Category Archives: Fiction

New Judge, Old Court

It is the first day in the full time judicial career of HHJ Darren Leben-Boot (known as Daz to his friends). Whilst the heart and the pension pot is full of joy, the day carries some sadness for the latest Circuit Judge appointment. He will miss the robing room and his colleagues in chambers. And then there is the move. His offer came for an appointment in a far flung Court, one which he had never visited. So life has been uprooted and new beginnings are taking place in new surroundings.

He checks himself in the mirror once again. The bands are brand new and shiny white. The red sash sits on his shoulder. The new wig sits where the old wig sagged. His usher comes to the door to escort him into court. The new Judge feels a little uncomfortable with John the usher punctuating every sentence with “Sir”.

They walk down the corridor which smells a bit like his grandmother’s retirement home. A knock on a door, then “All rise” and he emerges, blinking into the light of the courtroom, his courtroom.

The familiar now has a new focus, a different vantage point. It is only as he takes his seat that he begins to take in his surroundings. Counsel’s row is full of bewigged barristers. But then HHJ Leben-Boot does a double take. The wigs are there, but are perched atop white hard hats. The gowns are there, but each one cloaked in a hi-viz vest. Like Rumpole trying to recreate the Village People.

Counsel stage left gets to her feet, she balances her hard hat and wig combination in a Swiss finishing school lesson in deportment.

“May we welcome Your Honour to the Crown Court sitting at Shambles-upon-the-Wold, and indeed this Circuit,” Counsel begins, in the customary welcome to the newly appointed.

She pauses, and reaches down to the seat next to her.

“And as a gesture of welcome, may we present Your Honour with this, the Circuit Office provided safety wear,” and with that Counsel presents the usher with a neatly folded yellow fluorescent waistcoat and purple hard hat.

Counsel continues; “Your Honour is being provided with head gear colour coded to your office.”

A bemused Judge takes the folded gilet and hat from his usher, whom he now notes is wearing a black safety helmet.

“Thank you Miss Rouen for those kind words, and indeed for the gift. But may I ask one thing….why?” His Honour inquires.

With a sense of timing often lacking in the drama of a courtroom, the question mark at the end of the sentence has barely left the Judge’s mouth when there is a sudden cry of “INCOMING!!!” as a segment of lighting strip detaches from the ceiling and crashes on to Counsel’s row, scattering Juniors left and right.

The new Judge hurriedly dons his hard hat, wedging it on top of his wig.

“I see Your Honour adopts the Devon approach,” Miss Rouen announces, seemingly unperturbed by her colleagues who have now produced hand brushes and dustpans from their red bags and are busying themselves sweeping away the fragments of lighting tube.

“I’m sorry?” the Judge responds.

“We are all very much hat first, wig on top. The Cornwall method. Whereas Your Honour has gone wig then hat, like they do in Devon. It is quite a heated debate,” Miss Rouen explains.

The Judge breathes a deep sigh. A confused sigh. He looks beyond counsel and sees scaffolding at the back of his courtroom, climbing all the way up to the ceiling, a skeleton of scaffolding poles and planks.

“Is this what the scaffolding is for? For workmen to repair the lights?” the Judge addresses his question to anyone prepared to answer.

“No,” Miss Rouen replies, as she is on her feet. “That is simply there to hold the ceiling in place.”

By coincidence there is a new journalist in court. He realises he is sitting beneath the aforementioned scaffolding. Hurriedly, he moves to the seat next to his. The seat immediately gives way beneath him and he rolls towards the court door. Two of his colleagues from the Fourth Estate rush to his aid, two others use all their experience to stifle giggles.

The Judge can feel dignity ebbing away quicker than the life span of a Justice Secretary. He straightens his hard hat (he knows enough already not to chance removing it) and asks that the first case is called on.

“Call Colin Apse,” the Clerk announces.

The usher picks up a nose clip, the sort used by synchronised swimmers, and attaches it to his nose.

“John,” the Judge whispers urgently. “What are you doing?”

“It’sth for de drainsth, thir,” comes the nasal reply.

“Do they smell that bad?” asks the Judge.

The usher reaches beneath his table and slips on a pair of galoshes.

“De do once they thoaked into de carpet, thir. Espethially as we kept de heating on all thummer becuathe we were thcared it wouldn’t sthwitch on again, thir.”

Hard hat, nose clip and galoshes in place, John the usher makes his way to the courtroom door. He sidesteps a rolling member of the press and places his hand on the handle of the door. Which immediately comes off in his hand. He removes his nose clip.

“I am sorry Your Honour, amongst the collapse of the Court Estate, it would appear that it was too much to expect egress to work.”

“Come again?” asks the Judge.

“We are locked in Your Honour,” John the usher replies with a shrug.

The Judge slumps in his seat. He looks at the calendar before him. He takes a pen and crosses through that day’s date.

Only 4,399 days to go to, he thinks to himself, already counting down the days to retirement.

Wassssup?!?

This is an intercepted (but entirely imagined) Whatsapp conversation. 

CeeGee: Bro!

The GoveMeister: sup

CeeGee: You seen my main man Davey C? Been tryin to bell him up but he ain’t taking my call, bro.

The GoveMeister: chill man. he been busy with that Euro crew. brexit be a wicked ting yano?

CeeGee: Is dat wicked bad or like wicked good man?

The GoveMeister: 😜

CeeGee: But it like he proper dissin’ me. It be like my time as his Lord Chancellor ain’t mean nuthin!

The GoveMeister: dunno watcha chattin about

CeeGee: All this prison reform BS. Proper showin me up, bro. Like I didn’t no shit when I was there doin the tough guy pose and dat “no nonsense” face. 

The GoveMeister: LMAO

The user CeeGee invited the user DC_PM to join the conversation

The user DC_PM declined the invitation to join the conversation. 

CeeGee: It ain’t funny, bro. U ain’t been any better.

The GoveMeister: man, it just business. i am just taking care of business. it’s all cool.

CeeGee: It wouldn’t be so cool if it was you he was sellin’ out bro.

The GoveMeister: i feel you. yano dat education ting don’t end so well for me. yo just gotta roll with it man. take the hits. be on the down low when it all come on top. you know what I be sayin?

CeeGee: Not really….couldn’t you just have kept one of my things real. Like the book ting. Or dat big house for the yute offenders? Or maybe that tings that totally fkd the solicitors. They were all cool.

The GoveMeister: sorry dude. they were not cool.

CeeGee: I aint gettin no respeck innit?

TheGoveMeister: word

CeeGee: Bro, I be like all losin face in the Westminster hood. Everyone is sayin I ain’t know nothin. Everyone is be like “CeeGee, he ain’t got a clue”

The GoveMeister: you aint. lol 😂

CeeGee: Bro, I am the Leader and don’t you go forgetting dat. Don’t make me come round there and smack you up.

The GoveMeister: you ain’t got the moves to worry me. i am the LC now. u know that bill of rights ting you started?

CeeGee: Bro, you know I love my bill of rights. It was pure CeeGee, dat. 

The GoveMeister: well it’s goin the same way as the saudi prison deal and the court charge. consider yourself well and truly out of the crew

CeeGee: Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah 😢😥😪😭😰😿

The GoveMeister: talk to the hand ✋

CeeGee: I got a wicked idea to stop the press knowin when the Feds wanna talk to one of us.

The GoveMeister: 💩

CeeGee: U ain’t got no right to be like dat

The GoveMeister: now be a good boi and stop ur bitchin

CeeGee: Can you talk to DC? Put in a word.

…………

CeeGee: U there?

………….

CeeGee: Bro??

You are blocked by the user The GoveMeister. 

An Article from M’Lud Magazine

GIVING THE GIFTED A GIFT

In barely a blink of an eye, awards season has come around again. And with it comes the dilemma – what to get that newly minted QC or Recorder as their appointment gift?

Well the lifestyle journos at M’Lud magazine have got their heads together to take the stress out of the act of giving and to make sure you don’t get “court” out. 

This year there are some definite no-nos on the gift front for that someone special. We understand that the perfect present for the part-time Judge in your life would seem to be a gavel. Don’t be fooled. If your nearest and dearest receive the gift of a gavel there would definitely be cries of “Order! Order!”  

Why? As every journalist knows – the court comes with its own gavel. It would be a case of “did you keep the receipt?” all round if the token of your affections turned out to be a double parked little mallet. 

What is the “must avoid” QC congratulatory present? It depends on the practice area of your loved one. If they do crime do not buy anything that hints at having a hobby. No one wants reminding, in their moment of triumph, that they are about to have a lot of time on their hands. That will definitely be a “Silence in Court!” moment. 

Does the new QC do medical negligence? Don’t buy them a medical dictionary. They are already almost a fully qualified doctor, capable of diagnosing the ailments of their colleagues in chambers!

An employment QC? Do not buy them the “Idiot’s Guide to the GMC”. That’s a gift to get them a few months after their appointment, the perfect moment being when you hear them mumble “bloody rise in tribunal fees….”

So what do you buy that special someone in your life when they receive their letter from Her Maj?

There are lots of gift ideas out there. Nothing says “I love you, Your Honour” like the perfect present, tailored to the personality of your newbie member of the judiciary. 

Have they previously spent twenty years doing civil work? Are they now sitting in crime? Easy-peasy. Give them the gift of Archibald. This is a bit of an “adults only” gift. The Chapters on Hearsay and Bad Character are enough to give any civil practitioner sleepless nights! The CJA 2003 is the lawyer’s equivalent of the shower scene from Pyscho.

Does your spouse have a wicked sense of humour? Get them a little black cap. When sentencing burglars they can have hours of endless fun in removing their wig and slipping into something a little more fatal, with hilarious consequences. Simply capital!

If the neophyte, part time Judge has previously been a solicitor and does not have a wig and gown then there are a range of options open to you depending on your budget. 

Here is a bit of an insider’s tip – don’t waste your money on those expensive outfitters just off the Strand. Get yourself an EBay account and search for “Judge’s wig” in Fancy Dress. You get two gifts for the price of one here. A wig for court and a wig when you want to go dressed as Louis XIV!

Of course their appointment as a Recorder is just the very first step. Show them that you share their ambition and buy them some ermine trimmed gloves. There is a specialist website for the personalised gift for the ambitious. Head over to “NotOnTheHighCourtBenchYet.com” and start planning for the pension. 

And why wouldn’t they want to be a High Court Judge? Give them a push in the right direction with a card that mentions their 3%, sector-busting pay rise. 

Is your other half a commercial Silk? The age old dilemma – what do you get the man/woman who already has everything? The answer? Simple. Get them a life…..time subscription to M’Lud magazine, the original Luds’ Mag. 

Any new QC is going to be thrilled to receive the gift of a SatNav. Their profile has reached national recognition. And the road map of their career now has lots of nights away from home. 

If you and your partner have an “appointment” with romance, you can’t fail with a pair of silk stockings. And some patent shoes. And some breeches. Ding-dong!

At this time of year we should not forget the disappointed. Did your other half receive an email from the JAC which they could talk about straight away? Did one of their twelve referees let them down in their Silk’s application?

For the disappointed, aspirant Recorder perhaps they should take comfort from wine. M’Lud’s wine expert recommends a Sauterne or a Tokay. Sour grapes are best avoided. 

And for the deflated, wannabe Silk the perfect gift is the MoJ sponsored QC Appointments gift card – available in denominations of £3,500. 

Her Maj may have given them a Royal Warrant but you can give them the gift that really matters. If your significant other did “the double”, Silk and Recorder in the same year, then this could get expensive. But QC has never stood for “quite cheap”. 

Getting the perfect present is absolutely crucial. Follow our advice and you can’t go wrong. Get it spot on and stay on the right side of the law. 

All rise!

IN THE NEXT EDITION OF M’LUD WE HAVE :

EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS FROM INSIDE THE WEDDING OF TWO CELEBRITY LAWYERS YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF AND CARE ABOUT EVEN LESS

WE CHAT EXLCUSIVELY TO A LAWYER WHO IS MARRIED TO SOMEONE FAMOUS ABOUT THEIR WORK, THEIR GLAMOUROUS LIFESTYLE AND HOW THE MANAGE TO LOOK SO DARNED STUNNING ALL THE TIME


AND WE BRING YOU EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE OF THE SILKS’ CEREMONY. WHICH QC WILL WIN THIS YEAR’S M’LUD NOBBLY KNEES COMPETITION? WHO WORE WHAT TO THEIR DATE WITH THE LORD CHANCELLOR?

 

Missing in Service (In Full)

With apologies to Raymond Chandler…..

CHAPTER ONE

Business was slow. Slower than the LAA Portal when you need to process a CRM 14, whatever that means. But for me it meant no new cases to investigate, no philandering husbands to catch at it and no dough coming through the the bank accounts. I needed a change in fortune. I had rent to pay at the end of the month and the bank were threatening to foreclose on me. 

Let me introduce myself. I am Thomas Dix, Private Invesitgator. There, you can see me, feet up on my desk, watching Harriet the office cat give herself the once over, licking herself clean like a hitman removing his prints from the smoking gun. But that’s the only action there was in the office , no clients, no phonecalls, no new files, no old files, just me and the cat, just Tom Dix and Harry. 

My office is on a typical street in Midtown. First floor above one of those coffee and deli places that are on every street corner. A real mom and pop outfit. The two of them had been doling out food to the heaving masses ever since they came here from Poland. Mr and Mrs Gregowicz, although that wasn’t a catchy name for a business. And my stomach gurgled like a slow draining bath as I caught a sniff of the signature dish wafting up the stairs. It was hard to beat one of the steak slices from Greg’s. 

Right at that moment I heard the outer office door go. Then silence. The type of silence that tells you something bad is about to walk into your life. The sort of silence that fills the room in the moment before the Doc tells you how long you got left to live.

“Marcie!?!” I hollered, forgetting that I had to let the receptionist go when business got scarce. 

I dropped my feet from the desk as I heard a hand turn the handle on the door to my office. I thought I could smell fear in the air, then saw Harriet shoot me a guilty look before slinking off and I realised that wasn’t fear I could smell…..there was a reason Marcie called the cat “Dirty Harry”.

The door opened and in walked a woman. A woman who had legs all the way up to her ears, which briefly made me wonder where all her internal organs were at. She flashed me a smile that told me more about cosmetic dentistry than nature. 

“Tom Dix?” she asked, not waiting for an answer, “my name is Katie Rocquet. I’m a lawyer”… (that explained the pantsuit, I thought to myself)…”and I have case for you, if it is something you are interested in….”

I was interested the moment she said she had a case. A case meant money and I found money more interesting than Lord Harley’s ribbon collection. 

So Miss Rocquet explained that she wanted me to track something down for her. I made notes as she told me that some papers had gone missing. Her firm had been due to receive them last month from the prosecutor’s office but had never turned up. She had done what she could but couldn’t get her hands on them. And now she wanted my help.

And help I could. 

Before the scent of her perfume had left my office I had my hat and my coat on and I was out of the door. This was going to be easy. You see, she had been able to give me the name of one of the police officers involved and I knew him back from my days on the job, before I left the force. 

As I stepped onto the street I pulled the collar of my mac up to my ears, the weather having turned colder than the inside of Mad Freddies’s heart. Mad Freddie had been the case that led me to leave behind my badge and become the freelancer I am now. Not many survived Mad Freddie, but that’s a different story. 

Right now I just needed to head down to the Precinct, have a word with my old buddy Kowalski and send Miss Rocquet the bill for my services. He was the officer in charge of the case. He would just give me a copy of the file and I could say “case closed” faster than well behaved boys and girls are made Judges. 

Of course, when I had been in the force I wasn’t based at this Precinct. We had a proper police station, not a portacabin in a shopping centre. But, you know, times change and austerity was what ran the show now.

Unfortunately austerity turned out to be a cheap son of a bitch because when I walked up the ramp to the prefab police station and put my hand on the door handle I found it locked. I swore under my breath and looked around for some clue as to what to do next. 

I am not a religious man but I don’t mind telling you that I asked the big fella for some help right then. I needed a dead end this early in the case like South Korea needed a nuclear armed meglomaniac neighbour.

“Just give me a sign” was my whispered prayer. 

And there it was, next to the door. A sign. An actual sign

 “This police station is open on the third Wednesday of every month (except April, May, July and February and/or October should it be a leap year and any Wednesday which happens to be a national holiday. Anywhere.) between the hours of 2.45 and 3.45 am/pm (delete as appropriate) and subject to daylight saving and weather permitting. In the unlikely event that you need our assistance outside of these hours, please lift the handset next to this sign and tell the operator the nature of your emergency, the number of this lift and its approximate location. An engineer will be with you shortly.”

And next to the sign was a yellow phone. The old kind of phone. Like they had in the movies. Like the Bat-phone. But yellow. I picked up the handset. 

“Hello,” said a voice at the other end “this is the generic call handling centre, please state the nature of your enquiry and whether you require the police, ambulance, coast guard, lift engineer, gas engineer, nuclear fission engineer, duty solicitor or whether you want to register on the phone for our range of online services?”

“Look pal,” I said, “I’m ex-job and just need to speak to my old buddy Kowalski, now be a stand up kind of guy and put me through to him why dontcha?”

“How do I know that?” the voice at the other end of the line said. 

I screwed my face up. This was not turning out to be as easy as I thought it would. 

“Just get me Kowalski and he’ll vouch for me,” I said, struggling to keep my voice the right side of gruff. 

“But I don’t know that he will, and then what?” the anonymous voice continued to argue, “I mean you could be any old Tom, Dick or……”

“Don’t even go there,” I snapped and something in my voice seemed to have the desired effect. 

“Okay, okay. I’ll just see if I can put you through,” the guy on the other end said before my ear was filled with the relentless noisy silence of an unused phone line. After what seemed like an eternity he spoke again. 

“No sorry, you can’t speak to him today.”

“Why not?” I asked, my voice as tight as a Determining Officer looking at a special prep claim. 

“He’s on leave today,” came my answer. 

“If I leave you my number, can you get him to give me a call tomorrow? Please.” I asked, politely. Sometimes it was nice to be nice, sometimes you had to be nice. 

“No” came the answer. He was about as helpful as a rollerskate on a frozen lake. 

“Oh for crying out loud, man,” I hollered into the handset, “stop having a stick up your ass and help me out here before I reach down this phone and grab you by the larynx.”

I had gone from good cop to bad cop in the beat of a butterfly’s heart. It was good to be back. 

“There’s no need to be like that, I can’t ask him to call you tomorrow because tomorrow he’s on a rest day,” the voice sounded a little wounded. 

Time for me to dial it back a little. 

“Sorry buddy, it is just kind of important I speak to him. Is a rest day different to leave?” I asked. Things had changed in even the short time since I had become just a citizen. 

“Yes. It is. But either way, he won’t be ringing you.”

I could tell by the sound of his voice that my window of cooperation was rapidly closing. 

“Ok, ok. How about you do me a massive favour and just ask my friend and yours, Kowalski, to give me a call the day after his rest day. I mean, we are all on the same team here, you know what I mean?” 

This case had a definite time limit. And I could hear the clock ticking.

“No can do,” his voice seemed tinged with pleasure, “because after his rest day he is on a course. And after the course he is on nights. And then rest days. And, well, the next time Officer Kowalski is available to respond to my message to give you a call will be three weeks this Friday. Subject to operational matters.”

“Look you jobsworth, you snivelling little…..” And I did not get to speak my mind as at that exact moment I heard the unmistakable electronic click that was as fatal for a telephone conversation as the guillotine was for a French aristocrat. He hung up on me. 

And this is where I began to wish I had not taken the job. You see there was a deadline. Miss Rocquet had been vague about the details. But the missing papers had to be with her in time for something she only referred to as the PTPH. I did not know much about this so-called PTPH. But I did know that it had something to do with Mad Freddie. And the wrong side of Mad Freddie is a painful place to be. 

I had to solve this case. I had to get those papers. I pulled my fedora down to shield my eyes from the wind and the rain. This had just gotten serious. Time for me to make like one of those security arches at the airport and detect….

CHAPTER TWO

I regretted telling Katie Rocquet that I would take her case more than Dave regretted uttering the words “Chris, how do you fancy giving Lord Chancellor a go?”  
It was going to be easy money, you know, like the easy money junior doctors make patching up the human carnage of a Saturday night in the ER. And quick money too. And it would have been, if I could have gotten my hands on Kowalski. 

Back at the office Harry was shooting me the sort of looks that said she hadn’t been fed in days. There was nothing else to do, if curiosity didn’t kill the cat, starvation was going to. I had no choice but to head into the horse’s den and get the answer straight from the lion’s mouth. 

I picked up the phone and punched in the number for the Prosecutor’s office. This was a decision I instantly regretted. iPhone screens did not react well to punching. 

It was a couple of rings before a female voice started telling me that I had contacted the Prosecution and that it was real swell that I had done. She seemed very pleased. I decided to box off the niceties and get straight to the point. 

“Look lady, I need to talk to someone about some papers. Stat. Pronto. Stat and pronto. You know what I mean?”

If she knew what I meant she had a funny way of showing it. It would have helped if she had stopped smacking her own gums. This lady could talk. I got the feeling she knew exactly how to push my buttons. I tried again. 

“Sweetheart, if you can just stop yapping over me we might get somewhere, do you get me?”

If she got me, or even heard me, she had a funny way of showing it. She was relentless and remorseless. More relentless and remorseless than Philip Davies opposing something that would make someone’s life better or nicer in some small way. The kind of grinding determination to carry on regardless that put the “illib” in fillibuster. Or something. She was scrambling my brain. 

“If your enquiry is related to a Crown Court matter, please press 1,” she said for the eleventeenth time, “if you wish to speak to the Magistrates section, please press 2. If you want to speak to witness care, press 3. If you actually want to speak to a real life lawyer please press 18 and 1/2 whilst standing on your head reciting the Owl and the Pussycat. Your call is important to us. Goodbye.”

The line went dead. 

“Hello?” I said into the void, “Hello?” Either she had gone or I was about to launch into a Lionel Ritchie tribute number. Either way, I wasn’t dancing on the ceiling. 

First Kowalski and now this broad. It seemed like nobody wanted to talk to me. And when no one wants to talk to you then you begin to wonder what they had to hide. I smelled a rat. 

My thoughts were disturbed by Harry snaking herself around my ankles and heading for the door. Seems like she was registering her displeasure at the absence of food in purely olfactory ways. It was no rat that I could smell. 
Still, there was something fishy going on. With the case, not the cat. I was being given the cold shoulder and was no nearer to discovering where Rocquet’s papers were at. It was time to hit the streets again. 

In every town there is always a guy. It could be a girl. But whether a guy or a girl they were always the guy. The guy who knew everything and everyone. Knew where everyone was at. Had the ear of enough of the right kind of people to be a mine of useful information. And always had enough of the smarts to know that sharing some of that information with the right people could prove to be very mutually beneficial in a mutual kind of way. 

I knew such a guy. He had helped me out plenty of times, on plenty of cases. In turn I had always come running when he needed me. All he had to do was holler. 

The funny thing is, I never knew his name. Not his real name. Guess it just never came up much in conversation. We knew what we had going on was business, not real friendship. We would never just grab a beer together. It was always business. And I just knew him as “The Usher”. 

So fifteen minutes after my unsuccessful call to the Prosecutor I pulled out the bar stool next to my number one stool pigeon.

“Mr Dix,” The Usher addressed me without looking up from his crossword, “what can I do for you today?”

“Ush, I got a problem that I am hoping you can fix….” I began. 

“What seems to be the problem, Mr Dix?” 

I liked that about The Usher. He was always full of old school politeness. Right until you crossed him. Then he wasn’t so polite. Then he was about as polite as .44 slug that had “excuse me” scrawled on it just before it popped into your skull. And he would always make sure those that crossed him got what was coming their way. Not at his hand, you understand, but when you knew the people who The Usher knew, when you had the sort of people who relied on you like they relied on The Usher, settling scores was easy.    

So I explained my problem to The Usher. And as I did so his face darkened. He put his pen down. His crossword remained unsolved. 

“You do know Mad Freddie is going to be involved in that?” His voice was half warning, half concerned enquiry and half threat. “And that means I can’t help you, not this time.” It would be fair to say that what he had to say was less than the sum total of its parts. 

The Usher got up to leave. I laid a heavy hand on his arm. 

“Look Ush, throw me a bone here, I am running out of places to turn,” my voice sounded as desperate as my bank balance. 

The Usher folded his paper and tucked it under his elbow. He looked about him, checking no one was about to overhear what he had to say. He then lent towards me and in a voice as soft as that really good quality quilted toilet paper that koala bears use, whispered a few words to me. 

“All I can say, my old friend, is that it has something to do with a packing and logistics firm. I think they operate out of the docks. It is probably just a front for the real stuff that’s going down. It’s a ‘pile em high and sell em cheap’ kinda outfit. They go by the name “Better Case Management”, but I warn you now, I don’t think you’re invited to the party.”

And with that The Usher straightened up and gave me half a smile. 

“See you soon, Mr Dix, and I hope it’s not as I throw a handful of dirt on to your coffin.”

Before I could say goodbye he was gone. But at least he had given me a lead. I had some information, now it was time to make like Steven Seagal on a stage and act on it.  

CHAPTER THREE

Like a middle class kid on a gap year in Thailand, I found myself back in the office. 

For the first time in this case I had a concrete lead. Based on the information given to me by The Usher, I only really had one option and that was to pay a visit to this “Better Case Management” outfit. What awaited me there was anyone’s guess but I reckon I would get pretty good odds from the guys at the track on it being something to do with Mad Freddie. I could hear fate rumbling towards me. 

Seconds after I heard the rumble of fate, the whiff of a flatulent cat assaulted my nostrils. If any money came in for this case that damned cat was having a visit to the vets to get some charcoal pills. 

I needed to prepare myself. There was a yard arm somewhere in the world that had the sun over it. I opened the desk drawer to my left and fished out a bottle of something strong and Scottish. I reached back into the drawer and found a heavy glass. I bolted down a shot and poured myself another. 

Irn Bru always brought me comfort. 

I opened the right hand desk drawer. I reached deep into its recesses and my fingers wrapped felt the cold metal of what I was looking for. As I took hold of it I could feel the snub nose nestle into my palm. I knew it was loaded with a full clip in the slide, ready to go. I did not ordinarily carry this with me but going after these papers could get messy and a stapler could come in very handy. 

If I wasn’t desperate for the cash there was no way my weary feet would have carried me down to the port. Just off the harbour was a square of grass with a few benches dotted around. It crossed my mind that no one knew where I was. I had better leave a bit of a trail, in case I needed finding. I got my iPhone out, took a selfie and quickly posted it to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with the caption “Dix on Off Dock Green”. If anyone could be bothered to look for me they may know where to start. 

It wasn’t difficult to find “Better Case Management”, they had clearly spent a lot of money on making this look the part. It was draped in a banner – “Grand Opening 6th January”. I avoided the front door and headed round the back to see if there was a window where I could get a look inside. 

And this is where I was at the receiving end of the old one-two, known locally as the Danczuk-Benn. As I tried to peer through the window I had no chance of being able to see the repeated low blows that came from my right and out of the sun. That was the Danczuk. That was quickly followed by a heavy blow from behind with a blunt instrument that gave me no chance at all. And that was the Benn. I was out for a standing count, if it had been a boxing match my corner would have thrown in the towel. 

I was carried by my two assailants through a door and into the building. As these two thugs dragged me my mind was dragging itself through a fug of semi-consciousness like a drowning man, drowning in a thick soup but just about managing to tread water. Or soup. 

Anyways, my mind finally grabbed hold of a passing crouton of clarity and I realised I had company. And plenty of it. Of course, front and centre was Mad Freddie. 

I don’t know whether you have ever had the pleasure of Mad Freddie’s company? In my experience those that rise to the top of the game in crime are either egotistical, megalomaniac pyscopaths or egotistical, megalomaniac pyscopaths who are also a bit weird. Mad Freddie feel into the last category. 

Most grown men cannot get away with wearing a purple dressing gown everywhere they go. But Mad Freddie could. And nobody gave it a second thought. Like nobody gave the hair a second glance either, not if they knew what was good for them. Mad Freddie had a toupee that made Donald Trump and that Wogan fella look like an advert for Timotei.

And he wasn’t alone. In the room he seemed to have his whole crew with him. My welcoming party I now recognised. It was the Greek hitman, Stare Decisis and the Queen of the switchblade “Razor” Judy Carter. 

Standing next to Mad Freddie was his current squeeze. I seem to recall that she was French Creole or somesuch. I also recall that she had ways of torturing you that could have a grown man cry. She also had a network of snitches that fed information back to old Mad Freddie. So she was part gangster’s moll and part out and out gangster. Kaci Progreçion was a piece of work, I don’t mind telling you. 

There is nothing worse than a turncoat. Except, I guess, murderers. And I guess it depends on the way your coat has been turned. If you change your allegiance from one soccer team to another, I guess that ain’t a capital crime. But there were not many things worse than a cop gone bad. And that cop gone bad was Smollenski. 
Smollenski used to be a stand up kind of guy. Until he got knocked down. But I am getting ahead of myself. He was a cops’ cop. Busting balls and cracking heads. But they were bad guys’ balls. And heads. We were in the force together for years. Things went wrong one day when he was out on a regular collar for some traffic violations. The perp got angsty and tried to run. Sadly Smollenski got in the way and the perp ran right over him in his low riding, pimped up Fiat Cinquecento. 

He was in a pretty bad way afterwards. Most of his injuries healed. They gave him a desk job for a while, to give him time to get back on active duty. But it wasn’t gonna happen. His leg had been bust up pretty bad, leaving it shorter than the other. And I knows we shouldn’t have done it, but we gave him a nickname, on account of him having one leg shorter than its partner. And it was when he heard what we were calling him that he flipped. I reckon that was the moment he crossed from good cop to being a bad cop, and not the kind of bad cop we all have to be from time to time in order to be a good cop. That was the moment Smollenski turned his back on the force and embraced crime. 

We should never have called him the Listing Officer. 

It wasn’t just Mad Freddie’s crew that were in the room. There were some serious out of town players here too. Guys even further up the food chain than Freddie. Men like Lincoln “Cool” Johnson, or LCJ to his friends, who ran the Strand crew. His enforcer was also here, Phil Ford. There were others I didn’t recognise, private contractors just here to make a fast, mercenary buck out of whatever was going down. 

And what was going down? I needed to find that out like a man needs to know what the inside of his coffin is going to look like.

“It’s Dix, isn’t it,” Mad Freddie asked. “I thought I’d told you I never wanted to see you again, not after you kept me waiting that time. You know I don’t like being kept waiting, boy. What brings you here?”

Like my Equitable Life Pension, I decided honesty was the best policy. So I explained about Katie Rocquet and the missing papers. Freddie viewed me with murderous contempt. 

“Look Dix, my friends here and me, we got something new hitting the streets. PTPH is going to be the only show in town. And we don’t need complications, which is what you have just become.”

I looked around for Harry the office cat. She wasn’t there. Then I realised, this time, I was really smelling fear. My fear. 

“So here is what we going to do, boy. I am going to give you and Rocquet a break. The papers you want are downtown, in a speakeasy called Case Lines. I’m gonna give you a password, just knock on the door, give em the password and you’ll get your papers.”

I tried to thank Mad Freddie but my words came out of my mouth with all the order and sense of the early doors customers of Argos on Black Friday.

“Dix, don’t speak. Don’t even breathe. Just take a message back to Rocquet. She is either with me or she is out of business. And on this deal her cut has gone down from 33% to 25%. And the clock is running. I don’t do credit. I am old school in a new world. Do we understand each other?”

I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. That didn’t stop me nodding. It was time to make like a celebrity and get out of there. I nodded my way right out of the room and away from the assembled assembley of assholes and assassins. 

The papers were exactly where Freddie said they would be. Case solved. Invoice sent to Miss Rocquet. Cheque in the post. Or so she kept saying. Every time I called.

THE END

Missing in Service (Ch 3)

This is Chapter 3. If you haven’t read the rest, it won’t make sense. So Chapter 1 is  here and Chapter 2 is here. And yes, you will be relieved to know, this is the last part!

Like a middle class kid on a gap year in Thailand, I found myself back in the office. 

For the first time in this case I had a concrete lead. Based on the information given to me by The Usher, I only really had one option and that was to pay a visit to this “Better Case Management” outfit. What awaited me there was anyone’s guess but I reckon I would get pretty good odds from the guys at the track on it being something to do with Mad Freddie. I could hear fate rumbling towards me. 

Seconds after I heard the rumble of fate, the whiff of a flatulent cat assaulted my nostrils. If any money came in for this case that damned cat was having a visit to the vets to get some charcoal pills. 

I needed to prepare myself. There was a yard arm somewhere in the world that had the sun over it. I opened the desk drawer to my left and fished out a bottle of something strong and Scottish. I reached back into the drawer and found a heavy glass. I bolted down a shot and poured myself another. 

Irn Bru always brought me comfort. 

I opened the right hand desk drawer. I reached deep into its recesses and my fingers wrapped felt the cold metal of what I was looking for. As I took hold of it I could feel the snub nose nestle into my palm. I knew it was loaded with a full clip in the slide, ready to go. I did not ordinarily carry this with me but going after these papers could get messy and a stapler could come in very handy. 

If I wasn’t desperate for the cash there was no way my weary feet would have carried me down to the port. Just off the harbour was a square of grass with a few benches dotted around. It crossed my mind that no one knew where I was. I had better leave a bit of a trail, in case I needed finding. I got my iPhone out, took a selfie and quickly posted it to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with the caption “Dix on Off Dock Green”. If anyone could be bothered to look for me they may know where to start. 

It wasn’t difficult to find “Better Case Management”, they had clearly spent a lot of money on making this look the part. It was draped in a banner – “Grand Opening 6th January”. I avoided the front door and headed round the back to see if there was a window where I could get a look inside. 

And this is where I was at the receiving end of the old one-two, known locally as the Danczuk-Benn. As I tried to peer through the window I had no chance of being able to see the repeated low blows that came from my right and out of the sun. That was the Danczuk. That was quickly followed by a heavy blow from behind with a blunt instrument that gave me no chance at all. And that was the Benn. I was out for a standing count, if it had been a boxing match my corner would have thrown in the towel. 

I was carried by my two assailants through a door and into the building. As these two thugs dragged me my mind was dragging itself through a fug of semi-consciousness like a drowning man, drowning in a thick soup but just about managing to tread water. Or soup. 

Anyways, my mind finally grabbed hold of a passing crouton of clarity and I realised I had company. And plenty of it. Of course, front and centre was Mad Freddie. 

I don’t know whether you have ever had the pleasure of Mad Freddie’s company? In my experience those that rise to the top of the game in crime are either egotistical, megalomaniac pyscopaths or egotistical, megalomaniac pyscopaths who are also a bit weird. Mad Freddie feel into the last category. 

Most grown men cannot get away with wearing a purple dressing gown everywhere they go. But Mad Freddie could. And nobody gave it a second thought. Like nobody gave the hair a second glance either, not if they knew what was good for them. Mad Freddie had a toupee that made Donald Trump and that Wogan fella look like an advert for Timotei.

And he wasn’t alone. In the room he seemed to have his whole crew with him. My welcoming party I now recognised. It was the Greek hitman, Stare Decisis and the Queen of the switchblade “Razor” Judy Carter. 

Standing next to Mad Freddie was his current squeeze. I seem to recall that she was French Creole or somesuch. I also recall that she had ways of torturing you that could have a grown man cry. She also had a network of snitches that fed information back to old Mad Freddie. So she was part gangster’s moll and part out and out gangster. Kaci Progreçion was a piece of work, I don’t mind telling you. 

There is nothing worse than a turncoat. Except, I guess, murderers. And I guess it depends on the way your coat has been turned. If you change your allegiance from one soccer team to another, I guess that ain’t a capital crime. But there were not many things worse than a cop gone bad. And that cop gone bad was Smollenski. 

Smollenski used to be a stand up kind of guy. Until he got knocked down. But I am getting ahead of myself. He was a cops’ cop. Busting balls and cracking heads. But they were bad guys’ balls. And heads. We were in the force together for years. Things went wrong one day when he was out on a regular collar for some traffic violations. The perp got angsty and tried to run. Sadly Smollenski got in the way and the perp ran right over him in his low riding, pimped up Fiat Cinquecento. 

He was in a pretty bad way afterwards. Most of his injuries healed. They gave him a desk job for a while, to give him time to get back on active duty. But it wasn’t gonna happen. His leg had been bust up pretty bad, leaving it shorter than the other. And I knows we shouldn’t have done it, but we gave him a nickname, on account of him having one leg shorter than its partner. And it was when he heard what we were calling him that he flipped. I reckon that was the moment he crossed from good cop to being a bad cop, and not the kind of bad cop we all have to be from time to time in order to be a good cop. That was the moment Smollenski turned his back on the force and embraced crime. 

We should never have called him the Listing Officer. 

It wasn’t just Mad Freddie’s crew that were in the room. There were some serious out of town players here too. Guys even further up the food chain than Freddie. Men like Lincoln “Cool” Johnson, or LCJ to his friends, who ran the Strand crew. His enforcer was also here, Phil Ford. There were others I didn’t recognise, private contractors just here to make a fast, mercenary buck out of whatever was going down. 

And what was going down? I needed to find that out like a man needs to know what the inside of his coffin is going to look like.

“It’s Dix, isn’t it,” Mad Freddie asked. “I thought I’d told you I never wanted to see you again, not after you kept me waiting that time. You know I don’t like being kept waiting, boy. What brings you here?”

Like my Equitable Life Pension, I decide honesty was the best policy. So I explained about Katie Rocquet and the missing papers. Freddie viewed me with murderous contempt. 

“Look Dix, my friends here and me, we got something new hitting the streets. PTPH is going to be the only show in town. And we don’t need complications, which is what you have just become.”

I looked around for Harry the office cat. She wasn’t there. Then I realised, this time, I was really smelling fear. My fear. 

“So here is what we going to do, boy. I am going to give you and Rocquet a break. The papers you want are downtown, in a speakeasy called Case Lines. I’m gonna give you a password, just knock on the door, give em the password and you’ll get your papers.”

I tried to thank Mad Freddie but my words came out of my mouth with all the order and sense of the early doors customers of Argos on Black Friday.

“Dix, don’t speak. Don’t even breathe. Just take a message back to Rocquet. She is either with me or she is out of business. And on this deal her cut has gone down from 33% to 25%. And the clock is running. I don’t do credit. I am old school in a new world. Do we understand each other?”

I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. That didn’t stop me nodding. It was time to make like a celebrity and get out of there. I nodded my way right out of the room and away from the assembled assembley of assholes and assassins. 

The papers were exactly where Freddie said they would be. Case solved. Invoice sent to Miss Rocquet. Cheque in the post. Or so she kept saying. Every time I called.

THE END

Missing in Service (Ch 2)

This is Chapter 2. You really need to read Chapter 1, which can be found here


I regretted telling Katie Rocquet that I would take her case more than Dave regretted uttering the words “Chris, how do you fancy giving Lord Chancellor a go?”  

It was going to be easy money, you know, like the easy money junior doctors make patching up the human carnage of a Saturday night in the ER. And quick money too. And it would have been, if I could have gotten my hands on Kowalski. 

Back at the office Harry was shooting me the sort of looks that said she hadn’t been fed in days. There was nothing else to do, if curiosity didn’t kill the cat, starvation was going to. I had no choice but to head into the horse’s den and get the answer straight from the lion’s mouth. 

I picked up the phone and punched in the number for the Prosecutor’s office. This was a decision I instantly regretted. iPhone screens did not react well to punching. 

It was a couple of rings before a female voice started telling me that I had contacted the Prosecution and that it was real swell that I had done. She seemed very pleased. I decided to box off the niceties and get straight to the point. 

“Look lady, I need to talk to someone about some papers. Stat. Pronto. Stat and pronto. You know what I mean?”

If she knew what I meant she had a funny way of showing it. It would have helped if she had stopped smacking her own gums. This lady could talk. I got the feeling she knew exactly how to push my buttons. I tried again. 

“Sweetheart, if you can just stop yapping over me we might get somewhere, do you get me?”

If she got me, or even heard me, she had a funny way of showing it. She was relentless and remorseless. More relentless and remorseless than Philip Davies opposing something that would make someone’s life better or nicer in some small way. The kind of grinding determination to carry on regardless that put the “illib” in fillibuster. Or something. She was scrambling my brain. 

“If your enquiry is related to a Crown Court matter, please press 1,” she said for the eleventeenth time, “if you wish to speak to the Magistrates section, please press 2. If you want to speak to witness care, press 3. If you actually want to speak to a real life lawyer please press 18 and 1/2 whilst standing on your head reciting the Owl and the Pussycat. Your call is important to us. Goodbye.”

The line went dead. 

“Hello?” I said into the void, “Hello?” Either she had gone or I was about to launch into a Lionel Ritchie tribute number. Either way, I wasn’t dancing on the ceiling. 

First Kowalski and now this broad. It seemed like nobody wanted to talk to me. And when no one wants to talk to you then you begin to wonder what they had to hide. I smelled a rat. 

My thoughts were disturbed by Harry snaking herself around my ankles and heading for the door. Seems like she was registering her displeasure at the absence of food in purely olfactory ways. It was no rat that I could smell. 

Still, there was something fishy going on. With the case, not the cat. I was being given the cold shoulder and was no nearer to discovering where Rocquet’s papers were at. It was time to hit the streets again. 

In every town there is always a guy. It could be a girl. But whether a guy or a girl they were always the guy. The guy who knew everything and everyone. Knew where everyone was at. Had the ear of enough of the right kind of people to be a mine of useful information. And always had enough of the smarts to know that sharing some of that information with the right people could prove to be very mutually beneficial in a mutual kind of way. 

I knew such a guy. He had helped me out plenty of times, on plenty of cases. In turn I had always come running when he needed me. All he had to do was holler. 

The funny thing is, I never knew his name. Not his real name. Guess it just never came up much in conversation. We knew what we had going on was business, not real friendship. We would never just grab a beer together. It was always business. And I just knew him as “The Usher“. 

So fifteen minutes after my unsuccessful call to the Prosecutor I pulled out the bar stool next to my number one stool pigeon.

“Mr Dix,” The Usher addressed me without looking up from his crossword, “what can I do for you today?”

“Ush, I got a problem that I am hoping you can fix….” I began. 

“What seems to be the problem, Mr Dix?” 

I liked that about The Usher. He was always full of old school politeness. Right until you crossed him. Then he wasn’t so polite. Then he was about as polite as .44 slug that had “excuse me” scrawled on it just before it popped into your skull. And he would always make sure those that crossed him got what was coming their way. Not at his hand, you understand, but when you knew the people who The Usher knew, when you had the sort of people who relied on you like they relied on The Usher, settling scores was easy.    

So I explained my problem to The Usher. And as I did so his face darkened. He put his pen down. His crossword remained unsolved. 

“You do know Mad Freddie is going to be involved in that?” His voice was half warning, half concerned enquiry and half threat. “And that means I can’t help you, not this time.” It would be fair to say that what he had to say was less than the sum total of its parts. 

The Usher got up to leave. I laid a heavy hand on his arm. 

“Look Ush, throw me a bone here, I am running out of places to turn,” my voice sounded as desperate as my bank balance. 

The Usher folded his paper and tucked it under his elbow. He looked about him, checking no one was about to overhear what he had to say. He then lent towards me and in a voice as soft as that really good quality quilted toilet paper that koala bears use, whispered a few words to me. 

“All I can say, my old friend, is that it has something to do with a packing and logistics firm. I think they operate out of the docks. It is probably just a front for the real stuff that’s going down. It’s a ‘pile em high and sell em cheap’ kinda outfit. They go by the name “Better Case Management”, but I warn you now, I don’t think you’re invited to the party.”

And with that The Usher straightened up and gave me half a smile. 

“See you soon, Mr Dix, and I hope it’s not as I throw a handful of dirt on to your coffin.”

Before I could say goodbye he was gone. But at least he had given me a lead. I had some information, now it was time to make like Steven Seagal on a stage and act on it.  

Missing in Service

With apologies to Raymond Chandler…..

CHAPTER ONE

Business was slow. Slower than the LAA Portal when you need to process a CRM 14, whatever that means. But for me it meant no new cases to investigate, no philandering husbands to catch at it and no dough coming through the the bank accounts. I needed a change in fortune. I had rent to pay at the end of the month and the bank were threatening to foreclose on me. 

Let me introduce myself. I am Thomas Dix, Private Invesitgator. There, you can see me, feet up on my desk, watching Harriet the office cat give herself the once over, licking herself clean like a hitman removing his prints from the smoking gun.  But that’s the only action there was in the office , no clients, no phonecalls, no new files, no old files, just me and the cat, just Tom Dix and Harry. 

My office is on a typical street in Midtown. First floor above one of those coffee and deli places that are on every street corner. A real mom and pop outfit. The two of them had been doling out food to the heaving masses ever since they came here from Poland. Mr and Mrs Gregowicz, although that wasn’t a catchy name for a business. And my stomach gurgled like a slow draining bath as I caught a sniff of the signature dish wafting up the stairs. It was hard to beat one of the steak slices from Greg’s. 

Right at that moment I heard the outer office door go. Then silence. The type of silence that tells you something bad is about to walk into your life. The sort of silence that fills the room in the moment before the Doc tells you how long you got left to live.

“Marcie!?!” I hollered, forgetting that I had to let the receptionist go when business got scarce. 

I dropped my feet from the desk as I heard a hand turn the handle on the door to my office. I thought I could smell fear in the air, then saw Harriet shoot me a guilty look before slinking off and I realised that wasn’t fear I could smell…..there was a reason Marcie called the cat “Dirty Harry”.

The door opened and in walked a woman. A woman who had legs all the way up to her ears, which briefly made me wonder where all her internal organs were at. She flashed me a smile that told me more about cosmetic dentistry than nature. 

“Tom Dix?” she asked, not waiting for an answer, “my name is Katie Rocquet. I’m a lawyer”… (that explained the pantsuit, I thought to myself)…”and I have case for you, if it is something you are interested in….”

I was interested the moment she said she had a case. A case meant money and I found money more interesting than Lord Harley’s ribbon collection. 

So Miss Rocquet explained that she wanted me to track something down for her. I made notes as she told me that some papers had gone missing. Her firm had been due to receive them last month from the prosecutor’s office but had never turned up. She had done what she could but couldn’t get her hands on them. And now she wanted my help.

And help I could. 

Before the scent of her perfume had left my office I had my hat and my coat on and I was out of the door. This was going to be easy. You see, she had been able to give me the name of one of the police officers involved and I knew him back from my days on the job, before I left the force. 

As I stepped onto the street I pulled the collar of my mac up to my ears, the weather having turned colder than the inside of Mad Freddies’s heart. Mad Freddie had been the case that led me to leave behind my badge and become the freelancer I am now. Not many survived Mad Freddie, but that’s a different story. 

Right now I just needed to head down to the Precinct, have a word with my old buddy Kowalski and send Miss Rocquet the bill for my services. He was the officer in charge of the case. He would just give me a copy of the file and I could say “case closed” faster than well behaved boys and girls are made Judges. 

Of course, when I had been in the force I wasn’t based at this Precinct. We had a proper police station, not a portacabin in a shopping centre. But, you know, times change and austerity was what ran the show now.

Unfortunately austerity turned out to be a cheap son of a bitch because when I walked up the ramp to the prefab police station and put my hand on the door handle I found it locked. I swore under my breath and looked around for some clue as to what to do next. 

I am not a religious man but I don’t mind telling you that I asked the big fella for some help right then. I needed a dead end this early in the case like South Korea needed a nuclear armed meglomaniac neighbour.

“Just give me a sign” was my whispered prayer. 

And there it was, next to the door. A sign. An actual sign

 “This police station is open on the third Wednesday of every month (except April, May, July and February and/or October should it be a leap year and any Wednesday which happens to be a national holiday. Anywhere.) between the hours of 2.45 and 3.45 am/pm (delete as appropriate) and subject to daylight saving and weather permitting. In the unlikely event that you need our assistance outside of these hours, please lift the handset next to this sign and tell the operator the nature of your emergency, the number of this lift and its approximate location. An engineer will be with you shortly.”

And next to the sign was a yellow phone. The old kind of phone. Like they had in the movies. Like the Bat-phone. But yellow. I picked up the handset. 

“Hello,” said a voice at the other end “this is the generic call handling centre, please state the nature of your enquiry and whether you require the police, ambulance, coast guard, lift engineer, gas engineer, nuclear fission engineer, duty solicitor or whether you want to register on the phone for our range of online services?”

“Look pal,” I said, “I’m ex-job and just need to speak to my old buddy Kowalski, now be a stand up kind of guy and put me through to him why dontcha?”

“How do I know that?” the voice at the other end of the line said. 

I screwed my face up. This was not turning out to be as easy as I thought it would. 

“Just get me Kowalski and he’ll vouch for me,” I said, struggling to keep my voice the right side of gruff. 

“But I don’t know that he will, and then what?” the anonymous voice continued to argue, “I mean you could be any old Tom, Dick or……”

“Don’t even go there,” I snapped and something in my voice seemed to have the desired effect. 

“Okay, okay. I’ll just see if I can put you through,” the guy on the other end said before my ear was filled with the relentless noisy silence of an unused phone line. After what seemed like an eternity he spoke again. 

“No sorry, you can’t speak to him today.”

“Why not?” I asked, my voice as tight as a Determining Officer looking at a special prep claim. 

“He’s on leave today,” came my answer. 

“If I leave you my number, can you get him to give me a call tomorrow? Please.” I asked, politely. Sometimes it was nice to be nice, sometimes you had to be nice. 

“No” came the answer. He was about as helpful as a rollerskate on a frozen lake. 

“Oh for crying out loud, man,” I hollered into the handset, “stop having a stick up your ass and help me out here before I reach down this phone and grab you by the larynx.”

I had gone from good cop to bad cop in the beat of a butterfly’s heart. It was good to be back. 

“There’s no need to be like that, I can’t ask him to call you tomorrow because tomorrow he’s on a rest day,” the voice sounded a little wounded. 

Time for me to dial it back a little. 

“Sorry buddy, it is just kind of important I speak to him. Is a rest day different to leave?” I asked. Things had changed in even the short time since I had become just a citizen. 

“Yes. It is. But either way, he won’t be ringing you.”

I could tell by the sound of his voice that my window of cooperation was rapidly closing. 

“Ok, ok. How about you do me a massive favour and just ask my friend and yours, Kowalski, to give me a call the day after his rest day. I mean, we are all on the same team here, you know what I mean?” 

This case had a definite time limit. And I could hear the clock ticking.

“No can do,” his voice seemed tinged with pleasure, “because after his rest day he is on a course. And after the course he is on nights. And then rest days. And, well, the next time Officer Kowalski is available to respond to my message to give you a call will be three weeks this Friday. Subject to operational matters.”

“Look you jobsworth, you snivelling little…..” And I did not get to speak my mind as at that exact moment I heard the unmistakable electronic click that was as fatal for a telephone conversation as the guillotine was for a French aristocrat. He hung up on me. 

And this is where I began to wish I had not taken the job. You see there was a deadline. Miss Rocquet had been vague about the details. But the missing papers had to be with her in time for something she only referred to as the PTPH. I did not know much about this so-called PTPH. But I did know that it had something to do with Mad Freddie. And the wrong side of Mad Freddie is a painful place to be. 

I had to solve this case. I had to get those papers. I pulled my fedora down to shield my eyes from the wind and the rain. This had just gotten serious. Time for me to make like one of those security arches at the airport and detect……

TO BE CONTINUED

The Candidate

A room in the Legal Aid Agency. It is in the early summer months. A long serving civil servant, Bryan Loyal, sits behind a desk. Sitting opposite him is a nervous looking man in a slightly ill-fitting suit. He is Jobe Seeker and has been sent for this interview by an employment agency. 

B LOYAL: Thank you very much for coming in today. My name is Bryan Loyal, I’ll be interviewing you for a role within a very important Governmemt procurement process which is all a bit hush-hush at the moment. Now, first of all, please do not be put off by Gonzo here (Bryan Loyal points to a flame haired Gonk on his desk) I took him to my Civil Service exam with me for luck and he has been with me ever since whenever I’m doing something important….which is probably why I never got the Foreign Office gig….can’t have Foreign Heads of State seeing a 70s plastic toy “apparently”. So here I am, interviewing you for this hush-hush job. Not that I was meant to be interviewing you of course. Mrs Jones was meant to be interviewing you, but she is poorly today. So, to be honest, the job isn’t that hush-hush, it’s just that I don’t know much about it. Something to do with Legal Aid and some contracts. But we are not going to let that hold us back, are we?

JOBE SEEKER: I guess not. 

BL: That’s the spirit. You’ll go far in the LAA with an attitude like that. A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, better to have none at all!

JS: If you say so…..

BL: Not only do I say so, but Gonzo says so too, don’t you Gonzo?…. (Bryan picks up the strange troll-like figure and mimics a nodding movement)…. Right, first question. (Bryan reads from a sheet of paper in front of him) Do you have any experience in the Legal Sector?

JS: Not really. 

BL: Anything will do…..

JS: Nope. Sorry. 

BL: Come, on! You seem like a nice fellow. Gonzo likes you. Give us something to work with!

JS: Well I did watch that Silk thing on the telly….

BL: That’ll do!

JS: I was joking!

BL: There are marks available on the form for “having observed the working of a legal practice” so you are off and running on the score sheet. Next question. Do you have any experience of procurement?

JS: Well, my dad reckoned he procured his flat screen telly from Dodgy Dave down the pub….

BL: Not sure that’s what we have in mind. 

JS: To be honest I am not sure what procurement actually is….

BL: Basically it is all about comparing the available service providers in an area and then choosing which best meets the needs of the Government. 

JS: I did help my gran switch her gas supplier through that website …..

BL: Wonderful! Top marks!

JS: And I once had a job with those meerkats who sell car insurance to Arnie.

BL: Might leave that one out. Don’t want you to seem over qualified.

JS: I was only packing cuddly meerkat dolls and sending them out to customers….

BL: We’ll definitely give that one a miss. Delivery is strictly a different department. Now – do you have any experience of marking against a set criteria?

JS: Errr…well I did draw up a pros and cons list as to whether I should ask my girlfriend to marry me. The cons came out way ahead.

BL: That’s good practical experience. And it helped you come to the right decision. 

JS: We got married six months later.

BL: Oh. Right. Well, congratulations……

JS: We got divorced within 18 months……

BL: There we go then. Your rigorous marking system was proved right in the long run. She was a nightmare. Should have trusted your list.

JS: But then I realised we couldn’t live without each other so we get remarried next month…..

BL: BrillIant. Flexibility is key. Well done. Now we move to the quick fire round.

JS: I am sorry, can you just expl……

BL: No time! The clock has started. What’s the capital of Italy?

JS: Sorry, what’s this got to do with the job….

BL: No time for explanations. Just answer the question. Italy….?

JS: Errr….Rome.

BL: ABBA won the Eurovision with which song?

JS: Really?!?……errr, I don’t know… Dancing Queen?

BL: Who is Winston Churchill?

JS: He was Prime Minister.

BL: Who scored in Coventry City’s only FA Cup Final win?

JS: Look, I can’t possibly need to know that…….

BL: Just give me an answer!

JS: Oh I don’t know. Kevin Keegan. 

BL: And finally what is otherwise known as the Central Criminal Court?

JS: I haven’t the foggiest. 

(Bryan sits bolt up right in his seat. His arm mimics the second hand of a clock as he imitates the music from Countdown)

BL: Derr-derr-da-derr-derrrrr.  Derr-derr-da-derr-derrrrr. Derr-derr-da-derr-derrrrr. Derr-der, derr-der, biddly boo…….(as Bryan’s arm reaches the desk he rounds off with a crescendo of an explosion sound. Both men stare at each other in silence) ……..I am not going to lie, there is some room for improvement there.

JS: I know. I’d be surprised if I got more than two right…….

BL: Oh, don’t worry about getting them right or not. It was your timing. Five questions in 42 seconds. You’ll need to pick up the pace a bit if you want to win the Mars Bar.

JS: The Mars Bar?

BL: Yes, a Mars Bar. Helps you work, rest and shape the future of the criminal justice system. And now, the final question of the round – do you know the difference between Sussex and Cheshire?

JS: Errrr, I think so. 

BL: Briiliant. That seals it for me. I don’t mind telling you that, if it were just up to me, you’ve got the job….

JS: …..fantast……

BL: …….BUT……. It isn’t just up to me. Your scores from this interview have to go through moderation before any formal offer can be made. 

JS: Oh. Ok. 

(Bryan picks Gonzo the Gonk from the table and holds him to his ear. Several times he takes the Gonk from his ear and holds it as if the lucky charm is reading the piece of paper on the table. All the time Bryan is whispering both sides of the conversation with the Gonk)

BL: Congratulations Jobe, I am delighted to inform you that you’ve passed our rigorous moderation process and you’ve got the job!

JS: Oh. Thanks. I think. 

BL: There is just one final formality to go through. This is serious Government business.

JS: I totally understand. Do I need to sign the Official Secrets Act?

BL: No. I just have one final question for you……..have you ever contemplated blowing a whistle……..

                                                                                          

A Tale of Everyday Life

A courtroom somewhere in England. Her Honour Judge Christine Jones-Smith presides. The case is listed for mention with the defendants to attend from custody. The Prosecution are represented by Mr Justin Messenger. The defence are represented by Miss Fi Owens and the ever busy Miss Rhea Turner.

The case is called on and only one defendant is produced in the dock. The present defendant is identified and the parties are introduced. 

HHJ CJS: Miss Owens, where is your client?

MISS FO: I am told by the custody staff that he has not been put on the van. In fact my learned friend Miss Turner informs me that my client shares a cell with her client and when the officers came to their cell this morning they called upon the co-accused but, despite their insistence that they were both required, they only placed the co-accused on the bus. 

HHJ CJS: I see, a case of “your name’s not down so you’re not coming out”…. never mind…. it is only 10 am, still plenty of time to get him here….

MISS FO: I have made enquiries and it is thought he could be here by 3pm.

HHJ CJS: 3pm!?! 3pm!?! The prison is less than four miles from here. Who says it will take them until 3pm?

MISS FO: I spoke to the staff downstairs who work for 3PO. They spoke to GeeForceAnnie who are the ones that bring them here. It took a while for them to speak to SecurGroupitas who run the prison. Apparently the next GeeForceAnnie van available is one that is currently delivering someone missed from yesterday’s list at the other end of the County and 3PO cannot speak to that van directly, because it is not their van, so SecurGroupitas have to contact GeeForceAnnie head office to get them to arrange it. All of which takes time. Apparently. 

HHJ CJS: There seems little I can do about that so let’s see what progress we can make in his absence. Mr Messenger, this case is listed today to see if the problems that have beset this case have been ironed out. Now then, the defence have made several requests to have the exhibit in this case examined scientifically. The exhibit is a weapon is it not? In fact, a most unusual weapon. I believe the witnesses describe it as a “broadsword”. So Mr Messenger, has that examination now taken place?

MR JM: I am afraid not, Your Honour. 

HHJ CJS: Why not, Mr Messenger?

MR JM: Because we’ve lost it….

HHJ CJS: I’m sorry Mr Messenger, did you just say you’ve lost it?

MR JM: Not me personally, I am only the messen…..the conduit for that information. It has been lost in the Police Property Store.

HHJ CJS: A broadsword?

MR JM: Yes, Your Honour.

HHJ CJS: The broadsword in this case? How? How did the police lose a broadsword? I mean it’s not as if there has been a sudden spate of immortals running round shouting “there can be only one” in a Frenchly Scottish accent whilst trying to lop the head off total strangers, has there? There can be only one broadsword…in the possession of the police…you don’t just lose that in an officer’s desk drawer…

MR JM: No. It went into the Property Store. It was logged into the Property Store. The computer says it is still in the Property Store. But…..

HHJ CJS: What, Mr Messenger? But what?

MR JM: The Officer has had a jolly good look for it but can’t find it. 

HHJ CJS: Perhaps he should hang around the lake and see if any shimmering ladies emerge carrying Excalibur….Thankfully the last time the case was listed for trial it was discovered that there was, contrary to what the police had originally said, there was CCTV of the incident, if I recall correctly…

Miss Turner gets to her feet to assist.

MISS RT: Your Honour is quite correct. In advance of the last trial date the the Officer in the Case provided a statement in which he described how he had viewed the CCTV from the premises but that it showed nothing and was not capable of being downloaded. However on the day of the trial the owner of the premises provided a statement saying that the footage did show the incident and that it had been burnt on to a disc and handed to the same Officer.

HHJ CJS: At least that means we can see the invisible broadsword in action. Please be the bearer of good news this time Mr Messenger? Have we located the disc?

MR JM: Yes, Your Honour, there is a statement from the Officer. The disc was logged into the Property Store…

HHJ CJS: Why do I have a sense of dread, Mr Messenger? Was the disc lost by any chance?

MR JM: No, Your Honour. 

HHJ CJS: Recorded over with Coronation Street so the night shift didn’t miss it?

MR JM: No, Your Honour. It has…..

HHJ CJS: No, no, Mr Messenger, I am keen to guess. Is it in a format incompatible with any known playback system?

MR JM: No, You Honour.

HHJ CJS: Has it been mistaken for a broadsword and stored down the back of a radiator?

MR JM: No, Your Honour.

HHJ CJS: Come on then, enlighten me.

MR JM: It has been destroyed. 

The Judge indulges in some uncharacteristic eye rolling. 

HHJ CJS: How, Mr Messenger? How was it destroyed? No. Why? Why was it destroyed? In fact, both. How and why.

MR JM: The Officer asked about it at the Property Store and was told it was there. When he went to collect it three days later it had, unfortunately, been destroyed the day before. Apparently where an item is not listed as an exhibit or as unused material in a live case they are automatically destroyed after six months. It is a rigorously effective system. It is all in the Officer’s statement.

HHJ CJS: Can I see it?

Mr Messenger takes the opportunity to do his own eye rolling. He speaks deliberately and slowly. Each word is separately formed and clearly enunciated. 

MR JM: It. Has. Been. Destroyed….

HHJ CJS: NO! NOT THE FOOTAGE! THE STATEMENT. CAN I SEE THE STATEMENT?

MR JM: Yes, Your Honour, and a little bit of no.

HHJ CJS: Sorry?

MR JM: You may see the statement, but only in due course. At the moment you cannot. 

HHJ CJS: Don’t tell me Mr Messenger. Lost? Destroyed in game of Rock/Paper/Sword at the Property Store? Written on incompatible parchment? Touring the County like the missing defendant?

MR JM: Nothing so simple I am afraid. The CPS printer is broken.

HHJ CJS: But it was only last week that it broke down and was repaired.

MR JM: Again, a little bit of yes and a little bit of no. It certainly broke down last week but has not been repaired in the interim. And now it is more broken than it was before. 

HHJ CJS: Do they not have someone who can repair it?

MR JM: Not on the payroll, Your Honour. Rather than have a specialist waiting around to do the specific jobs that arise it is much cheaper to use outside contractors to come and do the work according to their experience and ability. You avoid pensions, sick pay and get to pick just the right person. 

HHJ CJS: We are still taking about printer repair are we? What has been done?

MR JM: The Caseworker present in Court contacted the Area Business Manager who is the person to whom such faults should be reported…..

HHJ CJS: And?

MR JM: The Caseworker was told to sort it out himself.

HHJ CJS: What do they expect him to do? Find a repair person or get out his screwdriver and do it himself?

MR JM: Not entirely clear Your Honour. The Caseworker did point out to the Business Manager that he was looking after two courts today and that Your Honour had nine mentions dealing with trial readiness where the relevant correspondence and memoranda were only available on the Caseworker’s laptop and he had no means to print out that information and ended the telephone call by asking whether the Business Manager also wanted him to shove a broom up his …… well, the conversation ended without the problem being resolved. 

The CPS Caseworker in court attracts Mr Messenger’s attention.

MR JM: If You Honour will forgive me for a moment, I am just receiving some instructions. 

Mr Messenger leans forward and has a whispered conversation with the Caseworker.

MR JM: It transpires that the contract to repair the printer is held by GeeForceAnnie. So perhaps the van that brings the absent defendant can also bring the engineer…..

The telephone on the Court Clerk’s desk rings. She answers it and conducts her own whispered conversation with a cupped hand concealing her mouth. Once she finishes the conversation she stands, turns to face the Judge and relays the information to Her Honour. The Judge sighs.

HHJ CJS: I have just been told that the Court does not have a Judge available to hear this trial tomorrow. I am also told that there are only four jurors not currently engaged on trials available. So we have no Judge, no jury, an absent defendant, missing exhibits and missing statements. Miss Owens and Miss Turner it would appear that we are missing most of the essential ingredients of a trial and you would say that it is impossible to have a trial tomorrow?

BOTH: Yes, Your Honour.

HHJ CJS: On the defence application I will adjourn this trial…..

Both Miss Owens and Miss Turner look a little bemused. The Court Clerk eagerly ticks the box on the monitoring form indicating that the trial was adjourned upon a defence led application.

This is not the first imagined Courtroom Scene I have written. But this is not totally imagined. They are all problems that have arisen in cases in which I have been involved. And yes, that included a lost broadsword. Obviously they do not all happen in each case but they happen with such frequency that there is something very obviously wrong in the system. Things that will not be solved by endless Practice Directions. If nothing else, you can also play “spot the Monty Python plagiarised lines”…..



The Four Retired Judges Sketch

With profuse apologies to Monty Python for this shameless hijacking of the Four Yorkshiremen Sketch. Please note that the Judges in this sketch are not from any particular county. I should also apologise to the many completely enlightened members of the modern Judiciary and practitioners at the senior end of both professions. Let us not slip back to old ways. The views expressed in this are not my views, nor are they meant to represent the views of any living person. This is one of my hamfisted attempts at satire, designed to show why the Bar and the Judiciary should not be complacent about diversity. If you find that the views expressed correspond with your own or one of the characters reminds you of yourself then that is entirely a coincidence and I apologise. That apology would not be to you but on your behalf…..

Four Judges sit together at the end of a convivial evening in the Old Bailey, a retirement home for the Judiciary in Eastbourne. Heavy crystal glasses are gripped in ageing hands. 

Judge This QC: Ahhh….very passable, this, very passable.

Judge That: Nothing like a good glass of Chateau de Chassilier wine, hey Gideon?

Judge Them: You’re right there Jocelyn.

Judge Yourself QC: Who would have thought thirty years ago we’d all be sitting here drinking Chateau de Chassillier wine, all of us former “Top Judges”……

Judge This QC: Aye, in them days it were only our fathers who were the Judges.

Judge That: Not top Judges mind…..

Judge Them: No, no. Not top Judges, remember that Maximillian’s father was only a District Registrar….

Judge Yourself QC: That’s right Gideon, but it’s never held me back, never held me back. And of course so unlike your father who was, I believe, described by the News of the World as a “Top Judge”

Judge This QC: Aye “Top Judge in Drink Drive and GoGo Dancer” scandal…..

Judge That:  As I recall it “Top Judge in Russian Spy GoGo Dancer” scandal…..

Judge Them: Yes, yes. And as you all know, he was cleared by the top man at the Ministry.

Judge Yourself QC: Ah yes, the report by Bernard Howe-Relates.

Judge This QC: Top fellow was Bernard.

Judge That: That’s right Peregrine, dear Bernie was a top fellow and wonderful cricketer, used to play with my father in the Old Garfordians…..

Judge Them: Yes, dear old Bernie, or Uncle Bumblepot as I used to affectionately call my Godfather….

Judge Yourself QC: Now when we started out it was hard to make your way.

Judge This QC: That’s right. Hard to make your way with so much to live up to.

Judge That: Nothing like the pressure to achieve more than your father.

Judge Them: Certainly not when you father was head of chambers….

Judge Yourself QC: And his father before him…..

Judge This QC: As your pupilmaster was always reminding you…..

Judge That: Ah yes, mine always said to me “Jocelyn” he would say “I always knew from our days rooming together at Haserthwicke College that your father was going places”…..

Judge Them: My pupil master constantly reminded me that he only let my father marry his sister because he could tell he was cut out for the job……

Judge Yourself QC:  But it wasn’t just the family pressure….

Judge This QC: No, it certainly was not. On my first day in chambers my father’s clerk pointed out to me that every chap from my college who had joined chambers had taken Silk….

Judge That: Mine said every fellow from my college had taken Silk and gone on the Bench….

Judge Them: The High Court Bench….

Judge Yourself QC: My clerk said everyone from my college and my school was in the Court of Appeal…..

Judge This QC: My Clerk told me you could put together a passable Old Boys Rugger XV from Attorneys-General that had been to my alma mater and reasonable Second XV from their fags who went on to be Solictor-General….

Judge That: On my first day in pupillage the clerk told me that there was a seven man House of Lords giving judgement that day who had all gone to my prep school…..

Judge Them: Now that’s pressure…..

Judge Yourself QC: Oh yes. Tell that to your average boy from a Secondary Modern and he wouldn’t recognise such pressure…..

Judge This QC: And then the slog to get work once you were in.

Judge That: Oh yes, you couldn’t rely on your LinkedIn profile…

Judge Them: Absolutely. Nor could you just sit there and await instructions from solicitors who went to the same college as you.

Judge Yourself QC: Exactly. Chaps from my college didn’t go into trade…..

Judge This QC: Precisely. It was endless hours on the golf course…

Judge That: Yes, and it didn’t stop on the course, in the Clubhouse too.

Judge Them: Half a pale ale with the Senior Partner of a firm….

Judge Yourself QC: Now those were the hard yards the youngsters of today don’t see.

Judge This QC: That’s why you did not see many lady Judges of our vintage….

Judge That: They couldn’t be in the clubhouse and in the kitchen making supper.

Judge Them: And those hips. The female hips are not conducive to a good golf swing….

Judge Yourself QC: …..not conducive……

Judge This QC: …..and anyway, lasses taking up pupillage was a waste of thirty Guineas…..

Judge That: A real waste.

Judge Them: Why waste thirty guineas on a pupillage when you were only going to pop off and have some babies within a few years?

Judge Yourself QC: Much better to spend it on a new dress or some pretty shoes!

Judge This QC: Wise words, Peregrine, wise words.

Judge That: And the Courtroom and the Robing Rooms, well, they are like the trenches, no place for a lady.

 Judge Them: No, I wouldn’t want a daughter of mine to see or hear the things that go on.

 Judge Yourself QC: In that situation men can only cope by being more of a man…

 Judge This QC: Aye, it’s the heat of the battle……

Judge That: …..the eye of the storm….

Judge Them: ……no place for shrinking violets……

Judge Yourself QC: …….or sensitive souls.

Judge This QC: If the occasional rum thing gets said, it’s a coping mechanism…

 Judge That: …..gallows humour…..

Judge Them: Nothing more than letting off steam…..

Judge Yourself QC: Like the Rugger changing room, no place for the fairer sex.

Judge This QC: Absolutely, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen…..

Judge That: …..popping back to the kitchen…..

Judge Them:
…..the real kitchen rather than the metaphorical kitchen…..

Judge Yourself QC: ….. and leave the job to the right sort.

Judge This QC: Try telling that to the young people of today and they will not listen, they will not listen. It’s all “don’t be so all un-PC”…..

Judge That: It’s not un-PC if it’s true…..

 Judge Them: Look at the Lord Chancellor, no longer needs to be a lawyer but has always been a man.

 Judge Yourself QC: And a man that went to the right sort of university at that….shows what’s important, shows what’s important.

 All: Yes, yes.