It was the stocky fame and the cheeky smile that registered first as he jogged past me in running gear. He was bursting with fitness after eight years with plenty of time for gym work.
The last time I had seen Alex Reilly was on July 12th, 1988 as he was being led out of the High Court in Edinburgh to start a 12 year sentence for armed robbery at a branch of the Bank of Scotland on the west side of the city. I got the same cheeky smile that day, accompanied by a resigned shrug of the shoulders. '' That's the game," he said as he passed me in the corridor. His co-accused, going down for 10years, was less sociable in his comments but then he was not the 'professional' that Alex was.
It may seem strange to a public and a media obsessed by the 'scourge of crime' but that's how I saw it; as a game. At the end of the day I have a grudging respect for him as I know he does for me, both 'professionals' in our own fields.
In 16 years of criminal investigation work, Alex was one of the few, 'professionals' I came across. He got caught, I hear you say, - Couldn't have been that much of a professional, - but you miss my point; Alex was not simply a criminal - he was a Bank Robber. Now I appreciate that for most that will be a very hard distinction to make, not only for Joe Public but for the vast majority of my former colleagues as well. It is however a distinction which Alex himself acknowledges and which will be acknowledged by many CID officers of the 'old school' who have experienced the 'high' of successfully pitting their wits and their cunning against an adversary like Alex. This 'high' is a personal thing and has little to do with the noble pursuit of upholding the law of the land. This is the preserve of the hunter and the hunted.
Alex says his 'highs' came from the planning, the scheming, the adrenaline rush of masking up, going in and leaping onto the bank counter, controlling gun in hand. Then the sprint to the get away car and the final 'YES' as, hours later, he walked home just like any other night, having lived out on the edge. The fact that he was several thousand ponds to the good was, for Alex, a nice bonus but as nothing compared to these hours of sharpened senses, minutes of heightened experience - the 'Rush'. For Alex, these were the principal motivations.
As to whether or not Alex would have shot anyone who thwarted him that day, I cannot say; nor can I say whether or not the guns were loaded. These are hard questions on which only Alex himself can comment and which to date remain unresolved.
What, then were my 'highs'? - Hitting the right track weeks after the enquiry had been virtually closed down, getting a sniff of who might be responsible. Matching information with hard facts. Recovering a cache of guns in another city which I connected to Alex. And eventually arresting him in his own livingroom as he returned from a shopping trip wearing a distinctive jacket very similar to that described by witnesses as having been worn by one of the robbers. And of course my final 'Rush',my final 'YES' when the foreman of the jury said, 'Guilty'.
I reminded Alex of the jacket when I met him recently. He laughed, denying that he would be so silly, but then he would, wouldn't he?
It might seem strange that Alex and I can communicate on relatively friendly terms given that I could be seen as responsible for depriving him of 8 years of his life, but he says that he doesn't see it that way. He lays the blame fairly and squarely on bad associations involving him in an enterprise which, for one reason and another, used "ordinary criminals" in what was a professional venture. Knowing the ins and outs of the enquiry that led to his arrest, I would have to agree.
Without wishing in any way to glamourise Alex's crime, I see him as a modern day Jesse James, a man who would no more think of breaking into a house or robbing an old lady than would you or I. He tells me that the banks can afford it and who can argue with that.
Before being jailed for the robbery Alex had a responsible job in community work and since his release he has returned to similar work on a voluntary basis. If you were to ask me if he will ever do another bank, I would have to say that I don't know. In his forties now he says that he can't see himself doing another sentence, which he knows would undoubtedly be a long one "If you're going to play the game you've got to know the rules" he says.
Alex has done his time and whether or not he can come off this particular drug remains to be seen. The last time I met him he was standing on a street corner opposite a bank on the south side of the city. "Only waiting on the wife" he assured me, the cheeky grin still evident - I wonder?
* * *
(This piece was written nearly twenty years ago and my sentiments remain the same. I can't say for certain that Alex managed to kick the habit only that if he didn't he's never been caught!)