Hidden (Sometimes you are better off not knowing)
(1) Skye Police Station, Portree
Lorn Magregor, and his mother, Morag, sat in a small, quiet, drab room. It contained nothing more than four chairs, one table, two paper cups, one door. Between complaints and failed attempts at gallows humour, they sat in silence. The last positive word either of them spoke was when, over an hour beforehand, Lorn said ‘aye’ to a cup of tea. He’s a small lad for his seventeen years. Wearing a white t-shirt under a well worn denim waistcoat that had been created by cutting the arms off an old jacket. His hair a recent buzz cut number one. His round handsome face showed evidence of a recent punch up and he involuntarily licked his swollen lip. A small neat homemade tattoo on the inside soft skin of his right forearm depicted a red rose with a sword as its stem and little drops of red liquid, like blood flying off, as if the rose had just been shaken dispersing drops of colour. A similar token had been neatly embroidered onto the jacket’s left pocket. A shiny metal badge of depicting the same image glinted from his lapel. His mum wore her Sunday best, a neat, floral, old fashioned dress, polished blue shoes, good handbag, brown hair neatly tied in a bun.
‘No windows and no air,’ said Morag.
‘No lots of things. No atmosphere, no hope, no lawyer,’ Lorn dropped a smile that was more akin to a grimace.
He was wrong, there was an atmosphere of nervous tension, which was untempered by Lorn failing to appear cool. Inside he was stewed up, he desperately needed this to be over with, he desperately needed to get out of there. Lorn slouched on the left facing the door, his mum ramrod straight beside him. Lorn lifted his empty cup. He swore. He set the cup down. Then the door opened.
‘Aye,’ Lorn remained slouched. It was an effort to do so as he was surprised by the entrance. He hadn’t been expecting a girl who didn’t look much older than him. Business suit that had seen better days, cream blouse, glasses, wild ginger hair, freckles and a smell of stale cigarettes. She was confident and direct.
His mum stood. ‘I’m Morag, his mother.’ They shook hands.
Lorn’s slouching made him feel guilty. So he straightened. He itched to get out of there. He slouched again.
‘My name’s Mairi Sweeney, I’m the duty solicitor.’ She gave them a business card each. She set a file of papers onto the table, straightened her skirt then checked that the door was closed properly. Lorn, have you been questioned yet?’
They both shook their heads.
‘Good. Have you been charged?’
They both shook their heads.
‘Good. Have they taken your prints?’
They both shook their heads.
‘Have they taken DNA samples?’
‘What?’ asked Morag.
They both shook their heads.
‘I don’t even know why I’m here,’ Lorn sat up again. ‘I need to go.’
‘Really?’ she looked hard at both of them like Lorn had just denied that The World was round.
Lorn shrugged, Mairi Sweeney sighed.
‘You’d better get with the facts fast, Lorn, because the police want to charge you with S18 GBH, that’s grievous bodily harm, the maximum sentence of which is life in prison. Either that or attempted murder, which…well that isn’t a great alternative.’
‘I didn’t touch the bastard,’ snapped Lorn.
‘The bastard?’ repeated Sweeney, slowly. ‘First off, don’t use words that suggest motive.’
‘Well he was. He is, and that’s well known. Got what he deserved. In fact, see if you can find someone on Skye who doesn’t agree that he is a bastard. You’d have more chance getting a pulse from a haggis.’
Sweeney pulled out the chair opposite Lorn. She sat. She looked at his mum first, then back to him. ‘Second, I’ll pretend that you don’t know why you are here and I’ll tell you why. In the early hours of Friday morning, your step father, Harold John Bains, as you seem to have forgotten, was discovered seriously injured with a GO-Pro camera lodged in his throat. He was slumped over the steering wheel of his 1980s Audi Quattro, unconscious. He had been hit with a heavy cast iron frying pan. Despite being in the drivers seat he had been drinking.’
‘He was fully oiled,’ added Lorn.
‘So, you saw him that night?’
‘It was Thursday night, Bains was off his shift, he was totally arseholed. That’s what he does.’ Lorn remained slouched.
Sweeney leaned onto the table. ‘I am here to help you. The police will ask you tough questions and you had better be ready with the answers because if you want to walk out of here and not into a long stay in an adult prison - and that is an option you should avoid at any cost - then you need to take heed of what I am saying and say only what you need to say. The police case suggests that your only hope is that you admit to the assault and plead provocation or diminished responsibility. The facts would bear that up.’
‘I told you I didn’t touch the bastart.’
Sweeney ignored Lorn’s outburst.
‘The police have logged several complaints from you over the past year alleging domestic violence by Bains. I have criticised them for not taking decisive action in response and will lodge a complaint. Witnesses, including a bus driver and your teachers, say that you regularly arrived to school with facial injuries consistent with being struck.’ She handed him a copy of the statements. ‘You have bruising to your face and your lip is cut which suggests that you have recently been in a fight. Bains was found in Mingish Hall car park where the Skids were playing. Witnesses say that you had an argument at the event with Bains that evening.’ She handed him a copy of their statements. ‘The event bouncers gave statements that he arrived to the event looking specifically for you.’ She handed him a copy of their statements. ‘Your amazon account shows that two years ago you purchased a Go Pro camera…’ she handed Lorn a copy of the receipt.
‘How the fuck did you get that?’
She ignored him.
‘I lost that camera ages ago. Someone nicked it.’ Lorn jumped forward and grabbed the receipt.
‘That maybe so, but the serial numbers match the one found in Bains’s throat.’
‘I told you I lost it.’ He threw the paper onto the table, folded his arms and sat back again.
‘The police have told me that they have seen the images on the camera.’
Lorn looked straight ahead as if she had said nothing.
‘Do you know what images are on the camera, Lorn?’
Lorn shrugged. ‘Could be anything. I mean I haven’t seen the thing in ages.’
Sweeney took a deep breath. ‘It would be helpful to know what is on the camera to avoid any surprises when I …
‘I don’t know,’ shouted Lorn.
Sweeney changed tack. ‘The police will carry out DNA tests …’
‘…Bains has been all over me like a cage fighter for the past year, of course they’re gonna find my DNA.’
Sweeney ignored Lorn. ‘You have been cautioned by the police several times in recent months. Drunk and disorderly, interfering with livestock, indecent exposure…’
Lorn smirked. Lorn’s Mum reddened.
‘…and assault. Although the police brought no charges against you they are suggesting a pattern of trouble making, upon which, when combined with obvious motive and your presence when Harry Bains was assaulted after an argument with you, they are building their case. So far the foundations appear rock-like. Now I need you to tell me everything.’
Lorn looked to his mum then back to Sweeney. Lorn’s mum spoke next in her quiet, heavily accented Scottish island voice.
‘He’s no usually like this, Miss Sweeney. Lorn is just a quiet wee boy who likes to read a lot. Nadia, she’s the school’s new librarian, really helped him. She is so good with the kids, takes them to the beach to read, the exam results all improved and we all did Cossack dancing with her. I mean Cossack dancing in Skye? I don’t know, whatever next….’
Sweeney waited patiently for her to return to point.
The mention of Nadia, the school librarian, jolted Lorn upright.
‘…eh anyway, Lorn was bullied at school and got mixed up with a bad lot…’
‘…they’re not a bad lot,’ yelled Lorn, sitting forward again. ‘They are my friends and I’d be nothing without them.’
Lorn’s mum began to cry and Lorn helped her to find tissues in her bag. He had to get to Nadia. He let his mum bumble on while he thought of ways to get out of this police station before it was too late.
‘…and …it’s all my fault.’ She stumbled through a few sentences. ‘I should never have married Harry Bains. He just seemed so…he was there and we had fun at first.’ She dabbed her eyes. ‘Things started to go bad a wee while ago…’
(2) …a wee while ago
Dried blood sticking to his pillow woke Lorn as he turned in his sleep. Like solder between metals his lip stuck to the blood and the blood to the worn blue polly-cotton. The sharp pain told him that his lip lost the tug of war. He swore as the cut reopened and began to bleed, his lip pissing blood down his chin and onto his sheets. He found a tissue and dabbed the split without much effect in stemming the flow. It reminded him of the cause of the wound and in panic he spun round to see that his chair remained jammed under the door handle, the door locked.
Relieved, he dressed in jeans, t-shirt and school blue hoodie. He needed to check his mum. It had been a bad night. Bains was getting worse and Lorn felt helpless, a feeling encouraged by his inner voice.
‘You’re pathetic,’ he said aloud. Words repeated from life.
He pulled the chair away, unlocked the door and stepped quietly onto the small landing. He kept the tissue against his lip, dabbing it so that it wouldn’t stick as the blood dried. The house was dead silent. His Mum’s door was locked. Good or bad, he wasn’t yet sure. Avoiding the creaks he tiptoed down the stairs to their farmhouse kitchen, relieved to hear snoring from their big tartan couch in front of the Aga. Good, Bains lay there, not in the bedroom, so his mum had locked herself in all night, like him, as if waiting for a storm to pass. She would be ok, he decided not to wake her.
Lorn walked silently over to Bains picking up a chair strewn on the floor as if it was a weapon. His knuckles white he reluctantly set it back under the dining table. Stale alcohol, cigarettes and odour of Bains hung in the air. His bitterness drowned the home smells of oil, wood and home cooking as if Bains haunted the place with his stench.
Lorn stood over Bains as he lay in a state of vulnerability, exposed to attack and Lorn’s thoughts had Bains nailed to that couch as he threw alcohol over him whilst readying a match, laughing as the thing exploded into flames, watching Bains writhe in agony knowing that Lorn had had the final say. There was no alcohol, Bains had drank it all. He glanced towards the kitchen shelf where, beside his GoPro camera, sat the knife block which was full of temptation and empty of action. Lorn was shy of violence no matter what tortures his subconscious invented. Even now his mind did battle with itself
‘You never had the guts to defend yourselves against Bains. Yeah, but, I’d get the crap beaten out of me again. But you never tried, you were too cowardly to try properly, you could have protected yourself and your mum, if you really wanted. Yeah but, if I succeeded I would be sent to prison for ever…..Yeah but, Yeah but, Yeah but. yeah but….Yeah but what?….bollocks.’
‘You’re pathetic…’ He said again.
He looked at Bains. ‘…and you are a disgusting Bastart.’
Bains's mouth hung open, saliva bubbling out of his mouth as he breathed out, before dribbling down his chin onto a soaked patch on his Mum’s green cushion. It had been his dad’s cushion before he left, repaired by his mum out of respect for the man that this Bastart replaced. The sight, the disrespect, made everything worse. Lorn would burn that cushion later, it was now soiled beyond all emotional attachment.
Bains’s trousers were thrown in a heap at his feet, his pale, skinny, spotty, legs poked out of filthy, grey Y-fronts, hairy beer belly hanging over the top. Lorn grinned to himself enjoying this period of control, the power of stealth. He grabbed his GoPro and took a photo. He set the camera aside for a moment. He tiptoed to the kitchen for chilli flakes. He lifted the GoPro in his right hand, the chilli flakes in his left, pressed record then he sprinkled the flakes into Bains’s trousers. He carefully judged the quantity. It had to be a small amount so that Bains wouldn’t see, though large enough to cause mayhem when he sat in a hot bus to the ferry where he worked.
‘Chilli nuts, asshole.’ He stopped recording.
An empty bottle of vodka lay on the floor, beside that a tin of Coke. Lorn lifted the tin, gave it a little shake. Half full. Bains must have left that for the morning to give him a sugar kick to get his arse up. Half of one small Coke tin and one large vodka bottle. Lorn was no expert on drink but even he knew that was a mismatch. He needed a piss. He unzipped his jeans, smiled to himself and pressed play pointed it at his crotch. ‘This is fucking weird,’ he said aloud. In a weird POV took the Coke can and pissed into it laughing as he filmed. ‘Shit,’ he said as it overflowed. He ran into the bog pishing over the floor on the way as he couldn’t stop the flow, the camera whirring all the way. He sniggered to himself as he finished off, stopped the video, washed his hands and wiped the can down to place it back onto the floor beside Bains. He wished he could watch when The Bastart woke to take a gulp to rehydrate. He threw the camera down beside the knife block.
Little victories, like poking a dragon and running away.
Annoyed that he had to act as if a thief in his own home he quietly collected his school books and drank some milk from the bottle out of the fridge, careful not to reopen his lip which had at last dried shut. He daren’t make any breakfast in case he woke The Bastart. Bains is due to go back on shift and his mum will be up and away before then so, all being well, life will be good in the world for another week until The Bastart returns.
Lorn sneered at the mess left by Bains and he knew that he will have to tidy up when he got back from school and before his mum returned from her job at Scotmid. He'd get tea ready for her, she deserved a treat after last night.
He wondered whether the girl Elspeth will be on the bus.
‘Yeah, ‘the girl’ so what if she is?…she’s been getting the same bus for nearly a year and what have you done about it? Nowt, zilch, Sweet Fanny Adams, like you, just a big fat zero. She’s too good for you and you’re too wet to say anything to her. Fucking loser.’
‘Pathetic,’ he repeated.
He found some gum and chewed it to freshen his breath. It was a poor substitute for a toothbrush though saved him from rattling around the bathroom and anyway it was time for his bus. He pulled on his DM’s. Even with all the tiptoeing about he almost forgot to be quiet as he left the kitchen because he pulled the door back to give it a real crash so the Bastart would jump wake. He caught it just in time, trapping his fingers in the door jam.’Shit.’ A good case of temptation nearly beating common sense. If he woke Bains to satisfy a selfish fit of temper his mum would pay. He could hear the bus along the road so he ran down the lane his rucksack bouncing on his back, shaking his hand to ease the pain. He arrived at the stop just as it pulled up.
‘Hi Lorn.’ Lorn flashed his pass while turning his face away. Barbara, the driver, knew everyone and he didn’t want gossip about his latest beating going around the island.
Elspeth was there. Her ear buds in, her forefingers tapping out a drum beat on the back of the seat in front as if it was part of a song she was listening to, as if she knew how to play along. It reminded him of regretting giving up playing the snare drum at the school pipe band. He’d have to walk past as the seats in front were taken and her bag was on the seat next to hers. She stared up at him stumbling along the aisle as the bus drew onto the road.
‘She’s glaring at you with piss off eyes.’
Lorn opened his mouth to say something, but his words were trapped between his brain and lips. Thoughts like ‘Can I sit there?’ or ‘What are you listening to?’ or ‘Fancy coming out for pizza on Saturday?’ Anything really would be better than nothing. ‘Can I buy you a goat?’ even that would do. Or ‘How do you kill a mushroom?’ or ‘Do you like dogs or frying pans?’ actually that would be a good one he thought, as her dad was a blacksmith before he was killed and he made cast iron pans. Lorn’s Mum has one of them. But he swallowed the words.
‘Pathetic, gutless loser.’
He didn't even look at her face as he couldn’t bring himself to turn, though felt that she was staring hard at his own face, which he told himself he kept low to hide the bruising and swollen lip.
Hide your face in shame.
His eyes glanced sideways at her hands which were rough and blackened. She wore the school fleece, arms rolled up, a denim waistcoat over it, a rose tattoo on her wrist a sword for its stem, the same symbol on her jacket left pocket. All her mates had those, the four of them anyway, Dirk, Cat and Brodie. They’re all tight as brothers and sisters who belonged with each other, shared their troubles and laughs. They ignored everyone else including him and everyone else ignored them apart from him. He’d jump off cliffs to be part of them, to have a place to shed life’s shit.
Aye, walk past like a loser.
He sat near the rear with his head down as usual looking at the filthy grey floor wondering what it felt like to belong somewhere and not be frightened to go home. At least Bains wouldn’t be there later so he had a week with just him and his mum.
His school was in Portree about ten miles along the coast road. It was often a journey slowed by local obstacles, such as tractors, bicycles, road works, and Charlie Patterson on his electric wheelchair heading into town to buy his paper or throw bread for the pigeons. Every delay was a good thing for Lorn and he spent the rest of the journey looking at the rear of Elspeth's head, her beautiful thick black bob bouncing with the rises and falls of the bus, all the while remembering her face from the time he’d last seen it.