Schrodinger’s Dog part 2
Read Part 1
We checked into the town’s only hotel. It had mullioned windows and a slate roof and our room was up a narrow wooden staircase and it had a four poster bed in it with plump inviting-looking pillows and a window which looked out over the harbour. This romantic setting seemed to mean nothing to Paul. His mood was getting progressively worse. He was pacing up and down, running his hooks manically through his hair while making loud bellowing noises.
“Have you ever been most foully double-crossed?” he asking finally, stopping in one corner of the room and glaring in my direction. “It burns inside you. It burns and it burns until you feel you are being consumed by it.” Then he said, “I'm going to kill him. I swear I'm going to kill him.”
He continued to rant like this for a full three hours straight until, obviously having exhausted himself, he flung himself down on the bed. Moments later loud snores started to come from his direction. Tiptoeing over I put the TV on. There was a Scottish football game on. Tiptoeing back I lay down next to Paul and very carefully reached over to take a beer from the mini-bar. On the screen someone hoofed the ball, someone headed it. I took a swig of my beer. I drank one beer and then another. And then another and then another. A strange kind of contentment swept over me. Then I had this fantasy. If I was a woman then there was a good chance I might be pregnant. Paul hadn't used a condom. I had never thought of myself as a man trapped in a woman's body but I had often thought about having a child. It would be no bad thing. Children are what make the world go round, little simulacrum’s of yourself that you can advise never to make same mistakes that you yourself did. Then the world becomes a better place. That's history. It's only the shitty parents that screw us up.
I was woken by Paul shaking me. It was still dark outside. Snow, big large chunks of it, I could see through the open curtains, had started to fall.
"I don't want you to think I'm a bad man," said Paul. "In a lot of ways I'm just like you, trying to get along. Fingers and I always said that when we had made enough we would get out. We were only the middle-men you see. The stuff we handled might have been worth five million on the street but only a tiny fraction of it came to us. Every month, after every trip, we put a bit of that tiny fraction aside. We were saving up enough to open up a bar in Honolulu. I got a book and I taught myself how to make all these fancy cocktails. Piña colada, marguerites, I could do the lot. Even the tricky ones where you have to open up little tiny umbrellas."
"So what went wrong?" I asked.
Paul spat out the words.
"Mary-Bell. That’s what went wrong. Mary-fucking-Bell.”
After Adam and Eve and all the events that sprung from that little fiasco it was the oldest story in the book. Fingers had come across Mary-Bell one night in Glasgow at the Kiss Me Quick review bar. She was a dancer. After the show Fingers had waited at the stage door and asked if he could take her somewhere. On him.
That was the start and the way Fingers told it it was love. And like a lot of situations in which love is involved it put a spanner in the works for those not bathed in love’s heady glow. When it came down to it Mary-Bell didn't want to go to Honolulu. No way. Not ever. She wanted her own Vegas style dance club right here in Scotland. And that was going to be expensive…
“Dot dot dot?” I asked, puzzled.
“With me out of the way there would be more money for them. Don’t you see?”
It was a simple thing, an old time set up. A bag of drugs had been planted. The police had been called.
“And that's where we are now,” said Paul. “I've come to get my revenge. I'm going to kill them both, get my money, and get my old life back.”
The snow I had seen through the window was coming down with some ferocity. Cars, the tops of lampposts, and refuse bins were already covered with a thick layer of white dust. But none of this mattered to Paul. He stomped on ahead and I followed. We went up a twisting road out of the town and stopped only when we came to a pair of large locked gates . Behind them stood a mansion.
“You need to think about this Paul,” I said. “Murder is a serious business and you're talking about a double murder. Think of the consequences.”
"Give me a bunk up," said Paul. “And if I need a lecture I'll ask for one.”
As Paul put his foot in my linked hands I thought of all the times we had spent together and then I thought of Bumface’s lonely apartment and sad it would be to travel back there alone.
There was a thump, and Paul’s face appeared through the bars on the other side of the gate.
"If I'm not back within half an hour..." He paused and gave a shrug. There was nothing more to say, not even goodbye.
I watched Paul disappear up the drive and then, as soon as he was out of view, I started to look for a way in myself.
After fifteen minutes of searching I found a place where one of the posts had rusted badly and the wire mesh fixed to it was coming away. I gave it a tug and was through.
The main door was locked and the side one but around the back I came across a single window spilling light onto the snow. Creeping up I pressed my nose against the glass and let out a long low whistle. The scene was about as bad as I could have imagined. Paul was standing in the centre of a large room, he had a golf club wedged between his two hooks and he was waving this above his head in huge menacing arcs. Tied to two chairs in front of him were a man and a woman. Fingers and Mary-Bell. It looked like I had arrived just in time.
By my feet was a small ornamental statue. Grabbing this I hefted it through the window and, putting my arms up to protect myself from the remaining shards of glass, I tumbled forward into the room.
"I thought I told you to wait,” said Paul.
"We didn't do anything! I swear to you we didn't do anything.” The woman had a high-pitched whiny voice like there was a balloon somewhere inside her letting out air. "I swear to you it wasn't us. Why would it be us?”
"Why would we turn you in?" said the man, Fingers. "You know everything about us. We turn you in you turn us in. It don't make sense. No sense at all."
Then Fingers continued, his voice becoming calmer, more reasonable, taking on a new angle. “Since you've been gone things have really been happening. We’ve set up an aquarium. A dance bar aquarium! Let us go and you'll see. It's right here in this building. Five minutes and you can see what a goldmine we've got our hands on.”
“We did it for you,” said Mary-Bell. “Our dance bar aquarium is going to make the best goddam cocktails in Scotland.”
Fingers went first, then Mary-Bell, then Paul and, finally, me. Paul still had the golf club in his hand but he wasn't swinging it violently around anymore. He let it hang at his side, like a loaded gun.
We went down one corridor and then another and then down a staircase and then down another set of stairs where we stopped before a locked door.
“Wait until you see this,” said Mary-Bell.
Fingers rubbed his hands together. It was unnatural, so many fingers mixing together all at once, like amputee octopi making love, and a shudder went down my spine and I had a feeling that no good was going to come of this.
With a curtesy and a ‘taa darr’ Mary-Bell pushed open the door.
It took a minute or two for my eyes to adjust.
There was a wooden bar counter, about as long as a coffin, with two or three bottles stuck to the wall behind it and one beer pump fixed to the counter. In front of the bar were six or seven mismatched stools and opposite to them a low stage with a microphone stand on it. Someone had badly pinned a red curtain to the wall to make a kind of background.
"So where are all these fish?" I asked.
Then I saw them. Or thought I saw them. What I had taken for the back wall was, in fact, a huge tank. The water in it was murky at best but when I put my nose right up to the glass I thought I caught a glimpse of something gold and shimmering slipping in and out of view. It was eerily spooky. Like something in the wrong place, a fish out of water.
"We’ve got big plans," said Mary-Bell squeaking up. "Pretty soon these goldfish can kiss their arses goodbye. End of year two we’re going tropical. End of year three, marine. We've talked the whole thing over with our accountant."
"Well, well, well," said Paul. As he spun around, taking in the whole place, I saw his face light up. "You’ve got yourselves quite the little money spinner here."
"Why don't you stay?" said Fingers spreading out his hands. "Our guests. Anything you want. On the house."
Mary-Bell went behind the counter, asked us all what we would like to drink, then she, Paul, and Fingers went over to one of the tables and sat with their heads together. The meaning was clear. They had business to do and I wasn't included.
At some point a barman appeared, soft music started up from somewhere. I ordered myself a beer. Then another one. Every now and again I caught sight of a fish out the corner of my eye and every time it was a surprise. Or a shock. There was definitely something sinister about them. They were out of place. Or I was.
I was on my forth or fifth drink when I noticed Paul standing next to me.
"It was simply a misunderstanding,” he said. “All sorted. Fingers is going to cut me in on the bar and there's a room upstairs for me. I couldn't be happier."
“How do you know you can trust them?” I said. Then I said, “Last count that man has fourteen fingers.” Then I said, my final card, “So you're not going to kill them after all? All this was for nothing?”
Even I wasn't sure what ‘all this’ was.
At around eight o’clock a group of girls in a hen party arrived. They all wore the same pink t-shirts which read, 'Karen’s Hen Do. Next stop, the end of the earth!!!’ Several of the girls cooed over the fish before sitting at the tables while the barman took over bottles of wine.
At nine o’clock exactly, like the whole thing was planned, all the lights went out in the bar and a single light came up on the stage and there was Mary-Bell. At some point she had changed. Her dress clung to her body like scales. It glittered elementally in the spot of light.
From somewhere loud music surged. Frank Sinatra sang New York New York and, quite aptly, Mary-Bell performed all the sights in turn. One second she was the Empire State Building, the next Central Park, the next Radio City Music Hall. I don't know how she did it but she did. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I was transfixed.
When the lights came up the applause was rapturous. I was happy. Then I noticed Paul. He had his arm around the shoulders of one of the hens. Next stop the end of the earth…
On seeing me looking he came over.
"So this is us kid," he said. He was looking up at me from under his eyes. "I just wanted to say thanks for all your help. I couldn't have done it without you.” Then he said, “Who says stories can't have happy endings?” Then he said, “You'll be alright from here, won't you? You can keep the car. It's an old banger anyway.”
Outside it was still snowing. The whole world had gone white. The whiteness of it just went on and on forever.
I got lost four times on the way back to the hotel and when I finally got there I had to knock for some time before the woman who had signed us in earlier came to the door.
"The police were looking for you," she said looking me up and down. “A man with hooks for hands.” She said, “I don't want any trouble. Just take your case and go."
I sat in the car for a while, thinking about things, before getting out and walking down to the beach.
So what would I do next? I thought about walking out into the sea, letting nature take its course but the water looked cold and choppy and besides I still had £700 in my pocket. And I was in Scotland. The world, if I wanted, was my oyster.
When the sun started to come up I stood up along with it and started walking. How does that Michael Jackson song go? ‘Johnny are you ok? Are you ok Johnny? Johnny are you ok?’ I thought of Paul and wanted to cry but it was then, there on the beach, that I saw a box and I remembered Schrödinger and his cat. If the cat was in the box it would be both alive and dead. Until I opened the box I wouldn't know, no one in the whole world would know, and that was quite a responsibility. I knelt down. I lifted up the flaps and there in the box there wasn't a cat but a dog. It wasn't a pedigree or anything like that but it had a nice face, a long nose and big eyes. I held out my hand like I had something to give it and it licked my fingers and gave a little bark.
“Hello mate,” I said. “What are you doing out here in the cold?” Then I said, “It might just be your lucky day.” I gave a small smile, pretty hard to do with frozen lips. “Both our lucky days.”
I opened up my jacket and the dog leapt up and snuggled against my chest. It was just a puppy!
When I was a child I had always wanted a dog and we’d had one for a while until my dad took it away and left it at the local train station with a sign around its neck, ’Please look after this dog’. By the time I found out and got there, running as fast as I could, it had already gone.
Walking back to the car I made a decision. I would call the dog William Wilberforce The Second. It would be a new beginning. For both of us.
As we drove off out of the town, me in the driver’s seat, the dog sitting snugly on my lap, the sun had now come fully up over the sea. It was big and red and spectacular. Things, at last, were looking up. Everything was going to be alright.