|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||1 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The subject line simply read 'Ismail Mohammed'. That was enough. Gethin Grey picked up the email on his way into work and couldn't stop smiling as he parked the car and headed over the road to the Coal Exchange.
The Coal Exchange, in the heart of the old Cardiff docklands, was a grand but faded relic of the time when the city was the globe's busiest port. Apparently the first ever million-pound cheque had been written on its trading floor. For a while it had been used as a music venue – Gethin had seen both Van Morrison and Patti Smith play there – but now it was a decrepit health hazard waiting in vain for someone to come along and redevelop it. The only life in the building came from the smattering of small businesses which rented office space along its faded corridors.
Gethin's own small business was Last Resort Legals, an organisation that offered help not to mariners lost at sea but to those unhappy souls who believed they were the victims of a miscarriage of justice.
Normally, the approach to the office depressed the hell out of Gethin. The peeling paintwork, the pervasive smell of damp, the ancient lino beneath his feet, all made him feel like he was engaged in a doomed and hopeless enterprise. Today, though, he just saw the latent grandeur.
Indulging his good mood, he took a little detour, walking out into the middle of the old trading floor and looking round at the fine wood panelling that lined its walls. One day all this would surely be renewed. And today Last Resort would begin their own small revival. Today their luck had changed. Not only were they being asked to take an interest in the long running saga of Ismail Mohammed's battle for justice, but the request came from none other than Amelia Laverne, the actress and celebrity activist.
Gethin felt possessed by the energy of the Victorian entrepreneurs who'd swarmed across this trading floor in its glory days. It was time to get serious. He was being offered a chance and this time he was determined to take it. A thought came to him out of left field. Perhaps he should start wearing a suit? Catriona would like that. She would say it was appropriate to his age – mid-forties. She'd say it was time he stopped dressing like a REM roadie, ditched his black jeans and plaid shirts, cut his shaggy hair short, and got with the programme. Maybe she was right. New era: new haircut. Cometh the hour, cometh the man in a suit. Maybe.
Surfing this unaccustomed wave of positivity he walked into the office. Bex, the office manager, was there already seated at her desk, having her customary Facebook session before she embraced the working day proper.
Lately, Gethin had been finding this sight irritating – Bex sitting there all complacent and happy, cooing over her friends' baby pictures or rolling her eyes at the latest miracle diet that offered to change her considerable size. Now he just thought how lucky he was to have her, this supremely unflustered young woman, without whose managerial skills Last Resort would have been out of business years ago.
'Hey,' he said, once she looked up from the screen. 'You want to guess who's just emailed us to get involved in their campaign?' Bex shook her head. 'No idea. Just tell me, Geth.'
Before he could answer, the door opened again and in came Lee, Gethin's right-hand woman and lead investigator, carrying a tray of coffees from the Portuguese deli.
'Hey, Lee,' said Bex. 'Bossman says he's got us a new client.'
'Anyone we know?' Lee handed over the coffees.
'You could say that,' said Gethin. 'It's only Ismail Mohammed.'
'Yeah?' said Lee. 'The black Muslim guy? Sounds good.'
Gethin was expecting a bit more of a reaction.
'Not bad, eh?'
'Nah, it's sweet' said Lee. 'You know I actually read his book.'
'Well, most of it. Was good. Reality. And Monica liked it.' Monica was Lee's girlfriend, a dental hygienist. They were a funny looking pair – Monica all neat and blonde and Nordic-looking; Lee older than her, closer to Gethin's age, but still irredeemably boyish with her short dreadlocks and her gap-toothed grin.
'So, you know this could be a massive deal for us.'
Lee shrugged: 'Guess so.'
Gethin frowned at his workmates. 'Don't either of you read the papers? This is actually a really big deal.' Then he thought of something. 'All right, Bex, how about this then? You know who's going to be paying our wages? Amelia Laverne, that's who.'
Finally, he got the desired outburst of enthusiasm.
'Oh ... My ... God!' said Bex, her mouth cartoonishly wide open. 'You are not serious. I love Amelia. Absolutely fucking love her.'
Gethin and Lee both laughed at that. Bex was a laid-back, slow-moving woman who'd been a probation officer before joining Gethin's motley crew, and it took a lot to get a visible reaction out of her.
'Well, that's something. Okay, five minutes to sort ourselves out and then we can get cracking.'
Seated at his desk, sipping his coffee, Gethin allowed himself to wallow briefly in self-satisfaction. This was how far Last Resort Legals had come in the five years they'd been in operation. They'd had some real successes along the way: the Greenpeace Two was the case that had gained them the most attention, but there had been a good few others too. Of course, the last few months had been a bit quiet, but no matter. Now they were on the verge of getting involved with one of the highest profile miscarriage of justice cases for years, since all those Irish trials back in the day. Ismail Mohammed – Izma M to his fans – was the nearest thing Britain had yet produced to Malcolm X, a properly inspirational civil rights leader.
Anyone who followed politics knew his name and the basic outline of his life story, as set out in his bestselling book Izma M – A Street Life. He wasn't Muslim by birth, he was a black Briton called Tyrell Hanson. He had had a troubled childhood – brought up by his grandmother with stints in children's homes. He'd lived down to expectations and turned into a drug-dealing gangster type. While living in Bristol, he'd been convicted of a murder he didn't commit – or at least that's what he said. It was while he was in prison that he'd turned his life round, changed his name and embraced Islam. Not the radical anti-western Islam that most of the pissed-off youth went for, but spiritual, peaceful Sufi Islam like Malcolm X himself had come to believe in by the end of his life. Izma's politics were still pretty militant – anti-racism, anti-capitalism, all that – but his take on his new religion was all peace and love, not hate and war.
The book had caught on in a big way. Normally, when people started banging on about moderate Islam, it was just some old beardy bloke who was obviously being paid by the government to tell the kids to behave themselves, and no one paid attention. But with Izma M, because he'd actually lived the life, people were taking notice and, of course, all the leftwing media were wetting themselves in excitement. They were always asking him to write stuff in the papers. Especially after the 2011 riots. Since then he'd been popping up all over the media, even though he was still in prison.
Before long, his new supporters had started looking into his original conviction. He'd been accused of murdering a white girl back in Bristol. There wasn't much evidence against him – no murder weapon, no motive – but he had had sex with her not long beforehand, he didn't have much of an alibi, and he totally fitted the bill as far as the police were concerned.
Gethin hadn't looked into it in much detail, but the basic shape of the case sounded all too familiar. When people were killed in urban situations, and there wasn't an obvious murderer at hand, the police often just went for a local gangster who looked the part. Juries generally didn't pay too much attention to the details they just saw a guy who looked as if he might do something like that, and that was enough for them. And anyway, who was going to start campaigning for some street thug, just because the crime he'd been sent down for wasn't the one he'd actually committed?
Last Resort Legals and a few campaigning solicitors did what they could, but, for the most part, no one gave a damn. Not unless the guy wrote a bestselling book and was in the Guardian every other week. That's what it took for people to start paying attention, or at least start sharing the story on their timelines. And now Last Resort would be in the thick of it. Fighting for justice for Izma M. OMG, as his daughter Hattie would say.
'Right,' said Gethin, once Bex and Lee were seated at their desks, looking expectant. 'Before we get cracking with Izma, let's get this pile of crap out of the way.'
The 'pile of crap' was the stack of unsolicited letters. Every week they would receive a dozen or so letters from serving prisoners, all claiming to be victims of miscarriages of justice and all hoping that Last Resort would ride to their rescue. On top of the pile was a missive from a murderer called Warren Harker. Gethin passed copies round, then read it through himself. 'So, what do we think?'
Lee went first: 'Obviously guilty.'
'You think so?'
She rolled her eyes in a pantomime of cynicism.
'So ... are you going to enlighten us as to why you're inclined to disbelieve this heartfelt cry for help?'
'Yeah,' said Lee, 'it's all typed in capitals. I hate that.'
'Ah,' said Gethin, 'I see. Just because this poor benighted individual currently serving a life sentence for murder in the inhuman brutal surroundings of ...' he peered at the address, ' ... HMP Belmarsh ... happened to have accidentally leaned on the Caps Lock key we should consign to the dustbin of history his despairing plea for justice?'
'That and the fact that it's just a whole heap of whiny bullshit.' Lee's phone beeped and she picked it up immediately, obviously considering the subject closed.
Gethin was buzzing. God it was good to have something serious on the go again. Now he could face all these tawdry begging letters with a smile on his face. 'You sure about that?' Lee reluctantly looked up from her phone: 'Okay, for one thing he's not actually denying he did it.'
'No. He does indeed admit causing the death of ...' Gethin looked down at the paper again, ' ... Ryan Hedges. He does, however, claim that ...'
'It wasn't his fault.' Lee rolled her eyes again.
She picked up her copy of Warren Harker's letter from prison and started reading. 'I know it was wrong what I did to Ryan, but it was an honest mistake. I had been told by a trusted friend, open brackets Chloe close brackets, that Ryan had had relations with Tasha and that is why I went to see him and then he come at me with the knife which is what led to the tragic event for which I am very sorry but it's not my fault because it was a case of mistaken identity and it is Chloe what is responsible.'
Lee tossed the letter down: 'Dickhead.'
Gethin started to smile but then the sorry reality behind the letter struck him: the pointless loss of life and the stupidity of it all – the number of grown-up children running around this world with the tempers of babies and the weapons of adults.
He sighed and turned his chair round so he could see his office manager at her desk in the adjoining office. 'Bex,' he called out. 'Did you check him out? Warren Harker.'
'Absolute no-hoper,' said Bex without looking up. 'Family washed their hands of him and didn't have a pot to piss in anyway.'
'Cheers,' said Gethin. 'So, we agreed then? Category Five for Warren Harker?'
Lee nodded and made a thumbs down gesture. Gethin picked up the copies of Harker's letter from the table and deposited them in the Category Five holding pen, a large stainless steel bin on the floor.
'Right, let's see what our next lucky contestant has to offer.' Gethin reached for another photocopied letter and winced immediately. Another bloody rapist. Gethin hated the rape cases. Mostly because of the crime itself, of course, but also because they were timewasters. The evidence was almost always so nebulous, so based on one person's word against another, that proving a miscarriage of justice was enormously difficult and even if you did get a result – and Last Resort had on a couple of occasions – nobody thanked you.
Odd really, Gethin thought: you get some gangster acquitted of a murder charge and all the Guardian types are going on about what a fighter for liberty you are, but you get a rapist acquitted and everyone looks at you funny, like you're just a gang of misogynists who've found a loophole. They did their best to take each case on its merits, Gethin and his team at the Tuesday morning client trawl, but no one had much enthusiasm for the rape cases, just wanting to move them on to Category Five as fast as possible.
The incoming mail was divided into five categories: The nohopers were Category Five. Category One were those rare birds, the convicted criminals who seemed to have both a good case to be made for their innocence and the resources available to pay Last Resort's fees. Category Two were the troubling cases where there seemed a fair chance that the correspondent was innocent but very little chance that he – or occasionally she – would be able to raise the money. Category Three were the even more troubling cases where the potential client looked guilty as sin but did appear to have the funds available. Category Four, finally, were the all too common ones where the initial letter was so confusing that making any judgment on likely innocence or guilt would have called for the services of a psychic. And hiring a psychic would have been a step too far even for an organisation as unorthodox as Last Resort Legals.
It didn't take long to dispatch the rapist to Category Five, nor the three more letters that came after that. Gethin sometimes wondered why they bothered, these obviously guilty men writing to Last Resort Legals in the hope that there might be some sort of loophole that could see their conviction overturned. Then again, there wasn't that much to do in prison.
There were plenty of weeks, like this one, when there was nothing at all of any merit in the Tuesday meeting. Lee had suggested a while ago that they should scrap it, stop taking submissions straight from prisoners and only take referrals from solicitors who genuinely thought their clients had had a bad deal. But Gethin was stubborn and the fact was that several of his best cases, the ones that had made Last Resort's name, had come from letters arriving out of the blue. And, at worst, there were usually a few laughs to be had, reading out these tissues of self-serving lies. Not this week, though. This week Last Resort Legals were stepping up a level.CHAPTER 2
Gethin was on a high all afternoon. When it came to their regular quitting time, six o'clock, he didn't want to leave, suggesting they all go over to the pub to discuss things some more and have a celebratory drink-up. Lee had to pick up Monica's kids from the after-school club, though, so it was just Gethin and Bex who headed over to Mischief's in the September sunshine.
Mischief's CafÃ© Bar was one of the few ungentrified hangouts left in Cardiff Bay. For donkey's years it had been called the Ship & Pilot. Shirley Bassey used to sing in the back room when she was fourteen. Gethin used to play pool in that same back room in his teens, mostly before going to the Casablanca Club around the corner for a night of reggae or punk as seen through a fog of herbal cigarettes. The Casablanca was a car park now, though, and the Ship & Pilot had been made over as Mischief's, essentially an eighties disco bar thirty years too late. But the beer was cold on a hot afternoon and you didn't need to queue and there was always a chance you might pick up some new business. There weren't many of Mischief's clientele who hadn't had dealings with the law at some point.
Bex was rummaging through her bag when Gethin brought the drinks outside — beer for him, glass of prosecco for her. After a bit she gave a small grunt of relief and produced a shoulder length blonde wig.
'Who are you being tonight then?' asked Gethin. Bex supplemented her earnings from Last Resort by singing in a bewildering variety of tribute bands.
'Claire from Steps. Doing a big hen night in Newport.'
Bex stuck the wig on haphazardly over her own short bob — ever changing in hue but currently a sort of lilac — and mimed a quick formation dance move.
'Which one was she then?'
'The blonde one, der!' Bex poked her tongue out. Then she stuffed the wig back in her bag and they got down to talking about the case.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fade to Grey"
Copyright © 2019 John Williams.
Excerpted by permission of Oldcastle Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.