Ten

Continued…

 

 

 

Gordan was out the front, pacing whilst speaking to who I can only presume was a various selection of people, with the things that he was saying ranging from, “Mate, I need a favour,” to, “Mate, mate, mate, wait! Fuck!”

The man looked like a cross between a boiled egg and a tomato. I think that I could physically see the anger seeping from his brow. Though I had given up with him at least for now, turning my attentions back to my own predicament…

I shook my head as a dog shakes off the rain, turning back to Steph in front of me. I figured that I’d cut my losses. After all, I was there for the adventure, wasn’t I? “Any chance of a room?” I asked with a hopeful smile.

Steph didn’t return the smile but rather looked probably as hesitant to answer as I had been to ask. “I’m sure that we can sort something out…” she said finally, at that her voice sounding somewhat distant.

I suppose that in a sense, by asking the question, I had hoped for some reassurance in the given response. I certainly hadn’t gotten that, but I needed somewhere to stay, and there simply wasn’t anywhere else, at least not in Congrenn. Would I be the only one with a room for the night? I wondered. Just me, Steph and Gordan? I could have gotten a taxi back to Perth, but for the cost of one there, with the addition of a hotel, I might as well have stayed a week with breakfast in the Tankard.

“Is that alright?” I asked.

This time Steph half-smiled. “Do yous have a bag?” she asked me.

“No,” I said, “I won’t be staying long.” That was my attempt at softening the burden of my request. Perhaps I still did not feel one-hundred percent comfortable, but it seemed then that I had made my decision, as Steph turned to pick up a small black notepad with a pen before opening it and flicking though.

My thoughts began to wonder once more. I did ask myself if what I was planning on doing was a good idea, though I already knew that I could never say no. One last time… One last adventure. Ha.

As those thoughts passed, though, and my grin faded, I asked myself, just what in the hells was going on? There was this air of surrealism that surrounded the whole thing, and it wasn’t thinning, only thickening. Surely Sid, being as fucked as he clearly was, couldn’t have taken Gordan’s car? The only way that that could have been possible without him reversing back into a lamppost and falling unconscious onto the wheel would have been if he had suddenly switched to a whole new state of body and/or mind altogether. If I had witnessed but a façade, and that that façade was merely some kind of afternoon persona of Sid’s. Just as a man turns into a wolf come the night, my new waster-friend had happened to turn to a man able as the dusk had begun to settle…

Was it an act? No. Surely not… Perhaps a surge of conscious energy, granting if only momentary control? Had that same man gained control enough for him to get far enough away that Gordan had thought it no use in pursuing him? Unlikely, still.

The barkeep was grumbling, “I’ll kill him. I’ll kill him,” as he wondered back inside mid-text. I’d seen the orange Jeep as I’d come in but thought nothing much of it, but it wasn’t the kind of vehicle that I saw a man of Gordan’s… calibre, taking to drive. Was it a strange choice of transport, or was that just the kind of thing that people drove these days? Was it just me?

I watched on as the barman, dressed still in just a polo and apron, having come back in, appeared to be struck with a moment of inspiration, turning swiftly and making his way hastily back outside, there taking his phone once more from a pocket in that grubby skirt… But that was it, I didn’t attempt to listen from then.

I swivelled on my stool, turning to see Steph staring at me with a look that told she was searching for guidance. I was dumbstruck for even pitiful condolence with that hollow look… I turned to peer back around the rest of the bar, taking my time in looking it over, a, I’m ashamed to say, rather blatant, if sub-conscious, reaction of mine in order to avoid Steph’s eyes. I didn’t think much of it until I had come full circle, but it probably didn’t make things any better anyway, because now I knew that it was just me and the petit barwoman left in the place. The others – the few that there ever were – had gone, I didn’t know when, I hadn’t noticed, but I couldn’t blame them, to be honest. I glanced back to Steph, giving her a brief smile before sipping up the remnants of my drink.

Then the muffled sounds of Gordan shouting from out the front came once more into focus. If that man alone wasn’t the reason the place had emptied, then I’d have liked to know what was. The tones were dire, truly dire – there’s no nicer way of putting it – an angry Scot, angry at something, the subliminal screaming, “The world hates me, so I’ll hate it back!” Ha… I was almost thankful, though, as it more than broke the silence that had arisen. One could have cut that fog with a knife… It also provided me with a moment’s humour, alas, that was short lived.

After a mere few minutes that seemed to last a lifetime, in which I only managed to essentially lick my empty glass, I stood from my stool and headed for the toilets. It was only as I stood up that I realised that I actually did need to go, but as I walked to push the door I came to find that it was firmly shut. “Doesnae work, no?” I asked, with all my testosterone and beer-fuelled bravado.

“Is—” Steph began before stopping herself. “Er— Yous can use the one out back?” I bobbed my head as Steph came to open up the latch at the bar for me. “Straight on through – you’ll see it.”

“Thanks,” I nodded, squeezing by before continuing on past.

And before I much knew it I was in Gordan’s hanger… I got that tingling feeling that you get when you know that you’re not really supposed to be somewhere, though this time I had had valid clearance… I looked about briefly as I carried on through. A dingy place, filled with old sofas and pictures but little else – so this was where the barman had chosen to spend the best part of his evening…

It seemed that Gordan’d have me feel his presence too… As I wandered on through to the toilet and got swiftly to business, I was pretty sure that the soundwaves from dinosaur-like footsteps were apparent in my piss stream as I stood over a faded-green bog in an even dingier cubicle. As I finished up and stepped back outside into what I could only presume appeared some kind of lounge, I could hear the man shouting from out the front – the front of the bar that was, with him obviously having come back in.

“Where is ‘e?”

“Using the toilet…”

“Using the toilet?”

“Aye…”

“Aye?”

“What?”

“The fuck you no lettin’ ‘im use the pisser out ‘ere… plenty of ‘em…”

“Wasnae open, was i—”

“Why the fuck can ‘e no use the fuckin’ girls, or piss on a fuckin’ wall like the rest o’ us?”

“What?” Steph’s voice grew quieter with each response.

“If the man’s no takin’ a fuckin’ shite, then he can use the fuckin’ girls…”

“What is it?”

“Shit, for fuck—”

I could picture the scratching of bristles about a jaw. The voices hushed some before I heard Steph’s high-pitched voice quail, “Well how was I supposed to know!?”

“Ent it a bit fuckin’ obvious!?”

I clearly wasn’t meant to be there, but, I asked, for what reason? What was this place that I had stumbled across, that looked so much like so many places I had seen before? Was there something that I wasn’t supposed to see? Because it looked like a pretty standard lounge to me. What harm could one do going for a slash; what knowledge could he possibly come to possess?

I shut the cubicle door and began to plod back across battered carpet tiles, in doing just that enabling myself ample time for my eyes to wander. And wander they did, if only briefly once more, glancing over two sofas that appeared leather a colour between an army green and a faded lime, that sunk into piss-yellow walls decorated only with the odd black and white photo either hung or littered about in old wooden frames.

Looking back I laugh. It was a rather horrible room, I have to say – perhaps it was through sheer embarrassment that Gordan had allowed his frustration to show. When did anyone in their right mind think, yep, I like that colour. That’s a good colour, lovely… And I’ve seen it before in older buildings, but regardless, colours might not have once come in such variety as you may find them today, but there has always been at least some choice. That yellow was such an intrusive violation that, frankly, they might as well have smeared dog shite on the walls. I might as well have smeared the shite turtle-heading out of my ass over them. The fact that it was an old building was no excuse; someone, once upon a time had to approve such a colour. There are a thousand colours out there. Perhaps it was just in stock, and with no other fucker wanting to go anywhere near it they were practically giving the stuff away? I’m distracted.

I was distracted. It clearly wasn’t the colour of the walls that wasn’t meant for my eyes, but, to be honest, that colour should have probably been made illegal… I had my hand on the doorknob when I heard that husky Scottish accent, “I dunnae have time for this, sort ‘im out, will ya?” Ah. That made me a little more relaxed, I have to say. I took a short sigh of relief, before sticking my ear momentarily to that door in order to confirm the barman’s departure. I think that the last thing in the world that I could have possibly wanted was a confrontation with that man. I really did not want to get on the wrong side of him, and I think that I was getting on my way to doing just that… But with hearing those words, it gave me the confidence to take a little more time to inspect the room more thoroughly before I left.

There were four doors, each of the same dried brown wood. One was the way out, and one the bog, leaving two doors on the far wall, one with a window that signified an office, the other a darkness seeping out of it…

Nosey as I am, I took my opportunity by the neck – of course I did. I scuttled over and peered into the last room, it’s door ajar, pushing the panel ever so slightly further as to give myself the best chance in my presence avoiding being noticed. I could tell immediately that there were no lights, even dimmed; I somehow doubted that it was windowless, but never-the-less there was no light coming from the back – that was clear from the small slit of glass above the bog. The door creaked slightly then stopped. I wasn’t sure whether it was meant to be locked or not, but it seemed that the natural gravitational position from which it hung on its hinges was about a half-foot gap from being shut, and there were no obvious signs of a latch or lock.

There was some pressure pushing back as I nudged it open. I knew that I had to be quick, however, and so I pushed it swiftly a full foot as to avoid noise, revealing a slumped figure on a sofa right there by the door. That was it. All manner of limbs were strewn or draped over sofa arms and cushions in all kinds of positions. It was too dark to see much more, but besides that the man was completely motionless. He was certainly unaware of my presence… That was it. I’d seen enough, perhaps too much. I turned promptly back to that lounge, but there in the middle of the room was the slight figure of Steph.

Somewhat surprisingly, though, I wasn’t too fazed by the passive notions of the small blonde. “He alright?” I asked, rather nonchalantly.

Steph looked away from me for a moment before saying, “He’s fine.”

An eyebrow raised, I said, “He doesn’t look fine. Maybe I should help?” Steph looked back wide eyed.

Despite how eventful I had envisaged, even willed that night, just then, in that moment, as a result of my youthful curiosity, things seemed to have gotten very serious. Is ignorance not bliss?

“It’s OK,” Steph assumed me.

I studied her closely for a while. “Is he…”

Steph nodded firmly as she swallowed her tongue. Things now made a little more sense. I wasn’t quite sure what to do in such situations – I’ve never been in one myself – I’ve never tried the stuff, but I know people who have, and they’ve said that it’s usually best to leave it… Something about an air of unpredictability, with it being potentially more dangerous if the recipients are moved or even repositioned, let alone nursed back to the living through nature’s medicines; we don’t know how their bodies will react, and it is that which makes such situations so delicate. They need constant supervision, but often no tending to, with respiratory or responsive failures looming large… or they could just get scared and have a heart attack… but really, I don’t know.

But now I had either a point of leverage or had condemned myself to a fate not worth thinking about. Either way, I grasped the opportunity… “Who is that?” I asked.

Steph deliberated some before answering my question. “That’s Jeff,” I was told eventually. Interesting…

Admittedly, things were probably a little too tense for me to probe, but I tried my luck, as was what I did. “Who are Larry and Jeff?” I asked, but to that Steph only widened her eyes, as if to signify that that question was one too far. But how curious was I now?

I let it be regardless. Steph turned as if to leave and I followed. We left the lounge before walking the short corridor to the bar, but there we were struck with the sudden realisation that the suitcase was gone… This was evident in the removal of the coat that had been covering it for it to be left on the floor. My initial thought was that this could have just been Gordan, or someone else who had known where it was – it was, after all, hidden quite well – but Steph’s reaction gave me cause to dismiss such a thought immediately… I suppose that nothing is hidden well if those who are searching for it know where to look.

I didn’t know where Gordan was, but his presence was not felt as I had been feeling it all afternoon. Steph fell to her knees in front of me and proceeded to throw more coats and then cardboard boxes from the enclave before what appeared a dust sheet and then seemingly endless amounts of tinsel. I watched on unsure of whether to stop her as she then frantically pulled out further, smaller boxes followed by a variety of umbrellas and then a pair of wellington boots, in the end only confirming that there was no suitcase. The barmaid then climbed to her feet and ran out the front.

Moments later Gordan burst back in. As he did I realised that I was still standing dumb behind the bar. “What the fuck, is ‘e—”

“It wasnae him!” Steph cried.

“Oh, fuck, aye—”

“It wasnae him. I was there, an— an— We were out back, it couldnae ‘ave bee—”

“Oh, what’re yous like, for fuck—”

I moved for the end of the bar, making an escape before Gordan could get around and trap me like some poor barn mouse to his venomous cobra.

“Right, we’re closing up. You!” Gordan pointed his finger. “Out!”

I held my hands up. “I’m going! I‘m going!”

“Out, mate,” the barkeep huffed. My eyes tried to find Steph but failed. I couldn’t look up to face Gordan, I didn’t have it in me. That was it. I clawed at my jacket and headed for the door. Gordan eyed me suspiciously, but I was gone – to his eyes I was gone. I was told to leave and leave I did, only perhaps a bit slower than Gordan had anticipated… I heard whispers follow but I couldn’t much make those out, but then, however, he raised his voice some, and Gordan, I’m pretty sure, was one of those who doesn’t realise how loud his voice goes… I had just got to the door, but as I did I heard, “That suitcase goes to Andrew-fucking-Marsdon tonight, ya hear? No more fuckin’ about with no southern bastads…”

I left imagining Steph’s face rounded to that of a mouse with long blonde whiskers, nodding feebly to King Gordan’s command. I should have marched back in and saved her, been a hero… I smiled. I hadn’t had enough to drink; and now the pub was shut. But wasn’t I staying there? I hadn’t yet paid, but my name was in the black book… But now there were more important matters at hand… Who would have taken that case? I struggled to wonder. A better question, I suppose, would have been, who could have, with Gordan out the front and Steph gone for but a matter of minutes?

What did it matter? I had only the immediate problem of where I was to sleep. Did I let things cool down and return? I hoped that it wasn’t too long before it would realistically be feasible for me to do just that, because what else was I to do?

A dipping wind stiffened my back. I could see my breath turn to moisture in front of me. I was out in the cold, and boy was it cold. It was the wrong time of year – and it’s never the right time of year in Scotland… Now, I didn’t know quite where to go… I looked down the winding road back away from town, from where I had come, and I pulled my jacket tight around me. I looked in the other direction and it looked eerily much the same, high, daunting valley walls either side.

My saving grace, the light at the end of the tunnel, was presented to me by a streetlamp a little further ahead. In the rocky face of the encaging walls to this pit in the north was a set of steps. A set of steps, as I climbed them, leading up to a road above – the same road that I had come in on – at least, that was what I presumed.

I figured that I could find nothing else, because there was nothing else. I would just meet swamps, would I not, and so I would find that road? It felt like a bit of an adventure, anyway… annnd… step, step, step… it was swamps that I met. Hurrah! I even found a connection to a country path of sorts, leading me at least in the direction of my desired destination, all be it through a field of bog and darkness.

It was certainly better than nothing, though I soon discovered, as I embarked, that whilst I had set about due battle with the elements, that that path, although there, quickly became next to impossible to find out of reach from the humming glow of the village, with it being hidden at times nearly entirely by flat, wiry trees that stole the moonlight. But it was an adventure, and so I followed on into that darkness, savouring only what respite I got from the wind.

As my shoes had dried off the mud from my earlier endeavours, I now caked them in a whole new foil… Ha. But I kept-a-on, on, on, on… though soon I began to feel a little uneasy. With all of the strange goings on, I had this sudden gut-wrenching feeling that perhaps I shouldn’t have been out alone in total darkness. Thankfully, though, it was just then, as I came by a stubborn branch, that I saw light. As if an angel had heard my cry. Streetlight. Streetlight that took me right through and back out onto the main road…

What was I to do now?

I almost sighed.

As I thought about the answer to that question I decided to walk, taking to the tarmac of the road with some relief. I headed back in the direction of the safety of the valley, at least for now. Did I still have a room? I wondered. Perhaps things had calmed down it a bit… What was I doing, just killing time? But there was never a dull moment around here… As the thoughts came I had found myself veering off towards the swamp. It was the crunch of rusted metal being circulated that brought me back.

The bicycle pulled up ten foot away at the side of the road. “Hi,” a voice said cheerily – never a dull moment.

“Hi?” I questioned, turning to face the man.

“Yous alright there?”

“Was just about to ask you that?”

“Ha! Well ent that a just that. What’s your name, solider?”

I looked the man over. Tallish, straight blonde hair tucked behind his ears – looked like a posh-boy if I ever saw one.

“What’s your name?” he asked again.

I smiled. “Dennis. Dennis O’Reilly,” I said in my best Irish – south as I could. I got a blank look. “Only joshin’ ya, mate,” I said, laughed, slapping him on the back. Everyone else around here was crazy, why couldn’t I have a go myself? But the guy looked blanker than a sheet of paper. I stopped there.

“That your bike?” I asked.

“What bike?”

Now my face was the one that was blank. I tapped the frame between the man’s thighs.

“Oh, ha! That bike, of course!”

Ah… What was going on? Was this only awkward for me? “So, what brings you out this fine evening?” I asked.

The man laughed slightly then held an awry grin. “Nothing like pushing a set o’ wheels, releasing a bit of energy. You, my friend?”

“Just, you know… felt like it, I guess.”

“Ah, a rough day?”

“Something like that.”

“Shit happens, my friend.”

I smiled. “Indeed, shit does happen,” I muttered.

“Like what?” the man asked.

“Hrm?” I looked back up, suddenly stuck by the surrealism of the conversation that I was having. Was this actually happening?

“What shit?” the man asked.

“What do you mean?” I queried. “It was a generalisation…”

“Oh, right… But, I mean, what shits happened, dude?”

The guy was a million miles away. I could see it in his eyes. It looked as if he had borrowed them from a lemur, and at the same time his neck from a giraffe, with a big, round white head floating so far from his shoulders it had hit space and was now drifting off into the cosmos. He wasn’t wearing a scarf; a jacket, but one that was undone, revealing nothing but a thin blue and black-spotted shirt beneath. What was I doing?

“Oh,” I mumbled, “just something about a suitcase…”  I raised an eyebrow. It hadn’t crossed my mind until then, but this seemed like the perfect suspect to know something about the whereabouts of that suitcase. It clearly wasn’t on his person, but it didn’t mean that he couldn’t have thrown it in a hedge or a dustbin or something, or just left it somewhere for the geese to find.

“A suitcase?” he scratched his head. “Well, I’m not sure about that; there’d be a hundred suitcases in this town…”

“Ah, yes,” I smiled. Alas, my hunt was in vain. “OK, well, I guess that I’d better get to looking then…” I said. I nodded and began to walk, passing the man as I did.

“Where you goin’?” he asked me.

“Back to town, I guess,” I said.

“You got places to be?” Before I had a chance to answer, the guy had hopped down off his bike. “Here’yar,” he said, offering me the thing, “take this.”

“Oh, no, no, I couldn’t,” I said, offering my hands in refusal.

“Please. I insist…”

I raised an eyebrow. I didn’t want to prolong discussions, and I guess I could have gotten back to town quicker… “You sure?” I asked.

The guy shrugged. “I don’t even know where it came from, to be honest.”

“Oh yeah?” The guy began to bob his head in a strange circular motion, as if he were smoking a fat one whilst jamming out to a slow-beat reggae track. I smiled. “In that case,” I said, “much appreciated, friend.”

I took the bike before mounting it and finding my balance. Once I was off I trundled on slowly before turning back to the man. “Oh,” I shouted back, “what’s your name?”

“Urm…” He had to think about it. “…James.”

The cycle down the road was something quite dangerously surreal, foolishly attempted in both utter darkness and slippery conditions, but then I had nearly fully accepted that I was living in a dream… I had climbed those steps and then fallen off the valley edge back down into the grey basin below. Either that, or there weren’t any steps in the first place and I had just walked into a rock wall. Hopefully the latter.

No, there was no light on the bike, and were no streetlamps between the main road and the tee junction down to Congrenn. But despite a brisk wind in my hair, I felt electric, and I was picking up speed. The bike might have been old, but the breaks seemed to hold, and so I let it go flying down that decline, my hands if not my eyes following if only the moon through the darkness, through the swamps I had walked just hours earlier. What a strange feeling that was; how would the rest of this crazy night go? Perhaps in a few hours’ time I would be razzing down this very same road in a Maserati…

As I drew closer, the feint glow of the village became apparent. There was a fog seeping from the swamps that blurred my vision some but it was definitely there, the only contrast to the grey. But I was no longer interested, because before even the junction to Congrenn I had made something out ahead. I stopped cycling as the road levelled out some, scanning the haze around me to catch another glimpse of orange… Yes. I pulled on the break and chucked the bike off the path. Parked on a gravelly square by the side of the road was the orange Jeep.

Now on foot, I felt that I could approach with more caution, because, initially, I was hesitant… In fact, I stalked around the vehicle twice before I came back to the driver’s side. What were the chances? Ha. High.

Though its doors were shut and there appeared no outer damage, it looked abandoned. What were the chances that it was open? I pulled on the handle and the door clicked, breaking the first of the coming night’s frost.

It clicked open. Ha! I stuck my head in and looked quickly around but there was no Sid. I checked the ignition but the keys were gone. Had my luck run out? Did Gordan have a spare key? Did I have enough momentum from the slope to the valley to make it back to the Tankard? Before I gave it any more consideration, I spared a thought for Sid, but what could I do, realistically? Where could he have gotten to? I checked around the car once more, this time for footprints, or just any sign of the drunkard’s presence, but there were none, at least none that were obvious in the darkness.

So I cut my losses, taking to looking for the keys in an attempt to move the vehicle out of there. First I checked in the boot, then the back seats, their foot-wells, the pockets of the chairs in front, anywhere Sid might have thought a good hiding place. It turned out, though, as I patted about the pedals in the foot-well at the front, that I had been perhaps ahead of the game in searching more thoroughly. I pulled out a single black key… I put it in the ignition and the vehicle roared back into life. The headlights turned on as dashboard lit up and I was away.

Sid crossed my mind as I turned the vehicle back onto the road, but what could I do? I did initially go off in search of James about the main road, but the man was nowhere to be seen. I must have drove up for the best part of two miles, I would have said, in search of him… On the way back I even got out and checked the country track which had led me down there in the first place. Nothing. In the end I figured that I’d cut my losses. I knew at least one person who would be happy to see me, or at least my new car…

I arrived back at the pub in a matter of minutes, having to knock heavily on the door before Steph came and answered. “Hi,” I said.

“Hi,” she returned.

“Err, is Gordan around, I’ve got something for him. And about that room…”

Steph sighed. “I’m sorry, I apologise, I do, things ‘ave jus’ been pretty hectic this evenin’ – as yous’ve probably seen… I’m trying ta sort it out, but I’m pulling ma hair out trying ta do a million other things…”

Steph stopped talking as I withdrew the key from my pocket. “This ought to help,” I said.

That was when Steph moved out of the doorway to let me in. She checked outside to see the Jeep parked in the carpark before again closing the door. “Where did you…”

“A long story,” I smiled.

“Ah, uh, he’s… he’s just out back. I’ll just get him.”

As Steph scuttled off I strode idly to the bar and proceeded to take a seat, a confident air about me, a man on top of the world, everyone’s friend and nobody’s enemy… When Gordan returned he still looked pissed off but in a more appreciative kind of a way, if that was possible. I dangled the keys out in front of me and the barman nodded his appreciation (bordering scepticism) as he took them, having to come around the bar and take a look out the front with his own eyes before he truly believed me.

As he did, I asked Steph, “Could I get a drink?”

She half-smiled, “Sure.”

As she poured it Gordan wondered back over, grumbling, “That wee fuckin’ bastad…” He turned to me. “Where was ‘e? Run off?”

“I couldnae see ‘im,” I said, taking a first sip at my new drink. Gordan looked disapprovingly on, but I didn’t care.

It seemed that the matter of Gordan’s Jeep was left there. What had happened to Sid, that was the next question.

At that point, though, I heard the pub door creak open. It had obviously been left unlocked, though half of the lights to the pub were now off, with only those closest to the bar still on. At first sight the figure was but a shadowy silhouette on the light from out the front, but as he walked forward dark but greying swept-back hair was noted. A gentleman’s coat was already slightly undone and leather gloves accompanied a flat-cap hat in the man’s spare hand.

Having only just left, Gordan remerged from out the back. “Hello,” the man droned, Scottish but south – further south than Perth or Fife.

“Kirk, how yous doing?” Gordan checked.

“Shut early?” Kirk grumbled as he finished unbuttoning his coat.

“Aye, ah, er, afraid so,” the barman eventually managed.

“Oh?” The man took a stool beside the seat next to mine, briefly glancing up over before placing a pair of leather gloves on the surface, followed by his cap.

“Been havin’ a few wee problems,” Gordan admitted.

“I see,” Kirk continued to grumble. “And where is Jeffrey?”

“Jeff’s kicked off— He’s gone— I mean, though, I told him to go, he didnae leave… You staying, Kirk? Can I get yous a drink?”

Kirk sighed, running a hand over a crinkled brow before nodding. He ran his hand over his brow once more before sighing again and turning to me there next to him. “And who’s this?”

I smiled, holding out a hand. “Sam,” I said.

Kirk accepted the gesture but then turned away. He kept an elbow down and two fingers on his forehead as he accepted a drink from Gordan. “Where yous from, then?” I was asked, though it wasn’t obvious that the question was intended for me.

“Ross, mate,” I said, “but you won’t hear it.”

“Ross, ey, how’s about that…” the man sighed as he drew his wallet from a pocket – what was it with this bloke making every breath so damn melodramatic? I sipped at my drink as Kirk withdrew a five pound note from his funds and quite literally threw it over the bar.

Gordan swiftly caught it, folded it and offered it back to our new friend. “No need for that, sir,” the barman insisted. “On the house…” Kirk offered hand to refuse, but Gordan left the money there by his drink. The barman looked subdued; he looked even nervous. Who was this man who had tamed such a beast, and how had he managed just that? Who was this man…

I leant over. “Say,” I said (picking our conversation up where we had left it), “do you know a Sid?”

Kirk put his drink down quicker than he had done anything since stepping in. “Aye,” he tried to laugh, nearly spat, his attempt making him appear incapable. “Aye,” he said again… “Fucking waster if I ever saw one.”

“Anything to eat, Kirk?” Gordan promptly interrupted. “Crisps, nuts…”

Kirk held up his hand, this time shaking it a little as if to refuse. He then proceeded to pick the fiver back up from the bar and hold it out for Gordan to take.

“Oh, no, no…” Gordan held up his hands.

“Oh, take it,” Kirk snapped, “for fuck’s sake. This dump needs all the help it can get…”

Gordan quickly smiled, reaching out a hand to take the note. “Aye. Ha. Thankin’ ya, Kirk.”

I liked Kirk, I noted as I brought my drink to my mouth, smiling as I did so. There was a time of silence after that, with Kirk continuing to let out long, depressive sighs and Gordan slipping occasionally out the back, but that was all. There was a contentedness to the air – at least I felt – it wasn’t awkward, it was just nice, ah. Nothing was said because nothing needed to be said…

I sat and I let my thoughts wonder, my imagination run wild. I sipped at my drink. How many more questions did I have in me? How long would it be before I passed out through sheer tiredness? This was meant to be me holidaying; perhaps I should have retired, taken it easy for the evening. Alas, it wasn’t worth the thought as I knew that my curiosity would ultimately get the better of me.

Who else was in this village?

Why do I take it upon myself to visit such places?

The way I saw it, I had to take some time off, because what man wants to work if he doesn’t have to? I had allocated holiday that I would be paid for if I took it or not; perhaps I could afford to go abroad, but what was the point? Who would I go with? At least in Scotland I could be understood.

It was quite depressing really, when I thought about it. I’m from a village much the same as Congrenn, with, admittedly perhaps not to such a dramatic scale, much the same events going on from day to day, or night to night. You obviously don’t prepare yourself for a lot of this stuff, but you know at least half of what to expect. But that just made it more depressing, didn’t it? I’m stuck still living for the weekend like I’m a bloody eighteen-year-old lad – and now I’ve left thirty a long way back. That’s over half of my life spend fucking about. What do I have to show for it? I can’t remember half of it…

I never went away, truly away, even for city breaks in my own countries, even when me Ma might have asked me as a kid, but I’ve found, even living alone, that I don’t feel lonely. Do I find some kind of solace in the sparsity of, the often even desolate, Scottish countryside life? Does it comfort to know that there are others who are very much alone, even if it be perhaps more physically (geographically) than mentally? But I really do get a kick out of the dramas of other people’s lives. It’s strange. Like, for example, spending my time on holiday to get away from the village only in attempt to experience the very same things that I have left behind in another – that’s the reason that I chose to live there.

I’m not happy, I suppose, but at least I’m conscious of what I do, and I know, if only routinely, why I do it. It’s like the masses of people who troll off to the football on a Saturday like it’s a religion, it’s just my thing, it’s what I do. I don’t cause any trouble, I just observe it, maybe provoke a bit, but that’s harmless enough, isn’t it? I might have thought that I’d grow out of it, but that’s just that. These are lawless lands bar social expectancies, and so they are the perfect hunting grounds. And so they draw in the likes of I. Past the unwritten law of etiquette, we have, within our societies, found freedom… Does each man not search only for his own release? Is this mine?

It was still the afternoon, technically, despite the black outside. Did I want more, more drama? I did want just a few more answers, but at the same time I doubted that this mess could have been explained simply, and so I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I don’t suppose that I was too bothered either way (at least that’s what I’ll tell) but I didn’t particularly want to go anywhere else, so why would I? What did I want to do? Fight? I’m too old. See a fight? I felt, somehow, even with Gordan, that I had a connection deep enough with these people not to wish for violence. What was left? Settle down, have a family… I just don’t think that’s me.

Living for the weekend, ah. That immediately makes five sevenths of my life redundant. Who is the working man? If I had to answer, then I’d say a father, I suppose…

Looking back on my life, it’s like a swift punch in the gut; but is the joy not worth the fall?

Has anyone ever asked me why I go on the holidays that I do? I love my country, that’s why. It’s like the French holidaying in France, because, why not? The English do, and the French are hardly going to come to England, right? And who can blame them? The country is so caught up in petty socio-political debate that it’s lost all forms of sight and identity; who can relate to that?

So I holiday in Scotland. Nothing as raw, nothing as real. Because, see, where I’m from it ent empty, things do happen, people just don’t hear about them… But look at me, I’m blathering again. The climax isn’t far away now.

I’m not Scottish, but I’m still pissed off with the world, still like a bit of trouble, and I’ve been in a fair amount, though my days of taking punches have long passed. I found the suit and tie and now it’s strangling me. I’m trapped in this society that those ‘bastads dun suth’ have instilled into the roots of highland life by injecting sovereignty like it were a plague; bills on my doorstep and no aspirations more than to have a drink and watch a punch-up. And I could smell trouble brewing; I have a few holes to fill.

Who was Andrew Marsdon? I scratched my head. My mind came spinning back to the room. It seemed, however, that I had missed nothing. Kirk was still beside me and hunched over the bar, the older man looking somewhat pissed off. Gordan was gone again out the back, but in his place now stood Steph.

I smiled. The petit blonde smiled back some. “So,” I said, “if I wanted to use the toilet…”

What there was of a smile quickly vanished. “I don’t need it just yet,” I said, holding a hand up, “just… you know?”

Steph let out a long breath. “Nothin’ yous ent seen already,” she sighed.

I smiled, but the barmaid’s attention was stolen as Gordan pushed back through the door leading out behind the bar. He raised his head to Kirk sitting there beside me. “I’ve just got to go and sort something, alright?” he said.

Kirk didn’t as much as look up but grunted. I was still. Steph was still. Tension stole the air. There was momentary silence. “Is your car alright?” I asked Gordan – now that we were mates.

“It fuckin’ better be,” Gordan grumbled as he slid back out once more.

As my attentions were drawn back, I noticed that Steph looked almost shocked. I gave her a long, searching look. “You alright?” I asked as genuinely as I could. She nodded. Ha. That was that, then. I didn’t shrug, but I looked her over some more, then got promptly back to seeing off my drink.

“Could I get another, please, Steph?” Kirk asked, holding up an empty glass.

I smiled. “Could I get the same, please?” I said.

As Steph got to pouring our drinks I glanced over the man beside me. He looked like he was worth more than the pub, to be honest. He might well have had some demons that the years hadn’t managed to shake, but I bet he wasn’t too worried about the economy. “Sam,” I said, offering a hand over the stool beside me, as I had earlier.

I got a grim look before my offer was accepted. “Kirk,” the man told, grumbled. “Kirk Larrett.”

Ah! “Ah, then they must call you Larry?”

“Ha!” Kirk nearly choked on his drink. “Do they fuck. They might call the boy Larry, but no me.”

“Oh,” I said, “and who’s that?

His voice lowered. “What?” That moment was reflective of my whole experience that night.

“Huh?” I queried, smile faded.

“What fuckin’ business is that o’ yous?”

I forced that grin back onto my face, then I necked my pint. Kirk got up. I held my ground. “I need a piss,” he announced.

I didn’t know where Gordan had come from, but he was there to answer. “Yous’ll ‘ave to use the ladies,” he explained.

Kirk Larrett nearly spat. “The fuck am I doin’ that.”

“Well, the blokes is out, I’m afraid,” Gordan said, all of a sudden sounding so cultured and sincere.

Though it had no effect on Kirk. “I’ll use me own fuckin’ toilet, thank you,” the older man growled. So, Kirk and Jeff were related, eh? I suppose that I hadn’t really met Jeff, but it would have made more sense to me if he were father to Gordan. I was basing that on their attitudes, and the sharpness with which they spewed their words, but perhaps that was just Scotland…

Gordan nodded in defeat as Kirk made his way around the bar, before muttering, “As you wish,” and sliding out the back.

Once the pair had disappeared into the proverbial back room, I leant over the bar to catch the attention of Steph. “Who’s that, then?” I asked.

The small blonde looked up. “That’s Kirk.”

I smiled. “And where does he fit into this whole thing?”

Steph looked back down, beginning to busy herself wiping the surfaces with a rag. “Kirk owns the place.”

I felt shunted some, but I’ve always been persistent if nothing else. That wasn’t going to stop me. “Could I ask a question?”

“Yous’ve asked three.”

“Two, I believe…”

Steph sighed. “What is it?”

“Who’s Sid?”

Steph thought about her answer some. “I don’t know.”

I raised three eyebrows, though Steph probably didn’t see. “I thought you said that Jeff owns the place?”

“Yous need to stop askin’ questions.”

“Ah,” I conceded, “I’m just curious is all…”

“Look… It’s complicated, alright? Kirk owns the pub, but it’s Jeff’s place. Kirk is Jeff’s father…”

“Hrm… And where do you fit into all of this?”

“I just work here…”

That was when the door creaked back open, Gordan and Kirk still in the middle of a somewhat heated discussion. I certainly wasn’t going to ask about that.

Steph was still making herself look busy as Gordan took to pouring himself a pint and Kirk plodded back to his seat, not so much defeated as deflated. Gordan checked Kirk’s glass before disappearing out the back again, half a pint of his own drink already down.

Kirk leaned over to me, grumbled, “Are yous from around ‘ere?”

I smiled, nearly laughed but restrained myself. “Nah,” I said, “I ent from around ‘ere. Probably best, eh?”

Kirk sucked a breath before letting slip a long sigh.

That momentary look of despair, almost desperation, slipped to anger as Gordan practically flew back out of that door, a coat now on and in the process of being zipped up. He threw an empty pint glass down with one hand whilst using the other to skirt around Steph. “I’ve got to go, Kirk,” the barman told, voice rushed, “I won’t be long.”

“The fuck are yous goin’? My lad hire you to sack it off, did he?”

“Business to sort out,” Gordan tried. “I cannae give you much more, but I won’ be long, an’ Steph’s ‘ere…”

“Yous are as bad as that fuckin’ mongrel. And don’t you tell me otherwise— I leave trust an— Gah! Fuck it!” Kirk swivelled back on his stool and hit the bar with a fist, with his body having turned in following Gordan out the front.

“I’m sorry, boss,” was all Gordan managed before he was out the door, but Kirk was already eating at his drink.

I studied the old man. I didn’t know quite how old he was but the booze made it look older, I bet. I bet he wasn’t sixty. I bet he didn’t even like a drink anymore… I asked myself, how would I feel if my lad was but a shadow behind the bar that I sat at? It wasn’t worth thinking about, I decided.

After that I counted to thirty before standing, finishing my drink and wandering outside. Gordan was just coming back out of a side gate from the back of the pub. I raised my eyebrow, nodding to the case that he now clutched in his hands, though he simply ignored me. The barkeep got swiftly into his car and turned the key in the ignition, but before he had a chance to reverse I had the door to passenger’s side open.

“What?” Gordan groaned.

I leant onto the leather seat of the Jeep. “Can I come?” I asked.

“Fuck off.”

I leant my hand over to the well behind the handbrake and picked out two passports before Gordan could stop me. “Can I come, Sid?” I asked.

Gordan had tried to stop my hand, but I was back fully outside and out of reach now. “I ent got time for this. Fuck… Get in.”

I smiled then jumped into the passenger’s side. Gordan was already reversing when he snatched the passports back. But little did that help, because I’d already read both Sid Grumnel and Shannon Olana’s details back to front.

“Looks like you’re all packed,” I said, peering back over my shoulder. To that I got no response. I smiled again, sat back and let myself relax into that leather.

I had half-expected us to drive the width of the country, but once we had hit the tee out of Congrenn we took a left and a quick right up onto the gravelly layby and pulled up… The pieces were slowly beginning to fit. Was this in ‘Sid’s’ thinking? Sid, ah. What was his name, my old friend? Now but a figure, a face with no association but the colour black.

Who was Gordan? Was his name Gordan, Sid? Or was Gordan just some guy who had once worked in the bar? I suppose that it didn’t matter.

“You expect Kirk to show?” I asked.

Sid (‘Gordan’) sighed. “Doesnae matter, does it?”

“What it matters is that you got his lad out there…”

“The old bastard knows. I showed him, dint I?”

I doubted that, but I let it slide. “You worried about them?”

“Who?”

“‘Sid’, Larry, Jeff?”

Sid crossed his arms. “I ent rottin’ away with them.”

“What did you give them?”

“Fuck off.”

“What about Steph?”

“Fuck. Off. Tell me why I shouldn’t put two barrels in ya mouth?”

“Ey, ey, I’m no a detective, just curious!”

“Too right. You’re a fuckin’ nobody, even more reason to end ya. I don’t even know why I brought you…”

“What happened?” I asked. “Satisfy this need to know…”

“What happened?”

“Something went wrong. It wasn’t me. What happened?”

Sid sighed. “They all went batty on the shit, dint they?”

“You cou—”

“Mate,” Sid stopped me, holding his hands up, “shut the fuck up. I swear, I could end you; and where we’re goin’ they’ll never find you…”

“Where’s that?”

Sid laughed, deep and hollow. That was when the headlights lit up the road. “Yeah, right…” Sid grumbled as he opened the door and got out. “Stay here,” he instructed, slamming it shut.

I leant over the seat, but I daren’t have moved. In the light shadowy forms exchanged words that I will recite as this:

“Andrew?” the man asked.

“Anderw Marsdon?” Gordan replied, checked.

“Yous alright, mate?” that same voice asked. The boot of the Jeep clicked open. I turned back around.

A suitcase was put on the floor, it’s weight crunching the gravel.

A satchel bag was thrown into the boot of the car and the door was slammed shut.

Need me to explain anything? Tough… I didnae die because I wrote this… Nobody died, in fact, other than potentially those who were the ultimate recipients of the substances that were exchanged that day.

How was that? A good effort? Fuck off.

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