Welcome to chapter 3 of my serialised novel. You can find the previous chapters here: Chapter 1 Chapter 2
Andrew and Michael are hiking up into the Lowther Hills, about eight miles north of Kirkgate. They’re taking a rough track towards a dense plantation of Sitka spruce and then heading for the open moor beyond.
Part walk, part field trip, Michael suggested the outing as an opportunity to look first-hand at some of the environmental problems relating to forestry and peatbogs. Andrew readily accepted.
They’ve left the car in the Dalveen Pass and the climb is steep. It’s a matter of male pride to keep moving, but in due course, it’s the younger of the two who draws to a halt – on the pretence of admiring the view behind them.
They look down on a U shaped valley of distinctive morphology. Its green velvet sides swoop to the road below. Sheep dot the vertiginous hillsides, as if held on with Velcro. The Carron river in the foot is flowing south towards the Nith. Just over the hill, but out of sight, the source waters of the Clyde are starting their journey north.
‘It’s a textbook example’, volunteers Michael. ‘A deeply scoured glacial valley. Product of the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. Barely the blink of an eye in geological terms’.
‘I never tire of it’ replies Andrew. ‘Driven up and down the Dalveen so many times, in all weathers, and not just going to and from Edinburgh or Glasgow! In fact I once delivered a baby in that cottage over there, one very wet night in winter. The family car had broken down so I had to go to them’.
‘Sounds a bit like a Sunday night TV drama …’
‘You’re right in some respects, except thankfully there was no jeopardy moment. In fact the proceedings went like a dream, and I was given a bottle of whisky by Dad to take a dram when I got home!’
‘What a career you’ve had. I’ve been at two births, but how many must you have attended’?
‘Well it could be into the dozens, albeit not recently. But I’ve never done what you have’.
‘How do you mean?’
‘Well I’ve never been at the birth of my own child’.
‘You see, unlike yourself, I have no children’.
Michael realises he has given no thought to Andrew’s family, other than the little he has gleaned about Sarah. He doesn’t know what to say.
‘It wasn’t through choice. To begin we were very keen on the idea, but over time it didn’t happen and then Sarah developed further problems with a condition she’d had since her teens, meaning she needed to take more care of herself. We never made a conscious decision about it one way or the other …’
‘I know someone who’s going through IVF at the moment. It seems incredibly taxing’.
‘It is’, Andrew replied, fiddling with the straps on his knapsack. ‘Not a route we took, back then …’
The conversation fades into the early March air and now, lungs restored, they turn and resume the climb. The day is bright in an overcast sort of way. Light cloud cotton-wools the sky, torn open here and there to reveal flashes of greyish blue. But there’s no warmth in the weather and the wind could get up at any time. Andrew and Michael are dressed accordingly.
Familiar with the hill environment, they press on confidently towards the plantation. The ground flattens out, just as they enter the woodland. Here the light diminishes and with it the flora. Dead trees lean here and there. The mature spruces have lifeless lower branches. The sides of the path are littered with remnants of past thinning work. Only the curiously named mood moss seems to thrive. The place is an industrial arboreal cavern, soon to be gone. Before long the chain saws will be buzzing and the caterpillar vehicles will crawl in, dismembering and stripping the trees, then removing the logs to the roadside for collection. The whole area has been planted on drained peatland.
‘This kind of thing is a big challenge’. The easiest option here would be to re-plant after felling, preferably with a more diverse range of trees. But the better solution longer term would be to restore it as peatbog. Then it would capture carbon indefinitely’.
‘So how would that work? The scene after a place like this is cleared of trees usually makes the surface of the moon look lush’.
Michael laughs at the analogy and stores it away for future use. They walk on out of the wood.
‘It can look equally bad when a peatbog is eroded, dried out and collapsing into ditches and sometimes deep gullies. But worse still, peatbog in that condition is also going to be releasing carbon into the atmosphere that has been stored there for perhaps thousands of years’.
‘So what causes the erosion?’
‘Well, sometimes it results from drainage systems installed in the past, sometimes from the actions of wind, sometimes from the effects of grazing, sometimes because of burning. Often it’s all of these to some extent. Every damaged peatbog is unique and needs to be restored in a bespoke process’.
‘And what are the underlying principles?’ Andrew is catching on quickly.
‘Well, quite simple really. Blocking up ditches and repairing the damaged peat hags, using machinery where required. The degraded peatland needs to be re-wetted until it’s fully saturated and stable. The flora and fauna can then flourish, just like we see here’.
Michael walks to the top of the ridge, sweeping his arm across the panorama of healthy moorland stretched out before him. As he does so, two curlews lift into the air, calling out in trilling, rising whoops and circulating above the walkers – cur-lee, cur-lee!!! ‘When the whaups are resident’, he says ‘it’s a sign of healthy peatland’.
Andrew gazes in astonishment at the sphagnum moss, the heather, the reeds and the sedges. He shakes his head. ‘How many times I’ve driven through the pass or walked round these parts, without properly understanding what I was seeing’.
‘You’re not alone there’. Peatbogs don’t exactly grab the headlines, though they are important’.
‘Oh yes. Don’t tell me, don’t’ tell me … ecosystem services’.
Michael smiles in reply, delighted to see someone animated by the workings of environmental science and restoration.
In the lee of the wind, they hunker down, pulling out flasks and lunch boxes. Andrew peels open his filled roll to check its contents, never mind that he made it himself: cheese and ham. Michael chomps on a large sausage roll, bought in the village. For several minutes no word is spoken. As they sip their coffee, Andrew resumes the conversation.
‘You know, I’ve always found other people’s jobs to be more interesting than my own. That came in handy being a GP of course. I learned a lot about many occupations, but I have to say, I never encountered your line of work’.
‘Glad to be of help’. Michael bows his head slightly. ‘I suppose there’s a first time for everything … ‘
Another long pause ensues as the wind suddenly eddies round them, a reminder of their unsheltered whereabouts.
Then Michael resumes. ‘In fact, I was wondering if you’d mind me doing something for the first time? If you can bear to listen to it. There’s something I need to get off my chest, and maybe explain a few things …’
The chill winds on the hill that day signal a change in the weather. Ice and snow are now creeping down from the north and spreading into the Nith valley. First come the china-blue skies of mornings where ponds are frozen and the sharp, cold air is a health kick to the day ahead. Then ominous grey-white clouds appear, leaden with snow. Soon the Dalveen Pass is blocked, schools are closed, and even the shortest journey turns into a feat of major logistics.
But if the weather is icy, the political temperature is rising. The campaign to elect a new leader of the Scottish National Party, and with that a new First Minister, is well underway. Initial civilities between the candidates quickly give way to internal culture wars. There are also divisions over ‘continuity’ versus ‘change’, with the merits of each being vigorously fought over. Once the TV debates begin, there’s plenty of scope for personal animosity on a public scale.
Andrew enjoys the snowy weather, but finds himself paying more attention than usual to the political scene. Like many GPs, he’s long had a default explanation for problems in the health service, consisting of two words: ‘Scottish Government’. One of the leadership candidates however is the current health minister and one of his opponents has made clear her poor opinion of his record in that office. There are dirty tricks at Holyrood, every bit as devious as those in Westminster.
Sarah would have been immersed in all this, reading aloud from her newsfeeds, shouting at Good Morning Scotland on the radio, and alternating between optimism and despair for the future of the country. Andrew is sure the Friday guys at the Lowther will have plenty to say about it too. But for the moment he’s focussed on planetary matters, specifically the almost full Lenten moon. When clear nights or mornings occur there’s the chance of perfect sightings, and he’s even dusted off his digital camera to try his hand for a photograph. If he gets a good one, who knows, he might even put it on Facebook.
Half an hour before the Glasgow train is due to arrive at Kirkgate, there is already a healthy crowd building up, here to celebrate the re-opening of the platform. There are balloons and banners, hot drinks, veggie burgers and popcorn. Plus plenty of bunting draped along the Victorian ironwork. The Kirkgate Silver Band are playing their socks off. The members have learned a whole new repertoire especially for the evening. Who knew there were so many songs about trains?
When Anne-Marie arrives she hears the final notes of Chatanooga Choo Choo as they neatly segue into Last Train to Clarksville. It’s a railway medley that keeps on giving, and only pauses for the band to take a breather.
In the middle of the platform there is a small cluster of local dignitaries, some wearing medals. They are making polite conversation with Lofty’s action group who are resplendent in colourful wide trousers, huge boots, winter coats, woolly hats, and berets. Each member of the group has a large home-made badge, signifying their role: Driver, Guard, Station Porter, Luggage Attendant and Station Master (this worn by Lofty herself).
There is an announcement over a megaphone. ‘The next train to arrive is the 17.28 from Glasgow, expected Kirkgate at 18.50 – and bang on time folks!’ There are loud cheers from the crowd, who are now gently ushered back from the platform edge to stand in rows facing the track. Anne-Marie spots Andrew at the far end and also Michael, with his two daughters, just by the old Waiting Room door.
Suddenly, with three minutes to arrival, there’s a loud roll on a side drum that brings everyone to a silent halt.
They hear the piper before they see her. A fourteen year old girl from the Kirkgate Academy walks slowly along the platform, playing the much-loved tune Steam Train to Mallaig. It’s a brilliant moment. Smiles break out among the crowd, some look flush with emotion, not a few need a handkerchief to wipe away the tears. As the notes of the pipes fade away, the train comes into view and a huge cheer goes up. The station is by now thronging with people of all ages, delighted to be here for this historic moment.
The train comes to a halt and the doors open. The silver band strikes up again, this time with Duke Ellington’s Take the A Train. The cheering is deafening and the crowd swarms around the train doors as they open. Some locals disembark and there, beaming and punching the air, is Caitlin, after a day in Glasgow on business.
Then there’s a rush to get aboard. The train is going on to Dumfries, Annan and Carlisle. Several dozen people press forward. Most will be travelling just one stop down the line, and then coming back again. Something to tell the grandchildren. The doors close, a whistle blows, and the train is off to its next station stop. Years of campaigning have got their just reward.
Anne-Marie and Caitlin link arms and turn back towards the village. Andrew is now deep in conversation with some of the dignitaries. Michael looks like he’s heading to the car with his daughters. Anne-Marie sketches him a wave as she and Caitlin step out downhill.
They make an odd pair. The diminutive musician, fully made up, lips bright red, owlish glasses and a huge scarf. The tall solicitor in business attire, grey overcoat, white blouse and a pencil skirt.
‘So how about pizza tonight Cait? Let’s celebrate in style’.
‘You’re on. I assume we’re talking Luca’s?’
Anne-Marie ponders at first. ‘Well of all the Italian dining opportunities in Kirkgate, I think that’s my favourite at the moment. So yes, let’s go for it!’
The pizzas are large and lavish. The Valpolicella is light and fruity. The two women are hungry and thirsty and eager to catch up on the news.
Caitlin, mainly holds back on hers, though she does explain that her parents are becoming a worry. Her mum had cancer a few years ago and got a lot of support from her GP. Now the good doctor is retired she feels bereft.
‘It’s always … “There’s no one like Dr Andrew. He really was the best listener and always gave sound advice. Now they say everything is up to me, what matters to me, what I want and don’t want. Dr Andrew would usually just tell me what was best and that seemed to work fine”’.
Meanwhile, Caitlin’s dad is getting quite withdrawn, and losing interest in life. She feels both parents are relying on her more and more. She’s calling in every evening, making sure they have the right medicines, and organising them for bedtime. It’s a growing worry.
To brighten the conversation she asks Anne-Marie about Calendarium.
‘Well first of all, I’ve come up with titles for the first two months’.
‘OK – fire away!’
‘What do you think of January: Rising Water, and February: Candlemas?’
‘Very cool indeed. A bit late night Radio 3 perhaps’ says Caitlin, not quite sure what Candlemas is.
‘We’re going to demo ‘February’ in a couple of days’ time. Its main inspiration is snowdrops. They’re everywhere in Nithsdale and a great symbol of the ending of winter’.
‘Oh yes, Candlemas! I remember now, I think they had a special service for it this year in Dunscore’.
‘Could well be, it seems to be catching on, even in the Church of Scotland. Plus, I’ve had a few ideas for March, but at the moment nothing seems to quite fit together. When things are like that you can go on tweaking to make it work, or just let it go, maybe just drop it all and start again. Especially as now I’ll just have to do something that evokes trains and journeys. So tonight I’m thinking along a completely different track, so to speak.’
‘Sounds promising’ replies Caitlin, wincing at the weak pun.
‘Yeah something with a rhythmic pulse, a bit like Night Mail – remember that short film – with spoken word too’.
‘Oh yes, and doesn’t our very own Beattock get a mention somewhere in there?
‘Indeed, and coincidentally that’s another local station folks want to see re-opened’.
‘Oh wow! Bit of a shout out then. You’re on fire with this at the moment. Feels like you need to just go where that train takes you!’
Her attempted joke is lost on Anne-Marie, who is now gazing out of the window into the street. A group of people are gathering, with a troubled air about them. Luca notices what’s going on and wanders out to speak with them. After a minute or two he comes back in, bemused and shaking his head.
‘What’s happening Luca?’ asks Caitlin. When the reply comes, Anne-Marie feels an electric shock right down her spine.
‘Well, it seems there’s been some kind of robbery this afternoon. Up at Nithsdale Lodge’.
When Anne-Marie gets home that night she immediately texts Andrew and Michael.
‘Have you heard? Robbery today at home of our resident rock star. Suggest we all meet tomorrow to share intel. Coffee in Peregrine’s at 11 o’clock? A-M.’
The replies are almost immediate.
‘Hadn’t heard about this, but I can be there. All best Michael’.
‘OMG, I’ve just heard this from another friend too. Yes, I’ll be there. Meanwhile will do some digging. Andrew’.
Peregrine’s is the jewel in the crown of Kirkgate cultural life. Its eponymous owner, who parachuted in from London ten years back, has created an exuberance of food, drink, books, artwork, events, decorative home items and all manner of things you didn’t quite know you needed. It’s a great place to be at any time of the day and a favoured spot to see and be seen.
Andrew is glad when he arrives early and finds Michael already at a table. The two haven’t met in the days since their hill walk, and more significantly, their hill talk.
That day, Michael had suddenly opened up, his voice rising and cracking with emotion. Then it was like a dam bursting. The flow was over-powering: the trial separation from his wife, why she kicked him out, his worries about their daughters, why he is immersed in his work all the time, the crummy flat he’s living in. And what the hell he should do about it all.
Andrew had let the torrent flow, until gradually it subsided. Long years in the surgery had told him to refrain from dispensing advice at this point. He’d heard what Michael had said. They’d could meet up again and talk about it further. For now, conscious that Anne-Marie will arrive soon, he leans in by way of greeting. Michael stands up. They shake hands. Andrew’s left hand on Michael’s right shoulder is all that is needed by way of acknowledgment of the conversation they had last week. There’s time enough to take it further.
The three of them sip their drinks: Americano, Latte, Espresso. Connoisseur coffee, exquisitely prepared. Worth savouring before they turn to the business of the day. Peregrine drops by in his trademark yellow moleskin waistcoat, russet corduroys and battered brogues. They exchange greetings and the proprietor is just about to mention the robbery when he’s called away by one of the staff, who is struggling with the till.
Anne-Marie goes first.
‘I texted as soon as I heard the news. Bit weird eh? After what we were talking about in the Lowther last month? There’s lots of rumours going round. They’re saying our resident Grammy winner had been away with his family, down in Manchester. On the way back, they’d stopped off for the station re-opening. When they got home nothing seemed agley until they went inside and noticed one by one that several artworks had gone missing. Nobody seems to know what they are though’.
Michael can’t add anything. ‘I did see them at the station, the family. Just like when one of them is in the Co-op, they don’t stand out or anything. I didn’t know anything about a robbery until Anne-Marie texted’.
Andrew seems to know more. ‘Well I got on to the Rotary WhatsApp group and there was quite a bit of stuff flying around. Not easy to tell fact from speculation. But that, combined with Google, yielded a fair bit of detail’.
Michael shakes his head. ‘I can’t believe you predicted this only last month Andrew. And now it’s happened! You’re not in on it are you?’ There’s a slight air of insinuation in his tone.
‘No, I’m not, but I guess I would say that, wouldn’t I?’ He smiles.
‘Woah, woah, Mikey’, Anne-Marie dives in. ‘It’s our much-respected village doc you are talking to here’.
‘Not at all’ Andrew responds. It’s a fair point and Michael is right to make it. But it’s wrong on this occasion’.
Michael continues, in warmer tones. ‘Go on then, we’re bursting to hear what you know’.
‘Well it seems that when he bought Nithsdale Lodge your man thought it would be the perfect location for him to display a collection of Giacometti miniatures he’d been acquiring over a number of years. Of course there’s been no publicity about this, but apparently it’s quite widely known in fine art circles’.
Michael is shaking his head. ‘Sorry … Giacom …who?’
Anne-Marie helps him out. ‘Alberto Giacometti, a Swiss sculptor. Full of self-doubt. Famous for his slender, human figures, some very big, some very small’.
‘I’m impressed’ chortles Andrew. ‘I recognised the sculptures when I saw some pictures online but I wouldn’t have been able to name the artist. So that’s what seems to have been stolen, we think. No idea how many. But the value is likely to be extremely high’.
Anne-Marie hesitates, and then responds. ‘It’s a bit of a co-incidence in another way Michael. I was actually at Nithsdale Lodge a few weeks back myself. Went to see the snowdrops in the grounds and to get some inspiration for a new piece of music I’m writing’.
‘Oh so you’re in on it too!’ Michael is smiling this time.
‘Did you spot anything?’
‘Well, I was ok in the grounds, but it’s obvious you’re not wanted up near the Lodge. Come to think of it, I maybe did see some sort of security cameras over in that direction’.
Andrew pushes back in his chair, hands flat on the table. ‘Well that’s just about as much as we know at the moment. I think I’ll take a wee daunder up to Nithsdale Lodge this afternoon, and check out the lie of the land. I’ll get back to you both if I learn anything’.
‘Be careful though Andrew, don’t want to go poking a hornet’s nest’.
‘No worries. I’ll be the soul of discretion’ he replies, as he heads for the door, his face wreathed in smiles.
Anne-Marie and Michael remain in situ. She takes another sip of coffee and looks across. ‘So what’s on your agenda today?’
‘Well it’s another strike day actually, our third of three this week, I nipped in and did the first hour on the picket line. The talk is that there’s going to be some progress on re-valuing our pension scheme. Meanwhile the university has imposed the pay offer on us and actually paid some of it ahead of schedule. We aren’t doing as well as the nurses, but that’s hardly surprising. The junior doctors down south don’t seem to be getting very far either’.
‘I’m always sympathetic to strikers. But I’ve never been on strike myself. Doesn’t happen that much in our world. The Musicians’ Union did support the right to strike day last month though’.
‘Yes that was a biggie and the start of our current round …
There’s a pause before Michael changes the subject.
‘But what about you. How’s the music going?’
‘Oh pretty well actually. You maybe don’t know I’m working on this fancy new project. A sort of musical reflection on life around here over the course of a year. Mainly about Nithsdale in fact, though I am picking up vibes and influences from what’s happening in the wider world as well. Having a great time with it actually’.
‘You play all sorts of styles don’t you?’
‘Well I guess so. I’m classically trained but I’ve done a lot of folky stuff too, as well as jazz and contemporary music. It’s a great space to be in, if not always easy to get an audience. I formed The Maxwell Band a few years ago, and draw on lots of different people according to the situation. Quite a few live locally, in and around Moniave’.
‘Yes, I’ve heard that. Some of them are pretty well known aren’t they?’
‘Indeed! Stunning players, great people, and very adaptable. In fact it looks like we might have got ourselves a nice gig for early May’. She smiles and waves her head from side to side. ‘Something a bit different’.
‘OK, tell me more!’.
‘So there’s this charitable trust thing that’s been restoring a Georgian mansion, near New Abbey ‘
‘Is that Carse House?’
‘Yeah that’s right. You know about it? Someone told me the “C” is silent ….’
She waits a moment for the penny to drop as Michael breaks into a broad and knowing grin. ‘Well one of the committee has been in touch about a weekend they’re planning. Making a big splash. Lots of events. Live music, drama, film screenings, interviews with writers, get the drift? Somehow they’ve got wind of me and want to meet up down there for a chat. They’ve asked me to bring some recordings’.
‘Oh I’ve got you now. Read about that online and was wondering if they were doing anything environmental, given where they are just by the Nith estuary.’
‘Dunno about that, but I’m off to meet them on Sunday afternoon, can’t wait!’
When Andrew fetches up at Nithsdale Lodge there’s plenty of activity. He has to park along the road, the little area through the gate is packed with cars and vans and two uniformed police officers are keeping an eye on things. They greet him as he walks back along the lane. Everyone knows Andrew around here.
‘Making a house call doctor?’
Andrew smiles guiltily. ‘No, just saw the crowd as I came by. Is this all to do with the robbery?’
‘Aye that’s right. Amazing how the word gets out. Some of these folk have been here all night’.
‘So what happened?’
‘CID are up at the Lodge. There’ll maybe be an announcement later. No one tells us much, but it’s an art robbery. Some expensive wee sculptures have gone apparently’.
Andrew wanders into what for Kirkgate is a media scrum. There’s ‘crime scene’ blue tape across the driveway and no one is going any further. He recognises a couple of folks from the local press. The rest of the crowd seem to be social media types, ‘influencers’ from out of the area, drawn here by the fame of the owner. The journalists are picking up bits of rumour, but much of the talk is about the Drumlanrig robbery of 2003. It was just a few miles up the road after all.
The crowd wait patiently for the police announcement. When it comes it’s bland and non-commital. There is nothing to add to what had been said in Peregrine’s this morning. Disappointed, Andrew heads home to Townbrae. He’s picked up some lightly smoked haddock from the fish van this morning and is going to have it for supper with a couple of poached eggs and some broccoli.
Next morning dawns bright and clear. The woodpeckers are hammering like no tomorrow. The Nithsdale daffodils are at full tilt and with the eye of faith, a green haze can be seen in the silver birches. With calmer weather, March is going out like a lamb and there’s finally some warmth in the air.
In her cramped sitting room, Anne-Marie is working on the third ‘movement’ of Calendarium. Sitting at the keyboard she’s running through chords and phrasings, occasionally picking up the violin to try out a melody line. She has a lot of themes to juggle in her head. Trains, songs about trains, and now the robbery. It’s also very tempting to consider ‘March’ and its associations: Spring, the Roman month of war, and in Scotland ‘march’ stones, march boundaries and even ‘march laws’. She decides to ‘mind map’ it in her notebook, but finds her thoughts wandering into other territories.
She’s noticed that Michael seems distracted. He hasn’t engaged much with the Nithsdale Lodge break-in and was even a bit snippy with Andrew yesterday. There are obviously issues with his wife and children, but she doesn’t dare to ask about them.
Michael has just enough emotional intelligence to know that he is not in a good place. Over toast and instant coffee in the flat, he’s ruminating. Three years ago the first lockdown had just got underway. Who would have predicted that three years on, he and Esme would be separated? Maybe he’d rushed into going over it all with Andrew. At first he’d been glad to let stuff out. But later he felt resentful. Had he said too much? He’s uncomfortable that someone else now knows all the details. Andrew had dealt with things well at the time and was careful not to jump straight into it when they’d met in Peregrine’s. But then, Michael acknowledges to himself, he’d been out of order with his remarks about the robbery. Anne-Marie had jumped on that pretty quick, and he had to admit to himself that she was right.
Andrew passes most of the day outdoors. It’s perfect weather and just the right time for getting the kitchen garden sorted out. A few years back he bought timber from the local sawmill and built himself some raised beds. These have made growing vegetables and controlling weeds, so much easier and he’s pleased with his efforts.
At the moment he has a whole bed devoted to garlic, its bright green stems looking fresh and healthy. These he’ll harvest in July and follow with salads, French beans and courgettes. He applies some gentle hoeing, all that’s needed to keep things in order for now. Likewise a patch of Mussleburgh leeks, bulking up nicely after surviving the Winter. His broccoli, by contrast, is meagre. Though last night’s tasted delicious, about two thirds of the plants were destroyed in the deep pre-Christmas frosts. Last in the rotation, is a whole bed earmarked for tatties. He wonders about waiting until Easter weekend at the start of April, but decides to take a chance and fork it over. After all, the spring Equinox is only days away. He lays out lines of sprouting seed potatoes, each row like a paternoster. Then comes the hard work. He barrows in about 15 loads of home-made compost and gently spreads the whole lot over the laid out rows. No digging trenches or creating furrows. Just 18 inches of compost spread evenly across the bed. Easiest way to grow them. The next job will be digging up the first of the crop, sometime in early July.
His shoulders aching pleasantly, he goes inside, puts on the kettle and catches up with the news about the SNP leadership election. Things seems to have reached melt-down. Internal wrangling about the membership figures, conflicting public responses and now more high level resignations. Sarah would not be happy. She’d got very committed to independence, even if she’d never managed to push Andrew off the fence about it.
He takes a quick shower and changes into clean clothes. Looking quite presentable in his new-style narrow khaki jeans, a cotton shirt and a French pullover, he decides to have an early bite to eat in the Lowther Arms before meeting up with the Friday evening guys. No doubt they will be full of the robbery and far ahead of the police in their deliberations. Someone will probably have an inside track on the SNP story too.
At the hotel he takes a small table in the corner, overlooking the road. Perusing the familiar menu he spots two lads across the street outside the closed-for-the-day bakery. White trainers, joggers and black Nike Tech hoodies they are dressed for a desultory Friday evening in Kirkgate. As Andrew looks on, a white car pulls up, engine running. The passenger window comes down, an arm reaches out, takes money from one of the boys, and drops a small packet into his hand. The car drives away, the boys disappear round the corner and the broad-daylight drug deal is over.
As a GP he knows all about such goings on, but it’s still disturbing to witness them first hand. To distract himself, he goes looking for today’s edition of the Dumfries Weekly. He wonders what the headline will be and isn’t disappointed.
‘Rock and Stole!’ the paper cringingly declares. ‘Following a trip to his native Manchester, Kirkgate’s very own chart-topper returned to the family’s luxury home in Nithsdale this week only to find robbers had cracked into the sophisticated security system and lifted his priceless collection of miniature sculptures. Police sealed off the area and carried out a forensic exploration of the Lodge and finger-tip search of the grounds, but have so far turned up no clues or leads. Resident staff were on their afternoon off when the thieves struck, in an operation described as ‘slick and highly organised’. Police are appealing for anyone travelling in the nearby area on Wednesday, or with potentially useful dashcam footage, to come forward as quickly as possible’.
Nothing new there, thinks Andrew, disappointed but unsurprised. As he waits for his lasagne and salad he idly flicks through the paper, with its local news, announcements of forthcoming events, sports results, adverts and funeral notices. He smiles to himself at the double page spread of colour photographs taken at the station re-opening. The piper, the Silver Band, the activists and the dignitaries are prominently displayed. But among the smaller candid shots of cheerful local people enjoying a memorable occasion, something catches his eye. It’s bottom left on the right hand page.
Two cyclists, a man and a woman, are about to board the train. They are impeccably turned out in multi-coloured lycra and aero-dynamic helmets. Their racing bikes look expensive and built for speed. But curiously each machine appears to have double touring paniers, which seem to be packed and full.
Andrew looks carefully at the photograph. Something is nudging at his memory. Staring at the two faces, it suddenly clicks. The Lowther Arms on 6th January, two tweedy types sitting in this very room, calling out not to be noticed. Hiding in plain sight. Now they pop up again, this time dressed like competitors in the Tour de France. Just hours after a dozen Giacometti miniatures have disappeared from Nithsdale Lodge, no more than a brisk 20 minutes cycle ride away from the station, and from there: all routes south.
Copyright © David Graham Clark 2023
AUTHOR’S NOTE: In this story I mix up and blur chronologies, geographies and biographies. Any resemblance to a person living or dead is purely coincidental. The 12 chapters of the novel Epiphanies and Robberies are appearing sequentially throughout 2023. I welcome comments and feedback on my novel, which is being written in ‘real time’. My thanks go to AG, FG, MB, SS and TH for advice and encouragement.
2 thoughts on “Epiphanies and Robberies Chapter 3: March – Tracks and Trains”
Really enjoying this so far. Look forward to next month’s installment.
Many thanks Sam. I’m glad you are enjoying reading it. I’m very much enjoying writing it too. Please spread the word if you can. Much of April is drafted and I’ll be tweaking things further as the weeks go by. all best David