To Dr Goebbels, the house by the Wannsee and it's starry chatelaine may have provided him with a status symbol – which his short stature never could – but they failed to bring him any jouissance, and ecstasy, or simple joy, for he was as cold as a dead haddock on the fishmonger's slab, forever in a monk at some slight by Der Fuhrer, the Reichsmarshall, the Reichsfuhrer-SS, those three poseurs who weren't worth two pfennigs compared to Him, for it was His propaganda, His flair for publicity, for pithy phrases and slogans, His words that Hitler spouted to stir up the masses, to scare the industrialists, the financiers, the Jews; it was He, Goebbels who had whispered in Adolf's ear and enabled him to deliver the coup de grâce to the old Queen, Röhm which, left to his own devices, would never have happened; they all needed Him more than he did them, but the trouble was, only He knew it! and tonight, as he opened the door and called out, "Olga, Liebchen, it is me, your Tarzan," and beat his puny chest with small, bony fists, instead of the yodelling call of the real Man of the Jungle, he collapsed into a chair with a coughing fit: "fuck this for a game of soldiers," he wailed and almost fancied he heard the apparently empty house laughing at him, but it was actually the quiet sniggering of the four people in the basement – Vlado, Holly, J Alfred and Olga herself: "of course," she whispered to Prufrock, "you do know that none of Magda's children bears the slightest resemblance to him? apart from having heads, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes – she has a secret lover, who she meets once or twice a year at Baden-Baden where they both take the waters and exchange bodily fluids – I've worked with him on a few movies, he's quite a hunk, and his organ," she whistled softly, "it's like a baseball bat compared to Little Joe's which is smaller than my pinkie!" and the American Major blushed, for he did not consider it proper for such talk to come from women, or, indeed, men, for that matter!
Using the love-nest in which Dr Joseph Goebbels kept his mistress, the famous movie actress Olga Konstantinovna Chekhova, as an ersatz safe house had seemed a tad offbeat – to say the extremely least – to the two Americans, when they first tracked the Bulgarian assassin to his inquiline lair in it's basement – accessed by a near-inaccessible tunnel from a heavily overgrown and natural wilderness of ancient pines and tumbled rocks by the shore of the Wannsee – but even they had to admit that Chernozemsky's – at first impression – artlessly and seemingly confusedly blending of cheese-paring and almost brazenly daring – his ability to hide, no, to become almost completely invisible in plain sight – was the characteristic which they – as espionage officers themselves – could admit to admiring the most (but they could never forgive him for the Gorgonzola and Garlic).
"Quick thinking, Vlado," says Major Martins, "beat me to it, though I don't think I'd have come up with a Gretel in labour," and he laughs, self-deprecating bon vivant, thinks Chernozemsky to himself, proud of his own fulgor at having saved them from a death worse than fate, at the hands of the Dreaded Gestapo – think Spanish Inquisition with technetronic knobs on, but he says, aiming his scorn for the driver: "at least I am a professional, Herr Prufrock, a True Artiste, me, my education in the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation made thinking on my feet second nature and eliminating all possible humane errors – Pah!" his tone is scornful, but these amateur spies are beneath his contempt: "Pressing Every Button Causes A Kaboom, as we born bomb-makers know by heart, and you must have been warned of the importance of making zee correct signals when car driving here – zee Nazis are pathological when it comes to obeying rules, is it different in Amerika?" placing heavy emphasis on the k, and J Alfred manages a rueful smile: "depends whether you're in the Bronx, on the New Jersey Turnpike, or out in the Sunshine State – hey, Holly, you're from the Boondocks, do you guys ever signal?" and Martins chuckles: "now that I think about it, I guess our Driving Tuition doesn't extend beyond Starter, Wheel, Brake – my Pop's old truck depended on hand signals, and when it's thirty below outside the cab, the windows are frozen shut, so who's to bother?" and Prufrock pulled up outside the safe house.
So! thought Vlado Chernozemsky to himself as he and the two Americans stared at the pistols aimed at them, so much for the great guns of the USA! pah! we three are merely the tip of the iceberg and if my superb, pointillistic plan is discovered, it will be thoroughly, throughotherly, abso-bloody-fucking-lutely marmalised and discombobulated – so! and he spoke up, drawing the attention of the two Gestapo to himself: "meine Gretel is about to give birth, can you help? and the two glanced uneasily at each other, then one shook his head, so Vlado said: "could you give us an escort to the hospital? before the baby pops out and there is a terrible mess in here?" but this was too much to expect – the Gestapo Officers put their pistols away and one spoke sharply to Prufrock, who was driving: "next time you make a turn, indicate, or we'll have you driving a lorry loaded with horse-shit, now, get on, schnell!" and even before they had reached their own car, Prufrock had passed them and, carefully indicating, taken two turns and lost them from sight.
At the very same moment in Time – relatively speaking, and albeit in Berlin in the summer of 1939 – Vlado Chernozemsky had already double and triple-checked the detonators, the explosives, the giant Stink Bomb he had previously secreted in the sewer beneath the Berlin strasse along which the motorcade, with the limousine carrying Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and that jumped-up German Lairdie, Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler would pass; he had the radio receivers supplied to him by Uncle Hans Steckrübe in situ, wired up and primed and attached to a belt which he wore under his disguise, the unique transmitter which Uncle Hans had invented and constructed – that had been tried and tested several times over the past three weeks and at various locations outside the city, a dog, a sheep and a cow had been successfully blown up from distances ranging between twenty-five and 100 metres, three trees had been felled, a car had disintegrated and a shepherd's hovel reduced to rubble; the Bulgarian Assassin par excellence was cock-a-hoop and it was all the two American Agents, Majors Holly Martins and J Alfred Prufrock could do to stop him dancing a jig in the middle of Unter-den-Lindenstrasse the night before: "are you absolutely sure that your disguise will pass muster?" – – asked Prufrock, as they had hustled Chernozemsky into the van which was to be their getaway vehicle: "abso-bloody-lutely, it's all coming together great guns," laughed Vlado, "it will be like I am the Indivisible Man, completely incognito will I be, no-one will suspect a thing!" but to Prufrock, more used to measuring things out in coffee-spoons, such supreme self-confidence was usually misplaced: "let's just run through it again, to make sure that I have got it all right," he said, knowing better than to suggest that Chernozemsky might have it all wrong: "okay," said the Bulgarian, with mock patience: "we will be a party of Nazi-supporting aristocratic revellers, making our way homeward from a Fancy Dress Ball, bawling out patriotic schlager like the best of the schweine," and Martins slipped in: "who will be who?" which solecism made Prufrock wince, as usual, and he could not stop himself correcting it: "whom," and Martins shrugged, "okay, whom will be who?" and Vlado chuckled: "Palestrina and Gertie will be Dresden Shepherdesses, Prince Hubertus will be Napoleon and Olga will be Josephine, I am being Batman and Hans is Robin, and you two are Micky the Mouse and Donald the Duck - you can fight among yourselves to decide which is which," and looking over his shoulder as he drove, Prufrock asked: "and all the costumes are at the apartment?" as Vlado nodded vigorously: "ja, ja, and two dressers from the Movie Studio are coming over with Olga to make sure we are tip-top perfect, these girls are perfectionists, like me, so nothing can possibly go wrong!" which was when a black car cut in front of them and brought the van to a squealing halt as two Gestapo Officers leapt from the car and approached them, lugers drawn and pointing at the cab!
For Pete, the surprise was that he recognised. and even knew, so many of the guests: from the house next door on the left, actually two flats, one on the ground floor and the other the first, came Bill Hickok and Annie Oakley (lower) and Grigory Rasputin and Calamity Jane (upper) who were celebrating their joint Wedding Anniversaries, having been married in the Parish Church just a year ago – this was good news to Pete, for learning that both couples were also going on the Pilgrimage and knowing that Bill (even if he had dropped the Wild epithet) was great guns when it came to scaring away threats, especially since the Deadwood Incident of which he never spoke, and Greg, as the Russian liked to be referred, who was still endowed with those hypnotic eyes that could turn milk at thirty yards would be among his companions took away much of the trepidation he had been experiencing when he thought of leaving Talbot House and going on a relatively long-distance walk; then when Uncle Tom Cobley – bit of a mutt though he still was, forever chewing on the end of a corn stalk – turned up with the rest of the Theatre Company that Pete and he had been involved with in Milan, that mixture of Luvvies and Lesbians, the story of Pete's near death experience and narrow escape from the Bazooka-wielding would-be assassin, had them all gobsmacked and moon-faced Peter Lorre was reduced to humming a Mexican son he had picked up while filming in Acapulco, unable to top the account of Pete's struggles through muck and bullets right over the tops of the Eildons, crossing raging torrents, yawning chasms, expanses of clinging mud which turned out to be quicksands, encounters with deadly spiders and snakes and all the time hunted by a fiendish homicidal maniac and a pack of baying, bloodthirsty dogs, madly salivating at the prospect of sinking their fangs into their desperate quarry's throat! "yes," said Pete as his story concluded, "and I got in here just as Macfarlane and Doubleday came running into the alley in search of me - gave them the slip by the seat of my pants - I really thought I was done for! – but when I saw the dim Toc H Lamp and found Algie and Aggie here, I knew I was safe," and Leslie Howard added a few exclamation marks to the notes he had been making: it would make a great climax to the movie he was thinking of, with himself as the hunted man; but there would need to be a beautiful girl in the room and, fond of Aggie as he was, he knew that someone much younger would need to be cast in the part, perhaps as Algie's grand-daughter; yes, that would work.
Next morning, after the dreamless oblivion of exhausted sleep, Pete Laddie was hailed by a particularly springe Algie who had already been to the Newsagent, the Greengrocer, Fishmonger, Butcher and Co-Op and returned with the daily comestibles required by Aggie, which this morning, particularly included those necessary for her special Thanksgiving Turducken which would apparently bring a slew of friends, family, acquaintances and less-able former Toc H volunteers – not to mention a number of hitherto welcomed guests who had preceded Pete and still endeavoured to make this annual pilgrimage which, itself, was a precursor to the more important pilgrimage, that which would follow St Cuthbert's Way; as far as his hasty scanning of the various morning papers could show, no smoking gun – let alone Bazooka – had been found on the southern slopes of the Eildon Hills Range, which only exacerbated Pete's paranoia: no weapon found on the hills, ergo, the marksman still has it and to what purpose? answer – the elimination of Peter Boo!
Without his mobile, Peter Boo – or Pete Laddie, as he was getting used to being called – was thrown back on his memory, a device which had not stored telephone numbers for well over two decades; first he woke a battle-axe in Craigmillar, though he was convinced that the area code he had dialled was that of Eton Terrace, in the New Town, where he, Noushka, his wife, and their children, Athena (8) and Paris (6) live in a state of remarkable equanimity; he took potluck with the second attempt, hitting keys at random and was surprised when the ring-tone sounded familiar, but the voice was not – it was a velveteen fawn, seventy-year-old Cedric, in Roehampton – wherever that is – who, on hearing Pete's educated tone, took rather a definite fancy to him: "come over, do, sweetie, you'll not regret it, I can assure you of that, and wear your kilt, I've always kept a place for Kilties," and he disconnected quickly; the third one was much closer to home, for he recognised the voice of Dinah Dickin, his secretary and realised that his index finger must have accessed it's own muscle memory, but he was reluctant to discuss his family with Dinah, who had always made it clear that she had no interest in his wife, children, in-laws, out-laws or Noushka's second cousins thrice removed who were in the throes of a rather nasty divorce and won't to land, unannounced, on the Boo's threshold, either individually or in tandem and dominate the family home for weeks on end, disappearing just as abruptly and leaving behind too much food just bought, and a hefty bill from the nearby wine merchant: "It's me, Peter," he said, quietly, in case prying ears were pressed against the outside of the wall, "can you cancel all my appointments for the rest of the week? something came up unexpectedly," and he flushed when Dinah giggled, then continued: "someone tried to kill me, fired a bazooka but just missed, so I've gone undercover, lying low with elderly friends in Melrose," and he read out the number of his hiding-place, which was helpfully written on a label stuck to the handset: "don't give it to any of the Partners," he insisted, knowing them all to be as leaky as sieves, "just yourself, Monty," his Pupil, "and Jumbo," the Chief Clerk, who had served Percival Boo, Pete's father, and had a very soft spot for Noushka Boo and would almost certainly call her to pass on whatever form of the message Pete had just given her she had come to believe by the morning; he thanked Dinah too much and too effusively, but accepted that he had to keep her on-side, for she knew too much for him to risk antagonising her and, promising to call her in the morning with rather more information, he ended the call; a moment later the phone rang and Peter almost dropped it in surprise – he didn't recognise the caller's number, but did know the voice: "hellllll-lo Kiltie, I'm wearing a new sarong, but if it clashes with your tartan, I'll drop it like a shot. . . . ." at which point Pete killed the call and with admirable skill, fuelled by fear that Cedric might call again and reach Algie or, even worse, Aggie, managed to bar that number and, after listening carefully, he opened the front door a crack and took a few deep breaths of cool night-air, before closing and locking it and climbing back up to the twins.
"As for that pair of mountebanks, and their double, even treble, lives," said Algie, after the three Amens had been uttered, "Beelzebub and all his minions shall be unable to protect them from the hatchet job Zyzzyva, the Blessed, the very last word in Avenging Angels, and his retinue shall wreak upon them!" and he turned to face Pete: "Aggie's going to make some supper for you, Laddie, and I'll set a fire in the guest-room; you will sleep well in there tonight and tomorrow we will make plans for the Pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saint Cuthbert, but while we're getting things ready, you really ought to telephone your wife and children, Pete – after your last escapade down here when you were transported to Berlin and then Mediaeval Milan, she's bound to be frantic," and not bothering to ask how Algie knew so much about him, Pete agreed and took the proffered telephone down to the Chapel to make his call.
"Maybe I'm shell-shocked," said Pete, hesitantly, and told them of the bird being shot by a bazooka and tumbling down towards him, wondering if he was showing himself to be foolish and pathetic, "for why on Earth would anyone want to shoot me?" but then, catching sight of a vinous-red candle, it's flame no brighter than the dim lamp downstairs, flickering in the air from the window where it stood, he realised that the welcome of Toc H was sempiternal and universal, that it represented the human spirit in it's finest expression, and asked: "you mentioned Talbot House in France, but I always thought it was in Belgium," and Aggie laughed: "that's Algie for you, Pete, that's why he's a philosopher and not a geographer – he's never quite understood the difference between France and Belgium, and Holland, too, for that matter," and Algie grinned at what he clearly regarded as a compliment, then said: "nor have I ever understood the reason why women wear calliblephary cosmetics to simulate the shadows and bruises of lack of sleep, but I suppose I'm not the only man to fail that test," as Aggie gave him a mock slap on the arm, then faced Pete: "do you really think the shot was aimed at you?" but he shook his head, "no, but on the other hand, to fire something like that so close to the houses was incredibly dangerous – if the bird had been much lower, I could have been hit by accident or if the shot missed the bird it could have blown up the cottage!" so Algie asked him: "do you want to tell the police?" but Pete was adamant, "definitely not," he said, firmly, "the last thing I want is to give anything away about my whereabouts," and he told them of seeing MacFarlane and Doubleday at the other end of he alley: "they were obviously looking for me, and I cannot let them find me – you have no idea how safe I felt as soon as I entered this house and met you, my prayers answered," and the twins smiled back at him, and round the little table, the three joined hands and Algie spontaneously offered a modest little prayer for safety and acceptance.
In the Upper Room, Aggie welcomed Peter as her brother, Algie, had – they were twins, and were as like two peas in a pod as Peter had ever met: small, round, full of interest and treated him with compassion; while Aggie finished the broth to her satisfaction, Algie found the hamper she had told him he would find the right things to suit their visitor, and returned with an armful of clothes: an old-style, blue Sailor Suit, Guernsey jersey, underwear, socks and boots – everything fitted perfectly and the boots, while old and scuffed, had been well-cared for, with steel tackets and leather that was supple and comfortable: "we're going to follow Cuthbert in a couple of days, to Lindisfarne, ye ken, Holy Island, and ye're welcome to come along, Pete laddie," and Peter – or Pete laddie – asked if Cuthbert wouldn't mind a stranger tagging along, at which the twins had a good laugh and then Aggie explained that St Cuthbert's Way was a fairly recent Long-Distance Route from Melrose to Lindisfarne Abbey, named in honour of the saint, who in the 7th Century had been Prior at Melrose Abbey and later, Lindisfarne; the Edinburgh lawyer apologised for his lack of historical knowledge and, forgetting all about his family at home, agreed at once, feeing that was, for him, some kind of re-birth; he asked them about the house they were in and Algie explained that Toc H in Melrose had bought the whole building in the 1930s and named it Talbot House after the original in France: "oh, there were guest rooms for anyone needing a bed for the night, meeting rooms, games rooms, quiet rooms, a small Hall which could hold about 100 for lectures or concerts, a library, just about everything that was needed, including the Chapel; we joined, me and Aggie, in the 1980's, and even then there was a rota for the Overnight Welcome, and you only did it about once every four or five weeks, but mind, we all get older and folk move away, for work or family reasons, lose their health, even die! so now there's just us here – the House has been subdivided and rented out, so it still has an income and though we can't do all the things that used to be done, we support other charities that do," and Peter asked: "and you sit up every night, waiting in case someone needs you?" at which Algie said: "well, we give it from dusk till midnight, but there's a bell-pull and if someone's desperate, we never turn them away, no matter what time they rouse us," which impressed Pete no end: "what brought you here?" he asked, sensing that their accents weren't local, and Aggie took up the tale: "well. I was a GP in Broughty Ferry and Algie had the Tupperwear Chair in Theological Philosophy at St Andrews and when we retired we wanted a change of scene and had distant relatives living down here so moved to Melrose in '85 and it was soon after that we became involved with Toc H; but just a couple of years ago, when we were the last active members, we sold our bungalow and moved in here," she lowered her voice, "the alley is the only downside," she said, in a near whisper, as though afraid of being heard by passers by, "some vulgarians use it as a shortcut from The Ship to Melrose Abby, a few slimeballs regard it as a handy pissoir, we get snatches of Billingsgate from the Fishmongers, naturally, but as neighbours they give us a discount, so we can't complain, and with the Undertakers' Chapel of Rest just round the corner, there are always a few apocalypticians knocking about, but it's the ones who think they can use it for a bit of the other," and she gave him a look which clearly conveyed what other she was referring to, then laughed, "but once they've had the contents of a chamber-pot emptied over them from upstairs, they soon beat a retreat and you never get them back," and after a brief pause, Pete asked: "and do you get many people coming in, like me?" and this time Algie answered: "on average, a couple or so most weeks, more in the dead of winter when it's cold enough outside to give a brass monkey the croup, but you'd be surprised at the summers, too, that's when we get most of the foreigners, either holidaymakers who've had a major falling-out with their companions and roughed-it for a few nights, maybe even a week or so, and are too embarrassed to go back and try to make up, or workers who've come over to earn better money than back home, and find themselves lonely and exploited and soon learn there is no easy way to make good money anywhere, or what are now called modern slaves, who've been people-trafficked from Eastern Europe or further afield, either to work on the land, crop-picking or the like, or tending marijuana farms for nothing but bare subsistence diet, or as prostitutes or sex-slaves; it's funny how our visitors have changed so much in 100 years – from mainly ex-services lads who had suffered physical or mental injuries and were left suffering from what is now recognised as PTSD but then was called shell-shock, to economic victims of exploitation – though hardly a month goes by without someone who served in Iraq or Afghanistan coming through the door, with exactly the same issues as the lads who went to the original Talbot House in France after the First War; but then, used, abused and cast aside can describe ex-squaddies or escaped agricultural or sex slaves equally; and we welcome anyone, regardless of rank, race, religion, social status, or any of the other means society has to divide one group from another," which was when Pete said: "we're all Jock Tamson's Bairns," and Algie gave his sister a knowing look, so she asked their guest: "and is there anything you want to talk about, Pete?"
The only person within the walls of Mother Kelly's who saw Peter Boo, in his incongruously mud spattered business suit, crawling under the hedge, was Ulla Ulp, but thinking that his behaviour was his own business and not knowing whether it was intraordinary for him, she merely shrugged and continued her conversation with Rani, who was the very definition of a vulgarian – and as she had recognised the lawyer from his previous appearance in Melrose, and may have considered that to draw the hostess's attention to his strange behaviour would be tantamount to jilting a lover, for who knows what the possible consequences might have been, though of course, as anyone who knew them could have told you they never had been lovers, the very idea is too awful to contemplate, but at that moment her eye fell on a blue box and she was tempted to ask Rani why she should have such a contraption in her house, and all thoughts of Boo vanished like breath on a winter's morn; so, unseen by anyone else and unchallenged, but fearful for his very life – for if someone could shoot a bird with a bazooka, what might they use on him? an Exocet? Trident? was Peter's driving thought, indeed, he may have been the actual target! - so on he crawled, keeping low, torn by gorse and broom, slathered in the rich red-brown mud, stared at by sheep, rabbits and frogs, feared and shunned by adders, and spiders, he traversed the undulating foothills and eventually, after many hours, crept down the last slope towards the town; when he reached the houses near the foot of Dingleton Hill, darkness had descended, street-lights were glowing amber and he moved like a shadow until he turned right after the Book Room into Scott's Place, where light spilled from Melrose Abby (sic) Takeaway and to his left a narrow close led towards East Port, just a few yards from The Ship Inn, and he remembered carousing nights there – he would be safe; so silently he squeezed into the tight close, inching towards his destination, when, of a sudden, two men stopped at the further end, standing in the half-shadow cast by a street-light on the opposite side of the road; they were speaking in hushed tones and Peter could not distinguish the words; then, one produced a package, took out a cigarette and offered the pack to the other and that one took a lighter from his pocket and struck it, and as both heads leaned towards the flame, Peter recognised Sir Parlane MacFarlane and Dominic Doubleday! in blind panic, he turned to run and then stopped, for in a window just beside him, he saw what could have been a prop for a production of Aladdin – a very old oil-lamp, with the Cross of Lorraine for a handle and a tiny flame, giving little light – Peter looked around and beside the window was a door, he tried the handle, it turned, the door opened inwards, silently and, just as silently, he entered and closed it behind him, then he saw that he was in a room furnished like a chapel and on a chair beside the lamp, sat a very old man, seeming to be fast asleep; he woke with a start and stared at Peter through large round spectacles: "the lamp," said Peter, "I saw the lamp, in the window," and the old man smiled, "it is a bit dim, Lad, and I've been waiting for a long time, but you found it and now you are here," and Peter asked: "Toc H?" and the man stood up, he was very small and moved slowly, "that's us, well, just me at the moment, but now you're here too, just as you should be, though you look like you've been in the Trenches, come on upstairs, Aggie'll find some dry clothes for you and she's got a pot of broth on, so we can have our supper and you can tell us all about it."
"Perfect," said Sam Smiles to Tavish Dalwhinnie, as they both lowered their glasses and grinned at each other; they had watched the hawk as it stooped and dived and hit the drone fast and furious – the explosion had been instantaneous and the tangle of bird, plastic and metal had dropped like a stone was the grace note; in Bonchester Bridge the image of the house had suddenly vanished from Flora's screen and the four watchers sat back, cursing – Crystal was immediately on the phone to the Guys but the ringing tone went unanswered, so she killed the call: "must be a fault, they're probably trying to find out themselves," but they weren't; when Sam and Tavish reached the van, about a mile from the house, they found the Boys, as they called their Lamplighters, sprawled on the floor, both were unconscious, headphones still clamped on and both suffering – though at first the two Officers didn't know it – from burst eardrums, from the intensified BOOM they had been hit by simultaneously; this, Sam and Tavish had begun to surmise, once the Paramedics the summoned made their initial assessment, and it was confirmed in A & E at the BGH by a young Registrar – although he had no idea what kind of noise had caused the trauma: "heavy metal," he guessed, "with the volume set dangerously high, some people never learn till it's too late," and the prognosis wasn’t good, so Sam and Tavish left the hospital, they still had to break the news to the Hawker that his top hunter had died in action but he would be recompensed by the Scottish Government, as if money would ease his grief; "div ye tak moi fer a vulgarian?" asked Tam Snoad when the subject was raised, "thon wis Rose-Marie, nemmet efter ma late wife, in fond remembrance, an anticipation o wur reunification," - for Tam was no heterodox, his Faith was Bible black-and-white, every word interpreted literally, and he paid no heed to the pickleball of Theological debate; he and his wife would truly be reunified on his own demise, somewhere on sunny uplands, where the air was pure and the skies vast enough for his hawks to soar, seek, spot and kill, and Tavish presumed that Rose-Marie (the hawk) would be there by now, perched on the gloved hand and wrist of Rose-Marie (the Dear Departed) and Sam had to batten down the urge to ask Tam which Rose-Marie he was looking forward to being reunified with the most.
What is this life if full of care,
We have no time to stand, and stare?
and while, in many respects, Peter Boo might seem unlikely casting as a gangrel or gangaboot, not to mention a Supertramp, yet there was something about the Edinburgh solicitor, as he sat at the top of Ranulph Ochan'toshan's garden, which might have matched W H Davies' description of what is so lacking in many modern lives, although, in truth, he seemed not to notice much of what he stared at: he might have been sitting on a well-boat out in the Atlantic, or in the shade of the Sphinx, for all he was aware of his surroundings, yet there could have been fortitude in his seeming obliviousness to the encroaching cold, as the afternoon ticked second by second towards the earlier evening which comes with putting the clocks back; he did catch brief sight of Ochan'toshan standing at one of the windows with a woman, perhaps a visitor? whom Boo did not recognise; but why should he? his own involvement with this strange house was itself recent and he didn't really know if he wanted it to become more intimate – Ochan'toshan himself, in the garish dresses and housecoats, wigs, high heels, make-up and nail varnish seemed to Boo to be a bit of a moko jumby, a parody of a woman, which rather gave Boo the shivers; and that was when he heard the boom, above him, and looked up, to see a burst of flame and something falling towards him; hastily, he rolled off the seat and scrabbled away, just in time to see a tangle of metal, bones, feathers and beak hit the very spot where he had sat: "fuck me!" the expletive was a rare one for the fastidious Boo, but quite genuine in it's spontaneity: "who tries to shoot a bird with a fucking bazooka?"
It's unlikely that even a connoisseur would have noticed anything amiss about the two starlings that darted into the garden of Mother Kelly's - they were the bog-standard size, shape, colour and what if their movements had the more laboured look of a boda boda compared with a Harley Davidson? "well," says the mind, "it takes all sorts," and so infinitesimal variations in behaviour, song and feeding patterns are accepted as quite normal, in the Grand Scheme of Things; but while no-one inside the house took the slightest notice of two more of our feathered friends shooting, hopping and perching around the outside of the house, only Peter Boo – sitting alone on a bench at the top of the garden, where it rose towards the foothills of the Eildons until it encountered the dense thickness and protectiveness of the stout hedge, chain-smoking as he contemplated the latest change of direction in his life and wondering if some form of the Nuremberg Defence would protect him from the consequences of becoming the unwitting pawn, if unwitting can indeed even begin to describe the relationship between an Advocate and his Client, of Sir Parlane MacFarlane – who had still not identified the possible cause of the sunstrike which had flashed him in the eyes earlier, perhaps did not waste a moment's reflection, did register the way the pair of birds expedited their joint moves, almost with the precision of the Red Arrows, even when they peeled apart and one found it's perch on a security light below the eaves, while the other clung onto the harling of the wall a few dozen feet away; but then, Boo was not a Twitcher, so why should he notice anything, when he had no knowledge base within which to make comparisons: he saw two birds, therefore believed them to be birds – if it looks, moves, sounds and smells like a bird, then it probably, in all likelihood, is a bird; but he didn't know that their claws were titanium, that when they made contact with the house, or it's attachments, such as a security light, they created a Loop System, similar to the installations in many public buildings to facilitate those with a hearing deficit, disability, or dysfunction, and transmitted the sounds gathered by that invisible Loop upwards to the drone which, like a Mother Hen guarding her young, kept it's watchful eye on them, and passed their signals back to the Guys!
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