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Authors: Ray Banks


BOOK: California
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A novella by Ray Banks

This edition copyright 2011 Ray Banks

Original edition copyright 2011 Ray Banks


First published by Crime Express, 2011


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any other form or by any means without permission of the author.

All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Cover design by
JT Lindroos


Visit Ray Banks’ website at:


Visit the print publisher’s website at:




The Big Blind

Saturday’s Child

Sucker Punch

No More Heroes

Beast of Burden


Dead Money

Wolf Tickets






A novella



When he thought about it, like, Shuggie Boyle reckoned he’d been through some names in his time.

First there was Kevin Munroe who’d been this close to an aggravated assault pinch before he managed to rabbit; George Cooper, who’d been nabbed fare dodging on the Edinburgh-Glasgow line; Jimmy Fogarty shoplifted a pair of Adidas Kicks back when they were still worth a fence; and Brian Cole punted knock-off Lamberts and litre bottles of Bacardi to half the shipyards. All the names were nice and forgettable. All of them suited his face, which was also nice and forgettable. So he had imagination. He could’ve made up another name for the pensioner sat next to him, but he didn’t. Didn’t even use his court name, either – it was all informal, all “tell you what, just call us Shugs if it makes you feel better, eh?”

Truth be told, he didn’t know why he said it. The more he thought about it, the more his head hurt. It was a fucking mug’s game using his real name and he should’ve known better, but there was something about the old bloke that reminded him of his Granda. Not that the pensioner looked anything like his Granda, but there was a poppy in his buttonhole, a strength despite the shakes, a bit of bolsh in there. Also, there was the smell of booze on him.

Didn’t matter. Whatever it was, it got Shug’s yap going.

“I know this isn’t ideal for you,” he said, “and I know you’re sitting there, probably think you’re being punished for something, eh?” Shug tapped his head, kept his eyes on the road. “Brain’s ticking over, you’re thinking about alternative universes. Like if you hadn’t stopped at that red light that we both know was a smidge off of green, you would’ve got away. Thing is, mind, you didn’t. I got in, and here we are and all that, and it’s ancient history. What’s done is done. No point dwelling on the past, because it won’t change the present, will it?”

Shug glanced at the old man. According to his driving licence, his name was Charlie Brown. Shug thought it was funny. The old man didn’t. Kept that same thin face on him the whole time, staring straight ahead.

“D’you understand what I’m talking about, Charlie?”


Shug nodded to himself. “Okay, alright, fine. I understand, you’re having a hard time ...
what’s happening. That’s understandable. Your brain’s all closed up. But you’ll come round. You’ll open up.” He slapped Charlie’s knee. “Don’t you worry, everything’ll be fine. All I’m saying is there’s no point in blaming yourself for what happened. It’s not your fault. You weren’t to know. It all happened too quickly for you to react. And you know what, you’re better off
reacting, you get me? Because I’m a man with a goal, and I will reach that goal no matter what. So you should
yourself, y’know, pat yourself on the back for not doing anything stupid like fight back. Because if you had, I might’ve had to hurt you, and we don’t want it to get to that, do we?”

Charlie looked at him. Milky blue eyes. His mouth moved like he was grinding his dentures.

Shug sniffed. Wiped his nose. “Anyway, I’m sorry for nicking your car, Charlie. I’m not daft: this is probably your last shot at independence, this motor. People telling you you can’t drive because you’ve got too many miles on the clock yourself. Bastards to a man, Charlie. Don’t let them get to you. You’re a better man than they know. And because you are, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to do you a favour.”

Shug waited for a reaction. He didn’t get one.

“Okay,” he said. “This car. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but she’s not long for this world. So what I’m going to do for you – when I drop you off, the first thing you should do is call it in stolen. Then, what I’m going to do is take this off somewhere and put her out of her misery, what d’you say? It’s win-win. I get a ride, you get a new motor out of your insurance. You’ve got comp, haven’t you? That’s how it works, doesn’t it? Can’t say I ever had insurance, myself.”

Charlie worked his mouth. He looked at the dashboard.

“Hey,” said Shug. “Don’t worry about it. Everything’ll be fine, I told you. Relax.”

Shug pressed a button on the radio. Nothing. He turned one of the dials, pressed a few more buttons. Still nothing. He slapped it with the heel of his hand. “Fuck’s sake.”

“It doesn’t work,” said Charlie.

Shug smiled. “There y’are, radio doesn’t work. Better off without her. Listen, now you’re talking, where d’you want dropped off?”

Charlie blinked.

“I’m serious. Where were you off to before I ruined your day?”


“And where’s that?”



“You’re not taking me home.”

“What’s the matter?”


“I’ll drop you off right at your door, Charlie –“

“You’re not coming to my home.” Charlie shook his head, looked scared.

“Okay,” said Shug. “Then wherever you want to be dropped off, I’ll drop you off.”


“I’m not dropping you here.”

“You said wherever.”

“We’re on a fucking motorway.”

“You said –“

“You’ll get yourself killed. I’m not having that on my conscience.” Shug breathed out, felt the irritation rumble away. “Listen, I know you’re scared and everything, but you don’t have to be daft about it. I’ll drop you off somewhere safe, alright?” He held up one hand before Charlie had a chance to answer. “You don’t want me to take you home, that’s fine. How about the town centre? You can get the bus from there, can’t you?”

Charlie moved his shoulders. Let out a shaky breath.

Shug glanced at him. “I’m trying to do the right thing here.”

“Then get out of my car.”

“Charlie –“

Charlie’s voice jumped up in volume: “Get out of my car and leave me

Silence between them. The thrum of the car on the road.

Shug said quietly, “You know I can’t do that. And do yourself a favour, Charlie - don’t make the wrong thing look easy by giving us lip. I’m trying to be fair with you. You piss us off, I can’t guarantee anything. I mean, I’ve been working on it, but it’s a long road, know what I mean?”

He breathed out, shook his head. Wet his lips and realised he’d been accelerating all this time. He slowed the car, looked in the rear view. No police.

“So. Where do you want dropped?” he said.

Charlie thought about it for a long time.

Then he said, “Linlithgow.”

“Linlithgow. Okay. Anywhere in particular?”


“Middle of town do you?”

Charlie nodded.

“Good. That didn’t hurt now, did it?”

The look on the old man’s face said otherwise. Charlie kept quiet the rest of the journey. Shug didn’t try to talk to him again, knew he was a lost cause. Didn’t matter what Shug did, how he tried to make it easier on him, all the old bastard saw was a youngster jacking his Micra.

That was fine. It was all his Granda would’ve seen, too. Only difference was, if it’d been his Granda who’d been jacked, Shug wouldn’t have been driving very long. Granda would’ve fought tooth and nail until one of them was unconscious or dead, because Granda didn’t suffer anyone gladly, especially people trying to take what was his.

There was a ticking sound somewhere deep in the engine by the time they got to the town centre. Shug pulled the Micra up in front of The Cross, which was about as central as you could get. He looked out the window, saw people on the Saturday shop, kids and parents, a small gang of young lads on bikes up the way there. He was out in the open, and it was stupid to stay much longer. He looked across at Charlie. The old man didn’t move.

“Listen,” he said, “they didn’t give us much, but you’re welcome to it.” Shug pulled thirty quid’s worth of fivers out of his jacket pocket. “For your trouble and everything.”

Charlie looked at the money, but didn’t take it. Shug leaned over and tucked the notes into the breast pocket of Charlie’s blazer, patted it smooth and then straightened his poppy.

“Alright then, on you go.”

Charlie didn’t move. His eyes were glazed, pink in the corners. He looked as if he was close to tears. And there was nothing sadder than a grown man in tears.

“Come on now, Charlie. Chop-chop. Don’t want to make us late, do you?”

Charlie turned to him. His chin wobbled.

“Please,” he said.

Shug undid his seat belt and got out of the car. He surveyed the people passing by – nobody was watching him – and went round to the passenger side. He pulled open the door, saw Charlie flinch at the sight of him. He leaned over, clicked Charlie’s seat belt open, let it whip back over the old man’s shoulder. Then he stepped back. Waited.

“Don’t make this difficult,” he said.

Charlie shifted in his seat. Looked at the steering wheel.

“I’m not pissing about, Charlie. Be sensible and get out of the car.”

Charlie let out a sigh and got out of the car, his shoulders hunched. Shug slammed the door as soon as he was clear, headed back round to the driver’s side.

He stopped before he got in, leaned on the roof. “You feel free to phone this in any time you want, alright? Sooner the better. Don’t want them to think you’re pulling a fast one, do we?”

Shug ducked into the car, shut the door. He crunched gears as he pulled away, that ticking sound turning into a rattle. He glanced back at Charlie in the rear view. Rain began to spot the windscreen.

He hoped the old bloke got somewhere dry soon, else he’d catch his death, and Shug really didn’t want to be held responsible for that. He hoped that Charlie did the right thing and phoned it in, too.

But most of all he hoped that rattle in the engine wasn’t anything serious. It was a long way to California, after all.




A couple of miles out of Linlithgow, the rattle was louder than the rain. Not long after that, the rattle turned into a persistent cough. By the time Shug hit Sandburn, the cough was tubercular. Finally, when it sounded as if the Micra needed a priest, Shug turned it to the shoulder, let the engine hack its last while he watched rain snakes on the windscreen and breathed slowly through his mouth.

Anger was a deluded mind.

Anger exaggerated something’s faults.

Anger prompted an escalation to a negative emotional climax. It was unproductive, it was unnecessary, but it was also completely unavoidable.

“The question,” whispered Shug, “is how do you deal with this negative emotion in a healthy and progressive way?”

Very good question, and not the first time he’d asked it. Normally the answer was count to ten and take deep breaths, exhale the rage a little on each number until it faded away. There was nothing wrong with getting angry, but there was something wrong with not questioning
he was angry. Because if he didn’t question his negative emotional state, then he was letting it rule his rational mind, make his decisions for him.

And that was no way to live.

So Shug focused on what made him feel angry right now, then he worked out a rational response to it.

Shug got out of the car, went to the boot. He found a length of rubber hose and an old pop bottle, which he used to siphon the petrol out of the tank. Then he doused the inside of the car and dropped a flaming Swan Vesta into the puddle. The seat caught orange, spread and smoked. Shug cracked the window a little to let the air get in, and then shut the door.

Wasn’t the situation that had boiled his piss. He had to be clear about that. No, what had made him angry was his own decision to jack a pensioner’s car. In hindsight, it didn’t make a lot of sense. Yes, Charlie was an easy target, but pensioners ran their rides to rust, let the little problems get big because they were too tight to pay for repairs. He should’ve jacked someone younger driving a newer model. That way he wouldn’t be out here in the pissing rain and miles from home.

Stop. Breathe.

Accept this as a lesson learned. Time to let it go and move on.

Shug walked backwards, watching the Micra’s windows smoke up, then turned and tugged his collar vertical. He took to the road, preferring the tarmac to the mud of the ditch, his hands in his pockets and his head down.

It was a setback, he thought. That was all. He’d get round it. All he had to do was keep his goal in mind.


When people asked him where he was from, that was what he said. The California Shug called home was four big streets and a B road, set slap bang in the pretty part of Falkirk, which wasn’t saying much. The biggest thing he could remember happening to the town was Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnie wrote the people of California a letter once, something to do with International Scots Appreciation Day or something. Anyway, it was short and patronising, but people were proud of it. The way Shug saw it, the letter wasn’t worth the ink. His California was the kind of place people left as soon as they could. And they never came back, not unless they absolutely had to.

Just as Shug absolutely had to. Four years on, the place was only just preferable to his Saughton cell. He wouldn’t be there long, mind. An hour, maybe less, and he was gone for good. The big thing to watch was his temper, because if anything was going to fuck this up, it was that.

It was his biggest weakness. His temper, coupled with poor impulse control, had gotten him banged up. That was what the therapist told him, anyway. Shug had gone a year thinking it was bad luck, but it turned out to be his own fault.

The therapist was a long man in short trousers, showed three inches of pale, hairy skin every time he sat down. He wore thick glasses over small eyes. The first three weeks, Shug didn’t pay attention to a word the bloke said. He was too busy trying to figure out who he looked like.

Week four, it came to him.

Jarvis Cocker.

“You’re all here for a reason,” said Jarvis. “And not because you broke the law.” He adjusted his glasses and looked at the ceiling. “You’re here because you have ...
. You have emotions that sometimes override your intelligence.” He moved his lips. “Yes, you’re intelligent. And sane. I look around here today and I can see bright, reasonable men who have one major thing in common – they act daft when they’re annoyed.”

There was a grim silence. Shug and the other six wanted to pound Jarvis into the fucking floor. Prick had a mouth on him, and it sounded like he was using it to take the piss.

“You see? Already thinking daft.” The therapist cleared his throat, leaned forward in his chair. “And what I’m here to do is get you gentlemen talking about it. Because if you don’t talk about it, you don’t face it. And if you don’t face it, then you can’t control it. Do you see?”

They didn’t. Not for a while, anyway.

By week ten, the room echoed with recrimination. Jarvis told them to talk about the things that made them angry, then dissect why that was the case. The same conclusions came back time and again: they got angry because they felt they weren’t in control, wasn’t that right? And most of the impulse control issues that had landed them behind bars, well, weren’t they based in an urge to rebel against this lack of control, to seize it back for themselves?

Shug agreed. It was easier than arguing, which was what Jarvis wanted. He wanted you to lose your temper, provide him with another example to pick apart in front of the others. Shug didn’t play that. He swallowed it back, and soon he could pass for calm even when he was raging. It meant he didn’t have to talk about Fiona or any of the rest of it, and it meant that Jarvis ticked the right boxes when it came to his licence.

It wasn’t all bollocks, mind. Some of what Jarvis said to them made sense. Like the time he told them: “One of the reasons – and do correct me if I’m wrong here, gentlemen, this is a free room, after all – but one of the reasons I believe many of you may struggle with your temper is that you don’t have a long-term goal.”

Silence to that. The men sat and thought about it. Shug looked at the blank faces around him.

“Hugh,” said Jarvis. “What do you think?”



“About what?”

“About a goal.”

“I don’t have one?”

“You don’t have one,” said Jarvis, nodding. “Which is my point exactly. You have nothing to look forward to, nothing to work for, so you have nothing to lose. You live purely in the moment.”

“Yes,” said Shug.

“Perhaps, gentlemen, instead of doing that, instead of living in the moment, perhaps you could make a conscious decision to live in the
, hmm?” Jarvis smiled at them. “Perhaps, instead of letting your brains charge ahead, you could take a breath – just one deep breath like the ones we’ve practised, right from the gut – and when you breathe out you could picture your goal. Yes? Your end point. Wherever
want to be.”

Jarvis let that one sit with the group for a few seconds before he glanced at his watch and leaned back in his chair.

“Okay,” he said, “I think that’s about all we have time for this session. For next time, though, I want you to have a good long think about what your goal might be, okay? I want you to think of something, some kind of ambition, that might give you pause the next time your temper threatens to get the better of you. Really give it some thought, because we’ll be sharing with the group, okay?”

Shug did as he was told. He thought about Fiona, but that didn’t work. By that time, she didn’t want anything to do with him. So for the first time in a long time he thought beyond her. He thought about his home town, and the name made him tinker with the restricted internet access in the library.

That was when he found Captain Robert Dollar. A random click, a search on Falkirk, and there he was. Dollar was a Falkirk lad, made his fortune in logging and freight, established the Falkirk Cultural Center, which were three words you didn’t often see in such close proximity. He was also connected to Bohemian Grove which, if you wanted to talk about a hotbed of political intrigue and power, that was the place to be. The richest of the rich paid a lot of money to dick about in costumes up there, and Dollar was the man with the deed.

So, if you had to pick a role model, thought Shug, you could do a lot worse.

The Falkirk Cultural Center was in San Rafael, California. There was even an Inverness around there somewhere further to the west. The more Shug played with Google Maps, the more he felt that he was reaching the first strikes of an idea. He had pictures of California in his head, beaches and palm trees, Hollywood and orange juice. More than that, crystallizing now, becoming something that he never knew he wanted before. And he never knew it because it wasn’t something he’d ever really thought about. It wasn’t something he’d ever been expected to think about. But looking through those pictures, he realised what his goal was.


Never drank a glass of it in his life that hadn’t come from either a box or a litre bottle, but there it was, like someone tweaking a switch in the back of his head.

Sonoma, Napa, the vineyards, the sunshine, the rolling hills. It came to him in a rush, and he didn’t know what to do with himself. He shook with envy at the photos of tourist wandering blithely through the wineries. For the first time in his life, he had a dream, and it made him want to laugh until he cried.

He wasn’t the only one. Colin Knox laughed when Shug mentioned it in the next session. Shug wanted to pan his face in with the chair. But he didn’t. There was a sunkissed future ahead of him if he played his cards right. And the more he thought about it, the more his plans began to seem concrete. So by the time his date came round and his probation officer signed him off, Shug had planned his itinerary to the second.

But now, thanks to Charlie’s shitty motor, that itinerary was well out of the window.

Still, Shug refused to let it get to him, just as he refused to let the rain wear him down or the cold wind him up. He’d be fine soon enough, just had to keep walking. He nodded to himself. Rain ran down the bridge of his nose, and he sniffed it.

The sign up ahead read two miles to California.

If only it was that bloody simple.


BOOK: California
11.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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