When he reached the top step he checked to see if anyone had noticed him leave. No one even glanced in his direction. The Argentine players were surrounding the referee and protesting, while the England captain picked up the ball and walked calmly into the penalty box.
He came to a halt outside the shower room, and peered inside to discover it was steamed up; all part of his plan. He stepped inside, relieved to find that only one person was taking a shower. He padded silently over to the wooden bench on the far side of the room, where a single towel lay neatly folded in the corner. He picked it up and carefully twisted it into a noose. The prisoner standing under the shower rubbed some shampoo into his hair.
Everyone on the ground floor had gone silent. There was not a murmur as David Beckham placed the ball on the penalty spot. Some even held their breath as he took a few paces back.
The man in the shower room took a few paces forward as Beckham's right foot connected with the ball. The roar that followed sounded like a prison riot, with all the officers joining in.
The prisoner who was rinsing his hair under the shower opened his eyes when he heard the roar, and immediately had to place a hand across his forehead to stop more lather running into his eyes. He was just about to step out of the shower and grab his towel from the bench when a knee landed in his groin with such force that Beckham would have been impressed, followed by a clenched fist into the middle of his ribs which propelled him against the tiled wall. He tried to retaliate, but a forearm was rammed into his throat, and another hand grabbed his hair and jerked his head back. One swift movement, and although no one heard the bone snap, when he was released his body sank to the ground like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
His attacker bent down and carefully placed the noose around his neck, then with all the strength he possessed lifted the dead man up and held him against the wall while he tied the other end of the towel to the shower rail. He slowly lowered the body into place and stood back for a moment to admire his handiwork. He returned to the entrance of the shower room and poked his head around the doorway to check what was going on down below. The celebrations were now out of control, and any officers were fully occupied making sure that the prisoners didn't start breaking up the furniture.
He moved like a ferret, making his way swiftly and silently back down the spiral staircase, ignoring the dripping water that would have dried long before the match came to an end. He was back in his cell in less than a minute. Laid out on his bed were a towel, a clean T-shirt and a pair of jeans, a fresh pair of socks and his Adidas trainers. He quickly stripped off his wet gear, dried himself and put on the clean clothes. He then checked his hair in the little steel mirror on the wall before slipping back out of the cell.
The prisoners were now impatiently waiting for the second half to begin. He joined his fellow inmates unnoticed, and slowly, a pace here, a sideways move there, made his way to the center of the melee. For most of the second half the crowd were urging the referee to whistle for full time so that England could leave the pitch as one-nil winners.
When the final whistle eventually blew, there was another eruption of noise. Several officers shouted, "Back to your cells!" but the response was not immediate.
He turned and walked purposefully toward one particular officer, knocking against his elbow as he passed by.
"Look where you're going, Leach," said Pascoe.
"Sorry, guv," said Leach, and continued on his way.
Danny made his way back upstairs. He knew that Big Al would have already reported to surgery, but he was surprised that Nick wasn't in the cell. He sat down at the table and stared at the photo of Beth still sellotaped to the wall. It brought back memories of Bernie. They would have been at their local watching the match together, if... Danny tried to concentrate on the essay that had to be handed in by tomorrow, but he just went on looking at the photo, trying to convince himself that he didn't miss her.
Suddenly the shriek of a klaxon echoed around the block, accompanied by the sound of officers screaming "Back to your cells!" Moments later the cell door was pulled open and an officer stuck his head in. "Moncrieff, where's Big Al?"
Danny didn't bother to correct him-after all, he was still wearing Nick's watch, ring and silver chain, which had been given to him for safekeeping-and simply said, "He'll be at work in the hospital."
When the door slammed shut, Danny wondered why he hadn't asked where he was. It was impossible to concentrate on his essay with so much noise going on all around him. He assumed some overexuberant prisoner was being carted off to segregation in the aftermath of the English victory. A few minutes later the door was pulled opened again by the same officer, and Big Al ambled in.
"Hello, Nick," he said in a loud voice before the door was slammed shut.
"What's your game?" asked Danny.
Big Al placed a finger on his lips, walked across to the lavatory and sat down on it.
"They cannae see me while I'm sitting here, so look like yer working and don't turn roon."
"And don't open yer mooth, just listen." Danny picked up his pen and pretended to be concentrating on his essay. "Nick's topped himself."
Danny thought he was going to be sick. "But why-" he repeated.
"I said don't speak. They found him hangin' in the showers."
Danny began to pound the table with his fist. "It can't be true."
"Shut up, ya stupid fucker, and listen. I wis in surgery when two screws came rushing in-one of them said, 'Sister, come quickly, Cartwright's topped himself.' I knew that wis balls, 'cause I'd seen ye at the football a few minutes before. It hud tae be Nick. He always uses the shower when he's least likely tae be disturbed."
"Don't worry about why, Danny boy," Big Al said firmly. "The screws and the sister ran off, so I was left on ma own fur a few minutes. Then another screw turns up and marches mi back here." Danny was now listening intently. "He told me it wis you who'd committed suicide."
"But they'll find out it wasn't me as soon as-"
"No, they won't," said Big Al, "because I hud enough time tae switch the names on yer two files."
"You did what?" said Danny in disbelief.
"You heard me."
"But I thought you told me the files are always locked up?"
"They are, but no during surgery, in case sister needs tae check on someone's medication. And she left in a hurry." Big Al stopped talking when he heard someone in the corridor outside. "Keep writing," he said, and stood up, returned to his bed and lay down. An eye peered through the spyhole then moved on to the next cell.
"But why did you do that?" Danny asked.
"Wance they check his fingerprints and his blood group, they're gonnae go on thinkin' it's you who topped himself because ye couldnae face another twenty years in this shite-hole."
"But Nick had no reason to hang himself."
"I know," said Big Al. "But as long as they think it wis you on the end ay that rope, there's no gonnae be an inquiry."
"But that doesn't explain why you switched..." began Danny. He went silent for some time, before adding, "So I can walk out of here a free man in six weeks' time."