Kinski in the Attic

Rennie wants to kill himself, but things seem to keep getting in the way...

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8. EIGHT

Don somehow manages to row us to the other side of the firth. We bob through the bridge's bent legs and emerge on the other side, below its lights which shimmer through the fog. We trace the curve of the beach, only running aground twice. Once we're close enough to home we clamber out of the boat and leave it to drift off to warmer climes. The spiky grass on the dunes lacerates Don's bare feet. We trudge over the golf course, aiming for my house, and finish the last of the whisky at the second hole. Don throws the bottle towards the pin and gets it in, neck first. He grins then goes back to moaning about his feet. When we reach my house we throw on as many layers as we can and huddle against the radiator as if its searing heat will cancel out the earlier chill. We babble for a while and sink into stupors. The last thing I see is the reddy-pink sun rising out of the tree tops and bleeding into the sky.

Don's phone wakes us up. He answers it before he's even opened his eyes.

'Alright? … oh, hi. … aye. … aye, serious. … course. We're at Rennie's. … cheers.' He hangs up and drops his phone. 'Joe's coming,' he mumbles, then slumps back on the floor. I shouldn't have fallen against the radiator: my back is crispy.

 

When I open the door Joe already has a massive brown grin on his puss. 'Princesses eh?' he says, shaking his head and inviting himself in. 'Certainly have those pigs stumped.' He prods Don awake with his shoe.

'We almost got caught cause of Campbell.' I glare at him, arms folded.

Joe's grin vanishes. 'Aye, I'm sorry about that. He heard the police car and thought the jig was up.'

'We had to walk for ages in the freezing cold.' Milk it.

Joe's eyes boggle. 'All the way back?'

'Aye,' I say, cutting Don off before he can tell the truth, 'all the way back.'

'Dressed as princesses.' Don exposes the lower half of his eye as he rubs away sleep.

'I was a princess. You were a fairy, remember?'

Joe raises his hands. 'Woah now. Too early for handbags.' He pauses and shakes his head. 'That must've taken you all night.'

'It did.'

He cocks his head. 'Colour me impressed. So where are they?' I show him the binliner. He sticks his head in and his lips curl in satisfaction. 'Sensational work boys.'

Don and I close ranks behind him. 'Joe?'

'Aye?'

Don nods his encouragement at me. 'We think we should get a bigger cut.' See his face drop. 'Cause of Campbell abandoning us and everything.' His jaw muscles clench but his eyebrows flicker in agreement. 'And I want Campbell to tidy the mess you made.' I gesture about me with an open palm, like I'm doing the weather.

'Both perfectly reasonable requests.' He slings the binliner over a shoulder and goes to leave. 'Been a pleasure gents. Come by the SA later for your cut.' Out he scuttles.

Don stays for a while. We drink tea by the boatload and play games and every now and again one of us'll exhale loudly and shake our heads in disbelief at what we've pulled off. As soon as he sails out of the front door and away back home, as soon as his footsteps die away, the familiar vacuum starts up and sucks out my insides.

I retrieve the gun from its hiding place and sit it in front of me. I've the TV blaring so I can't hear myself think but it's a kids' programme about the letter H. The presenter sings a list of words that begin with H while a man behind her with a flowerpot on his head plays the accordion and mugs at the camera. This sends me over the edge and I put the gun in my mouth. The man with the flowerpot on his head falls down a hole. The presenter says the word help. It flashes on screen in neon pink. Help help help. I drop the gun again and watch the droplets collect on my lap.

 

Once I've composed myself I go for a walk. Frost has shaken itself all over the pavements. It dusts the road too, except for where overlapping sets of tyre tracks have ground it up. I walk through the grounds of the massive hotel, up close to the windows so I can see old biddies pick out the soft guts of baguettes and swirl them round their bowls of sick-coloured soup. Down near the square I walk past Ray's window where, as always, he's sat, sunglasses and fishing hat on, joint smouldering away in the pinch of his left hand. He gives me a slow nod as I pass.

Text from Aggy:

hey! hows you? im bored an felt like I wanted to text sumone but I have nuthin interesting to say lol. good weekend? X

I stop walking and think for a moment about the other night. An elderly couple pass me and one complains to the other about young people always staring into their phones.

'I've only been on this for a second, actually,' I call after them, but they either don't hear or they're not prepared to give me a reaction. I'm walking alongside the cathedral when I realise I should've said 'aye, we're just trying to escape from the world you lot voted for.' Never mind. I'm sure there'll be other opportunities to berate old people.

I take a walk out to the woods to be away from things. Pillar-like pines prop up the sky. I pass the craters in the ground where trees used to be before people hung themselves on them. I'm walking through a battlefield, the only trace of a largely invisible war.

Is it something in the water up here? The isolation? Maybe that's why people live in cities. Fewer trees, fewer temptations to hang yourself.

I've been round the track a couple of times when Don calls: he's in the Stafford Arms with Joe and if I want my cut I'd better get along now before they drink it.

 

Sandy groans when he sees me. 'I'm not cleaning your fuckeen puke up again.' Rhona from the butchers chuckles into her pint.

'I'll behave this time,' I say, making a pleading speartip with my hands. 'Promise.' He sighs and takes my order. There are crumbs in his beard. Small Monday night crowd here. Joe and Don sit in the far corner, next to the pool table where the balls wait for the next punter in a neat little triangle. I go over to them with my pint, passing Fraser Ross, the twat, who’s sitting by himself. I get a lary welcome.

'We've been toasting your success,' says Joe. I chink their outstretched pints and brush a bit of imaginary dust off my shoulder.

'They disguises.' Don shakes his head. 'I thought it was a fuckeen stupid idea at first but they were saying on the radio they're after a couple of lassies.'

'Must be your hourglass figure,' Joe talks into his drink.

'Och, Rennie here's much more shapely, right mun?' Don says with a shunt. I'm not drunk enough.

'I have to say, yous have a natural talent for this sort of thing. I wonder...' He takes a gulp.

I edge forward on my seat. 'What?'

Joe leans in. 'Would you like to help save the country?'

I snort; Don chuckles. 'Aye, definitely man.' Deep drink. Got to catch up.

He casts his eyes down at the table. 'I'm not joking,' he mutters. He's convincing, I'll give him that.

I keep my voice low. 'You know you sound mental, right?'

Joe stares off at something behind us and takes another drink. 'I do. But I'm serious.' Don and I share a look.

'You're serious?' says Don.

'Course I am.'

'How does the country need saving?'

Joe looks me in the eye. 'I'm talking terrorism, Rennie.'

'But we're just two daft lads from the Highlands,' I say, watching a glob of spit fly out my mouth, 'we're not terrorist fighting material.'

'It's not going to be yous by yourselves. You'd be helping other like-minded folk.' He picks up Don's tobacco and starts rolling.

'Hoi,' Don says in a high-pitched whine, 'didn't you just nick several grands' worth of fags?'

'It's only one. Keep your knickers on.'

'So who exactly are these terrorists?'

'Don't you worry. We won't be shipping you off to some far-flung country. They're Scots. Sort of.'

'I dunno,' Don rotates his pint, 'if you're not talking shite this... this sounds kind of dangerous.'

'I'm in,' I say, laying both hands on the table.

Joe nods but remains focussed on his rolling. 'Excellent.' He finishes the fag and tucks it behind his ear. 'How bout you sunshine?'

Don looks at me, eyes wide, jaw clenched. 'Uhh...'

'All the cool kids are doing it.'

'Aye. Fine. Sounds like a laugh.' He finishes off the rest of his pint in a oner.

Joe stands up, sways. 'We'll tell our grandkids about this some day.' He teeters off outside.

Don spins round. 'This sounds sketchy as fuck.'

'Och come on,' I say, 'he's probably just exaggerating. He's pished.'

Don sits back. 'Aye.' He laughs and shakes his head. 'Nah, you're right. Oh, before I forget.' He looks around and, convinced that there are no prying eyes, digs into his pocket and produces a clump of notes, keeping them below the table. 'Five hundred.' I stuff them into my jeans.

'My round I guess.'

 

Joe comes back from his fag and nearly misses his seat. He has to grab onto the side of the table to stop himself from hitting the floor, spilling both of our drinks as a result.

'One too many whiskies lads,' he says. I get a rag off Sandy, who shakes his head and mutters about Joe's low tolerance. 'If I were yous I'd be sooking every inch of that table, not letting a drop go to waste.'

I'll never be a cleaner; all I do is spread the beer about, creating a shiny veneer that reflects the lights overhead. Over the next couple of hours all three of us end up with wet elbows.

We call it a night near closing. I’ve work again tomorrow and the thought fills me with an empty dread. The wad of notes in my pockets burns with suggestion. Suppose I took a break from work? Get my head together, that sort of thing. I could work for Joe. More money to be made that way.

I daunder up the hill and past the big hotel. A seagull swoops from roof to roost. Industrial fans rattle and pump the smell of the kitchen.

I know how to time travel.

It’s a little complex, and requires some forethought, but the idea is this: for a certain amount of time in your life, you smell one particular scent every day. You do this for as long as you choose – but the shorter the duration, the more potent the impact. After you’ve left that scent alone for a sufficient period of time, you can smell it and hurtle into your past, back into your old body: you feel fourteen again, full of hope, fear, testosterone. Instead of watching a copy of a copy of a memory flicker across your mind’s eye, you relive it. It sounds weird to say I’ve got a box of smells sitting at home, but I do. It’s the closest we’ll ever get to time travel.

‘Rennie.’

I turn round. It’s Fraser. He swigs from a bottle of beer. We’re away from the hotel’s sweeping dining room windows and in a dark patch of the entrance. Streetlights – safety – glow so close, so far. Play it cool.

‘Fraser. How you doing?’

‘Not great.’ He spits on the ground. ‘Someone’s nicked that nice driver I had.’

‘That’s shite. They’ve got CCTV at the clubhouse though, they’ll catch who took it.’

‘Nah mun, see I think I already know who done it. You.’ He steps towards me. I stand my ground.

‘Me? How?’ I think the alcohol helps my incredulity.

‘Dunno. But peeps say they seen you and Don with a couple of golf clubs the other night.’ He finishes the last of the beer. The arm carrying the bottle goes rigid.

Peeps? ‘They’re Joe Williamson’s clubs.’ He shifts his weight. ‘Me and Don got them from the shop, y’know how we get discount. We can call him now and ask him if you want.’ I take out my phone and scroll through for effect.

‘Fine. Call him.’

My forehead gets sweaty. Joe’s phone rings and rings – no answer. Fraser steps closer. I try and laugh it off. ‘Must be passed out already. You saw what state he was in tonight.’

‘You’re alright at lying, I’ll give you that.’

‘I’m not ly-‘

‘Aye you are. See, you sweat. I mind coming into the common room right after me and Becky got together and asking if it bothered you. And you went “nut”, but your face was covered in sweat.’ He laughs. ‘You take my driver?’

Too much pressure. I can’t look him in the eye when I say no. He nods, then lashes out with the bottle. I weave out the way and pelt it. Don’t know where I’m going. All I know is I don’t want to be disfigured. Fraser pants behind me. Down the hill – light on in the police station. I run to the door and as I’m opening it the bottle smashes into the wall next to me, showering me in sharp green confetti. Rob sits behind the desk. The steaming cup of coffee on the counter before him makes his face shimmer.

‘Rennie,’ he says, stretching, ‘just the man we wanted to talk to.’

 

 

 

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