The lichtin green wiz the place faar ye lichted (dismounted and mounted) fae yer horse in days of old.
At ae time there used tae be a Tinker's encampment ontae the aal lichtin green at Castle Eden. Tinkers wid come fae far and near because it wiz weel likit as a stoppin place afore the first frosts o the year's eyn set in.
The fairmers an cottars roonaboot were affa gweed tae them giein them milk, meal an tatties for a day's yokin clearin the grun o steens, sortin ony faain doon drysteen dykes that abounded the parish. Aften the men helpit wi the tattie howkin ana for it wiz a gye hard yokin. The weemin fowk gaed oot their hawkin and ranged the parish far and wide sellin preens, buttons, pirns o threid and sic like. Maistly it wiz for barter like eggs, cheese or butter for siller wiz gye ticht in the gettin at the times I'm spikkin aboot. A lot o the aaler weemin gaed the drookerin (tellin fortunes) and could ayee mak a few coppers revealin tae servant quines secrets o their futures and the tall hansome stranger that wiz gan tae come and tak them awa fae the life o hard relentless work and mak them intae ladies waited upon haan an fit by servants buskit in fine wigs, yella cwites and siller buckles on their sheen.
The time I'm writin aboot wiz weel afore the big fairmtoons came intae bein in the aichteen forties. Castle Eden wiz still at that time made up o sma modest fairms and lots o wee crafts dotted aboot the strath o Deveron an the Den o Eden. Onywye, that year a malignant fever made it's appearance and laid its caal haan upon the countryside layin low men, weemin and bairns. The kirk bell hardly stoppit ringin nicht and day announcin tae aa that anither beerial wid be takkin place at the dawnin o the next day for that wiz fin the corp wid aye be laid low in that parish and it hid been so for lang syne.
At the aal lichtin green jist afront the ruins o Castle Eden aboot twenty Tinker faimilies were encamped there at the time. The fever raged throwe the pairish but neen so far hid came doon w't. This gave the local fowk cause tae winner as tae fit wye this micht be and like ony group o feart fowk they fun the answer in their ain waggin tongues. The conclusion they came till wiz that the Tinkies hid brocht this scourge upon them and eence the pairish wiz cleared o them then aathing wid seen be back tae normal. So a great boorach o them airmed wi oxterfaes o steens set fit tae the lichtin green wi the intention o steenin them fae the place.
By gweed luck the minister wiz makkin his wye hame tae the manse fin he come upon the githerin o angry parishioners makin their wye up tae the green. A fyowe weel chosen words fae the Gweed Buik and an appeal tae gweed sense got the bleed cweeled and the maist sensible yins made their wye hame while some o the ithers still wintit tae see the Tinkies awa. But even they saw sense as the ranks slowly thinned and they, like their neebours made their wye hame ana.
The minister, gweed man that he wiz, though himsel fochen deen, made his wye up tae the lichtin green tae mak sure neen o the mair angry parishioners doubled back. He aftimes visited the lichtin green; nae in a formal wye but as a man that enjoyed their stories and music. He hid aye been made welcome aboot their fires but this forenicht things were different- they seemed affa hung back wi him. He looked for aal Donald Stewart, a particular favourite o his, and speired o him fit wiz wrang.
Donald reluctantly tellt him fit some o country fowk hid been sayin aboot them and that a couple o the young lads hid been set upon by a troop o fairm servants. The minister wiz ootraged at this and askit tae see the laddies. His request wiz grantit and he wiz teen tae the camp o aal Magg. It wiz her that did aa the bone settin and herbal cures for ailments among the Traivellin fowk an fyles country fowk ana. The twa loons were gye blaik an blae but Magg said they were young and strong and wid seen be roadit again for nae beens were broken. He got tae newsin tae Magg aboot this putrid fever and speired o her if she kent o ony cures for it oot o her herb box. “Na” says she “Nae a cure wid I hae within it for it's nae that kind o seeckness ava laddie”!
So he pressed her as tae fit kind o seeckness she thocht it tae be and wiz shocked tae be tellt that the “Ancient Yins” were angry wi the fowk for nae peyin them homage as wid've been deen in days o lang syne.
Noo Reverend Gordon S. Gow, for that wiz his name, wiz fairly teen aback by Magg's revelation for it contered aathing he'd ivver been brocht up tae believe; but as this wiz desperate times he speired at her fit could be deen. Mair than an oor later jist as the forenicht wiz drawin in an affa thochtful man teen leave o the lichtin green.
Twa or three days aifter that nicht Reverend Gow hid jist deen owerseein the beerial o twa mair o his parishioners. Comin tae a decision he turned tae them stannin at the gravesides and gave orders that nae minister o the kirk wid ivver say, an mair than ae puzzled look did he get for it.
At twal o the clock on the day follyin the kirk bell wiz rung backwards but this time nae tae proclaim a beerial but tae signal the hale parish tae pit oot their fires. Sivven an twenty mairrit men met up at the road gyan three directions in front o Castle Eden. Wi them they cairrit twa big planks o timmer. They teen turns o nine at a time tae rub the twa planks een agin tither till the heat made fire.
Aal Magg teen the smuchterin oo and breathed it tae flame invokin the ‘Ancient Yins’ wi a canterin o strange words. Aince the flames lickit heich she placed it intae a wee caal iron three leggit pot fulled o dry twigs fae the rowan, hawthorn and willow tree. Aal Magg an the burnin pot wiz teen fae hoose tae hoose on a wee cairt riggit up for the occasion. At ilka place she lichtit a new fire fae the pot aa the while mutterin a canterin.
By hawthorn, waan an rowan tree
Bainish the shancowls far fae thee!
Syne she bid the fowk pit ontae the new fire a potfae o clear fresh waal watter and intae the pot she pit a water worn chuckie an a twig fae the boure tree wi the order tae let it bile dry.
It teen maist o the day gyan fae place tae place till she finished up faar she began, at the lichtin green. It wiz there she lichtit fire wi the very last embers fae the reekin pot.
Nae one bite nor one sup passed her lips that day nor for the three days follyin. She sat her leaf aleen intae her bow-camp an spoke tae hersel in a language neether Cant, Scotch nor Gaelic.
Some o the Tinkers said she wiz spikkin tae the ‘Ancient Yins’ in their ain ancient tongue for wiz she nae the seivinth dochter o a seivinth dochter and kent weel the wyes o them that passed afore. On the third day as Magg stottered thawless oot o her camp. The fever hid gone fae the parish. Fear gaed fae fowk's hairts and life gaed back tae normal. Reverend Gordon S. Gow, gweed man that he wiz, thankit aal Magg for appeasin the ‘Ancient Yins’ even though the very idea contered ivverything he himsel believed in.
Mony a lang year his passed syne that day, an aa the fowk that were witness tae fit happened lie peacefully in the aal kirk yard.
If by ony chance ye tak the inclination tae hae a danner doon the wye o the kirk yard some saft forenicht aboot the month o September, hae a look doon at the sooth eyn. Growin ootside the waa ye'll see the bonniest rowan tree wi the reedest berries on it ye'll ivver cast ee upon. Aneth it, in the rowan's bosie lies aal Magg, at her left side staans a gnarled hawthorn tree protectin her soul, at her richt side growes a weepin willow castin tears o sorrow for the passin o Magg. Inside the kirk yard against the same bit waa there staans a modest gravesteen in line wi Magg's rowan tree.
Inscribed ontae it's saansteen face, near worn awa wi time, are a few words:
IN MEMORANDUM OF
Reverend Gordon Skinner Gow 1781-1863
for 48 years Minister at Iden.
TILL WE MEET AGAIN MAGG
hawthorn, waan and rowan tree.
Story fae the book 'Sanners Gow's Tales an' Folklore o' the Buchan.' You can buy it here in paperback or ebook.
Mabel pottered aboot in the gairden clearin een o the vegetable beds. It hid been a gye while since she got the chance tae come intae her beloved gairden.
Apart fae the odd cut o the greenie she’d hardly been near it ava.
Her poor mither hid teen up maist o her time and the last months hid been awful as the dementia teen a hud o her. Her mither hidna been in the best o health for a lot o years but Mabel hid managed tae work at the cooncil offices and look aifter her ana but nae once the dementia hid started.
Her mither hid been found wanderin aboot the toon a couple o times and Mabel hid teen early retirement tae look aifter her. In so deein she’d lost a lot o her pension package but she’d loved her mither dearly an widna see her gyan intae a home.
The church bell struck ten so wi a wee groan Mabel straachtened hersel up fae the veggi bed and made her wye intae the hoose, first takin aff her dubby beets and pittin on her slippers at the wee porch at the back door.
Mabel didna like gyan intae the kitchen noo that her mither wiz awa, she ayee expected tae see her sittin on her cheer at the side o the fire.
The kitchen wiz aal farrent wi sclate flag on the fleer at the lum waa wiz the big Aga stove that keepit the room as warm as a pie and the reason they’d spent maist o their time in the kitchen, for there wisna ony ither form o heat in the hoose. Apart that is fae a two bar electric heater in fit hid been her
mither’s bedroom and of course the grate in the gweedroom that wiz nivver used these days.
Mabel fulled the kettle an switched it on then gyan tae the press aside the windae she teen oot her ‘special’ treat for mornin fly, a jar o Nescafe coffee.
She drank fae a china mug nae een o yon horrible big heavy joogs that fowk drank fae noo-a-days. She sat doon at the aal deal table wi her steamin joog o coffee and opened the cutlery drawer in the table and teen oot her ither 'special’ treat, a packet o fags. This wiz the only fag she smoked, she’d hae
een at ten o’clock ivvery mornin alang wi her one cup o coffee. She sat back wi a sigh and takin a guilty glance at her mither’s cheer, lichted her fag.
Mabel’s mither hid been that against smokin so she’d ayee wint ootside tae hae a fag.
The room hid a big settle against ae waa, an aal leather thing that hid definitely seen better days but it wiz comfy an nae too far fae the tv on the wee table. She’d kent this room nearly aa her days and fin her parents were here it hid been fulled wi laughter.
Her ee shifted tae the mantle piece abeen the Aga tae the photo o her father an mither’s waddin day an a gweed lookin couple they were ana. Dadin his Gordon Highlander’s uniform wi his medals on his breest an his sergeants’ stripes, her mither smilin and lookin up at him wi love in her een.
That’d been jist aifter the Great War. Mabel hid been born in 1923. It wiz soon aifter that they’d moved intae this hoose, that’s siventy years ago.
Mabel gave anither sigh and looked at the ither photo, showin a bonny lassie in her early twenties. Mabel wiz far mair critical o this photo though thinkin that the lassie in it wiz bonny enough but her nose didna seem richt and though she’d a bonny smile it wiz spoiled wi her showin ower muckle o
her gums abeen her teeth. But sayin that she’d hid a fyowe suitors in her day an mair than eence she’d been offered the chance tae mairry.
Mabel gave anither sigh and wint tae the sink wi her cup an gave it a sweel. She’d rejected the offers though. Her father hid teen affa ill wi his heart and hid left his job wi the railway. Mabel then mair or less became the breadwinner at that time. Eventually her father died and the doctor said his hert wiz enlarged. He’d tellt her that a lot o men that hid focht in the Great War teen this type o hert complaint and her father haein been a piper also added tae that. Her mither nivver in the best o health hid teen a turn for the worse and wiz nivver the same aifter her husband died.
Mabel hid managed though and worked awa at the cooncil eventually reachin the rank o Registrar. She’d loved her job at the cooncil and hid set up a filing system second tae none, which wiz her pride and joy. But as things do in life, they change and the new computers came on the go. Younger fowk
used them and eventually her card index system wiz relegated tae history. It wiz aboot that time that her mither started showin the signs o dementia. The cooncil hid wanted tae mak staff cuts, so she’d teen early retirement.
She wint back tae her vegetable bed and wiz soon lost tae fit she wiz deein. Aboot half eleven she’d been thinkin on pittin on a tattie for denner fin she noticed movement aneath the big elder bush. Standin up wi a groan Mabel crossed tae it and hid a look. At first she couldna see onything amongst the
last year’s growth until she moved some o the twigs aside. That’s fin she saw the bonny blue ee lookin at her.
“Oh me, peer wee catty!”
She put her haan in tae touch it but the cat hissed at her and backed aff.
Mabel saw that its richt ee wiz a mess o scab and its luggie on the same side wiz nearly aff.
She tried athing tae get it tae come tae her but it jist hissed an tried tae clook her. She spoke quietly till it tae see if that wid work but it held aff still lookin at her wi the bonny blue ee.
She wint intae the hoose and got a saucer o milk and put it aneath the bush then she moved awa an sat on the greenie wi the saucer o milk in sicht.
Aifter a good while the catty came towards it an started tae sup. She could see the cat wiz in a gye mess, an saw livid weepin cuts aboot its neck as weel as the festered ee an damaged luggie.
Mabel muttered, “Oh ye peer wee thingie!”
It looked like somebody’s pet cat that hid wint feral. Mabel didna ken muckle aboot cats but saw that it hid marlled colours and by the size o’t must be male.
Ower the next fyowe days Mabel fed the cat and as she did it seemed tae get a wee bittie tamer and came as far as the back porch tae get fed. But still it widna let her touch it and jist hissed at her if she tried.
In the mornings she’d ging oot and shout, “Catty! Come on dearie!” and it wid come fae ablow the bush.
She decided tae caa it ‘Catty’ because it seemed tae answer tae that.
Eventually ‘Catty’ started tae come intae the hoose and loved tae sit on the flagsteens ablow the Aga.
Mabel got tae touch it noo and wiz even alloed tae wash its wounds wi saaty water tae clean them. The festered ee wiz her main concern but aifter a lot o saaty water and solutions o cider vinegar the infection got better. The ee wiz blinded though and instead o the bonny blue o the good yin it wiz milky and sair lookin.
“Oh ma peer wee Catty,” she’d mutter as she tended its wounds.
As the weeks passed Catty wid let Mabel pet him in front o the Aga but wid nivver come ontae her knee.
Mabel loved tae watch her films on the vhs video. She’d got it for her mither and her tae watch, baith o them loved Doris Day films an mony’s the nicht they spent watchin them. One film though wiz Mabel’s favourite. ‘They Carved Her Name With Pride,’ a true story aboot a lassie in the S.O.E. that
wint tae the war in occupied Europe and wiz captured by the Gestapo. The actress wiz Virginia Mackenna and she fairly made a good job o the film. Fin Mabel watched it she’d usually end up greetin because it wiz so sad.
Ae nicht she sat watchin it and as usual at the end she started greetin.
She saw Catty lookin up at her fae the fleer wi the one blue ee and aifter a minty it shoochled its wye ower tae the settee and came up intae her bosie and put ae big paw ontae her cheek as if sayin ‘It’s gan tae be fine.’ Aifter that Catty spent nearly ivvery nicht in her bosie and did the same thing wi his paw
finivver she graat at that film.
The months wint by and in that time her and Catty became inseparable.
Finivver she wiz in the gairden Catty wid lie as close tae her as possible an a fyowe times she nearly stood ontae him.
At the back o her gairden a block o fower pensioner’s hooses backed ontae it. There wiz a widden fence on tap o the dyke because the hooses were higher up than Mabel’s gairden. The aal fowk hid left tae gang intae sheltered housing and the cooncil hid began pittin younger fowk intae the hooses.
The young couple that bade in the hoose directly ahin Mabel’s were affa fine. They’d twa bairns; the loon Michael wiz four and the wee lassie Greta seven. She often spoke tae their mither ower the fence and wid ayee speir for the bairns. Mabel wid gie them birthday cards wi a fiver in it and the same at Christmas alang wi a selection box each. The man hid a job at a local hotel workin makin braakfasts so he’d an early start ilka mornin.
Mabel hid often thocht o inviting them in for supper some nicht but ayee kept pittin it aff because she wiz sic a private person. That mornin though the lassie hid tellt her they were moving awa doon the Arbroath wye because her man hid landed a good job in yin o the fancy hotels doon there. That wikeyne
they moved but nae afore Mabel getting their new address and geein the bairns a penny for the journey.
Sadly that wiz the last real peace Mabel wid ivver ken. The next tenant wiz a single man and in nae time he’d the loud music on the go and drinkin pals inaboot makin a noise tae aa oors.
Fin Mabel wint oot in the mornins she’d find empty beer tins and loads o tabbies in her gairden. Aften she’d hear folk rinnin throwe her back yard as the new lads mates used her gairden as a short cut at nicht.
Mabel thocht o gyan tae the police or maybe the cooncil aboot this but decided she’d hae a word wi the new lad aboot the noise and rubbish thrown intae her gairden. She did get tae speak tae him but for aa the gweed o’t and the moothfae o abuse Mabel hid jist walked awa, shakkin her heed mutterin
despairingly, “Nae point!”
Aa that she’d achieved wiz tae enrage him and things got an affa lot worse aifter that. If she’d keepit quate an said nithing, things micht’ve worked awa but noo she’d shown her heed abeen the parapet and ended up a real target for him and his mates.
She could hardly get intae her gairden ava noo for the abuse and ilka mornin her greenie wiz littered wi empty tins and bottles. Because they drank aa nicht she could get intae her gairden early in the mornin. She’d use the time tae clear up the mess.
She started tae find wee squares o tin foil that looked as though they’d been burned. She’d shown yin tae the man at the local shop and he’d tellt her it wiz heroin that hid been heated on the foil. Seemingly there wiz a lot o drug
takin aboot the toon noo a days.
A gye thochtful Mabel made her wye hame tae her hoosie. Afore she’d loved bidin here but noo it fellt tae her like a prison. She couldna enjoy her gairden ony mair and recently they’d teen tae throwin steens at Catty finivver he wint ootside and on mair than one occasion hid hit him.
This wint on for months till ae nicht she’d heard a commotion oot the backie and Catty myowin in agony. She’d jist gotten oot in time tae see the lad and three o his pals throwin Catty in the air wi a squeeb attached tae him.
It wint aff wi a bang and Catty howled in terror and pain. Screamin hersel Mabel got Catty intae her bosie and ran intae the hoose wi him, followed by mocking laughter fae the fower men.
She’d tried athing tae help Catty but as he started tae shak wi shock she’d seen the life leave his bonny blue ee. She’d graat and graat and graat ower Catty and kept him tae her bosie. Aa the while steens were stottin aff her reef and windaes as the men cairried on laachin and caain her an aal witch.
Early the following mornin Mabel beeriet Catty ablow his favourite bush. She hoped that neen o the lads saw her, but naebody did, they were ower busy sleepin aff their drink and drug filled souls.
Ower the next few months the tormentin didna stop, she’d stopped gyan oot tae tidy up noo and jist left the rubbish tae accumulate. If she did show her heed oot the back they’d shout aboot roasted cats and throw steens at her.
Mabel hated bidin in the hoose so she’d use her pensioner’s bus pass and ging awa maist days. She’d een o yon wee trolleys wi twa wheels that ye pulled ahin ye. Affa handy for eerins but also tae tak wi her on the bus wi her
flask and sandwiches and some ither special things she’d be nottin for the day.
It wid’ve been a sax weeks later that she wiz sittin watchin ‘They Carved Her name With Pride’ that a strange thing happened. As usual as the film ended she’d burst oot greetin but this time the greetin wiz so uncontrollable that she thocht she’d nivver manage tae stop. Aa the traumas o the past fyowe
months seemed tae come tae the fore and the tears flowed like a river.
She felt something touch her cheek and fin she looked here wiz Catty and its paw touchin her cheek like he used tae dee. Oh me but she teen him intae her bosie an sobbin, “Yer back! Yer back!” The big blue ee looked at her as she said this. Mabel must’ve fell asleep because fin she wakened she wiz shiverin wi the caal. Och she’d let the Aga gyang oot ana. The tv aff
station jist sizzed awa so she switched it aff. Shoutin for Catty she searched aroon but nae signs o him could she see. Mabel kent she’d been dreamin but oh me, it seemed so real tae her.
Next day wiz pension day so she made her wye doon tae the Post Office.
There wiz an affa lot o ongyans and abody wiz speakin aboot the drugs war that wiz gyan on in the North East o Scotland. Seemingly there wiz an
assassin gan aboot killin drug dealers and so far there’d been fower deaths.
Mabel hearin this smiled tae hersel an felt like sayin that she wished he’d come an shoot the bugger that bade at the back o her but she keepit quate.
Ower the next twa years Mabel spent nearly ivvery day awa on the bus.
She jist couldna abide her ain hoose now. But still some nichts she’d sit and watch her special film and fin she graat Catty wid come tae her bosie and look at her wi his bonny blue ee. She wiz weel aware Catty wiz deed but she enjoyed feelin him in her bosie aa the same, imagination or no it seemed so
Mabel, intae her siventies now decided tae mak a will. So ae day she wint in by a local solicitor tae get een made up. The hoose and athing wi it she left tae the young couple that used tae bide at the back o her alang wi the fyowe coppers she’d in the bank. Her Post Office savings accoont hid a good
puckle siller in it so that wiz tae be left tae the S.S.P.C.A. for tae look aifter cats. She’d nae faimily o ony kind so rather that let athing gyang tae the Crown she thocht this wiz the fairest thing she could dee.
The solicitor duly made up the will and a couple o days later she’d tae gyang and sign it and twa o the office staff counter signed it as witnesses. Her affairs now in order, Mabel returned hame and that nicht watched her film.
Catty came intae her bosie and she cuddled him as the tears ran doon her cheeks. It wiz comin on the wikeyne, always the worst time for Mabel, fin her neeghbour wid hae his drunken mates inaboot. The steens wid start eence mair
rattlin doon her reef.
Aa the windaes at the back o the hoose were broken noo and her eence bonny gairden wild and unkept. There wisna ony point in plantin floors noo because that nicht some o the lads wid come intae the gairden an staan aa ower them.
* * *
The fire engines, police and ambulance were on the scene, they’d nivver seen onything like this afore. At the back o the hoose were fower burned bodies.
Seemingly they’d been sittin oot the backie enjoyin a quiet drink fin somebody hid thrown a napalm type grenade in amongst them?
Naebody could get near the bodies for the burnin syrup type stuff that continued tae incinerate them as the emergency fowk stood helplessly and watched. The police said it wiz anither gang war hit. Anither four bodies tae add tae the five ithers that hid been shot.
They were caad by the papers ‘The Double Tap Murders’ on the accoont that each hid been shot twice one round in the chest an yin atween the een.
Aifter the fire eventually wint oot the fower bodies were examined for bullet wounds but neen wiz found so they’d been roasted alive.
“Poor buggers!” said the pathologist, “They died in agony and it widnae hae been that fast!”
The papers got a hud o it and said the ‘Double Tap Murderer’ hid moved ontae a new weapon o terror. It wiz aa speculation of coorse for the only link that there wiz atween the deed wiz they were aa drug dealers baith big and smaa.
But fitivver, the Chief Constable wiz teen ower the coals for nae catchin the killer. Poor man hid jist teen it on the chin because naebody hid ony idea faa wiz responsible. They’d drawn a complete blank. The bullets used in the ither murders wiz completely unknown tae the fire arms experts that kent only
that they must be specially made for executions like this due tae the devastating effect the low velocity rounds hid on the human body. The only ither forensic type clue wiz that at each murder scene they’d found tiny bitties o rubber. That wiz it! Nae anither thing tae gyan on ava.
Police officers did a door tae door, seein if onybody his seen or heard onything, and apart fae fowk haein heard the dull thud o the grenade and the horrible screams o the dyin men nae useful information wiz gotten.
Mabel faa hid been the nearest, said that jist afore the explosion she’d heard somebody rinnin throwe her gairden. The constable duly noted her statement and tellt her that she’d probably be getting a visit fae C.I.D. afore
It wisna till the next day that a detective sergeant and a constable peyed her a visit. They chapped on the door but got nae answer the constable peered in the windae but jumped back as a cat cloured at the widae and hissed.
“Gweed sakes!” he shouted jumpin back in fear!
Turnin tae the detective he said, “Did ye see that?”
The detective shook his heed an speired;
The constable still shakin tellt him aboot the big angry lookin cat wi one ee almost comin throwe the windae at him!
“Oot o the wye!” the DS said pushin him aside and teen a look in the windae but saw nithing,
“Michty min ye must’ve been imagining things.”
Gyan roon the back they found the door open. The constable stood aside tae let the detective gyang in first. The detective laughed at this and said, “Are
ye feart o catties min?”
He got twa steps inside fin he wished he’d nivver mocked the young policeman. The one ee’d cat wiz there and in seconds hid clookit baith his legs till the bleed wiz fleein.
Wi a gasp o pure terror he ran fae the hoose knockin the young constable doon on the wye oot. Aifter a lot o cursing they looked intae the back windae and could see an aal woman sittin at a desk aside a big stove. She wisna
moving and fin they knocked the big one eyed cat near came throwe the glaiss at them.
It teen a couple o oors for the lassie fae the S.S.P.C.A. tae arrived but fin she wint in nae sign o a cat did she find. Feelin like a richt pair o plunkers the DS and the constable wint tae the body.
Mabel sat at her wee roll top desk staring intae nithing. At one side o her sat an empty coffee cup at the ither an ashtray wi twa tabbies squashed intae it and a wee tin canister as thick as a fountain pen wi a skull & crossbones and one word, ‘Cyanide’.
“Oh God!” said the DS, “Go get the big boys doon here!”
The constable stood like a statue, lookin at Mabel.
“Go on min and dinna touch onything said the DS!”
Galvanised the PC made awa.
Ower the next couple o days the place wiz fulled wi army bomb disposal teams, forensic fowk and the Chief Constable. A complete news blackoot wiz in place and in the end it wid tak weeks afore ony sense could be made o their findings and even then nae information wiz ivver given oot aboot fit hid happened.
The Chief Constable sat at his desk fingerin the report in front o him. He jist couldna believe fit he’d jist read. First ava they’d found oot that Mabel hid made the napalm used in the grenade in her back shed. And it wiz so simple how she did it. She’d used easy tae hand materials tae mak it, a haanfae o chaip electronic lighters strapped on a weighted steel plate fae an Aga attached tae a canister fulled o petrol and ither stuff she’d used tae mak the napalm. Fin the weighted plate hit the grun the device wint up like a grenade
dowsin abody within aboot ten feet in flaming syrup. That wiz bad enough as tae how an aal woman in her seventies could mak such a device but it got much much worse as tae fit else they’d found in the shed.
He still couldna get the next bit richt in his heed. The search team hid found a pistol, and nae an ordinary pistol. This wiz a pistol designed for assassination. It hid a clip wi twa bullets in it but again nae ordinary bullets like ye’d expect. Oh no! This bullets were designed tae fit the special pistol and were killer rounds made for that job.
But the maist amazing bit hid been the silencer for the weapon. It wiz in size and shape like a Vim tin but made o aluminium, inside it wiz fulled o ground doon bike inner tubes tae absorb the sound o the discharge. That’s faar the
rubber hid come fae at each o the hits that naebody could explain.
The two bullets were for the ‘Double Tap’. One tae the chest the ither atween the een. They’d found a box o fifty o these specialist bullets but twenty two were missing. The used cartridges hid been found in her rolltop desk each pair taped thegither and a code on each. Twenty two o them. There’d been five hits, one in Fraserburgh, one in Peterhead and three in Aberdeen that accounted for ten bullets so fit happened tae the ither twelve?
* * *
At this moment the Security Services were trying tae decipher the coded index cards they'd found in her desk tae try and find the names o the ither missing bodies.The man fae MI5 stood lookin oot the Chief Constable’s office
He turned fin he heard the file being closed and wi a wry smile teen oot anither file but this yin wiz different. It wiz buff coloured and hid a reed line across it wi the words ‘Most Secret’.
“Divulge what’s in here and you’ll end your days in the Tower!” he said tae the Chief Constable.
Hesitatingly, as if it wid explode in his face, the Chief Constable took the file and opened it. He could see richt awa it wiz a service record. The wee photo at the left hand side showed a really bonny lassie smiling intae the camera.
But it wiz the title that teen his attention.
Mabel - - - - - -. S.O.E..Born Peterhead Scotland 14th June 1923
Recruited April 4th 1943
Special aptitudes languages, firearms and explosives.
Trained Achnacarry Scotland.
Dropped as ‘Moon Strike,’ France September 1944
S.O.E. disbanded 1946
Carried out tasks for H.M. Government until stood down July 15th 1958.
Awarded the Military Medal November 1960 for services rendered to the Crown..
The Chief Constable looked up at the MI5 man.
“She was Special Operations Executive?
The MI5 man nodded and said, “Churchill wanted them to set Europe ablaze!”
Noddin towards the file he said, “She was the very best the S.O.E. ever put into the field with a string of assassinations to her credit longer than my arm! The best of the best!”
He snatched up baith files and put them intae his briefcase.
“So you’ll agree that this story must never get out?”
Athoot waitin for a reply he made for the door and paused.
“Incidentally if you do find any of the missing bodies just get in touch with us and we’ll have a sanitising team up north pronto!”
Wi a cheery "Toodlepip old chap!" he left the office leaving the Chief Constable contemplating the wee cottage on the Buchan coast and early retirement.
From Sanners 2nd volume, Mair Tales... available as paperback and ebook
‘Shite!’ I tried to mak masel as small a target as I could by cooryin intae the rocks here at the bottom of the pass. The Afghan tribesmen hid sprung a perfect ambush on us, firing as they were fae the sides of the Khyber Pass straicht doon ontae our position. Oor sergeant big Rab wiz livid an he cursed the Afghans till the very cats widnae lick their bleed supposin it wiz in a saucer. But of course it wisnae gan tae be Afghan bleed the cats would be getting a lick o. It wiz gan tae be gweed Scotch bleed and if we didnae get oot o this place there wiz gan tae be plenty o it.
Rab shouted for us tae fire back at the buggers and tellt us tae shoot at the smoke clouds fae their discharges. The tribesmen were firin muskets- nae sae accurate as oor Enfields but that didnae maitter a damn because they were pingin us fae well abeen and could have thrown rocks doon ontae us wi nae problem. Musket baas were slapping on the grun and skytin aff the rocks aside us an that wiz fit wye I wiz trying tae become een with the boulders and mould masel tae the under edge. But wi Rab’s order me and my comrades now hid tae come oot fae oor hiding places and shoot back.
There were a lot o fite faces I can tell ye an mine wiz likely the same because I wiz shittin masel wi the fear. My poophole wiz fair winkin and the hairs on the back of my neck birstled. I tried tae keep calm as I fummilt wi ma rifle bolt. Some aal sojer eence tellt me that eence ye gang intae action training taks ower and ye load and fire automatically.
Weel it didnae seem tae be happening tae me because try as I micht I jist couldnae get the damned thing tae fire. Rab must’ve seen my predicament and cam chargin across fae the ither side of the narra pass follaet by a swarm of musket baas afore throwin himsel ahin my wee bit o cover. The only thing he said tae me wiz “Corrich!” [idiot] and grabbit the rifle fae my fammels [hands] and draggit the bolt back, lookit inside, blew oot a load of sand and slammed the rifle back at me.
“Now shoot the buggers!”
He made awa again, his passage marked by a swarm o angry wasps weerin lead jaickets. Miraculously he wisnae touched and reached his ain bit of cover and startit firin up at the tribesmen fa were getting bolder at the sight o oor inaction.
They were staanin termintin us instead of being ahin cover so fin we fired, oor shots hid some effect and I personally saw twa Afghans faa back as if they were hit. I jist kept reloading and firin up at the buggers an ivvery time I saa a puff o reek I shot at it. I heard a whacking sound then a gasp and the man nearest me convulsed for a meenit or twa then lay still.
I sidled ower tae him keeping under cover as much as I could an pulled him ontae his back but he wiz steen stiff staring deed. A musket shot had burst his broo wide open exposing the inside o his napper. A fyowe shots cam my wye so I crawled back tae my wee bit which wiz safer by far. Mair shots hit the already deed man wi seeckenin thwumps so I wiz better oot o thon place.
There wiz thirty of us pinned doon an we could neither move back nor forrit and they, like masel, lay ahin ony wee bit cover they could find and were shootin back as best they could. The main column should’ve been up wi us lang syne but as yet there wiz nae signs so we’d jist hiv tae keep firin until they did mak an appearance and gie us a wee bit caa-tee against the Afghans.
Aifter aboot an oor o time passin and still nae signs of the column Rab broke cover and cam chargin ower tae me. His huge body wiz instantly the target for every tribesman on baith sides of the pass and musket baas cam at him like hailsteens. Wi a mighty lunge aa sax fit fower o him slammed doon at my side in a clood of dust sprinkled with lead bullets an the butt o his rifle caught me on the side knockin aa the wind oot o me. As I lay gasping for breath Rab shook me.
“Are ye aaricht Donny?”
Obviously he didnae realise that he’d winded me an thocht I’d been hit.
“Na I’m aaricht Rab jist winded I’ll be fine!”
I managed tae gasp the words oot atween deep braiths and I’m sure my ersehole wiz sookin air in as well. I dinnae ken if it tried tae spik but it widnae have surprised me if it did. Rab put his heed close tae mine and said, “We’re feeckit Donny if the column disnae come soon. The tribesmen will ken fine we cannae get oot o here so they’re gan tae come doon fae the heichts in a great boorach and murder us and there’s fuck all we can dae aboot it!”
I’d been thinking the same masel for they must’ve been ten tae one against us at the very least because the pass abeen us wiz a veritable smog bank o dischargin musketry.
My poophole, aaready winkin wi the fear doublin it’s twitchin. There’s nae wye I relished the thocht o the Afghanies gettin their hands on me, some o the stories I’d heard tale of wiz eneuch tae mak the very hairs on the back of my neck birstle. I noddit tae Rab and asked “Whit are we gan tae dee Rab?”
Rab ducked low as anither splattering o musketry hit the boulders we sheltered ahin and blinkin throwe steen chips and dust he laached oot loud. I thought for a wee bit that he’d went moich but it wisnae madness but humour that brocht on the laachter. Rab wiz een o the best sergeants in the Gordons and een o the teuchest but it wiz said he’d a wicked sense of humour especially faan things got bad. I wiz seein it in action for the first time at this meenit . Things could hardly be worse and here’s Rab laachin his heed aff. He eventually managed tae stop laachin and said, “Whit are we gan tae dee?” afore bursting oot laachin eence mair.
It wisnae a hysterical laughter jist a deep belly shakkin laach as if he wiz sitting at a bar haein a dram wi some o his freens. Some of the men nearest tae us looked ower and powkit eenanither and tae my amazement their styoo covered faces broke intae huge grins.
It wiz said Rab wiz the very man to hae aside ye in a ticht spot, that he could ayee find a wye oot and gan by the reaction o the men maybe the story wiz richt. But a quick look ower the boulders wiz eneuch tae mak me winder if somehow this wiz the eyn of the line for us.
The tribesmen emboldened by oor puny return fire were makkn their wye doon baith sides of the pass some dauchlin here an there a meenit tae fire. Ithers nae even botherin but jist clammerin fae steen tae steen.
I shook Rab “Look Rab the tribesmen are comin doon in droves, we’re gyan tae get oor ballicks chappit aff if they get their fammlis (hands) on us!”
Rab, laachter forgotten roared, “Right lads mark yer targets and let the fuckers hae it!”
The men put up a withering fire ontae the approaching tribesmen that dropped mony and made the ithers retire ahin the cover they’d jist lately left. I could see some o the tribesmen crawlin back up the side of the pass like flees on a camel’s hingin ersehole clartit o shite. Some o them hid on flowin robes wi turbans on their heeds an ithers had baggy troosers and dark jaickets affa like a tunic. They werenae so easy tae get a shot at but the yins with the flowin robes were richt easy tae spot.
Rab came back tae me and crouched doon. He grinned “That showed the fuckers!”
I managed a ticht grimace that might’ve passed for a grin for I still didnae feel easy but Rab seemed trickit. As trickit in fact that he pulled oot a wee cutty and in a moment or twa’s deft handling of the flint and fleerish reek wiz yoamin fae it, and sat himsel doon and sooked contentedly.
Rab wiz weel ower sax fit wi a pair of shooders on him like an ox that made him look one hardy bastard. Dark skin covered his gweed lookin face, a big moustache and a thick iron grey heed o hair gave him dusky gweed looks that weemin couldnae bide awa fae. Rab wiz my mither’s uncle and had jined the army as a drummer boy fin he wiz aboot twelve. He’d been in the army ever since and hid seen action aa ower the Empire.
He’d been hame tae New Deer twice in my lifetime, eence fin I wiz a wee bairn and the last time wiz seven years ago. His stories were jist the thing for young lugs tae hear and it wiz then I decided I wanted tae be a sojer jist like Rab. Now here I wiz in Afghanistan being shot at, my mooth that dry wi thirst and the sun cookin the very life oot of my body. Nae far fae the place I lay hunners o angry tribesmen awyted their chance tae cut the ballicks fae ma and dae some ither nasty things tae ma person. Aye I’d deen weel for masel richt eneuch, here’s me thinking I’d be a hero but instead I’m lyin wi my ersehole winking watching Rab sookin his pipe.
The tribesmen hid gotten a bit of a begeck at the hett reception we’d given them and were now well oot o wir effective range although some were keeping up a desultory but useless fire on oor position. Rab turned and lookit ower our meagre rock cover and said, “That showed the buggers fit tae expect, they winnae be so keen next time!”
He sat back doon and spoke tae me quately.
“Look laddie we’re feekit if they come again so ye’ll hiv tae rin back tae the column and tell Captain Moore tae gie us mair men so we can clear the tribesmen fae the pass!”
I wisnae ower keen on gyan back tae the column and tellt Rab so, but he wiz determined. He said that I’d be faar safer gan towards safety than bidin here tae be killed like a rat in a barrel. Even though Rab wiz my sergeant I wiz faimily first and foremaist so I could get awa wi a bit mair than the rest o the men although in front of them he wiz usually affa canny that nae favouritism wiz shown towards me an mony's the extra rifle drill I wiz given for the least mistak I made. So bad wiz it sometimes that the aaler sojers wid grummle amangst themsels as tae how bad Rab treated me. Accordin tae them it wisna like him tae be that wye ava.
Fin that happened I wid jist curse sergeants in general and let it be at that. But noo I could see Rab wiz troubled, I weel understood his motives for getting me tae fuck oot of this place but I wisnae keen on leaving him and ma comrades tae their fate. I speired at Rab fit wye we didnae aa mak a dash back tae the column because they must’ve been alerted by noo wi aa the shooting gan on? They were at maist a couple o miles back the pass and surely they’d hiv sent oot a rescue pairty.
Rab shook his heed.
“Na Donny it widnae work. Afore we got as far as the first bend they’d be ontae us in droves and we’d be slaaghtered like sheep in a killin hoose!”
Poochin his pipe he cairried on “Oor best bet o survival is here ahin some kind o cover.” noddin towards the tribesmen’s positions. “They’ll nae be so keen on attacking us for a fyle and afore they do you should be back wi a relief pairty!”
I wiz forced tae agree that it made sense. I wiz fit and could rin like the wind and wid be back tae the column in nae time ava. Of coorse that’s if the Afghans didnae get ma! Rab laached at my misgivings aboot the tribesmen catching me and tellt me that I should be aaricht as lang as I weaved plenty as I ran and used the shaddas to pit them aff their aim.
“Onywye” says Rab “It’s maistly aaler men that work the flanks while the younger yins are the spearheed and are at the front o oor positions.”
That wiz supposed tae reassure me, I think, but I couldnae help refleckin that the aaler men wid be the better shots because they’d the maist experience. I took a quick look ower my rock at the tribesmen fa were keepin their distance but there seemed tae be an affa lot mair o them noo.
Ivvery noo an then a puff of smoke could be seen fae the side of the pass. At that distance the baa would hardly hurt ye if it hit but some of them still made a fair thwack as they landit so I kept my heed doon for fear.
“Right!” says Rab, “Tak a good slug of yer watter. Ye’ll be needin aa the fluids ye can get afore ye reach the column!”
I did as Rab bid me and weetitt ma thrapple wi the warm brakkish watter fae my bottle. It tasted foul but watter’s watter so doon it gid. I took aff my tunic because there wiz nae wye I wiz gyan tae run in this heat wi a thick reed tunic and hae ivvery Afghan shoot at the gype staanin oot like a reed beacon on a dark nicht. Rab noddit approvingly and laached as I threw the panny white hat ontae the grun wi ma tunic.
“Aye min, yer learnin weel aboot this sojer cairry on!”
Rab clappit me on the back and said, “Go Donny rin like the wind!”
Grabbin up ma rifle I slottit the lang bayonet ontae the eyn and wi an “I’m on it!” for Rab, I started tae run. I wiz gye near at the first bend by the time ony of the tribesmen jaloused but soon the crack and zing of bullets were coming aboot me like hornets. Abeen me I could mak oot the Afghans leaving their cover and makkin their precarious wye doon towards me.
Fin I cam at the bend I started tae weave and sure eneuch a volley of shots follaet me. Ae bullet tuggit at my sleeve an I wiz richt- the aaler men were the better shots so I hunched my back a wee bittie and really startit tae jink oot an in while at the same time diving in and oot of the shaddas tae pit the buggers aff their aim.
My chest wiz haivin or this time, the mixter o heat, styoo and fear wiz makkin me sook in air like an aal bauchled steam engine, the swyte wiz fleeing fae me and my claithes were stickin tae me.
I cursed the tartan trews and wished the bastards hid left us wi oor kilts that were faar better suited tae the heat. My curses were pointless at that moment because there wiz a big bastard Afghan wi flowing robes, turban the lot in front o me. He jist grinned and threw doon his musket. Drawing oot fae his plaid like cover a lang kurrah sword, he hefted it intae his left haan an gave me a mocking challenge.
I nivver stoppit rinnin but keepit on richt at the bugger and stuck him under the ribs an ae brief moment afore the licht gid fae his een I saw terror in them. I booted his body fae me and gagged at the stench fae his puddins. Affa near boakin I cairriet on my wye.
Funnily I lost my fear then an it wiz replaced gye near straicht awa by a burning anger whether at mysel for killing a man or at the man for makkin me kill I nivver found oot but fitivver, anger replaced fear an I saa things crystal clear aifter that.
At this point the fleer of the pass rose steeply and gets so narra that twa mules can barely pass especially if they are loadit. I’d hoped tae meet in with an advanced party fae the column but instead three tribesmen wytit there. Thankfully they werena lookin my wye but beyond the narrows back the wye that the column would come. I didnae wint to stop but hid tae so I slipped intae some rocky cover and got my braith back.
I wiz in a snorrel noo, nae doubt there’d be tribesmen follaein me. Hopefully Rab wiz richt aboot it bein aal men guardin the flanks, they’d tak faar langer tae catch up wi me. My only hope lay in my killin the three men tae my front, they were aboot a hunnder yards fae ma and well within the killin range o my Enfield. And if they were tae conveniently staan still I’d pick them aff as if targets at the Blackdog rifle range back in Aberdeen.
Somewye or anither though I didnae think they’d be that obleegin. The only thing I could think on deein wiz tae hit them hard tae keep them wrang fittit. I wid use that tactics here, hard and fast. I crawled a wee bit closer tae mak sure o my aim and slid a round up the spoot. Wiping the swyte fae ma broo I took aim on the tribesman nearest tae me. I put the sicht ontae the middle o his back and squeezed the trigger.
He fell like a rag doll, aa this wiz just at the edge of my thoughts as I bolted anither round hame changed target tae the next man faa wiz starin in shock at his fallen comrade and fired. He skirled in agony and fell writhing on the grun while the third tribesman fully alerted now dived for cover. I bolted anither round and fired at him tae keep his heed doon then shifted faist tae his hidin place wi the rifle held oot in front of me like a pikeman of old.
I covered the grun in jist a fyowe seconds but he wiz faister and raised himsel fae cover so I wiz looking doon the barrel of an aal British Springfield rifle. Aathing went in slow time for me as he pulled the trigger. I felt the bullet pass the side of my face by inches and saw the panic refleckit in his een as he realised that he’d fucked it. I startit tae roar as I closed wi him as he tried tae scramble awa fae the pynt o my bayonet. He squealed like a bairn and in that instant I realised he wiz jist a young laddie. I stoppit in my tracks and couldnae shove the bayonet intae his cowering back so instead I hit him wi my rifle butt and grabbed his dropped Springfield and smashed it against a rock. O the ither twa tribesmen one wiz obviously deed the ither wiz groanin but nae danger. I smashed their weapons as weel.
A quick check ower my shooder satisfied me that naebody wiz comin up the pass fae ahin so I ran on throwe the gap and made my wye doon the narra path jumpin ower the boulders scaittered on the fleer of the pass.
The heat wiz oppressive in the enclosed channel even though it wiz in deep shaddas as I ran wi the echoes o my beets ringin ower an ower again. Ma hairt wiz bangin in ma chest and ma mooth wiz as dry as a bone wi my braith tearin its wye tae my lungs like the hett blast o an oven.. Swyte ran into my een stingin them an that jist added tae my misery makkin me styter aboot like a drunkard ower the roch steeny grun.
I wiz rinnin oot o strinth an I kent that if I didnae find the column afore lang that I’d be goosed in this affa heat. At aboot this pynt the pass opened up and ye could see for a couple o miles afore the sides closed in again and turned tae the left up towards the ruins of an aal fort. I did a quick three hunnder and sixty scan and crouched doon tae catch ma braith. I teen a moothfae of watter fae my bottle and sweeled it aboot afore swallae’n it. Nae drink hid ivver tasted so gweed as the warm brackish liquid made its wye doon ma pairched gullet.
Nae ony signs of the column did I see apiart fae the marks made by army boots on the dry grun. The place I wiz at wiz very near faar we’d left the column that mornin. A quick raik aboot and I found faar they’d turned back. They must’ve left as soon as they heard the firing on the skirmish party, the coordy bastards! Because hear them they must’ve for in the distance I could at that minute mak oot the sharp crack of the Enfields comin doon the pass in a mulch of echoes.
The Enfield’s high powered round made a shusssh shusssh sound as it passed through the hett dusty air at high velocity. The Afghan weapons made a dull baff sound on discharge. At this meenit there seemed tae be a helluva lot mair Afghan rounds than oors. Rab and the skirmish party were surely getting it heavy again. At that I got tae my feet and forced my wearied legs tae move. For a start they hid a mind of their ain but eence I got rinnin proper the stiffness eased aff and my legs did as I bid them.
As I got intae my stot I felt better. The rest and the drink had deen some gweed. It wiz still searingly hett and especially now that the pass opened up a bit. But the going wiz that much easier and the air wiz a wee bit clearer so I fair knyped on breathing much better noo that I wiz awa fae the enclosed pass.
In aboot an oor I caught up with the tail eyn o the column and glaid I wiz tae see them. Some banter wiz exchanged atween mysel and the native levies as I stoppit tae drink fae a proffered skin of water. They were rale amused at my condition an some witty remarks were made at my expense. Thanking them I made my wye past the rest of the column tae even rocher comments fae the troops.
I reached the heed o the column lookin for the officers but they were weel in front on horseback. The corporal tellt me tae bide in the ranks but I said I'd an urgent message for Captain Moore. By gweed luck I could see them dismounting up aheed so I hurried up tae them and stood tae attention and peched oot Rab's message. Captain Moore jist lookit at me as if I wiz something ye'd find aneth yer fit aifter a dog hid passed.
Ignoring me he turned and said something tae Sergeant McLeod.. He came forritt and asked me fit wye I wiz oot o uniform. I didnae ken fit tae say tae this. I hid explained my reason for bein here but the officer jist didnae seem tae be listening. I startit tae tell him again but I nivver got ony farrer than the first fyowe words fin he roared like an enraged bull and ordered me put under arrest. Sergeant McLeod the erse licker that he wiz jumpit tae attention and dived at me as if I wiz aboot tae strike the officer but I jist stood like an eejit mair shocked than onything at the captain's disregard for fit I hid tellt him.
A couple o the subalterns snichered at my discomfiture and it wiz aboot then that the penny drappit. This bastard wiz rinnin awa and leavin the skirmishin party tae their fate. Me turnin up must've buggered up the hale plan for him: fuckin coordie bastard. Like a gype I said as much and endit up gettin a cut across the face wi his swagger stick for ma troubles.
He really got workit up aifter this and roared at Sergeant McLeod again tae pit me under arrest for gross impertinence tae an officer o the Crown. Wi a servile look on his face McLeod orderd twa o his squad tae arrest an tie me tae the wheel o een o the wagons. He lookit up for the pat on his heed fae his beloved Captain Moore but instead Moore jist glowered at me and rode awa.
“Right ya bastard!” roared McLeod.
I wiz helpless wi baith wrists faistened tae a spoke wi my back against the wheel as if half cruicified. I wiz in a sittin position wi my feet tae the front an kent fine I wiz in for a good kickin. I didna hae lang tae wyte as McLeod ran at me and aimed a kick at my exposed chest. I tried tae roll wi the kick tae lessen its effect but tied as I wiz there wisna ony chance o that. His boot near liftit me aff the grun and I felt the searing pain bash through me as my rib cage gye near exploded. Ivvery bit o braith wiz caa’d fae me but I did manage tae pech “Ye dirty bastard!” afore he gid clean gyte and startit kickin at ivvery bit o me he could get at.
I’ve nae idea foo lang he kept it up because I wiz in faar ower muckle pain tae ken. I jist mind tryin tae protect my bawbag fae his kicks fin he landit a massive hoof tae ma heed an I must’ve passed oot like a shot sharny bull.
Fin I cam tee my heed wiz hingin near on my chest. I didna move because I could hear Captain Moore spikkin tae somebody near by. He wiz sayin something aboot Big Rab.
“Thet’s great news sergeant! Are you sure they are all dead?”
I hated the sound o his voice an foo he affected fit he thocht wiz a posh uppercrust accent but he wiz actually an Aiberdonian Shoemaker’s son that paitter hid bocht a commission for.
I painfully put up my heed and saw it wiz McLeod that he spoke till. I wiz in agony and could hardly breathe because maist o my ribs were on fire but I managed enough braith tae shout “Bastards!”
That got their attention. Moore came ower tae me and started tae lash me wi his swagger stick and the dirty bastard tried tae pit ma een oot wi it. But he forgot my feet were free and I swept his feet fae ablow him and he landit hard ontae his face.
He nivver got a chance tae pit a haan oot tae save himsel meetin the grun wi seekinin whack. He got tae his fowers wi the bleed and snotters fleein fae him. Een o his haans wiz within my reach so I brocht the heel o my fit crashin doon ontae his fingers and he skirled like a wee lassie. That’s the last thing I mind as Sergeant McLeod swung his rifle butt ontae ma heed.
Throwe the agony o my battered body I’d heard my name. “Donny! Come on min get tae yer feet!”
I groaned wi the pain but I managed tae look up and saa Big Rab staanin abeen ma. He wiz smilin doon at ma and Jesus I saw he wiz in full mairchin order and even wore his kilt.
The rest o my squad stood aroon smilin doon at ma as weel. They were dressed the same as Rab wi their reed coats and their Gordon tartan kilts abeen their knees. Rab bent doon tae pull ma up but I shouted tae him, “Hing fire Rab ivvery rib in my chest is broken!”
He laached and pulled ma tae ma feet. There wisna ony pain ava. I stood aside him an started tae relate fit hid happened but he jist put a haan on my shooder an shook his heed. Turnin tae the men he ordered them in twa ranks.
“Right Donny get intae line!”
I wiz surprised tae realise that I wiz in full mairchin order ana so I shoudert my Enfield and got intae ma place. I lookit back at the broken and bloodied ragdoll tied tae the wagon wheel and lookit intae my ain face wi the starin lifeless een.. Rab at the heed o the men shouted his favourite mairchin order…
“Left right keep in good order, lift yer kilt and shite in the corner!”
I wis drivin throwe Banff ae day and saa a sign sayin there wis a carboot at the Tesco car park. I drew inaboot an there wis an affa boorach o cars sellin aa the odds ‘n’ eyns fowk wanted rid o. I’d a raik aboot lookin at the books but they were maistly Mills & Boons or that kind o thing, nae interest tae me ava. I cam upon this boot an the auler wifie hid books mair tae my likin so I’d a gweed raik among them. I got a twa’r three that interested ma.
The wifie said “It looks like ye’ll be a meenitie or twa. Wid you look aifter the stall for me?” She added “I’m needin tae pooder my nose!”
I wis gey surprised at this because she didna ken me fae Adam an tae leave me in charge o her stall wi some gey expensive lookin ornaments put me aff my styter. She must’ve seen ma predicament and said “I winna be lang and ye’ve got an honest face.”
I tellt her I didna mind lookin aifter it for her but speired fit wid happen if onybody wanted tae buy something? She laached an replied “Michty min are ye blin? The prices are on aathing.”
She pointed tae the ice cream tub “There’s change in there!” An wi that she wis aff towards the shop. I got a fyowe mair books and saw some mair aneth the table so I’d a raik there ana. I opened ae box an inside wis a sheep’s wool jaicket o the kine ye see in aul war films.
“Michty this wid dee ma fine for vrochtin in the wids!” I tried it on and it fittit like a glove.
“It suits ye!” This wis the wifie back.
I tellt her the jaicket wid be good for the winter. I did a twirl like a gype an she teen a richt laach tae hersel. I speired at her foo muckle she’d nott for it?
“Och it’s jist an aul thing and it wis good o ye lookin aifter my stall so wid a fiver be ower muckle?”
I handit ower the siller richt awa plus one fifty for aa the books.
As I left I noticed this aul mannie sittin in the front passenger seat o her car. He wis glowerin at ma wi an ill-naitert face. A wee bittie put oot at this an mair than puzzled as tae fit wye she got me tae look aifter her stall fin the aul man wis sittin there, I jist shrugged my shooders and headed back tae my Landie. I threw the jaicket an the books ontae the seat and left tae gyang hame tae Macduff.
I showed the jaicket tae my mither and she said it wis fae the war and she mined the pilots weerin them. There wis a tear on the richt side and it hid been sortit but my mither didna like the dark broon stain on the inside. She said it lookit like bleed that hid been washed aff at some point and it wis in line wi the repaired tear. She tried sair tae get the stain oot but nithing she could dee wid get rid o it. But onywye it wis aaricht, stain or no and I wore it in the wids and richt fine it wis.
Aboot the hinmaist week o October I wis takkin doon a puckle firs fae the side o the main road that were gettin in the wye o high sided larries. I’d feenished vrocht for the day and put my saw an chines in the back o the Landie. Fin I gid intae the cab, the Landrover started tae rock back an forrit as if bein buffeted by a strong wind.
“Strange!” I stepped oot o the cab an there wis hardly a braith o ween. Ower the next couple o wiks the same thing happened a fyowe mair times. I jist didna ken fit wis causin it but I jist caa’d awa an ignored it. Ae nicht though comin hame late things got a lot worse.
I wis comin doon the Slacks at Keilhill fin the buffetin started eence mair but this time I thocht somebody hid thrown a haanfae o chuckies at my motor because I heard the pitter patter o them as they hut the side o the Landie. I stoppit and reversed back tae far I thocht the steens hid been thrown fae but nae a sign o onybody could I see for it wis comin doon dark.
I wis fairly gettin puzzled aboot fit wis gyan on even tae the extent o checkin oot the suspension o my Landie.
For a fyle aifter that nithing happened an I thocht the grease I’d pitten in the suspension hid fixed the problem. Aye but it wisna tae laist because ae nicht as weel as the usual buffetin an chuckies hittin the side o my Landie I saw flashes like lichtnin.
The buffetin got as bad it wis like tae pit ma aff the road. The thumpin an bangin at the side o my Landie wis unreal an fin I got hame I checked oot the bodywork tae see if there wis ony damage. But apairt fae the normal bashes an dints ye’d expect fae a vehicle that spent maist o its life in the wids there wisna a mark.
Aboot a wik later I’d been takkin a puckle trees doon up the Cullen wye for the Hydro. Big bonny beech trees they were but as they were ower near the power lines they hid tae come doon. I vrocht late sneddin the branches an cuttin them intae cloggies (that wis een o ma perks I got aa the limbs tae masel). I planned tae tak the bogie up wi ma neist day an load up. My mither wid be fair kinichtit wi the beech cloggies for they burned like a cannel.
On the wye hame tae Macduff the bangin an flashin startit again at this side o Portsoy but even mair coorse than afore. I realised by noo that something far fae richt wis happenin. I didna ken if I should stop the Landie an rin awa or jist sink the tackit an hope it wid stop.
In the event the decision wis teen oot o ma hands fin a almichty bang an something came throwe the driver’s door an punched ma fair in the richt side knockin ivvery inch o braith fae ma. There wis mair flashes and things hittin the Landie but I’d better things tae worry aboot as a tearin pain tore at my intimmers. Fin I put doon ma hand I could feel the bleed pumpin ower it.
“Some bastard his shot ma for Christ’s sake!” By this time I could feel my heed begin tae sweem and my een got affa blurry but even throwe the haze I kent nae tae stop because faivver hid shot ma micht come an finish the job. I vaguely mind keepin tae the richt side o the road then the next thing I kent I’m in a hospital bed wi tubes stickin oot o ma aa ower the place.
A doctor came inaboot an speired foo I wis feelin but my reply made nae sense tae me so I dinna ken fit it sounded like tae him. He jist smiled and left.
Ower the next couple o days I managed tae get up and aboot but ma side wis affa sair. The police came tae tak a statement. They’d found my Landie crashed intae the gates o the Roads Department’s yard at Boyndie and mysel tryin tae climm the high gates for some reason. So I tellt them fit hid happened and that some bugger hid shot ma.
I couldna explain why I’d been tryin tae climm the gate because I mined nithing aboot that. This startit a big search o the area but nithin wis found. The Landie hid mair holes in it than a sieve and they said I wis lucky tae be alive. The police that found me hid pushed dressings they cairriet in their first aid kit intae the hole in my side then rushed me tae Chalmers Hospital.
The doctor that saved my life cam tae see me. His faither wis a doctor at Banff but on the nicht I wis brocht in he wis fullin in for his faither. He’d jist cam hame fae a tour o duty in Afghanistan and spottit immediately that I’d shrapnel wounds and hid operated tae stop the bleedin. Athoot that I’d be in a box. Of coorse I thankit him for my life and we got tae newsin aboot fit hid happened. I tellt him aa the things I couldna tell the police (aboot the strange flashes and bangs ower the past couple months). I thocht he’d laach at ma but he didna. Instead he handit me a copy o that week’s Banffie sayin “Read this!”
The Banffie hid run the story aboot the mystery surrounding the shooting on the road atween Portsoy an Banff and aboot me,how ill I wis blah blah but it wis the eyn o the article that made the hairs on the back o my neck staan up. The Landrover had been found crashed into the gateway of the Roads Department’s yard at Boyndie which had once been the hospital for the old wartime aerodrome nearby. A lot o pennies startit tae faa intae place at this revelation but I kept it tae masel. Eventually I made a full recovery fae my wounds.
The neist year I wint back tae the carboot that wis held the same time each year tae see if I could find the wifie that hid sellt ma the jaicket. By good luck she wis there wi her stall and I wint inaboot an got newsin tae her. I speired her aboot the jaicket so she tellt ma it wis her faither’s. He’d flown Mosquitoes fae Boyndie during the war deein sweeps across the North sea tae attack German convoys aff the coast o occupied Norway.
She tellt ma on one attack they’d came under heavy fire fae a German flack ship and hid been badly damaged. His navigator hid been killed and her faither badly wounded but somehow he’d managed tae get back and hid made a crash landing at Boyndie.
Ma hairt by this time wis gyan like a trip haimmer. I could hardly spik but I managed tae compose masel lang eneuch tae speir “Far aboot wis yer faither woundit?”
She pointed tae her richt side and said a lump o shrapnel fae the flack hid made a hole the size o her fist intae his side.
So I tellt her aathing aboot fit hid happened tae me even tae showin her the fist sized scar in my side. But fin I tellt her aboot the aul mannie sittin in her passenger seat glowerin at ma fin I left wi the jaicket she got gey upset. She teen a photo fae her handbag an showed it tae ma sayin this wis teen a couple years afore he died.
“Aye that’s the man richt eneuch! He seemed affa angry an glowered at ma!”
The woman hid tae sit doon on the tailgate o her car an I thocht she’d pass oot aathegither. She then tellt ma that her faither hid ayewis said that fin he died he wintit his Irvine fleein jaicket draped ower his coffin. In the event she’d forgotten aa aboot his wish and by the time she remembered it wis ower late. She’d kept his jaicket for years but hid thocht that somebody could get the gweed o it so last year hid decided tae sell it at the carboot.
Onywye atween us we decided tae gie her father his wish and approached the cooncil. Of course we’d tae tell them the reason as tae fit wye we nott the grave opened an tae oor surprise they listened wi a sympathetic ear. Permission wis grantit and on the appointed day the grun opened at Myrus Cemetery Macduff.
Baith o us stood there as the lads cleared the earth awa and checked the coffin wis still in ae bit. By gweed luck aathing wis fine and we went forrit tae pit the jaicket doon the hole. The woman turned tae me sayin “Since you suffered maist because o that jaicket wid you like tae pit it in place?”
Takin it fae her I gaed doon intae the grave and placed it on the coffin and tae this day I’m sure I heard radio static and voices fae the past chatterin awa and one voice as clear as a bell say -
“This is red leader at angels ten!”
This is Johnny Hutchison's story. (1980-2008)
A series of longer stories from Sanners Gow's collected works to entertain you through lockdoon an' beyont.