“The Gannet's particular bailiwick extends well into the hinterland, far offshore, rises up the way tae the top o' sky, and when he dives intae the sea fer a fish, he gauns stracht doon through the watters, a' the wey tae Hell, itsel!” said Father Finnegan, then he swallowed a gulp of Laphroaig, took a long drag on his cigarette, looked both Daphne and Maude straight in the eye – one of the advantages of being boss-eyed – laughed and said: “an' if you believe that auld amphigory, I'm the Priest for youse!”
Teri gave an involuntary shiver – it was more than 20 years since she'd last seen George Gill and she'd thought herself free of him and the memories but clearly not, for seeing his photograph in the paper had shaken her, and her initial reaction – not, go to the Police, but rather, have him killed – had shocked her, it was so visceral, so instinctive, so primal and it went against her whole nature, the 'civilised' woman she had grown into; yet it tapped into those deeper memories of herself, those of an innocent girl, a helpless victim, who had, by her own strength of character, repudiated that role, extradited herself from her prison and had grown into a strong and determined woman who was no longer 'beholden' to a dominant man, one whose only interest had been in subjugating and corrupting her very innocence for his own pleasures and, in the false beliefs that Gill had truly loved her, and that she truly needed him and his 'love' and was utterly dependent on him, she had rejected her own family and willingly become his plaything, his toy, kept in the place that had first seemed a pleasure palace to the young girl but later she saw it as Gill's atelier, his workshop, or sex-shop where he perfected his use of her to heighten his orgasms and it was only when she eventually realised that his 'love' was simply a means to conquer her, to use and abuse her simply for the sake of enjoying her body, quaffing at the fountain of her youth and controlling her will, that she had been able to develop her own sense of self-esteem, self-worth, and escape his clutches, but that had not been easy, had caused her great pain and fear, for she had come to believe that it was only by virtue of being 'his' that she had any identity at all, that she 'needed' him, while he never 'needed' her, only regarding her as an object, albeit one that he wanted to possess; that she had been reduced in value to that of a sex-doll, yes, not even a prostitute, who has own self-respect, for she merely hires out the use of her body, without ever conceding to her temporary tenant that power over her 'soul' which George Gill had stolen from the young Teri; so she understood why her response to the photograph had been so strong – George Gill had lost his right to own her, but otherwise he had been untouched by that loss, for he would simply have found someone else to use and for all she knew, he may have had other girls under his control while he had her, but she understood, from her own experience, that it would have been a simple matter for him to acquire other victims, to replace what had escaped from him and she knew in her heart that, by whatever means, George Gill had to be punished, whether that was by 'going public' and trusting the forces of Law and Justice, or by taking the matter entirely into her own hands, investigating Gill's life and trying to find other girls who had been similarly used by him and bringing retribution directly to him; oh she knew that would be the more satisfying course, and though no hoyden, she could summon up plenty of boisterous, roisterous, rumbustious behaviour when she wanted, and she wanted to avenge herself but she had to reconcile her own needs, with the needs of others, if she could find them, which was why she picked up the phone and dialled a number!
In her delight that she'd someone to love,
Poor little Teri could not foresee,
As she quaffed of the cup that that she held to her lips,
That she was only destined to be
George Gill's Bird in a Gilded Cage,
A beautiful sight for him to see.
But the predominant thought in her 'prisoned mind
In the midst of the twists of it's own melee,
Would be that of The Animals strident cry
Of the People who want and who strive to be Free,
The haplological hymn they would sing
From every branch of their blasted tree:
“We Gorra We Gorra Gerrout of this Place,
For it's not what it's cracked up to be!”
On putting out a Contract on Mr George McGill:
Not every peripety
Could be called serendipity,
For as you quaff your cold beer,
That batik tie you hold dear,
May spontaneously ignite;
And so, Vienna - Goodnight!
When Teri, with her chance espial of Mr George Gill's photograph in today's paper, among a group of Civic Dignitaries being welcomed at Holyrood by her cousin Ginger Goldfish, First Minister of Scotland, was thrown into a sudden consternation, the weft and weave constructing the fabric of her life snapped out like a sheet before the washerwoman pegs it up, and she reached a shaking hand for that medicinal concoction which was her only remedy when so fraught, gulped it down greedily, and slumped back on the bed, flayed raw be the memories that had come flooding back and threatened to drown her!
They stayed back, the Cave People, though not in censure, more because they did not understand the paroxysm of grief that swept Bear Woman in a birling swirl of emotion, where she knelt in the middle of the Cavern floor, beating her hands and head on the dirt, crying out, sounds which the people could never comprehend – a lament for the disappearance so soon after his sudden arrival of her Tammy's Mother Tabby's close friend and confidant, her incoherent cries, something like “a vish, a vish,” so much guff, tosh, bosh, bunkum and balderdash to their ears, though the best tracker noted that a man's body had lain there, compressed the dust briefly, though no footprints led to or from the spot; he noted all this, but kept his counsel for the time being – he would get hold of Bear Woman later, when she was alone, and tell her what he knew and find out what she would give him in return – his eye glittered as he watched her, and he smiled to himself!
And when he opened his eyes again, everything was askew and he didn't like it: gone was the vastness of the Universe and the Astral Plain, and he felt rather sick, as if he had come down with a bump and it had jolted him out of Limbo and into – what? he looked around – this isn't the Intensive Care Unit, he would swear that on a Bible, not even A&E, he craned his neck and looked around: a Cave! how can I be in a fucking Cave? now Tavish was not given to oaths, curses, profanities or any other form of swearing, so for him to use that word meant that this was a very, VERY serious situation indeed; he felt around with his hands and then looked at them, greyish dust and dirt, no sheets; he tried to look down at his body – he was naked, and lying on the floor of a large, rather lofty cave or cavern, with signs of moiling for something, not Gold or Silver, maybe Tin or Lead, oh Dammit, I'm no Geologist so why am I doing this? he also spotted stitching on his chest, above his left nipple, where two scars seemed to cross, as though making four flaps which could be folded back – of course, his heart; how can I have forgotten that? and he wondered how long it had been, he glanced at his wrist – no watch, but of course it would have been taken off for safety during the operation and it's probably in his locker – I'm in a bloody CAVE, you fool, there are no lockers, or even beds; I've no way of telling how many days might have passed, there aren't any windows; suddenly he bawled out: “nurse, nurse, I need a bedpan!” that usually brought them running, but nothing happened; okay, take it step by step and keep it calm, professional, and serious: I've had an operation, for the gunshot wound, probably pretty extensive, from what I remember hearing, certainly invasive, very expensive, and certainly ex delicto, they can bill Pherson for it – and he paused and shrugged his left shoulder as best he could, oh! a jolt of pain like electricity shot across his chest and he found himself short of breath for a few minutes – that's the exit wound, feels like a bit of damage to the shoulder-blade; right – no sudden moves, take it slow, smooth and easy: so far as I can see the chest wound is healing nicely, no dressing, probably, hopefully the same at the back, so a few weeks at my age, rather than days; but why am I here, naked on the floor of a cave, maybe it's a hallucination – from urine or kidney infection, maybe, MRSA? oh shit, I hope not – I can see my obituary: 'he survived an assassin's bullet only to suffer a lingering death from an infection picked up in the Hospital' – no, that's not funny, Tabby, Tabby! are you here? nurse! nurse! and then he heard the voice again, but was it inside his head, or outside his body – somewhere in this cave? but maybe the Cave is inside my Head – Bernie, Bernie, is that you? and like an echo it came back to him – “I'm here, here in the Cave, stay still, I'm coming over to you”; and soon, sure enough, Bernie Westwater, his daughter Tammy's partner, was kneeling beside him and stroking his head gently; “I'm glad you've come,” she said, “it's been quite lonely here, just me with them, they're not like us, I've got a feeling they might do things, things I wouldn't want to do, I don't know if that's true, but it's a feeling I've got, that, maybe, they might be cannibals, you know? they might eat people, maybe anyone who is too weak or unable to contribute, you know, pull their weight, dead wood, sort of, I'm not certain, but I do think so,” and he began to panic – she sounds mad, what have I landed in, maybe she's the Kathy Bates character in that Steven King thing, what was it? we watched it, where was it, there were a lot of people, Christ it's me who's going mad, and he could feel her touching him, see her wearing hairy things, why was she looking at him that way? was she measuring him for the pot, or for that thing they wrap you up in, a newspaper, like that stuff you eat, why is it getting darker, “someone's switched something off,” he said and the girl seemed to be making faces at him “don't leave me,” she said, “when you've just arrived,” and he could see her hands with the little wavy things that tried to catch him, but the rest was clouded, and he tried to hold her but he seemed to be falling and she was slipping away from him, and there wasn't a place anymore, and he couldn't feel anything anymore, and he couldn't hear anything anymore, and he couldn't see anything anymore and he wasn't sure if he was thinking anymore, and a little sliver like ice trickled through his brain and he said “it's not dementia, it's not, it's anomia, when you can't remember what things are called, I'm not senile, it's just that . . . . . I'm just . . . . . I'm just wondering . . . . . am I really here . . . . . or am I dead?”
By dint of his exhaustion - weary, wayworn and travel-sore, shot in the heart, his body drilled through by the bullet that had penetrated his chest and exited through his back, rising up-the-way as Glaswegians are prone to say - he regarded the pleonasm with such vilipend scorn, that it shrivelled and died almost before it reached his lips! and yet, and yet, seared by the bullet, though his body had all but shut down, and was now suspended in a muffled, sedated inanimaty, strangely, his mind was perfectly clear, his memory intact, and he was able to replay those few seconds when he realized – with a shocking clarity, which was what perhaps might prove to have cost him his life, for he had hesitated, even as he saw Pherson draw his pistol with his right hand, from the shoulder holster he always wore under his left arm, and simultaneously reach with his left hand for the emergency door handle – no hesitation there, he had chosen the seat deliberately and in the short time since boarding, had familiarised himself with the mechanics of taking hold, twisting and pushing for the door to slide back, which, now, without a glance to his left, was what his hand did, and at the same moment, Tavish saw his brother, right hand turning the gun directly towards him, and still he had hesitated, though he knew in his heart what would come, in his heart, yes, that was where the gun was aimed, and before he could react, he who always prided himself on his split-second reactions, but before he could, the door began to open, Pherson's finger tightened on the trigger, the door slid along the outside of the bus, the crack and flash of the bullet cap being struck and in the instant when the pistol bucked slightly, he saw the bullet travelling fast towards him, he slowed it down in his mind, he saw it spinning from the barrel's rifling, to him it looked anti-clockwise, so it was a clockwise grooving, German, he guessed, and as Pherson's body, so like his own, identically dressed as though deliberately, and then he realised that the conversation below the Hotel window had been staged, there probably – certainly – had been no listener on the pavement, it was all a monologue, learned, rehearsed and performed for his benefit, his and Tabby's, which meant they had been followed to Melrose, and he also realised that the car which his 'collapse' had caused to stop, was too conveniently heading down the High Street, at too slow a pace, the driver too experienced to skid or turn his front wheels away from Tavish, which would have been the normal response to seeing someone fall into one's path, the driver never argued with Tabby about taking the unconscious man to the Hospital, he should have known that you don't manhandled someone into the car, such pulling and shoving could kill them, but he obeyed as Tabby instructed, therefore it was just as Pherson had instructed him, and he overtook the bus just before it reached th Hospital bus stop; that spoke of forward planning, to enable Tavish and Tabby to board the bus, and Pherson knew that Tabby, the younger, fitter, more alert partner in their team, would climb to the Upper Deck, leaving Tavish to Pherson's mercies – Ha! - no mercy, this had all been carefully, intricately, deviously planned and carried out and now here he was, in a state of suspended animation, and, from what he heard of the Doctors' and Nurses' conversations, barely alive, a state that had not been intended, at least, for him and, if he did live, it would be by luck, certainly not by Pherson's judgement; the shot had quite clearly been intended to kill, not maim; and he had also heard that Tabby was lying alongside him, her throat slashed by a shard of window glass, just as Bernie's had been cut by a slashing knife, and he closed his inner eyes, he could not spend more time on this futile replaying and minutely analysing what had happened to him, he had to reach out to Tabby, for they still had a job to do: to find Tammy, wherever she had been taken, hopefully to find Bernie too, and two minds were always better than one, of that certainty he was not in two minds: so within his head, using the capacity of his mind to expand to fill the Universe, he called to Tabby and, distantly, somewhat as though she had her throat constricted – because of the slash, no doubt – which made no sense when working on the astral plane of the Mind, but it was probably a subconscious adaptation to what her body had suffered, a cognitive adjustment to mirror the external, bodily state, and she replied, with his name; and then, somewhere out in that vastness, an echo or a call, but from whence and from who, but it was insistent, as though it had been wandering through this universe for a long time and had almost forgotten how to speak and he knew, don't ask him how, but he knew, and don't ask him if it could possibly be, for he knew it for a certainty, that it was Bernie!
Tabby reached the pavement first, not surprisingly, as Tavish had misjudged his leap from the first floor window and had entangled himself in a pair of hanging baskets, brightly decked out in a profusion of colourful floral displays; “oh, Tavish,” sighed Tabby as she reached up for his swinging ankles and he released his grip on the swaying baskets and dropped to the pavement, his fall broken by Tabby's arms; “did you see them, Tabby?” he gasped, breathless already, “no, dear heart,” she conceded, “the bus-stop is just down the road and he must have seen it as it left the Square, so it was heading West, and most buses go by way of the BGH, but we have no car,” she reminded him,” and he acknowledged that they had no official authority to commandeer one, “ah,” said Tavish, as the plan unravelled in his mind, “there is still a way,” and he collapsed in the road, barely leaving an oncoming driver sufficient time to stop without running over him; the driver, ashen, climbed out of his car, “quick, darling,” she ordered, “help me get him in and take us to the Hospital, we don't have time to get an ambulance, or he's a goner!” and the driver did exactly as Tabby ordered him, for Tavish's plan was the best hope they had of minimaxing the situation; on the short drive, Tavish explained that when they reached the Hospital, Tabby was to dash for the bus and board it, keeping an eye and ear open for 'Oi' as Tavish had already code-named their Target, using his self-employed autonomasia, although it had been first coined by his 'employer'; meanwhile, Tavish would tumble through the main entrance, eyes and ears attuned to every sound or movement which would tell him if their target had already entered – but, as it was, they passed the Bus just before it reached the turning into the Hospital Drive and were both, therefore, ready to leap out as the car screeched to a stop outside A&E; the poor bemused driver was left scratching his head in wonder as the collapsed man made a complete and rapid recovery and, leaping from the car as a deer over a style, both he and Tabby reached the bus-stop as the doors opened; only a couple of elderly ladies disembarked, so both former spycatchers paid their fares to Galashiels – the destination shown on it's board, and began sizing up the passengers: first, Tavish focussed on the man in the cat-bird seat, right beside the emergency exit; Tabby, meanwhile, had climbed to the upper deck and so didn't see what happened below, but she heard the shout, the shot, the cry, the shrieking of the brakes, she felt the lurch, threw herself between the seats and held on tight as the bus swayed, tilted at an impossible angle and then, in the slowest of slow motions, crashed down on it's side, still travelling forward, and in the ensuing cacophony of metal on tarmac, screams of terror and pain, honking of car horns and shattering of glass which rained down on the passengers, she lost consciousness as one jagged splinter sliced her neck; on the lower deck, Tavish, who had been rooted to the spot at his recognition of the heavy-set, bearded, tweedy country gentleman who, as soon as their eyes locked, had realised he was cornered and had drawn his pistol and then, as his left hand unlocked the emergency exit and he launched himself from the moving bus, fired the shot with his right which took his twin brother high in the chest and panicked the driver, causing the bus to skid and topple over; neither Tabby nor Tavish was conscious when the Ambulance arrived just minutes later, called by the distressed Driver who, tearful and scared, believed himself responsible for the accident, until the full story began to emerge with the discovery that the heavy-set, bearded, tweedy country gentleman, who carried papers identifying him as an MI5 Operative (as did the small, pretty woman on the upper deck, whose neck had been sliced, dangerously close to her carotid artery) had suffered a single gunshot wound, which had nicked the upper, left chamber of his heart; but with them both unconscious and on their way to Intensive Care, and their friends still in the King's Arms quite unaware of what had happened, no-one remembered the other heavy-set, bearded, Tweedy passenger who had disappeared, until one of the motorists who had been just behind the bus, in his statement to the Police, mentioned him; and it was a full two hours later, that the incomparably diligent WPC Isa Urquhart, alerted by the Incident Notice naming Tavish and Tabby as having been injured, managed to obtain access to the Bus Company's CCTV and saw exactly what had happened – but even she still didn't know why!
The door opened and into the Dining Room came Tabby and Tavish, accompanied by Corky – they had all came down on the same early train and then by cab to the Hotel; Tabby looked gaunt and anxious and when Venetia rose and wrapped her arms round her, it was clear that the shared burden of recent events had drawn them even closer together than before; the pretty waitress quickly, with the assistance of some of Tavish's manly brute strength, pulled another table alongside that at which Daphne and Maude sat and in a twinkling it was one large table for six; she efficiently obtained their breakfast orders and sashayed along to the kitchen – which was when a voice floated up through the bay window from the High Street below - it was the voice of a man, apparently relating a story to a friend, though neither the speaker, nor the putative listener was visible - but something about the voice, it's galumphing tone, it's limpid mannerisms, called attention to it and the attention of all six of the people sitting round the corner table was focussed intently on the voice: “ 'Oi,' sez 'e, an' ow the 'ell wiz moi spose' ter'ken if 'e wiz adduressin moi be moi moniker, like if 'e thot 'Oi' wizza kinder antonomasia spercificarly applaid ter moi, or wizzit jerst a morpheme, like the littlerst bit e' coo'd use ter 'tract moi tension, 'n 'e sez yer cain't 'ardly splittem in twa, t'wid be a dichotomy ter sep'rate thon pair, Tabby'n'Tavish, abbut theyse foin spois anner's nane spoi liken auld spoi, 'n them's greybeard's the pair onnum, 'n Mon, armn't moi tellin yer, wen 'e shode up wi thon twa lassies in'is boot, spectin oi tae commod'ettem, wit-ta donnybrook 'twiz, atween 'is boyes 'n moi boyes, fists a'fleein 'n teeths spat oot, 'n blud spoilt all ower th' staireheid, till 'e greed tae me proice, 'n a monkey each fer moi lads, oov gorra see the quacks atter GBH for broke arums 'n legs 'n teeths traimpled inner muddy yaird, an' tha's me bus, Laddie, so tarrarranoo,” and Tabby and Tavish suddenly heaved into action, knocking over tables and chairs as they dived, he for the window, she through the door, and Daphne, Maude and Venetia sat, stunned, as did the other diners in the room, until the pretty waitress broke the tension by calling out: ”would anyone like a fill-up, coffee or tea?” and something akin to normal service was resumed; which was when Maude's mobile phone trilled and she was delighted to see it was a call from Teri: “Auntie Maude, darling,” croaked Teri, “I hope I'm not disturbing you,” which Maude assured Teri she was not, but expressed some concern, for Teri sounded far from her usual chirpy self, “oh, I'll be all right, sweetie, I'm just having to cope with new medication – it's helping with the pain, but disturbing my rhythms,” which rather worried Maude, for she knew that Teri's rhythms were important to her; and so Teri explained that she had closed her eyes for a moment, and when she opened them, just a bare moment later, the clocks had all jumped forward eight hours, it was very upsetting as she had missed her deadline, with her copy all proofed and ready to go just moments before she rested her eyes, “I feel as if I'm standing on the platform and the last train has just left the station!” and Maude tried to take some of Teri's distress away – for she really sounded quite upset: “can you ask that nice Miss Khayyam, on the editorial board? Roma? she perhaps could back-date your copy,” so Teri explained that Miss Khayyam was a martinet when it came to deadlines – or 'Dreadlines' as her Persian accent made it sound, “she has a little card on her door with a verse from one of her ancestors, Maude – I believe he founded the Caravan and Camping Club of Persia, and he's still called 'The Tentmaker' to this day (that's his autonomasia) and it illustrates the importance of being on time and she drums it into every contributor's head on 'Day Uno' as she calls it - 'the moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on, nor all thy piety nor wit, shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it,' she's quite a stickler and unimpressed by bribes or blandishments, and treats all her contributors equitably, so to us she is justly known as Justine, for her air of true Justice, though I know not if she is aware of that little term used only by her devoutly doting contributors” and Maude said - “my only suggestion, Teri, speaking as one for whom the bell has tolled many a time, is just one word, and I think you'll understand: Portmanteau,” and she could hear Teri clap her hands and thought to herself, she must have me on loudspeaker, I do hope none of her paramours are listening to this,” and Teri thanked Maude profusely and expressed the hope that she and Daphne were enjoying their time in The Borders; “never a dull moment,” replied Maude, somewhat enigmatically, and they ended their conversation on a mysterious note!
“Where did you get that dress? It's timeless!” hissed Daphne, to which Venetia flashed one of he Camera 1 smiles, teeth sparkling like white ice, and said simply, “darling, I made use of the soft furnishings, there was a cupboard full of curtains and duvet sets which matched them, I know it has a touch of the pochismo about it, and I hope I don't end up up with anything scorbutic, but needs must – I was always a dab hand at needlework in Miss Abercrombie's Year Three class, she must have been there in your day, she was about a hundred in my time, but don't worry, I'll put them all back together later,” and Maude clapped her hands and rocked with merriment, for she, too, had been a fine seamstress in Year Three and remembered the young Miss Abercrombie fondly and well, “did she not marry Mr Jedburgh then,” she asked, her eyes misting at the thought of that handsome fellow, tall and blonde and strong, with arms that could have so easily lifted petite Miss Abercrombie off her feet, “we used to imagine them walking down the aisle in St Giles, and going to Pittenweem for their Honeymoon, oh, we were a very romantic class, weren't we Daphne?” her eyes pooling with tears as she gazed on her darling, “hush, Maudie, we were foolish girls, with nothing to fill our heads but thoughts of Dresden Shepherdesses and Woodsmen, swinging their Choppers, do please hush now, we have pressing matters to discuss,” and Venetia was impressed with the masterly way Daphne could take command of a situation – for a mature woman she has great personal strength of character and a firm determination which is a rare and attractive trait, why, if I wasn't already committed to Corky, and she to Maude, I could quite easily see myself being swept off my feet by Daphne Dumbiedykes, mmmm, now that is something to think about! and, knowing something of Daphne's explorations in the wilder parts of the planet, and feeling that there would be no-one she'd rather have to hand if she ever tumbled into an alas, she felt a glow deep inside, which only the faintest smile, playing about her lips, hinted at, but which betokened a steely determination, that of one who always achieves whatever her heart is set upon.
When she woke this morning, from a troubled sleep, Venetia Vixen did not know where she was: the room was strange in the equinoctial half-light seeping through the pale curtains – the duvet was heavy on her aching body, the pillows sodden from the sweat of her fever; she reached for and found the bottle of water she had left on the bedside cabinet; she gulped, and remembered too late that she had filled it with gin, she began to cough, those hacking, racking coughs that she had had since she resumed smoking in the hours of anxious distress following her realisation that something was seriously wrong about Tammy's disappearance; and she then recalled the events of the previous day, her fortuitous encounter with Daphne and Maude – two women she barely knew, but who had held her safe when her near-hysteria weighed her down, paralysed her in her desperation that had no direction or purpose; she remembered having dinner with them in this hotel, getting drunk on just a little alcohol – it was years since she had taken any, since she had Signed The Pledge and renounced the 'Devil's Brew', and now she felt sick in body and mind, appalled with herself for so easily accepting the first drink offered her, then holding her glass forward for more, even before she had finished the first; and now the hang-over held her in it's sway; and the gin – she had no recollection of buying it, must have got it at the Hotel Bar – she had a vague memory of flirting with the Balebos, or it might just have been the Barman – why did she do these things, when she had no interest in men anyway, was it just a power trip, pick them up and drop them flat, it was cheap, and shoddy, sometimes she despised herself – wait! had she given her own name when she booked in, or another that would not be linked with her – had she been recognised, God, she hoped not – she had a reputation to keep up; she struggled out of bed and found the bathroom – knelt before the toilet and emptied her stomach, until there was nothing left, yet still she heaved, the acid searing her throat; once it all subsided, she still knelt, arms round the bowl, her forehead against it's cold rim; she reached for the handle and flushed her shame and remorse away – she had to shower, wash her hair, scrub away the smell which had oozed through her pores, before she could face anyone, most of all the two people she now considered two friends, those two women who had taken her into their bosoms and supported her when her legs refused to, who had listened to her incoherent ramblings; and she remembered Tammy and Bernie and she cried aloud for them: “where are you?” she demanded, and the walls threw her words back; there was an idea somewhere, half-formed, hiding in her aching brain, she had to find it, but first she had to eat, and even before that she had to dress – in the same clothes she had worn yesterday, not good! but she had no alternative; and she had to repair her face before she dare let anyone see it – she was not vain, as those who didn't know her might expect her to be, but she was a realist, and now, here in this hotel room – she couldn't remember the name of the hotel, until she saw it on a folder at the side of the dressing table on which her bag lay: The King's Arms, Melrose – she laughed, having never been in a King's arms before and with no desire to be so in her life; and that reminded her, so she scrabbled around, found her phone and called Corky – straight to voice-mail, and her throat still scratchy from retching, she said: “darling, I'm in Melrose, I bumped into two dear friends, you probably know them better than me, Daphne and Maude, I'm looking for Tammy, I've got a feeling she's near here, can you come down? take the train to Tweedbank and catch a bus, or a taxi, it's just a hop and skip to Melrose, you might even see Tabby and Tavish on the train, they're coming down too – we're all FRANTIC!” she began to bubble, so cut it short: “I'll wait her for you – please call back when you here this, Sweetie, I love you,” and cut the connection; now, she thought, time to face the breakfast table – toast and tea for me, I think; nothing involving the snickersnee of sharpened cutlery, there's been enough bloodshed already; and so Venetia Vixen, beloved of her dedicated viewers, completed her make-up and, while acknowledging that she would never put Gemma, her make-up artist, out of work, but accepting that in the circumstances and with her hands still shaking, it was passable – so long as there were no cameras around, she opened the door and took the stairs down into another day! and catching sight of her two, now Bosom, friends, she trilled her holophrasm catchphrase, shamelessly stolen from Francie and Josie, dear old Rikki and Jack, all gone before, for we are but mortal, yet her voice was clear and pure as she put on her public face and cried out: “Hullawrerr!”
And that was why, while Tammy slept – utterly exhausted after her escape attempt, and confused about whether The Man who had almost killed Bernie and then kidnapped her could be trusted, feeling herself gullible and worthless, guilty for allowing herself to believe The Man, lashing herself like a penitent with thoughts and words, and even her torn and ragged fingernails; while Venetia Vixen accompanied the essentially binary pairing of Daphne and Maude (whichever order one used for their names, they were forever conjoined, like ham and eggs, horse and carriage, Noddy and Big Ears, Mutt and Jeff) into Melrose, where they all booked rooms at The Kings Arms and waited there for Tabby and Tavish to arrive; and while the unblemished WPC Isa Urquhart enjoyed her meal in The East India Company restaurant as the guest of Carolina Moonbeam, witty and sparkling with many a mot juste, as the light, splintered into all the colours of the spectrum, danced in her eyes, and Isa wondered what the fascinating Professor of Forensic Science could have in mind as an after-dinner entertainment; and not forgetting Bernie – wherever in the Space/Time continuum she could possibly be and whether she was in any possible way contemporaneous – The Economic Migrant was doing the modern equivalent of the old Music Hall entertainment of setting up and keeping spinning 10 plates on ten poles by continuously dashing round and giving each an extra flick to maintain it's balance while the poles swayed and swung, which is to say that he, young Sayid, sat in his Bedroom/Command-and-Control-Centre in the cupboard under the stairs of the house in Drumchapel to which the whole family had come from Syria just a year ago, and played Minecraft on his Tablet while his main computer network hummed, occasionally beeped, and every now and then gave a buzz, which caused him to pick up one of his other tablets and do a quick scan of the latest update; he was pleased with the way things were going and had every expectation that he would have positive news for his two clients – The O'Hooligan Twins, and the intriguing WPC Isa Urquhart; Sayid was still too young to have established his own independent realisation of his sexual identity – it was hard enough being a Partick Thistle fan without thinking about all the permutations of sex and relationships and he was happy to leave all that stuff to some future time – although he had, of course, learned some things in the Playground, and others on the net, so he was not in the least bit surprised at what the versatile WPC got up to, and a quick glance at a screen which showed him an internal CCTV shot of The East India Company restaurant was enough to tell him that Isa would be going home tonight with Professor Moonbeam; although, as a twelve-year-old he had no experience to tell him what that would involve, whether physically or emotionally, for two women, he was pleased to see her happier than she had been for many months; she had gone through a pretty rapid revolving door with an assortment of casual encounters and affairs, but her pre-occupation with her present workload was taking it's toll on her love life and her emotional stability, and that, even a twelve-year-old boy could see, meant that she would be heading for a car-crash pretty soon – so Sayid, knowing what he did about both Isa and Carolina, felt that this could give both a degree of stability which had been missing for a long time; and over at the Danderhall Miners Welfare Club, he saw that Dixie and Bunty O'Hooligan were dancing to a Tony Christie Tribute Act, giving splendid renditions of the singer's new album of The Great Irish Songbook; Sayid didn't know enough about Ireland to appreciate all of the pathos and bathos contained within the lyrics, but his foot tapped to the rhythms coming through his headphones and he was glad to see the twins enjoying themselves, despite the worries about their missing cousin etched on their faces; and he scanned the tracking system which seemed to have homed in on a car that had left the Royal Infirmary just after the time that the twins' cousin Bernie's partner Tammy Shanter had gone missing – although the pictures were of some forty-eight or more hours ago, it was clear that the car was moving south into the Lammermuir Hills and down to the Borders – 'aha!' he thought to himself, 'the Fox may have the Rabbit, but the Poacher is on his trail and will run him to ground soon enough!' for Sayid had made use of a CIA face-recognition package and together with a British system developed independently at GCHQ, had created his own nothospecies hybrid which was easily ten times better than the others – having, after hours of patient work in between household chores, school-work and football practice, he had finally nabbed his Man – cross-checked that it was in fact the same person from the various sightings which his clients had been able to pass on to him, and locked his cross-hairs onto him: The Man was as good as tagged, although once he went off-grid to where there was no surveillance, Sayid would be totally dependent on satellite tracking, which was a tad slower than he'd have liked, but with any luck he should soon know where Miss Shanter is, and that might, hopefully, lead him to Miss Westwater; he sometimes wondered if the people he was seeking might have some sort of telepathic, sixth-sense, counter-intuitive but primal-instinct-sort-of sensation that he was close behind them; but then he shrugged and got back to his game which was a lot more structured than human beings, adults especially!
Sayid is a 12-year-old and he has a War Story – he is a Syrian boy who lives in a house in Drumchapel with his Father (Radwan), his Mother (Zeinah) and his five Sisters (Amina, Riham, Saben, Amira and Qamar); as the house has only three bedrooms, Father and Mother have one; the two eldest Sisters (Amina 16 and Riham 14) have one and the three younger Sisters (Saben 9, Amira 7, and Qamar 4) share the other; Sayid has a large cupboard under the stairs; Sayid's family were forced out of their home in the early days of the civil war in which opponents of the regime target people who they considered supporters of the Assad government – true, Sayid's father had a job, was paid by the government and lived with his family in a pleasant house: he was an orthopaedic surgeon, mending broken limbs and shattered bodies, in a State-run General Hospital, and just as Pol Pot in Cambodia targeted the intelligentsia, so the Rebels in Syria, caring nothing for the dedication Sayid's father brought to mending the lives of his fellow citizens, regardless of their religion or social status; perhaps he should only have treated Sunnis, perhaps he should have turned his back on the unfortunate patients of non-Sunni heritage; but he took his Hippocratic Oath seriously and treated his patients, young or old as he would wish his own family to be treated, by doctors and surgeons, nurses and technicians, who see only human beings in need of care and support, and who could save them; their house bombed, the hospital in which he worked destroyed, the family had no choice but to flee; some people they knew called Radwan 'Gizzardless' and his response was simply, “should I die and leave my wife and children to suffer alone?” the taunters usually turned their backs without answering; and with few resources, they somehow managed to make their way through the ashes of Syria, and abandoned the story of their lives and after many tribulations, and the loss of Sayid's four grandparents, found themselves in Scotland, and Radwan, being known at Glasgow's Sick Children's Hospital, where he had worked for three years early in his career, he found employment for his skills and work helped him avoid the post-traumatic enervation which so easily sucks the life out of survivors, that and their personal guilt at surviving what has crushed so many; the children quickly adapted and those of school age were enrolled in local Primary and Secondary Schools and, away from the Battle-field, blossomed; Sayid, particularly, discovered The Internet and took to it like a duck to water – it was as if he and it had been made for each other, and soon he was teaching his teachers; now a First Year pupil at Drumchapel High School, he has a sideline as The Economic Migrant, advising clients across Scotland on how best to exploit the opportunities of the internet and gain the most from it; he has hacked into Newspapers and Broadcasters, The Scottish Government, every Local Authority, Banks and other Financial Institutions; he is able to offer his clients an instant response and a 'no-fix, no-fee' guarantee which has them queueing up and always coming back for more; Teri uses his services to get deep background on everyone she meets and he has never let her down; his despatches he likes to call 'ferinstants', having rapidly absorbed the patois of his fellow pupils, with improvements of his own: in response to the question “are ye a Billy or a Dan or an Auld Tin Can” he does not reply that he is Syrian or a Muslim, he just waves his Jags Scarf and shrieks ecstatically “an Auld Tin Can” without for an instant thinking of it as a kenning, it is simply 'whit he kens'; for he supports Partick Thistle which Teri takes as an example of his integrity; researchers for The Scotsman, The Herald, The National, The Sunday Herald, The Daily Record, The Sunday Mail and The Sunday Post use him continually as a Fact Checker; Newsnight Scotland has him on a Retainer and his charges, after covering his costs, mainly for software updates or new hardware, usually are a Donation to a Charity Supporting Refugees from Warfare (anywhere in the World) and a case of Irn Bru and a gross of Mars Bars – he supports his local dentists in ways they may not wish to know about – none of his clients has ever seen him, or know where he is, indeed Teri is the only one who knows his age or the story of his family; contact with him is by encrypted e-mail, text, Twitter or – at a push – a call to one of his burner mobiles will always get results; he bounces everything around the world, using servers in every continent, and some of the satellites which accompany us through space; and all he wants for Christmas is a Jags Strip and new Fitba' Bits and Oor Wullie and Broons Books for his wee sisters for he has adopted this, his new Home's, more Child-Friendly Festivals, just like his Sikh, Hindu and Jewish pals – genuine integration is so easy for children, Teri reflected, typing these words – why do we, supposed Grown-ups, make it so difficult for ourselves? and this is Theresa Somerville ending her Thought for the Day, with “Goodnight, Children, Everywhere!”
And yes, it was indeed true, that that exemplary WPC Isa Urquhart had been very excited on being given the scrap of paper found by Venetia Vixen, the alluring and touchingly vulnerable upper-crust Doyenne of Daytime TV (I promise, that's the last time – I've already given enough clues to my daytime pastimes) with, not only a hint of an address which Isa was sure she would be able to identify, but also, on its reverse, the imprint of a heel – an imprint in which, in even Miss Vixen's untrained perusal, could be seen the edge of a 5p coin, firmly embedded in the vulcanised rubber with the tackets the owner had hammered in to give him that steady snare-drum rhythm as he walked his beat, or had, for Isa knew from conversations which had been cut off as she entered a room unexpectedly, or silences left trailing when she passed someone holding a telephone to their ear and uttering not a word while their eyes trailed Isa's shapely bottom around and out of earshot, that it could well be a former officer who wore that size 13 Standard Police Issue Beat Boot – or even a serving officer – hush do not voice the thought – who had retained his Boots when promoted to a senior role in Uniform, or even, oh God Forbid, to CID or even Higher; but the very hint of an idea was giddying and her mind gave a little capriole at the idea which, though doubtless held by many, was unmentioned by any; so Isa simply passed the scrap into the dainty hands of Professor Carolina Moonbeam, Head of the Forensic Science Department, just letting their fingertips touch and eyes lock for an instant and turned her own attentions back to her trawl of the City's CCTV; she realised that, with the Royal Infirmary being so close to it's Southern Boundary and the City Bypass, there was no need for anyone to suppose that the missing Bernie Westwater and her lover, Tammy Shanter, were still within the City's expanse, so she had begun to extend her search into the neighbouring Counties: East, Mid and West Lothian – former Mining Villages were scattered like snowdrops across the rolling landscape, with lots of disused mines and mineshafts offering a great number of possible hiding places – some even directly beneath houses: Isa herself, had been involved when a young couple, having just moved into a Council House in a former pit village, noticing a smell and calling in the Environmental Health Department of the Council, saw their floor boards lifted and an air-shaft exposed (it's cap having been partially moved, probably knocked by the workmen building the house, but lost to view as soon as the floorboards were laid across the joists – a dead dog, probably fallen while in search of rabbits, had somehow gained access, many years ago, as only its skeleton, complete with collar identifying it as Rover, remained; Isa went back to the records which, whenever re-organisation had been forced on ancient counties and burghs, became displaced and were housed in a giant warehouse in Midlothian; she knew that a task-force had been set to digitise these records, but it was a slow and painful exercise, particularly in a period of Austerity, when anything which did not earn money was frowned upon by Westminster, while anything which did make a return was quickly identified as ripe for Privatisation and sold to a hand-picked crony, just as Isa had learned by engaging Polish workers in conversation in one of the many Public Houses she frequented - when working 'Undercover' - was the case in their Homeland, where a corrupt Prime Minister and a Government which had adopted the most rapacious form of Timocracy, which makes a Virtue out of amassing fortunes, rather than that which extols Virtue as it's own reward, had been engaged in a rapid selling-off of the 'family silver' apart from the plum pieces he had kept for his own soon-to-be-enforced retirement, and when the extent of his graft was exposed by a young journalist who, for her pains, had 'committed suicide' by jumping from her high-rise balcony (the night before she was to give evidence before a Judge) – “well,” said the PM, “she must have had a guilty conscience after vilifying me in the Press, clearly deluded and deranged, it is very sad when a promising career is derailed and comes to an untimely end – we must pray for her soul, for her family, and for her colleagues, who, I am sure, will heed the lessons of this tragedy!” but, alas, she did not find that of which she sought, and it niggled at the back of her head, niggled and niggled and was fain to drive her crazy had it not been for one sudden brainwave: she dialled a number and was pleased, after only two rings, to hear a young, boyish voice: Isa explained what she was looking for, what she hoped to find, wondered if her listener would be able to help, was gratified when he agreed, confirmed that in addition to a donation to a Charity of his choice – and which Isa fully supported anyway – a case of Irn Bru and a gross of Mars Bars (he did have hungry weans to support in the ways to which they had become accustomed) he promised to get everything he found to her electronic dump by 8am tomorrow (when The Economic Migrant and his siblings would start their school day: Isa punched the air – she knew he would come through – but she didn't know that he had already begun the trawl for his other clients: The O'Hooligan Twins.
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