“Hoi, Boy, Ahoy! callooh callay, oh frabjous day,” called Tavish and the boy awoke with a start, looking around himself, reaching out for his paddle and clutching it to his breast, “wit wizzat?” he asked no-one in particular, “'twiz moi, fine boy,” answered Tavish, and the boy's brows met in puzzled concentration as he tried to ascertain the direction of the voice which had disturbed his slumbers, then, at last spotting the three figures on the further brim from his own position on the north bank, called back, “wit fur?” his voice still thick with sleep as he fought to keep his eyelids raised sufficient to see us, with a complete lack in them of the words which had seemed to imply curiosity, but which may in fact have been one of his two or three stock responses to any call addressed to him, “you ply the Ferry?” asked Tavish, “mebbe, wy?” queried the lad, “izzat, yer coracle?” responded Tavish “mebbe aye, mebbe naw, wha's askin?” and Tavish indicated himself, and the two girls, “oo ur,” the boy stared, “snaw mines,” he at last replied, “oo's en?” came back Tavish, “faither,” the boy muttered, “yer faither?” Tavish prompted, “naw,” laughed the boy, a mischievous grin on his normally placed face, “Faither Beano, siz,” and Tavish grinned back, “an izzee yer faither tae?” and the boy couldn't resist a chuckle, “mebbe aye, mebbe naw, ma mither cannae mind, she's kent that mony,” and Tavish held up a coin, “a penny for yer pocket, nae questions asked, for our exodus from the Abbey precincts must not be delayed,” and the boy gave a wink, “ye'll nae tellum?” and Tavish tossed it across, and quick as a flash the boy caught it, and was already pulling the coracle into the water, “fair dooz, yer worship,” paddling quickly to their bank, “cum oan, quick as ye like, Faither Beano's awa fer his grub and ee likes tae gae ma mither a wee sumpn tae keeper warum,” another wink, “and whit's fer denner?” prompted Tavish, as the girls climbed aboard and he followed, “barley brose, same as yester and same as morra, but guid like, fills ye up,” and Tavish, as the coracle neared the mid-stream, and the coracle rocked in the turbulent water, asked, “an then Faither Beano fills yer maw?” and the lad chuckled, “oh aye, ur an ony ither wummin ee can get is paws oan, annif thers nane, its ma turn, ees nae fusst,” and as they stepped on to dry land, Tavish turned an gave the boy a groat, saying, “now mind son, this is for yersel, dinnae gie it tae Faither Beano,” and as the boy slipped the coin into his tunic, with a wry grin, “smairn ah get inna quarter, yer Worship, yer a gennelmon,” and Tavish laid his hand on the boy's shoulder, “an wit's yer ain name?” he asked, “Maffew,” he replied, “bit they aw cry me Maffy,” and Tavish spoke seriously for the first time in the encounter: “well, Matthew, for I feel you warrant your name being given correctly, I am sure you will rise up from this task and will flourish in the Abbey and the Brotherhood, for all the world's a stage, as someone will say in years to come, and rest assured that your part is writ and you will play it well, so we thankyou for your safe crossing with us and may St Nicholas, Patron Saint of Boys, protect you and all your passengers, and look kindly upon you and your mother,” and Maffy blushed to his roots and looked as though he was about to burst into tears, so the girls both thanked him also and then all three turned their faces to the hills which bounded their northern horizon and began walking, quickly, so as to be away before Father Beano returned from his dinner, and Tavish said, I don't know if he is the same person, but a monk called Matthew became Abbot of Melrose in 1246, so I think we might safely assume that is he, as the ages would be about right,” let us hie forward, girls, 'tis no yom tov for us and we have a long way to go, with the help of St Julian the Hospitaller, let's roll 'em out, move 'em on!”
If there was one thing he had learned in his life, it was how to be invisible; they wore dun cloaks which Brother Bede had given them from an inner sanctum where Tavish had noticed some manuscripts which might not have been to the Abbot's taste and with the old monk's wishes still in their ears, made their way as silently as ghosts along side walls and found the gate he had described – it let them out of the Abbey cloisters and into the open fields where lay Brothers could be seen at work, communing in their own way with the biota of this fertile valley, it's river teeming with fish and fruits ripening on hedgerows and canes, while vegetables grew in ordered rows, while the ordained Brethren were probably engaged in more noetic pursuits, and it was a rural scene which, to Bernie and Tammy could as easily have been from their own time, so it was difficult for them to admit that some 800, perhaps 850 years separated these two epochs; but when they reached the River, flowing just as sweetly between it's banks as on their last visit to Melrose, before, oh, long before this nightmare of assault and injury, of pain and fear, had been visited upon them – and then, suddenly, as they both glanced upstream, the came to a dead stop: the Bridge, the Bridge they had crossed and recrossed so many times in their lives – was gone! and Tavish paused, sensing their panic, and returned to lay a hand on each girl's shoulder: “no, girls,” he said softly, seeming to read their thoughts, “it's not 'gone' for it hasn't yet 'been'; the Swing Bridge was built in the early nineteenth century, I think it was completed in 1849, and before then, a boat ferried pedestrians across, and he pointed out a simple craft, pulled up on the further bank, with a young novice dozing beside it: “he is the ferryman, Brother Bede keeps the accounts for the Abbey and has given me a few coins to tide us on our journey, shall we give the boy a penny to fetch us across on this frabjous day?”
Roxy Davidova was still in bed, with Lizzie Bennett, when her mobile buzzed and screeched like a bandersnatch; she found it, underneath Lizzie, who was giggling with surprise at the strange noise and tickly sensation, but clapped a hand over her mouth, while Roxy took the call: “Roxy, it's Isa, Gordon has asked me to make a very important and special request to you – and Lizzie,” Roxy's eyes widened, dreading a request that she give him a litany on Macroeconomics for Dummies – but as she listened to her expression changed through desperation, pacification, expectation, acclamation and finally, realisation! “oh, Isa, of course we will – wait, I haven't asked her, are you sure it will be safe? what if it's distressing? what might be found there? oh. I see, of course – let me ask her,” and, covering the phone, she looked intently at Lizzie, “oh my dearest, that was my cousin, you've met her, the exemplary WPC Isa Urquhart, with a special request – would you feel yourself able to descend into The Cavern and see if you recognise anything? it's a big ask, I know, but I would go with you, it's perfectly safe, there's nothing gimcrack about the operation, and they have already explored it with a robot and seen what was sent to them on-screen from it's camera, but because you lived there, you would know if there were differences from what you remember, what do you think?” and Lizzie's eyes pooled with tears which began coursing down her cheeks, and Roxy wrapped her in her arms and crooned to her, for what seemed like an age, then remembered her phone and picking it up, offered it to Lizzie, who tentatively held it to her face as she had seen Roxy do: “hello?” she queried, surprised to hear the voice, almost as if Isa was in the room with them, “Lizzie, are you all right with what we are asking you to do?” and Lizzie surprised herself with the confidence in her own voice: “yes, WPC Isa Urquhart, I will do as you ask, along with Roxy,” and she heard Isa whoop with delight and she handed the phone back to Roxy for the two cousins to make the logistical arrangements.
And that was how it came to be that the very next morning, while photographers, reporters and TV camera crews vied for good long-distance shots, Detective Chief Inspector Bruce Bruse of Police Scotland, accompanied by Detective Inspector Gordon Brevity and a team of experienced forensic investigators under the doughty Professor Carolina Moonbeam of the Forensic Science Department at Heriot-Watt and a phalanx of officers and Borders Mountain Rescue volunteers, clambered up the path from Dingleton Hill towards the shoulder between the North and Mid Hills, where Professor of Geological Science Wilfred Bramble and Emeritus Professor of Archaeology Cristobal Dumbiedykes enjoyed a morning digestif of fortified coffee and home-baked fruit scones from Auntie Crist's kitchen; “huzzah!” cried Bramble in greeting, his voice echoing back from the distant Moorfoots, Cheviots, Peeblesshire Hills and even Minto Crag, near Hawick, not to mention Black Hill by Earlston and the Three Brethren beyond Selkirk, “prepare to repel boarders!” but this last was just a little whimsy on his part, though, indeed, the idea of a scientific – which, to his mind, meant an 'academic' – study of The Cavern located beneath these picturesque hills being displaced by a 'police' investigation, with it's implications of 'Murdur,' was rather galling; he felt as if he was being sidelined by The Old Bill, and even his bluff bonhomie didn't fully disguise that resentment, but he accepted a nudge in the ribs from Cristo, muttered something about “being a good boy,” and stepped aside as the first officers approached; DCI Rebus was more polite than his reputation and gave no sign of irritation when DI Brevity committed the faux pas of referring to the two professors as Auntie Crist and Uncle Wilf, but he was genuinely interested in being shown Bramble's Sonar device and the 'map' which he had made last night after connecting it to the computer and printer back at his cousin's house; and Bramble in return was gracious when introduced by Bruse to the eminent Forensics Professor Moonbeam - “I've just been reading your recent paper on the different preservative properties of Island and Mainland Peats,” he offered, having just been shown it last night by his cousin in her Study, and then Googling her to learn a little of her credentials, before muttering something about “red bricks” before going off to bed with a rather strong hot toddy – and she in turn demonstrated that her own researches were deeper and longer-term by asking about the latest developments in the long-running battle between France and Spain over the Cave System which he had discovered in the Pyrenees, extending into both national jurisdictions although accessed from Andorra: “don't ask,” he'd said, before giving a detailed reply which had to be curtailed by DCI Bruse: “the search team is ready, Professor,” he said, adding “erm, Moonbeam,” when both heads turned towards him, and then, “erm, Madam,” when he felt that some of his hearers may have thought that the latter was a term of endearment rather than simply her surname, he blushed to his roots and had the good grace to laugh at himself, which earned him a dazzling smile from the elegant professor herself, before she apologised to Bramble, saying, “coffee later, Wilfred?” at which it was his turn to blush to his own roots, before he and Cristo were guided off what they had viewed as 'their' site and down the path towards Dingleton Hill - “let's avoid the piebalds, Wilf,” referring to the press posse on Dingleton Hill, “they'll get their story without us, especially those esemplastic tabloids which can work any four different words into a headline and produce a sensation with a handful if disparate ideas” said Cristo, “can't you see it? 'Chortling Hairy Digger guzzles digestif as piebald CSIs find esemplastic Mole in his Hole!' let's just walk round the North Hill and there's an easy path which will take us to the new Viewpoint, well, it is new since the last time you were here, oh, and the Crematorium too, and then we can walk down, under the bypass, to Newstead and if we time it right, we'll reach Aggie's in time for a batch of scones coming out of her oven,” and her cousin rubbed his hands together with a chortle, “now that sounds like a Plan!”
Meanwhile, high above the valley, up there, where the air is rarefied, up where you can imagine just stretching your arm and letting your fingers stroke a passing cloud, Professor Wilfred Bramble, speaking sotto voce, was distributing his troops around the small quarry and setting up the poles which marked the perimeter of the site and also provided the different triangulation points; then, once he was satisfied, he took hold of the device which looked like an inflated metal detector with a transistor radio attached, donned the World War II pilot's headphones, switched himself on and looked around the area, spoke to his cousin the Suffragan Bishop of Goole: “do you think, Bishop Peter, as the linguist in the family, you could have a chat with the young lady little Roxy is looking after? for I'd be interested to know the koine of her speech, I detect underneath the Edinburgh/Melrose lingua franca she has learned so rapidly from her eminent teacher (Roxy blushed to her roots) there is something of Hawick dialect and intonation which you might be able to identify, thankyou,” nodded, and then began the sweep – which involved walking, in a slithy sort of way, not at all like his normal marching gait, this was strange to behold and Crist realised that he could be quite other than the normal blusterer she had known all her life; first he went one way, then the other and repeating this until he had covered the whole site; after only a few lengths he stopped and stared at the screen mounted on his device, murmured to himself – quite inaudibly, he had obviously been extremely moved by Roxy's plea, or scared by her threats – and moved on; and when he had completed his sweep, he came over to Cristobal and spoke quietly to her, so that none of the others could hear: “Cristo, this is most remarkable – it certainly fits with the young lady's description; there is certainly a Cavern, just as she describes, and the void takes the form of a hand, with five fingers, the thumb leading from the entrance, which is that strange quarry, and the four fingers spread out and are possibly the sleeping quarters she mentioned,” and Cristobal nodded, then asked “you say the quarry is strange, in what way?” which caused Bramble to glance towards it, before he spoke: “it's a plug, not at all consistent with the rest of the geology, and it isn't a kind of sgrafitto, which, of course one would expect, no, no, this rock has a quite different consistency and it's almost as though someone stuffed it in there to disguise the entrance, and that is what's so bloody queer! it must have been done about a thousand years ago, crikey, two thousand, maybe more, well before the Romans came, certainly, and even before the Votadini used the North Eildon as a fort, because if not, then the Romans would have used it, recorded it, left some indication, but they only used the hills as a Signalling Station and there's no indication that they knew of 'The Cavern' your chums speak of,” and Cristobal asked: “what happens now?” which made Bramble chuckle: “well, dear cousin, you are the Archaeologist in the family, we'd better notify the authorities and have the site designated as a Dig, we can't have the hoi polloi tramping about while we begin our excavations, now, can we?” but Crist waved his words away and spoke rather fiercely: “if the statements which have been given are correct, then it looks to me that the Police will have to be involved and the whole area, all Three Eildons sealed off, and this place treated as a Crime Scene!”
Deirdre Allison might be a blet, and slovenly when off-stage – away from the bright lights and leering faces, her movements lost their fluidity and she rather galumphed – but Angie and Chris knew that they must cultivate her if they were to fossick about in her private life and, perhaps especially, in her home, so they invited her to join them after their shift finished to a wee private coffee klatch – and she was delighted, having no other real friends among the girls, who all considered her too old, agreeing readily and her face flushed with delight; in the little community café down the road, they ordered 'coffee and' and were all pleased that the 'and' consisted of a selection of sweet pastries from the Sicilian Bakery off Leith Walk, just a block away; Angie and Chris cleverly drew information from her, but there was nothing unctuous in their manner or interest – they were both of them dedicated and 'people-watchers' by nature and it was this personality trait which had led them quite separately into their present work, with Scotland's own Security Service, SMI5; the conversation was first about her home life, and she was happy to talk about her daughter, Cassie, who at five had just started school, after the usual playgroup and nursery years: “she's a wee pet, ye ken, aye happy an' bubblin' wi stories an' stuff, she has lotsa pals – they aw grew up thegither, the same crew went fi the playgroup intae nursery an noo they'se aw in the same P1 class at St Margaret of Scotland's in Portobello – ah ken av nae been tae Confession for a while, ah widnae like tae keep Faither Ignatius in the boax fer the time it wid tak tae unburden masel, ah'd get fair upset masel tae, jist talking aboot it tae a Man of Goad,” and she unconsciously crossed herself at the thought, “ah sometimes get aw worked up, am no getting ony younger, am urny a match fer young lassies, the punters prefer ye tae the likes o me, an sometimes ah mak masel ill just worryin, am feart ah'll lose ma joab an then whit? am ower auld tae work the streets, ah couldnae tak the cauld weather! ma mither wis a Street Girl when she wis young and made me swear oan the Bible that ah'd nivver dae it masel, nae metter whit ma pecuniary needs wis – it gies ye chilblains oan yer bum, but, daen quickies and knee-tremblers up a cloase!” and Angie laid her hand on Deirdre's, “dinny somaticize yersel, Hen, ye've got us twa, we can be like thon Three Musketeers, eh, aw fer yin, an yin fer aw! if we stick thegither, naebdy can knock us doon, but hey, av seen yer Faither Ignatius in the Club in civvies, an wee Maree went oot wi him yesterday,” and Deirdre smiled, “aye, Raquel lets him use yin o the rooms fer private Confession, fur lassies fae the Club and Street Lassies tae, he's richt dedicated, ah've aye avoided it mind, cos ah've got ower mony sins tae confess, it'd tak mair'n ten or fifteen minutes tae get aw they aff ma conscience,” and Angie and Chris exchanged a glance – for all her experience, Deirdre was still as naive as a six-year-old! “well,” said Chris, “ye can tell us onythin but, honest Dee, an we'll no gie ye ony Hail Marys or Oor Faithers,” and the three giggled like naughty schoolgirls, sharing a secret.
Later, and it seemed to Pan that it was much later, though it can't have been more than an hour, when he and Sam sat together in the little Café just down the road from the Bar, joined there by the two undercover officers – Angela Costello and Christine Murricane – who were on their break from their jobs as 'exotic dancers', a term which, as Angie told it, covered almost everything possible short of actual sex with the punters, and if that was wanted it was strictly a 'private arrangement' between the girls and their clients in which the bar took no part and was conducted off the premises and usually in a little flat above, accessed by a separate door in the alley behind, rented by the hour from Malky's sister who theoretically lived there, although there were only three rooms, all available, a little poky kitchen, and a shower/toilet room, but the flat belonged to Raquel and there were no direct connections between what went on there and the bar downstairs, other than all the obvious ones – “oh,” said Angie, with a wink, “there's some really springy withy in one of the rooms for the punters who like a bit of fem-dom,” and the two girls giggled, and Pan realised that he was old enough to be their grandfather, maybe even great-grandfather; Angie and Chris told the two 'retired' case officers what they had learned of Malky's links to the Ring of Gold – the paedophile ring which Tavish Dalwhinnie had been investigating for the past five years (and some) and it made interesting listening; they showed the two men the cards which they had found, with photographs of very young girls 'available for discerning admirers of female form – boys can also provide entertainment' although the only contact details were for Raquel, this sideline seemed to be kept at arm's length from Malky himself and the licensed Bar; although the landlines in both premises were tapped, it was clear that Malky and his associates also used burner mobiles, and while one-sided conversations within the two premises could be overheard, the calls were to other burners and there was no way of telling who they belonged to, although from what had been intercepted, it was clear that Malky was the supplier but also had a number of subordinates who identified suitable 'properties' in which he might be interested; “it all makes him sound like a developer building up his portfolio of rented properties,” said Pan, with a look of disgust on his face, “and I suppose that is in fact what he is doing,” which was when a huge cheer came from the back and the excited voices of Gino, his son and son-in-law told them that Hibs had just secured a place in the Final for the Scottish Cup after beating Dundee United on penalties, but Sam broke in, following on from Pan's last remark: “and some for selling-on too – abuse is endemic among this lot, it's what they do, and they don't lose any sleep over the suffering they cause, which is why it is so important that we net them; Angie, Chris, we need to find a way of identifying the scouts, finding out where Malky meets them, getting proof that he is buying the kids from them; and then who are his contacts further up the chain – from what you have seen or heard, do you think any of these two groups, the sellers and the buyers, ever come into the place?” Angie and Chris looked at each other, and Chris nodded: “Sir, we think that Deirdre is involved, or at least knows more than she tells us; I made a passing remark about a punter, well, on tape you'll have heard me say 'wanker',” and Sam nodded, grinning, “getting a stiletto stuck in his napper, and it really freaked Deirdre out, and I mean big time! she's a neurotic blet, but I think she was genuinely concerned for me, and she warned me not to let Malky hear me saying anything about that, but I know that was how the attempt to murder Angus Ogg was carried out – could that be worth looking into?” and Sam nodded: “see if you can get into Deirdre's confidence, maybe say you appreciate that she's got more experience than you two and indicate that you feel you'd benefit from her advice, ask her along for a drink after work – also, she's got a flat in Portobello, that's where she lives, with her mum and her daughter, see if you can get into it: it's catch-as-catch-can, and I know you'll do what you can, and if you do manage an entry, check out if it would be a useful place to monitor; good work, girls,” and with that the two young women hurried back to work, getting a few whistles from passing workmen on the way.
So when Angie – stage name 'Angel Blue' - tottered into the 'dressing room' (everything about the place and the business was surrounded by quotes) and chucked her knickers into the 'laundry' bin, before fishing a 'fresh' pair from the 'laundered' box, her pal Chris – 'Chastity' – slung her a pack of fags and the shared lighter; “am fed up, hen.” said Angie, easing her feet out of the platform shoes, “see these heels, they're fair killin' me but, huv ye tried 'um?” and she took a swig from the bottle of Irn Bru and Chris replied: “naw, they're nae ma size,” and Angie laughed, “they're nae mine neither, so they're no, bit whit can ye dae when ye're a size six an aw the heels is fower or five? ah cannae gaun oan barefit!” and that was when Deirdre – 'Desiree' – who was a rather puffy lass, older than the others, who thought her a blet, way past her sell-by date, chipped in: “try nae tae pull yer taes in, jist lettum stick oot the front, that's why they're oapin, so yer taes can stick oot but,” and Angie snorted, “noo hoo did ah no fink o that yin masel? is it cos ye fink am a numpty goy fae Danderha'?” but Deirdre just laughed, so Angie continued: “ah dinnae dae that cos they're no wafflestompers, fer crissakes, they're slingbacks an if ah dinnae squeeze ma taes, they'd be hangin doon an mebbe fly aff when ah dae a spin oan the pole an mebbe hit a punter on the heid an then whaur'd ah be? sued by a wanker wi a stiletto stuck in his napper?” which was when Deirdre suddenly became very serious and held Angie's wrist, “dinnae say that, dinnae let Malky hear ye say'n sumpn like that, he can be rite ruff, pet, so jist dinnae dae that, please, fer yer ain sake,” but Angie was curious: “hoo nae? whit fur?” but Deirdre’s face was white as a sheet: “goanie no, fur crissakes, it's dangerous, hen, so jist goanie no!” and out in the bar, Sam followed Pan's gaze, towards the man behind the counter, whose presence had seemed to galvanize Pan: “Malky?” and Pan nodded, “I thought he was banged up, life wasn't it? what's he doing out?” and Sam took another sip before replying: “he's our link to The Ring of Gold – he's one of their procurers, the place is monitored – you won't spot the cameras, they're very well hidden – and he thinks he got out on a technicality, we had to reciprocate for the Fiscal to agree, he's not a very nice fellow, but he's more useful out than in; but the thing is, Pan, the big thing is this: following some of the DNA stuff Carolina Moonbeam – she's the new Professor of Forensic Science at Heriot-Watt – did with the escapees from that Cavern, we got her to look at the evidence from your ancestor's murder, him and his servant Doubleday, I know it's something you've distanced yourself from, but it is important; well, the stuff was found quite a long time ago, I think it was Walter Scott, after he found the Crown Jewels at the Castle, he was poking around in the Abbey and managed to trace a box – it's been stored in the Commendator's House for years now – so we were able to give it to Professor Moonbeam and she found traces of Tavish Dalwhinnie – it's okay to look shocked, I was too, but she feels it would be enough to secure a conviction, not that there will be a prosecution, but if Tavish is, was, I'm a bit unsure of the tenses in this case, somehow alive and well in the 13th Century, I'm not insane, I can assure you, dear old friend, and possibly accompanied by the Westwater and Shanter girls, we don't know anything about them, but if that's true, or even possible, we have to assume that he will be still there,” and he looked Pan in the eye, and his old friend responded with a tight smile: “the murder was unsolved, no-one caught, but I recall that there was a Hue and Cry which pursued an older man with his daughters, but got no-where, there was a note by the Abbot to the effect that a statement he had received from the Almoner, Brother Bede, was confused and misleading, it seems that it sent the pursuers in the wrong direction and by the time they realised that, the trail was cold, but it led him to believe that Bede was shielding the three suspects, but that meant nothing and the Abbot seems not to have shared that with the authorities – such as there were back then, which means precious little: it was quite a cause celebre at the time, but with no-one apprehended it got forgotten: and when his wife gave birth to my ancestor Postumus MacFarlane seven months later, we at last began to re-establish ourselves as a family of worth, not just riches and a reputation for debauchery that would have given de Sade a run for his money; but you say The Ring is still around?” and Sam nodded, adding that if Pan cared to stick around, he would introduce him to a couple of young Officers who were working undercover, if the term was appropriate, as Strippers, Pole and even Lap Dancers; Tavish's eyes rolled at this, but he managed to keep a straight face at the news that some new practices were in operation, which would never have been countenanced in his day, it had been some years since he last worked and even if this was not going to be an 'official' role that Sam had in mind for him, it would be a change from his present life in which his only real exercise was the Scotsman Crossword which he solved every morning at the Golf Club!
From across the road it looked abandoned, just another corner pub like flotsam on a beach, stranded in an area ripe for redevelopment when property prices rose again, with the tide; but as he crossed, he began to hear the sounds of music and occasional raised male voices, and when he opened the door the heat and smell of stale sweat, spilt beer and the smoke of cigarettes – in contravention of the smoking ban – hit him; he glanced around the crowded room, noticed that there were twenty-three men, of the canaille obviously, standing in a semi circle around a small stage on which a girl, barely in her teens, surely, swayed and stepped, in impossibly high platform shoes and very little else, that twenty of the men were drinking beer and the other three anonymous blends of whisky, and that the barman could hardly take his eyes off the girl as she removed a bikini top and dropped it, which left only tiny panties to go, and then he registered the one man in the room not watching her; Samuel Smiles, 'Smiler' to his colleagues, Sam to his friends, sat quite openly at a corner table, one of only two in the place, for he was never one to lurk in a miche, and indicated a glass of whisky which sat on the table by an empty chair, one of only four, the other two being pushed under the second table in the further corner; MacFarlane sat, raised the glass and smelled the peaty tang of Highland Park – typical of Sam to remember, unlikely for the bar to stock it, so MacFarlane noted the slight bulge in Sam's left pocket where he kept his hip flask, a gift on his official 'retirement' and no doubt matching the one MacFarlane always carried; “slainthe,” said MacFarlane and Sam matched him, their glasses clinked, unheard by the punters, cheering as the girl dropped her knickers (if they were even large enough to qualify for that name) and bent to retrieve them, facing away from her audience, before tottering off-stage and disappearing from view; “thanks for coming, Pan, it's good to see you again; now if I say 'Ring of Gold', what would you say?” asked Sam, and his friend and long-time colleague snorted: “just that I'm glad the evil bastard died before his son was born – but why are you asking that now?” and Sam indicated that Pan should sit back and listen: “one of our analysts, Jasmine Juniper-Green, has been in the Borders working on a number of mysterious disappearances, and before you say that you hadn't heard anything about that, we have kept a tight lid on this, not made any easier by some of the relatives involved: it started some weeks ago, with a young man, a street entertainer and stand-up comic, who goes by the name of Angus Ogg from The Bog whose friend Ronnie disappeared in a tunnel under the City Chambers and probably was involved in an attempt to stop Daphne Dumbiedykes – yes, there aren't two people with that name – investigating your ancestor, and she was locked in an oubliette, I won't go into details at this time, suffice to say that shortly after that, Ogg was stabbed in the head with a stiletto heel in a High Street pub; now, shortly after visiting him, a young woman, Bernie Westwater, a cousin of the O'Hooligan twins,” and a rare grin spreading over MacFarlane's face told him that connections were being made, “was found stabbed in a passenger lift at Waverley Station and taken to The Royal, but two days later she vanished; and then her partner, Tammy Shanter, daughter of Tabby, who you will remember well, and Tavish Dalwhinnie,” and Pan couldn't resist interrupting, “my old chum, how is he, still with The Scotsman?” and Sam surreptitiously topped up his friend's glass, although every eye other than theirs was on the natural redhead, spinning round the pole on the stage, “that's coming, Matey; Tavish was shot on a bus in Melrose, but it seems he was shot by Pherson,” and MacFarlane shook his head, “but Tavish disappeared from the BGH and then DCC Dominic Doubleday and Councillor George Gill both disappeared, as did Tammy Shanter – and Pherson Dalwhinnie,” and the other man's eyes were narrowed and fixed on his own, “and after that people began to appear: three strangers with a strange story – one claiming to be Thomas Learmonth and that has been confirmed by a fingerprint and DNA analysis, quite specific, not mitochondrial, and two others apparently Cave Women, though one, a young girl, has turned out to be Patience Scott, Sir Walter's youngest daughter who was believed drowned during a stormy evening crossing of the Tweed in spate, and DNA confirms – it's viridical, absolutely – but the other claims that she has always lived in a Cavern under or in The Eildon Hills,” and Pan nodded, “the one spoken of in ancient legends,” and Sam nodded, “exactly; but importantly, they all speak of knowing Tavish, Tammy and Bernie who had all arrived in The Cavern in recent weeks, and say that just before they gathered under the full moon to try to return to their own times, three other men appeared, all badly injured and matching police photographs of Doubleday, Gill and Pherson Dalwhinnie,” at which MacFarlane shook his head, but Sim continued: “Jasmine Juniper-Greene has been working of a theory of Quantum-Collision. . . . .” but he was interrupted, “, , , , , when two parallel universes brush against each other and overlap, so that different time periods are acted out in the same physical environment – like two acts of a play being performed simultaneously on-stage, or one of those part-songs with each voice singing a different line, that sort of thing, Sam?” and it was his turn to demonstrate his mastery of the facts: his intellect, his memory and the depth of his knowledge of many arcane areas, combined with a renaissance spread of interests, was well known, but Sam was always surprised at the way his old friend had educated his brain to treat information reflexively, to pluck out the exact word or phrase, almost in the same way as a close fielder's hand shoots out to catch a fast ball even before his conscious mind has seen it, that was the way Pan's mind seemed to work, as if he was able to anticipate what you would say, even before you knew yourself; Sam laughed, a genuine, open laugh and a relieved one, for he wasn't himself quite sure if Jasmine's Theory would hold water, for if it did, that would be an exaptation, a serendipitous happenstance, or perhaps it just needed the scientific development to catch up with what was in fact a reality all the time. and he said: “she believes that in such instances, it would be feasible to slip from one to the other, accidentally, or to catch a glimpse, either of the past or the future, and perhaps believe that you have seen a ghost,” and he saw that Pan was looking away to the right, “I do believe I have,” said he!
And Sir Pantagruel MacFarlane was roused from his reverie – in which he could almost taste the sweet petrichor smell of the cut grass on the first rainy day of the season, as he gazed out of the window towards the eighteenth – by the Club Steward bringing a telephone handset to him: “I'm sorry to disturb you Colonel,” said the Steward, deferentially; Sir Pantagruel was the oldest member, had been his CO in the KOSBs too many years ago, another time, another place, but still due his respect, despite the now sedentary life, “well, he's earned it.” thought the man to himself; MacFarlane took the handset, looked at it carefully, to establish which way up to hold it and glanced at the man who had been Staff-Sergeant O'Reilly when they both served in Palestine, “thankyou, George,” to show he never forgot that day when they had scrabbled together amid the carnage of the King David Hotel, and spoke his name into the microphone: “orb and sceptre,” said the disembodied voice he had not heard for many years, since a brief meeting in a London Hotel, but still remembered clearly, “trumpery,” was his only response and he handed the set back to the Steward, “I think just a small one, for the road, Staff-Sergeant,” and O'Reilly nodded briefly, before returning to the bar; “my oh my,” the old soldier muttered to himself, then looked around to ensure that he had not been heard, but aside from himself there was no-one else sitting in the comfortable 'Members Only' room off the main bar, “so it has come to this, at last!” and when the Steward returned with his glass, he threw it back in one gulp, pulled himself to his feet, took his stick and hat from the hands which offered them and, with an avuncular nod, but still a clearly military bearing, back ram-rod stiff and straight, walked confidently through the Clubhouse to meet whatever it might possibly be that awaited him!
And in another time and place, what happened? nothing that anyone noticed – the sun rose and set at the allotted time, buses and trains ran more or less to schedule, there were no aeroplane crashes as a result of the sudden disappearance of a pilot from his seat, no acrobatic girl on a flying trapeze fell to her death because her partner, the man on his flying trapeze, vanished in mid swing, no ecdysiast dropped her knickers on the tiny stage with it's chromium pole in that spit-and-sawdust pub in Easter Road and in the wink of an eye was gone before she could pick them up, no darrein scratching on the Act of Union was inexplicably erased, no brass plate bearing the name of Martin Elginbrod WS was missing from the door of a set of Edinburgh Chambers, certainly a Deputy Chief Constable of Police Scotland was not sitting in the corner office high above the open spaces of Fettes Avenue, just to the north-west of the City Centre – but he had already been missing for some days, after his car had been found abandoned in mysterious circumstances - and a rather ossified Sir Pantagruel MacFarlane, direct descendant of Sir Parlane, was still sipping at his glass of Highland Park in the bar of The Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh, instituted 1735, and the glass didn't drop from a height of three feet to spill it's contents on the richly-hued and deep-piled Persian carpet; so, apart from the apology for Google being unable to access Quadrivial Quandary, no-one noticed anything different, for, truly, nothing had changed for them: now, whether that would be the same for a time traveller who had left our present a few days ago and returned today – would she notice any subtle or dramatic change from the world as it had been before? well, that would depend (don't you just get all riled when a teacher or parent, or psycho-analyst says that? it feels so patronising, as much as to say “you only see the universe through your own eyes and can't imagine how it looks to anyone else, or how it feels, smells, tastes or sounds,” and the key is in that reference to our senses, which are the means by which we absorb and evaluate all the information we need, in order to be able to understand things; they are like the 5-person recce patrol sent out to survey the area beyond our circle of wagons, for they venture into that unknown territory, before we sally forth to hobnob with the outside world, which might with poetic justice be called 'No Man's Land') wouldn't it?
He was incorrigibly dedicated to a defence of Justice, which informed his every action and had done for all of his near 50 years as an Officer of the Security Services; although an employee of the State, he had no time for namby-pamby governments which were so adapted to their own survival and therefore cultivated a population of sheeple which would ensure re-election – and even if the parties in power changed, the overall thrust remained; he could never countenance the use of torture to extract information, or assassination as an instrument of policy, yet now he was striding across the Abbey yard, towards the stable with a double murder intended; for the last fifteen years, Tavish Dalwhinnie had been heading up a specialist team dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse: he had been appalled at the scale and extent, and together with officers for Border Security, they were trying to prevent the importation of children from, particularly, Eastern Europe, as well as the extensive grooming of vulnerable children already here, who should be safe in their own country, all of whom were abused and sold on, until they were discarded – alive or dead; there were extensive distribution networks and Tavish had long believed that the overall control was in the hands of a small and tight-knit cabal, based in Edinburgh, and known as The Ring of Gold – The Ring had been founded some 800 years ago by Sir Parlane MacFarlane, a notorious seducer of whoever took his fancy, almost a precursor of the Marquis de Sade, but without any of the French aristocrat's political or literary interests; The Ring only ever had 12 members, and on the death or incapacity of a member his place would be filled from a long list of applicants – through the many centuries, it's members had included notable political and religious figures, several kings and many nobles, and there were also a great many lower-class individuals, for the wealthy seemed to enjoy sharing their vices and pleasures with men they would never normally come into intimate contact with, and barely even acknowledge their existence; in recent times, the Kray Twins and Jimmy Savile had been members, before them Jack the Ripper (under his real name, known only to two other members) and two blood-lines were consistently represented: that of the Founder himself, under the name of his closest collaborator, his personal Man, Dominic Doubleday, through a son fathered by MacFarlane with Doubleday's wife, and the lawyers, every generation of Martin Elginbrods since the first child born to MacFarlane's own lawyer with Elginbrod's wife having been impregnated by Sir Parlane also; and it was MacFarlane and Doubleday that Tavish now sought, exasperated by the slowness of legal proceedings, the hoops he had to jump through long before any arrest or intervention could be sanctioned and now suddenly, inexplicably, by a fluke he could not understand, he was back at the very time when it all began: and he had the means, the opportunity and motive and knew that this chance might never again be available to him, so, with a clear conscience and armed with a heavy cudgel he had lifted from Brother Bede, the Almoners' office, he entered the stable and recognized the two, although their backs were towards him (now, Tavish had once been told by a retired Glasgow gangland enforcer that if you are going to hit and hurt someone, maybe kill him, you must come in fast and direct, with no hesitation, and intent only on doing your worst to him) so as he strode towards the two, Tavish's right arm was already describing the circle which would bring the heavily weighted end down on the back of MacFarlane's bare head; he had timed it perfectly, in just the same way as Leonardo could walk up to a wall and draw a perfect circle with his charcoal, the end meeting the beginning and leaving no trace of where the circle started and finished, and so it was that the gnarled and weighty end of the cudgel smashed through the hair and flesh and bone which formed Sir Parlane's head and dropped him to the floor, dead before he landed, and, even as Doubleday turned to see what had happened, the cudgel was committed to it's second tour of duty, and as the serving man saw his master crumple and turned in the direction from which the other had fallen forward he was just in time to see the hardened wood which at that same instant smashed into his forehead, shattering his nose and forcing pieces of cracked skull-bone into his brain and he was dead almost before he realised that his end was coming, so fast had been the travel of the cudgel which drove through his brain and came to rest between his ears as he dropped to his knees and then toppled forward, the weapon pulling him down to the beaten earthen floor, on which scattered straw was fast turning red, so much blood was pumping from the two broken heads, and the bodies of the men lay sprawled in a heap, brutally slain; and Tavish, surprised by the amount of blood which was pooling around his feet and turning the ground to a sticky mud, simply turned on his heel and walked back from whence he had just come, wondering as he did whether anything will have changed in the world he came from!
“Bramble bellowed at sheeple,
Who bore the brunt of his tongue,
Wherefore his words were in majuscule,
And capitals poured from his lung,”
and with that irreverent thought. Roxy decided that the only way to exert some control over this Bull of a man was to beard him and give back to him what he gave to others – so she leapt at him, seized hold of his beard with both hands and pulled sharply down; he roared, oh how he roared, but she soon had him on his knees and putting her face close to his massive left ear she yelled into it with all the volume she could muster: “STOP, S.T.O.P. STOP!” and he suddenly went limp, she felt the animal force drain from his body and she held him down until he was quiet and meek and calm and then, still gripping his beard hard in her comparatively tiny fists, she whispered into that same ear: “I am going to let go, but if you raise your voice any more, I will do the same again and my friends will post the photographs of you on the internet and you will be the laughing stock of not only the entire scientific community, but the whole world, and I don't think you want that – it's all very well to play a buffoon on your own terms, but not at the hands of a five foot woman, half your size and age, am I right?” and she felt him nod and when he spoke his words were soft and mild: “I'm sorry Roxy, truly I am, I won't do it again, ever, anywhere,” and she let go of his beard, stepped over to where Lizzie stood, still shaking after experiencing the aggressive force-10-gale that had issued from the Professor's mouth, and wrapped her arms protectively around the former Cave Woman and told her that all would now be well, and Lizzy nodded appreciatively and covered one of Roxy's hands with her own, whispering a simple “thankyou, dear Roxy,” and the assembled scientists, religious and family, all gave a sigh of relief and applauded Roxy for her bravery in bearding the Lion in his Den!
She was only a wee raconteuse,
Wi' tales that could fairly amuse,
The sheeple wha'd mar
The country wi' tar,
And batten on fowk they'd abuse!
And in his Chambers in Edinburgh, hard by the Court of Session and St Giles, with their black-robed officiates, the first, no less than the banksters, serving Mammon in the name of The Law, and the second, God; Martin Elginbrod was becoming drunk and depressed – he still hadn't traced Doubleday, his Police Scotland informants were unable to earn their money on that; George Gill had also vanished from the face of the Earth, and so had Pherson Dalwhinnie, after speaking with the celebrated auteur, Allan Massie, in Melrose – gone into thin air, the only trace of him being an inexplicable shadow on the step of a shop; “who's next?” Elginbrod muttered to himself and slurping some of his 25-year-old malt down the front of his cravat and waistcoat, “what the fuck's going on?” and he felt a chill beginning at his toes and slowly spreading up his legs: this wasn't really a misper, he knew that! this was something sinister, which had begun with the disappearance of his two pets from their pads, that had been the start of it, and something in his brain made a connection: “the O'Hooligan Twins are involved all right,” the one who'd left Town in a dudgeon a few years ago had returned and she and her sister had been seen in a pub, looking very cosy and chatty and re-united; Elginbrod didn't know what had caused the rift between them, a rift which had fractured that damned Dumbiedykes/Lyttleton Clan with all it's tentacles spreading throughout the City into every branch of the Capital's life and society – Thank God we've none of their blood, that was the only thing that had cheered him recently, having his office to a thorough investigation into his Family Tree, one of those 'Who Do You Think You Are?' jobs at which he was so efficiently effective; he'd had them do another for all the descendants of Griselda of Longformacus and the other Edinburgh Wives impregnated by his illustrious ancestor, Sir Parlane MacFarlane and was satisfied having checked and cross-checked, that there had been no mingling of the genes, producing like cabbeling, a kind of ersatz race that would sink to the bottom – oh no, the line of descent was pure and true, pursued by each successive generation of The Ring over something like 800 years, Hah! the stupid Nazis with their dream of a Thousand Year Reich; no way, Jose! This is the Real Deal, filtered drop by drop, distilled and guaranteed 100% Proof; he raised his glass again, yet again, just one more and it would be time to sleep – No! not tonight, he had another little pet those fucking O'Hooligans didn't know about; he unzipped his trousers and took out his cock, held it in his hands, tried to estimate it's weight when fully aroused and inflamed, couldn't get his whisky-befuddled brain to deal with ounces and grams, started to rub it, imagining a young mouth open before him, then stopped; the clock had stopped ticking, it had never stopped before, it was from the 15th Century and he knew it was the oldest spring-driven clock in the world, wound every morning by his Chief Clerk, but today it stood silent at ten to three, and he wondered, is there honey still for tea?
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