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Happy Christmas

That's when he saw the body

Author...Alan Taylor.

Chapter 1

The End.

Al had always believed those who beg for mercy the most probably deserve it the least, that’s why Nemski was laying on the floor now. The smoking gun still in Al’s hand and Nemskis heart pumping blood out of the three bullet holes in his chest. He smiled grimly, when it came to the showdown Nemskis bodyguards and thugs were no help to him at all.

Outside the deserted tenement and oblivious to this bloody drama, a group of people from the local pub were singing ‘Jingle Bells’ and rattling their charity tin cans at last minute shoppers. The seasonal carol drifted in through the broken window and quietly registered in Al’s throbbing brain. “Jingle bells?” Oh yea, it was Christmas, he had almost forgotten, understandable after all the crap that had gone down in the last 24 hrs. The smile crept across his face again. Nemski was gasping blood. “Oh well” he said, “Jingle Bells was as good as anything to listen to with your last few moments on earth.” Bizarrely quietly humming the last verse to himself he thought about presents and Christmas trees and all the other stuff he should be enjoying. “About as close as I’ll get to Christmas this year” he muttered.

He glanced down at Nemski. His eyes were still moving, still looking for help, still hoping for mercy, he gasped a few words Al couldn’t quite hear, something about the end? End of what he thought. It would only be a few seconds now.

His attention was quickly pulled away from the gangster’s musical passing by the heavy footsteps charging down the stairs.

Not over yet better do something. The single light bulb set in motion above his head by Nemskis last lunge gave an eerie light, casting shadows of the bodies around the room like some surreal carousel of death. Shrugging it off he reached up and steadied the light. He checked the berretta, how many people have I shot he thought,? Three bullets in Nemski’s chest, one in the bodyguard, one in the guy’s head outside, and five still in the clip that was the ten.

He glanced across the room at Craggans body. Detective Craggans lifeless eyes seemed to be staring at him across the room, a silent witness to the harsher realities of life in Glasgow. Poor bastard he thought just an old copper trying to do his job.

Al reflected on his situation as he crouched down behind Nemski’s desk. He had wanted to spend Christmas at home, Mercedes wanted to holiday in Scotland and Bryce wanted to go to Spain with Al’s grandkids. Mercedes had won as usual. The berretta was steady now and pointing at the door.

Outside the snow had given way to heavy rain dispersing the carol singers. It was the rain hitting the window that made Al think back to four days ago when all this had started.

“Should have gone to Spain” he sighed. The door crashed open.

Four days earlier.

“What a crap night!” He muttered out loud. The weather was foul, the CD player had packed up and the radio refused to play anything except Radio four. The temperature gauge had plunged to minus 3% outside and the rain and sleet was so strong it seemed to be trying to smash the rented Mercedes windscreen. “Hundred quid a day for this and all I get is bloody violins” he muttered.

Glancing again at the Sat Nav it informed him there was three miles to go, but to go where? It was leading him deeper and deeper into a forest somewhere in the highlands of Scotland.

Al was in search of a ‘holiday home’ Mercedes had rented for Christmas. Mercy and Bryce had already travelled up from Roxy his home in southern England the day before to get the place ready, so he was travelling alone for a change.

Utah on business had been a pleasant break but after being delayed in Salt Lake City airport by half of America trying to get home for the Christmas holiday themselves resulted in him arriving late at Edinburgh.

He glanced nervously at the clock on the dash, ten P.M. “Should have been there by now surely?” he said, Al often talked to himself. He turned up the heater another notch and fiddled with the radio one more time. Unfortunately his thoughts and actions tempted fate as without warning everything electrical on the car just completely shut down! No lights, no engine, no heater and thankfully even Beethoven spluttered into silence.

Somehow the Mercedes glided silently to a stop in the inky blackness without hitting anything but almost immediately the temperature began to drop inside the car. Sitting in total darkness for a minute he tried to fight a rising sense of panic before he remembered a small torch he had noticed earlier in the glove box. Fumbling around in the darkness he found it and clicked it on. Grateful for the sudden flood of light the sense of panic slowly declined as he tried to come to terms with his predicament.

Trying the car one more time and checking yet again for a signal on the mobile and failing on both counts he decided there was only one thing to do. The Sat Nav had said about three miles to go the last time he looked. He reasoned that must have been about ten minutes ago so the ‘holiday home’ couldn’t be that far, he would brave the weather and walk the rest of the way. Unfortunately coming from the heat of Utah his suitcase was holding only shorts and T shirts as overcoats were not really a priority item of clothing in the desert.

Zipping up his thin designer hoodie Al bravely opened the door, only to meet the freezing rain smashing into his face and quickly slammed it shut, “Hell’s bell’s” he muttered to himself. Wiping his face he vainly checked the car and the mobile again before taking a deep breath and struggled out into the storm.

After 50 yards he was soaked and frozen, after 150 yards he was losing feeling in his legs and his concentration deserting him. The small torch was only penetrating a few yards just giving him an idea of direction really and he knew he had bitten off more than he could chew. “Maybe I should have stayed in the car and froze in luxury,” he groaned.

As he struggled on he swung the torch around occasionally worrying if they had man eating bears and such like in Scotland. This reminded him of the film ‘Pitch Black’ with Vin Diesel. They had crash landed on a strange planet where there was no light. Populated by fierce creatures their only defence was artificial light as it kept the creatures at bay. Bit like here he fancied, strange land, can’t see a damn thing and just waiting for the inhabitants to drop out of the sky and carry him away.

He was peering into the darkness trying to shield his eyes from the freezing rain when a sudden crash of thunder and a blinding flash of lightning right over his head made him jump a foot into the air. Gasping for breath he gathered himself and tried to take in what the lightning flash had revealed.

An old cabin had been eerily lit up about twenty yards off the road. With his ears still ringing he made a quick decision and staggered along the overgrown path towards it. Kicking desperately at the old wooden door and falling over in the process he managed to get it open. Unfortunately his lifelong diet of beef curry and kebabs had begun to take its toll. Not for the first time had he had found himself in this position. Ignoring his bruised legs, soaked and frozen he crept in on all fours.

The torch showed a single room with a stone fireplace and a large old arm chair someone had dragged in donkey’s years ago. Still gasping for breath he stumbled over to the fireplace grateful for the shelter from the freezing rain. Several old dried logs were scattered about the hearth. He pulled a few sticks off the more rotted ones and felt in his sodden pockets for something flammable. A quick search revealed a dry hotel receipt in his wallet and his old lighter.

An old and treasured friend the lighter in the shape of a Fender Stratocaster guitar had been in his pocket the day he checked his winning numbers on the Euro Lottery. Although he was a non smoker these days he wouldn’t be without it, this was his rabbit’s foot in the shape of a guitar and he knew it would work.

Within seconds the dry wood was crackling away. Placing a couple of logs on top of it Al soon felt the heat begin to penetrate his frozen hands. The logs were so old and dry they caught in seconds but it took a few minutes for the shivering to slow down.

He was still pondering his next move as he turned round to warm his frozen back. His eyes fell on the old armchair, the light of the fires dancing flames now illuminating the whole cabin. That was when he saw the body.



Chapter2

A small petite young woman lay curled up in the armchair. About twenty years old, her hands and feet tied and she was naked. Her small white breasts as pale as snow in death stood out like small snow caps despite most of her upper body covered in the blood from her battered in head. A bloody log tossed carelessly on her lap the obvious weapon. The shaking began again. He reached out and touched her arm, the blood was still wet and sticky, she couldn’t have been dead more than an hour.

The thought that the murderer might still be in the vicinity flashed through his mind but it was touching the blood that set off the panic. His scrambled frozen brain suddenly grasped the situation and shouted at his equally frozen legs ‘run run’ and forced him out into the rain again.

A minute later he was running blindly along the road as fast as his frozen legs would carry him. The sound of his heavy footsteps echoed through the rain around the trees along the small road making him look back every minute sure the murderer was only a few feet behind him.

After what seemed an eternity the lights of a large house came into view. Stumbling into the drive he gratefully recognised the 4 x 4 parked outside and crashed into the locked front door of the house banging it loudly. Several figures peered through the glass panels before it finally opened a couple of inches. A sour faced woman looked down her nose at the drowned rat washed up at her door.

“Yes?” She sniffed.

Al pushed his way past her, panic still gripping him.

“Feisty old cow,” he muttered and slammed the door behind him as if shutting it all out. “Mercedes, Bryce, where are ya?” he shouted hoarsely. Two young housemaids attracted by the noise stood rooted to the spot completely stunned by this idiot who hadn’t even got a coat on emerging from what they later referred to as a ‘fearful storm’.

Mercedes was the first to appear “What on earth has happened?” She gasped. Bryce joined her and helped to get him by the fire as he called to the lady who opened the door to get some blankets.

“Ring the police quick!” Al gasped.

“What? Why?” Mercy questioned him as blankets arrived via the sour faced one.

“Who is that? Al whispered.

“The housekeeper, now just tell us what’s happened.”

Al managed to blurt out the full story. The car packing up, finding the body and his headlong flight to the house, before repeating, “Ring the police quick.”

Before Mercedes could move they heard a muffled thump behind them, the housekeeper had feinted and was lying prostrate on the floor as the housemaids rushed to her side.

Al managed to find this amusing but a glare from Mercedes quickly stifled the smile on his face. She turned and walking elegantly out to the phone in the hall as the housemaids fussed over the housekeeper refusing to be rushed even for a murder.

Al’s Personal Assistant was something special. The long blonde hair, the model looks, the gorgeous figure, a brain as big as a planet and at immense financial cost, she worked for him. Although he had to admit there were times when Mercedes, or Mercy for short had a little trouble with the literal meaning of the word ‘work’! Unlike Bryce who had majored in the difficult languages, Mercy had taken the ‘easy’ route to Mensa, Japanese, Russian, French, enough Chinese to order a takeaway, a degree in International finance and she could cook like a Michelin Chef, when she felt like it. Mercedes had been an ‘adviser’ for the lottery helping people adjust to their new fortune. A remarkable if not romantic relationship had developed between them and she had been pleased to accept Al’s offer of his Personal assistant.

Al liked to say his own degree was in life! But his actual academic degrees stretched to leaving school with the ability to read and write! This was followed by a working life as a Painter and Decorator before picking the winning numbers in the multi million pound Euro lottery! And that’s when life had suddenly got interesting.

Considering they were in the middle of nowhere the ‘po-lese’ as the housemaids referred to them arrived very quickly, two uniforms and a guy in a faded blue suit, Detective Craggan.

Craggans weather beaten face gave witness to his long career in the highlands. Just by looking at him Al could tell the cops favourite film would be Brave Heart, he must be a Glasgow ranger’s fan and the English were a strange race of people that lived south of the border and should stay there if they knew what was good for them.

Al repeated his story. The cop looked sceptical but ordered the uniforms to retrace his footsteps and find the cabin. Al was allowed to shower and have a change of clothes. When he reappeared the uniforms were back in deep conversation with the Craggan. Breaking away he walked over to Al.

“I shall be needing a statement,” he muttered in a broad Glaswegian accent. Then added, “Now”!

“I’ve only just started to thaw out,” Al protested, but Craggan looked unmoved. “Now,” he repeated as the housekeeper arrived with his wet clothes. Al noticed a brief ‘look’ between Craggan and the housekeeper. It would be a long stretch of the imagination to see something romantic between these two but in this God forsaken place who knows he thought. Al looked at her again and decided in future the holiday home would be called ‘the old Haggis Inn,’ after the feisty old housekeeper.

Mercedes was in her element fussing around making it clear she would accompany him and act as his advocate until the Lawyer arrived. Craggan nodded resentfully.

Al was thinking about the dead girl as one of the uniform cops led him quietly out to the police car and sat with him in the back. He hadn’t noticed her clothes in the cabin, how had she got there naked? Now he had time to think there was one thing he did remember. Beneath the blood where he had touched her arm he recalled a blurry tattoo, something like a devils head surrounded by what looked like angels although he couldn’t quite make it out. He racked his brains trying to remember everything he had seen and done but what he couldn’t remember was any cars coming from the direction he had travelled as he approached the cabin, so reason must say the killer had come and gone the other way. He was going to mention it when he became aware the cop sitting in the back was looking at him.

“I’ve heard about ye, always mixed up in something or other, yer a bit of a ‘laddie’ aren’t ye?” His partner chuckled sarcastically.

The rest of the journey passed in silence.







Chapter 3

The Po-leese station was an old stone building made even more dramatic by the solitary exterior light over the entrance. Pulling Al out of the car and grabbing an arm each in case he ran off to certain death in the freezing rain, they hustled him in through the front door and locked him in a cell before he realised what was happening.

“Oi, what are you locking me up for?” he yelled through the small grill in the door.

A face appeared with a wry smile, the station sergeant, “Don’t worry laddy, it’s just a procedure we have with English people.” The grill slammed shut. Al looked at the door in disbelief, “Bastard,” he muttered.

Al looked round the 8 x 6 room, single bed one blanket and a small loo in the corner, no window and no heater. Although now wearing a coat Al was still cold so he pulled the blanket off the bed and wrapped it round his shoulders and curled up on the bed. The exertions of his recent activities not to mention the Jet lag were beginning to take its toll but he couldn’t get the image of that poor girl out of his mind.

Drifting in and out of a fitful sleep he was finally roused by a familiar sound. The raised voices of Bryce and Mercedes could be heard echoing down the cold corridor outside his cell. Within a minute the door bolts slammed back and the dour faced station sergeant beckoned him to follow. Still wearing the blanket he was led to a small room with three chairs and a table, a single light shone dimly over the scene. Al had watched enough police programmes on the telly to immediately recognise it as an interview room. The sergeant pushed him roughly into the side of the table with the single seat and stood by the door.

Moments later the door burst open and a red faced Mercedes along with the detective and a serious looking Bryce stormed in. Mercy was like a Rottweiler with a bone, her long white hair swinging about like a TV ad as she animatedly set about the detective. Al couldn't help but notice she did look gorgeous when she was mad, obviously wasted on the craggy old detective.

He decided to keep quiet as she harassed the poor bloke demanding his immediate release or arrest. Bryce stood with his arms folded irritating the detective even more by repeating everything Mercedes said. The cop obviously hadn’t met anyone like this pair before and certainly wasn’t used to having a woman talk to him like this. Finally he was able to quieten them and sat down opposite the ‘suspect.’

The cop began questioning him. What was he doing there at that time of night, had he picked up the young woman on the road? Did he kill her because she put up a fight? This last remark set off Mercedes like a firework as she launched into him again.

Al was cold, tired, a long way from home and really pissed off, “She was tied hand and foot? He interrupted out icily, “And what about her clothes, did you find them in my car? And surely whoever did this would be covered in blood. Was there any blood on me?”

The cop looked ruffled but refused to give way, “We are waiting for the results of the tests on yer clothes,” he snorted.

Al gave him a derisory glare, “It isn’t obvious that they are not drenched with blood then?”Al leaned back in his seat, “I bet I wouldn’t get this treatment if I was Scottish,” he muttered quietly.

The cop heard him and was obviously stung. Mercedes had calmed down slightly but now took advantage of the situation and once again demanded his release. The cop knew he hadn’t got anything and conceded, “Don’t ye leave the area now or I will arrest ye, now get out,” he snorted.

“Wait!” Al demanded jumping to his feet, “The killer must have passed this Police station, where does the road outside lead to?”

The cop’s face creased up into what could be interpreted as a frown, “It’s the Glasgow road why should the killer come this way, did you see something?” he accused.

“No, that’s the point,” Craggan looked apprehensive as Al pushed on. “You don’t get it do you, maybe you should check the Policemen’s lockers for bloody clothes.”

Craggan banged his hands down on the old table making it creak, “That’s it!” The cop fumed, “Get out of my Po-leese station, who do you think you are, Jessica bloody Fletcher?” Craggan walked them through the police station continually cursing about people interfering in po-leese business. He slammed the door behind them as they hastily left the building.

Mercedes led the way to the car, “Well that went well,” she smiled.

Bryce chuckled as he drove back to the ‘old Haggis inn’. “Jessica Fletcher?” he said referring to the long running ‘Murder she Wrote’ series on TV, “Funny init?” he laughed, Al wasn’t so amused.

On a sudden impulse Al asked Bryce to take him back to the cabin, they protested but he wasn’t listening. “Just do it will ya” he said bad temperedly, then reflected, “I’m supposed to be a lucky man?” he moaned looking out of the window, “Guess it’s all run out.”

As Bryce pulled up he suddenly looked anxiously into the darkness, “Did you see that?” He whispered,

Al quickly leaned across the car, “See what?”

“Not sure, could have been a light going out.”

Al still had the police blanket round his shoulders. Pulling it a little tighter he pushed a reluctant Bryce out into the rain as an apprehensive Mercedes slipped into the driving seat. She quickly locking the car doors behind them and nervously started the engine.

Armed with a torch from the 4x4 Al lit the way to the cabin. Bryce picked up a heavy looking stick, he took a deep breath and tentively pushed the door open. Al shone in the torch. A yellow coated figure was clearly visible, they were expecting something but still jumped at the sight.

“Get that out of my face,” A Scottish voice muttered gruffly,

Al gathered himself quickly, “What are you doing here?” he demanded nervously pushing Bryce in front of him

“What are ye doing here?” he replied.

Al didn’t recognise him, he wasn’t one of the uniforms that had taken him in. He pressed him, “Who are you?” he asked again.

“I’m P.C. McGrath Craggan placed me here in case the murderer came back” he looked accusingly at both of them, “Looks like he was right.”

“Yea could be,” Al agreed.

Bryce butted in tiring of the innuendo’s, “So how did you get here then?” he demanded getting braver by the minute.

“The patrol car brought me.”

“When are they coming back?”

“End of mu shift, O K! I know you were the one who found the body now get out of here this is a crime scene.” Confused they reluctantly turned away.

Bryce hustled Al back to the 4x4. “Didn’t seem right to me Al, what do you think?”

“Well he knew us alright but I don’t think he wasn’t even a cop. He was wearing a nice pair of brown brogues, hardly regulation foot ware would you say? Get me back to the haggis inn quick.”

Five minutes later Al was on the phone to the sergeant. “Have you got an officer McGrath at the station?”

“No” he answered tersely.

“Well there's an officer McGrath in the cabin now, we just spoke to him.”

“What? I’ll get a car down and inform detective Craggan,” click, gone.

Al looked at the now dead phone, “Don’t say thanks or anything,” he muttered.

After an excited hours chatter back at the ‘haggis inn', Craggan rang wanting to know if Al knew the penalty for wasting police time as the cabin was empty. He tried to explain but Craggan wasn’t listening, after five minutes of arguing Al just put the phone down.

Feeling absolutely knackered he turned his attention to bed. He climbed the stairs and clambered into a rather impressive old four poster. The duvet was warm and inviting. He glanced out of the window at the rain and sleet still throwing itself at the glass. “And a goodnight to you!” he sighed. Slipping quickly into his dreams of slow moving rivers and fast moving women he was snoring in moments.

Six hours later the chatter of voices roused him from a deep slumber. He tried to turn over and slip back to his dreams but somehow he was unable to do so. Finally raising his head above the duvet the reason for his inability to move was revealed, both of them were sitting on the duvet.

He looked up at Bryce and Mercedes smiling faces, “Is this my bedroom or the bus station?” He muttered.

“Time to get up mate, Inspector Taggert is on his way,” Bryce chuckled.

“Who?”

“The detective,” chimed in Mercy, “Craggan.” Al muttered incoherently and tried to snuggle back under the cover.

Mercedes patted his bum and slipped off the bed. “Come on trouble, you missed breakfast but lunch is in half an hour.” Trouble was Mercedes favourite name for him.

“Hmmmm” he muttered remembering how hungry he was “Food.”

“Who do you think the phony cop was then?”Bryce asked,

Mercedes answered for him as she often did, “Must be the murderer, who else would go back to that place?”

Al got unsteadily to his feet and stretched painfully. Mercedes gave a wolf whistle at his Homer Simpson boxers. Al ignored her, “I must have caught pneumonia last night,” he moaned sitting heavily on the bed again. “What’s for lunch anyway, not haggis I hope,” he laughed alone at his own joke

Craggan arrived an hour later in top form, scowling like a cat with toothache. His old McIntosh rain coat looked as old as him and was dripping water everywhere, much to the irritation of a nervous housekeeper. They exchanged ‘looks’ again as she fussed around.

Turning his attention to the ‘suspect’ Craggan icily looked him up and down,

“Still raining then?” Al said cynically.

“So, what were you up to last night?” Craggan snorted, his face so creased up you could hardly see his eyes.

“Wanted to take another look,” Al said over his bacon egg and sausage lunch. “Did you catch the phony copper?”

Craggan hesitated, “No, but...,”

Al banged his knife and fork down dramatically trying to wind up the old copper, “No! How did he get away?”

Craggan reacted impatiently, “Never you mind how he got away, if there was a phony cop in the first place.”

Now Al was furious, “Don’t give me that crap, your policemen are just as much under suspicion as anybody.” Craggan snorted in disgust but Al kept going, “I found that girl, I reported it to the police, I want to know what happened.”

Craggan was seething. “We don’t need amateur detectives up here,” he hissed. “Maybe you should just go back where you came from.”

“Not on your life Craggan, you had better get yourself going or I'll bring my own investigators in. I want to know who that girl was and how she got there, I feel you are covering something up Inspector.”

Only the crackling of the log fire broke the silence, even Mercedes kept quiet.

Craggans chin dropped thoroughly deflated, “One of my men has disappeared and we found traces of blood in his patrol car,” he conceded, then added “He’s a married man with children, been a copper for twenty years.”

Al gave him no sympathy, “That’s about how old that young girl was,” Al sniped.

The Craggan leapt to his feet as Bryce moved diplomatically between them. The cop looked round the American giant completely unphazed.

“We don’t know for certain it was him,” he shouted defiantly struggling to get past Bryce’s great frame.

The haggis suddenly appeared and nervously informed them a ‘Mon’ was on the phone for Al.

Al stormed out,- “Yes who’s there?” he yelled.

“It’s McGrath,” a voice said.

Al was taken aback, “Well you’ve got a nerve.”

“Look, don’t tell Craggan I’ve spoken to you,” a hint of desperation in his voice.

Al thought for a minute. “Go on then I’m listening.”

“Her name was Fiona, she was my daughter.” Al gasped.

“I saw you arrive at the po-leese station. One of the uniforms told me a young girl had been killed. I only found the cabin a minute before they returned.”

Before Al could say anything he heard a voice speak in the background, then the phone went dead.

Al stood there looking at the lifeless phone. Suddenly Craggan was standing at his shoulder. “Who was that?” He demanded

Al whirled round to face him. “It was McGrath, you said he wasn’t one of your men?”

Craggan hesitated, “He isn’t and the missing man’s name is Lewis, now tell me what he said.”

“He said the girl was his daughter,” Al said reluctantly.

“What?” Craggan was startled, suddenly he looked very old. He Returned to the lounge and sat down heavily. “I didn’t look at the body,” he admitted, “I have no stomach for that kind of thing.”

“Would you have recognised her?”

He nodded slowly, “I was her godparent for Christ’s sake.”

“So you do know this McGrath?”

Craggan nodded, “We went through training together, but he was dismissed a couple of years ago for corruption.”

“So where does he live now?”

Craggan shrugged, “He’s disappeared too.”

“What about his wife?”

“She left with the daughter about six months ago.”

Mercedes intervened, “Well it’s obvious my client is not responsible.”

Craggan nodded, “If McGrath phones again you must tell me, right?”

“Right” Al said, as seriously as he could.

Chapter 4

The following day Mercy and Bryce had been conducting their own investigations. The two housemaids had both known the murdered girl and were more than willing to talk about her. Apparently she had suffered badly at the hands of her father who had been a strict disciplinarian and had run away a couple of times but usually returned after a few days. The father had promised to be more lenient but after his enforced retirement he turned to drink and become even worse being violent to both the wife and daughter till finally they had fled the family home. The old Haggis had admitted to knowing the family but refused to say anymore letting them know quite firmly she was not a gossip.

Al was impressed with the amateur detectives, “Did the housemaids know if she was seeing anyone?”

“No, no idea.”

Bryce was sitting next to Al just quietly listening to Mercedes as she went through their investigation. He noticed the rain had actually stopped, and started snowing.

He looked at Al and nodded towards the window, “Happy Christmas” he said drily.

“That reminds me,” Al said, “Why did you decide to come here?”

Bryce shrugged, “Don’t look at me I wanted to go to Spain.” Al nodded knowingly.

“Penny for your thoughts,” the perpetrator of all their problems had returned. Mercedes walked back in displaying a beautiful smile and low cut top looking as gorgeous as ever. Al couldn’t resist and made a playful grab for her just as the haggis appeared.

“Phone,” she said blankly, eyeing them as if embracing someone at his age was perverted, Mercedes giggled and wagged a reproving finger in his face. He trotted after the haggis pulling faces behind her back. Although she looked about fifty Al suspected a hard life had took its toll and she was actually much younger.

Al picked the phone up, “Will ye listen now?” It was McGrath again.

Al was getting tired of this, “Go on,”

“Are ye on yer own?”

“Yes, what do you want?”

The voice changed, “Can you help me, please?”

Al sighed that ‘here we go again’ sigh. He had always been a sucker for somebody in trouble, “Tell me your story and I’ll tell you if I can help.”

The guy pressed on, “Ok, I wasn’t much of a Father but after I lost mu job I couldn’t cope with the wee lassie.”

“Why, what did she do?”

“She ran away to Glasgow, got mixed up with drug people and even worse.”

“Worse?”

“Escort agency she called it, but I knew what she meant, then she was murdered.”

Al thought for a moment, “Craggan thinks another copper was involved?”

“Lewis came with me to try and persuade her to come home, I thought then there might be something between them.”

“Did he mention a name?”

“No but he was going after a guy named Nemski, a Polish guy running the escort agency among other things in Glasgow. Will ye take me to Glasgow so I can talk to him, Craggan has got men all over the place looking for me,” McGrath pleaded. “And Lewis hasn’t been in touch at all, nothing.”

Al had to make a decision, “I can’t get involved, and apart from it being illegal I have responsibilities.”

McGrath was disappointed. “I know you have a reputation for getting involved in people’s problems, I’m appealing to you as a Father how would you feel if it was your lassie?” Al didn’t answer thinking about what McGrath had said, but after a few seconds of silence the phone went dead again.

Al had supposed the Murder had no other reason but some perverted nutter getting hold of the poor girl but now he wasn’t so sure. Why leave the body in the cabin? If McGrath was to be believed she had been killed because of something she had done in Glasgow. It crossed Al’s mind maybe it was something McGrath had done. Was the murderer leaving a message for McGrath? Al was uncomfortable about the whole thing.

Having spent a fitful evening thinking about it all he was getting irate about the whole episode and close to taking Craggans advice and going home when Bryce called him from the kitchen. The haggis was pointing out the window across the courtyard to the stable door. By the light of the kitchen light they could see it swinging open aimlessly, the broken padlock lying on the floor. Al and Bryce looked blankly at each other.

“So are ye going to take a look then?” She demanded.

“Do you think this is a set up Al?” Bryce muttered as they crept into the stable, as if to echo Bryce’s words a figure rose from behind the bales of straw making them both jump, McGrath.

“Told ya!” Bryce said recovering, he was really fed up with this bloke.

“I had nowhere else to go” he pleaded, “And they pulled a body out of the river this morning.” McGrath looked desperate.

“A body, what has that to do with anything?”

“He was wearing a policeman’s yellow jacket.”

“You think it was Lewis?”

McGrath nodded and fished out a Police radio from a pocket, “I heard the uniforms talking about it this morning, and apparently Craggan was called to Glasgow HQ to explain what’s going on,”

Al didn’t trust this bloke as far as he could throw him and suddenly he noticed why, he grabbed McGraths arm and pushed his coat sleeve up revealing a blurry old tattoo.

“I saw this tattoo on Fiona, and the housekeeper,” he gasped, “What’s going on?”

Shaken by this turn of events McGrath desperately ripped his arm free and quickly produced a gun.

“Had to be nosey didn’t you, why couldn’t you just go to Glasgow like I asked?” He grinned and nodded towards Bryce, “It might have saved the boys life?”

That was enough for Bryce, the ex BYU Cougars quarterback charged past Al and went full tilt for McGrath. The gun exploded as Bryce’s shoulder hit him full in the chest hurling him across the stables, leaving McGrath out cold.

Al moved quickly and pulled Bryce to his feet. He kicked the gun away as Mercy and the Haggis hearing the gunfire rushed in to see what was going on.

Mercy gasped and pointed at Al’s hand, it was covered in blood.

He looked at Bryce, “He got you?”

Bryce was unmoved, “Seems to be coming from my shoulder, at least that’s where it hurts,” he said numbly. Al told an anxious Mercedes to get Bryce back to the house and ring for an ambulance.

The housekeeper seemed oblivious to Bryce’s injury and knelt beside the fallen gunman.

Al knelt with her as Mercedes rushed Bryce away, “Ok what’s he to you?” he demanded,

“He’s my blood brother.” She held out the arm with the tattoo and looked up at Al grimly. “If you get involved with these people they will kill you all.”

“Who are ‘these people’?” He said.

“Gangsters, foreigners mostly, drugs, prostitution, murder even, they’ll do anything.”

“You were with them as well?”

She hesitated, “Yes I was a part of it, a prostitute.”

Just then a police car screamed to a halt in the drive, the haggis hurried away as Craggan and the uniforms arrived, obviously not in Glasgow.

McGrath sat up regaining his senses. “You’ll wish you hadn’t interfered Englishman,” he spat.

Al stepped forward and smashed his foot into his ribs, “That was for my mate,” he spit back.

McGrath collapsed to the floor again, gasping for breath as the new arrivals rushed in.

“What did you do that for?” Craggan asked stupidly.

“He shot my mate, threatened me and was leading us to Glasgow to be murdered.” He turned and kicked him again, the cop grabbed Al roughly and pulled him away from the cursing gunman and tried to calm him down.

“You wouldn’t have gone would you?” he said.

“If I hadn’t noticed his Tattoo? Quite probably, the housekeeper told me every member of the gang has to have one, blood brothers.” Al was still high on adrenalin as he looked at the cops suspiciously. “Have you got one?” he demanded.

Craggan nodded to his colleagues. They slowly rolled back their coat sleeves, one revealing a touching tribute to his mum and the other a Navy anchor.

Craggan rolled up his sleeves showing two bare arms. “I guess we’re all on the same side,” he smiled.

A relieved Al nodded at the two cops, “Who are these guys really?” he said.

The one with the anchor stepped forward. “I’m Commander Strachan and my colleague is Doctor Ward, forensics.”

Craggan took it up, “They were ‘seconded’ from immigration to try and break up the gang. I found out McGrath was acting as a sort of courier for this Nemski character bringing in girls from all over Europe for his escort agency so I went to the top cop in Glasgow, and these guys were sent down to help.”

Al looked puzzled, “What about the girl, was she his daughter?”

“Yes, not that he cared much for her.”

Al looked at McGrath still groaning on the floor, “What about him and the housekeeper?”

“She works for us now, she’s been invaluable that’s why we can’t have him blabbing to his cronies.”

Al wasn’t too sure he understood, he looked down at McGrath, “What will you do with him, hide him away somewhere?”

Craggan looked very serious, “You still don’t realise what we are dealing with here do you Englishman?” He nodded at Strachan who pulled a gun with a silencer. He pointed it at McGraths head and calmly pulled the trigger. Al jumped back gasping in shock as McGraths head exploded.

Craggan looked satisfied, “Don’t forget this man was a killer who has taken many lives. I would have thought a man with your background would understand that?”

The question brought back buried memories for Al, how could he argue now. “I would like to see the girl’s killer brought to justice,” he said lamely.

Craggan was more forceful, “So would I, this bastard didn’t deserve a daughter like her, he was responsible for her death now he’s got what he did deserve.” The old cop was obviously moved at the thought of his dead God daughter. He began to spit again, “He was one of Nemskis top lieutenants but he tried to start his own drug dealing syndicate in opposition to the gang, Fiona’s murder was punishment for his actions.

Al nodded thoughtfully, he saw his path was clear now. Memories of his past had already decided his future. “Your right, he did deserve it, and he won’t be the only one that will get their reward tonight.

Craggan was alarmed at the tone of Al’s voice. “Now don’t get doing anything stupid just leave it to us, right?”

“Wrong!” Al said, “I’ve got something to say to Mr. Nemski.”

Chapter 5

By the time Al had argued his way back to the house Bryce was already on his way to hospital accompanied by a frantic Mercy. Craggan was angry he had been unable to dissuade Al from going to Glasgow but a sympathetic Strachan had slipped the silenced berretta into Al’s pocket with a wink before they left.

Al patted the comforting bulge in his coat as he shouted for the haggis. She quickly appeared wandering what all the noise was about. He grabbed her roughly and forced her out of the house and into the car.

She was a pretty tough girl with a mean past which now surfaced as she realised what Al was making her do. “I’ll not go back to that bastard!” she screamed, “He’ll kill me as soon as look at me.”

Al looked at her with her hair tied in a scruffy bun and an old apron tied around her waist, hard to see her as a top escort for Nemski as Craggan had told him. He pulled the berretta and waved it in her face silencing her immediately. It was what she understood and anyway he didn’t have time to mess about. The car went quiet, they were about halfway to Glasgow before she spoke again.

“They’ll kill us both you know,” she whispered.

“We all gotta die sometime don’t we?” Al said, “Did you know they killed McGrath?”

“Who did?” She demanded, suddenly looking desperate.

“Craggan and his gun men.”

“Oh,” she said quietly sitting back.

Al glanced across at her, “Oh?” that’s all you can say?”

“I thought you were going to say Nemski’s people had found us,” she said coldly.

Al realised the Haggis would jump ship at the first set of traffic lights they stopped at, she was that scared.

He had to convince her to lead him to Nemski. “Just show me where he is,” he pleaded, “And then you can do what you like,” he sounded desperate and he was.

The haggis looked frightened to death, “And what about when you’re dead? He’ll find me I know he will.” The haggis was so jumpy it was beginning to affect Al.

He tried to stay calm, they were both loosing it, “Help me get rid of him once and for all then, think about your husband, that young girl?”

She put her hands to her face and began to sob. “They’re all dead,” she said.

“Who’s all dead?”

The haggis went through the list. "McGrath’s wife, his daughter, Lewis and my husband,” she looked across at Al, “And probably your friends as well, he doesn’t just kill you, he kills everybody around you.”

Al felt a rising panic about Bryce and Mercy but managed to remain in control. “Even more reason for us to finish him,” he said firmly.

She wiped her eyes. Al wandered how long it had been since she had been able to cry and what kind of life she had led? She slowly nodded realising this would never end while Nemski was alive. It went quiet again in the car as they became lost in their own thoughts and memories.

Al was thinking how all this had happened to him in such a short space of time? He had come to Scotland for a Christmas holiday, a traditional time of peace and good will and here he was on his way to Glasgow’s criminal underworld to try and kill someone? Crazy! They were approaching the outskirts of Glasgow before she spoke again to give him directions. Al knew she was unreliable but she was all he had.

Although still early evening darkness had fallen by the time they arrived at a row of old tenements in a slum area of the great city. It seemed to be totally abandoned but for a single street light that had somehow escaped the vandals, shining dimly over a black limo. It was parked outside one of the slums, the only tenement with a light on.

“I guess that’s it,” Al said, “Who’s the driver?”

The haggis nodded, “The drivers a guy the girls call ‘The Kraken,’ he does most of Nemskis dirty work. The girls are petrified of him, he’s a sadist.”

Al pulled the Berretta and began to sweat, old feelings were in control now. Strange he was sweating though as in the best traditions of Christmas it had started to snow quite heavily. The Kraken was reading a newspaper completely oblivious to their presence, the purr of the limos engine could be plainly heard on the dead street.

“Distract him while I slip up the other side of the car,” he said firmly.

Understandably she hesitated. Al grabbed her hand half expecting her to pull away but she was the exact opposite as if taking great comfort from his actions. They didn’t speak for what seemed like a long time but eventually she nodded and muttered “Yes.” She quickly let down her hair and pulled off the apron. Opening the door she slipped quietly out and walked down to the limo on the passenger’s side a pathetic figure in the snow with not even a coat to keep her warm. Al felt regrets for the first time as he watched her go but knew he had to brush them aside. The Kraken saw her coming and dropped the window as she approached. Al quickly took advantage of the darkness and crouching down slipped quietly up on the driver’s side of the limo. He saw the Haggis bend down to speak. He wasn’t sure if she was trembling from fear, or shivering with the cold but either way it was the last thing she did. A sharp crack rang out and the haggis staggered back and fell, shot in the head from close range. Al gasped and ran at the driver’s window like a mad thing. The Kraken didn’t see him coming until the last moment. To slow, Al had reached the door and shot him through the closed window. The click of the silenced gun and the window shattering caused a tremendous noise to echo around the deserted tenements. Eerily continuing for several seconds until only the crackling snowfall again tinged the silence. The Kraken had fallen back across the front seat, a bloody hole where his right eye used to be.

Al didn’t see any point in stopping now. He knew the haggis was dead, another year in Hell for Nemski and maybe one for himself as well, it just made him more determined. Barely pausing to catch his breath he continued his run up the steps into the house, the new layer of snow crunching satisfyingly beneath his tread.

The front door had been nicked a long time ago and the snow was already sweeping into the downstairs hall. He found it empty and a quick search of the rooms produced nothing, obviously long abandoned. He made his way to the wrecked kitchen at the back of the old place and glanced through the window. In complete contradiction to the abandoned tenements the back of the building overlooked a new shopping Mall. Not fifty yards away and in full swing. Christmas lights, carol singers, last minute shoppers, everything. He turned away not wanting to be distracted and quietly climbed long stairs to the first floor. He was breathing heavy now and another staircase on the left looked daunting. He could hear noisy foreign voices from the next floor up obviously not aware of his presence yet. He paused trying unsuccessfully to control his breathing and decided to explore the two rooms to the right both with their doors open. He cautiously looked into the first room and gasped. The bodies of two policemen lay on the floor badly beaten. Hell! It looked like Strachan and Ward.

Al took a deep breath and moved to the second room, he could hear voices, but not English. He let the vision of Fiona and the haggis flood his mind as he crept to the door and squinted through the slightly open door crack. There were three people in the room. A large mean looking guy was sitting at an old desk, obviously Nemski. The second guy was standing by his side, even uglier than Nemski probably a bodyguard or lieutenant, they were deep in conversation. He looked around the room as far as the door crack would allow. His eyes settled on the third person in the room, that is if you count the lifeless bloody form of detective Craggan as the third. Al was shocked, “Poor bastard” he thought, he couldn’t stop himself he pulled the Berretta and stormed in.

The monster was surprised by Al’s sudden appearance but quickly composed himself and sat calmly at the desk as if half expecting him. He noticed Al was rocked at the sight of Craggan, he grinned sickly. “Bit of a shock was it?” he grated in broken English nodding sideways at Craggans body and proudly showed his still bloody knuckles. Al let him know what he thought of his parentage which just made both the monsters laugh.

Nemski was curious, “By the way,” he asked politely, “How did you find us?” Al didn’t respond. Nemski shrugged and looked at his bodyguard and said something in Polish. He heard the name Fiona mentioned and then someone called Irene and wondered if that was the haggis real name. He felt ashamed he didn’t even know her proper name. Even more disturbing he realised they seemed completely unperturbed by the gun.

Nemski smiled at him and began again. “Al, put your little gun away and let us talk my friend, I could use a man with your money and contacts,” the bodyguard laughed as if a private joke, he was wiping his bloody hands on a handkerchief, still red from working over Craggan.

Nemski dropped the smile his face twisting into something really nasty, he didn’t wait for an answer but motioned to the bodyguard. “Go see where the Kraken is,” he ordered.

Al tried to look hard and waved the gun about, “Don’t bother, he won’t be joining us,” he said, a little too dramatically.

The bodyguard stopped and looked at Nemski uncertain. His boss shook his head, “The brothers are invincible,” he hissed, “He cannot hurt us.”

“And you’re as mad as a hatter mate,” Al spat back. He looked at the bodyguard, “The Kraken is dead so tell your boss he aint that good?”

Nemski looked stunned and yelled at the bodyguard, “Teach him a lesson then kill him,”

The bodyguard began to move around the desk and menacingly reached into his coat for his own gun. Al took a deep breath and stepped back as the bodyguard laughed sure Al had stepped back in fear. But Al was just giving himself some room. This is it he thought, this is what he was here for what the haggis and Fiona had died for. He quickly raised the gun and fired at the bodyguards head. Nemski took the guys blood full in the face as he fell lifeless across his desk. Al leaned over the body and pressed the silencer against the shocked Nemskis bloody cheek before he could recover.

“Don’t move,” he said simply. His mind was racing, he needed a time out here. The gangster realised he was a second from death as Al thumbed the hammer back on the Berretta, his hand shaking violently. Nemski knew the gun could fire with the slightest movement. Suddenly feeling very mortal he quickly folded. His mouth dropped open gasping for breath unsure what to do, he was used to giving orders not taking them. He began to sweat but remained unrepentant. His language descended into his native tongue, just gibberish to Al. He knew it would only be a minute before Nemskis ‘brothers’ crashed through the door, he had to be quick. Craggan had told him Nemski was the top gangster in Scotland with a finger in everybody’s pie ruling with cruelty and instant retribution to any who opposed him, Al’s nerves hardened he knew what he had to do.

The trigger finger tightened, “Not so big now are you my friend?” He said stupidly. He dragged the silenced gun barrel across Nemskis face making him jump. Realising he had been humiliated his fear gave way to blind anger. “I kill you!” he shouted madly, and leapt to his feet revealing what a giant of a man he was, he towered over Al perhaps even bigger than Bryce. He pulled a stiletto knife from a sleeve and slashed wildly at Al forcing him back before launching himself across the desk only to be hindered by his former colleague’s body. Al seized the advantage and hastily pushed the gun into Nemskis chest squeezing the trigger three times. Nemski crashed over the desk to the floor like a felled tree, it was all a bit messy but he was down and that was that.

Al moved slowly round the desk and stood over him. Blood was pumping out of the three bullet holes in his chest, “We got him haggis,” he muttered quietly, “We got him!”

Al sagged wearily onto the chair formerly occupied by Nemski. Outside he could hear a bunch of people in the Mall singing. Jingle Bells? They were rattling their tin cans at the late night shoppers, oblivious to the bloody drama just a few yards away. Jingle bells? He thought, oh yea, it was Christmas. He had almost forgotten after all the crap that had gone down in the last 24 hrs.

Al smiled grimly, Jingle Bells was as good as anything to listen to with your last few seconds on earth he thought. Nemskis eyes stopped flickering.

The strange clicking noise of the berretta had obviously attracted attention as heavy footsteps were charging down the stairs. He checked the clip in the Berretta. One bullet for McGrath, three in Nemskis chest, one in the Krakens head, one in the bodyguard on the floor and four still in the clip that was it.

Outside the snow had given way to heavy rain dispersing the carol singers. It was the rain hitting the window that made him think back to four days ago when all this had started. He had wanted to spend Christmas at home, Mercedes wanted to holiday in Scotland and Bryce wanted to go to Spain.

Al shook his head as he crouched down behind Nemskis desk, “Should have gone to Spain” he sighed. The door crashed open. A gruff voice ordered him to drop his weapon and lie on the floor, Glasgow’s best swat team stormed in.

The End

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