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!
But in Bonchester Bridge, Flora Dora has been keeping an eye on the screen of her tablet and now calls Crystal over, and Crystal asks Teri and Jazz to have a keek; they watch the replay several times – see a Volvo that itself has seen better days drive along the Main Street of Bowden and park just shy of Mother Kelly's doorstep and an older woman emerge, pulling a fur coat around her ample figure, hesitate briefly, glancing in both directions and even, fractionally, upwards in the direction of the drone she cannot possibly see, before walking smartly up to the front door of Ranulph Ochan'toshan's pretty cottage and knocking firmly, with the vulgar brass knocker which is in the form of two, presumably, male bodies, the outer having a large phallus which penetrates the cleft between the buttocks of the inner when the two are conjoined with a loud report; having realised what she has just done, the lady takes a step back and unconsciously wipes her right hand on a tissue, as if it has come into contact with ordure, then chucks the tissue behind a small holly bush and once again glances around, presumably hoping that no-one has seen her do what she has just done; the door is opened by a hulking brute of a man, and Crystal says: "that hail-fellow-well-met is Ochan'toshan's butler, he's got form, I think you Brits would say," who sticks his head out and looks both ways, just as the woman did, then gives her the minimum of attention as she speaks to him, leaves her on the step for a few moments and then opens the door again to admit her, and once again scans the street, where not even a dog is to be seen: "so who the Hell is she?" asks Crystal, but the locals are mystified: "she looks about the same age as our Aunts, Daphne and Maude," says Teri, and Jazz confirms: "more like Daphne than Maude, but she's blonde, Daphne's hair is a kind of browny-grey, and Maude's is gingery-grey; she's more the build of Daphne, stocky and with shoulders, Maude is taller, I'd say, and slimmer, and Maude's face is longer, Daphne's is sort of round, like that woman's," as they stare at the frozen image, in good colour, of the woman looking almost directly into the eye of the drone: "d'you know," said Teri, Aunt or no Aunt, that's a hierophanic offering of a prayer to the Heavenly Woman up above who watches over us all, which makes me doubt it can be Daphne, the only prayer she says is when she's got a fiver on a horse somewhere, now Cristo, yes, she might, but the nose looks too big for her," and "it's not easy to judge her height at that angle," says Flora Dora, "and she could be wearing a wig," but Teri is shaking her head: "I've never seen Daphne or Maude, even Cristo or May, wearing a fur coat like that, it's the real McCoy, isn't it, very thick and hiding her actual shape," and Jazz says: "she's well made-up, see," as Flora enlarges the image and Jazz points out the red lipstick, arched eye-brows, dark lashes, even blusher: "if it wasn't for the make-up, I'd say it's Daphne, but to be honest, it's more just on the shape of the face, rather than the features and I've never, ever, seen Daphne wear so much make-up, fuck, she rarely wears any at all, almost never, but then," and Teri finishes the sentence: "if you decide to beard the Lion in his Den, you have to go prepared and maybe that's why she's put on the slap," but Crystal interjects: "she can hardly be trying to seduce MacFarlane, or Doubleday, they prefer younger women, girls really, there's nothing in our knowledge of them to indicate that they'd be interested in a pensioner!" and she glanced at Teri and Jazz: "no offence, but she's obviously in her 60s or 70s, even with the make-up, it doesn't hide the reality – maybe softens it, but come on, am I right or am I right?" and after studying the face again, so nearly familiar, but with foreshortening and the camouflage of enough hair to cover her forehead and cosmetics to smooth the skin and enhance the lips, it really isn't possible for either to be decisive: "possibly Daphne," says Jazz at last and Teri hesitantly agrees: "although it could be someone from the Unionist Association canvassing for their candidate in the General Election, the fur coat is probably a given for that scenario, axiomatic even," and Flora rewinds to the image of the car: "ever seen it before?" but the girls shake their heads, Teri being unable to identify much beyond a VW Beetle and Jasmine saying that there are quite a number of Volvos in the Melrose area, but the number-plate seems to have been muddied so that even when enlarged it is impossible to identify the number: "would your aunts do anything quite as recondite as that?" asked Crystal, but the cousins shake their heads - "they're not exactly au fait with the ways of spies and undercover operatives," says Jasmine, so Crystal goes on: "she can't know that we've got a drone up, I agree that glance was more offering a little prayer to her Goddess than hoping to be caught on camera," at which Jazz suggested that whoever it was may have wanted to be sure that no-one at the house would be able to trace her identity from the car number: "they do still have links in Police Scotland, don't they?" asked Crystal, which Jasmine confirmed, without giving too much away; they were, after all, civilians, and foreign ones at that: "can you hear anything from inside the House?" asked Teri and Crystal used her phone to call the Guys: "anything we can put on the house, or even inside?" she asked and waited, then: "okay, go for it!"
"Well, Miss Ulp," said Ochan'toshan, giving a girlish laugh, "it's rather an honour to meet the representative of such an august journal," and Ulla Ulp gazed at him curiously: "you have some familiarity with the paper?" she asked, "with my work?" and Ochan'toshan waved his hand dismissively: "not as intimately as I would wish," he said, with just a hint of regret in his voice, "the local newsagent carries only the local papers and a few of the nationals, UK nationals, for those of us who are interested in the wider world, but sadly, no international publications, he's rather parochial in his outlook, I'm afraid, but of course, I'm not just a gongoozler, I have heard of it, and yourself, from friends in Edinburgh, au naturale," which Ulla repeated, adding: "your mot juste is tres apposite," with just a hint of a French accent, which did not go unmissed by the transvestite in the chinoiserie housecoat: "and your interest in coming here, to my humble abode?" enquired the hostess, wishing that the empty bottles and clothes had not been left so artlessly displayed, but Miss Ulp graciously affected not to be aware of them, turning instead to the French windows and gazing out at the immaculate garden and the stirring view of the Eildon Hills beyond: "a truly beautiful location for a home, Mr, err," hesitating, possibly wondering if a more feminine appellation might be preferred, and receiving a moue in return: "I do prefer Miss, when I am dressed in my preferred style," said Ochan'toshan, "and if we are to be friends, which I earnestly desire, then please, call me Rani." and was rewarded with a warm smile from his glamorous, despite her substance, Norwegian visitor, noting himself that she had something of the look of an Eskimo Nell about her, and thinking that this was probably a result of her Viking DNA; then Ulla explained: "we are, as you are doubtless aware," she said, taking a seat on a sofa, thankfully unadorned by underwear, and inviting Rani to join her, implicitly reversing their roles, but with such charm and self-confidence that he didn't mind in the least, having quite a liking for dominant women: "well, as you know," Ulla continued, "we are a Conservative Christian bulwark against the intrusion of the so-called Democratic State into the individual rights of it's citizens, in fact, we are Libertarian on political, economic and social issues, and that is exactly why I am here," and she paused, giving him a moment to consider her words, then continued: "your friend Sir Parlane MacFarlane has been demonized in the same way as the Marquis de Sade and your society, The Ring of Gold, has been portrayed as an Internal Terrorist Alliance, but we, and our readers, see you as defending the Liberty of Thought, Word and Deed against unwarranted interference by the cartel of petit-bourgeois/social-communist crushers of Individuality – Minecrafters in the real world, intent on destruction and the imposition of Misery!" and Rani spontaneously clapped her hands in delight: "ooh-la-la! Ulla, you are truly a woman after my own heart – have you ever met Sir Parlane? he's here you know, came straight from the Court after the darling Judge did his duty and threw the case out, what a sweetie, I must send him a little gift in appreciation, but that can wait until after our clatfart," and on seeing the puzzlement on her visitor's face, she explained: "it's a colloquialism, just means gossiping, doing what we women do so well, eh, when the boys are out of earshot, ha ha – would like some tea, or coffee?" and she rang a bell which summoned the hulking butler, gave him the order for two coffees and some shortbread and asked him to track down MacFarlane and tell him there was an important guest, who would be overjoyed to meet him," and glanced from beneath her abundant lashes, and said: "but not half as much as I am, Ulla, overjoyed, that is, by your quite unexpected arrival here today – I hope that we can make the time to get to know each other better, would you like that too?" and hardly believing her luck, Ulla seized her hostess's hand and gave it what she hoped would be received as an affectionate squeeze; she had no illusions about how the Baronet would see her – as a middle-aged, elderly even, overweight and not especially good-looking, career journalist, just one to be used and forgotten, but Ochan'toshan, on the other hand, would be putty in her hands, and he was believed to be the Keeper of the Keys as far as The Ring of Gold was concerned, knowing all it's secrets and where all the bodies were buried, oh yes, he was the one to squeeze till his pips squeak!
Which was how it came to pass that, later that self-same afternoon, a valorous and elegant – if somewhat stout – lady rang the doorbell of Mother Kelly's and was confronted by a rather hulking butler, who seemed not to understand a word she said, in her best Morningside pan-loaf, but admitted her nonetheless; there was a menacing whang about the way he moved and gestured, but nevertheless, he showed her into a room which seemed to have been the scene of a recent carouse – empty wine and spirit bottles were crowded on a large coffee-table, and various items of clothing hung discarded on the backs of chairs or lay, lifeless, on the floor; and then Ranulph Ochan'toshan – it could only be he, with a purple bouffant wig and wrapped in a vividly clashing chinoiserie housecoat – entered and introduced himself; his visitor stood, extended a hand which held a business card, and gave her name as Ulla Ulp, Scottish Correspondent for Norge Idag, of Bergen.
Hyman Kaplan ended the call, he looked glum: "what did she say?" asked Norman Noggs: "you heard me assert your valorous willingness to do anything you could to bring that pair their comeuppance?" and Noggs nodded, but Kaplan was gazing out of the window, at last he said: "there must be something in her circuitry, her brain doesn't work like other people's, I'd love to see a connectome of it, the synapses, I've only really got to know her well since the Mountains came to Mohammed, our previous dealings were more formal, more courteous, I haven't heard her so officious, I didn't know she knows so many swear words. . . . ." his friend was growing impatient: "but what did she actually say, Hymie, are we on?" and Kaplan turned his gaze towards Noggs: "there's no easy way to say this, Norman, but the Lady, she say 'No!' and she ain't for turnin', an' what's more, she loves the plan so much, she's gonna do it herself!"
Before he reached for the door handle, Hyman Kaplan turned to face Norman Noggs: "you used to do a Sophie Tucker impression, is that right?" and his friend hesitated for a beat, then nodded: "when I was young, much younger – with a quality wig and carefully applied make-up, I could pass for a hipster, yes, I could even wiggle my bum, jive-dance, do the hands, still can," and demonstrated, "but why do you ask?" and Hyman, unwearied, grinned: "let's grab our pies and then you can tell me about it," so, once they had returned to the cubicle with their pies, Norman explained about his – albeit now distant history - student life: "there was a bunch of us, good Jewish boys and some students from St Andrews, the Catholic Seminary at Leaderfoot - it's long since closed down, became something of a white elephant due to the lack of young men wanting to commit to the Priesthood with it's vows of celibacy and chastity, so now it's a nursing home, but back then they were a lively bunch; we put on a show three or four times a year in the Corn Exchange - and as the Fathers at the seminary would never have permitted us to have any real girls in the company, six or seven of us did the honours - nothing like Ru Paul's Drag Race, more an End of the Pier show, with comedy, novelty acts, some magic, singing and dancing, and a vent, ha ha, a kid from Connemara who went under the name of Valentine Vox the Ventriloquist and now he's a Cardinal, but my Sophie Tucker was a straightforward homage, and I carried it off; honestly, I doubt if any of the general public realised I was actually a boy underneath, I had a good voice, good looks, with that same round face of hers, and visually, vamping it all up, could have been a real turn from the Roaring Twenties; one of the others, Gerald, now Father FitzMaurice, and still the Parish Priest down in Hawick, though he must be due to retire soon, did Old Mother Riley, with Monty Gold as her daughter, Kitty, and they were the ones who really brought the house down, but why are you asking, Hymie?" – and Kaplan, taking a moment to refill their glasses, then explained: "there's a house in Bowden I'd like to infiltrate, but I can't do it myself; MacFarlane and Doubleday are there now, that's where they went as soon as the Sheriff dropped the case against them, but they both know me, they saw me, Sadie and Rose, together with Isa and Milly and the two American women they'd trafficked to Prince Edward Island, you know, Crystal Shann-Delyeer and Flora Dora, after the Mountains landed up Dingleton Hill, and we were all taken together to the Hawick Cop Shop to give our statements," and Norman nodded: "it'll be Ranulph Ochan'toshan's place, Mother Kelly's, yes?" and Kaplan agreed: "have you ever been there?" but Norman shook his head: "not a chance – I know who Ochan'toshan is, of course, he's pretty well known, but quite unsavoury, we've never actually met, different circles – so you want me to try to get inside? as a woman? but look at me Hymie, I'm an old man now, not the boy who did a turn as Sophie Tucker fifty years ago, more than that in fact!" but Kaplan wasn't going to let go of his idea so easily: "that's the whole point, Norrie, if an elderly woman journalist knocks at the door and asks for an exclusive interview with the great Sir Parlane MacFarlane, who's going to suspect her of being anything other than she seems?" and this time Noggs gave it serious thought; it would carry risks, may require him to be valorous, well, he'd been in a few scrapes over the years, so what's new? and knowing that hesitation is the most paralysing, made up his mind: "ok, I'll do it, but we'll likely have to borrow the clothes from Daphne, she's probably about the same size as me, but it's your plan, so you can do the asking!"
Even before Norman had climbed the stairs, Kaplan sent the Office Boy – Hannah Manyanah, yes, it's incongruous to still use such gender stereotyping but who's counting? - down to the Pound Bakers for a dozen hot Kosher Scotch Pies, roused the chess players from their deliberations and set them into the kitchen and making a pan of borscht to their babushka’s famous recipe – yes, they are siblings and Mrs Cohen's mother Gretl's recipe for borscht has won more gold medals than you have had hot cheesecake – and having got them out of the way, dug out his hidden screecham, a bottle of Laphraoigh 50-year-old, and ushered his visitor into the Editor's corner cubicle, shut the door to keep out the clacking of the matronly knitters' duelling needles, and invited Norman to take a seat; glancing around the cubicle, Norman noticed at once Leo Rosten's comprehensive Yiddish Pandect and couldn't resist humming a few bars of My Yiddishe Momme, before the need to unburden himself became too great, but even then, he prevaricated: "just come from Rabbi Burns," said Noggs, "did you know that the Neanderthals are all converting to Judaism? – – seems that they were so impressed with Shmuel's beard that they felt an instant kinship – we're going to need a bigger synagogue, the Rabbi thinks he can get that place Crawford's have up where the road divides, used to be the Water Board but was originally a church, so it would be an appropriate restoration of use, to Place of Worship," and Kaplan chuckled: "and just a short walk from the Episcopal Church and the Catholics in High Cross Avenue? and not five minutes from the Parish Church, too, almost making a Holy Corner up there; all the town would be lacking then is a Mosque and a Mormon whatever they call theirs," and Noggs smiled: "but he also told me about the Sheriff dropping the case against Sir Parlane MacFarlane and Dominic Doubleday – of course, the evidence Isa Urquhart and Milly Millican have comes from 2037, when they found the bodies, or at least the DNA. . . . ." and Kaplan interjected: "so it can't be eligible, as it hasn't happened yet," and Noggs seemed reflective: "the fact that a brown envelope changed hands in the car park and was caught on camera by a particularly sleekit reporter may be, though – I think the Sheriff has had one of his Funny Turns and been ordered by his doctor to get some sea air, but I don't think the doc actually specified Uzbekistan, well, not for sea air anyway, but I do believe that Tashkent, or anywhere along The Golden Road to Samarkand, will have it's attractions – but talking of the bodies, did you know I was with them the night they disappeared? the old boys – Owd Bob, that's Robert Ruggles, Wee Eck, Alexander Armitage, and Fat Frank, Francis Abernethy, they called me Young Noggin, though it was only two and a half years ago, but I was young compared to them, they were all in their nineties; it was just a few days after Dod Broon, he didn't manage home to Gattonside and all the Polis found was some scuffed paintwork on the Swing Bridge and a button, the thinking was that he may have fallen over the railing into the river, which was in spate at the time, but no body was ever discovered downstream; the last I saw of the others was when they left The Ship to head to their homes – it was blowin a hoolie, snaw gustin in whenever the door opened, you couldn't see more than a foot or two ahead of you; there was no evidence of foul play, no evidence of anything, and they'd all been listed as mispers, until Isa and Milly, the older versions, appeared from the mountains and we learned that their bodies had been found, well, will be found, in 2037 and they found, will find, DNA linking MacFarlane and Doubleday to their murders – which was the start of the chain of events which brought you here, too, with Isa and Milly, MacFarlane and Doubleday; I had a call from you last night," and when Kaplan looked puzzled, Noggs continued: "the present day you, the one whose nearly twenty years younger, I don't suppose you remember what we talked about?" and Kaplan shrugged: "twenty years ago? in the middle of Trumpet-Trousers Impeachment? who knows? surprise me, why don'tcha," and Norman winked, said: "there's apparently very good odds being offered for anyone willing to hazard a bet on which way the Impeachment's going to go," and all Hyman said was: "oh, really?" when suddenly there was a crashing and banging in the main office and Hannah's cry of: "come get your Nosh before it gets cold!" raised both men to their feet instantly.
Meanwhile, in the Editorial Offices of The Melrose Monday Meshuggener - and let's not forget the other titles it incorporates: Newstead News, Gattonside Gossip, Tweedbank Village Voice, Darnick Daily Dairy (sic. the misprint is deliberate), Nitten World View, Bozzles Bitz, Bowden Bugle, Midlem Mainbrace, Boleside Whistle-Stop and The Abbotsford Ferryman - above the old Bank of Scotland premises in The Square, the scene may, at first glance, appear to be one of insatiable indolence - two of the admin staff form a tableau, facing each other across a chessboard, one having just played The Grasshopper's Gambit and both now deep in contemplation; Hyman Kaplan, Managing Editor in his Tatti Warbucks rig, complete with red braces and a yellow and red polka-dot bow-tie, is leaning out of the window, which overlooks The Square, having a languid conversation with the resident girl busker; Sadie Moskowitz and Rose Mitnick are knitting by the fireside and discussing advertising revenue; and in a corner the Sports Reporter is trying to find a puncture in her front tyre, having abandoned the rest of her bike at the foot of the stairs, which explains the basin of water precariously balanced on her knees (three hers firmly establishing the fact that this is an Equal Opportunities Enterprise - but no clarification on the chess players, so go make up your own mind on that one, already!); while somewhere a telephone is ringing softly, Handel's Water Music issues from a mobile under a pile of laundry, and from a desk drawer another begins to roar out Hava Nagila while a voice from below the window calls up to Kaplan: "when's the next issue, Bud?" and just as he's about to reply: "there's a clue in the name, but it may be too cryptic for you, schmuck!" when he recognises the voice, leans further out so he can see who it is, and his face is instantly wreathed in smiles: "Norman! Norman Noggs! come on up and give us your craic!"
"The guys," said Jasmine, "did you mean Stefan and Pavel?" and when she saw the flicker in Crystal's eye, knew she had hit the mark: "who are they?" asked Teri, and Jasmine snorted: "Sam and Tavish call them The Lamplighters, they do off the books stuff, you know, Dark Arts, they'll have the licenses and contracts that Ms Shann-Delyeer spoke about, they're the ones in the van with the drones!" but Teri had stopped listening again, she had sent a message to Ludmilla and the reply was almost instant: "yessss!" she said and then explained to the others: "it was when you mentioned The Lochlann slaying MacFarlane and Doubleday, back in The War of the Crown: he also slew The Red Etin of Ireland, who was their partner-in-crime – he had a castle, well, a fortress in what is now Berwickshire, Edin's Hall Broch, you can still see the base of it, but after the Battle of Glen Glum, though MacFarlane and Doubleday re-emerged in another Time and Place, the Red Etin crops up only rarely and I wondered if there was a possibility, though I didn't want to bruit it about without something to substantiate it, and I do think Ludmilla's confirmed it," and the others stared at her as if she was talking gobbledygook, and she laughed: "never thought of it before, but I asked her when he was first mentioned and she said it was shortly after that War finished, he just turned up and settled himself into the town, built a house and a practice and even became Provost a few years later, very much the respectable man of business, all very bourgeois. . . . ." and together, Jazz, Crystal and even Flora – who had seemed quite listless and had pulled a fichu around her shoulders – asked: "who?" at which Teri laughed, "sorry, I forgot to say, it was Martin Elginbrod, very likely originally Edwin the Red – because of his red hair – he was Irish, very Celtic, and Ludmilla tracked down a tapestry, in the Elgin museum, that depicts him standing against a setting sun, so he's given a heroic kind of halation, and is shown with a scar on his neck, which he told people was caused when he didn't duck quickly enough one time his horse bolted and he was struck by a low-hanging branch, said it nearly took his head off, ha ha, very droll, but I wonder if the Martin Elginbrod that our friends, The Justice League of Auld Reekie, are keeping under wraps has that self-same scar – worth finding out, eh?"
"I'm sorry to be froward," said Jasmine, "but as an Officer in the Scottish Secret Service, sworn to uphold the Constitution, I really cannot. . . . ." but Crystal already had her hand up, palm towards Jasmine, who was talking to it, for Crystal's face was not listening: "oh, you say that," she sounded war-weary and perhaps was offering an armistice, thought Teri, but no: "but I know for a fact that Sam and Tavish, your own Senior Officers, both killed MacFarlane and Doubleday – Tavish in Melrose Abbey in the 13th Century and Sam on the Eildons during the Roman Occupation, best part of two thousand years ago, and a couple of your friends too, Teri, in Milan at the end of the 15th Century, and some guy called The Lochlann way up in Glen Glum during the War of the Crown, according to Blind Harry, so don't come over all impermutable, guys," and Crystal looked from one face to the other: "you believe that those killings didn't work, because they were already in MacFarlane and Doubleday's past when they happened, ain't that so?" and when Teri and Jazz glanced at each other, she could have whooped, she was right, and confirmation came when Jasmine said: "as far as Ludmilla Lermontova can tell, the appearance here of MacFarlane and Doubleday is in their own Present, just as Today is ours; the problem about those previous incidents," she coughed slightly, as though ashamed at her euphemism, "seems to be that by the time they happened, it was already in their Past, and you can't actually kill someone in their own Past, only in their Present," and Crystal spread her hands out: "so this may be our only chance – and you guys have already been discussing it, am I right, or am I right, already?"
And, while they were munching fresh Bagels and Lox from the Pinkus & Minkus deli in the village and enjoying the sweet and sour sumac-spiced dressing, and Teri was telling Crystal and Flora that the three journalists from New York, who had also been passengers in the Eildon Hills transport – and, who, in fact had been instrumental in tracking them down on Prince Edward Island and possibly contributed to the routing error that moved the Mountains to Melrose - had just launched a new local paper, The Melrose Monday Meshuggener: "it's a satirical scandal sheet, a cross between Private Eye and The Onion and it's selling like hot latkes," said Teri, neglecting to mention that she had been appointed as a Sub-Editor, and Jasmine as Undercover Reporter, to infiltrate and expose dodgy landlords and employers, suspect political groups masquerading as Literary Societies, Church Domino Groups, and Campanologists, in reality Climate-Change Deniers like the artfully and teleologically named Duns Dummies and Doubters, or the Swinton Switherers, who base their anropogony for the Origins of our Species on a simple misunderstanding of the word Begat in the King James Bible, confusing it with Create and believing therefore that everyone created after Adam and Eve was a Robot; but despite knowing none of this, Crystal and Flora were enthusiastic, hoping that it would swing public opinion against Sir Parlane MacFarlane and Dominic Doubleday, clarify their manumission from Modern Slavery and win them moral support for their devilishly deadly designs!
Then Flora said: "you know what my Grandmammy Selma told Dr King?" and Crystal said: "no Honey, I never knew you had a Grandmammy named Selma," at which Flora laughed: "that weren't her name, she was from Selma, like my other Grandmammy was from Savannah, so that's what we called her; anyway, Ol' Selma met Dr King on the street in town, an' she shook his hand, with her worn-out eyes tracin' every pore an' wrinkle of his face, like scannin' the Moon for a landin' place, and Dr King put his arm aroun' her, like as if he was enfoldin' her in a cloak an' shuttin' out and trouncin' all the clamour an' shoutin' an' flash-bulbs poppin', an' underneath that cloak was just him an' her, an' he said: 'you got somethin' to tell me Ma’am?' an' she stared deep into his eyes an' saw that there was no trace of pique, or hatred or enmity there, only love for humanity, an' she pulled him closer an' she told him what she needed to tell him, what she'd woken up with that mornin', an aphorism that was fully formed when she opened her eyes an' was the reason why she'd come Downtown, knowin' he would be there, an' in the still an' absolute silence an' protection of that cloak, she whispered, 'Man, you Mission is to Free Everyone from Slavery: Black, Brown, White, Yellow, Red, every color of the Rainbow, cause Slavery Enslaves Everyone!' an' Dr King kissed her dry old cheek, an' squeezed her achin' hand, achin' after a lifetime of scrubbin' floors an' cookin' an' raisin' seven kids an' even more gran'chillun, an' he said: 'just as Jesus Christ carried His Cross, Ma’am, an' you've carried yours, I promise that I will carry mine, which is yours, until we reach the Promised Land, where no-one will have a Cross to Bear,' an' Ol' Selma whispered 'Bless You, Dr King,' an' the cloak went, an' Dr King went, an' Selma watched the crowd make it's way, an' felt like God had just spoken to her, through Dr King; d'you believe in God, Crystal?" and Crystal blushed to her roots at the abruptness of the question and shrugged, saying: "I believe in Bagels and Lox, and I know for a fact that we have both, so, time for lunch, guys?" and it was.
"Last Exit to Bonchester!" cried Crystal, the spinning tyres of her Jeep sending gravel flying as she roared towards the village, then braked hard, throwing her passengers round like rag dolls, before finally lurching to a stop outside the Old Manse, temporary home of the two Americans: "c'mon in, last one's a sissy!" and she ran down the short path and flung herself inside, already poring drinks before the others trooped in: "you know," she said to Jazz and Teri, handing them large measures of Laphroaig Single Malt, it felt like manumission when we emerged from The Cavern after the landing, and found ourselves here and no longer the sex slaves of that monster – somehow, our own mentalese had kept us psychologically intact, but if his plan had worked and we were still on Prince Edward Island, I think we would have cracked, don't you, Flora?" and Flora, carefully positioning herself on a large bean-bag, without spilling her drink, looked at Teri and Jasmine: "you have no idea. . . . .the only thing I had left, inside my head, were the lyrics of I Will Survive, but eventually, when you can see no way out, and death looks like the best, the only, alternative, if Crystal hadn't been there, I wouldn't be here now!" and Crystal pointed to a Mexican calavera skull, painted in hot, vibrant colours: "the Minister gave us that – she's a sweetie, she's in the New Manse, round the other side of the Church – and naturally we call it Parlane and it's going to be buried with him, or cremated, whatever we decide," and Flora hissed: "or put alive into a pit of quicklime, that's currently my favoured option," and Crystal said: "we are going to kill him, not just for ourselves, but all his other victims over hundreds of years, and we're not going to make it quick and painless, we could easily have shot him from where we met you, or even hit the cottage with a rocket from one of the drones – oh yeah, we have that capability – but there are probably other innocents in that house, the guys are monitoring it from the van and once they've identified everyone there and we know exactly who's who and can pinpoint them in the schematics of Mother Kelly's. . . . .what the fuck d'you make of that Ochan'toshan creep? don't he give you the willies?" and they all laughed, glad to release the tension which had been building since they first met.
Once out of sight from Bowden, the four women got to their feet and Teri and Jazz followed the Americans Indian file along a succession of sheep paths until at last they neared the old Bogle Burn road: "we're parked down there," said Crystal; "this is closed to cars!" protested Teri, but Crystal waved the comment away as academic and beneath her, "where there's a will there's a way," and leading them down the path between hedges towards where an old, presumably US Army surplus, Jeep was parked at the side of the road: "the advantage of that," said Crystal, pointing at it, "is we don't have to stick to roads," at which Teri bridled: "don't farmers have something to say about that?" she asked, indignant at the cavalier attitude, "what about the livestock?" and Crystal laughed: "hey, I'm a city girl, meat comes from the super-mart or deli, pre-cut, I probably wouldn't recognise a cow from a chow or a pig from an aardvark, but hey, I'm forgetting my manners," and she formally introduced herself and Flora, then before Jazz could reciprocate, said: "and you are Special Agent Jasmine Juniper-Green of the Scottish Secret Service and you," she hesitated for a beat, "are Theresa Somerville, I read you on QQ and Flora's got a stack of your articles on the Borders from the Library Service, we've done all the tourist stuff, but now that MacFarlane and Doubleday are back on the streets, our focus is gonna be on them!" and as they approached the Jeep, Jasmine asked: "how did you know they were at that cottage?" and Crystal laughed: "maybe I could espouse some superior psychic power we brought from the future, but truth to tell, we had a tip-off that the case might collapse, so were ready for them coming out of the Court House and put a drone up to find out where they'd go; we've got a couple more in a van so when one's running low, the guys bring it down and put another up," at which Teri and Jazz exchanged glances: "the guys? are they from the Consul-General?" asked Jasmine, but Crystal laughed again: "heck, no! everything's deniable, the drones are from the Czech Republic, commercial, for surveying and traffic monitoring and the guys are UK citizens, licensed, all kosher, working under contract for the SBC, even got the jump-suits; I don't think the Targets will be moving any time soon, but the guys will keep us in the loop, and they're streaming the video from the drone to us in real time – Flora and I just wanted to see them for ourselves and then you two happened along, you're both on our greeting list but this kinda happenstance encounter is a good sign, rather than making formal calls and arranging meets – oh, Jasmine, I sent Sam a message so he knows we've met you and you're probably coming back to our place, he's arranging for someone to pick up your car from Bowden Kirk, that okay? is he some kinda fatherkin to you? he sounds like he really cares – you better fasten your seat-belts, ladies, and hold onto your hats, this could be a bareknuckle ride!"
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