I stood looking up at the destination board and I could see that the last train to Gourock had left twenty minutes ago. I tried looking at my watch again and then looking up again at the board but the facts refused to change. The train was still gone and I was still stuck in Glasgow Central with an expired day-return ticket and no money in my wallet.
I looked around me at the other people on the station concourse. Some lucky ones had grabbed a seat on one of the few benches that British Rail had deigned to provide. They obviously didn’t want to encourage the dossers. I leaned against a pillar and waited. I didn’t know what I was waiting on, inspiration maybe. What the hell was I going to do all night? Where would I go? And how was I going to get home in the morning with only a dud ticket to my name? I waited patiently but answer came there none.
The platform information above me was gradually petering out. A few last minute lucky travellers rushed past to board the final trains out of the station. The concourse was virtually empty now and the floor sweeping machines were out brushing up the days detritus. The transport police were now beginning to appear in numbers for the final clearout of the drunks and dossers. I thought I’d better make a move before I was lifted and headed out of the station towards Hope Street. As I passed the Central Hotel the revolving door threw out a group of young people, three couples, about my age, affluent and handsome, laughing and kissing as they fell into taxis, oblivious of the rest of the world, insulated from the cold. I hated them.
I crossed Gordon Street and walked up Hope Street with no plan of where to go, just knowing that I had to keep walking to keep warm. By this time it was about one o’clock, the streets were quiet and the rain began to fall. When I say it began to fall that would suggest it was subject to gravity. That would be normal rain. This wasn’t normal rain, it was smirr. People who are not from Scotland would perhaps call it Scotch Mist but people from this part of Scotland anyway call it by the name that describes both how it looks and how it feels, smirr. Rather than just fall to the ground and get out of your way, smirr hangs around and tries its best to be friends with you. No matter that you hurry on past to get out of its damp grip it just won’t take the hint. It persists, enveloping, infiltrating your clothing until you’re just a heap of wet rags with water running off your nose. But I wasn’t that wet yet although I soon would be if I didn’t find somewhere to go, out of the smirr.
I crossed Hope Street and wandered back down towards the station. A drunk man was leaning against a building, his body at and angle of forty five degrees, his chin slumped on his chest as he contemplated the colourful circle of vomit he had just created on the pavement. He looked up at me as I passed as if he wanted to share the wonder of the moment with me. I hurried on before we had the opportunity to become acquainted. A little bit lower down Hope Street I came to the offices of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail. I paused in front of one of the large plate glass windows, gazing hypnotically at the printing machinery churning out the early edition of the Mail. As I paused there it suddenly stuck me. What an idiot! The newspaper van. I remembered some guys at work telling how they skived a lift off the paper van after they’d missed the last train home. It would be leaving in an hour or so, dropping off the papers in Greenock by about five o’clock. Maybe I’d get lucky.
I turned away from the window to look for some access to the rear of the building, to where I guessed the loading dock would be, when suddenly my arms were pinned to my sides and I was pushed forcibly back against the plate glass.
‘What were you doing in that doorway, son?’
Two big guys in plain clothes, somehow it was obvious to me that they were policemen, held onto me.
‘What doorway?’ I said. ‘I wasn’t in any doorway.’ I stifled the instinct to cry out for my mammy.
‘Aye ye wirr! The other cop snarled into my face. ‘Let’s go and have a wee look.’
The two cops marched me back up the street, each keeping a firm grip of a wrist and an elbow. We came to a doorway. A less than salubrious old red sandstone office building. Above the arched entrance a faded gilt sign - Waterloo Chambers. The doors into the building were set back from the street inside a deep unlit entrance. In the gloom I could see, lying on the tiled floor, a body.