Chapter Four- Rendezvous
Kayleigh Ford crawled into her tent, wincing, and lay down on her sleeping bag with a groan. Her stomach ache had been getting worse all day. It was Sunday the Eleventh of October, Two thousand and nine: the day of the “Stay or Go” election. She felt dizzy and dull-headed as she fumbled with her ballot slip and pen. She wrote the word “STAY” as clearly as possible then braced herself for the pain of getting to her feet. The wind was roaring violently through the little tent village making it a struggle to keep her footing. Her journey to The Hilton was even more difficult than it would have otherwise been because of the pain and malaise she was suffering. She opened the door of the stone hut and entered the warm and dry. The only people there were Trevor, Zach, Gareth and Jennie. The latter two were tucking into bowls of breakfast cereal. As she looked at them slurping, milk dribbling from their chins, her stomach clenched and a sulphurous taste filled her mouth. She faltered forward and took her voting slip out of her pocket. “Is that your own ballot?” Trevor barked like a policeman.
“No; it’s Cliff Richard’s.” she replied and dropped it into the ballot box.
“Where’s Loverboy?” asked Zach.
“I don’t know anyone called ‘Loverboy’.”
“I meant Dill.”
“Why don’t you use his name then?”
“Ooh!” shrilled Zach in falsetto. “I’m only asking ‘cos he hasn’t voted yet. All the others are in.”
“Wait for him, won’t you?” implored Kayleigh.
“The polls close at eleven AM.” said Trevor without looking up. “He knows the rules.”
Kayleigh tottered back to her tent and slid into the warm shelter of her sleeping bag.
She fell into a feverish half-sleep, sweating profusely despite the chilly weather and her hair was damp with it. Any thoughts of food gave her a twinge of gross spontaneous nausea.
Arlene came in to see her. “How’re you doing, Kay?”
She forced a chuckle. “Yeah, pretty much… Ow!”
“Don’t laugh! Keep those abdominal muscles still.”
“Yes, Nurse… God! I’ve never felt this rough in all my life! What’s wrong with me, Arly?”
“Something you ate, to coin a phrase. I’m surprised no one’s come down with it before in these conditions. Here; I’ve got some pills if you can get them down.”
“I can get them down OK, but whether they’ll stay down is another matter.”
“Try anyway. If you bring them up then so be it, but if they go through they’ll make you feel a whole lot better.”
“Have you had the runs?”
“No, I haven’t been at all for two days.”
“You will do, I’m afraid; with a vengeance when the pain wears off.”
“So long as it does wear off I don’t care!” said Kayleigh as she gulped her pills.
A little later Dill came round to visit. They were chatting away when something happened that was both bizarre and unsettling. He started stroking her hair and talking in a peculiar way. She looked up at him and had to suppress her shock. Of course she’d seen it before: a man touching a woman, looking at her and speaking to her tenderly, but… Not to me! Surely he can’t… Oh, shit! She rolled over to hide her face from him.
Arlene’s pills gave her a little respite from her discomfort and she slept soundly. She had a horrid nightmare about Gertrude McHugh, a bully from her school days. Kayleigh was standing in her front garden at home when Gertrude appeared and began stabbing her belly with a penknife. She woke up in agony, her abdomen on fire, her limbs paralysed. “Help!” she croaked out through her dry throat. She almost passed out from the pain as she dragged herself up onto all-fours. She crawled from the tent. Rain lashed her and her knees and hands sunk numbly into the mud. The Hilton! Everyone’s in there counting the votes! The thirty yards to the door felt like thirty miles. Oh God, this is it! I’m going to die! It’s not fair! I’m too young! Does anything happen after death? Will I go to Heaven or Hell? Why did I have to come to Rockall!? Oh, Mum! Oh, Dad!
She reached the door to The Hilton and lifted herself onto her feet, both hands against the jamb. She fiddled with the latch until it clicked up and the wind blew the door open. The image of the colonists sat around the table looking at her in alarm swan before her eyes. “Help me!” she rasped as loudly as she could before her guts turned inside out and emptied. Then the muddy floor mat of The Hilton filled her vision.
Kayleigh could never properly remember what happened after that. She was vaguely aware of people around her; voices, a blood-pressure cuff squeezing her arm, the sting of a hypodermic needle. She felt herself being carried. The pain slowly eased and she began to relax and drift along on the tenuous currents of activity around her. “Kayleigh.” A woman’s voice called her name. “Your operation’s over. Time to wake up.”
The sound jump-started her mind into action and she began to sense herself and her surroundings once more. Bright light filled her eyes and she felt that she was lying in a bed. Something was covering her face, blowing cold, dry air into her nose and mouth. She tried to push it away, but a hand clasped her wrist.
“No, Kayleigh. Keep that on. It’s oxygen to make you feel better.”
“Where am I?” She blinked through the light and tried to focus on the figures around the bed. They were all clad in green, short-sleeved shirts.
“You’re at the Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway. You’ve just had surgery and you’re coming round after the anaesthetic.”
“We’ve contacted your parents and told them what’s happened. They’re flying over to visit you.” During the next few minutes Kayleigh grew more aware. She was in a bed in a hospital recovery area. A drip was attached to her arm and a mask delivered oxygen to her face through a green, plastic tube. She still felt very drowsy and went back to sleep for a while, only waking up when a pair of porters arrived to wheel her to a ward. She was backed into a room with four old women and another nurse started checking her blood pressure and temperature. She drank a little water and began to feel more alert. It was morning and cloudy sunlight seeped in through the windows.
Half an hour later her surgeon came to see her; a white haired man with bifocal glasses and different coloured scrubs to everyone else. “Can you remember what happened, Miss Ford?”
She shook her head.
“You’re a very lucky young lady. Another hour or two and you certainly would have died… All aircraft are grounded because of the storm, but your friends on Rockall managed to get you aboard a Navy ship that carried you here. We rushed you into theatre and found that you had appendicitis. By the time we removed your appendix it was starting to perforate and leak infected material into your bowel cavity; a potentially fatal complication. We cleaned you up inside and gave you antibiotics.” He smiled kindly. “You’re going to be alright.”
“Thanks, Doctor.” She noticed that she had a square, white dressing on her stomach. It stung a little, but it wasn’t as bed as it had been before.
“I’ve written you up for plenty of painkillers.”
“When can I go back to Rockall?”
“A couple of weeks at least. Give yourself a chance to recover. Later on today do you think you’ll be up to doing a few interviews?”
“Radio, TV, papers and such. You’ve become a bit of a celebrity, Miss Ford. The media have got hold of your plight and have been following it closely.”
Kayleigh did a Gaelic language TV interview and spoke to a reporter from Highland Life magazine. She ate a small meal in the afternoon and then her parents turned up. “Sorry we took so long.” said her father. “The planes were cancelled because of the weather so we had to drive up to Ullapool and catch the boat.” When they’d left to find a B-and-B Kayleigh checked her emails on the bedside console. There was one from Dill. She inhaled sharply and put a hand to her mouth as she read it, remembering his visit to her tent. He ended the message Dill xxx.
She pushed the console away in panic.
Ross Quentin paid a visit just before bedtime. He was on a ship docked in Stornoway bound for Rockall. He asked her not to let the others know that he was on his way, wanting it to be a surprise. “But I had no idea you were planning one of your own!” he said. “Thank God you’re OK!”
She chuckled nervously. “Too right! It’s been an unpleasant experience, but at least now I have the chance to get a few months’ rest.”
“A few months? The nurses told me you’d be fit in a couple of weeks. I was under the impression you couldn’t wait to get back out to Rockall.”
“Yeah, but I’ve been thinking…” she shrugged evasively.
He studied her hard; his sensitive, brown eyes bored into hers. “You don’t sound very happy, Kayleigh. Is everything alright over there?”
“Well… I’m not sure. Things have been a bit… nightmarish lately. I’ve been missing home and this brush with death has scared me.”
“Are you saying you might choose not to go back… ever?”
She shrugged again. “Dunno.”
She couldn’t sleep that night. She turned one way and then the other, got up to go to the toilet, chatted with the nurses. Another email came through from Dill at one AM. It was midnight on Rockall, clocks on the island being set one hour behind Greenwich Mean Time; the only part of Britain to do so. The message was pushy and impatient for a reply; Dill must have been lying awake too. A stab of unease hit her. Dill was thinking about her, perhaps dreaming about her. What if were having sexual fantasies about her right at that minute?
Cold sweat broke out on Kayleigh’s forehead. She put her fingers in her mouth and nibbled her nails. She was no virgin; she’d had a handful of one-night-stands with intoxicated men after raucous evenings on the town. After they’ve had enough drinks, men will have sex with any woman who’s available; but Dill!... She looked down at her cetacean belly and hippopotamus thighs, squeezing her love-handles and bulges. Dill was actually attracted to her!? The idea was totally obscene!
She knew that she would never be able to face Dill again. After her sick-leave she would resign from the Rockall Commission and return to her life in Glasgow. She composed a hurried reply to his email then switched the console off.
The headquarters of McArthur and Rayworth Limited were in an ugly, post-war, red-bricked building set in a run-down industrial area of Glasgow. Kayleigh approached the entrance slowly, feeling nervous and demoralized. She’d never imagined coming back here. She’d felt such relief the previous summer when she’d walked out of those archaic revolving doors two hours after Quentin had ‘phoned to confirm her place on the Project Rockall, but here they were again in front of her; and this time she was walking in.
“Hello, Kayleigh! I’d heard you were coming back.” Maggie the receptionist smiled. Her hair had grown a bit since they’d last seen each other. Kayleigh forced herself to smile back and wave. She entered the lift and pressed the fourth floor button.
“Hiya, Kay!” Geri and Belinda ran up and hugged her as she walked into the Highland Development office. “It’s good to see you again! How long have you been back?”
“Just a week and a bit.”
“Well, you’ve got a good chat-up line now!” said Geri. “’Hey, Love; wanna see my appendix scar?’”
They all laughed then Belinda said: “God’s truth, Kay; I never thought we’d see you in here again.”
“Nor me, Bel. I’m not here ‘cos I want to be, I swear! I’ve spent every waking second since I got home down the job centre and there’s sweet FA if you’ve got my qualifications. It was either this or being a waitress or cleaner or something.”
“So what was it like on Rockall?”
“Ooh!” she shivered. “All rain and birdshit! Four and a half months in a tent! No proper food or bath! Nothing to look at but rocks and sea! Don’t go there on holiday!”
“Sounds ghastly, Kay.” said Geri. “But we’ve done something to cheer you up; also to say ‘Welcome back’. You’ve heard of IFSAL?”
“Yeah; that place in Edinburgh that’s opening next weekend.”
“Well, we’ve got tickets for the three of us to go along and watch.”
“You know who’s going to be there, don’t you?” said Belinda. “Malcolm Tustian!”
“Ooh!” All three women squealed like excited schoolgirls.
BANG! The door to the supervisor’s cubicle was flung open and a sharp-featured, thin-lipped old woman appeared. “Have you three clocked in yet?” she snapped. She had a loud, abrasive voice.
“Er… yes, Daphne.” said Geri.
“Then get to work! You can prattle as much as you like in your lunch hour!” BANG! The door shut again.
Belinda stuck out her tongue to Daphne’s back. “Old cow!”
“Yeah; one of these days I’m gonna stuff that bitch!” snarled Geri.
“She hasn’t changed a bit.” said Kayleigh grimly. Welcome home, Kayleigh!
Kayleigh went into the bathroom and had a shower. Then she dried herself, stood in front of the full-length mirror, wiped the condensation off its surface and studied her body. Dill is mad, and that’s official! She was so ugly that she could hardly bear to look at herself. Her breasts were big and full, but busty girls only looked good if their figures were firm and lean; hers looked like a rubber glove filled with custard. Her belly was enormous and hung out over her lower body. Her navel was sunk into its bulge like a button on a cushion. Fat rolled down her sides in layers at her armpit, midriff and hips. Her bottom was outrageously huge as if transplanted from a giant and her thighs had a bigger girth than some peoples’ waistlines. Cellulite rusted her skin.
She had never let a man see her naked, even during sex. She always wore a big, frilly nightdress while performing the act. “Come on, take it off. Let me see the rest of you.” one of them had said, breathing lager fumes in her face, but she had refused. She’d seen him the following weekend kissing a size ten aerobics instructress. I rest my case!
Kayleigh put on her dressing gown and went downstairs. Her mother was in the kitchen, rolling out pastry. “Mum?”
“Do you think I’m pretty?”
Her mother stopped rolling and looked up at her with a smile. “Of course you’re pretty, Kay.”
“Yeah, but you’re my mum; you would say that. I’m not pretty pretty, am I? I’m not the kind of girl men fancy.”
“Oh, aye? And what kind of girl do men fancy?”
“Well… you know; beautiful girls.”
“And what makes a girl beautiful?”
“Well… you know. Beautiful girls are… you know.”
“Slim? Flat stomach? Skinny legs? Tight arse? Perfect features? Like film stars and all those models you see in magazines?”
Her mother laughed. “Not all men fancy that sort of girl.”
“What? Of course they do!”
“No they don’t. Some guys prefer a woman with a bit more flesh.”
“No; that can’t be true. If it was we’d see tubby girls on TV and in magazines. I’ve listened to men talking; I’ve read Sorted M@n. They all only fancy slim girls! Every single one of them!”
“Kayleigh.” Mrs Ford put down the rolling pin and came around the table to face her daughter, brushing the flour off her hands. “Watching TV and reading magazines like Sorted M@n is not the way to find out what men are thinking. It’ll only tell you what they’re supposed to be thinking. Even when lads talk together, they’re not saying what they really think; they’re just saying things that make them sound cool and sophisticated to their mates. And that means regurgitating the kind of crap you find in Sorted M@n.
Kayleigh hesitated. “Why?”
She took out two teacups and switched on the kettle. “When I was a girl I took sociology in my last year of school. I was a wee bit plump in those days and was a member of Pound-Shedders. I decided to do a paper on the diet industry for my O-grade, thinking it would be something I could easily research. I found out that Scottish women spend two and a quarter billion pounds a year on slimming products! Somebody is getting very rich on women wanting to lose weight. I managed to find out who they were too. Pound-Shedders is run by a company called Michaelson Enterprises while a cartel called Cameron Skeyn owns the firm that produces Trim-Shakes and Calorectify pills. ‘Fine’ I thought and added it to my essay as a note of interest. Then one day I was checking through a catalogue, looking for a good deal on a new dress, when I happened to glance at an advert for a fashion and beauty magazine. I didn’t really pay much attention till I saw the names of the magazine’s publishers… Michaelson Enterprises and Cameron Skeyn!” She handed a steaming teacup to her daughter.
Kayleigh took a sip. “I don’t get it, Mum.”
“Haven’t you ever wondered why millions of perfectly healthy women develop this urge to turn themselves into walking beanpoles? Why are teenage girls starving themselves to death? It’s because on this constant bombardment through the media, especially beauty magazines, of this message: ‘Get thin and be beautiful! If you don’t you’re ugly and worthless!’” She rapped her own forehead with her knuckles. “The solution: Diets, slimming pills, fat-free shakes… and guess what? The people who make them are owned by the same people who make the magazines. Two sides on the same coin. One side creates the obsession, the other offers the cure. Both sides are in fact only one side and they make a huge pile of cash out of it!”
“Bloody hell! What a rip-off!”
“Not half! Of course I quit Pound-Shedders straight away and decided to change my essay to an article exposing the diet industry con.”
“Good for you, Mum!”
“But I failed.”
“I know; my sociology teacher couldn’t believe it either.”
“Aw, Mum! Why?”
“The answer came a few weeks before my results. I got an anonymous ‘phone call from a very rude man. He told me I was going to fail my sociology exam and if I wrote anything on the same subject again, then me and my family would experience a new kind of slimming… under a steamroller!”
“You’re kidding!” Kayleigh gasped.
“Then he slammed the ‘phone down.”
“You actually received a death-threat!?”
“Are you surprised? Remember that these two firms are making more than two billion a year in Scotland alone.”
“Bloody hell!” Then she shook her head. “Why didn’t you tell me!?”
“I never felt I needed to until just now when you asked me if you’re pretty.” Mrs Ford sat down on a stool and took a sip from her teacup. “I’m sure that this fraud is just the tip of the iceberg. As I said before, there’s Sorted M@n and other lad mags too. They’re just another side to the one coin that says: ‘If you want to be a real man then get a six-pack stomach, drive a big, fast car and only fancy the girls we tell you to fancy’.”
There was a pause as Kayleigh digested this new information. “Mum… Surely there’s some mistake. All this can’t be true.”
“I’m afraid it is, Sweetie. It’s not just about money either. It’s about making us think a certain way so the people in power can control us.”
“But it couldn’t possibly work! People would suss it!”
“Some do. I did, didn’t I?... And this lad you told me about on Rockall…”
“Yeah. He sounds like he’s got his head screwed on. He’s got the intelligence to see through the scam. Kay, you’re a beautiful girl! Why shouldn’t he fall for you?”
Kayleigh felt a glowing smile cross her face. She said in a quiet voice: “So you mean I really can get men to fancy me? Just like Stacey Mendez or Britney Spears?”
Mrs Ford laughed affectionately. “Of course you can, Sweetie! You’re just as beautiful as those two; only in a different way… It sounds as though your pal Dill is smitten!”
The Institute For Scottish Art and Literature had taken three years and fifteen million pounds to build. It was a modern, peach-stained marble structure that stood right in the heart of the Granite City, overlooked by the castle itself. Halloween night was the grand opening and the forecourt was packed with spectators.
Geri, Belinda and Kayleigh had been in Edinburgh since two o’clock. They’d had a few drinks in Greyfriar’s Bobby Inn then made their way around the crowded streets going from pub to pub. Kayleigh was completely manic. She’d fantasized about times like this while huddled in her tent on Rockall and this sudden high-dosage of civilization overloaded her mind. She didn’t pace her drinks and was reeling within two hours. She ended up being sick on the Heart of Midlothian while trying to spit on it. Her two friends sobered her up with a few black coffees and they took a slow walk up to the castle. The soldiers would be marching and there was a vigorous breeze coming in from the sea; perhaps enough to lift a kilt or two.
After dark they joined the crowds in the IFSAL forecourt where a live TV broadcast had just begun. They brought raffle tickets from a roving vendor and squeezed through the crowds, trying to get as close to the front as possible. There was a floodlit stage with dancers, bagpipes and singers. The masters-of-ceremonies were both famous personalities: Noel Edmonds and Lorraine Kelly, but the highlight of the evening was the entry onto stage of Malcolm Tustian, IFSAL’s patron. As he stepped under the spotlights Kayleigh was almost deafened by a scream of feminine delight from the audience. The girls around her leaped in the air. “MALCOLM!... MALCOLM!” Some were even weeping like Beatles fans.
Malcolm Tustian was a small and diminutive man. He was dressed modestly and appeared slightly self-conscious as he smiled and waved at the audience and cameras.
“Bloody hell, I’d shag that!” exclaimed Geri.
“Cor, yeah!” said Belinda. “Just think of all that dosh! What a hunk!”
“He’s nothing special!” scoffed Kayleigh. “Look at him! He’s like a shit-scared kid up there!”
“You’re just jealous, Kay, ‘cos you can’t have him.”
“Fuck off! He’s an overfed wimp! I don’t want him!”
Geri and Belinda looked at each other and smirked.
Malcolm Tustian was the world’s richest Scotsman; owner of the multi-million pound Anvil Leisure empire. Thirty-six years old and divorced, he had been dubbed by the media: “The most eligible bachelor in the world.” The previous year had seen an explosion in his public image, appearing on TV and in every magazine. The question he was most commonly asked was: “Who’s the lucky girl going to be?”
Tustian was introduced by Lorraine then approached the microphone, taking out a speech card and clearing his throat. His face was displayed on a giant repeater screen that hung above the stage. “Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be speaking to you tonight outside this beautiful monument to the minds of Scotland. As we present IFSAL to the world, it creates an ideal time to look back at our history and how it has shaped our nation, one of the oldest in Europe, and how it will continue to shape our future…” His voice was monotonic and sincere, a sharp contrast to Lorraine Kelly’s bubbly mien.
Kayleigh looked up at the screen and admired the comely billionaire then her eyes dropped to his figure on stage, looking ordinary from such a distance.
“And now it’s time to decide who will be the one to cut the ribbon and open IFSAL to the people, their children and their children’s children.”
Noel Edmonds wheeled forward a clear plastic tombola drum and turned a handle on the side, churning the tickets it contained. Tustian closed his eyes, reached inside and pulled out one of the little scraps of paper. “Number three-seven-four-four.”
“Three-seven-four-four.” repeated Edmonds. “Does anyone have that ticket?”
There was silence from the crowd.
“Someone must have it because it was sold. Three-seven-four-four.
Kayleigh had fallen into a daydream and had missed the gist of what was going on. Now she suddenly remembered the raffle tickets that they’d bought earlier. “None of you’s got it, have you?” she asked her friends and she rummaged in her pocket.
They shook their heads. “What’s the prize?” asked Geri.
“You get to open the joint in front of the cameras.” said Belinda. “Probably get a snog off old donkey-dick up there and all… for the lucky bitch who wins it. It ain’t you is it, Kay?”
Kayleigh couldn’t speak. Her mouth had gone dry and her body shook. She stared at the figures on the ticket, expecting them to change. 3744. Involuntarily, her arm shot into the air and began waving the ticket with all its might. She heard herself shout out.
Kelly looked her way. “What’s this? Do we have a lucky winner? Come on up here!”
Everything happened very quickly. A squad of uniformed stewards closed on Kayleigh and nudged her gently to the edge of the crowd which was applauding and cheering. Smiling faces approached and passed her dazed eyes. She was now climbing up the steps onto the stage and being blinded by a row of arclights. The sudden emergence into open space made her feel agoraphobic and vulnerable. She felt her cheeks radiate as she surveyed the sea of people in the audience. She was hit by a pang of dizziness and stumbled. Kelly’s friendly visage grinned into hers and the touch of the presenter’s arm around her shoulders made her jump. An acrid-smelling microphone was pushed in her face. “And what’s your name?”
“Kayleigh Ford.” Her lips had difficulty forming the words. She heard her amplified voice echo off the marble walls of the new building.
“And where are you from, Kayleigh?”
“Partick! A Glasgow girl! Are you ready to cut the ribbon and open IFSAL?”
“OK. Malcolm will help you.”
“Hi, Kayleigh.” The billionaire’s voice seemed dim and fuzzy as he guided Kayleigh over to a bright purple ribbon that was stretched across the back of the stage. “These are for you.” He passed her a pair of silver scissors. Kayleigh’s hand felt as if it were dressed in a thick mitten as she fumbled them into her grip. She lost her focus and could now see two ribbons. Her breathing jammed and she panicked, choking and gasping for air. Her legs gave way and the last thing she remembered was laying face-up on the stage, staring at the lights above as everyone fussed round her.
“Your blood pressure’s a wee bit high.” said the doctor. He pressed a button on the side of the machine and the cuff loosened its biting grip on Kayleigh’s arm. “That combined with the alcohol in your system is what probably caused the blackout. You’ve only been back from Rockall a couple of weeks and you’ve had major surgery too. You need time to recover and adjust before going out on benders.”
“I was sober by the time we got to IFSAL.” replied Kayleigh. “We’ve had nothing but coke and coffee since four.”
“Alcohol can linger in the bloodstream for a long time after the initial narcosis has worn off. Your liver was grafting flat-out to scrub it from your body; then came the stress of appearing in public. Put that together I’d have been surprised if you’d stayed on your feet!” He chuckled as he packed his equipment away.
“Is there any chance I could see my mates, Doc?”
“Of course; I’ll send them in, but first I want to get you an appointment with a cardiologist in Glasgow. We need to get your heart checked out; I’m a wee bit concerned about this trace.” He tapped the ECG machine.
She gulped. “What do you mean?”
He smiled. “Don’t worry; you’re not going to conk out. All we probably need to do is drop you into the clutches of a dietician. Get some of this weight off you, Lass!”
Kayleigh blushed as the doctor left her alone in the Accident and Emergency cubicle. She lay back on the trolley with a sigh and watched the blips of her heartbeat as they chased each other across the monitor screen. A few minutes later the curtain was drawn back and her two friends entered. Geri and Belinda kissed her and caressed both her shoulders. “God, you gave us a fright, Kay!” said Geri. “We were scared you were dead!”
“On live TV as well!” said Belinda. “Gee whiz! I wonder if anyone we know has recorded it.”
“Oh, don’t!” Kayleigh winced. “I feel so embarrassed!... Anyway, what happened after I left? Did they call out another ticket number?”
“No, the programme was cancelled. The opening’s been postponed to a later date.”
“The paramedics were mucking about with you for a good twenty minutes before they carried you into the ambulance.”
“Malcolm didn’t leave your side the whole time!” Geri winked. “Pity you were out cold, Girl!”
“So.” continued Belinda. “They had to get off the air to let the next programme on; so that’s that.”
“Shit! I feel such a cow!”
“It’s not your fault, Kay; you couldn’t help being ill.”
“Was Malcolm angry?”
“Not at all.” said Geri. “He was only concerned for you. Trust you to sleep through that, you poor tart!”
“Pah!” Kayleigh waved her hand dismissively. “He was probably liable in the small print! Didn’t want my family suing him!”
Half an hour later Geri and Belinda left to catch the late train home and Kayleigh was moved to a ward to begin her second stay in hospital within a month. The TV set mounted above her bed was showing the news. The volume was turned right down, but Kayleigh could see what the story was about. She immediately recognized the short, fat, ugly woman who came up onto the stage at IFSAL. The camera followed her as she walked unsteadily up to the presenters and keeled over.
Kayleigh rolled onto her side and squeezed her eyes tight shut. Tears leaked from the corners.
“Fortune is like a pendulum.” Kayleigh’s late grandmother once told her. “It oscillates back and forth from good to bad. The further it swings one way, the further it’ll swing back the other.”
At eight o’clock the following morning Kayleigh got dressed and made her way to the discharge lounge. There she signed some papers and waited for the doctor who was writing a letter to her GP. She had just ordered some coffee from the refreshments stall when she heard some commotion outside the door. A red-faced nurse burst in. “Kayleigh! You’ve got a visitor!” she panted excitedly.
As Kayleigh stepped outside the door she saw four, big, suited men in dark glasses walk into the ward and take up evenly-placed positions to stand in, shifting their weight assuredly from one foot to the other. Then a fifth, much smaller individual appeared between them, dressed more casually.
When Kayleigh recognized him she nearly dropped her coffee in shock. “M… Mr Tustian!”
“Hello, Kayleigh.” He wore that same nervous smile. “I hope you’re not going to swoon on me again.”
“No, no! Of course not, Mr Tustian.”
“I’m sorry about all this.” He gestured at the big men around him. “These fellers go everywhere with me; more for the public’s safety than for my own.”
“Er… Anyway, I’ve come to offer you a lift home. How does that sound?”
“Great.” she squeaked.
Malcolm Tustian put a hand through her arm and led her off the ward past a row of blushing nurses. Two of the bodyguards ran ahead and checked the lift bay while the other two walked on either side of them. I must be asleep and still dreaming. She thought.
“So how are you feeling this morning? Better I hope.”
“Oh, yes.” she nodded. “Much better thanks.”
They walked out of the hospital to the car park where a huge, black limousine was parked. “Thank you, Munks.” said Tustian as the uniformed chauffeur held the door open for them. The car’s interior was like nothing Kayleigh had ever imagined with huge, velvet seats, a TV screen and a chilled drinks cabinet, out of which the chauffeur brought an ice bucket with a champagne bottle inside, gold-topped and beaded with condensation from the heavy chill. He opened it and poured out two glasses. Then he went round to the driver’s seat and the car started moving. The bodyguards drove ahead of them in a second car.
The car was soundproofed and well-sprung and the ride was very smooth. Kayleigh sipped her champagne and choked as the bubbles went up into her nose.
“Do you like it?” the billionaire asked, studying her intently.
“Yes, it’s delicious. I’m not really used to this sort of drink.”
“It’s Dom Mollierre, Nineteen sixty-four. It’s a good year… so they tell me!” He laughed. “I’m no expert on wine, you know. I prefer a good whiskey, like every other Scot.” His dark brown eyes were deep set and crinkled at the edges as he smiled.
“Give me a Smirnoff Ice and I’ll be happy… This is very kind of you, Mr Tustian.”
“You’re welcome. I felt bad about what happened last night. I could see you weren’t quite right as soon as you came up on the dais. I should have stopped it; I’m sorry.”
“The raffle was my idea. IFSAL has been built for the people of Scotland, so I wanted an ordinary Scotsman or Scotswoman to open it.”
She looked at the glass. The chilled champagne felt cool in her hand. “I’m sorry I let you down, Mr Tustian.”
“Don’t be; please. I should be apologizing to you… In fact I’ve got an idea of how I can make it up to you.” Tustian pressed a button on the arm of his seat. “The city please, Munks.”
“Very good, Sir.” came the voice of the driver through a loudspeaker.
They drove down to IFSAL and parked on the cobbled forecourt. It was deserted except for a few cleaners and workmen. The stage was still in place, though TV technicians were dismantling the sound and lighting rigs or scooping up wires on huge, wooden reels. The bodyguards announced that the area was safe and Tustian’s driver opened the back door. He took Kayleigh’s arm again as they walked over to the stage. It was a cool, damp morning and the clouds were broken. The sun was out, but was hidden by the shadow of the IFSAL facade. Kayleigh stopped wondering what was going on for a second to savour her companion’s gentle touch. Malcolm Tustian was only a few inches taller than she was and walked slowly. He smelled pleasantly of aftershave and had the lightest of stubble on the corner of his sharp chin and at the edges of his mouth.
They mounted the same stairs to the stage that Kayleigh had used the evening before and saw that the ceremonial ribbon was still there, stretched between the two uprights of the main entrance. Tustian reached into his pocket, brought out the silver scissors and handed them to Kayleigh.
“You didn’t quite make it last night, Kayleigh.” he said. “Would you like to open IFSAL now?”
She recovered from her surprise and looked around her. There were no spectators, no cameras and no photographers. “Mr Tustian, this isn’t right.”
“Of course it is.”
“No. It’s not… proper.”
“Well, what do you call proper then?”
“I don’t know.”
“So cut the ribbon and say the words.”
“Er… shouldn’t there be an official picture or something?”
The billionaire paused. “You’re right.” He ran back to the car and returned holding a pocket camera.
She giggled and placed the ribbon between the scissor blades. She waited until Tustian was ready with the camera then said: “I now declare the Institute for Scottish Art and Literature… open!” With a deft snip, the ribbon parted and fell limply to the chipboard floor on either side. The shutter clicked. “Will that do?”
He took a step closer to her. “That was perfect. It couldn’t have been better.”
She found his gaze a little too intense and looked away. “I’m sure it could. You could have had the Royal Family and Prime Minister watching and perhaps get some pop star to cut the ribbon.”
“It wouldn’t have come close to this… I’m going to have a gold plaque put here saying: ‘IFSAL was opened by Kayleigh Ford of Partick, Glasgow on the First of November Two thousand and nine.”
She felt herself flush. “Golly! Thanks!”
“Thank you, Kayleigh.”
“Here you are.” She offered him back the scissors.
“No, no; they’re yours. I told you that last night.”
She nodded shyly and slipped them into her pocket.
There was a pause. “I expect you’re anxious to get back home to Glasgow. Tell me your address and we’ll drive you there.”
As soon as they were on the road again, Tustian pressed another button and the forward seat unfolded to expose a built-in computer. He plugged in the camera and emailed the pictures of Kayleigh cutting the ribbon to his press agent; then he printed off a few copies for the subject herself.
Munks drove them to Glasgow and through the city to Partick. Kayleigh gave him directions and as they entered her housing scheme, the limousine received strange looks from passers-by. They parked at the end of her road and she turned to her companion. “Well, thank you for this morning, Mr Tustian.”
“It’s been a pleasure, Kayleigh. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
She became suddenly self-conscious. How did one say goodbye to a multi-millionaire? Was she supposed to shake his hand? Kiss his cheek? And what words could she use? “I’ll… see you around then.” She opened the door.
As she got out, Tustian leaned forward to follow her with his eyes. “Take care of yourself, Kayleigh.” He shut the door and his little motorcade drove off.
The limousine’s windows were tinted and opaque, but she could sense that the man inside was still looking at her. She stood on the curb, watching it until it drove around the corner out of sight.
Kayleigh was renowned for telling tall stories, so she knew that she shouldn’t have been offended when nobody believed her. Her parents laughed when she showed them the scissors and photo printout. “I wasn’t born yesterday, Kay.” said her father. “You got that done in a joke shop.” Her friends also scoffed. For every romantic encounter she’d ever had, she had always exaggerated the attractiveness and sexual proficiency of the man when relating the event. Every weekend in Blackpool became an adventure once it had been refined by her imagination. When the story appeared in The Daily Record two days later, along with the photo, she relished their dumbfounded expressions. Unfortunately no office scandal lasts forever and by the following week Kayleigh’s notoriety had been eclipsed by Paula’s explosive affair with the personnel manager. She rather missed the curious glances and sudden hush as she entered the coffee room. But her regret was a few months premature.
The following Thursday she was just getting down to work after her morning break when a call came through from reception. “Kayleigh, there’s a delivery for you.”
“OK, Maggie; I’ll pick it up at lunchtime.”
“Erm… Kay, I think you’d better come down now.”
“Why? What is it?”
The receptionist paused. “It’s a wee bit personal.”
She sighed. “Alright, I’m on my way.” As she got out of the lift in the entrance hall, she stopped in her tracks. Munks, Tustian’s chauffeur, was standing by the door, carefully holding an enormous bouquet of flowers. “Miss Ford, I’ve been sent to give you these.”
“They’re a gift from Mr Tustian.” He held them out.
With a quivering pair of hands, she reached out and took them; their powerful, dank scent filled her nostrils.
“Miss.” Munks touched his cap and bowed then turned and walked out.
One step at a time, she stumbled back to the lift. She could hear excited whispering from the reception staff behind her. They were red roses; several dozen immaculate blooms in felted, blue paper wrap. There was a card attached saying: To Kayleigh, for making my day- MT and a kiss. Reception must have phoned ahead because everyone on the floor was waiting in the lift bay as the doors slid apart. Geri came forward to look at them. “Bloody hell! Who gave you these!?”
“Malcolm Tustian.” responded Kayleigh hoarsely.
No one else spoke as she walked through to the pantry and put them in a vase. She remained in a trance for the rest of the day, hardly saying a word. Her parents’ reaction was much the same as her colleagues. They wished her goodnight in strange tones as she walked up the stairs to bed. She lay awake for hours, staring at the roses in their vase which she’d placed on the window ledge where she could see them. They seemed to shine in the hazy moonlight as if fluorescent.
The following afternoon, the flowers were only just starting to fade. Kayleigh had finished work early and was studying at her desk when the ‘phone rang. She picked up the receiver. “Hello?”
There was a pause. “Hello, Kayleigh.”
Her heart burst into life; her body shook. “Mr Tustian!?”
“Listen, Kayleigh; I’m sorry to intrude on you like this. I’m not a stalker, I promise. I’m a shareholder with Arcon Communications which is how I found out your ‘phone number. I’ve not divulged it to anyone else and as soon as we’ve ended this call, I’ll burn it. The same goes for how I knew where to send the flowers; I’ve got a friend who’s on the board of directors of your employer. It was very improper of me to trace you in this way, but I needed to speak to you again. I’m sorry.”
“That’s alright! It’s no problem!... Thank you for the flowers; they’re beautiful. You made my day!”
“I just wanted to express my appreciation for the other week.”
“Oh, you’re welcome. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
“Super.” There was an embarrassed silence.
“So… er… how have you been keeping?”
“Not bad. A bit tense at work; I’ve been away a long time.”
“What are you doing at the moment?”
“I’ve started a management diploma.”
“So you’ll be working at it all evening.”
“No, I’ll put it down later and go out with my mates like I do every Friday night.”
“I was just wondering… whether your mates would mind if… you went out with me tonight instead, for a drink or a bite to eat or whatever you like to do when you go out.”
Kayleigh fought hard to keep her voice steady. “Sure, no problem.”
“Great! I’ll look forward to it. What time shall I pick you up?”
“Is seven alright? Gives me a chance to get ready.”
“Seven it is then. See you.”
“See ya.” They hung up.
Kayleigh sat still for a few minutes until her breathing returned to normal. She pinched herself and it hurt. She did it again, but nothing happened. She picked up the ‘phone and dialled Geri’s number. “Hi, Gez.”
“Alright, Kay. All set for this evening?”
“No; sorry. I won’t be coming out with you and Bel tonight. Something’s come up. I’ve got a date.”
“Way to go! Who’s the lucky chappie?”
“Well… it’s Malcolm Tustian.”
“It’s Malcolm Tustian.”
There was a long silence. The line crackled. “You’re taking the piss, Kay.”
“No, Gez; I’m straight up. I’ve got a date with Malcolm Tustian. I can hardly believe it myself.”
Geri made a noise that was something between a gasp and a guffaw. “Well!… Good luck! Enjoy yourself and give him one from me and Bel, eh?”
As Kayleigh hung up she shivered. She glanced at the clock: Ten past five; less than two hours! She jumped up in a frenzy and crashed open her wardrobe. She dismissed the row of orange and purple cotton skirts and terylene blouses that she normally wore out and moved on to her full-length dresses and settled for a black, off-the-shoulder, nylon number that ended just above her knees. She put on salmon tights and maroon sandals and painted her nails to match. She only wore her diamond earrings and pearl bracelet on special occasions and this was the first time in three or four years that she’d put them on. The same went for her total makeup. She used up almost the full remaining twenty minutes to get it right. The sound of the doorbell made her jump so badly that she smudged her lipstick. She fumbled a tissue out of the box and wiped her cheek clean then looked out of the window. This time he was using a different car: a white, American-style vehicle. It was so long that he’d been forced to double-park it.
“Kayleigh!” called her mother up the stairs.
“Coming, Mum!” She took one last look at herself in the mirror then pattered down to the hall, filled with cold, night air. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Tustian smiled very slightly. He was standing dead on the threshold, one thumb tucked into the pocket of his black cords. He was dressed quite casually; a thin, grey polo neck and a white leather jacket to match his car? “Are you ready?”
“Yeah. Let’s go.”
Munks held the door open for them and poured them both a glass of white wine before getting into the driver’s seat and pulling away. Tustian turned to face Kayleigh, the streetlight reflecting in his eyes. “Cheers.”
“Cheers.” Kayleigh tapped her glass against his and sipped. “So, where do you fancy going?”
“Do you know any good pubs round here?” He chuckled. “Only kidding. I thought we’d go for a meal somewhere nice.”
“Sounds cool. There’s a couple of good restaurants in town.”
“How about going a little further afield?”
She shrugged. “I’m easy.”
“OK… Munks, you know where to go.”
Something in their tone aroused Kayleigh’s curiosity. This redoubled when, instead of driving downtown, the limo headed through the river tunnel into Govan and turned west towards Renfrewshire. “Mr Tustian, where are we going?”
“Paris!? You’re pulling my leg!”
“Of course not. You can get the best food in the world in Paris.”
“But… I can’t go to Paris, just like that!”
“Don’t worry; I’ll have you home safe and sound by the end of the night.”
“Well, I’ll have to go to the bank; I’ve got no euros.”
“No way, Kayleigh. It’s my treat.”
She sat back and nibbled her fingernails.
When they reached the airport, Kayleigh expected them to get out and check in at the terminal building as they did when she went on holiday, but instead they drove straight up to the security gate and were allowed past without even stepping out of the car. Then Munks drove them onto a floodlit taxiway where a private jet was parked; the motif of the Anvil Group was stencilled on its tail. “My God!” muttered Kayleigh.
A uniformed pilot and steward saluted the couple as they walked the few yard to the aircraft, climbed up the steps and entered the sumptuous cabin. She quickly scanned the furnishings, settee, drinks cabinet, TV console, before being ushered into a takeoff seat across the aisle from Tustian. The executive jet was so smooth that she hardly felt it move and the engine noise was little more than a whisper. She looked out of the window and saw the terminal buildings peel away. They rolled across the grass-verged taxiways of Glasgow airport, joining the queue of much larger airliners until it was their turn to become airborne. The noise of the jets rose from a whisper to a murmur as they raced off up the runway. She jumped as Tustian gently reached across the aisle and put his hand over hers. She looked at his concerned eyes. “Are you alright, Kayleigh?”
“Don’t panic; my flight crew are the best in the world. They know what they’re doing.”
The amber spattering of Glasgow’s streetlights fell away beneath them and they rose above the high cloud to ride through a moonlit skyscape of hazy cirrus which gleamed like silver wool. The two passengers got up from their seats and moved to the settee to relax during the ninety-minute journey to the French capital. Tustian’s steward served them with more wine and put some relaxing music on the stereo. Then Kayleigh was left to sit in silence as the telephone rang and Tustian began a long conversation with someone called Tony about stocks and shares. Kayleigh attempted to follow it, but soon got lost. It seemed to consist entirely of numbers and the words “Buy” and “Sell”. The plane had begun its descent into another airport by the time Tustian finally hung up. He turned to her immediately. “Kayleigh, I’m so so sorry! That was incredibly rude of me.”
She shrugged. “It’s alright.”
“That was an extremely important call; it couldn’t wait. These things do happen in my line of work. Don’t worry; I’ve left strict instructions not to be disturbed tonight, whatever the pretext… I’m all yours, I promise.” He grinned; then they retook their places for landing.
The streets of Paris scrolled by underneath the aeroplane’s wheels; then the night time green baulks of the airport. With a thud, they were back on the ground again and Kayleigh stared out at the foreign runway as its white markings flickered past. It was less than two hours after she’d stepped out of her front door in Scotland, and now she was descending the gangway into a foreign country. It was much warmer than it had been back home, but it still felt damp. A few puddles dotted the apron, reflecting the airport lights in silvery blobs. She expected to be led to another car, but instead saw a helicopter sitting in front of them. She pulled up short. Her companion put a hand on her shoulder. “What’s wrong, Kayleigh?”
“You never said anything about a helicopter.”
“No I didn’t; Why?”
“I… I’ve never been in a helicopter before, Mr Tustian.”
“Don’t be afraid; It’s perfectly safe. I fly in them all the time. There’s no difference between a chopper and a plane really.”
She worriedly fastened her seatbelt in the back of the helicopter and put on a pair of ear-defenders. The engine was a muffled roar as it powered up and the rotors began revolving overhead. Then her stomach turned over as the aircraft rose like an express lift. Tustian turned to her and smiled out of the corner of his beautiful, brown eyes. She grinned and nodded.
Kayleigh forgot her fear as the lightshow of night time Paris came into view. The river Seine was a strip of blackness running through the carpet of glittering streets. A few boats dotted the water like luminous insects. When she saw the Eiffel Tower she tapped her companion’s shoulder and pointed. He leaned over her lap and looked then turned to her with his face close and smiled. She felt herself blush and bashfully lowered her gaze.
They soared over the city towards a modern business district in the southwest. One skyscraper in particular dominated the skyline: a giant cylindrical tower. It reached up into the clouds like and enormous piece of dowelling. The helicopter began to climb. Kayleigh wondered why they were flying over the top of the building rather than going around it, but when the aircraft slowed she understood. The top of the tower was a flat circle, in the middle of which was a floodlit helipad. A surge of vertigo rose in her body as the helicopter wobbled in its descent. She gripped the arms of her seat and clenched her jaw tight. The aircraft landed with a thump and the engine noise slowly ebbed. A posse of butlers approached and opened the doors, bowing as Tustian and Kayleigh stepped out. A gusty wind whipped around and the billionaire took her arm as they walked to the edge of the helipad and down a flight of metal stairs to a concrete terrace. They passed through a steel fire door and then a decorative wooden screen and entered another world. The first thing Kayleigh noticed was the music; a string quarter played a tranquil tune from a raised platform in the corner. She stopped walking and let her eyes pan across the room. The entire curve of the outside wall was glass; the straight inside one was draped with crimson sash. The floor, which was the size of several tennis courts, was covered in thick, dark carpet. A grandfather clock ticked away the seconds by the wall to her right and to her left, in a slight depression, was a dance floor and a green velvet settee. The lights were dim, a series of softly-glowing chandeliers, making the city lights outside the floor-to-ceiling windows glow brightly. She felt as if she were still riding in the air above them.
There were people all around them. Suited butlers stood to attention around a small dining table in the centre of the room and a chef stood in front of them, dressed in the traditional white tunic and hat. “Kayleigh.” said Tustian. “May I introduce Monsieur Pierre Troubequet de Maxim? He’ll be cooking our meal this evening.”
“Evening.” she said to him.
“Mademoiselle.” replied the chef and bowed deeply.
“Shall we sit down, Kayleigh?” Tustian gestured to her seat and the servants began lighting the candles on the table. Two of them held the chairs as they took their places then poured them an aperitif. Kayleigh couldn’t keep her eyes in one place for more than a second, gazing in astonishment at the silver cutlery, the golden serviette-holders, the omnipresent attendants and musicians, the magnificent view outside with the distant Eiffel Tower square on to the penthouse windows. “Mr Tustian, what is this place?”
“This is just my Paris residence.” he relied offhand. “I bought it two years ago when this building was finished.”
“I can’t believe how high up we are. With the lights turned low it feels like we’re flying!”
“It’s the tallest building in Europe. It’s called Tour Sans Fin; which means ‘Never-ending Tower’.”
“It’s incredible!... You’re incredible, Mr Tustian!”
The billionaire took a sip of his drink and looked at her. The candlelight sparked in his eyes. “Kayleigh… please call me ‘Malcolm’.”
“What!? I can’t call you that!”
“Why not? It’s my name. I don’t call you ‘Miss Ford’ do I?”
“But that’s different; I’m just an ordinary person.”
“And what does that make me?”
Tustian rubbed his nose with the back of his hand and sighed. One of the waiters came up and took their orders. Most of the items on the menu Kayleigh couldn’t pronounce, let alone recognize. She immediately chose the same thing as her host. “So, Kayleigh.” he said. “Tell me about yourself.”
“You want to know about me!?”
“Of course.” he answered in a strained voice. “A boy usually does when he asks a girl out on a date.”
She hesitated. “Well, I’m twenty-seven and I work for McArthur and Rayworth, as you know.”
“What do you do in that office of yours?”
“I’m on the Highland Development team.”
There was a long silence. “So what does that involve?” he prompted.
“Er… mostly public relations, dealing with planning permission, meetings, that sort of thing. Pretty boring really.” She tittered.
“Yeah, but it pays well. My folks are proud of me. I’m the first person in our family to go to college.”
“What did you study?”
“Typing, business and Gaelic.”
“Ah, you’re a real Highland lass then.”
“No, but me Gran is… was. She taught it to me as a kid and encouraged me to take it up at school.”
“So, your Gran’s passed away. I’m sorry.”
“That’s OK. It was three years ago now.”
He paused. “So… Have you always lived with your mum and dad?”
“You’ve never been married?”
She chuckled. “No! I could never find the right guy.”
He smiled at her. “I understand that… It’s pretty much the same for me.”
Waiters came out with their starters. When they whipped off the silver covers, Kayleigh saw that it was a salmon steak with salad mixed in a delicious sauce. There were silver bowls of sliced baguette and a pitcher of water too.
“Golly-gosh!” exclaimed Kayleigh. “These French know how to eat!”
“Monsieur Troubequet is one of the finest chefs in Paris. I hired him especially for this evening.” Tustian bit into his meal. “So what would you like to know about me?”
“Anything. Ask away.”
She put down her glass and began fiddling with the table cloth. “Well, what can I ask? I know all about you already. You’ve been in every newspaper and magazine since your divorce.”
Tustian didn’t reply straight away. His cheeks looked a little flushed and he stared down at the table. “You don’t know anything about me, Kayleigh.” he said quietly. “You only know how the reporters see me; how they want me to be. I’d like you to forget everything you’ve ever heard or read about me; the lot! OK?... I’m a complete stranger, a bloke you’ve just met. Right? Now ask me some questions.”
“Right… Er… how many houses have you got?”
“Fifty-five. Apart from this penthouse, I’ve got apartments in the Latin Quarter and Montmartre. I also own three chateaux in the Loire Valley. On the rare occasions that I’m home, I usually stay in Tarinbeg Castle which I bought with my first fifty million…”
“You own Tarinbeg Castle!?... I used to watch my granddad play golf there when I was a kid!”
“Well, I didn’t own it back then; I was a kid too. I’m only nine years older than you, you know.”
Kayleigh gasped, overcome with wonder. “But… How…”
“…did I do it?” Tustian laughed bitterly and took a gulp of wine.
The candle flames fluttered slightly as the door to the kitchen opened and the waiters brought out the main course: a pork and bacon casserole whose other ingredients Kayleigh couldn’t speculate on.
“How did I do it?” the billionaire repeated. “If I had a penny for every time someone’s asked me that question I’d be richer than I am now!”
“You can’t blame them, Mr Tustian. Everyone wants to know how you’ve got where you are today: Scotland’s Richest Man.”
“What do you mean ‘Why’!? Everyone wants to be like you! Everyone wants all the things you have! You live a dream! Everybody’s paradise!”
“And everybody assumes I hold some Great Secret? Some formula for a dream? The Password to Paradise?”
“Well, I don’t.” Tustian put down his knife and fork with a clang. “There is no secret. I didn’t do it; it just happened.”
“These things… all of it!” He spread his arms wide. “They just came to me!” He paused. “It all began when my parents died. I was an apprentice manager with Edinburgh Green Stone Breweries, working all hours behind the bar of this seedy, little piss-house in Portobello. It was Monday the Twenty-second of April, Nineteen ninety-one. The day after their car broke down on that level-crossing and the eleven-thirty-eight Berwick-Dunbar express crashed into them. I called in sick for the first time in my life. I was off three days.” He raised his index, middle and ring fingers in the air. “Just three days. I can never remember what happened during that time. My next memory is turning up for work on the following Thursday charged with energy, feeling that the world was in my hands. That day Green Stone put the pub up for sale and, on the spur-of-the-moment, I decided to buy it.”
“How did you find the money?”
“My parents’ life insurance. I fought off bids from six mainstream breweries and became the proud owner of The Anvil in Portobello. I had six thousand pounds left over, so I used it to trash the place and rebuild it, making all the changes that I’d longed to make since I’d first started working there. Well, the public loved it. I became so packed out that I had to convert one of the storerooms into a second bar. I was breaking even by then and had the taxman knocking on my door a few months later. When I turned nineteen I used The Anvil to secure a loan on a string of city nightclubs and casinos. When that panned out I was officially a millionaire. I became Young Entrepreneur of the Year in Ninety-three. My profits continued to soar; not out of effort, but magic. It was as if God was guiding my hand. My social life suffered of course. Most of my friends disowned me out of envy. I’d always led a simple life as a working-class Edinburgh lad and things were changing so fast I couldn’t keep up with them… I think that’s what caused my marriage to fail. Anvil Leisure was by now a major company. I owned pubs, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres, bowling alleys, ice rinks. Then the stock market went up trumps and I was able to purchase more. I formed Anvil Airlines, Anvil Shipping, Anvil Publishers, Anvil oil, Anvil Studios.” He shrugged. “And here I am.”
Kayleigh took a gulp of wine with a trembling hand. Her teeth rattled against the glass. “Wow! That’s fantastic! What an amazing life you’ve led! I don’t know what to say, Mr Tustian!?”
He gritted his teeth. “Then why don’t you try substituting ‘Malcolm’ for ‘Mr Tustian’ every time you use my name?”
“But I can’t call you that! You’re super-human! You’re a god! I should be worshipping you along with the rest of the world!”
“Kayleigh, I’m sick and tired of being worshipped by the world! People are so shallow! They’re so obsessed by what I have that they can’t imagine that there might be things I don’t have!”
“But there can’t be anything you don’t have, Mr Tustian!”
“Really? How about someone who doesn’t address me as ‘Mr Tustian’? There is no person alive on this planet who calls me by my first name! Nobody!” He thumped the table. “So for Heaven’s sake, will you stop calling me ‘Mr Tustian’ and start calling me ‘MALCOLM’!”
Kayleigh jumped back in her seat. The butlers remained at attention, still and impassive. The musicians didn’t drop a quaver.
Tustian blinked. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted like that. Are you OK?”
“Yes, of course… Malcolm.” Kayleigh whispered.
He giggled. “After all, I don’t want to bring down the chandeliers. They’re made in Waterford and cost fifteen grand each!”
They both laughed.
The conversation lightened through dessert. They had a few after-dinner brandies then went for a stroll on a large roof garden with a glistening swimming pool at its centre. The garden wall ran along the side of the building overlooking a sheer drop onto the streets below. The wind was coming from behind and the sprawling carpet of city lights looked majestic and distant. Kayleigh stumbled as she looked over the brink and gripped the parapet handrail. Malcolm tenderly touched her shoulder. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah.” she gasped. “Just felt a bit dizzy for a second. Don’t like heights.”
“Do you want to go back inside?”
“No, I’ll be fine in a moment.” She was actually enjoying the thrill of vertigo mixed with his closeness. The electric touch of his hand; the smell of his body.
“I’m glad. This is the best view in the city and it’d be a shame for you to miss it.”
“It’s beautiful! And so enormous! Look at that motorway over there.” she pointed. “The car lights are all mixed together so it looks like a golden river flowing.”
“Hey, you’re a bit of a poet.”
“You’re so lucky to live here, Malcolm.”
“Am I?” he asked quietly.
There was a long pause. “Malcolm.”
“Why you what?”
“Why have you brought me here tonight?”
He chuckled. “What sort of question is that?”
“Well… you know. I’m just curious.”
“Kayleigh, I brought you out tonight for the same reason that any guy goes out on a date with a girl.”
“Eh? Come on! Don’t be ridiculous!”
“Yes!... for God’s sake, Malcolm; don’t you understand!? You can have any woman you want! Anyone!”
“OK…” He stepped back. “Now then; who shall I have? Let me think.” He put a finger to his chin in a show of contemplation. “Oh! There’s so many to choose from! How about… You!” He pointed at her.
“Malcolm! Get away!”
“So it’s not really true, is it?”
“Malcolm What are you like!?” She put her hands to her face in exasperation.
He became serious again. “Kayleigh, listen to me!... I wanted to be with you from the first moment I saw you. The other week at IFSAL. As I watched you climb up onto the stage and heard you speak into the microphone.”
“But, Malcolm; you’re a multi-millionaire! You can’t possibly fancy me!”
“But I do, Kayleigh! I want you!”
The glow of night time Paris was swallowed up as he leaned forward to kiss her.
The following two weeks were one long dream for Kayleigh. At Malcolm’s request, she refused to talk about their date to anyone and fended off the fusillade of questions from her friends and family. Sooner of later the media would catch on, but for now she was a celebrity only within her own social circles. Her work suffered and she totally abandoned her studies. She would be sitting at her desk typing out a Gaelic translation for the minutes of a Coigach district council meeting when memories of her date in Paris would gush into her head. She’d taste her meal, hear the music, see the city lights and feel Malcolm’s lips against hers. Then Daphne would shout at her, she’d blink and stare at her screen in shock, realizing that half an hour had passed. Geri and Belinda treated her with a peculiar reverence, minding every word that they uttered in her presence. In other circumstances, Kayleigh would have missed her friends’ banter, but this time all she could think about was Malcolm.
She didn’t hear from him for a while after Paris. With her other beaux, she gave them up for lost if they didn’t call within three days, which they seldom did; but with Malcolm it was different. Somehow she knew that he would contact her before much longer. She could feel him thinking about her. It was two weeks later that she picked her ringing ‘phone and almost dropped the receiver in rapture. She and Malcolm chatted for almost two hours then he asked her to come and meet him. She asked where he was and he said that he would send a car to pick her up.
The limousine was outside her house in ten minutes. “Good evening, Miss Ford.” Munks grinned as he held the door open for her.
“Hello again, Munks. Where are you taking me?”
He winked at her in the rear-view mirror. “I’m not allowed to tell you that, Miss. Mr Tustian wants it kept a secret.”
She seethed with excitement as the car pulled away. “I love surprises!”
They drove to the airport through the Friday night traffic and as before, Kayleigh boarded a private jet. This one was larger than the one in which she’d flown to Paris, as if it were designed for longer journeys. There were two cabins as well: a lounge area and a bed chamber that were separated by a sliding partition. Munks served her with drinks as soon as they’d taken off. “Munks.” said Kayleigh. “You must tell me if we’re going on a long flight. I need to ‘phone my mum and dad and let them know where I am.”
“You can do that any time you care to, Miss. There’s a telephone right here and another beside your bed.”
“How long are we going to be in the air?”
“Round about twelve hours. Why don’t you get some sleep, Miss?”
“Where are you going to sleep?”
“Oh, there’s a little bunk for me up front.”
There was a lot of thick, low cloud below, making it impossible to see anything on the ground. Kayleigh spent the evening flicking through the channels on her TV console and sent her parents an email explaining the situation as best as she could. The bed was a soft, sumptuous king-size with satin sheets. A nightdress, of her exact size, and a pair of slippers were laid out for her. The adjoining bathroom was prepared with every kind of toiletry imaginable and she had a luxurious shower. Before she went to bed, she pulled open the curtains and looked out of the window. The cloud below had cleared and they were flying over a range of dusky mountains, cracked with snow and ice that fluoresced in the moonlight. Even though she was thousands of feet above the ground, she shut the curtains before undressing and slipping into her silky nightdress. She bounced onto the soft mattress, sunk her head into the pillow and went to sleep.
She was woken by her bedside ‘phone ringing. “Hello?” she yawned.
“Munks here, Miss Ford. We need you to bestir yourself now; we’re landing in an hour.”
“Where are we landing?”
“Take thirty or so, Miss; then I’ll serve you breakfast in the forward cabin.” He put down the ‘phone before she could reply.
As soon as she’d finished her breakfast of kidneys and ground coffee, the pilot announced that they were about to land and ordered everyone to their seats. As the plane broke through the clouds, Kayleigh saw a huge city of skyscrapers and wide streets surrounded by a harbour dotted with ships that looked as small as toys. This can’t be New York, she thought, remembering the mountains that they’d flown over last night. If this had been anywhere in the Americas, they’d have had to cross mostly sea to get there. Can it be Cape Town or Durban? Then she saw that part of the harbour basin was covered in multiple rows of wooden objects; thousands of them, moored together. Houseboats! This must be somewhere in the Far East. Hong Kong or Shanghai. The thought exhilarated her. She’d never been outside Europe before. The plane sunk lower as it crossed the harbour until the blue water flashed past right under their wheels as if they were going to land in it. They flew over some small roads and a row of trees then came down on the runway with a thump.
Kayleigh looked out onto a large, busy airport with lumbering airliners of every operator parked around a modern terminal building. The plane approached a gate and a covered walkway rolled out to meet them. One of the pilots opened the door and Munks helped Kayleigh to undo her seatbelt. “Here you are, Miss Ford.” He handed her a plastic wallet containing some foreign banknotes.
“What are these?”
“A thousand Singaporean dollars, courtesy of Mr Tustian. He thought you might like to do a little shopping while we refuel.”
“Singaporean. That’s where we are; Singapore.”
“Singapore! Of course! So those mountains we flew over last night must have been…”
“In Afghanistan. Beautiful, weren’t they?... Now then, go and indulge yourself; explore the airport as much as you like, but make sure you’re back here, at Gate Sixty, in four hours. OK, Miss?”
“OK.” She walked out of the aircraft and up the sloping tunnel to the transit lounge. Wow! I’m in Singapore! I can’t believe it!
Singapore Changi Airport was the cleanest, most modern and well-polished building that Kayleigh had ever seen. Even the toilets were as immaculate as marble sculptures with invisible mirrors and shiny, silver tampon dispensers. The transit area was centred on an atrium with a pond, palm trees and an artificial waterfall. Surrounding this were shops of every description. She had a vast amount of money in her pocket and the choice of every luxury purchase that she had ever imagined. There was only one thing to do.
Two hours later she collapsed breathless into a chair in a cafe and eased the eight shopping bags she was carrying to the ground. She hired a porter to take her trophies back to the aircraft and so spend the rest of her day unhindered. She paid for her coffee then headed to the top floor of the terminal building. There she found a door that led out onto a roof garden. As she stepped through them she felt a blast of oven-like heat. She wondered if the exit had a hot blower like some shops did then realized that she had encountered the outside air; the airport interior was artificially cooled. The temperature and humidity of the tropical afternoon almost stopped her in her tracks, gasping and sweating from every pore. She tore of her jacket, sat down on a bench beside a group of Australian teenagers and fanned herself with her hand.
She wasn’t sure what first drew her attention to the man standing at the corner of the balcony. Her eyes had been following a plane as it shot past and ascended into the air, when they stopped and focused on him. He was very ordinary, wearing a pair of cords and a red shirt with an open collar. He was neither young nor old, neither handsome nor unattractive; but when he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, alarm bells rang in her mind. She stared at him for a full minute, but he remained side-on to her, looking out across the cluttered apron. Then he glanced at her again; just a brief, split-second flick of the eyes, but it made her flesh crawl. She got up and walked back to the entrance. The interior of the terminal felt as chilly as a fridge after being outside, but she didn’t stop walking until she’d reached the escalators. She looked back and saw that the same man was behind her, strolling slowly with one hand in his pocket. After a few seconds he took another morsel of sight with the tail of his eye. Kayleigh went down to the next level and entered a confectionary shop. She pretended to browse for a while; then she looked at the doorway and, sure enough, her pursuer was standing just outside, scrutinizing a chocolate model of Sydney Opera House.
Kayleigh strode out of the shop and headed swiftly for the departure gates without daring to look back. She counted off the signs along the corridor until she saw Gate Sixty. She ducked through and jogged down the gangway to the aircraft. As she burst into the cabin, Munks was busy making her bed. “Munks, we’ve got a problem!”
“What’s the matter, Miss Ford?”
“There’s a man following me! He’s been on my tail all afternoon, shadowing me around the airport! Every time I turn around he’s there…” She broke off when she noted his expression. He was smiling and scratching his cheek as if embarrassed. “What is it?”
“Miss, the man who’s been following you is called Ben Cavan. He would never harm you; on the contrary, he’s there to protect you.”
“How can you know that?”
Munks stood up and faced her. “Because he’s a colleague of mine. He works for Mr Tustian’s security detail.”
She was silent for a moment. “You mean Malcolm has…”
“Yes, Miss. He’s taken measures to ensure your safety and well-being on the journey. He was happy for you to wander round the airport during our stopover, so long as you were protected.”
“Protected from what? Am I in danger?”
He shrugged. “No more than anyone else.”
“Then why the hell…!? I’m not a little kid!”
“No, you’re not. In fact I’m quite impressed with you for spotting him. Ben is one of the best security officers in the company. He’s quite invisible to most of his subjects.”
“That’s not what I mean, Munks!”
“I know, Miss.” Munks took a step towards her. “Look, I’ve known Mr Tustian for twelve years; he’s like a son to me… and he’s a changed man. There’s a glint in his eyes and a spring in his step that I’ve never seen before; and it’s all happened since he met you.”
“That’s no excuse for having me molly-coddled like a schoolgirl!”
“Yes it is, Miss!... Don’t you understand? Mr Tustian cares about you! He can’t bear the thought of anything bad happening to you. It’s called ‘love’, Miss Ford.”
The sun was setting as they took off for the second stage of their journey. As soon as the plane had reached cruising altitude, Munks served Kayleigh a light dinner. As before, he dodged all her questions relating to their destination. When she went to bed, there was nothing to be seen of the Earth below except empty blackness. A white dress with a pleated, knee-length skirt had been left out for her. She awoke at five AM feeling completely alert. She pulled back the curtains and saw that the automatic deadlights were down. She pressed the button that raised them and piercing, tropical sunlight filled the cabin, making her blink. The ocean beneath them was a plain of blue and turquoise patches. She put on her new dress and was about to press the button that summoned Munks when she stopped herself, thinking that he was probably asleep.
Thirty minutes later the aircraft began to descend. Munks appeared in the forward doorway and instructed her to take her place for landing. Kayleigh belted herself into her seat thinking that there was no land out there, only ocean. The sea was closer now and as the plane dropped further she could see waves on its surface, covering submerged coral reefs like a veil. Then a runway appeared from nowhere and they touched down gently. Blazing white sand and palm trees scrolled past the windows as the aircraft slowed to a halt and the engines wound down. “OK, Miss.” said Munks. “We can get out now.”
The hatchway opened and Kayleigh descended a flight of steps to the concrete runway, shielding her eyes with her hand. The heat was so intense that her skin was oozing within seconds. A reception committee was waiting for her at the foot of the gangway. A platoon of servants in white, tropical suits stood like a line of soldiers on parade.
“Good afternoon, Miss Ford.” A small, copper-skinned Asiatic man stepped forward to greet her. “I’m Joel Santos, estate manager. Welcome to Anvil Island.”
She shook his hand. “Thank you… Anvil Island?”
“Yes, Ma’am. This is Anvil Island.” He paused. “Pardon me; you may be slightly disoriented from your long journey. We are actually part of the Tokelau chain; a very remote part… Now, would you care to follow me? Mr Tustian is waiting.”
Santos led her along a cobbled path through a beautiful garden until a white beach mansion emerged between the trees. The front of the building seemed to consist mostly of patio doors and balconies. The ground floor opened out onto a marble lido with an oval swimming pool at its centre. A few yards beyond that was the sea. Kayleigh followed her guide over to a table and two chairs arranged under a parasol. “Kindly wait here for two moments, Ma’am.” Santos bowed and disappeared into the building’s dark interior.
Kayleigh wiped her brow and stepped over into the shade of the house to look around her. She could hear surf breaking gently on the nearby beach and bizarre birdsong from the surrounding forest. Strange scents wafted over her in the minute breeze. The ocean was a clear, unblemished sheet that ran all the way to the ruler-straight horizon.
She started and swung round. Malcolm Tustian was standing in the doorway. She put a hand to her throat. “Oh, hi.”
“Thanks for coming.”
“That’s OK. Thank you for… um… the lift; and my dress and things.”
He stepped towards her and stopped just two feet away, gazing intently. He wore a Bermuda shirt and tennis shoes; his thin, bare legs ended in flip-flops. “It’s nice to see you.” He took another half-step closer then changed his mind and stood back. “I’ve been wondering how you’ve been getting on.”
“I’m happier for seeing you.”
He grinned shyly and blushed. “Me too.”
Kayleigh took his hand and Malcolm moved into her arms to kiss her.
They ate lunch in a giant, air-conditioned conservatory on the landward side of the house. It consisted of a series of fish courses and salads accompanied by pints of refreshing fruit juice. Afterwards they went for a walk. The whole island was covered with thick palm forest, cut by a network of crazy-paved paths. “Do you like it here?” Malcolm asked when they arrived back at the house.
“Yes; it’s beautiful. Nicer weather than Rockall!”
“I bought it from the New Zealand government in Oh-four. I often come here to escape. It’s my little retreat; the world is far away from here.”
“Is it safe?” asked Kayleigh. “I’ve heard that there are pirates in this part of the world.”
“Not this far out; and besides…” He pointed. A few miles out to sea there was a squat, grey boat bobbing on the inshore swell. “There are two on constant guard. Their radar can pick out any craft that comes within twenty miles. And if it’s pirates then they’ll have to face the security defences: guns, missiles, torpedoes; the lot. My own little navy.”
Kayleigh paused. “You know… I won’t be able to stay too long.”
“I’m due back at work tomorrow; it’s Sunday afternoon already.”
“Today is Saturday, not Sunday. You crossed the Date Line to get here.”
“Oh… Well, I still need to be making tracks for home.”
“Come on! Can’t you get away with taking a few days off?”
“No; I’ve got no holiday left and I’ve been in trouble before by going absent. I need to go back, Malcolm; by tomorrow evening at the latest.”
The billionaire chuckled and opened his laptop. Then he picked up the telephone lying beside it and punched in a number. He looked at his watch. “Hmm, it’s a little early, but…”
“Who are you calling?” asked Kayleigh.
“Aye; he owns the company you work for.”
“I know who he is, Malcolm. Why are you…?”
He held up his hand. “Hello, Mr McArthur… Yes, I’m sorry to call you at this hour. It’s Malcolm Tustian here… No, this isn’t a joke; I promise you. I’ve called with a proposal. I want to buy your company; your share plus Rayworth’s if he agrees… There’s no such words as ‘Not for sale’, Mr McArthur. I’ll give you five hundred mill’…That’s what I said; five hundred million pounds… Yes, I’m serious… Right. Well, it’s been a pleasure doing business with you. I’ll send a man over from my Glasgow office with all the paperwork first thing in the morning… Thank you, Mr McArthur. Good day.” Malcolm smiled as he put down the ‘phone then turned to face Kayleigh. “Right, Kayleigh. I’ve just bought your employers out. That means I’m now officially your boss.”
She tried to speak, but could only stammer. "Wh… Why?”
“Because now I’m your boss, I can grant you special leave on full pay.” He laughed. “It means you can stay here for as long as you want.”
As the sun was setting they went for a ramble along the beach, walking hand-in-hand. “Five hundred million.” Kayleigh murmured. “That’s got to be ten times what it’s worth! Lucky old McArthur and Rayworth! All their birthdays have come at once.”
“Aye, I could almost see the pound signs flash up in his eyes.” Malcolm chuckled.
“Bloody hell! Five hundred million!” she repeated.
“It’s worth every penny to have you here.” He gave her shoulders a squeeze.
“It’s put me in a bit of a quandary though. It’s unethical for staff to fraternize with board members.”
They both laughed until they fell onto the sand. They wrapped each other in their arms and rolled over and over on the warm coral fragments.
They continued walking until they reached a place where the woods came right down to the seashore and the beach was just a five-yard strip. Here one of the palms leaned right over, almost touching the water and a hammock had been strung from its horizontal trunk. “This is a bit like a postcard I once saw.” said Kayleigh. “It’s all so beautiful! I can’t believe it’s yours!”
“Hmm.” Malcolm looked down and kicked at a seashell.
“I mean, it’s unbelievable! The way you spoke on the ‘phone this afternoon! Five hundred million! Wow! Here is a man who handles hundreds of millions of pounds in his hands as if it’s small change!”
“Kayleigh.” He sat down on the hammock with a sigh.
“No! I’m serious! The way you put your deal across! You’re such a man!”
“So much power! McArthur and Rayworth built that company up from nothing! They’ve dedicated their whole lives to it! Yet they sold everything they’ve ever owned to you inside sixty seconds!... I bet you just have to click your fingers and this whole island would fly up into the air! God must bend down and kiss your feet! You don’t pray to him; he prays to you!”
“Kayleigh! Would you please offline your mouth for a few moments and listen to me!?”
She started back at his sharp tone.
He paused briefly, looking at the ground and shaking his head. “’I’m such a man!’ ‘God kisses my feet!’ Is that the kind of crap people spout when they talk about me or did you just make it up!?” She didn’t reply and just stood still, trembling.
“How do my possessions and money make me a better man!?” He got to his feet and spread his arms wide. “Don’t look at the island and the planes and cars and houses and money! Look at ME!”
“I am.” she croaked.
“I really like you.”
“More than your other dates?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Why? ‘Cos I’m rich and they’re not?... Answer my question! Does my being loaded make me a better man? Be honest!”
“Because… because… It just does.”
She paused. “What kind of question is that?”
“A pretty straight forward one.”
“Hmm… erm… Well… I don’t know how; it just does.”
Malcolm lowered his brow and the evening sun cast shadows in his eye sockets. He turned his back to her and gazed out to sea.
I met Sandy when I was nineteen.” said Malcolm. “She was a barmaid at one of my clubs, just working Christmas relief. We got married the following August in Las Vegas and were together thirteen years.”
“So what went wrong?” Kayleigh asked, leaning back on the terrace couch. The tropical night heat was making her blouse stick to her, so she pulled it away from her skin and rippled it.
“We drifted apart. I gave her one of my clubs to run as an anniversary present and she was out most nights and sleeping all day, just like me. She had one night off a week and I had none. I used all my free time to expand my business into other sectors… I don’t blame her for having the affair; it was my fault really.” He looked sad as he raised his eyes to the glittered night sky. “I chose my business over my marriage.” He snorted sardonically. “Had to get my priorities right, eh?”
“Maybe she just wasn’t right for you.” said Kayleigh gently.
“Maybe.” He shrugged.
There was a long silence broken only by the surf and the chirruping of nocturnal forest creatures.
He put his arms around her shoulders. “I’ve had one of the guest rooms made up for you, but…”
“But what?” She grinned in the darkness.
“But… I was hoping you might want to spend tonight… in my chamber.”
She felt her skin tingle. “I’d love to.”
Half an hour later, Kayleigh was in her room, rummaging through all the things she’d bought in Singapore. She found the frilly nightdress, showered and put it on. She donned her dressing gown and left the room, padded along to the master bedroom and knocked, already breathing heavily in anticipation.
She opened the door and entered the room. Her feet sank into the thick carpet. Malcolm lay on a huge, circular divan, draped from the ceiling by a mosquito net. A soft glow focused on him like a spotlight and a tranquil piano sonata played from invisible speakers at a low volume.
“How are you, Kayleigh?” The light reflected off his corneas like a pair of fireflies, flicking off and on as he blinked.
“A little nervous.”
“There’s no need to be.” He beckoned. “Come closer.”
She stepped forward into the light. Tustian was sitting up in bed with a satin sheet around him; only his bare chest and arms were exposed.
“Don’t be shy, Kayleigh.”
“I’m not. It’s just… it’s been a long time for me since I last… did anything like this.”
She chuckled. “Oh, come on!”
“I mean it. Sandy was the last woman I slept with and that was almost seven years ago.”
“It must have been celibacy by your choice!”
There was a silence. He looked down at himself. “I’m not wearing any pyjamas, you know. It’s so hot here that I never do… Are you going to wear that thing all night?” He pointed at her nightie.
“I thought you’d like it. I got it at Singapore airport with the money you gave me.”
He smiled. “I do like it, but right now I’d like even more to see you without it.”
She paused then bent over and slid her briefs off. She tossed them into the corner with the hook of her toe. “There. Now there’s nothing to get in the way.”
“Yes, there is, Kayleigh.”
“Please. I’d like to see you with nothing on at all.”
“I can’t let you.”
“Because I’m hideous! If you saw my naked body you’d have me on the first plane out of here!”
“You silly girl!” He laughed and threw back the sheets.
She gasped as he leaped naked from the bed and took her in his arms. “Now then, put one arm through here, like so… And the other… there. Now put your hands up. Good!” He tugged the silky fabric over her head and dropped it to the floor.
Her skin felt tender, exposed to the air. She quivered and blushed. “There!” she stammered. “Now you can see what a mistake you’ve made!”
“Don’t insult yourself like that.” he whispered and took her hand.
She knelt beside him on the soft mattress and rolled onto her back as he clasped her in his arms and held her close, their bodies rubbing together. He kissed her neck and ears, panting, trembling and moaning with desire. My God! Kayleigh thought to herself. I’m shagging a millionaire!
“I love you, Kayleigh!” Malcolm gasped. “Will you marry me?”
“Oh, yes, Malcolm! Of course I will!”
Kayleigh and Malcolm left Anvil Island together and flew to Mexico City where they parted company. The billionaire had some business to attend to and arranged a passage home for Kayleigh on a scheduled flight. She said goodbye to Malcolm in the airport’s VIP lounge and skipped off to board the Anvil Airlines Seven-four-seven where she had a first class seat. She landed at London Gatwick eleven hours later and transferred to a smaller airliner for the final stage of her journey: a one-hour flight to Glasgow. It was chilly and drizzling as she left the airport and caught a taxi home. Superficially, her home city hadn’t changed during her six-day absence, but inwardly it and everything else was completely different for Kayleigh. She was now in Heaven. “Hi, Mum! Hi, Dad!” she sang as she burst into her house.
“Kayleigh!” They ran up and embraced her. “God, we’ve missed you! Where have you been!?”
“I’m getting married, Mum!”
“What!?” Her mother’s jaw dropped.
“Me and Malcolm! We’re getting married next month in Sydney, Australia!”
“What!?... How!?...” spluttered her father.
“We got engaged on Sunday!”
Her parents didn’t reply.
“You’re all invited. Malcolm will fly you over there free of charge. The ceremony will take place on a yacht in the middle of the harbour and we’ve hired the opera house for the reception! Then there’s going to be an all-night party on Bondi Beach! Afterwards, me and Malcolm’s going on a round-the-world trip for our honeymoon!”
“Kayleigh.” said her father. “Are you sure this isn’t another of your fairytales?”
“No, Dad! Of course it isn’t! Look, Malcolm wants to buy you and Mum a new house! A big six-bedroom job out of town!” She held her hand out. “Can I borrow the car, Dad? I’ve got a few things to sort out.”
He gave her the keys. “OK, Pet; but be careful with it.”
“It doesn’t matter if I’m not, Dad; ‘cos Malcolm wants to buy you a new BMW as well!”
Her hands quivered on the steering wheel as she drove. She headed into town and parked outside the offices of McArthur and Rayworth Limited. She marched in through the familiar doorway and took the lift up to her floor. “Kayleigh!” Geri and Belinda gaped as she strutted out of the lift, wearing the brand new mink coat and jewelry that Malcolm had bought her. “Crikey, Kay! Where have you been!?”
“Aye, we know. There was a call from Head Office… Old Daphne’s been doing her nut! You’d better go in and explain.”
Kayleigh peeked through the window into her supervisor’s cubicle. Daphne was hunched over her desk in her usual posture, her sharp nose pointing at the keyboard. “Yes, I’ll explain alright… but first I’m going to have a cup of coffee.” She went into the pantry, scooped a spoonful of instant into the bottom of a mug and added milk and sugar; but then, instead of topping it up from the kettle, she filled it the rest of the way with cold water. She returned to the office, but didn’t enter Daphne’s cubicle. She stood outside, mug in hand. Eventually the old woman noticed her and came out. “Kayleigh! Where have you been!? Your work’s been piling sky-high!”
“I haven’t come back to work, Daphne.” said Kayleigh, looking her hard in the eyes. “I just popped in to do this.” She lifted the mug in the air and emptied it over her supervisor’s head.
“AHH!... What the hell!?...” The old woman jumped back gasping and rubbing her eyes. Cold, dark coffee dripped from her nose and soaked into her blouse.
“I’ve wanted to do that for a long time, Daphne.” said Kayleigh. “I’ve wanted to do it ‘cos you’re a nasty, miserable, dried-up, old witch! Everyone hates you, you know! Me especially! And now I’m relishing the thought that I’ll never have to see your ugly, pockmarked face again! In two months’ time I’ll be married to Scotland’s Richest Man! This disgusting pit of yours will be the last job I’ll ever have to do in my life! So think of me, won’t you!? Remember, while you’re slaving away in here, that I’ll be lying around on sun-drenched shores! Sipping champagne and eating caviar!... ‘Cos I’ll have forgotten you!” She hurled the empty coffee mug against the wall where it shattered.
Kayleigh laughed as she swaggered out of the building. As soon as she was back in the car she ‘phoned everyone she knew and told them the news, and by the time she got back home a herd of journalists were already waiting for her.
The date was set for January the Thirtieth, at the height of the Australian summer. Kayleigh hoped that she and Malcolm might be able to spend the rest of their engagement quietly together, but it was not to be. The pressures of her new-found publicity were enormous. She travelled the country and even abroad several times, featuring in magazine articles and doing interviews on TV and radio; sometimes alone and sometimes with Malcolm. “Don’t worry.” he reassured her. “After the wedding they’ll find someone else to gossip about.” In the meantime her life was bedlam, rushing from one hotel to the next, making appointments with journalists. One day, a rather pushy Australian woman called her on a private number asking her if she’d like to negotiate a fee for a live telecast of the wedding. Kayleigh slammed down the ‘phone.
She didn’t see nearly as much of her fiancee as she’d have liked. He had his own individual side of the publicity to deal with on top of the pressures of running his business. He would jet out to wherever she was and they’d spend a frantic day or two together, before they parted company for another hectic week of engagements. Kayleigh only visited home once, at Christmas, where she had a few days to catch up on her family life. She didn’t have enough time to contact her friends, though her conscience persuaded her to write a brief, apologetic email to Dill on Rockall. Rockall! It seemed so long ago that she was there; hardly part of the same lifetime.
Finally, ten days before the wedding, she sneaked out from under the nose of the press and returned to Glasgow exhausted and collapsed into the arms of her mother and father.
Malcolm called her the following morning to tell her that he’d be arriving in Glasgow in three days to make final preparations for the wedding. “Where are you, Malcolm?” she asked.
“Rio de Janeiro.”
“What are you up to there?”
“Just got a wee bit of business to sort out; stocks and shares again… I love you, Kayleigh.”
“You too, Malcolm. I can’t wait to see you! I’ve really got to show you off to my mates in person; they’ll be so jealous!”
“Aye… that’d be nice… Well, I’ve got to be going; there’s a meeting about to start. I love you.”
“Yeah; see ya, Malcolm. Bye!” He’d been a bit distant on the ‘phone, Kayleigh thought but didn’t concern herself with it. He’s probably just busy with work.
On the evening of Malcolm’s return, Kayleigh hatched a plan. She decided to surprise Geri and Belinda by going out on the town with them again as she used to then arranging to meet her fiancee in the same place, giving none of the parties any clue as to who else was going to be there. She opened her wardrobe and groaned at the shabby condition of her clothes. Never mind, she thought. One more week of poverty then I’ll be wearing silk and pearls for the rest of my life! She rubbed on her lipstick and painted on mascara then checked her purse. There was only eight thousand pounds left in it. “Damn!” she muttered. “I’ll have to get Malcolm to top me up when I see him.” She left her house and headed for the nearby pub where she knew her friends would be meeting before heading downtown. It was well over a month since she’d last spoken to Geri and Belinda. She’d missed them badly and was looking forward to seeing them again. She opened the door of the pub and savoured the familiar buzz of chatter and scent of cigarette smoke. She spotted her friends standing by the bar and headed over to greet them. “Hey!” She felt herself beam. “Gez! Bel! How are you!? God, it’s good to see you again!” She reached out to embrace them, but they drew back, looking down on her balefully.
“Gez? Bel? What’s the matter?”
Geri sighed. “You’d better go, Kay.”
“I said you’d better go. We’d rather not see you.” She folded her arms. Belinda stood firm by her shoulder; silent, but looking, if anything, even more hostile.
“What’s happened?” demanded Kayleigh. “What’s wrong?”
“You’re wrong, Kay!” replied Geri. “Wrong for us! And we’d prefer not to hang around with you any more.”
Kayleigh stepped back in shock. “Why!? What have I done!?”
“You snubbed us, Kay!” said Belinda with a snarl. “You bitched about like Lady Muck on TV, making out you were all so posh and glamorous! Too good for the likes of us; ain’t she, Gez!?”
“Yeah!” Geri sneered. “You should be in Buckingham Palace tonight, dining with the Royal Family! Not spending the evening with a pair of scrubbers from the schemes!”
Kayleigh felt her eyes budding with tears of hurt. “It’s not like that! I’d never dream of snubbing you! You’re my mates!”
“No, Kay!” Geri shook her head emphatically. “You’re not any more!” She shifted around to face the bar. “So why don’t you just clear off!? Go and sip Pimms with your new rich friends!” Belinda copied her gesture.
Kayleigh stared at their backs, her pain and anger congealing into blazing rage. “You’re just jealous! Can’t stand the thought of life working out for me while it doesn’t for you! The truth is: you couldn’t pull a bloke like Malcolm Tustian to save your lives; and you know it! Sad, poor, envious nobodies, the pair of you!”
“Yeah!” Geri turned her head without moving the rest of her body. “That’s right, Kay! We’re jealous! As jealous as every other girl!... Look, you’ve got your rich man and your rich life now. That means we’re in different worlds... Where the hell do you get off thinking you can live like Princess Margarita-Fincklton one minute and then slip back into your old life the next; and your good, old pals will still be there waiting for you just like they were before!? You’ve made your choice! You’ve took your side!... So piss off and shag ‘Darling Malcolm’ on the drawing room verandah!”
“Fine!” she spat. “I will! I’ll leave you to your poor, little lives and carry on with mine! I don’t need you , you pair of bitches!” She turned tail and stormed out of the pub. She stopped walking after fifty or so yards and leaned against the wall to catch her breath. She started to cry, but dried her eyes defiantly. She took her mobile ‘phone out of her pocket and called Malcolm. “Hi, Malcolm! It’s Kayleigh!” she piped as soon as he answered.
“Hi, Kayleigh love! How’s things?”
“Shitty! I’ve just had a barney with Geri and Belinda… Where are you? I really need to see you right now. Can you send Munks to pick me up?”
“Sorry, Love; I’m in the air at the moment. We’ve just taken off from Rio.”
“I thought you were coming back tonight.”
“I got delayed; a tricky deal that couldn’t wait. I’ll be in Glasgie tomorrow morning... Sorry, Kayleigh.”
“That’s alright. Just buy me another diamond bracelet and I’ll forgive you.”
There was a long pause. “Sure, Kay; will do. See you tomorrow.”
“I love you, Kayleigh.”
“OK, night-night.” She plodded home. There seemed to be little point in going out now. Gloom hung over her like a persistent fog. It was ridiculous, she thought. In eight days she’d become one of the world’s richest women. “What’s wrong with you, Kayleigh!?” she said to herself.
She called Malcolm at eight o’clock the next morning. He answered before the first ring had ended, as if he were poised waiting for her call. “Hi, Kayleigh.”
“Hi, Malcolm. Are you landed yet?”
“Yes. I’m right here in Glasgow.” There was that same odd tone in his voice.
“So…” said Kayleigh after a pause. “When can I see you?”
“Right now if you like. Can I meet you?”
“Of course. Tell Munks to come round and take me to wherever you are.”
“Erm… Munks’s off sick at the moment. Can I pick you up myself? I’ll meet you at that park, down the road from your place.”
“Why don’t you just come here?”
“Please, Kayleigh!... Just meet me at the park. In the driveway beside the tennis courts.” He put the ‘phone down.
She stood still for a while, listening to the dialling tone. Foreboding filled her stomach. “What’s wrong, Malcolm?” she whispered.
There was a thin mist crawling low across the park, billowing and swirling through the rec, eddying around the seesaw and swings. Kayleigh tightened her scarf and tucked her hands into her pockets as the chill bit into her. She walked along the path beside the deserted tennis courts. Rippling puddles covered the cement and the fence dripped. She reached the driveway, but there was no sign of Malcolm. There was just the oblong toilet block, covered in graffiti, and a battered, old three-wheeler van parked outside it. She looked left and right, but saw no one except a few people walking their dogs.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the van flash its headlights. She looked at it for a moment and it flashed them again. She approached the van slowly. It was a very dishevelled vehicle with rusty streaks and cracks scarring its dark green paint. Its windows were grimy and one of its hubcaps was missing. The driver leaned over and wound down the nearside window. Kayleigh almost leaped back in surprise. It was Malcolm. “Hello, Kayleigh.”
“Malcolm! What’s this?”
“It’s my new car. Get in.”
She opened the passenger door and lowered herself into the rickety seat, which was torn and leaking its spongy contents. Malcolm himself was dressed as she’d never seen him before. He had on a black donkey jacket with reflector patches on the shoulders. Below that was a pair of waterproofs and Wellingtons. For the first time ever in her company, he was unshaven and coarse stubble stained his cheeks and chin. Kayleigh was about to lean over and kiss him when something stopped her. “Are you going fishing, or something?” she asked, nodding at his vestments.
He shook his head sadly. “No, I was just taking out my new car for a test drive.”
“I didn’t know you collected classic cars. I half expected to find Del Boy and Rodney in here with you.” She laughed, but he didn’t join in. “Malcolm… is something the matter?”
He leaned forward on the steering wheel and gazed out through the windscreen. “We need to talk.” he said quietly.
“Fine; shall we do it over continental breakfast at the Glasgow Thistle? Munks can take care of this old wreck.”
“Munks is no longer in my employ.”
“Why? Malcolm, what’s going on?”
He turned suddenly and looked at her. “Let me just say something first, Kayleigh. I want you to know that I love you! I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone before! When we get married next week, you’ll make me the happiest man alive!... I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted until the moment I saw you step up onto that stage. Now it’s all as clear as day to me. You mean the world to me, Kayleigh!”
Kayleigh put her hand on his arm. “You mean the world to me too, Malcolm.”
He shrugged. “Do I?”
“Yes. I love you too, you know. I’m looking forward to our wedding more than anything else in my life.”
“Of course! I can’t wait!” She squeezed his arm. “Sydney, Australia! The yacht, the Opera House, Bondi Beach! It’ll be wonderful!”
“Can I ask you something? Would you still love me if I wasn’t so rich?”
She rolled her eyes. “Malcolm! We’ve been through that! It’s you I’m marrying, not your cash!”
“That’s good.” he nodded. “It makes me very happy to hear you say that... I need to know that you love me as much as I love you. Me and not my money. I need you to reassure me! Please understand that!”
“Well, consider yourself reassured.” She smiled and kissed his cheek. “I love you, Malcolm and I can’t wait to be your wife.”
He sighed deeply and shuddered.
“Are you OK, Malcolm?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, but… Well, there’s been a change of plan regarding the wedding. We’re not getting married in Sydney.”
“Oh, really? Where’s it taking place then? New York? St Paul’s Cathedral?”
“Actually we’re booked into Glasgow registry office.”
“We’re getting married one week from today down at the registry office and having the reception at the Partick Neighbourhood Centre.”
“Because that’s all I can afford on the wages of my new job.” He took off his jacket and shifted in his seat to face Kayleigh.
She now saw that what she’d thought were waterproof trousers were actually just the bottom half of a dark blue boiler suit; the emblem of Glasgow City Council was stencilled above the left breast pocket.
“I started this morning.” he continued. “I’m going to be paid six pound eighty-five an hour keeping these toilets behind us clean; plus a bit of sweeping and clearing up around the park.”
“Malcolm… I don’t understand.”
“I’ve sold it, Kayleigh.”
“Everything. The houses, the servants, the planes, the cars, the entire Anvil Empire. Everything I own! The lot! That’s what I was doing in Rio.”
“So what are you going to do with...?”
“The money? Well, when every sale was finalized I was left with eighteen billion, nine hundred and forty-six million, four hundred and seventy thousand, three hundred and fifty-five pounds… and twenty-four pence. That’s what all my possessions were worth in raw capital. I’ve opened a bank account into which I’ve deposited fifty thousand pounds, most of which I’ve used to buy a one-bedroom flat in Kilmarnock for you and me. The rest I’ve spent on the wedding and this car. The billions in remaining capital that I accumulated from my sales has been passed into the hands of an agency that will distribute it proportionately among a number of charities across the globe… If we sell the mink coat and other presents I gave you, we’ll have enough to decorate the flat.”
Kayleigh sat open-mouthed in the long silence that followed. The seat beneath her seemed to become semi-fluid, as if it would swallow her up like quicksand. The ragged interior of the van rotated around her head.
“So, I’ll ask you again.” said Malcolm. “Kayleigh, do you love me? Me, and just me; as I am?”
Kayleigh started quivering violently as she felt her whole future life disintegrate. “You… bastard!” she faltered. “You stupid, worthless, double-crossing piece of shit!... You’ve destroyed me! You’ve thrown all my hopes and dreams down the toilet!”
Malcolm flushed and tears flooded his eyes. “I… think that answers my question.”
“Love you!? Do I love you!?... I hate you!”
He screwed up his face in a suppressed sob. “Goodbye, Kayleigh. I’ll never forget you.”
She bolted from the van and ran away into the park; howling, bawling, blinded by her tears. The morning mist enveloped her, soaking into her hair and eyebrows. She pelted and pelted, as if she could escape from her situation if she ran fast enough. She tripped over a tree root and fell onto the soft earth around the edge of the duck pond. She plunged her face into the mud and cried.
“Kayleigh!” Her father thumped the bedroom door. “Kayleigh, it’s ten-thirty! Are you getting up or what!?”
Kayleigh raised her head and opened her eyes, blinking at the sunlight squeezing in through the curtains. “OK, Dad.” she croaked.
“I’ll have breakfast on the table in a quarter-hour. If you’re not up by then, the dog gets it!”
She rolled over into a sitting position, a manoeuvre that seemed to drain all her energy. She belched and acid burned her gullet; her head pounded violently. She looked down and saw the bottle of Southern Comfort that she’d been drinking the evening before. It was empty. Damn! She hadn’t intended to finish it and didn’t remember doing so. She groped on her bedside table for aspirin and antacid. After a few minutes she managed to struggle to the bathroom.
She studied her face critically in the mirror: Bloodshot eyes, sallow cheeks, straggly hair. It was two weeks and two days since she’d broken off her engagement to Malcolm. She cried for a few minutes then washed her face.
She dressed and plodded downstairs to the kitchen. Her mother and father were both silent as she took a seat in front of her plate of sausage and egg. Then they picked up a teacup each and sat down together, opposite her. It was a gesture that Kayleigh recognized. “Kayleigh.” said her father. “We need to have a word with you.” Both parents stared hard at her. “This can’t go on.”
“What can’t?” asked Kayleigh.
“This drinking and lying in bed half the day. You’ve got to pull yourself together. You’re hurting yourself and you’re hurting us.”
“How am I hurting you?”
“By not earning. We can’t afford to keep you any more. When are you going to go out and find a job?”
Kayleigh ground her teeth and looked down at her food. “Soon, Dad.”
“You keep saying ‘soon’. When’s ‘soon’? Today? Tomorrow?”
“When I’m ready.”
“For pity’s sake, Kayleigh! You’ve hardly been out of the house for a fortnight!”
“I can’t! Not yet!”
“Well, that’s not good enough! I’ll give you a lift to the job centre this afternoon.”
“But there are no decent jobs, Dad!”
“McArthur and Rayworth’s might take you back.”
“You must be kidding! I can’t go back there after what’s happened!”
“Then get some casual work. Waitress, barmaid, cleaning…”
“Not a chance, Man! I’ve been to college! I’m way above that!”
Mr Ford snorted. “Well, you’re not above slobbering around the house all day boozing!”
“Jeff!” interrupted her mother. “Go and check the tyres on the car, will you! Let me have a chat with Kayleigh alone.”
He got up from the table and left, growling sulkily.
“Now look, Kay.” said her mother in a lighter voice. “Your dad’s worried about you, just like me. We’re not angry, just concerned.”
Kayleigh began to weep again. “What’s the point, Mum!? What have I got to live for!?”
“Now don’t talk like that, Sweetie!” Mrs Ford came around the table and cuddled her. “You’ve got everything to live for!”
“What am I going to do?” She sobbed onto her mother’s shoulder.
Mrs Ford leaned back and lowered her head so that she could look into her daughter’s eyes. “Get out there and face the world! Show ‘em what you’re made of!... Who knows what might happen. You might find your dream job!”
“Unlikely.” she chuckled through her tears.
“And how more likely do you think it’ll be if you don’t give it a try?”
Kayleigh forced a tearful smile.
“That’s my girl!”
Kayleigh kept her brain in neutral as she made the routine journey to McArthur and Rayworth. Only within the last dozen yards did she stumble and stop, unable to go any further. She stood in the middle of the pavement for ten minutes, gazing at the revolving doors. She heard voices laughing and two figures appeared in the doorway. She didn’t have time to run away and hide as Geri and Belinda came out. They were chatting happily, but cut off as they both simultaneously caught sight of Kayleigh. They stopped walking and scowled at her. “What are you doing here!?” snapped Geri.
“Hi, Gez! Hi, Bel! How’s it going?”
“What do you want, Kay?” Belinda bristled.
“I was just wondering if my old job was still open, ‘cos if it is I might think about coming back… Are you off for lunch? Perhaps I could join you.”
“You want your old job back, do you, Kay?” Geri sneered. “Why’s that? Is ‘Darling Malcolm’ not giving you enough money?”
“Well, he hasn’t got any now, has he?” said Belinda. “He gave it all away for this little slag!”
The story behind Malcolm and Kayleigh’s separation had been sprawled across the media. Malcolm himself had refused to comment, but members of his former staff had been interviewed and the details had leaked out. “Bel… please!” said Kayleigh.
“Look at you now, eh!? Back in the gutter with the rest of us! And you’ll never get out of it again!”
“He was a decent man, Kay!” added Geri. “A successful, intelligent, self-respecting man! And you ruined him! You’re a selfish, greedy bitch!”
“Christ, I know that! Do you think I’m proud of myself, Gez!?” shouted Kayleigh.
“No… and nor are we, so fuck off!” They swung round and marched away. In a few seconds they’d turned a corner and were out of sight. Kayleigh put her back to McArthur and Rayworth Limited and plodded off in the opposite direction.
“Day-return to Ayr, please.” said Kayleigh.
The vendor looked at her briefly then down at her keyboard as she printed out the tickets; then she paused and raised her eyes to stare again at Kayleigh curiously.
“Is there anything wrong?” asked Kayleigh with an irritated sigh.
“Er… sorry. Five pound fifty, please.”
The same thing happened when she stepped onto the quay. Slowly, one by one, the other passengers began to turn their heads and gawk. Conversations muted to whispers, people leaned in close. “Is that her?” Kayleigh heard one teenage girl say to her friend. “Blimey!”
Once on board the river-bus, she found a seat in the corner of the lounge and shrank into it, shifting herself round to the window and putting up a hand to shield her face. When the boat docked at Ayr, she made straight for the first hairdressers she could find and came out half an hour later with her shoulder-length perm replaced by a neat bob. Some sharper folk might still recognize her, but the new hairstyle gave her a small degree of the precious anonymity that she used to take for granted.
She entered the new shopping centre and cruised around, selecting shoes and dresses to cheer herself up. After two hours, she had six shopping bags and eight pounds left. Then she walked back to the docks and caught the boat home. Feeling hungry, she decided to spend the last of her money on a meal in the on-board cafeteria. The compartment was packed and she had to queue for ten minutes before being served. The only seat available was at a table for two, opposite a tall, bespectacled man. She picked up the plastic knife and fork and began to eat.
“Is that beef?” said a voice.
She raised her eyes and saw the man opposite looking at her and pointing at her plate. His eyes were magnified by the thick-lenses of his glasses. “Er… yes, I assume it is. Well, that’s what it says on the menu-board; but you can’t really tell from the taste.”
“Oh, I’ve got pork.” he replied. He opened three sachets of salt and sprinkled them all over his food.
Kayleigh smiled. “Why are you doing that? I’d have thought the pork on this ship was already salted enough!”
The man met her eyes with a bemused frown then looked away and started wolfing his meal.
She shrugged. The best conversation she’d had with anyone outside her family for three weeks was over. She ate up and left the cafeteria.
The boat docked at Gourock. Kayleigh alighted on the quay with every other passenger and walked along the short footpath to the railway station. She stood on the platform and waited for the next train into Glasgow. She put down her shopping bags, rubbed her dry hands together and watched the seagulls strutting across the platform, picking at old buns and peanut packets.
She swung round startled. The man she’d spoken to aboard the river-bus was now standing beside her.
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to make you jump.”
“Oh…erm… that’s OK.”
“I just wanted to apologize for earlier on. I didn’t understand what you meant.”
“About salted pork. I only realized later when I’d thought about it for a while. Before refrigeration was invented, ships on long voyages added lots of salt to their provisions because it was the only way to preserve them. You were joking that the ship we were on was very old because the pork was salted. I’m sorry I didn’t get it at the time.”
She chuckled. “Don’t worry about it.”
“What’s your name?”
“Kayleigh.” She held out her hand.
“Nice to meet you, Kayleigh.” He took her hand then, to her astonishment, instead of shaking it he rotated it palm downwards, bent over and kissed the back of it.”
She resisted the urge to pull it away. “Er… You too, Jonah.”
He wasn’t all that backward, she thought; just a little… odd. He was very tall and almost abnormally thin under his anorak and V-neck sweater. His hair was ginger, where it poked out from under his woolly hat in little wisps. His accent was English and he spoke slowly and indistinctly; he seemed to have a slight speech impediment. He was very warm-mannered and she was quite pleased when he continued the conversation on the train to Glasgow. It made her understand how lonely she’d been since she’d left Malcolm.
“I’m living at the Philpot Centre.” he said.
Kayleigh nodded. The Philpot Centre was an institution in Pollockshields that provided accommodation and support for adults with learning difficulties. At Kayleigh’s school, it had been a favourite term of ridicule for anyone who was a bit dim. “She’s going to the Philpot Centre!”
“It’s great at the Philpot Centre! I’ve got my own bedroom and bathroom, but we all eat dinner together and we take it in turns to do the cooking and cleaning. I’ve made a lot of friends there.”
“That’s really good, Jonah. Do your parents come and visit you there?”
“No. I haven’t seen my mum and dad since I was very small. They couldn’t look after me, so they sent me to live in a children’s home.” He said this very nonchalantly, without a note of sadness or anger.
“Well… that’s… I see.”
“My life-facilitator is called Martin; he’s really nice. He looks after me and teaches me things. He’s managed to find me a job cleaning and washing up at a school kitchen. I like it ‘cos it’s the same thing I do at home… Do you live in Glasgow, Kayleigh?”
“Yes, I’m living with my mum and dad in Partick. It’s a small house, but there’s only three of us; and our dog.”
His jaw dropped. “You’ve got a dog!? Wow! What’s its name!?”
He went on to ask a dozen questions about Kayleigh’s dog. He was fascinated and envious; clearly his greatest ambition was to have a dog of his own. He eventually changed the subject. “Have you got a job, Kayleigh?”
“Not at the moment. I’m going for an interview tomorrow though.”
“What’s that for?”
“Nothing special, just a catering agency. It’s a bit different to what I’m used to. My last job was on Rockall.”
“Rockall? That tiny, little island that’s way out to sea?”
She raised her eyebrows in surprise. “You’ve heard of it?”
“Oh, yes! I’ve got an atlas of the world on CD-ROM. It’s supposed to be hundreds of miles from anywhere and no one has ever been there till just a few months ago.”
“That’s Rockall! God! I wasted four months of my life on that poky, little rock!”
“Wasted!? How can you call that wasting your life!? You were an explorer! A pioneer!”
She laughed. “You sound like my friend, Dill!”
“Kayleigh! I’m full of admiration for you! You’re an amazingly special person!” His face was open and earnest, his eyes sincere.
She felt her throat clog up and her eyes cloud over with tears. She blinked hard and looked away. “Thank you, Jonah. You’re the first person who’s ever said that to me.”
The train pulled into Glasgow station and Kayleigh stood up. “Well, here we are. I might get a taxi home, seeing as I’ve got all this shopping.”
“No need.” Jonah picked up her shopping bags before she could stop him. “I’ll carry your bags home for you.”
“What!? But I live on the other side of the city from you!”
“I don’t mind.”
“Then at least let me carry a couple of those.”
“Oh no; I’m fine with all of them.” He stepped off the train cheerfully, three bags dangling from each of his skinny arms.
She giggled to herself then followed.
He insisted on paying for the bus as well. They got off at her stop and he followed her directions to her house. He refused to let go of the shopping bags until they were literally on her doorstep.
“I can’t believe you’ve come all this way for me.” said Kayleigh. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. You needed my help and I don’t mind one bit.”
“Jonah, that’s such a kind thing to do. You really are a very sweet man!” She reached out and caressed his elbow.
He flushed very deeply. “Kayleigh… Can I ask you something?”
“Yes of course.”
He began chewing the fingernails of his trembling hands. “Are you doing anything tomorrow night?”
“Not really. My mum and dad will be out till late, so I thought I might get an early night.”
“Would you… like to go out with me instead; for a drink or a burger or something?” His face was almost maroon.
His eyes widened with delight behind his pebble glasses. “Oh, brilliant!... Fantastic!”
“Could you meet me here at about seven o’clock?”
“That’ll be fine! Very fine! Perfectly fine! I’ll really look forward to it!”
She smiled. “Me too, Jonah. I’ll see you then.”
Yeah, OK. Bye.” He walked back towards the bus stop, looking round every few feet and waving. Kayleigh stood by her gate and returned the gesture until he was out of sight. God! He’s such a darling! How could I say no!? I’ve just made his day! However a second after her confirmation, she wondered if she were making a mistake. He really seemed quite taken with her. Was it fair to encourage him when she’d only be raising his hopes in vain?
Kayleigh was almost late for her job interview. The office of Zizzix Catering Services was very hard to find. She had to go down a filthy, dark alley, lined with skips and dustbins, until she reached a crude, breezeblock outhouse with a mouldy, frosted glass door. The manager was similar in character: a balding, paunchy, sloppily-suited man with a chain-smoking habit and a very foul mouth. His office was full of reject furniture and a cheap, open-case PC on the chipboard desk. On the wall were a cranky fan and a calendar of topless models. “I’m not going to pretend to be a professional, Miss Ford.” He said, stubbing out a cigarette in the overflowing ashtray and lighting another.
“Right.” She coughed and blinked in the cloud of smoke.
“I’m in this business to make fuckin’ money! That doesn’t make me harder or greedier than other employers, just more fuckin’ honest! OK?”
“OK, Mr Cox-Ucker.”
“No cunt who works for me gets a contract. My word is the only contract round here. You get paid per fuckin’ hour you work; full stop! No sick pay, no overtime, no paid holidays! I don’t do shit like that! It’s thirteen-twenty an hour, cash-in-hand, end of fuckin’ story.”
“That’s a high rate of pay.” she admitted truthfully.
“No cunt works here for the fun of it.” he replied.
“I can well believe it, Mr Cox-Ucker.”
He either ignored or failed to pick up her veiled insult. “Also, there’s no grievance or disciplinary procedure here.” he continued. “If you have any problems… I don’t want to fuckin’ hear them. Also, I hire and fire as I fuckin’ well please. No ‘suspended-on-full-pay-pending-an-inquiry’. If I say to someone ‘go!’, the fuckin’ cunt goes. Full stop!”
“I see. So, what do you want me to do?”
“You’re too fuckin’ fat to be a waitress, but they’ll be plenty of bar work for you.”
Kayleigh closed her eyes and swallowed hard, remembering her mother’s words. “I’ve no bar experience; will I get training?”
Cox-Ucker snorted. “Training!? I ain’t got fuckin’ time to train you cunts how to do your fuckin’ jobs! You’re in the deep end now, Girl! Sink or swim!”
“Right. When do I start?”
“We’ll call you when we need you.”
“Eh? Don’t I have a basic week?”
“A minimum number of hours that I get to work every week.”
“No, you work when we fuckin’ tell you to, Miss Ford.”
“So what if you have no shifts for me at all for four or five days?”
He shrugged. “Tough shit… We call you, you work. We don’t call you, you don’t work. End of fuckin’ story. If you turn down a shift or go absent, you’re sacked! Full fuckin’ stop!”
“What if I’ve made plans or…”
“What if I’m sick?”
She hesitated. “So, what you’re basically saying is: I’m permanently on call.”
“Yup! Take the shit or hit the road!”
She sighed. “Alright.”
As Kayleigh went out, she glanced into the office next door, Cox-Ucker’s secretary was tapping feverishly at her keyboard. She was dressed in a ridiculously revealing blouse and mini-skirt. She had a black eye.
Kayleigh stopped and touched her shoulder. “Who did that?”
The woman raised her eyes, her lip trembling.
“Sharon! Get on with your fuckin’ work! Lazy bitch!” Cox-Ucker shouted.
When Kayleigh had just got onto the bus home, her mobile ‘phone rang. “Hello?”
“Hello, Miss Ford; Gerald Cox-Ucker here. We’ve got a shift for you tonight; Castlemilk Road Hotel, eight PM till midnight. You know where that is?”
Kayleigh had been shaking with affront since she’d left that putrid office, but still felt herself lucky. Work was hard to find in Glasgow at that time and she’d got herself a very well-paid job. Also her shift tonight would give her a good excuse to cancel Jonah. She’d regretted her decision to agree to a date with him. He hadn’t left a contact number so she’d just have to wait until he called round. Hopefully his feelings wouldn’t be hurt too badly.
She wasn’t sure how to dress. Did a proper barmaid look smart or casual? She decided on a compromise and put on white, summer trousers with a denim blouse and brushed out her new, straightened hair. She looked in the mirror as she applied just a spot of lipstick and a grain or two of eye-shadow. Then she went downstairs and dug out the Yellow Pages. There was a second Castlemilk Road in the street atlas and she had to make sure of where she was going. There was no need to ask Mr Cox-Ucker what the penalty would be for turning up late.
The doorbell sounded. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. OK, let’s get this over with. She slowly walked up to the front door and opened it. Then she gasped.
“Good evening, Kayleigh.” Jonah was nearly invisible, hidden behind the most enormous posy she’d ever seen; a hemispherical arrangement of chrysanthemums, lilies and tulips.
“Jonah! My Goodness! What have you got there!?”
“These are for you.” He held them out.
She needed both arms to take them. “Jonah, they’re beautiful! They’re absolutely beautiful! I’m… Thank you! Thank you so much!”
“You’re welcome.” he grinned. “I hoped you’d like them.”
“I love them, Jonah! What a wonderful thing to do! They’re just beautiful!”
“They’re not as beautiful as you.”
She gazed up between the leaves and petals at his crimson face. “You really mean that, don’t you?” she said quietly.
“Yes, of course.”
She sighed. “Listen, Jonah. About tonight… There’s a problem.”
“What is it?”
“Well, you know I went for a job interview today?”
Well, I…” There was a long silence. “I’d better go and put these in some water.” She turned and went to the kitchen. She filled up the biggest jug she could find and put the bouquet into it; then she picked up the ‘phone and dialled a number.
“Hello, Zizzix Catering Services.” came the wheedling voice of her new manager.
“Hello, Mr Cox-Ucker; it’s Kayleigh Ford here. I’m afraid I can’t make it to my shift tonight.”
“Huh!” he grunted. “I knew you were a waste of time from the start!”
“So I assume I’m sacked, right?”
“Too fuckin’ right!”
“Fine with me! I never wanted to work for a revolting wanker like you anyway!...” But he hung up before she’d finished speaking.
Kayleigh smiled to herself in the downstairs mirror and adjusted her hair then she went back to the front door where Jonah was waiting patiently. She grinned and put a hand on his arm. “OK, Jonah; I’m all yours. Where shall we go?”
“I suppose I feel a bit sorry for him.” said Kayleigh, taking a sip of her wine.
“In what way?” asked Jonah, leaning on the table towards her.
“He’s a bit of a sad character. I think he feels… inferior, like he’s not good enough. Poor Zach! Trevor never misses an opportunity to put him down. It’s really sick actually! In any other job or workplace the whole team would have walked out, but on Rockall there’s nowhere to walk to. You have to grit your teeth and bite your tongue to survive.”
“There must have been a nice side to living on Rockall though.” said Jonah.
“Oh, there was! It’s a beautiful island; untouched and unspoilt. The sea air’s fresh and clear. It’s most peaceful place I’ve ever been to.”
They were sitting in an elegantly recreated Highland theme pub in the city centre. It was only half full on this Thursday night and quiet conversation murmured in harmony with the music from the jukebox.
“I suppose there was a lot of excitement and adventure.” said Jonah.
“Oh God, yes! There was the time we first found the Americans and the time all our provisions fell into the sea; we almost lost Gareth over the cliff with them!”
“Bloody heck, Kayleigh! I wish I could have been there with you!”
There was a long silence which Kayleigh broke by offering to buy a round. “So.” she said when she returned from the bar. “Tell me about yourself.”
He smiled and gulped from his fresh pint of shandy. “What do you want to know?”
“You come from England, don’t you?”
“Yes, from Sussex. I used to live in London.”
“What did you do there?”
“Lots of different jobs. I joined No Limits; have you heard of that?”
She nodded. It was an employment agency for people with learning difficulties.
“I’m going back there soon to study.”
“Sort of. It’s the Life Institute. Have you heard about it?”
“Yeah, I think so. My mum mentioned it once.”
“My life-facilitator nominated me. He just ‘phoned me up one day and said: ‘Jonah, I’ve got a suggestion. How would you like to have your problem cured? Become a proper man and live a normal life?’ Of course, I said: ‘Yes. How?’ and he said: ‘I’ve put your name down for a six month course at the Life Institute.’ So I paid the hundred pound fee and I start in the spring.”
“A hundred pounds; that’s cheap.”
“It is isn’t it?”
“How can six months of tuition cost just a hundred pounds?”
He shrugged. “Dunno.”
She paused. “Have you heard of a magazine called Sorted M@n?”
“My mum told me that they subsidize the Life Institute courses.”
“Do they?… Why?”
“She thinks it’s because they support anyone that teaches people how to be ‘real men’.”
Jonah’s eyes went wide in wonder. “Ah! I’d love to be a real man! Thank God I’m on this course! I’ll go in there and come out six months later as a proper…”
“Jonah!” Kayleigh had been recalling the bunch of flowers that he’d given her and the look on his face at the time. “You already are a real man! Don’t change! Please!” She reached out and took his hand, feeling him tense as she touched him. “You’re perfect the way you are.”
He didn’t reply and just regarded her with an expression which was both thoughtful and very sad.
There was a loud crash and the pub door flew open. Cool night air wafted into the room followed by a group of laughing young men in uniform.
Kayleigh stared at them. There were four, each clad in identical army camouflage utilities. Their thick necks and crew-cut heads were topped by folded, claret berets. They strutted up to the bar and leaned on it with their elbows, thumbs thrust into their belts, pivoting on the heels of their heavy, leather boots. They all ordered beers which they placed in a row on the bar. They then performed a strange ritual involving loud chanting and mutual handclapping before lifting the pint glasses above their heads and downing the contents in one. The last man to finish was jeered by the other three and was forfeited by having to pay for the next round. The ceremony began again until the soldiers had consumed about five pints each; then they moved on to spirits.
Everyone in the pub was looking at them; they seemed to draw attention like a magnet. Jonah was talking to Kayleigh again, but she hardly heard him. She couldn’t look or listen to anything except the exhibition at the bar. A trio of fit, young girls at a corner table stood up and went over to join them, displaying their taut figures for the soldiers to see. Three deals were closed almost within a minute and there was sudden silence as they began to kiss each other salaciously. Kayleigh felt herself burn with envy.
Then the miracle happened. She blinked and shook her head, but when she looked again the soldier was still smiling at her. His eyes joined with hers, glinting in the light, swallowing her up in his gaze. Her heart pounded in her chest as the squaddie broke away from his smooching comrades and slowly walked over to her table. He was so handsome; virtually perfect. He must have been no older than eighteen with a smooth complexion and a sparse moustache. His sinewy, lightly-tanned forearms poked out from his elbow-length DPM shirt. He pulled a chair from a neighbouring table and dropped it beside hers. “Mind if I take a seat?” he asked.
She shook her head vigorously.
He sat down facing her with his knees spread and his rough-looking hand on the table an inch from hers. He grinned, showing a set of pearly teeth. She could see his jawbone working beneath his silky jowl, covered by the tiniest shading of stubble. “Hi, I’m Gazza.”
“H… Hi.” she breathed.
“I’m in Second Battalion, Parachute Regiment.”
“Hello, I’m Jonah.” came a third voice.
It made Kayleigh jump; she’d forgotten that he was there. She looked to her left and saw Jonah holding out his hand to the soldier, a friendly smile stretched across his homely face.
Gazza returned his gaze. He looked first at Jonah’s face then down at his proffered hand. He then turned back to Kayleigh, raising his eyebrows.
Jonah withdrew his hand and returned his attention to his drink. He showed no offence.
“So.” said Gazza to Kayleigh. “Are you pleased to meet me, or did you just spill wine down the front of your knickers?”
“It’s… very nice… to meet you.” she stammered. “I feel… very…”
An involuntary giggle rose to her lips. “I suppose so.”
“Do you live in Glasgow, Gazza?” Jonah broke in again from the side.
Gazza continued to stare at Kayleigh. “Is this monkey getting on your nerves?”
She didn’t know how to reply and just stuttered.
The soldier turned his head slightly. “Time you were on your way, Little boy.”
“What?” said Jonah.
“Sling your hook!”
“All I said was…”
“Are you deaf, you little flid!? I said clear off!”
Jonah shrank back into his chair, face flushed in shock.
“I’m going to count to three…” Gazza sneered in a quiet voice. “Then if you’re still in my field of fire, I’m going to do to you what should have been done to you at birth. One!...”
Jonah stared back, gripping the arms of his seat.
Kayleigh was frozen, immobile, her thoughts and speech in stasis.
“Three!...” Gazza stood up, plucked Jonah’s pint off the table and emptied it over his ginger hair. He then seized him by the back of his sweater and hoisted him out of his chair.
Jonah’s screams echoed dimly in Kayleigh’s ears. He looked like a baby, curled up and helpless as Gazza pounded him repeatedly against a pillar. The other squaddies cheered and their dates laughed; the barman shouted at him to stop. Kayleigh’s eyes were fixed on Gazza. The young warrior’s physique moved beautifully under his DPM utilities. His powerful eyes gleamed in the light, the tendons in his neck stood out under his velvet skin and the muscles of his hands and arms rippled. His buttocks clenched and relaxed repeatedly as he drove his victim into the stout, wooden pillar again and again and again.
As the landlord rounded the corner of the bar, Gazza grabbed Jonah by the scruff of the neck and dragged him outside. Jonah’s cries of pain continued audibly from the street until the pub door swung shut. There was a dramatic pause for about half a minute; everyone’s eyes were on the door. Then it opened and Gazza entered, beaming victoriously. He raised his fist above his head and the other soldiers cheered and applauded. They crowded round him, slapping his shoulders and giving him five.
Then the landlord confronted him.
“Alright, Mate! Keep your hair on!” Gazza placated. “It’s all over now; they’ll be no more trouble.” He returned to Kayleigh’s table and sat beside her. He touched her knee. “That little spastic won’t be bothering you again.”
She looked up into his steely, gleaming eyes and her stomach went soft. “I want you!” she croaked.
“Of course you do. Shall we pop into the toilets?”
“Eh?” she replied, not understanding.
“Alright.” he laughed. “Back to your place.”
“Yeah; for a bit of you-know-what.” He pulled a mobile ‘phone out of his pocket, tossed it in the air and caught it theatrically like a juggler. He pressed a button and held it to his ear, not taking his gaze off her. “What’s your address?”
“Sixteen, Christian Street, Partick.”
“Hello, can I have a taxi, please?... Christian Street, Partick… Gazza… Ta very much.”
The taxi arrived within five minutes and they headed west along the Clyde, skipping quickly through the light, evening traffic. Kayleigh admired the side of Gazza's head. She hoped that he’d turn and kiss her, but he just stared straight ahead, ignoring her. The cab pulled up outside her house and Gazza opened the door. “Wait here, Mate.” he told the driver.
“Aren’t you going to pay him?” asked Kayleigh.
“Yeah, when I come back.”
“What!? You’re going to put him on wait till then!?”
“Yeah, of course. Come on.”
Kayleigh opened the door to her empty house. “Do you want a cuppa?” she asked.
“Nah. So where’s the bedroom then?”
She led the way up the stairs. As soon as she shut her bedroom door, Gazza faced her and began unbuttoning her blouse. He pushed his hands inside her bra and began squeezing her breast. His hands were rough and cold. The only sound was his breathing; his face was a shadow in the dim, bedside light.
“Ow! Careful! That hurts!” she said.
“Get your knickers off.” he commanded. His voice was low, but it made her jump as if he’d shouted.
“Shouldn’t we get naked?” she asked.
“Nah; no need for that… Come on!”
She tugged off her trousers and pulled her briefs down her legs to the floor.
He eased her down onto the bed with a gentle push on her shoulders then stepped back and unfastened the belt on his trousers. She expected him to take them off, but he only lowered them as far as his calves. They were followed by his “shreddies.” His penis poked out from the gap between the two halves of the bottom of his shirt. It was fully erect and curled up in front of his belly. Its rigid body was pale and the lattice of blue veins under the skin was plainly visible. Its prominent head was smooth and shiny and reflected the light like a purple billiard ball.
The spectacle should have thrilled her, instead it added to her unease.
Gazza rolled on a condom with skill and efficiency, as if used to such an action; then he knelt on the bed and parted her knees with the businesslike manner of a midwife.
Kayleigh’s joints locked in fear; she suddenly felt very vulnerable.
“Relax.” soothed the soldier and leaned forward to tower over her. He grunted loudly. “Yes!”
A sharp pain sliced through her body.
“What’s this? Are you a virgin or something?”
The pain intensified as he thrust harder. She wanted to tell him to stop, but was afraid to. What if he doesn’t comply? What if he forces me to carry on? She ground her teeth in agony and a terrified prayer flashed through her mind. His penis began to bulge inside her. “Ahh! No!” she yelled.
“That’s right! Scream!” panted the soldier, redoubling the force of his shoves. He started to roll his eyes, pant like a dog and groan; then she felt him throb a few times and go still. He flopped down on top of her, breathing hard. He was very heavy. His rough army shirt scratched her exposed skin and his body smelled of aftershave and sweat.
Then he withdrew from her and stood up in one swift motion. He snapped off the condom and dropped it onto the floor. A few drips fell from his penis as it swung limply. He pulled up his trousers and buckled them tight. “Cheers, Bitch.” he said he said and left the bedroom without looking back. He thumped down the stairs and the front door opened and slammed. A moment later, the taxi outside revved up its engines and drove away. Kayleigh looked at her alarm clock: It was just six minutes since they’d got back to the house. He didn’t even ask my name.
She went to sit up and winced. It felt like she’d been damaged. She limped to the toilet and wiped her vagina. A few specks of blood were on the tissue, but she was relieved that it wasn’t worse. As she reentered the bedroom her stomach twisted with horror. Gazza’s used condom lay on the carpet beside her bed, reeking and slimy like a decomposing dead snake. She used cleaning gloves and half a roll of tissue to pick the thing up, carry it to the bathroom and dump it down the toilet. She sat on the closed lid and pulled the flush. Tears rose in her eyes and she wept miserably.
Kayleigh spent half an hour in the bath, scrubbing herself down from head to foot; then she went back to her bedroom and did the same, stripping the bed and washing and hoovering the carpet. The old bedsheets and clothes that she’d been wearing went straight into the bin, not the laundry.
Then she heard the front door open and her parents’ voices downstairs. “Hi, Kayleigh; we’re home!”
“Hiya, Mum! Dad!” she called back.
They went into the kitchen and she heard them pottering around for a few minutes; then her mother called her again: “Kayleigh?”
“Come down here a sec’, will you?”
Kayleigh padded down the stairs to the kitchen and jerked to a halt in the doorway. She put her hands to her cheeks as the blood drained out of them.
“So, who stole a flower bed today then?”
She didn’t reply. She just stood and stared at the bunch of flowers that Jonah had given her. They were on the table in a jug, exactly where she’d left them. A vile wave of sickness flooded through her. She dashed out into the hall and picked up the ‘phone. “Hello, I need a taxi right away to The Distillers’ Arms on Buchanan Street!... What, an hour!? That’s too long!” She grabbed her jacket and bolted out of the front door, ignoring her mother’s inquisitive shouts.
She walked as fast as she could, slowing when she was out of breath. The bus seemed to take aeons to arrive and trundle very slowly along its route eastwards. When she alighted in town, she broke into a sprint. At last she reached her destination. “Jonah!” she yelled as she burst through the pub door. “Jonah!” The bar turned its collective gaze in her direction. It was a lot quieter than it had been earlier and neither Jonah nor the soldiers were anywhere to be seen.
She backed out into the street. “Jonah!” She ran a hand through her hair. A few passers by eyed her silently. Then something caught her eye; a dark patch lay on the pavement next to the wall a few feet from the pub doorway. She crouched down to examine it. It was blood. “No!” she hissed and put a quivering hand in her mouth. “JONAH!” She was running again, pounding along the pavements, looking into every window and alleyway. “Jonah!” she sobbed. “JONAH!”
Kayleigh slumped into her chair at the kitchen table and poured out her breakfast cereal. Her mother was making toast and her father had his head buried in a newspaper. “How did the interview go yesterday?” asked Mrs Ford.
“I didn’t get it.” she replied.
“Doesn’t matter; the boss was a stinker anyhow.”
“Here, Kayleigh.” said her father. “There’s an article in here about Rockall.”
“Is there?” she mumbled, pouring milk onto her cereal.
“Yeah; they’ve struck oil there! Can you believe it!? The biggest oil field in history. If only you’d known when you were there; eh, Girl!?... Apparently it’s going to solve the fuel crisis.”
“Bloody good job! That car’s costing a fortune to keep on the road!”
Kayleigh’s mother came and sat beside her. “Sweetie, are you alright?”
“No.” She burst into tears.
“I know!” her father interrupted, getting up. “I’ll go and check the tyres on the car.”
“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?” asked Mrs Ford when she and her daughter were alone. “Is this about those flowers that were left here last night?”
“Share it with me, Kay.”
“I can’t!” Kayleigh sobbed. “It’s too awful!”
“Oh, Sweetie; but if…”
“I hate myself, Mum!”
“Don’t ever say that!”
“But I do!... I’m an evil person! I wreck people’s lives! I destroy everyone who comes near me!”
“Are we talking about Malcolm?”
“Malcolm! Everyone! I’m cursed!”
“Now come on!” said her mother. “I don’t even believe the date in the bloody papers! What happened with Malcolm was not your fault! Good God, I was engaged before I met your dad and I broke it off! It can happen to anyone, Kay!”
She shook her head. “You don’t know the half of it, Mum! Sometimes the papers tell the truth!”
There was a long pause while Mrs Ford dried her daughter’s eyes with a tissue. “Look, Sweetie; I’ve got an idea.”
“Go back to Rockall.”
“Why don’t you? I’m sure they’d take you back.”
“How the hell can I go back there after all that’s gone on!?”
“Just ‘phone up Mr Quentin and ask him… It’ll be a chance for you to get out of the way; find some peace and quiet with different people. You need it to get over everything!”
“But you missed me when I was there.”
“Yes, I did; and I will again. But I want what’s best for you, not me…” She smiled. “That’s what mums do.”
“Not in a million years, Mum.”
“No!” She stood up. “There’s no way I could ever go back to Rockall.”
Kayleigh’s depression deepened over the next few days. She began to hit the bottle again. She tried to go out, but found the open streets oppressive and unfriendly. She went home after a particularly nerve-racking trip to into town to find her parents sitting silently in front of the TV. The news was on and to her surprise; Trevor, Zach and Ross Quentin were doing an interview with the Prime Minister outside Downing Street. “What are those three doing there?” she asked. “They’ve come home to sort out this oil business.” said her mother. “There’s going to be trouble here; mark my words.”
“What sort of trouble?” asked Kayleigh.
“The Yanks want a slice of the Rockall oil and that prick Weller’s not going to give them one. Scottish troops’ll be fighting another of England’s wars soon, I reckon.”
Mr Ford scoffed. “Go and have a cup of tea, Mary! It won’t come to that! This is America you’re talking about, not China! A war with the USA!? Impossible! They’re brothers to us!”
“Like Cain was to Abel?”
“That’s not the same! Look, I’ve studied politics; I know how these things work. One thing that never happens is two countries that are long-term, international allies starting a war with each other!”
Kayleigh left them to their wrangle and went up to have a shower. The doorbell rang while she was drying off and her mother answered. “Kayleigh! It’s for you!”
“I’m in the bath; I’ll be down in a tick!” She put on her clothes in trepidation, hoping that it wasn’t a reporter. She threw together a lean-to diversion as she descended the stairs. “Jonah!”
“Hello, Kayleigh.” He stood in the same spot as he had done when he’d called two weeks earlier. He was also holding a bunch of flowers; a smaller one this time. She faltered as she approached the threshold. “Wh…What are you doing here?”
“I came to say goodbye. I’m leaving Scotland tomorrow… So, how are you?”
There was an awkward silence. “Here.” He handed her the flowers; six red roses in silver paper and green ribbon.
“Thank you.” She noticed that his wrist was in a plaster-cast. When she took a closer look at his face, she saw the tinge of an old bruise around his right eye and a sutured gash on his upper lip. “Oh, God! Jonah! What have I done!?” she blurted. “I’m so sorry! I don’t know what to say to you! I’m so very sorry!”
“That’s alright.” he soothed, putting his good hand on her arm.
“I never imagined you’d want to see me again! How can you ever forgive me!?”
“It wasn’t your fault. I’m not too badly hurt anyway.”
“Jonah! I can’t believe I deserted you like that! I just sat there like an imbecile while that pig was beating you up!... I don’t deserve these flowers! You should hate me, Jonah!... Hate me! Please!”
“I could never hate you, Kayleigh. I really like you… I’ve never had a girlfriend before; but if I ever do, I hope it’ll be someone like you.”
She blushed deeply and raised her hands to the sides of her head, pulling the hair up above her ears. “Jonah, please don’t say these things to me! You should be calling me a cow or a bitch and shouting at me!... Don’t you understand!? I’m not worthy of this!”
“You’re worthy of all this and more. I’m so glad I met you, Kayleigh!”
She looked back at him through the edge of her eye. “Jonah, you’re the most unique, kind, wonderful man who ever walked the Earth. Go and find yourself a kind, wonderful girl who deserves your love!”
There was a long silence. Jonah coughed. “Tomorrow I’m leaving for London to join the Life Institute.”
“You’re sure you want to go through with it?”
“Yes.” There was a resolution in his eyes that she hadn’t seen before. “You see… it wasn’t your fault, what happened the other week; it wasn’t the fault of Gazza either. It was my fault.”
“It was, Kayleigh! It was my own fault and nobody else’s!”
“How can that be so!?”
“Because of the way I am. I’m slow, I’m weird, I’m not normal. I deserve to be beaten up. You and Gazza only behaved in the way everyone should towards me… You see, you were wrong, Kayleigh! I do have to change! I must become…”
Kayleigh involuntarily reached out and embraced him in both arms; then she kissed him hard on the lips. “No, Jonah. I wasn’t wrong! It’s others who need to change, not you! You’re the last person in this world that needs alteration! Please; don’t judge your own manhood on how fools like Gazza treat you! And don’t listen to a word they teach you at that Life place! They only want to turn you into another robot like him!... Goodbye, Jonah; God be with you!”
Jonah didn’t move for a moment; then he slowly turned and walked back down the garden path, wiping his nose on his sleeve.
She stood on her doorstep and watched him until he’d disappeared round the corner.
For some reason, she felt much better after Jonah’s visit. She put the flowers in water and went to bed without a drink for the first time in several days. In the morning, she woke up at the crack of dawn, feeling alert and full of energy. She went for a walk along the waterfront. The city was unusually quiet. Normally she wouldn’t be able to hear herself think over the roar of rush-hour traffic, but this morning it was absent. Even at nine AM the streets were almost empty. She wondered why then plodded back home for breakfast.
As she opened the front door her father burst out of the lounge. “Kayleigh! Where the fuck have you been!?”
“Just for a little walk.” She moved to the lounge door to see her mother hunched white-faced in front of the TV screen. The news was on and an ominous-looking report was currently showing. “Mum, Dad… What’s going on?”
“As if you didn’t know!”
“Dad, what’s the matter with you?”
“We’re at war, Kayleigh! At war with the Americans! Are you happy now!?”
“Calm down, Jeff!” put in her mother.
“No! I will not calm down, Mary! Our daughter has been lying to us!” He jabbed his forefinger at her. “Why didn’t you tell us, Kay!?”
Kayleigh raised her arms defensively and shook her head to clear it. “What… are you talking about, Dad?”
“The missiles, Kay! Those fuckin’ missiles you’ve been building!... How could you let yourself get involved in something like this!?”
“Missiles? I don’t know what…?”
“Don’t bullshit me, Kay!”
“Sit down and shut up, Jeff!” shouted Mrs Ford. “Let our child speak!”
Kayleigh backed into the hallway. “Could somebody please explain… what the hell all this is about!?”
The streets of Glasgow were like a ghost town. The few cars on the road sped recklessly. A handful of pedestrians walked quickly along the pavements, mostly groups of adults or families lugging bulging shopping bags and glancing nervously about them.
Kayleigh gripped the edges of the back seat with both hands. “This is scary, Mum! I don’t like it!”
Mrs Ford looked over her shoulder at her from the front passenger seat. “Me neither, Sweetie.” She tittered briefly. “I’ll never moan about traffic jams again!”
Mr Ford drove calmly; his right hand on the steering wheel, left hand on the gear lever. “See where your antics have got us, Kayleigh!?”
“Oh, Dad! Not that again!” said Kayleigh. “Mum, you believe me now don’t you?”
She sighed. “I want to, Kayleigh.”
“Mum! This whole thing is insane! A missile base on Rockall!? It’s outrageous! I feel like I’ve been trapped in some cheap movie for the last fortnight!”
“Stop lying!” yelled her father. “We took you back into our home, you ate off our table, you slept under our roof and the whole time you were shamelessly lying to us! Do you know how that feels!?... And now your scheming is going to lay waste to our country and kill everyone!”
“What!?... But… Dad!”
“Alright, Sweetie.” said her mother in a more diplomatic tone. “We’re not saying you definitely had an active part in all this; but for pity’s sake, you must have known it was going on! Those silos are two hundred feet deep!”
“You’re not listening to me!” Kayleigh shouted. “How many times do I have to tell you!? THERE ARE… NO… MISSILES! Someone made it up!”
“Don’t treat me like a fool, Kayleigh!” Mr Ford glanced back at her balefully. “Look around you!”
They were now entering the city centre and some sort of riot was in progress. A crowd of thousands were hurling bricks at an electrical shop and a few people staggered up the road carrying TV sets and stereos. A group of police cars were parked opposite with their blue lights flashing, powerless to intervene. Further down the street on a pub terrace, a gang of drinkers were having a wild party. They danced on the tables, whooping and swigging from bottles. One man was gulping from a bucket; beer poured from the corners of his mouth. Some of the revellers had stripped naked. A woman was on all-fours outside on the pavement performing oral sex on one man while another penetrated her from behind.
“Look at it!” said Mr Ford. “Are you seriously trying to pretend this is all happening ‘cos someone made something up!?”
“Yes!” Kayleigh clutched a handful of her hair.
“Weller’s denying it.” said her mother.
“Oh!” Mr Ford chuckled sarcastically. “And he’d never lie to us; he’s a politician!”
“God! This has to be a nightmare!” gasped Kayleigh.
“It is!” said her father. “A nightmare that you created!”
“No, Kayleigh! It’s all your fault! All these people are going to be bombed to death ‘cos you kept the missile base a secret!”
“Why will no one believe me!?” An idea suddenly popped into Kayleigh’s head. “Mum! Remember when you exposed the diet con?”
“The slimming and beauty industry scam you found out about while you were at school.”
“This is the same thing!”
“Mass hypnosis by the media!”
Mrs Ford hesitated. “No this is totally different.”
“It’s not! It’s exactly the same; only on a larger scale!”
“What’s this, Kayleigh!?” snapped her father. “Another cock-and-bull story you’re telling us!?... SHIT!” He jerked the steering wheel to the left, avoiding a collision by inches. The other car was full of people; they were hanging out of the windows and sunroof screaming and laughing.
“Mum! We’re being duped, just like all those girls on diets!”
The local supermarket looked like a scene from the Russian Revolution. A melee of about six thousand people were roaring and seething through the doors and shattered windows. Police cars and ambulances were everywhere. Like piranha fish around a carcass, the people tore down the doors to the storeroom and fought over cardboard boxes.
Mr Ford pulled up on the slip road leading to the shop. “What do you reckon?” asked his wife.
He paused. “Nah, let’s try that new Tesco’s in East Kilbride.” He rotated the wheel and U-turned back onto the deserted dual carriageway.
But an identical insurrection was taking place at that store too. Kayleigh’s father stopped the car on the edge of the throng. “You two stay in here and keep your heads down.” he said and opened the door.
Mrs Ford grabbed his arm. “Jeff! You’re not going in there!”
“We’re going to need food, Mary!”
“OK, but be careful! And try to get tinned stuff; we don’t know how long we’ll have to stock it!”
“I will.” He winked. “I’ll bring you back some mange-tout; I know you love it!... Now lock the doors!” He instantly vanished into the cloud of shoving bodies.
“Oh, Lord; I hope he’s alright.” Mrs Ford bit her nails.
“He’ll be fine, Mum. After all, he’s only after food; same as everyone else.”
“Yes, but panic makes monsters out of people. Was it Napoleon who said: ‘Every society is just three meals away from revolution.’?”
CRACK! A missile, probably a brick or stone, struck the windscreen a glancing blow, making the two women jump. It left a starred splash of broken glass where it had hit. “Come on, Dad!” muttered Kayleigh.
He came back a few minutes later empty-handed with a bleeding cut above his eyebrow.
“I’m alright!” he snapped and started the engine. He jerked the car into a tight curve, knocking a man with a laden trolley off his feet. “Bastards! I had a whole box of baked beans when they jumped me!”
“These kids with baseball bats! They swiped the lot!”
“Shit, Dad! Let’s get home quick! We’ll just have to make do with what we’ve got.”
Once the family got back to their house, they dashed from the car to the front door as fast as they could. They battened the door shut and rolled the Welsh dresser against it. After that, they locked all the windows and drew every blind and curtain. Then they sat tight and waited.
The news was on, as it had been continually since the start of the crisis. The Prime Minister came on the screen to announce that martial law had been declared. “Panic will only aggravate the situation.” he insisted. “Stay at home! Sit tight! Stay calm! Keep out of city centres! Do not attempt to stockpile supplies. No one is going to starve to death. This is NOT war yet! Diplomatic channels to the American government are still open and negotiations are in progress.”
“Fuck you, Weller!” Mr Ford spat at the TV screen while his wife cleaned and dressed his head wound.
“Maybe it’s not as bad as it looks.” said Kayleigh.
“If you believe that great poopsy you’ll believe anyone!”
They spent the evening on the ‘phone talking to Kayleigh’s relatives, who were mostly dug in at home like they were. Kayleigh tried to reach her friends on Rockall but to no avail. Trevor and Zach were on the mainland at that time, but Zach’s ‘phone was always engaged, as was Quentin’s. Trevor’s just rang and rang as if no one was there.
Dusk fell slowly; the blackness of night flooded the city. The water and electricity didn’t fail and streetlamps bathed the empty roads. They dragged mattresses downstairs and slept together on the lounge floor, taking it in turns to stay awake and keep watch. They heard nothing except two or three cars driving slowly past at around two o’clock AM.
The TV kept them informed of all developments. Out in the Atlantic Ocean, Rockall was surrounded by a protective guard of British warships. Thousands of soldiers were on the island itself, setting up defensive positions to repel any invasion. An American naval taskforce was holding position a hundred miles to the west, waiting for the order to attack. Kayleigh thought a lot about Dill, Jennie, Broadway, Elaine and all her other friends on Rockall. How were they coping? What were they thinking? What would become of them if the Americans struck? She wished so hard that she could talk to them or even… be with them. Maybe her mother was right; she should have gone back there. Well, it was too late now.
Kayleigh was on watch when it started to get light at around six. Her parents were both snoring inharmoniously. She stood up, tiptoed over them and up the stairs to their bedroom which faced east. She opened the curtains and looked out over the garden and the backs of the houses on the street opposite. There was a peachy, golden glow between the chimney pots of the next close. The sky was huge, empty and crystal blue. The usual morning jet trails were absent; airlines across the world had grounded their entire fleets.
Then the sun rose; just a spark of tangerine light between two TV aerials. It grew to a blinding glow that forced Kayleigh to squint. She turned and looked at the wall opposite. The sun illuminated the flowery wallpaper and Kayleigh’s shadow was perfectly projected onto it. She looked back round and saw the ochre eye lift itself free of the roof tiles and shine down onto Glasgow, nourishing and caressing the whole city in that wondrous light.
“What’s going on, Kay? Are you alright?” Her mother was standing in the doorway.
“Yeah, I’m fine, Mum.”
“What are you doing?”
Mrs Ford came over and stood by her shoulder. “What is it?”
“Get a load of that!” Kayleigh pointed.
“It’s just the sun, Sweetie.”
“No; it’s not just the sun! It’s the sun!... He’s still shining! He’ll never stop rising and setting! And he’ll keep shining no matter what we idiots do down here on this tiny, little Earth!”
The next few days dragged. Nothing much happened in the Anglo-American confrontation. The ships remained on their station, the troops on Rockall kept watch; negotiations continued, but information on their content and outcome was withheld. Mr Ford was like a caged animal. One day, despite beseechments from his wife, he went out for a short walk. He came back an hour later, much to her relief, to report that the neighbourhood looked “Neat and tidy” and “Empty and peaceful”.
The impasse finally broke after more than three weeks. Ross, Trevor and Zach appeared on television along with the Prime Minister, political commentators and diplomatic experts. The two sides had finally come to an understanding and the new deal was called “The Rockall Treaty.” Both Weller and Selby had been through it with a fine tooth comb of lawyers, come back and shaken hands. The war was off! The entire human race breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Things got back to normal very quickly, as if people were eager to forget the experience. Busses started running again, shops and schools reopened, people went back to work.
Kayleigh walked down to a nearby supermarket and watched for a few minutes as glaziers and builders began repairing the damage done during the riots. She took out her mobile ‘phone, made a five-minute call to Ross Quentin then called her home number.
“Hello; Mary Ford.”
“Hi, Mum; it’s me.”
“Alright, Kayleigh love. What are you doing?”
“I’m just calling to let you know I’ve made a decision.”
“And what’s that?”
“I’m going back to Rockall. I leave on Monday.”
“Kayleigh!... Kayleigh!” Elaine shook her shoulders.
“Ugh?” Kayleigh lifted her head off the pillow, her eyes still thick with sleep.
“Arlene’s just called from the hospital. It’s started!”
She sat up, wide awake. “Good God!... But it’s too early!”
“Only three weeks. Come on!”
Claire, Trish and Morag were also out of bed and putting on their boots and jackets. Kayleigh came down the stairs and started doing the same. “Wait for me.” she said as she struggled with her laces.
“You must be bloody joking!” said Morag. “We’re not going to miss this! Catch us up!”
Kayleigh walked down the new, tarmac pathway; the lights of Rockall Port were big and solid on this moonless night. The stars were smothered by thick, low cloud. People were coming out of every house and joining the procession. Kayleigh could hear their excited voices over the keen of the wind.
All two hundred of the town’s residents were there, but Rockall Port hospital was far too small to allow everyone inside, so they clustered around it, trying to peep through the window blinds and barracking Arlene for news every time she came out into the waiting room. Kayleigh was so excited that she hardly noticed the time pass, but after two hours her feet began to ache and the black sky above took on a hint of blue.
The door slowly opened and Gareth appeared; everybody turned his way. His eyes were tearful and stretched across his face was the hugest of grins. “It’s… a girl!” he stammered. “Jennie’s fine!”
The colonists cheered like football fans and bundled round him, slapping his back and shaking his hand. Broadway and Morag wept in each other’s arms.
Gareth went back inside for about twenty minutes, but then returned to the door accompanied by Dr Forbes, Arlene and Trevor. Gareth held his new daughter in his arms, wrapped in a white swaddle; his face wore a soft, adoring expression that Kayleigh had never seen on him before.
Trevor leaned over and Gareth handed him the baby. Then Trevor stepped forward and lifted her slightly to make her easier to see. “Ladies and Gentlemen, People of Rockall Port, I present to you Nina Caroline Luxley! On this day, Wednesday the Sixth of July Two thousand and eleven; she is first human being in the history of the world to be born on the island of Rockall!”
They formed a queue to walk past the doorway, looking at her and touching her as if she were some holy relic. She was sleeping by the time Kayleigh got to her; her forehead was warm and dry as Kayleigh ran her fingertips across it. Zach was behind her in the line. “Isn’t she a little trooper?” he smiled warmly at her, his face in semi-darkness.
“Yeah, she’s beautiful.” Kayleigh smiled back at him.
Later in the afternoon, she was allowed to pay Jennie a short visit. The new mother was sitting up in bed, beaming with joy and joking on the ‘phone to her family. There was a short conversation with a news reporter as well. Allowing Jennie to give birth on the island had been a controversial decision. Her obstetrician on land had been dead against it, but Arlene and Dr Forbes had believed that there was no danger. The baby had a cephalic presentation and her head was engaged. It was Jennie’s first baby, but there were no warning signs that she might have a difficult delivery.
The next day, Gareth and Jennie carried their child out of the hospital to their home a hundred yards away to begin their new life as Rockall’s first resident family.
The summer sun shone down and the wind was light so Kayleigh took the opportunity to go for a stroll. She walked swiftly up the slope inland, leaping around the birds’ nests, forcing herself not to break into a run. She was still jubilant over the new baby and almost overloaded with energy. This walk would have to be a long one. At the top of the slope she looked down onto Rockall Port, marvelling at how the place had changed so much since the Treaty. It was starting to look a lot more like Green Port… not that she’d seen the American base recently. The old twin huts had gone and been replaced by a whole street of much sturdier two-storey houses called Bower-casts. Like Green port, they had a cliff elevator and jetty, a water distillation plant and a proper sanitary system as well as an extensive indoor laboratory for their work and a community hall with a sports gymnasium and bar. This was intensifying as more and more scientists and their support staff arrived in the British Sector every month; naturalists, biochemists, geologists, botanists, zoologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, marine biologists and many more.
The centrepieces of the new town were the two, huge bricks-and-mortar buildings at each end of it. At the eastern limits was The Rotunda, a purpose-built mansion that was to become the Governor’s official residence. Trevor couldn’t wait to move in and Kayleigh, she had to admit to herself, was also looking forward to working in her new office. The other building, on the western extremity of Rockall Port was First Landing, Zach’s new house; sited at the top of the ramp where they’d come ashore on that first day over two years ago. It had cost him every penny of his savings just to fulfil the mortgage deposit. Luckily the builders constructing The Rotunda, seeing as they were already on Rockall, had agreed to stay on a few extra months to do First Landing on a cheap contract. The house was Zach’s pride and joy and he’d shed tears on the day he’d first stepped over the threshold.
It had been a busy year. The signing of the Rockall Treaty by the US president and British Prime Minister had ended the terrible few weeks of military confrontation and begun what had been dubbed “The Summer of Content.” The peace talks in Geneva were swift and positive. Both sides agreed to all the Treaty’s terms without dispute and the warships were sailing for home by the end of April. The army encampment on the island itself was packed up and the soldiers airlifted off, with the exception of the few needed to man the border with the US Sector. The airbase that had been gouged into the ruins of Mount Clow also remained operational; it was named RAF Mount Clow as if in memoriam to that tall, proud hill.
To begin with everyone had been relaxed and optimistic. The process of implementing the Treaty was well underway and Ross Quentin sent regular reports of the various meetings and motions that were being passed in Westminster and Washington. Craig Weller won another landslide term in office and mentioned Rockall in his first parliamentary address. But then the operation seemed to lose momentum. Less and less was being done slower and slower and Quentin’s reports began to take on a tone of frustration. It was as if the Treaty was being abandoned half-finished, not deliberately, but through simple laziness. The border between the two sectors was supposed to have been reopened by December, but now after a year it still remained closed. Jack Laird and the other American residents were incommunicado with the British Sector and had not been released from their orders; this especially upset Elaine who was missing the Professor very badly. In recent months, the neglect of the Rockall Treaty was beginning to take on a sinister note and the British contingent had become highly suspicious. Was it simply neglect?
Kayleigh hiked upstream along the clear, rushing waters of Neelum’s Burn. Since the destruction of Mount Clow, the Burn’s watershed was smaller and it ran shallower and even occasionally dried up. Two miles up its course she reached the ten-foot high, barbed wire fence that marked the perimeter of the airbase. The thick-plated wire was sunk deep into the bed of the stream to prevent intruders. At eye-level, a red-painted sign was mounted on the cordon stating: RAF MOUNT CLOW. MINISTY OF DEFENCE PROPERTY- KEEP OUT. A circlet of evenly-spaced lookout towers surrounded the compound, just inside the perimeter. In the distance, she saw the soldiers strutting; staring northwards towards their erstwhile enemy. On the other side of the border, American troops eyeballed the British lines, almost like a mirror image. The handful of military personnel on the island kept themselves to themselves, seldom visiting Rockall Port and preferring to socialize with each other. Kayleigh didn’t even know most of their names.
Kayleigh turned left and walked westwards, following the fence. The fringes of Mount Clow were still visible as a pair of earth berms running in parallel. Between them were two hangers, a runway and a row of aircraft, parked on the dark, concrete apron. Small human figures scurried about beneath their wings, fitting missiles and fuel pipes. Further west, beyond the fringes of the airbase near the cliffs, she came upon Claire. The biologist was in her usual posture, kneeling on the earth beside a patch of vegetation. “Alright, Claire?”
She looked up. “Oh, hello, Kayleigh. What brings you up here?”
“No particular reason; I just needed to stretch my legs. Gareth and Jennie have taken little Nina home.”
“Yes, I saw them. I bet they’re exhausted.”
“I’ll pop in and see them on my way back.”
“Don’t just yet, Kayleigh. They need to be alone for a while with their baby; get used to her being around.”
She shrugged. “S’pose so.” There was a long silence. “Oh, yeah! I’ve got something for you.” She took a wad of leaflets out of her pocket, peeled one off and handed it to Claire. “I might as well give you yours now.”
Claire scanned it. “’Dear colleague… bla bla bla. Governor Trevor McCain of the Island of Rockall (British Sector) requests the pleasure of your company at the… official opening of his mansion.’!?” She sneered. “Tell him to get buggered!... How many of us has he invited?”
“How many do you reckon will turn up?”
“Except me; seeing as I’m his secretary.”
“I don’t know how you can do that job, Kayleigh.”
“Nor do I sometimes. Unfortunately it was the only way back onto the island after the war… Trust me to miss all the fun!”
“I wouldn’t call it that.” Claire replied darkly, looking down.
“Glasgow wasn’t exactly a bundle of laughs either… I’ve never asked anyone before; what was it like here?”
She ground her teeth. “This island had been a pristine wilderness since the beginning of time; then one day thousands of men fall out of the sky and begin digging the place up as if it’s a kiddies’ sand pit. They shoot the ponies for food, or even just for the hell of it! And they basically sterilize the plateau.”
“Did we lose any species?”
“Not floral, luckily. I had a big store of seeds and pollen, so I took it upon myself to save them. Look!” She pointed at the golden-red flower between her knees. “Rosa Rockalli.”
“The Rockall Rose… Thank God! How many of them are left?”
“I couldn’t find any after the army had moved out, so I bred a few in the laboratory and transplanted them into the wild when they’d matured. Most of them have survived.”
“Oh, Claire!” Kayleigh felt a blast of admiration for the woman. “Well done! You’ve saved the island!”
She shrugged. “It’s our duty to care for our home planet… Besides, I only said floral.”
Kayleigh hesitated. “You mean…”
“Yes. The birds have coped alright, but they’re just visitors who use the island to breed. The ponies might not be so lucky; and there’s nothing I can do about that.”
“How many were killed?”
Claire’s face flushed and her voice dripped with venom. “Eighty-seven; that’s more than half.”
“But they’re still alive. They can have babies and restore their numbers.”
“Yes, I know; and they have produced over a dozen foals this year, but…” She signed sadly. “Actual numbers aren’t the problem. The real problem is genetic stagnation. If the population sinks too low they might be forced to inbreed. This could create dangerous mutations and condense hereditary defects of the type you used to see in Royal families: Polydactylism, stunted growth, clubfeet and a host of other ailments. In such an isolated environment similar equine conditions could wipe them out.”
“Even as a kid I knew the story of Adam and Eve couldn’t be true.” said Kayleigh. “Maybe we could bring other ponies from the mainland to boost the population.”
“Some of the other biologists have suggested that, but I think it has to be a last resort. The Rockall Pony is an ancient and unique breed. If we introduced foreign animals it would mean cutting the breed with other genotypes. The succeeding generation would only be half-Rockallian. If possible, I’d like to see the Rockall Pony continue in its natural, pure-blood form.”
“How likely will that be?”
“It’s too soon to tell. We’ll have to wait a few years to find out.”
There was another long pause. “By the way.” said Claire. “Zach was here about an hour ago looking for you.”
“Right.” answered Kayleigh as casually as possible. As she walked away, Claire didn’t look up from her work. Blimey! She doesn’t suspect a thing!
The Air base compound sprawled onwards to within half a mile of the western cliffs. As Kayleigh reached the edge of it and looked down the stump of Mount Clow, she saw Dill sitting on Dead Elephant Rock. He was squatting in his characteristic posture of meditation. She tried to back away, but it was too late; he’d spotted her. He raised his head and waved. “Hi, Kayleigh.” He jumped down and jogged up hill towards her.
She cursed under her breath. “Hello, Dill.”
“I haven’t seen you for ages.” he remarked when he was close enough to speak. “Where have you been?”
“Oh, here and there. Sorry, I haven’t had time; I’ve been busy.”
“Slaving away for His Majesty?” He laughed good-naturedly.
“Something like that… How have you been?”
“Great!... Erm… I’d better be off then. Don’t want to disturb your concentration. See you around.” She turned to go.
He hesitated and put his hands in his pockets. “Is everything alright, Kay?”
“Of course it is. Why?”
He chuckled. “I know I’m probably imagining things, but… it feels like you're avoiding me.”
“Avoiding you?... Dill, of course I’m not avoiding you.” she lied. “I’d never do that.”
He shrugged and looked embarrassed. “Sorry; just my imagination playing up.”
She reached out and took his hand. “You’re my best mate! The last person in the world I’d dream of avoiding!”
Kayleigh forced herself to spend a few minutes chatting to Dill; all the time she was burning up inside and sighed with relief when he returned to his meditation. She walked back east towards Hasselwood, crossing the Trans-Rockall Highway, a misnomer for what in the outside world would be no more than a country lane. It was one of the first of the post-Treaty building projects, a single six-mile tarmac carriageway linking Rockall Port and Green Port. It had been completed just before the border was closed; and until it was reopened the Trans-Rockall Highway was probably the most useless piece of road in the world, heading nowhere except to the border checkpoint and the crofters’ settlement.
The crofters were the newest and most enigmatic culture to arrive on Rockall. Bringing them over had been Ross Quentin’s idea; he hoped that by introducing a native industry the island might progress from a scientific research station to a true human habitat with an economy. The four families had moved over from Harris and the Uists after signing a deal with the Commission that allowed them to occupy their holdings rent-free: a necessary incentive for leaving their homes for an isolated life on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. Their settlement consisted of four houses and a few acres of arable enclosure, just inside the border. The rich, organic soil was already promising a good harvest, according to their leader, a big, jolly man called Calum McLeod. The crofters also, after consultation with the biologists, brought forty sheep to Rockall which were allowed to wander free to graze on the plateau, much to the curiosity of the ponies. Claire wasn’t so concerned about the sheep than the dog that would be needed to flock them. Fortunately Calum’s Alsatian, Tepee, was a gentle and well-disciplined animal who left the horses and birds well alone. The first batch of fleeces had already been sheared and packed up on the new jetty. The following week, a boat was due to sail out from Tarbert to collect them for the market. That would mean another first: Rockall earning money.
Kayleigh walked on east from the Highway and came to Hasselwood, The British Sector’s “second city.” The increase in the island’s population meant that the low-lying land around Rockall Port Bay was becoming overcrowded, so another settlement was established on the south coast a mile east of Neelum’s Burn. Hasselwood was an unremarkable town; just a cluster of Bower-casts and a small laboratory, mostly occupied by recent arrivals from the oceanography contingent.
It was now mid-afternoon and Kayleigh headed for home. She reached Rockall Port and showed her face in her house, chatting casually to Morag and Trish so that they wouldn’t suspect anything. Then she went upstairs, quivering with anticipation. She washed, changed and slipped out through the back door giggling to herself. She jogged with her head down along the grass between the backs of the houses and the workshop. She checked that there was no one looking then crossed the open space to First Landing.
Zach’s new house was painted white and had large windows. It was set right in the base of Lookback Point looming over the slope of regolith which they used to use to get from the shore to the plateau before the lift was installed. As she approached the front door it opened and she ducked inside. “Did anyone see you?” asked Zach.
“Don’t think so.” she puffed. “It’s risky though, Zach; coming over here in daylight.”
“I know, but I had to be with you… And it adds to the thrill; the risk of discovery.” He put his hands on her shoulders.
She chuckled and lifted her head as he bent down to kiss her. “Who says you can’t keep a secret on Rockall!?... Come on, let’s go upstairs!”
They made love for several hours. The interior of First Landing was comfortable, but undecorated and sparsely furnished. The lower floor was completely taken up by the studio lounge and kitchen. The eastern wall had a row of huge windows overlooking Rockall Port Bay. Zach cooked a simple, two-course meal of chicken goujons and potato croquettes with gooseberry crumble and custard for dessert which they ate on their laps in front of the television. He uncorked a bottle of white wine and poured them both a generous glass each. Kayleigh took a sip and swilled it around her mouth to savour the taste. Alcohol was freely available now on the island, but to her it still carried the aura of a forbidden luxury; like sex.
“You’re quiet today.” noted Zach.
“Am I?” She chuckled. “Sorry; I’ve had a lot on my plate today… I saw Dill.”
Zach groaned and lay back on the settee. “Don’t tell me; you feel guilty.”
“Yeah, I do a bit.”
“Why? It’s not your fault that he fancies you!”
“I know, but if he knew that you and I were… it’d kill him.”
“I always said ignorance is bliss.”
“It’s not funny, Zach!”
“Kayleigh, Kayleigh.” he soothed and leaned towards her, stroking her hair. “Dill’s a grown man; and he’s an honourable man… Christ, I like the bloke! He’s a friend to me! I don’t want to hurt him any more than you do!... But what I’m saying is; he’ll understand. He’ll take it philosophically.”
She leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees. “It won’t make it hurt any less.”
“Then…” He sat up, reached for her knee and began squeezing it. “We’ll have to break it to him gently.”
“He loves me, you know.” she said quietly.
“How do you know that? Has he told you?”
“Not in so many words, but I can see it in his eyes. When I think back, he’s always given me the look of love, since the first day I met him… but I didn’t recognize it at the time; I had to learn how to.”
“Well jolly dee for him.”
Kayleigh gazed hard at Zach as he slouched on the settee, watching the TV and sipping his wine. “I wonder; do you love me, Zach?”
He guffawed. “You what?”
“Do you love me the way Dill does?”
“What sort of question is that?”
“Just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
“Well… no. I thought you understood that wasn’t part of the arrangement.”
“I do. And I definitely don’t love you, Zach. I fancy you to death, but that’s all.”
He shrugged. “Great. So we’re quits.” He paused. “I haven’t been in love since I was a little kid; puppy love. To be honest, I don’t really know what love is; or even if there is such a thing.”
“I don’t know what it is either; I’ve never experienced it… But it does exist.”
“Because you can see it in Dill’s eyes?” he asked in a mocking tone.
“But it’s no good unless you love Dill too; and you don’t, do you?”
There was a long silence. Kayleigh got up and walked over to the sideboard to pour herself another glass of wine. “There’s been times in my life that I thought I was in love.” she said. “But on those occasions I was actually experiencing another emotion which I mistook for love: Lust, friendship, a craving for intimacy, pity… and greed.”
“Well, at least with me neither of us are under any illusions.” said Zach.
She laughed as she sat down again beside him. “True!”
He kissed the side of her neck. “I’ve got an idea.”
She shivered at his touch. “Ooh! What’s that?”
“Why don’t we go public?”
“Hey? We can’t do that!”
“Come on; why not? Let’s become an official couple.”
“Zach; we’ve been here before. Besides it’s quite fun having this little secret.”
“Kayleigh we’ve been doing this for three months! You sneak round here and we shag; I sneak round to yours when you housemates are out and we shag. What are we doing? Justifying the monthly condom quota?”
“If we came out all hell would break loose!”
“You mean Dill would be cut up.”
“And what if he finds out another way? Any time now it could get into the grapevine; how will he feel then? Come on, Kay; we ought to be honest with him. I think he deserves that.”
She stood up again with a sigh. “Honest!? Zach, what’s there to be honest about!? It’s not like we’re Gareth and Jennie, starting a family! We’re having sex! I’m enjoying it; you’re enjoying it! There’s nothing to tell anyone else!”
He chuckled and smiled. “I suppose not.”
She laughed with him, walked over and put a hand on his shoulder. “Now is there any chance of a quickie before I go home?”
Making a covert egress from First Landing was easier than arriving because the sun was lower and shone from behind the house. Kayleigh dashed over to the west wall of the nearest Bower-cast and leaned against its fibreglass outer shell until the coast was clear then she emerged onto the pathway whistling with her hands in the pockets of her jacket. She was filled with post-coital tranquillity and contentment and headed towards Rockall Port’s community hall, the bar of which had been unofficially named: The Pissed Gannet. She drank a couple of beers and chatted to Kevin and Siobhan, two of the new post-Treaty arrivals, then headed home for dinner.
Her clandestine liaison with Zach was one of these inexplicable urges that strike from time to time. In the early days in the tents she’d never found him attractive and, as he’d told her, the feeling had been mutual. On her return to Rockall that all changed. Maybe he was different, maybe she was, or maybe they both were. Whatever, as soon as she’d met his eyes there’d been a deep sparkle of chemistry between them. He had then been publicly humiliated when Trevor had snatched the Governor’s job from him at the last minute. He was so angry that he tried to physically assault Trevor, but afterwards when he’d calmed down and pulled himself together a new Zach emerged. He threw away his characteristic self-pity and took his misfortune in a much more mature, courageous and dignified way which surprised and impressed Kayleigh. She developed a deep admiration for him which enhanced her initial attraction. Even though he hadn’t changed, he seemed a lot more handsome now than he used to with his thick, lustrous black hair, his deep brown eyes. It was only a matter of time before they’d ended up in bed together.
Zach was a good partner; passionate and virile, yet gentle and sensual. He was “well-blessed” and very skilled; a rare combination. He knew his way around a woman’s body and Kayleigh quickly became addicted to his touch. She clocked up more hours of sex in the following three months than in her entire previous adult life. Lust had always been more of a problem than a pleasure for Kayleigh, something to be contained and coped with rather than enjoyed; but now it was flowing freely for the first time ever.
In the bathroom that evening she showered and brushed her teeth. She caught her own gaze in the mirror and stopped to study herself for a moment, thinking what a pretty face she had. Her eyes were electric blue; not quite sexy, but very warm and intense. They were honest, wide, friendly eyes. Her thick, dark eyebrows had always annoyed her, but now she realized that they actually went quite well with the rest of her features; even the thin hair on the bridge of her nose between them. Her hair was the best thing about her; it was soft and smooth and full of body. She blew a drier over it for a few minutes then ran her hand through its locks, enjoying the sensation.
She turned and faced the full-length mirror on the door, unwrapped her towel and let it fall to the ground. No, her hair was not the best thing about her; it had to take second place to her breasts. They were big, firm and very saucy. Both Malcolm and Zach loved touching them and kissing them. What power they had! Kayleigh noted that her cellulite wasn’t as bad as she’d previously thought and the same went for her figure in general. It had a round, voluptuous sturdiness that many men found desirable. She liked her large, prominent bottom, her solid, fleshy legs and the round, feminine bulge at her stomach. “If I was a bloke I’d fancy me!” she said out loud and winked at her reflection.
“The official opening of The Rotunda must be an event that no one shall ever forget.” said Trevor.
The new headquarters of the Rockall Governorship was a stupendous sight. It was a large, imposing building even by mainland standards; but here it dominated the settlement like a medieval castle. Its size was exaggerated by its location: on Cartwright Head. A sweeping double drive ran up to an elegant fountain. The mansion itself was three storeys high, heavily-roofed and constructed from polished Welsh granite. It had a square plan, but in the facade was a pronounced, cylindrical turret-like structure with large windows and some decorative, stained glass features.
Three flagpoles had been erected on the front lawn behind the fountain. The left-hand one flew the Union Jack and the right flew the Stars and Stripes to represent the Treaty, but atop the centre pole was a standard that nobody had ever seen before. It had been sneaked onto the island under very close secrecy and raised only on the morning of the opening. It bore a horizontally-bisected oblong, the top half being grey and the bottom blue. A green semicircle cut into the grey half, its straight side in line with the bicolour divide. Above this semicircle was the figure of a perched puffin surrounded by a red, white and blue circle. In the two top corners were small representations of the national flags of the two Treaty signatories. Ross Quentin had paid a graphic designer twenty thousand pounds to design the Flag of Rockall.
As Kayleigh walked up the drive she saw that the Rockall Guardsmen had already taken up their vigil. The two sentries standing on either side of the ornate, hotel-like doorway saluted as she passed through, their eyes stared dead ahead in professional catalepsy. Of all The Rotunda’s facilities, this seemed the most pretentious and cosmetic. The Rockall Guard were a troop of twenty men from a paramilitary contractor whom Trevor had hired and flown over to Rockall for no other reason than to provide twenty-four hour security for the Governorship. Perhaps “security” was the wrong word, Kayleigh thought. All the Rockall Guardsmen seemed to do was march up and down in the mansion’s forecourt in decorative uniforms like soldiers at Buckingham Palace. These men actually were civilian mercenaries, not soldiers; and though they carried side arms Kayleigh wondered what for? Did Trevor fear an attack by a platoon of heavily-armed seagulls?
The tinted glass doors slid apart and warm, conditioned air met Kayleigh’s face. The slim, blonde receptionist turned from her computer screen to greet her as she walked across the squeaky carpet and up a curving, marble staircase to the first floor. A pair of double doors stood at the centre of the landing. Alongside them was a smaller single door. She pushed it open and inside was her office. It was small, but plush and well-equipped with a large window overlooking the facade. A brand new PC sat on the desk; its screensaver was an elaborate graphic of a rippling Rockall flag. She grinned broadly as she made herself a coffee from her personal filter. “Welcome to your new home, Kayleigh.”
She began to draft an email to her parents, but then the intercom buzzed and Trevor’s voice rang out. “Kayleigh, could you come through to my office?”
Kayleigh opened the sturdy ornate doors. The office of the Governor of Rockall (British Sector) was a circular chamber that occupied the first floor of the turret structure. Its domed ceiling was on a level with that of the second floor and was indented with oval-shaped, stained skylights. A row of floor-to-ceiling panes were set in the outside wall behind the Governor’s high-backed chair and the three, flaccid flags of the Rockall Triumvirate stood against the curving wall, matching those in the courtyard. The Governor’s desk was a huge slab of Douglas Fir, so deeply polished that it reflected objects like a mirror. On the floor in front of it was a felt-thin rug on which was ramped another Rockall flag. “What can I do for you, Trevor?” she asked.
He looked up from his screen. “Please address me as ‘Your Excellency’ while we’re at work, Kayleigh.”
“Sorry. What can I do for you… Your Excellency.” she replied, suppressing a grimace.
“There’s been another pony slaughtered.”
“What!? That’s the third one this month!”
“I know. This time it was Calum who reported it. One of his sons was herding sheep when they came across the body.”
“My God, Trev… Your Excellency! Claire must be having kittens! She told me that the breed is already in danger of extinction. If we find out who’s been doing it then we’d better make sure we get to them before she does! Was it the usual MO?”
“Yes.” said the Governor. “The carcass was stripped where it fell and the legs and hind quarters were removed. According to the crofters, the animal was very skilfully butchered.”
“So presumably someone somewhere is having a feast of pony steaks.”
“Indeed; and it has to be someone in the British Sector. The body was found just half a mile north of Hasselwood… I want you and Zach to investigate. Can you think of anything or anyone suspicious?”
Kayleigh frowned. “Not off the top of my head, no.”
“Well, keep your eyes and ears peeled. I want you to post a notice on the British Sector and Port websites. Translate a copy into Gaelic for the crofters’ benefit.”
“I’ll see to it, Your Excellency.” said Kayleigh and turned to go.
“One more thing.” said Trevor. “As you know, tonight is the official opening of The Rotunda. I’d like you and Zach to get here early to greet the guests. It’s formal dress; wear your ball gown from the Treaty night… You do still have it?”
“Er… yes; I think so.”
“Good. That’s all.” Trevor’s head immediately rotated down to address his computer. It was his way of saying “See you later.”
At four o’clock, Kayleigh went home and dragged her ball gown out of a cardboard box in the attic. She blew the dust off it, gave it a quick iron and put it on. She scowled at herself in the mirror, remembering the night when Weller and Selby signed the Rockall Treaty and she’d been paraded in front of the world’s TV cameras like a clothes shop dummy. It wasn’t even her dress; the Commission had chosen it for her to wear.
She stumbled in her high heels as she tottered up the path to The Rotunda.
“Come on! Put your backs into it! Trevor barked, standing and watching with his hands on his hips as Zach and one of the Rockall Guardsmen struggled to erect a folding table. “Ah, Kayleigh; glad you’re here. Lend a hand will you?”
Kayleigh looked at him contemptuously then walked over and draped a white cloth over the table. “Would you like me to be a waitress tonight, Your Excellency?”
“No need; six of the crofter girls have volunteered.” he replied, completely missing her sarcasm.
Calum’s daughter, Seonaidh, and five of her sisters and friends came in wearing catalogue-brand uniforms and began arranging bowls of cocktail sticks with chipolatas, cheese and pineapple lumps skewered on them. They laid out plates of chicken drumsticks, quiches, pork pies and crustless sandwiches. Paper plates and napkins were piled up in one corner while bottles of wine and glasses were stood in a row on the far end.
At seven-thirty PM Trevor came down the grand staircase to greet his guests, clad in a black tuxedo with purple cummerbund. He stopped on the bottom step and looked across the hall. Kayleigh and Zach were sipping wine while the waitresses loitered by the table twiddling their thumbs and chatting. “What? Has no one arrived yet?” said the Governor. “I told them to be here by seven… You did put that time on the invitations, didn’t you, Kayleigh?”
“Yes, Trevor… Your Excellency.” She bowed slightly. “Perhaps they’re running late.”
“Damn! What could be keeping them? I’ll go find them.”
As soon as the door had slid shut behind him the floodgates burst. Kayleigh spat out her mouthful of wine as she screamed with laughter. Zach and the waitresses were doubled up with mirth, clutching their bellies.
Trevor came back half an hour later with such a dejected, mournful expression on his face that Kayleigh, to her surprise, felt sorry for him, and a little guilty for making merry over him. “It seems…” said Trevor. “That our fellow islanders are… indisposed this evening.”
“Well, I’m sure they had a good reason.” said Kayleigh.
Zach nudged her and giggled. He still found the situation amusing.
“I’m afraid the opening celebrations… will have to be postponed to a later date.” said Trevor. He breathed deeply and kicked a doorstop.
Then the front doors slid open. “Hello? Could I come in? Sorry I’m late.”
Everybody looked round to see a man dressed in a blue suit walk into the hall. Trevor grinned. “Good evening… erm…”
“Slydes.” said the newcomer walking towards the Governor, holding out his hand. “Greg Slydes.” The two men shook hands. Kayleigh had never spoken to Greg Slydes, nor known his name until that moment. He was an aqua-technologist who’d arrived on Rockall two weeks earlier with a party from the University College of London. She’d seen him in The Pissed Gannet a few times with his colleagues, talking about their work, using incomprehensible words. He was in his forties, very dapper and spoke with an educated accent. “I would have got here sooner.” said Slydes. “Only I had a Brownian motion experiment to finish off in the lab.”
“That’s alright, Mr Slydes; let me get you a drink.” Trevor snapped his fingers at the waitresses and Seonaidh brought over a glass.
“This Rotunda is a fine building.” said Slydes as he sipped his wine. “It creates an efficient, positive, expansive atmosphere.”
Trevor smiled broadly. “I’m delighted that you think so!”
“You must be a very dedicated, pragmatic and self-possessed man, Your Excellency.”
Trevor gasped in rapture. “It’s wonderful that my effort to be so has been noticed, Mr Slydes!”
“It’s a breath of fresh air in a footloose, undisciplined world that is rejecting proper leadership for a purgatory of profitless inertia.”
“Well, well, well, Mr Slydes! We really do seem to be on the same wavelength here!... Come upstairs and let me show you my office.” The two men climbed the stairs together, talking and laughing animatedly.
“Blimey!” said Zach. “It looks like everyone has a soul mate out there somewhere; even Trevor!”
Kayleigh found the scene of Trevor chatting complete nonsense with Slydes unexpectedly moving. “Trevor’s led a very lonely life; this is what he’s always wanted and needed. I’m happy for him.”
“Kayleigh! How many times do I have to tell you!? NO!”
“For fuck’s sake, Why!?”
“I’ve told you why! The border is closed! That is according to the Sector Independent Reconstruction clause of the Rockall Treaty!”
“But the border has been closed for more than a year! It was never meant to be this way!”
“The SIR clause states no time limit on the closure period.”
“Oh, stop talking like fuckin’ Trevor!... Dill was right! Something fishy’s going on!”
“There’s nothing fishy about this, Kay! All the reconstruction efforts so far have stuck to the letter of the Treaty regulations! If the border is still shut then there must be a good reason for it?”
“What reason? Why’s it still shut?”
Zach sat down on his settee and emptied his wine glass. “Ours is not to reason why. We must obey policy.”
“Oh!” Kayleigh groaned and slapped her forehead. “It’s no wonder the world’s in such deep shit with that kind of attitude filling everyone’s head!... I thought you’d grown up, Zach! I thought you’d climbed out from under Trevor’s petticoat and stood up for your own principles!”
“I have!” shouted Zach.
“Then help me!”
Kayleigh turned round and paced away from him to face the large windows overlooking the bay.
“Listen, Kayleigh! I want to support you, but I can’t! The border is a line between two armies that makes the Berlin Wall look like the Severn Bridge!... Nobody can cross it!”
“Yes, they can.” She turned towards him with a sly grin. “All you need is a National Emergency Access Order. I’ve checked it up in the Treaty footnotes.”
“Oh, sure; and all we have to do is get the Prime Minister to sign it!”
“We could forge one.”
Zach gasped. “Did you really just say that!?”
“Come on, Zach; it wouldn’t be that hard on The Rotunda stationary fax.”
“That machine is for the official use of the Governorship only!”
“You’re Deputy-Governor! You could do it!”
“And if I did, we’d spend the next ten years in the clink for treason! Just to deliver a crumby letter!? No ta!”
“It’s not just any letter, it’s a very special letter; and we’ll only go down if we’re caught. Once it’s done it’s done! Once I’m back in the Port, who’s to know it even happened, let alone who did it?”
Zach shuddered. “Don’t you believe it! Trevor has eyes in the back of other people’s heads!”
“Look; you can do it tomorrow. Go into Trevor’s office while he’s at lunch, print out a copy of the order and reboot his PC without saving the file. It’s simple and totally safe.”
Zach hesitated. “Who else knows?”
“Nobody. It’ll be our secret.”
“What about Dill?”
“I haven’t breathed a word to him… Faking the PM’s signature shouldn’t be a problem; those squaddies won’t recognize it anyway.”
He hid his face in his hands and sighed.
“Come on, Zach; strike a blow for the Twenty!”
“Alright.” he whispered.
Rockall Port’s communal Range Rover was locked in a garage behind the storage warehouse. It had only been driven a few times since being shipped over ten months earlier and was used so seldom that a thin sheen of dust had built up on it. Kayleigh signed out the keys from the office and started the engine. Once outside she drove slowly to get accustomed to the unfamiliar vehicle then accelerated onto the Trans-Rockall Highway.
Almost as soon as she was clear of the crofts the military presence increased. She passed an armoured car and army Landrover. A column of foot soldiers jogged along the crest of a nearby hill. She kept her eyes dead ahead and tightened her neck muscles to stop her head shaking as she approached a barrier across the road. Beside it was a small hut, and a group of Royal Marines stood by the verge. They held up their hands as she approached and looked into the car suspiciously. “Who are you?”
“My name’s Kayleigh Ford and I’m making an Emergency Access Order to the Rockall US Sector. May I pass, please?” She was trembling with terror and it took an enormous effort to keep her voice steady.
“I’ll have to clear it with the Governor.” said the marine.
“No need.” She produced the false document. “I have the order here; signed by the Prime Minister.”
The man took in the paper; his camouflaged brow crinkled slightly, as if not totally understanding it.
Then he passed it back to her. “Very well, Ma’am.” He raised the barrier.
Kayleigh could hardly believe that it had worked. Her foot fumbled on the accelerator pedal as she pulled away from the checkpoint. She crossed the hundred-yard demilitarized zone and encountered another blockade, this time manned by American troops with differently-shaped helmets and thick-barrelled rifles. They didn’t even try to stop her, trusting their enemies’ judgement. As Zach had instructed, she crossed over to the right-hand side of the road and drove on in the direction of Green Port.
The north Rockall vista was immediately recognizable even though she hadn’t seen it in over a year and the high, coastal rise welcomed her like an old friend. The road ran as straight as an arrow over the crest of it; it looked like a triangle due to perspective. On the other side was the sea and Green Port. Kayleigh smiled and fingered the letter in her jacket pocket, anticipating a joyous reunion with her American fellow Rockallians.
She shifted down a gear to tackle the gradient and eased off the accelerator as the car rolled over the spine of the ridge. The blue ocean came into view then the edge of the cliffs then… Her grip on the steering wheel loosened and the Range Rover skidded. Her left foot slammed hard on the brake and the vehicle screamed to a halt. She let it stall. Her mind rebelled against what her eyes were seeing. Green Port was gone. In its place was a row of structures that looked like a sci-fi city from space. Five shiny glass hemispheres, each over a hundred feet high, stood along the cliff top between Cape Roosevelt and Anderson Bay. They were faceted like a crystal globe, being constructed out of many hundreds of tinted panes and the sun reflected off some of them. In between the glass domes were many smaller buildings, vehicles and people. Kayleigh restarted her engine and drove on down the slope. The Trans-Rockall Highway ended in a junction with another road which headed eastwards along the coast. Adjacent to this was a tarmac car park and... Kayleigh could hardly believe it; a McDonalds burger bar.
She got out of the Range Rover and walked down a paved pathway towards the nearest of the hemispheres. She felt as if she were in a dream as the gargantuan, glass edifice rose in front of her. Set into it at ground level was an automatic door which slid aside to let her enter. Warm air enveloped her, making her sweat, and she doffed her jacket. She passed through a second door into a wide, dimly-lit corridor with a tiled floor and other doors leading off from it. Ahead was a much brighter light and she headed towards it. The corridor opened out suddenly into a huge, cylindrical atrium whose ceiling was the transparent cap of the dome. The walls were lined with windows and balconies and at odd points on the floor were benches, plant pots and even a small fountain. The place reminded Kayleigh of a shopping centre or the lobby of a large hotel. There were people everywhere she looked, dressed in suits or casual indoor clothes. The chamber rang with the sound of voices, all American. They were of both sexes and all ages, including a group of children who were playing in a nearby rec. Every single one was a stranger.
Kayleigh walked up to a signboard on the wall. Welcome to Green Port, Rockall.- Information. There was a series of floor plans, taking the form of ever-decreasing circles as, in the domes, every storey was a little smaller than the one below it. She read down the index of place names. Residential block 1, block 2, block 3. Office block 1, block 2. Laboratories 1,2,3… It wasn’t very helpful. She left the sign board and approached a thin woman who was reclining on one of the cushioned benches. “Excuse me.”
She looked up. “Hello, there.”
“I wonder if you can help me. I’m looking for Professor Laird.”
“Yes, Jack Laird; I believe he’s the Governor here.”
“Oh, Jack! Of course! You can usually find him in the geology labs in Sphere Four…” She gave Kayleigh directions.
Kayleigh crossed over to the neighbouring dome on a covered bridge and went down in a lift to a basement level. Judging from the buttons on the lift, the new Green Port had an underground section that was almost as big as the above ground one. She stepped out of the lift on the third level below the surface and walked along a white metal passageway to a door marked Geology. She knocked and waited but nothing happened so she opened it and entered a small office with a window in the far wall. Behind the window was a man at a lab bench in a white coat that matched the colour of his hair and beard. Kayleigh laughed with delight, went over and knocked on the glass.
Jack Laird looked up from his microscope and almost dropped the lump of rock he was holding in shock. He came out of an adjacent door and embraced her. “Kayleigh! It’s you! I can’t believe it!” “Hello, Jack! It’s good to see you again! God, we’ve missed you!”
“And Elaine! How’s Elaine?”
Kayleigh reached into her pocket, took out the letter and handed it to Jack. “She asked me to give you this.”
He gasped and tore it open. “My God!... Elaine!” He began weeping with joy. “She says…”
“It’s alright, Jack. You don’t need to tell me what it says. That’s between you and her.”
He folded up the letter and placed it gingerly into his inside pocket. “Jesus, I want to see her so bad!”
“She really misses you, Jack… I don’t understand this incommunicado thing.”
“Me neither.” Laird frowned angrily. “We got told by the State Department that we were to make no contact at all with any of the British Sector residents, even for life-and-death emergencies. If I tried they’d have prosecuted both myself and Elaine under the toughest Federal Security bill… How did you get past the border?”
“It was a piece of piss.” She showed him the forged access order and explained.
“Shit, Kayleigh! You got a lot of guts… and brains! Maybe you better get out of here before you get caught.”
“Not yet, Jack; I’d like to have a look round first. It’s amazing what’s been done to this place! It’s like something from a Mars mission.”
He chuckled. “It’s too amazing. I miss the old huts and grass-under-your-feet days.”
“I suppose I do a bit as well.”
“Tell you what, Kayleigh; I’m a bit busy right now, but can I meet you in the bar for say… two? It’s in Sphere One on the north concourse.”
Kayleigh left the underground laboratories and made her way back up to the surface. She returned to the car park, got into her car and drove westwards past the feet of the enormous domes and on to Cape Roosevelt, heading out towards the promontory for a reunion with another old friend. The thing she’d missed most of all about the north coast was the Roosevelt Skerries. Before the Treaty, she’d never tired of sitting and gazing out over the beautiful vista of islands, natural arches and rock pinnacles. She used to spend many an evening, sitting on a rock, watching the sunset from the Cape.
Since her last visit, a road had been ploughed and tarmacked through the scattered regolith. It ended in another car park and a terrace or plinth that supported a forty-foot marble obelisk. There were several other people walking about on the terrace and she parked her Range Rover in a slot next to a blue Chevrolet. The scene dismayed her. Cape Roosevelt was the last place on Earth that she imagined seeing tourists.
The terrace was made of concrete and surrounded by a parapet with one break in it to allow access. A row of steps led up to it from the car park. According to an information signboard, the obelisk was a scale model of the Washington Monument; it had been shipped over and erected on the personal order of President Selby. The tourists were dressed in thick jackets to protect them from the biting ocean wind. They laughed and chattered excitedly, taking photographs of the scene. Kayleigh looked at their cavorting with contempt. She moved over to the parapet on the western side of the terrace to shut them out and concentrate on the beauty of the Skerries; but when she reached it, she stopped, gripped the handrail tight and screamed.
The entire northwest coast of Rockall was a building site. The primeval landscape had been reduced to a smooth, flat wall peppered with perfectly circular holes like Swiss cheese. Metal girders, cranes and bores surrounded it; JCB’s crawled all over it like yellow termites. Concrete piles stretched out into the sea in rows like a roofless, submerged Greek temple. The nearest one was close enough for Kayleigh to see a man walking on top of it. From that scale she could tell that they were at least twenty feet in diameter. They stood firm and immovable on the seabed; the mightiest ocean waves slapped at their grey bodies ineffectually.
“Are you alright, Lady?” One of the tourists had approached her and put his hand on her shoulder. “It’s OK; that’s only gonna be the new oil terminal. Pretty impressive, huh?”
Kayleigh turned and stared into his face. He had a gold tooth and his eyes were hidden by sunglasses. “Get away from me!” she yelled at him and pelted down the steps. She ran back to the car and locked herself in. She wept for half an hour, crying as much as she’d ever done before. In her mind’s eye she saw the Skerries as they used to be; then she watched as the demolition teams laid their charges and set them off, clapping as those proud formations came crashing down. The living rock, that had faced the violence of the sea for aeons and had been carved by natural forces over millions of years into the most wondrous and beautiful shapes, had been blasted to rubble in a few short months by modern technology.
She was grieving, she realized; but why? No one had been hurt or killed; no living creature had even been disturbed; except for perhaps a few seabirds losing their nests. It was just stone; a few million tons of inorganic mineral. Was Dill right? Did rocks really have a soul? She sniffed and dried her sore eyes with a tissue.
Kayleigh drove back into Green Port and reached the junction with the Trans-Rockall Highway, but couldn’t face the return journey just yet. So she parked the car and got out to look at the new McDonalds. A McDonalds on Rockall!? Why not? They’re everywhere else. She examined the red-brick, broad-windowed structure, wondering how many others there were like it, scattered around the globe like pepper: A post outside with the yellow, curving letter “M” on top of it; Ronald, the smiling clown beaming at his customers from posters. Kayleigh walked into the building and approached the service counter. The staff wore identical uniforms to those in the Glasgow branches. “Enjoy your meal. Please call again.” said the girl who served her. She sat at one of the little tables and looked around her. The standard issue decor was no different here on Rockall than anywhere else she’d been. If she’d just teleported there, would she even know she was on Rockall? She opened the polystyrene container and picked up her “Big Mac.” The bun felt stale and greasy in her hand. She bit into it and chewed. The meat was dry and weak, the lettuce looked old and stringy and the ketchup was too sweet. It was hard to imagine that the beef had come from a living cow and the lettuce had once been growing in the ground. The food itself was like everything else in McDonalds: sterile, plastic, uniform. She spat her mouthful back into the carton and wiped her lips with a serviette.
“Are you OK, Honey?” asked the woman sitting on the next table. She was part of a posse of people who looked like bird-watchers; they were clad in warm clothes and carried binoculars.
“Not really.” She smiled grimly.
“Is the food bothering you? It is pretty pukey. I know. We tried the diner in the town, but they wouldn’t serve us; residents only.” She had thick glasses and uneven teeth; curls of blonde hair poked out from under her leather cap. “My name’s Dora and this is my husband, Wally.” She nodded to a similarly-dressed man next to her. The three other members of the group introduced themselves. “Do you know anything about the local birds, Kayleigh?” asked Dora. “We’re from Louisiana and we just love birds! We’re here to try and find a skua colony…”
“Puffins are my favourite!” added Wally. They waffled on for a few minutes. Their manner reminded her of Jonah, kicking her spirit while it was down. She hung her head and fought back tears.
“Oh, Honey.” Dora put a sympathetic hand on her arm. “What’s wrong?”
“Everything.” she replied.
“Can I help at all?”
Kayleigh smiled at the strange, kind-hearted woman. She was quite like her mother in a way. “No, but I appreciate you asking.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“Dunno; I live in Rockall Port, but I can’t bear to go back yet. I just want to be somewhere where there’s nothing and nobody around.”
“Would you like to stick with us?”
“Where are you going?”
“We’re headed east to do some bird-watching. It’s very quiet and out-of-the-way. We’d be glad to take you along, so long as you don’t mind sitting around in silence for hours on end.”
Kayleigh grimaced. “Right now there’s nothing I’d mind less! But I really can’t impose on you like that.”
Dora chuckled. “Oh yes you can!”
Half an hour later she was trailing the twitchers’ jeep in her Range Rover. The tarmac road gave out at Anderson Bay and the two vehicles had to slow to negotiate the relieving dirt track. It soon became very muddy and Kayleigh skidded every few feet, her wheels throwing up curtains of muck all over her side windows. They were heading uphill onto the eastern plateau and the landscape grew more rugged and desolate with each passing mile. Eventually the double ruts of the path withered away to nothing and they parked side-by-side in a hollow sheltered by a clump of bushes. Wally stepped out of the jeep, squelching in the mud. Kayleigh put on her Wellingtons and joined the group as they hiked on towards the titanic eastern cliffs, the most spectacular and chaotic part of the island. Some areas were also inaccessible. There were ledges and scarps that had never been explored and had to be surveyed from the air. “Wow! This makes it even more exiting!” exclaimed Dora. “We might discover a new valley or something!”
“I don’t think so.” said Wally. “There’ll be no lost world to vanish into; just some unreachable ledges on the cliff faces… and hopefully a skua colony. Let’s go!”
The ornithologists set a fast pace and Kayleigh had to struggle to keep up. Fortunately she had plenty of opportunities to rest when, every so often, a flock of gulls would swoop past and the whole party would stop and grope for their binoculars. By mid-afternoon, they found a secluded spot surrounded by low bushes, but giving a superb view of a broad, deep gulf of black, basalt and a dim, sheltered bay. Seabirds of all kinds filled the air as thickly as oxygen molecules. For Dora, Wally and their friends, it was sheer paradise and they set up a hide behind the bushes.
The next two hours passed slowly. The group were laid down on tent groundsheets, propped up by their elbows, binoculars glued to their eyes. Kayleigh lay beside them with a spare pair, trying to share their fascination, but finding it difficult. “Look, Kayleigh! A storm petrel!” exclaimed Dora, pointing. “I haven’t seen one of those for years!”
Kayleigh followed her gesture, but all she saw were seagulls; one very much like another. In the end she excused herself and got up to go for a walk. She rubbed her stiff limbs as she strolled away south along the cliff tops. The twitchers’ camp was soon out of sight and she found herself walking alone through the long grass and heather. There was no sound but the rush of the wind and the crunch of the sea on the rocks and shingle below. The sky was overcast, but the air was warm. It was easy to fantasize that she was the only person on a completely deserted continent and there was nothing but virgin coastline for thousands of miles. She quickened her pace, her spirits rising.
The cliffs were incredibly beautiful; they were manifestly higher than the south coast and made of a different coloured rock. The sea bulged and rolled; its surface was the colour of cold tea. She was standing on a rock in the heart of a mighty ocean; it was a precarious feeling.
After two hours of enjoyable, solitary rambling Kayleigh came upon a huge pile of what looked like sticks; as if someone was preparing a bonfire right on the edge of the precipice. When she got closer she saw that the sticks were in fact bones. She stopped by the pile and examined them. They were pony bones, much like the skeletons that she’d often seen on the island; but who had arranged them like this in a neat heap? Then something struck her about the bones: they were only certain types; legs and hips. There were no skulls, no vertebrae or ribs. Then she remembered the stories of pony-killings that had been plaguing Rockall since First Landing. These were the same bones that were always missing from the corpses. Fear and thrill ran through her mind together. She took out her mobile ‘phone and dialled Trevor. It was engaged. She tried again a few minutes later, but he was still on the line. She walked in a circle, looking around for any more clues. The cliff edge was faulted and a series of grassy ramps led down from the escarpment. It might be possible to climb down reach the invisible seashore below. She deliberated for a moment then elected to give it a try.
Kayleigh sat on the lip of the precipice, cautiously, but with determination, and gingerly lowered herself onto the ledge four feet below. The mud and grass were identical, as if this were simply a slice of the plateau cut away from the cliff by a giant. She walked the few steps to the far edge and jerked back sharply as if stung. She had just gazed down at a sheer drop of several hundreds of feet. Her stomach clotted with fear, but she recovered her wits and moved to the left down the slope where the ledge merged smoothly with the one beneath. This time, she got down on her hands and knees to peer over the precipice, the wet grass feeling cold on her waterproof trousers. Yes, she could carry on down; in fact the subsided land sloped downwards so neatly that she felt that she could reach the bottom of the cliff quite easily. Waves washed onto a wedge of sand and shingle that made up a tiny beach. She leaned back as the descent became steeper, putting a hand on the ground behind to steady herself.
She began to wish she had a camera with her to photograph the bone heap and any other evidence that she might find. As she reached the final stage of her descent she grasped that it was slightly more precarious than it had looked from a distance. It was very narrow and all the grass and soil had crumbled away to expose bare scree, but it wasn’t a problem because she was only ten feet above the beach. She tackled the final slope in a series of leaps, but then as she landed after her second leap, her right foot fell away from under her and she landed painfully on the hard, lumpy stones. Her momentum carried her on; gravity and the ball-bearing action of the scree facilitated her slide. Horror stabbed her as she realized that she was rolling over the edge of the slope. She clutched at the ground in panic, but everything came away in her hand. The sea and sky inverted and she bumped downwards into a clattering pile of detached breccia. Eventually she came to a stop, partly buried, coughing in a cloud of dust. She looked up at the sky, her heart pounding, relieved to be alive. She tried to move and almost screamed aloud in agony. Her leg was broken; or was it? She moved it again and the pain wasn’t quite as bad. She groaned and sat up. She started moving some of the heavy stones off her body. Her face felt sticky as if stained with oil; she raised her hand to her forehead and saw blood on her fingertips. Never mind; it could have been worse. All she had to do was climb back up to the plateau and get back to the twitchers’ camp. She ached as she raised herself to her feet. She was bending over to brush some of the dust off her trousers when a dark shape blocked out the light. She exclaimed loudly, straightening up in a second.
A man stood in front of her, just ten feet away, staring at her intently with large, dark eyes. He had long, straggly hair and a beard.
“Oh.” Kayleigh recovered herself. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there; you made me jump.”
He didn’t reply.
“I didn’t think anyone else had got down here; I…” She broke off as she noticed his unusual clothes. His trousers were made of tan leather and stitched at the seams with a thick, pale cord. His jacket was the same except that it was embossed with a number of seashells. A multicoloured necklace hung from his shoulders and bracelets of a similar design wound tightly round his forearms. His shoes were stranger still; they were thonged sandals with leather toecaps, decorated by more shells. The expression on his face was peculiar too. He stared at her with fearful, guarded surprise; but also with a hint of curiosity. “Who are you?” she asked.
He leaned forward and frowned at her, as if short-sighted.
“My name’s Kayleigh; what’s yours?”
He remained statue still.
“Well, how do you do anyway.” She grinned and held out her hand.
The man drew back with a gasp, panting in shock.
“It’s alright; I don’t want any trouble.” She took a step towards him, but then leaped back. The stranger had produced a short-handled spear and was levelling it at her. Its sharp-pointed blade hovered an inch from her stomach.
Chapter 3- The Unmanifest http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2009/02/rockall-chapter-3.html
Chapter 5- Aliens : http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2009/04/chapter-five-aliens-phone-rang-while.html )