyone who'd had faith in him, not this time. And every
time he mentioned his life, it threw mine into stark relief. Like
4 ray banks
some born-again, he asked after my health. Like a full-blown
addict, I lied through my teeth.
He was strong when he was clean. But only then.
I was glad he was asleep. I didn't want him to see me, not like
this. A stroke victim with a walking stick, not even thirty and
shuffling through the world like a fucking pensioner.
I sat with him for fifteen minutes. Watched him sleep. Then I
On the way out, I phoned my uncle. `I saw him,' I said. `He was
`That's alright,' said Kenny. `There's always tomorrow.'
Shook my head, even though Kenny couldn't see it. `I've got to
head off. Tell him I came though.'
Kenny made some noises, tried to persuade me to stay a wee
while longer. I killed the call, caught a cab back to the station and
just made the last train south.
A week out of the hospital, Dec had another shot at it. Locked
the bathroom door, opened one arm from wrist to elbow, chased
the pain with a thick shot to the thigh, then tried to open his other
By the time paramedics got the door down, he was dead.
No longer a risk.
beast of burden 5
Mo Tiernan is dead.
And that's why I'm here right now. I'm not supposed to know,
much less have something to do with it, so I play it dumb, which
isn't too difficult. The past few months have given me time to get
good at that particular game.
I'm sat in the lounge bar of the Wheatsheaf, the wall-hung
wood-panelled jukebox playing Donovan, the music punctuated by
the odd beep from the original Space Invaders machine in the
Opposite me, Morris Tiernan. The Uncle himself. He appears to
be staring out the window, but his eyes are too glazed to be looking
anywhere but inwards.
`He's missing,' he says, turning to me finally.
`Couple of months. At least.' He shakes his head. `You heard?'
`I just noticed,' I say.
`So he is missing.'
Tiernan doesn't need a reply to that. It's just something to say, a
repeated lie told to divert his mind from the darker, more likely
outcome. We both know that Mo couldn't disappear totally for one
month, let alone two. The most you could hope for was a week out
6 ray banks
of circulation and even then he'd make his presence known when
he returned. He'd be loud about being back in the game, scoring
and selling, maybe glass some unfortunate bastard to cement his
rep as a pin-pupil psycho. Silence is not an option for Mo Tiernan.
Every time he makes some noise, it's a fuck-you to the father who
kicked him out of the family.
But right now, it's too quiet.
`So,' I say.
Tiernan moves his head. Regards the pristine pint of Guinness
on the table in front of him. He pushes his fingers across the
tabletop. Normally he'd be smoking ± ban be fucked ± but there's
no ashtray on the table, and now the music's stopped, I'm sure I
can hear a ticking sound coming from the centre of Tiernan's chest.
He breathes in slowly, then exhales as if he's taken a long drag from
an imaginary cigarette. The tension leaves him along with the
breath in his lungs.
`You find him for me.'
I shake my head.
`Yeah, you can.'
I look at him with a bland expression on my face. He can
interpret it however he wants.
He wraps his hand around the bottom of the pint glass, but
doesn't move it. `The other thing,' he says. `You handled that well
I cough. He takes it as sarcastic. Glances up at me.
`You got her back,' he says. `That's all that matters.' One finger
taps the side of the glass. There's something brown under a
fingernail that could be dried blood. `And you were discreet about
it. I appreciated that.'
I look at the table. Don't say anything.
`Didn't use what you learned about our family against us. Someone else come across information like that, they'd think they had
some dirt, something they could use to their advantage.' He bunches
his lips, stares into his pint. `You were bright enough to realise you
didn't have nowt. Nowt you could think about using, anyway.'
beast of burden
`And that's why you're here.'
`Because I'm bright?'
`Because you're loyal.'
I stare at him. He's building up to something, but there's still
that barrier. Maybe it's because he hasn't seen me in a while and
now he has, there are doubts. Like maybe I can't be trusted to
follow through on this, or maybe I'm not physically capable of
doing the job.
Because he's heard what happened to me. But it's different
seeing the results in the flesh.
His eyes twitch half-closed. He's obviously reached some sort of
`Fuck it,' he says.
That deep breath again, reminding me of the rumours flying
about that Mo's disappearance has put Morris Senior on his guard,
that maybe the Uncle's starting to fray around the edges, can't
handle the pressure as well as he used to. Right enough, put me in a
room and the place doesn't exactly feel very Zen, but Morris
Tiernan's still not the kind to get jittery around the likes of me. Still,
I'd credited him with a strong enough gut to look me in the face,
and that hasn't happened yet.
So maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I do make him uncomfortable.
He waves his free hand. `This . . . Whatever this is . . .'
I wait for him.
`If this is what we think it might be, then it's possible it could be
`Personal,' I say, as if I know exactly what he's talking about.
And now I do know exactly what he's talking about.
Never occurred to me that this would be the reason Morris
Tiernan called me in. He reckons that if his son's got himself so
fucked up that he's missing or worse, it's got something to do with
him. That someone's using Mo to get to him in some way, because
that person didn't get the circular telling everyone that Mo wasn't
an official Tiernan anymore. Even if that's not the case, I get the
idea that Tiernan thinks this thing with Mo is going to bite him on
the arse the minute his back is turned. And for the first time since I
met him, it looks like the Uncle's actually worried.
But it's not about Mo. Can't be. He made his feelings about his
son pretty clear a while ago.
`Nobody's been in touch,' he says, running a hand over his chin.
`Could be something, could be nothing. I don't know who's playing
the game these days, never mind who's winning it. Don't need to
know. Could be Mo's playing funny buggers somewhere, could be he's
jumped on a Dutch deal. It's happened before, but Mo's never had the
ambition to piss off anyone serious.' He pauses, pitches a sigh. `Either
way, it wouldn't do me any good to be seen asking questions.'
No, it wouldn't. Man like Morris Tiernan, he asks after his son,
it'll look like a U-turn on the exile. If Mo's out, Mo's out. Supposed
to be as good as dead, end of story, and Tiernan can't be seen as a
man who changes his mind at the first sniff of shit. He made his rep
on being a mulish bastard, devoid of sentimentality and violent
enough to make might equal right.
`Which is where you come in,' says Tiernan. `You know his
I don't say anything. Don't move my head either. Watch him
look at that pint. He's waiting for me to agree, but I'm not saying
one fucking word until he looks up at me. I want him to know who
he's seeing, who he's been talking to, because I get this sinking
feeling that he reckons he's talking to the Callum Michael Innes
who just got out of prison, the one scared of the family name and
hungry for paying work. That very same bloke who was asked to
track down ten grand and a runaway daughter last year, ended up
the six-foot pile of shite that I am now.
So Tiernan needs to see my lopsided face, the sink of my righthand side. He needs to see me move with my walking stick. He
needs to listen closely when I speak, see my spastic lips and tongue
beast of burden 9
try to form words my brain knows but my mouth has forgotten. He
needs to drink all this in, and then he needs to understand that it
was him and his fucked up family that did this to me.
But he doesn't. When he raises his head to look at me, there's a
flicker of disgust, but not much more.
Certainly no guilt.
`You know what I heard?' he says.
I can guess, but I shake my head.
`That you're a full-on mong now.'
`That you're all . . . brain-damaged.'
If he's trying to get a rise out of me, he'll be disappointed. None
of this `mong' shite is anything I haven't already heard from kids on
Tiernan shifts his gaze back to his pint. `You even working now?'
I nod. I have an office, letterhead, small business client list with
occasional private work, the whole shebang. Even got a stack of
professionally printed business cards, 400gsm, thick as you like. He
knows all this. I wouldn't be here without an up-to-date background check.
After a minute's silence, he says, `Well?'
Finally, he's looking at me right in the eyes and holding it. I stare
back. He doesn't waver for a second. If he's desperate enough to
look at me full on, we're off to a good start.
I give him my own special brand of half-smile, really milking the
difference between the good and bad sides of my face. He blinks,
but keeps whatever discomfort he's feeling under wraps.
`Just tell me how much,' he says.
I smile wider on the left side of my face. Then I give him the
standard look-see price. I could skin the bloke, but I choose not to.
After all, he's paying me to ask a couple of questions to the right
people. That's all.
And besides, the price Tiernan's going to pay has fuck all to do
10 ray banks