Smiler swaggered into the ferry terminal and flashed the ticket girl his best wild-man grin. She took a good look at the rugby player physique, dented nose and skinhead haircut and withdrew immediately behind her desk.
“When are you travelling?” she asked shortly.
“Tomorrow love, but I’ll be back soon. Just having a short business trip to Port Malin.” He leaned on the counter and examined her chest.
“Morning or afternoon sailing?” She attempted to cross her arms in front of her chest while still operating her computer.
“Afternoon will do me. Coming back Saturday afternoon. How about I take you for a drink Saturday night?” He tried the grin again.
“I’ve got a boyfriend thank you. That’ll be nineteen pounds fifty,” she replied frostily.
“You’re that cheap then love. Think I’ll take you up on that.”
“For the tickets!” she replied, her cheeks turning a dull red. “I’d rather go out with a fish gutter than touch you.”
Smiler’s smile vanished. “Is that right love? I think I’ve seen you out and about with your boyfriend. Is he that much nicer than me then? Maybe next time I see youse out together I can have a nice wee talk to him. See who’s more of a man, like.” He stood up straight and fished the money out of his pockets. The ticket girl took it and hurriedly threw his tickets down on the counter.
“I’ll keep an eye out for you love,” he called as he walked away. “Might even see you Saturday.
Roddy paced the hospital ward, his unacceptably draughty gown billowing around him. He looked over to Kendo who was happily polishing off the remains of his lunch. “Are you no eating your food Roddy?” he enquired.
“No-ta Kendo – you have it,” he replied glancing at the lumpy gloop sitting on his tray. “I’d rather live.” He sat down gloomily on the edge of his bed. “Ah, fuck this for a hobby. I’ve got to talk to Anne.” Pulling on his clothes he shoved his stuff into his bag. “I’ll be in later for you Kendo.”
“Sure Roddy, you take care man,” Kendo replied through a mouth full of food.
Roddy walked out of the hospital without so much as a questioning look from the nurses.
“Aye, it’s a caring environment we’ve got here all right,” he said to himself.
He headed off along the road towards his girlfriend’s house. It was a couple of miles out of the Port but it was a nice enough day and he fancied the walk. The walk couldn’t clear his head of his problems though. Images of Smiler’s face – when he discovered that the fifty grand was missing – kept circulating in his head. It wasn’t as if he was a friendly and affable soul at the best of times.
By the time he reached Anne’s traditional two-up, two-down crofthouse, both he and Kendo had met a number of different ends, each slightly more grisly than the last. He went in the painted wooden gate to the beautifully kept garden. He could never quite get a handle on Anne. She loved her booze and her girls’ nights out; her clothes and her bloody-ridiculous high-heeled shoes. She and her sister Genie had their own wee hairdressing business down Sand Street and they shared the house together. Dead close they were. He’d never heard them have any kind of argument at all. They were town girls all right, both at work and on their nights out. They could drink any man under the table, which in Port Malin was really saying something. But they were both home birds as well. They did the garden, grew their own vegetables, and performed every kind of odd job round the house. They could do basic wiring and plumbing. He’d even seen them shifting a heavy sideboard out of the kitchen and into the shed. Massive it was, and when he’d offered to help they’d laughed at him. They never needed any help. That really bloody-annoyed him. He was going to miss Anne like mad. He went to the back door and pushed it open. Anne was sitting at the table having her lunch and reading Heat magazine. She looked up when he came in.
“Roddy! What do you think you're doing here? You’re not meant to be out of hospital till Saturday. You’ve had hypothermia for heaven’s sake. Are you trying to kill yourself?” She stood up, hands on hips and a ferocious expression on her face. Roddy winced as he recalled the time he watched her castrate next door’s lambs. Or rather, he had started to watch.
“Look Anne, I really needed to talk to you, in private. Away from those bloody nurses,” he said. He had been amazed by the way they had lurked in their nurses’ room until the millisecond you decided to broach a delicate subject. Suddenly they’d all avalanche in through the door pretending to be busy; ears pricked for any gossip.
“Thing is Anne … I really love you.” Roddy stared at his hands and wondered where the hell that bombshell had come from. He could feel his ears turn red. He took a deep breath and ploughed onwards. “I’m not just saying that, I do love you. That’s why I’m here. I had to tell you. Me an Kendo – we’ve got to go. We’re in real trouble. I had to tell you. I could have just left but I wanted you to know.” He continued his minute examination of his fingers while embarrassment prevented him from looking up. He felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Sit down you. I’m going to make a cup of tea and you’re going to tell me everything.”
Elaine stared out the window of her bedroom in her cousin’s house. She leaned over the sill and looked out over the wild and tangled walled back garden.
“Shite!” She winced, rubbed her bandaged arm and sat down on the edge of the bed. She put her head on her knees. There were some frantic scrabbling noises in front of her. She looked up to see a scruffy tramp scrambling through the window in front of her. Her scream was stifled by the tramp’s hard hand while he made frantic shushing noises.
“Be quiet Elaine, nobody can know about this.”
Elaine’s eyes widened and rolled. “Dad …”
“Are you all right Elaine?” shouted Bella from downstairs.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just … stood on a hairbrush,” she shouted back. She and Charlie stood frozen until Bella’s footsteps receded into the living room.
“You bastard,” Elaine hissed. “You utter bastard! I thought you were dead!” Her voice ended in a squeak as she fought back tears.
“Oh, I’m ever so sorry love,” said Charlie, moving forward to give his daughter a hug. He thought it best to let her language pass for now. Elaine burst into tears.
Eventually, when the confusion and grief of the previous days had been drained slightly, she wiped her eyes. “Dad, you absolutely stink by the way. What happened to you?”
“I’ve been given a great gift Elaine – one that I’m going to use well. That’s why I’m here. I wanted to see you and share it with you.”
“Are you feeling all right? You’ve not got the curam have you? Oh please don’t.”
“No, no love. I haven’t seen God. Maybe I felt his presence. Well, someone’s presence at any rate. Anyway, what I wanted to say is that things between your mother and me – I won’t lie to you – they’re not good.”
“Aye,” replied Elaine. “She thinks you’re dead for a start, which could make things a bit difficult in the relationship department!”
“No Elaine, it’s not just that. Your mother and your sister – well they’re …” Charlie fumbled for a word to describe the situation back at Avalon.
“Mad, barmy, homicidal, psychotic, deranged.” Elaine had no difficulty in supplying several words.
“Unwell!” said Charlie triumphantly. “A bit depressed maybe.”
“If you say so Dad.” Elaine rubbed her arm pointedly.
“What happened there love?”
“Oh, nothing at all. Gwen was just feeling a little ‘unwell’ and decided to kill me with her zimmer-frame.”
“She actually got out of bed then?”
“She tried to kill me Dad! And Mum still thinks I’m being ‘unsympathetic to her needs’. She needs a good kick up the arse if you ask me.”
“Ah, yes well, you understand the situation anyway. The thing is, I don’t have much time. I’ve got to get the ferry soon. I’m leaving. Your mum will be happy enough without me, and she’ll have no worries what with the insurance on me and the boat. We’ll still keep in touch though love. We’ll just have to be quiet about it.”
“So that’s it then? You’re just going to leave me here with them?”
“No Elaine, I’m leaving you here with Jim and Bella. You only have to go to Avalon at weekends. Keep an eye on your mum and sister. Maybe you’ll be able to get through to them. In a couple of years you’ll be off to uni and away from here. We can keep in touch much more then.”
Elaine folded her arms, winced and unfolded them again. “I’ll be lucky if I make it through one more weekend.”
“I know it’s tough. Look you can always stay here with Bella a bit more. They like having you around the place. Anyway, I’ve got something for you.” Charlie reached into one of the ancient boots he had been given by Myra and pulled out a wad of money. Elaine’s eyes widened.
“Now, this is for you. Not for anyone else. There’s fourteen thousand here. I want you to go down to the bank and open a safety deposit box. Take those wee pieces of jewelry my Ma left you. Tell them at the bank that you’re afraid of losing them and you want a box to keep them safe.. They have to leave you alone while you’re doing that and you put twelve grand of this in too. They’re private things, these deposit boxes. Nobody will be able to nosy in it. Now the other two thousand. Keep it hidden and put it bit by bit into your savings, just like you would earnings from the deli. If you have an emergency or you need something badly for school then you can get it from there. But you’re not to touch the rest. That’s for your future, so you can set yourself up when you get your degree. Promise me now.” He took her hand. “Promise.”
“All right Dad, I promise. I’ll keep it. But where did it come from?”
“It was a gift. But you’re not to tell anybody about it, is that understood?”
Elaine nodded, her hands grasping the bundle of notes tightly. Charlie gave her one last hug. “I’ve got to go. The ferry’ll be away soon.” He pulled on the old cap that was part of his disguise and headed for the window.
“Now you take care, you hear me? And stay away from the boys. Don’t be fool enough to get yourself in trouble! I’ll be in touch soon as I’m settled.” With that he swung his leg over the window and with an agility born from a lifetime working the boats, he scaled his way back down and out through the garden. Elaine stood staring out of the window until she heard the ferry’s horn sound as it left. She turned and grabbed her jacket and scrabbled in her chest of drawers for a few things which she swept into a shoulder bag.
“I’m going out Bella,” she called as she ran down the stairs. “I’ve got to nip into the bank.”
Roddy had his head on the kitchen table. “He’s going to break my legs over this one Anne. I’m dead, I just can’t believe my luck.”
“You’re an idiot. I told you not to get involved with Smiler. I’ve heard stories about him and he’s a right thug. It’s fine to do business like that if it’s your own boat and your own money and you’re being careful.” She glanced down at him and sighed. Turning her back she took some seeds from out of a jar in the kitchen drawer and crumbled them into the cup of tea. When she looked round, Roddy was still dejectedly examining the woodwork.
“Well, I’m going to help you out this one time, but you have to promise me not to get involved in this sort of thing again. Not unless I’ve Ok’d it first. Are you hearing me!” She slapped her hand down on the table. Roddy snapped bolt upright with an expression of amazed gratitude on his face. “Oh, Anne, I’ll pay you back I …”
“Shut up Roddy. Let me speak.” She straightened her skirt underneath her. “Now you listen to me. You’re going to phone Smiler. Tell him you didn’t make the pick up but you’ve got his money. Tell him you’ll meet him at benches in the park on Friday at seven. It should be nice and quiet then. Go on then – do it.” She gestured to the living room. “And drink that tea!”
“Are you sure?”
“Just go on Roddy!” Anne settled down and listened to the one-sided conversation. When it was over Roddy came back through. “All set then?” Anne asked.
“Yeah, he didn’t sound too pissed off. Listen though. Where are you going to get that sort of cash from?”
“Don’t you concern yourself about that right now. In fact you can just forget about the whole thing. Come tomorrow, you and Kendo are going to be way out at your favourite loch with the tent set up, a nice fire and a couple of cans of beer. I’m going to drive you both out there myself, and I’ll pick you up again on Saturday. And we’ll never mention any of this again. Ever. Do we have an understanding?”
“But what about Smiler? He’s a total maniac Anne. You can’t deal with this! Kenny heard he carries a bloody gun. A gun!”
Anne smiled. “It’s all going to be sorted out Roddy, by me. Tonight we’re going get your brother and erase his memory of that fifty grand going fishwards. Bottle of whisky should do it quite nicely. As far as he and you are concerned, the cash came out of the sea with you. Now I’ve got work to do, and I have to talk to Genie. You get your carcass into bed. You look horrendous.” She strode out of the back door with a purposeful air.
Roddy sat for a while, thinking few thoughts and looking blank. He scratched his head and gazed down into his empty teacup. He’d been putting up an argument about something. He just couldn’t remember quite what. It was best to do as you were told when Anne was in one of her moods. It was the quiet smile that had tipped him off. He took himself up the stairs and off to bed, trying hard not to think about the lambs.