The minute I heard Granny’s voice on the phone this morning I knew something was up.
I try to give her a wee phone most mornings, just to check in with her. She was the most understanding out of everyone I know about my disappearance. Well, her and my boss Roddy, but that’s mostly because he’s just an ask no questions kind of guy. Most of my friends were worried and baffled, but a handful were angry or suspicious that I’d just taken off without a word because of the breakup. I was more hurt than I’ve really admitted that people I thought knew me believed I would do that.
Anyway, Granny was the only one to say that all that mattered was that I was back and leave it at that. Still though, I know that year was really tough on her, so I’ve got into the habit of ringing as soon as I wake up, just to say ‘still here!’ Even though I’m an early riser, she’s always up already. She says she doesn’t need much sleep these days, and spends half the night awake listening to funny podcasts.
My first thought when I heard her voice was Nathan. I’m not calling a wee shmout like him Granda. I don’t know what it is with him. Technically he’s not put a foot wrong since he showed up. I quizzed Granny for weeks about whether he was asking to borrow money or anything like that until she told me she was a big girl who had never lent a penny in her life and didn’t intend to start now and could I kindly shut it. But there’s just something about him.
Maybe I’m too suspicious these days.
It wasn’t him though. Just as she was giving it ‘everything’s fine Linley, no need to pop round the day, I’m busy anyway’, I heard a noise in the background and my blood ran cold. A clink. A soft clink of metal against metal.
Granny and I always stayed well out of any trouble round our bit, and these days I’m know for swearing blind round poncy West End pubs that its reputation is exaggerated and it’s a happy place, but you don’t grow up where I did without knowing the sound of a hammer against a belt buckle.
The McAllister brothers. The irony is I went to school with one of them. Rab was a whiny wee runt who always had a runny nose and once wet his pants when someone snuck a pirated VHS of The Silence of the Lambs into a party. I got into a playground fight with him once when we were about six, and I backed off because I felt sorry for him. If only I’d known what he was going to grow up to be I’d have taken him out then and there.
Sure enough, when I belted into Granny’s barely an hour later, there they all were. Stupid, Stupider, Even Stupider Than That, Makes Him Look Clever, and all their mates, crowded into Granny’s wee living room, their bloody hammers hanging from their belts. Granny, with her usual aplomb, was handing round tea and biscuits.
‘What’s going on?’ I demanded of Rab, who was holding court in front of the fireplace. Though he’s precisely three weeks older than me, the jagged scar across his face, raggedy homemade tattoos and the dark look in his eyes make him look haggard.
‘Yer lookin’ shite,’ I growled, uncomfortably aware I was taking both my life and Granny’s in my hands, but there was no option. With that crowd you brazen it out or you’re dead in the water anyway. ‘Still wet yer kecks when you watch a scary movie, do you?’
Gillian Fullerton. That’s whose house we were at for the sleepover. I’d forgotten she existed.
‘Linley there’s no need tae be like that tae yer old school pal,’ Granny said tartly. ‘Rab’s just come round to see if I’ve got something he’s lost. Now does anybody want a chocolate biscuit?’
‘Aye Missus Ross, hauv ye goat any KitKats?’ piped up a wee scunner in the corner. Skinny, he had an air of the runt of the litter about him, and I didn’t recognise him. I kept an eye on him. It’s rarely a good sign to see somebody new.
‘Wi’ a hammer, is it?’ I said pointedly. ‘She’s ninety years old, Rab. You cannae staun’ up tae a 90 year old lady without being armed wi’ a hammer? Thought you were a hard man, Rab.’
‘She’s goat money my ma lost.’
‘And where did you get that idea?’
‘It’s all just a wee misunderstanding, Linley,’ said Granny bustling back in with a handful of KitKats which she started handing round. ‘I got a taxi back from Morrisons because a wheel’s come off my wee shopping trolley and I couldnae carry the bags mysel’ all that way. Mrs McAllister had lost a wee bit o’ cash in the taxi just before me, but as I’ve just been explaining to wee Rab here, I never even saw it.’
Wee bit o’ cash indeed. It was probably drugs money, likely in the thousands. No wonder Rab was losing his nut.
‘I’m no’ leaving until I get my ma’s money,’ Rab insisted, his voice a whine despite all his lackeys and his pathetic hammer.
‘Where’s the taxi driver?’I asked.
‘We don’t know,’ said the wee one I didn’t know round a mouthful of KitKat. ‘He never came home this morning after his shift.’
‘So you’ve got two people who had access to that money in the taxi, one of them has disappeared and yous bloody geniuses have come round here to bother the other one?’
I could practically hear the creaky gears of their brains turning as looks were exchanged. Then the wee one pulled out an iPhone that looked weirdly gigantic to me and beckoned the others to follow him out. They all shuffled off, hammers clinking, thanking Granny for the tea and biscuits.
‘Come again, boys,’ she called cheerily, giving their retreating backs the finger.
But Rab remained. He stood in front of the wee fireplace with the fake stone cladding in which orange logs glowed merrily. On the mantelpiece stood two enormous brass candlesticks that had belonged to my Great-Gran and Granda, the only items of any value in the flat.
‘What are you still here for, Rab?’ I asked. ‘Want to have a wee reminisce about Mrs Spencer’s class, do you?’
‘Don’t talk tae me like that in front of ma’ boys again, Linley.’
‘Ahh awa’ back tae yer wet breeks, Rab.’
I’d pushed it too far. I saw it in his eyes in an instant and in the next my head exploded with pain as the hammer hit me between the eyes.