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The University of Edinburgh's three creative writing prizes, open for 2024 submissions
Jamie Perriam: Crown Label 14

Jamie Perriam: Crown Label 14

Jamie Perriam is a freelance writer and law student at the University of Edinburgh. He won the Lewis Edwards Memorial Prize in 2021.

He hopes that his admittedly tall tale of judicial misconduct will prove no bar to professional progression in either field.

I was fortunate enough to be awarded the Lewis Edwards Memorial Prize 2021 for my short story “Crown Label 14”. I have always enjoyed reading voraciously and writing creatively wherever words are demanded – although I can’t recall previously winning much official recognition in this regard since primary school.

Adversity breeds opportunity, however, and with coronavirus lockdowns obviating the occurrence of anything much more exciting a group of friends and family set up our own fortnightly fiction competitions, often responding to a prompt (like the little black notebook here). The experience of sharing stories – and the concomitant criticism – encouraged me to investigate whether it might be worth polishing something up in pursuit of a bigger prize, and as luck would have it I didn’t have to cast around too far for a likely candidate.

I would wholeheartedly exhort anyone thinking of entering one of the University’s creative writing prizes to do so. You have nothing to lose and potentially much to gain: I was over the moon when I heard that I had won. More than this, however, the process of putting a piece together for competitive consideration forces you to look more objectively at your creative writing and editing approaches. Like all new experiences, it challenged me to develop my current ways of thinking and inspired me to keep seeking fresh paths to continued improvement in the future.

Crown Label 14

“The case was, after all, not a difficult one,” explained Lord Cruickshank, leaning forward in his chair and pinching the bridge of his long and distinguished-looking nose. He wore an air of beatific if somewhat pained indulgence in addition to his judicial robes. It was, after all, after six, and he had an appointment to keep.

“Your client’s husband, Aitken,” – Lord Cruickshank nodded to the young advocate across the desk – “was a rogue of the first order who died as he lived: engaged in criminal activity. One or other of his Glaswegian gangland acquaintances was bound to do for him in the end, and indeed the only surprise to my mind is that it did not happen sooner. Theft and computer hacking are a dangerous game; particularly so when one turns one’s talents to stealing from one’s equally nefarious employers.”

Aitken inclined his recently unbewigged head. Unlike the High Court judge, and in spite of his devilmaster’s best efforts, he held onto his hair outside of the courtroom. The personal and financial pressures of reading for the Bar remained an unpleasantly fresh, if exhilarating, memory.

“My Lord,” began the advocate (“call me Murdo, my boy!”) “– Murdo, then. Thank you. I accept, of course, your judgment this afternoon, and my client understands that the true circumstances of Mr Dalziel’s killing are unlikely to come to light soon, if ever at all. Mrs Dalziel is even willing to overlook the conflict between the coroners’ reports with regard to the precise cause of death. She is merely anxious to ensure, as is her right, that any and all personal effects recovered from the scene of the crime are properly passed into her possession. In particular, the question of the black notebook –”

A spasm of impatience flashed across Lord Cruickshank’s face. In spite of his longstanding reputation for relative equanimity, Aitken had seen enough of the judge’s present temperament in the courtroom that day to know when not to push his luck. “’Is Nibs impatient for retirement,” the clerk had confided incuriously during one brief adjournment, but Aitken had his own ideas.

Mister Aitken,” enunciated the Lord Commissioner of Justiciary, with unmistakeable emphasis, “As I explained not an hour and a half ago – and at considerable length, I may add – the whereabouts of real evidence, and by extension of Crown Label 14, is a matter for the investigating authorities and not for Her Majesty’s judiciary. If the police say they have lost the damned thing, then that is that. And as much as some of us would love to spend my time, the court’s time, and taxpayer’s time” – here Lord Cruickshank wagged a reproving finger – “consoling the consorts of criminals on points of lost property, I am afraid that it would be to little avail in this instance. The notebook, and those ‘codes’ which Mrs Dalziel claims it contains, if ever indeed they existed, are just that: lost.”

With that the judge sat back in his chair, a pinkish tinge to his cheeks matching the countless volumes of the Scots Law Times arrayed on the office shelves behind him. Aitken acknowledged defeat with a rueful grimace.

“Well, my Lord – Murdo, my apologies – I can’t say that my client will be happy. But if that is your decision,” (and there could be no doubt now: the judge was staring down stonily at the laptop computer and diary spread out on top of his desk) “then I have no choice but to once again convey to Mrs Dalziel the Chief Constable’s regrets and set out her legal position as regards any potential claim for reparation. Although as the missing property is, as you say, only a notebook, it seems unlikely my services will be worthwhile engaging in that respect.”

Murmuring his thanks, Aitken gathered up his gown and got up to leave. Halfway to the door, however, he paused and turned back to the judge’s desk.

“There is one more thing, my – Murdo. I wonder if I could trouble you for the loan of Macpherson’s Session Cases for 1865. The Advocates’ Library has mislaid its copy, you see, and I rather wanted to check something before court tomorrow…”

Lord Cruickshank’s jaw, which had clenched perceptibly at the young lawyer’s initial words, slackened into a complacently munificent smile.

“Of course, my boy, of course. Never a fan of Macpherson myself, you know: more of a Rettie man. Now then, where are we hiding…?”

Rising from his own chair, the judge perused the august bookshelves lining the wall behind his desk with the excitable air of a teenage vinyl enthusiast excavating for the umpteenth time a favourite record store. In spite of everything, he did love the law.

Volume located, Lord Cruickshank turned back to Aitken and handed the law report to the younger man in his still-new gown, experiencing a sudden unexpected rush of fellow-feeling – or was it simply adrenaline? – as he did so. With a final nod of thanks, Aitken swept out of the office.

Locking the door behind him, the Lord Commissioner checked his watch before returning to his desk and logging into his laptop: a personal rather than judicial piece of equipment complete with several unorthodox pieces of software. There was just time, the judge reflected, to copy the private bitcoin keys contained in Mr Dalziel’s little black notebook into the online portal favoured by the Glaswegian underworld and transfer the cryptocurrency to Messrs Cluny and Dodds – not forgetting, of course, his own £20,000 share of the proceeds, even after subtracting various uncomfortable debts. Now where was Crown Label 14 hiding…?

Lord Cruickshank knew, even before opening it, that the notebook on his desk had been switched. But the mad panic welling up within him turned to despair when he saw that inside, instead of rows of numbers in the careful, crabbed writing of the late computer hacker Jock Dalziel, was an appointment diary with today’s date circled and the single word RETIREMENT scrawled across it in a cool and expansive and italic hand.


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