“All I found, when I checked her Flat, was a scrap torn from a sheet of headed paper, 'e Stables, Road, ig, 7' and I can't think what it means or what's happened to her – I feel as if my emotions have been prancing like a pony doing a capriole and I'm at my wits end,” and Venetia certainly looked it: gone was the gloss of her public persona as the Doyenne of Daytime TV, gone the vaguest shadow of her mascara, to reveal eyes, normally incandescent and radiant now glazed red and puffy from weeping tears of anguish and despair, gone the alabaster complexion replaced by mottled and tear-stained cheeks and lips, bitten and bloodied; so while Maude held Venetia in a loving embrace, felt the intense coctile heat of a fever and allowed her to cry herself a river, Daphne began, taking things quite gingerly and using only the gentlest of questions: “who is it my dear, who have you lost?” and between the sobs which still heaved her body, Venetia croaked: “my darling cousin, Bernie, Bernice Westwater – and her dear friend and partner, Tammy Shanter!” at which both Ladies gasped in horror – they had read brief snippets about the appalling attack on Miss Westwater in the Passenger Lift at Waverley Station but had not realised that she was the partner of their own niece, Tammy Shanter, only daughter of their cousin Tabby, the littlest of the Wild Bunch that terrorised Melrose and its environs those many years ago in the endless summers of childhood; Maude clasped Venetia closer, showered endearments upon her, and Daphne asked her to explain what had happened; and Venetia related what she was able to remember and had been able to piece together: “well, I got a text from Tammy last night, no the night before last, saying she was going to visit Bernie at The Royal and would call me when she got home, but she didn't and I tried calling her before I fell asleep and again in the morning, but only got her voice-mail – so I popped into the flat yesterday and there was no sign – her coat was gone and a pair of boots, and her phone and bag, otherwise everything seemed quite normal; I rang her mother, you know Tabby don't you? oh, of course, she's your cousin, isn't she? well, Tabby had no idea where Tammy could have gone, and then she called the Hospital and called me straight back – Bernie's gone too! she was in a coma and couldn't have left on her own – that nice WPC Isa Urquhart is checking the Hospital's security systems, CCTV and whatever, it seems the Officer who was supposed to be guarding my Bernie felt unwell and went to the bathroom, where he apparently passed out and split his head when he fell, they think his coffee had been drugged, so by the time he was found and someone checked on Bernie, she had disappeared – and then Tammy vanished too – they've seen pictures of her arriving at the Hospital, going to ITC and then going into a lift with a doctor or something, a man in a white coat, but there's no picture of his face, and that's the last of her – the camera in the lift was broken, is broken, I don't know when, but I gave that darling WPC Urquhart, she's so re-assuring and comforting, I'm sure she sets many a heart a flutter, she does mine anyway, I gave her that scrap, but I have a photo of it in my phone, oh – did I say – there was a heel-print on it, and Isa seemed to think it was quite significant – the print, I mean, she got quite excited about it, said it could be an important lead, I don't know what it means, part of an address I suppose but whose, or where – will the Police be able to trace it?” “no,” said Daphne, quite firmly, “I don't suppose so, there will be firewalls in place to prevent that, but Maude and I know where it is, or was, and so will Tabby, in fact she probably knows, better than any of us, what went on there and who would be involved; after all, she ran the place for five years!”
Among the shibboleths employed by those who work in the black arts of disinformation, circumlocution, double-speak, infiltration and double-cross, whose minds perform a capriole with the agility of an acrobat, are those by which they refer to their services (The Company, The Firm, The Agency, or The Job) and when Venetia Vixen, through her tears, sobbed a mumble which included The Stables, the ears of Daphne and Maude pricked up instantly, for that had a significance which was not lost on them!
Which, Dear Reader, was how it came to be that Daphne and Maude, idly whiling away the time, after the excitement of the journey which they had not experienced for so many a long day and night, from Waverley to Melrose, happened to leave them just two miles short of their former Summer playground, with its red-sandstone tumbles and pleasant walks, where they were once wont to pound a beat from their dear old Aunt Jessie's house in High Street to the Abbey, thence to the Swing Bridge, across the River to Gattonside and their Cousins the Davidovas, with some of them upstream to The Bottle Bridge (a corruption of Boatshiel, Daphne, ever the true scholar had informed them to a chorus of cat-calls and 'too-too bo-ring' until she conceded that the popular name was probably the better anyway – and so by a Hop, Skip and Jump to Lowood and their Aunt Nessie's for cakes and crumpets and collecting her brood of Goldfishes and the other Dumbiedykes, and from the nearby Farm they collected Tabby Shanter, spending the holiday with her old Granny Nan, the youngest but definitely the best fabricator of their band, for she could quell an irate Gamekeeper or gruff Farmer by such sincere lies as ever came from the mouths of babes and sucklings and got them out of more trouble than can be described here, though she was very wee and angelic in those days and so to Abbotsford where their Maxwell-Scott relations always had room in the kitchen for grubby knees and jammy faces, before the rabble of quondam savages, explorers and gangaboots, augmented by a Sassenach from this cottage and a Teuchter from that – for they were a very democratic and inclusive Wild Bunch, the only requirements for membership being unlimited capacities for Adventure, Soor Plooms and Irn Bru - climbed to Cauldshiels Loch, that fabled bottomless water into which a Knight had once strayed as his horse drank thirstily, until the sucking mud drew beast and heavily encumbered rider below never to be seen again, to the top of Cauldshiels Hill, down through Holy Well Farm and up onto Hare Hill, the littlest Eildon, the fourth of the famed Triple Peaks the conquering Romans called Trimontium, and they swarmed over South Hill, laboured up the side of Middle Hill, the highest, and streamed down to the shoulder and with never a break raced on up to the site of the Votadini Fort on North Eildon and if it was presently occupied by local kids there'd be a pitched battle, the City Bairns determined to winkle them out while they stoutly resisted all assaults until a Pax was agreed and sealed with Irn Bru, Jelly Babies and Gobstoppers and the survivors limped down into town and dispersed from the Square to their different diggings for their scrapes and cuts to be treated with Witch Hazel and Gentian Violet, their muds and other adherences washed off in steamy baths and their ravenous appetites assuaged buttered muffins washed down with Cocoa – oh, and now they sat within ample sight of the Triple Eildon, and but a short stroll from the babbling waters in whose coolness they did oft during those youthful Summers dip their toes – but did they now choose to revisit those former sunny days and steamy nights, or does maturity now require them to sit when they would then have dashed, to remember, when they would have acted without heed of consequences or the headaches of over-indulged physical cavorting – well, truth to tell, for that is our sworn duty, Reader, Darling, never to embellish that which is complete, never to dissimulate when veracity is our watchword, they chose merely a short quiet amble, no striding today, no strident voices or extravagant gestures, and thankfully so: for in that peaceful clime, on such a sun-kissed day, when all the merry throng had welcomed them and their Monarch and Her First Minister and departed hither and thither, when all the avid passengers had piled aboard the next train for the trip North to that Great City on The Forth, our two Heroines (well, the two whose names adorn our Title-Page, for we realise that our scope has widened and we have included in our tale many others fit also to be so regarded) Dear Daphne and Dearest Maudie, found themselves a quiet bench, just steps from the tinkling ripples of the Mighty Tweed, and sat awhile in uffish thought, until their joint reverie was broken by a gentle voice, whose owner wondered if it would not be disturbing them too much if she shared their bench for the nonce, as her bunions were killing her sumpn awfy and she fain would cool her burning trotters in the plentiful watters afore them; and considerate to the last, Daphne and Maude indicated their welcome to another Lady of Distinction, for had they not instantly recognised Venetia Vixen, doyenne of Daytime Television and thought, each to herself, 'wotta stoater', for the Broadcaster was indeed most lovely to behold in the light of day as under the brilliance of Studio Arcs, and with only the merest touch of make-up on her perfect, unblemished, alabaster skin, though her moderate tones of Morningside as oft-times broadcast, now rang with the tang of Bridgeton and proclaimed her Weegie Roots – but suddenly, she broke down, weeping on their ample bosoms from the strain of hiding her fears and anxieties and so found that in such caring companionship she was able to unburden herself to them!
And while Lizzie was giving her speech, preparatory to declaring the new Railway 'Open', Pip kept up a murmured monologue only audible to Ginger Goldfish, sitting beside him and, she presumed, intended therefore for Her Ears Only:
“She was only a Clock-Watcher's Daughter,
But she could easily Pullulate;
She was only a Bogatyr's Daughter,
But she knew all the best Steppes to take;
She was only a Haptic's Daughter,
But she was the best Manual Worker in Town;
She was only a Peterman's Daughter,
But you'd never ever Crack'erjack!”
Daphne and Maude were over the Moon – the day had been a complete success, it was lovely to spend some time with their old friend - well she was actually an Aunt, many times removed, but as they'd both known her all their lives, she was simply Lizzie to them; and heads together they'd gossiped of ships and sealing wax, cabbages and the merits of anchovy toast in the sick-room, and Maude's old favourite recipe for shank of mutton – cooked so slowly that the meat was just falling off the bone and dissolved on the tongue like butter – which she always roasted with a good Chianti, and Lizzie told them about her first meeting their delightful niece Ginger Goldfish, shortly after the General Election in May, when she became Scotland's First Minister, who had been at Waverley Station this morning, and boarded the train with them all and then they were off: oh, the journey was a delight – they all agreed that railways were the only way to travel with anything approaching comfort and time; Lizzie regretted her children and grand-children's liking for the 'Beam Me Up, Scotty' approach to travel: "they really want to simply step through a door and be at their destination and the time spent actually travelling is, for them, time wasted, while for us,” and she waved her hand expansively, including her Hubby, Pip, and the small group of close friends and the Ladies of the Coach, who always accompanied her “it is often the greatest pleasure – just as long as one doesn't encounter that Portcullis chappie and his camera crew; do you know,” and the three heads went together, conspiratorially, “one can't help feeling that anyone born abroad brings a certain – oh, what would the expression be – 'Spice' into one's life; you remember Gertrude, don't you, she was born in Calcutta,” “Kolkata, now,” “thank you, Pip dear, for reminding me of my old-fashioned ways, but it was Calcutta when she was born, and when you and I were young, Daphne,” and she paused, where was one up to, and then remembered, “she came back to Blighty at three months, never went abroad again, yet insisted on wearing saris ever after, and affecting Indian bracelets and hair clasps, and one of those little coloured dots between her eyebrows, said it was her birthright, and I know for a fact that her father came from Donegal and her mother's people were all Kentish, since 1066 and all that; well it's the same with that young crackerjack, Michael Portcullis, do you know he wears a different jacket every day when he's travelling – says it must be his Spanish blood, even though he was born in London, but he's also extremely haptic – rather too touchy-feely for me” - “perhaps it's the wine, possibly,” murmured Maude softly and then sat up: “we met an old Priest in Gullane, Father Finnegan, of The Church of Our Lady of Longformacus, and he tells us that his Cellar there houses the Papers of Griselda of Longformacus – do you perchance have anything in the Holyrood Palace Archives that might relate to the connections between Griselda and Sir Parlane MacFarlane, of whom rumours abound that he was in truth, forsooth, a Bogatyr from the Steppes of Russia?” - “well, more a Satyr from Auchendinny I'd heard,” returned Lizzie, “but just let me give you a note for young Bess, she keeps records on whatever's there – I believe she's a niece of yours, Bess Tillicoultry,” and both Maude and Daphne smiled, for they were very fond of 'young' Bess, who was 45 if she was a day, and Maude asked Lizzie, “do you remember that bit from Monty Python, when someone bursts into a room and says 'no-one ever expects The Spanish Inquisition!' it made me roll-up, you just never knew when it was coming, which sketch it would be, I've always liked that sort of thing, expecting the unexpected, and always being caught out when it comes!” at which point Lizzie gave Maude one of her quizzical looks, as if to express wonder at what nonsense was being spoken in her company, which was so often the case, when, with excellent timing, the Conductor announced that they would be arriving and indeed Terminating at Tweedbank Station in 60 seconds, “that sounds so Final,” said Lizzie, looking out of the window, as the ladies all prepared to disembark, for Lizzie and Ginger were to perform, on a Platform pullulating with folk of all ages, gathered together from hither and thither, the Opening Ceremony for the New (which is to say, Returned) famous first section of the fondly remembered and much mourned Waverley Line, now reborn as The Scottish Borders Railway!
“Where is she,” Tammy suddenly asked, aware that she sounded ratty, but not caring what The Man might do to her, desperately needing, as she was, to know that her Lover was safe; “your friend?” he stared into her frightened eyes, and she found herself disconcerted because of the Mask, and only nodded; “honestly,” he continued, in a slightly gentler voice, “I have no idea – I was as surprised as you when her bed was empty, she obviously couldn't have walked out on her own steam, when I saw her in the morning she was still in a coma and that frozen-faced Sister with the Croydon Facelift, or as I understand, you Edinbuggers call it The Gorgie Grip, and she said there was no change anticipated for the next 48 hours at least, though brain activity was surprisingly lively, as if she was having a particularly exciting dream, according to the Neurologist; “you've been to see her?” and she couldn't keep the surprise, astonishment, out of her voice – this Man must have nerves of steel and ice in his blood, “when?” and he kept eye contact with her; “every day, usually in the morning, when the shifts are changing, night staff going off-duty, people are tired, let their guard down, and they know me there anyway,” and Tammy felt faint, “are you really a Doctor?” she asked, feeling her whole world tilting slightly, because in her world, Doctors were meant to help people, not try to kill them; “no, I'm not a Doctor, and when I say they know me, I really mean they think they know me – if you look as though you belong, it just involves a modicum of play-acting, people accept you, especially in a hierarchical world like a Hospital, with so many different grades of staff milling about – from Domestics and Porters and Nursing Assistants, Student, Staff and Agency Nurses up to Charge Nurses and Consultants, and a new face that acts and sounds as if it's supposed to be there – especially if you look senior enough, is never challenged; a stethoscope, sometimes a white coat, but not necessarily, primarily an air of authority; it's just that I always know where I'm going and never have to ask for directions, the same as when I followed you yesterday,” he paused, and Tammy asked: “were you the man in front of me when I was walking? before I took a Taxi, but how did you know where I was going?” and she fancied he smiled, behind the smiling mask, he certainly sounded smug when he replied: “at first I didn't, but following someone from the front is an art – you should ask your mother sometime, she's good at it, much better than me,” and Tammy butted in: “you know my mother? does she know you?” but he shook his head, “if she did, I'd hardly be telling you any of this, would I, Tammy? that would be putting my head on the block,” and she realised that she had been trying to catch him out, not consciously, but in the same way that Tabby could trick information from her, “so do you have any idea where Bernie might be?” she realised that she was pleading, with this Man – the very one who had slashed her life with the same blade that had almost killed Bernie, might yet, she reminded herself; “no, Tammy, but I'm trying to draw in a few debts – someone must have seen where she went – the Police have taken the CCTV tapes from the Hospital and are checking them all, but that will take a bit of time – even for Isa Urquhart – especially as the key ones, from Intensive Care are missing;” and Tammy looked up sharply: “you've got them?” but she already knew the answer, “do they show her leaving?” and this time he turned away, before answering: “it's a time-lapse circuit, for some reason, I don't know whose idea, sheer stupidity, or cupidity probably, one of those situations where if you time it rightly – like catching all the green lights on a drive through the City – you can get out of the Unit without being picked up, and that's what's happened: it must be by design, no-one could be so lucky; which means that someone very familiar with the system must be in on it; WPC Urquhart, of the Blessed Body and Mind, is cross-checking all the Security Staff, and right up through their chain of command to the Senior Management, both in the Hospital and the Company who provide the hardware and the Personnel, and she'll see through any tommyrot they try to spin her, but I hope to get there first – I do have some clout – I'm sorry, a poor choice of word, in the circumstances;” and Tammy felt a mixture of anger, fear, desperate love for Bernie, but also a realisation that she (and Bernie) probably needed this Man more than any other at present; “please,” she whispered, “please find her for me,” and his hand on her shoulder was kind, rather than threatening, he patted her gently a few times and then withdrew it, as though afraid that it's size and strength might damage her, and she knew that he would try, and that, right now, he was their best chance, their last best hope, and she said: “I can’t forgive you for what you did before, but I'm begging you now to do the right thing for Bernie, you owe it to her,” and she could almost believe that, through the eye-holes in the mask, she saw a glistening in his own eyes, “thank you,” was all she said, and he simply nodded, and left her to her own thoughts – she didn't even hear the door being locked behind him, or his tread, heavy on the downward stairs.
“What is a Doryphore?” asked The Man, in what she thought a feeble attempt at levity to mollify her entrenched suspicion of him but, by the inappropriate use of that neoteric whimsy found most frequently in the cartoon pages of The Sunday Post he only showed himself up and, strangely, his vulnerability embarrassed Tammy on his behalf; but then she remembered how he had violated her trusting nature and attempted to murder her beloved Bernie and she blushed to her roots, as she glanced down at her own nakedness before this Brute who had kidnapped her, and Tammy noted immediately the very large Boots he wore, and when she took her first look at his face she was startled by the Guido Fawkes mask which hid his identity: that, surely, she thought, meant that he did not intend to kill her, for keeping his face from her eyes surely gave her some hope of survival from this ordeal; her hands and feet were raw, fingernails broken and bleeding, her shins and knees scraped from the rough rocks and boulders she had been climbing down, and she felt his eyes taking a masculine interest in her exposed body – but she had no choice, so, as quickly as she could, she descended the last few feet until her bare soles were planted on the scrubby grass and gravel; “turn around, “said the man, “and put your hands behind you” – Tammy obeyed and felt her thumbs pulled together with a cable-tie: “that's temporary,” said The Man, “let's get you inside and clean you up – I've got some fresh clothes for you, I see you've discarded the others, awkward clambering about in them I suppose,” and she nodded, wary of entering into conversation, being aware of the Stockholm Syndrome, by which hostages can become complicit with their captors through the experience of mutuality, oh, yes, she knew all about that from her mother, for Tabby had been involved in the debriefings afterwards, and had written about it for one of the psychology journals she contributed to – Tammy almost snorted – under her cover identity as a University Lecturer, well, she did give a few lectures and tutor a few students, but Tammy now knew that it was all simply a means of assessing possible future recruits to MI5 and even MI6 – what changes? she wondered – they still use the same practices that produced Philby, Burgess, MacLean, Blunt and the others, oh, but now there are various aptitude tests and psychological profiling – she knew all this not just from Tabby and Uncle Tavish, for she had done plenty of her own researches into the subject of what makes a good spy or spy-catcher, and one thing she had come to conclude was that, ugly though the truth might seem, the intelligence services actually demanded that their employees first loyalty was to The Service, rather than to The Government, for Governments change according to the whims of the electorate, while The Services continued, ostensibly serving the government of the day, in reality, themselves; but why was she bothering to let these thoughts occupy her mind? obviously just a distraction from the bleak reality of her present predicament, but The Man had shown her a bag in which she could see neatly folded clothes and was not surprised to find that they were her own, he had been in the flat, delving inside her wardrobe and drawers; she felt the anger rising inside her, but damped it down – now was not the time to risk antagonising him, so when he took her by the elbow and helped her walk with him around the great base of the ruins , she complied with an air of meekness, for she knew her survival, and perhaps Bernie's, depended on not antagonising him; they came to a wooden door and The Man used a key to unlock it and help her through into the ground floor of the Tower; he showed her through to a room, not unlike the one at the top where she had been shackled to the radiator, but he cut the cable tie with a Stanley knife and told her to put on some underwear, and that he would then clean and dress her wounds before she finished dressing; none of this took very long and so she was soon dressed, leaving outdoor clothes in the bag for later, according to him; “upstairs now,” he said, “but wait there and I'll take a photograph, just to show my employer that you are safe and well – I won't tell him about your rather dangerous escapade this morning, that would just annoy him and he's not someone you want to annoy,” so just at the bottom of the steps he took a photo of her, and then followed her as she climbed the 120 steps, not to the room she had been in before, but probably the one below – she couldn't be sure what floor this was because the constant spiralling and the similarity of all the doors they had passed had made it difficult for her to separate and retain the different pieces of information that she tried to hold in her mind; but this room; although it had only the one door – that which they entered by – it did have a small and barred window, and also a truckle bed, a table and two chairs, and a radiator: Tammy expected him to handcuff her to it, but instead he told her to sit on one of the chairs and, from the other bag he had carried over his shoulder, he produced a Thermos flask, several water bottles, and a set of plastic boxes containing food; suddenly she realised just how hungry she was, having no idea of when she had last eaten, and she fell on it like a wolf and devoured it, washing mouthfuls down with coffee from the flask; she realised that she was starting to feel better, stronger in herself, but was hesitant about asking The Man any questions, for she felt that he was possessed, not only of strength and power over her, but also of an internal conflict which could so easily be translated into rage and she felt certain that that was what Bernie had come up against in the lift at Waverley Station – his fury that he had allowed himself to be followed, and by an amateur, and in so doing had put himself at risk; she began to believe within herself that, while he was clearly a 'Bad' man, he was not necessarily an intentionally cruel murderer and she knew that her decision not to add to the anxiety he clearly carried within himself was the right course to take: oh he would be suspicious if she came over as anything but resentful at his treatment of her, but anything seeming to veer towards friendliness could so easily flick a switch and that was something she had to avoid to the best of her abilities; she was, she knew, walking a tightrope, but she would try to draw on everything she had learned from Tabby and Tavish to get her through the time ahead; and she wondered if she should dare to ask him but decided on a different game, by replying to the non-sequitur he had put to her earlier: “I should think you might use a doryphore mollifying an entrenched neoteric if such a concept were not a self-contradiction, don'tcha think?” and he gave a sudden, but entirely genuine, barking laugh – as one might who rarely laughs, and replied, “no, I seldom have the opportunity or the freedom – to think, that is.”
Which was how she learned her true predicament; she used the little ledge to stand on, so that she was able to pull herself up onto the little square roof of the room she had woken up in – here the battlements were just a foot high and she crouched, because she felt so vulnerable up here, so high and so exposed, and when she crept over to the side opposite the door she had come through, she realised that she was on the roof of a square Tower, including the balcony, which must form the stairway up from the ground. For below where she now lay, with her head peeping through from between two blocks of the battlement wall, she could make out doorways further down, for she was gazing into a huge empty space, the walls of which, mossy and damp, contained window spaces and other niches on each of what must be, she counted down, seven floors – and directly across from her another tower, but that one was round and did not match her own in any way except that it, too, rose above this vast, square vault; she noticed that round the top of the walls which formed the boundary of the main building, railings had been installed, presumably for safety at a time when the building was more intact and less desolate than it was now; but the doors into the small room in which she had been left – handcuffed to a radiator, and that radiator itself, were fairly new, which must mean a regular use of this tower; and she wondered how long she would have before the non-doctor Man returned to check on her, for he would surely realise that the drug will have worn of and he may bring some food and drink for her; she realised that he could come back at any moment, so if she s going to climb down to freedom, she would have to get going soon, for the longer she lay here and tried to work out some kind of understanding of what was going on, the more likely that he would come out looking for her, and if she was still here on the roof, he would easily drag her back inside; that sudden thought galvanised her into action and, after the briefest visual scan to see what would be the safest, if not the quickest, route for her to take – luckily it was rubble built, rather than dressed stone for the more part, and certainly no brickwork, so as far as she could make out there should be enough hand and foot holds if she took a kind of zigzag, crawling across as she descended, to the right for a bit, then to the left, and with nu further ado, she gingerly eased herself backwards into the void and began a slow descent; for the first part, she stayed within the walls, until she had gone down a couple of floors and noticed that – for a bit anyway, the next few looked smoother, more dressed, and offered less to hold onto – the outside, being coarser, would in all probability be safer, although she felt terribly exposed as she lowered herself down for the next stage; and so she went on, every couple of floors changing over from an outside to an inside route, and then back again; so far, she had heard nothing other than bird song in the woodland which lay on all sides, and the wind blowing into and past herself, particularly when she was on the outer side of the building; and then she heard it – distantly, and while she was on the exterior, with a large, blank, expanse beneath and to both sides – it was definitely a car, on the furthest side from where she was and presumably already coming along the driveway she had been unable to see; the noise grew louder, the sound magnified by the effect of the chamber, the large empty space enclosed by the four thick walls; but she did not allow it to panic her into making any rash, or dangerous moves – it was right now that she needed to be most careful, for her life depended entirely on herself, sticking to the safest and the quickest route she could discern; and she kept going; and suddenly the noise of the car's engine stopped; hush! she told herself, although the only sound that she could here, closer tan the birds and the trees, was her own shallow breathing; she had already dispensed at various stages with her outer garments, for they either restricted her movements, or had been torn and in some parts almost shredded; now, as she looked down, realising that she was nearer to the ground below than the distance she had come from the top, she could only hope that The Man, for it could be none other, she believed, would not climb directly to the room under the roof where he had chained and locked her in, and as she lowered herself nearer to her only escape route, she also removed her shoes, leaving them on the stone sill of a vacant window – she needed to be able to find and secure her toe-holds more quickly than ever, and she hoped against hope that he would not choose now to take a stroll around the Prison and spot her, still several floors above; down lower she went, going as directly as possible, feeling quite desperate and determined that she should not be caught – she knew him already to be quite capable of murder – his slashing of Bernie's throat was proof of that; for some reason he’d not killed her, but she assumed that he would be angry when he found her cell empty and that he would quickly discover that she had escaped over the rooftop, and so time was surely now of the essence, if she was to escape from here with her life and seek the sanctuary of the Police and tell them what she knew, or had worked out in her mind; no, she hadn't seen his face, but there probably were clues in what she had seen that would help the Police to find and catch him – but only if she escaped and reached safety alive – and then she heard the crunch and froze, and the voice when it came seemed to curdle her brain: “well, well, I never had you figured for such a hardline capability; I daresay your genesis should have alerted me - for though she may be an aged rosinante now, Tabby has taught you well and I guess if you had your druthers you'd still choose to be her daughter, but don't let me stop you now - so near the bottom – keep coming and then we'll decide what to do with you!”
And that, she discovered, was the easy bit; for she was in a small room, with no furniture, a tiny skylight too high for her to reach, and two solid wooden doors, one of which was locked and the other let her out onto a kind of balcony, with a stone balustrade on three sides and a wall to the roof of the room on the fourth; below her was a drop of – oh, she wasn't good at this, had no head for heights and felt weak still, after her ordeal so far – maybe fifty or sixty feet; she had a sudden flashback to kissing the Blarney Stone when she was very young and Tabby had taken her on a holiday to Ireland – probably a mission for MI5 she now thought – and she had ridden a shambling horse (named Rosinante, no less) through McGillicuddy's Reeks, while Tabby had a fine chestnut beast which she, incongruously, rode side-saddle; she figured from the stonework that it was similar to one of the old Border Towers, like the one she'd visited years ago in Darnick – smack in the middle of the village and still inhabited – but not this one – there was no other sign of habitation; no village, no nearby buildings of any kind; down below, down the sheer drop, there was a kind of gravelled area around the tower, as far as she could see, but any entrance driveway must be on the side she couldn't; there was grass extending for about fifty feet on all sides and then trees – some taller than the tower, which limited her view, and precluded her being seen from any roads that might be nearby; the place was hidden; she was no longer handcuffed, but she was still a prisoner, her hopes of escape scuppered almost before she'd begun; so she went back inside; there were no sounds within the building, beyond her own breathing – she examined the other door, the locked one; it was old and hard and sounded pretty thick when she banged on it with her fists – the sound echoed as though there was a stairwell beyond; her mind – trained to be methodical and orderly was checking off a list of her possible moves: nothing to wedge the door shut, nor to force it open; no way down from the ledge outside, for she was no mountain climber and knew her arms would never support her in any attempted descent, for which there were no obvious hand or finger holds – no windows either, on the three sides she could see; so probably the only way would be up and over the roof, to reach the other side – the windows must be on that further wall, so that might, no, would, be her only chance – even if it came to using her clothes, tied together, as a rope for the first stage of the descent; she went back outside – okay, I'm scared at the prospect, but it's my only hope of getting away from The Man who brought me here, and I believe he was the one who tried to kill Bernie, so I can only expect him to be prepared to kill me; it's a 'no brainer, - up and over, it's what I have to do!!
Later, oh, much, much later, when she was able to tell pretty WPC Isa Urquhart what had happened,
Tammy really didn't feel that she was making much sense: she remembered coming out of the room, wondering where the Police Guard had gone, probably with Bernie to radiology, and in the lift with the kind Doctor, for that was how she thought of him, she had noticed only that his feet were very big – well, his boots anyway – and his fingernails were bitten and grubby – quite the obverse of what she would have expected for a Consultant, which she assumed he was, as he was a good bit older than most of the staff she had seen; but, she admitted, she hadn't seen which button the Doctor had pressed and it was only when they stepped out into what looked like a basement, full of stores and equipment that she had turned to the Doctor and that was when he clamped one hand over her moth and she felt a needle go into her neck, and she remembered wondering if she would end up with a necklace of stitches like Bernie's and then nothing, just blackness and the sense of floating, unsupported, and feeling very peaceful and at one with herself; for how long? Well, how long is a piece of string? She had no idea, until she began to wake, feeling extremely groggy and nauseous, as tired and worn-out as Don Quixote's poor old nag, Rosinante, presumably from the drug, and became aware that she was sitting on a floor, handcuffed to a radiator – which was cold, she noted, though what good that was she didn't know, though she felt she had to try to remember everything that happened which might be useful for the Police – if, that is, she survived, which, she realised, wasn't at all a foregone conclusion, aware, as she was, that, being in the hands of, quite probably, the person, that Doctor, who she supposed, simply because, as she now remembered it, he had something, though she could net, in all honesty, be certain, it was just a likelihood, at which, not unnaturally, a dark veil seemed to descend over her as, she realised, she had used, or permitted to be used, far too many, gosh, loads more than, even she, being a frequent user of them, had ever employed, commas, in this one, but a long one, sub-section, of a single, yes, it was still only one, sentence, by far the greatest, so far, in her writing career, that she had ever, thus, employed, and she laughed, a bitter laugh, full of remorse and regrets, yes, but also of, which she supposed, betokened her humanity, that essence of humility which, so she said, Bernie, her darling, her sweetheart, the one true love of her life with whom she felt none of the rivalrous competition she had often felt in previous relationships, had said, more than once, indeed many times, that she adored about her, Tammy Shanter, Spy's daughter, oh, correction, Spies' daughter, and she winced as the cuffs, tightened by her subconscious struggles, had bitten, rather deeply, into her slim wrists, and she broke down, wondering what her Mother, Tabby, would do if she were here, instead of Tammy; which was when she remembered Uncle Tavish, he could never be thought of as Dad, once teaching her how to escape from handcuffs, through a dexterous manipulation of her thumbs and, as she was so very petite, he said, it would be a Doddle, and he was right, it was, it went quite swimmingly and, With One Bound, She Was Free!!!
And as Tammy hurried along in the direction of the Hospital, she pondered – though not normally given to reflection, perhaps as a contrast to her mother, Tabby, who seemed to spend all her time reflecting on just about everything – turning and twisting every little incident or utterance in order to examine it from all angles and even, through her magnifying glass, endeavouring to elicit as much information on it's provenance as could possibly be found; Tammy knew that her mother was not a 'spy' - or at least, believed she did – but what was the real difference between a spy and a spy-catcher? for they both occupied the same shadowy world and were learned in the same arcane languages and behaviours; it seemed to Tammy that it was simply that they each sat on opposite sides of a fence – the spy, outside, trying to get in, like a fox after the chickens, while the spy-catcher was the last form of protection after the fence had been breached; but what if the spy was one of the chickens, born and raised inside the fenced-off farm, having all the same cultural references as the spy-catcher; how could such a one be identified and outwitted? her head swam with the intricacies of this Chinese Puzzle – for, despite her antipathy to too much self-reflection, she could also see, quite plainly, that the spy within might be working – not for the fox outside, but for the betterment of her fellow chickens; to save them from the destruction intended by The Farmer; oh, why was life so difficult, she wailed internally, knowing that this conundrum was precisely why she disdained the reflective nature of her mother, had felt set-apart from other children her own age – never able to take them home for tea or to meet her Mum and be subjected to a barrage about their parents, their uncles and aunts, their jobs and their political affiliations – preferred the mundane, the ordered, the dependable, why she had become a Librarian – studied at Strathclyde University, then worked in University Libraries before coming to The Scotsman, where her responsibilities included the Research Section and where she found that some of her mother's blood had destined her to develop an innate knack for developing exposés which had led to her work on 'The Stone of Scone Heist' and her rapid promotion, under the rather lascivious eye of Sorcha Macaliskey and why she was right now hurrying as fast as her little legs could carry her, on and on, towards the hospital where her True Love, Bernie Westwater, lay a-bleeding; she caught sight of a figure ahead of her – heading with an even tread in the same direction and, despite herself, could not help but follow the stranger, for every turn he – it was a man – took, was that which she also would take; Tammy wished she had taken a bus, it would have been much quicker but, despite her eagerness, she had felt that she needed time to compose herself, to prepare for sitting beside Bernie's bed in the ITU, with all it's monitors and tubes and cables - some of which were to maintain Bernie's life with ersatz bodily fluids and matched blood, others to trace or track it; the man was still ahead of her, his pace never seemed to vary but, when Tammy was delayed in crossing a road because the lights had changed after the man, there he was, still the same distance ahead of her; clearly he wasn't following her, so was she beginning to develop some of the paranoia that had always been her mother's companion – the glances out of a window, under her car, the care she took in entering or re-entering an empty house – even after a five minute walk to get her morning paper; Tammy supposed constant exposure to her mother's behaviour – even before she ever knew that Tabby worked for MI5 and certainly before she had known that Uncle Tavish, as she'd always known Dalwhinnie – she felt cheated, betrayed by her mother, by the puckish lothario now revealed as her father, and the only true person in her life clung on by a tenuous thread, she needed to be by Bernie's bedside and she waved down a passing taxi, instructing the driver to hurry to The Royal, just a short distance now by car; she had forgotten about the man who had walked ahead of her and didn't see him hail and board another cab, giving the same destination as Tammy; nor did she notice him disembarking just behind her – though he took a different entrance, for he was familiar with the building and knew shortcuts of which most visitors were oblivious, as a result, by the time Tammy reached ITU, the man – wearing a white coat now, and with a stethoscope around his neck, was almost as invisible as the rest of the staff – doctors, nurses, technicians, mingling with the distraught visitors always found there, so when she entered Bernie's room, with her full name – Bernice Westwater, written on the whiteboard above her bed, with a printed 'Nil By Mouth' notice beneath it, she paid scant attention to the figure in the corner, writing notes and checking various sheets on a clipboard – for it was the bed she looked at, blinked, shook her head, and looked again: empty; “where is she,” she asked the room, and the man turned, said that she's been taken for a scan and it didn't register with Tammy, that with patients in Bernie's condition, the bed, doubling as a trolley, would have taken her to Radiology, for by this time the man was at her side, one arm solicitously around her shoulders, and saying softly that he would take her along there, and, obediently, she did as he said without demur and went with him – but not to Radiology!
Tammy Shanter was beside herself – the attempted murder of her friend, her dulcinea, companion and lover, Bernie Westwater had plunged her into a spiral of despair and it had only been through a great exertion of willpower and the encouragement of her mother, Tabby, that she had managed to complete her work on 'The Stone of Scone Heist' which she hoped and prayed would prove to her colleagues on The Scotsman that it was on merit that she had been promoted to Chief Investigating Reporter, over several more qualified heads than her own, and not just because The Editor, Sorcha Macaliskey fancied the pants off her – it was no secret that Ms Macaliskey had used the 'casting couch' to great personal benefit in her own rapid rise through the ranks and had made it transparently clear that she intended to allow others to reap similar rewards (but not that she was restricting such advancements to pretty girls, like Tammy – for Ms Macaliskey was well-known for swinging both ways, and her own stable of young stallions was testament to her broad-mindedness: neither gender nor orientation, race nor colour, creed nor religion would ever be a bar while she occupied The Editor's Chair; her personal enthusiasms and stamina could be perceived in the sign which hung, bold and brassy, on her office door: Tantra in the Morning, Tantra in the Evening, Tantra at Suppertime, it was her personal mantra and she expected all of her underlings to bring the same zest for life into their work – as she famously said during the Press Strike of 1984: “If you can't be upstanding under fire, there's no room for you in my Bed,” and though some interpreted this in a specifically sexual context, others have pointed out – most recently David Sparky, her biographer, in his long Analysis piece in The Observer: 'it must be remembered that in The Print, meaning all the trades whose primary function is the writing, printing and publishing of Newspapers, the 'Bed', always and only referred to that part of a printing press which held the metal type from which the text would be printed, and Ms Macaliskey is a Print Journalist to her short and curlies and don't let her ample femininity fool you – she has the nose of a foodie for news and the stories of today and tomorrow, and she has Balls of Steel,' and he would know, having been an on/off lover of hers for some 30 years; and now, seemingly at her own instigation, a thunderbolt had been unleashed, a veritable huwasi that raged around and inside Tammy's pretty head, and it's ramifications fell much further and wider than she had ever foreseen: when she looked out of the window of the bedroom she had shared with Bernie for the past three years, she did not recognise the cityscape which stretched before her – it was instead a Fata Morgana: like some fabled Babylonian City of Spires and Minarets, Hanging Gardens and Crenellated Towers, a Xanadu, a mirage so real and detailed that she could even count the coloured panes in a window on the far side of the Pleasure Gardens below, and at another window, she saw the individual hairs in the sweeping crimson locks of a courtesan, brushing and brushing them for her next visitor – she missed Bernie and wept bitter tears; she would go at once to the Hospital and whisper of her woes into Bernie's ear, for the Consultant had advised her that even in the deepest of comas, the sense of hearing could still convey the sounds of outside to the slumbering brain; yes, she would go now, and she jumped to her feet, glad to find some motivation some purpose other than her miserable self-pity; but she was in for a big surprise, or rather, quite a shock!
That morning, yes, that very next morning, after the excitement of the Quiz Night at The City Bar and the resulting shaming of Tavish Dalwhinnie – what a foolish man to fail so transparently to cover his tracks and so bring the wrath of the entire Scottish Establishment down upon his head, resulting in full centre-spreads on the scandal in every Red Top and in-depth analysis, with biographical details which he would far rather have kept cloaked in mystery – including the disclosure that, along with Jock George now Lord Justice Linkumdoddie, to whom he was something of a Sancho – after Don Quixote's companion, for in appearance they resembled Cervantes' famous creations even to this day: Jock, tall, thin, Ascetic, while Tavish is small, tubby, a true Hedonist – he (under the code-name Ogdoad, perhaps because in his build he rather resembled the figure 8) had been one of the two, hitherto unidentified, drivers of the white van used in the 'Stone of Scone Heist' (everyone having by now adopted Tammy Shanter's nomenclature (and The Scotsman having successfully fought off a hostile attempt by Martin Elginbrod QC to backdate a registration of that wording in order to claim Copyright for himself and make a fortune out of poor Tavish's disgrace), but perhaps the most unlikely item to come out of it all, and one initially appearing only in The Weekly News, sister paper of The Sunday Post, then picked up by My Weekly – giving a more romanticised impressionist portrayal of Tavish as something of a Jacobite Hero, a modern version of Allan Breck Stewart, including a knitting pattern for the Cardigan, or Sleeveless Woolly, which is regarded as his sartorial hallmark – and then in The Sunday Post itself, where, contiguous to an article on the 'Benefits of Cauliflower in the Diet', was found the exposure of Dalwhinnie as an MI5 officer almost since starting at University and making public his close and hitherto well kept secret life as the lover of Tabby Shanter, an Extra-Mural Lecturer at Edinburgh University, his long-time MI5 Case Officer, and the father of her daughter, Miss Tammy Shanter herself, the former Librarian at The Scotsman and now Chief Investigating Reporter who. in her dishing the dirt on Tavish, seems to have been unaware that he was in fact her Daddy - but to get back to that morning, the glowing WPC Isa Urquhart strolled into The Grassmarket and Cowgate Community Policing Hub and casually chucked a copy of The Edinburgh and Leith Police Gazette onto DI Brevity's desk, almost causing him to upset his morning coffee, brewed specially for him by his wife, Sergeant Goldy Brevity, using Krakatoa Beans, his all-time favourite for the strongest wake-up morning cuppa – “look at page 3, Guv,” said the irreverent WPC, struggling to contain her excitement; Brevity moved his coffee mug out of harm's way and opened The Gazette, wondering what could be so interesting on page 3, normally the location of freakish 'Mug Shots' with details of the offences perpetrated by the possessors of those Mugs; and found himself looking at the back of an ear, protruding into the photograph of a couple of Police Cadets receiving commendations for their good work in fostering Community Relations by building a Maze, from junk and cast-away rubbish, in conjunction with a Youth Club in Danderhall; the photograph showed the two baby-faced constables grinning inanely in the direction of whoever the ear belonged to; but Brevity could not understand Isa's evident glee, until she said that Imelda, her latest squeeze, and so far the only witness, had identified the ear as belonging to the person who had tried to murder Bernie Westwater in the passenger lift at Waverley Station – a fluke co-incidence, for she had by the merest chance, just happened to have been in Isa's flat, asking about dog licences, had felt faint and been laid down on Isa's bed to recover, and on rolling over, spotted an old copy of The Gazette tucked away under a rolled-up carpet beneath Isa's bed and shouted out, for Isa, who was having a shower, “it's him!”
And that was when the other idea, so quixotically, fantastically, impossibly idiotic – the one that had zipped through her mind and been quickly scoffed at and ignominiously kicked into touch – resurrected itself: this could be The Future, that's more likely, and she remembered Woody Allen's Sleeper; might she have been cryogenically frozen and stored for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years (stick as many ampersands between the zeroes as you like, her mind couldn't compute anything), only to wake up now, completely disorientated and lacking any memory of the injury which had probably been the reason for putting her into a medically induced coma; anything could have happened while she slept and that would explain why everything looks the same, only different, because it is the same, only different – the buildings and bridges and roads have gone, succumbed to natural forces of weather and decay, maybe accelerated by some kind of disaster, something cataclysmic which is why the people who are here have no technology and are reduced to ancient ways of living; this made much more sense to her than being jerked back into the past and passing through some interstice caused by folds in the weft of the space/time continuum– no, now she thought about it, her new idea made much more sense; she had read somewhere that Time Travel (Forwards) is what we do all the time, and it can seem quickened by sleep, a coma, or cryogenic stasis; yes, she was certain, it explained everything neatly, but also caused her a bitter wave of grief, a fucking tsunami, for all her friends would be long gone and forgotten, and she turned to Emm who was still at her side, and she threw herself into Emm's arms, weeping and sobbing as all the confusion of recent events poured out of her and she broke down, with an afebrile convulsion - simply unable to cope on any level with what had been forced upon her: mentally, emotionally and physically, and her wail echoed around the valley, and Emm held her tight and safe and whispered in her ear, “all will be well, all will be well.”
Where had they come from – those memories of her Mother, when she was a Tableau Vivant Star at The Windmill Theatre during the War – oh my, she had the longest legs Bernie (as she was then) had ever seen, strong and shapely and they carried her elegance when she moved, like a ballerina and was renowned for her ability to stand, still as a statue in some Attic scene sculpted by Phidias – it must be the shock, all of the many shocks which had beleaguered her since waking in the cavern: and she was still trying to piece together the puzzle; but the view from the hillside had really thrown her mind into a turmoil; is this cognitive dissonance, she wondered when you know how something is but the information your senses provide – in this case, her eyes – is at odds with what you already know; and she looked at the detail: the trees were different - though no botanist, she couldn't really tell if the species were the same or not, they just looked different; she could see the sweep of the river, and the lie of the land on either side, without the three bridges at Leaderfoot; and the whole panorama – there's Black Hill over there, to the right, and Gala Hill to the left, and she looked up towards the top of the hill she stood on, but it was difficult to be absolutely sure, so – followed closely by Emm (who seemed to have taken on the role of Bear's Minder) who held her right hand and kept in step with her – she made her way to the left, and gradually traversed the hill until, yes, confirmation: the Middle Eildon stood high and mighty, the largest of the three hills which the Romans would later name Trimontium and build their huge Camp to the North, between the hills and the River Tweed – as it would be named at some future time; why here, and how was it possible, Bear racked her brains and looked down towards the sparkling water, just glimpsed between trees, with no town and Abbey of Melrose on the nearer South bank, no village of Gattonside on the North, no Suspension Bridge yet, to link the two; and to the North West, no white houses at Langlee to mark the start of Galashiels; the same, only different – was she in some kind of pseudo pre-historic version of The Truman Show, was that possible – how else could such a people and place exist, so real, so perfect, so impossible; she had come here first as a child, a family outing with the O'Hooligans and Ogilvys, when the adults and the smaller children made a sweeping ascent by the path, to the shoulder between the two larger hills, while the bigger kids, Bernie (as she was then, and until today), Bunty, Dixie, Angus and the others, took the direct route from the town centre: out to the west by the Cemetery, then straight up the North Hill, which after the initially gentle slope, steepened and, though they were only climbing a mixture of grass and broom, yellow with flowers already, and trying to avoid nettles and thistles which the sheep who grazed here then hadn't reached yet, becoming almost vertical, was mostly a job for both feet and hands, climbing and pulling till they all emerged on the flattened top which had once been (or was yet to be) a fort of the Votadini (is that who I'm with, she wondered, or do they come later, why did I never pay attention to the stories and tales and legends when I was a kid, why did I think it was just a load of old stuff and nothing to do with me, what a fool) and later a Roman Signal Station, part of the relay system which had ploughed straight ahead from The Wall, over what would become The Cheviots, and like an arrow from there to here and then beyond to the Forth; Bear sat down and put her head in her hands, with Emm sitting beside her and still clasping her right; she could feel the heat of the Sun beating down on her head and shoulders, uncovered as they were; she could feel the Westerly breeze bringing with it a smattering of fluffy white clouds which presaged a change in the weather – there, see, on the farthest Western horizon, the dark smudge, barely a murmur in the distance, but it would come sweeping towards them, bringing stormy weather, and her chest tightened already, for he astraphobia always overcame her, smiting her down with migraine and a need to curl into a ball in the darkest place she could find; her mind reeled in the now-turbid air, while her senses kept up a constant barrage of information, all to the effect that this was, is, REAL and not a dream or an hallucination and she'd better get used to it – forget any help from her missing mobile, from her family and friends, if they even missed her yet, or the police, for none of them would know where to start looking, she couldn't even remember herself what she had been doing before she woke in the cave with her neck stitched and had no idea whatsoever about how long ago that was; certainly days rather than hours and maybe even a couple of weeks; she touched the scar and stitches with her fingertips – healing nicely, she'd soon be able to take them out – but that must mean she'd been in a hospital, in August of 2015 after something bad happening to her, something her subconscious had either built a wall around for her own safety, or the memory part of her brain had taken such a thumping, but either way, it was lost just as much as she herself was lost: there would be no Seventh Cavalry to the rescue, no Blues and Twos coming flashing through the valley, all Bernie had were her own wits and wiles, strength and stamina and if it meant submitting to Ugg's carnal pleasures well, worse things have happened at sea and it might not be what she'd choose for herself (a quick glance at Emm confirmed that she would be Bernie's choice of preference) but no worse than spending time with that creepy Martin Elginbrod – WOW – she'd forgotten all about him, or suppressed all the incidents of that slimy night, which she now saw in sharp focus; okay, my memory's fine on that, now I just have to work my way forward from there, one day at a time, and she grinned at Emm and tapped her own head: “it's all in here, Lovely, I've just got to re-connect a few links and we'll know where we stand,” and as she gazed Westward, over the Peeblesshire ranges, she didn't catch the strange look Emm gave her!
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