Just pasting in here the second chapter of my Glaswegian 'Tartan noir' thriller ATLANTIC IN OUR BONES, which I'm currently putting through what hopefully will be a final revision. If you want to hear me READ this chapter in audiobook form, that's on Soundcloud HERE: https://soundcloud.com/user-752957699/atlantic-in-our-bones-chapter-two
(My other MYSTERIES OF GLASGOW novels are available here: GLASGOW, LIKE A STRANGER and here: AZTEC LOVE SONG )
2./ The train drowns its rumble in the distance. Mhairi lingers under the overhang of the tiny station's roof, the slender white building and single platform marooned in rain-swept blackness. Past streamings from the overflowing gutter, she sees, in the valley below, an intermittent flow of car headlights and tail-lights travelling the sole road, hereabouts, between north and south. Dragging her rucksack onto her shoulders, she pulls up the hood of her fleece and descends from the platform, taking the rain and chill gusts full in her face. Her lower belly suffers another twinge, accompanied by a trickle of blood down the inside leg of her jeans.
Beyond the station, a narrow road, coursing with water, descends past a portakabin post office, a tiny school, a fire station and the short single line of houses which passes for a village, the curtains tugged tight. At the foot of the hill, the main road greets her with the spray from a northbound supermarket lorry.
At the road's far side, a small hotel clenches light and warmth within itself, a few chattering backs-of-heads bobbing behind the leaded windows of its bar. She wonders if there isn't some outbuilding where she could bed down. There is a phone box near the door of the bar. It occurs to her that a phone call and a confession would sort her a bed for the night.
But by the time the next car has swished by, awareness of how important it is to keep running has reasserted itself, along with a certainty of there being only one place, one person, she can run towards. Squelching onto the grass verge at the near side of the road, she turns into the glare of the next vehicle hurtling southward.
As it races by, she wonders if she should stick out her thumb. Instead, she stares at the dark shapes behind each oncoming set of headlights, urging one of them, sooner or later, to understand what it is like to be a lost object in a callous world.
Her backward steps have carried her to the far end of the verge before a car swerves close, passenger door swinging wide.
"Some’dy waiting for you in Glasgow?"
Facing Mhairi across the table in the roadside cafe, the man with the vague smudge of moustache licks his middle finger, using it to mop doughnut crumbs from his plate.
"Mm," she nods, taking another slurp of milkshake.
"What? Family?" he asks, smiling that same smile he's been shoving her way since picking her up at Bridge of Orchy.
She gives a sidelong shrug. "Yeah."
She wishes they could have kept on going, whooshing through the dark in his snug, sleek car. Mightn't they have been as far south as Loch Lomond, by now?
"They do know you're coming?" he asks, licking the crumbs from his finger. He has told her he sells cars, that he's got his own showroom in Glasgow and is on his way back from a trade show in Fort William, clearly assuming she's impressed.
She nods. He pats his hand on top of hers.
"There was me taking you for a little girl lost," he says. 'Aitch', he's asked her to call him.
She tries to slide her hand clear. He takes firmer hold.
"Can we... can we maybe get going?" she suggests.
"That highland lilt," he grins, "that bonnie red hair. The boys are gonna fall over themselves in the Big G."
She wrenches her hand free. "Can we? Go?"
"Sure," he agrees, knocking back a last mouthful of coffee. Cappuccino foam clings to his moustache.
They head outside to the gravel car park, which is almost empty of vehicles at this hour. The rain has dwindled to a drizzle.
“Ooh...!” says Aitch, frowning and doubling up as he opens the door of the driving seat.
“You okay?” asks Mhairi.
“What? Oh... yeah, sweetheart. Oof. Just the usual.”
“My digestion… the Rennies shareholders must be cock-a-hoop every time I clock a doughnut. Ulcers! Side effect’ah being a successful entrepreneur!”
“Is there...” Mhairi begins warily, “...anything I can... do...?”
He straightens up, shows a plucky smile.
“You, pet? Well, short of you having a jumbo bottle of Pepto-Bismol on you, you could spare me a wee five minutes for a lie down before we move on.” Reaching inside his souped-up little number, he pushes flat the back of the driving seat.
“Oof...how could I have missed the whiskers on yon doughnut? – Don’t worry, pet, you don’t have to stand out there in the rain. Here, look - !” He pushes down the back of the passenger seat. “You can have a wee lie down too. Bet you could do wi’ one!”
“Uh no…” says Mhairi, stepping back, “…not really….”
“Well, the café there’s shutting up, so where you gonna hang around, catchin' the rain, while my belly’s settlin’? Still umpteen miles o’highland between us and Glasgow. Go on, doll, climb in.”
"No... listen..." Mhairi responds, scanning the unpopulated distance between herself and the cafe and the road beyond, "...I’m just gonna...."
"What?" asks Aitch, grinning. "Catch the bus? What bus? C'mon, I’m talkin' about an innocent lie down. We can play at being Babes In The Wood, eh?"
"No..." Mhairi draws back further, "...no way."
Aitch steps after her, gastric agonies dispelled.
"You don't want to snub me entirely, I’m sure? Wind up stranded here? It's a cold world if you don't make the most of a friendly hand."
He reaches towards her. She turns, takes the first step of a sprinting away. He catches her rucksack, dragging her back, pulling the pack down the single arm onto which she has its strap looped. She turns, tries to tug it back. He pulls her closer, the pack sandwiched between them.
"Hey..." he says, "...what's the panic? Even a sweet wee teuchter cannae be entirely naïve about a fellah's assumptions when a lassie hops in his motor, middle of the night."
She pulls harder on the pack. He tugs it his way.
"What you got in here?" he sneers. "The crown jewels? Some frilly knicks tae fire my fantasies? Or…"
He stops, lifting one hand from the pack, studying its palm in the meagre light. Something drips on his shoe. Looking up, he glimpses too late the metallic flash. The sound of the flesh around his eyes shearing wide registers ahead of the pain.
He supposes the eyes themselves have been scythed out, hot black agony searing his skull, sending him tumbling through the open car door at his back. The rear of his head bumps the door-frame, his backside bouncing on, then sliding from, the edge of the driving seat, clunking onto the metal edge below.
Tears scald a pale shape into his darkness, the shape of the girl staring down at him, all white face and red hair. She grabs the rucksack, running off. For a moment, he watches her dissolve into the drizzle. Then, pain biting deeper across his face, blood coursing hot into his mouth and bubbling up his nostrils, he gropes into the driving seat, anger jostling ahead of agony.
Mhairi, running, hears the rev of his engine, the slice of his wheels across the car park's gravel and puddles. The cold heat of his headlights is upon her back, throwing her shadow before her, the vehicle’s heat and oily stink sniffing at her rear. She glances over her shoulder.
Metal, hard and hot and slicked with rain, thumps into her. But even as she is thrown across it and cast to the ground, she realises this car came from another direction.
The next second or two is a chaos of engine snorts, wheel screeches and gravelly rattlings. Her reeling vision settles on Aitch's car, much further away than she had thought. It stands at a skewed halt, exhaust fumes thickening the red glow of its tail lights. It is another set of headlights that shines across the puddles in front of her. Somewhere to the rear of that glare she catches the sound of a door opening, of feet splashing her way. Aitch's car screeches out onto the road. Mhairi feels hands about her shoulders.
"You okay?" someone asks: a man's voice, Glaswegian, gentle and slightly gruff. "That bastard almost killed you."