Our Danny never had much of nose for danger. And that nearly got him killed. After years living on the breadline he went to Gamblers Anonymous. Within a month he’d saved up four hundred and bought a wee Proton. A couple of weeks later he got a full set of freshwater gear out the yellow paper. That was him set. Ten years ago, before his gambling took off big style, Danny was regular in the tranquil places of Scotland. The lochs and salmon rivers. There wasn’t a bit of waterway in the country he didn’t have a fisherman’s opinion on.
All week at work he went on about how this was a new start. How there was nothing like turning off the engine into that hissing silence. Getting the rods on the water, building the fire and settling down to watch them floats. The picture he painted made a big impression on Timmy. He asked Danny if he could come. He was fed up with weekend neds making life a pure fuckin misery. Danny wanted to be up in them high lands alone. He wanted the first breaths of serenity in ten years to be his own. But he felt sorry for Timmy. Timmy was only thirty but being a natural worrier he looked fifty. And neds always pick on the weak so they’d panned his windows so many times Timmy put council shutters up. Steel. All weekend they’d slam bottles and rocks off them. It was probably shell shock he suffered from. If he phoned the cops the neds would stand there with their palms out. What? Us? Rocks? Does somebody live in there? Soon as the cops left it would be like the battle of the Somme. All Timmy wanted was a weekend without fear. Danny put a big smile on and told him no bother. Of course. The company would be good. Somebody to talk to.
—Yes! said Timmy and punched the air.
So as they put the last touches to next week’s work schedule, Danny caught a glance over and for the first time in years saw a flicker of delight cross Timmy’ s face. He’d scribble away worrying about the schedule then his head would tilt up. A smile appeared. His eyes wrinkled. And Danny could see the very mountains Timmy was dreaming about.
They left at half-four. Timmy brought the bright orange waterproofs you get on building sites and a wee fishing rod he’d got for his tenth birthday. Danny had a good hour laughing at that rod. How these big fuckin salmon would snap it in two first bite and eventually got Timmy to fling it out the window at Killiekrankie.
—I’ll give ye one of my rods to keep ya wanker, said Danny. And off they went up the A9.
Timmy sat slack jawed at the scenery. That’s when Danny asked him if he’s ever been up the Highlands before.
—Is Saltcoats in the highlands?
Danny gave Timmy a wee slap on the back of the head.
—Saltcoats? Saltcoats? Ye mad?
Turns out Timmy’d never been anywhere without houses roads and shops. So as they turned off into the mountains he marvelled.
—And not a ned in sight, said Danny.
It was all backpackers and cars with kayaks and canoes. People eating noodles by the side of the road. Some waving. Some simply looking in the car. But without menace.
They parked under the dropping branches of a tree so it couldn’t easily be seen. When they got to the head of the loch Timmy stood staring down that water while Danny set up the rods. Every now and then he’d hear Timmy saying wow! Or fuckin hell man! Two rods for Danny and one for Timmy. Timmy loved his new rod and kept asking if he really had to keep it.
—It’s yours, Danny said, scrape your name on it.
He showed Timmy how to tie the hook, set the float and cast. Then he got onto the floats. It never takes him long to get onto the floats. Danny claims to have invented them. Jif Lemons with a curtain hook screwed into the bottom. You put the line through the hook, slide the float to the required depth(Danny was expert at that an all), wrap the line round the top and screw the lid on. See them for miles. In white, grey or rough water you can see them. Once these three lemons were floating nicely out in the loch Danny lit the fire. They had a conversation about the smell of burning wood and cracked a bottle of Buckie each.
Life didn’t get any better. Relaxation took ten years off Timmy. He leaned back on the grass and laughed. Looked up to the sky and shouted
Letting his voice raise up to the heavens.
—Your float just bobbed, said Danny, watching as Timmy ran down to the water’s edge and grabbed his rod.
—What will I do now?
—Wait till it bobs down again.
Danny got beside him. Two men, four hands on the rod. Ready. Waiting for that fish to swallow the bait. They waited. But the float stayed where it was. And the water was calm. Danny’s grasp slackened.
—Must’ve been a nibble just, said Danny, —Good sign but.
He left Timmy holding the rod by the side of the silver loch and the sun coming down to the mountains in the west.
An hour later as the water was turning red they heard a car. It parked behind theirs and Danny was relieved to see it wasn’t fishermen. It was just a guy and his bird. They got out laughing and came over. Nice night and all this. She had great sticky-out tits and a short skirt more for clubbing than wilderness. Timmy blew some check-that-out air though his pouted lips. Danny offered the guy a charge of the Buckie.
—Cheers Danny. I’m Tam.
—That’s Timmy, said Danny.
—All right Timmy my man.
—This is Lydia, bird.
—Hi yi, said Lydia, and shook hands.
They could smell her perfume.
Tam produced a joint and they sat by the fire smoking. Danny was sure Tam caught Timmy checking Lydia’s legs out. Caught him and smiled. Nudged her. Leaned in and, Danny said, told her to tug her skirt up that bit more. It was red knickers she had on. Right sexy red knickers. Tam kept asking about fishing and even though he didn’t sound like a man interested in fishing Danny told him.
—See they floats?
—Know what they are?
—Fuck aye! Said Danny proud of himself.
—They things ye use in cooking? asked Lydia.
Now he had them interested Danny described in detail how he invented them. How easy they are to see, no matter the weather. How fishermen all over the country use them now. The world even for all he knows. But do they give him the credit? No, do they fuck! All the time Tam’s rubbing his hand slowly up and down Lydia’s leg. Timmy and Danny catch each other’s glance about that whenever they can.
Dark is falling and Danny’s on the difference between a Salmon and Trout’s tail when they hear another car. It parks behind Tam’s and two guys in their early twenties get out. Tam waves over.
—They’re here, says Tam to Lydia.
Over they come.
—Get it? Says Tam.
—In the car, says the one that looks like a gypsy. The other one looks like a junkie. He stands saying nothing. Staring at Lydia’s legs. Not even looking away when she catches him. Stares till she puts her head down in fact. They’ve got a carry out and toss a can each to Danny and Timmy without asking who they are. They sit down, the junkie close to Lydia so their legs are touching. Tam starts rubbing her leg again and the other guy rolls a joint. And all this is done in awkward silence. Danny and Timmy fiddle with fishing tackle and throw some more wood on the fire – the flames lighting them all up. Then Tam, in an artificially happy voice, points to the floats.
—Guess what they are?
—They yellow things.
—What yellow things?
The junkie looks. —Floats, he says.
—Aye but what are they made out of?
—Floaty stuff, says Gypsy and burst out laughing, choking on smoke. Rolls over onto the grass and laughs far too much. Tam boots him.
—No – Jif fuckin Lemons. N’at right Danny.
—Aye, says Danny. But nerves are setting in.
—Tell these two bams how you invented them, says Tam.
Danny proceeds to tell. A burr of fear unmistakeable in his voice. By this time it’s getting dark.
—That’s great, says Gypsy when he’s finished, —I’ll have to remember to keep my Jif Lemons.
—Talking about lemons, says Tam, and gets up trailing Lydia by the hand to the cars.
He takes a bag from Gypsy’s car and goes to his own, opens the back door and says something to Lydia. She crawls in backwards and lies on the seat. Everybody’s watching as Tam takes one ankle and places it on the head rest. Her other on the parcel shelf. Danny and Timmy can’t believe it.
—D’you want fucked ya slut, he’s saying as he drops his jeans.
She says something.
—I can’t hear ye, d’you want fucked?
There’s a whimper that sounds like a yes.
—I can’t fuckin hear ye, and he slaps her. She yelps.
—Yes! she shouts.
—Yes what? he says holding a fist in the air.
—I want fucked.
Bang! He punches her. She starts crying. In he goes and closes the door. Danny and Timmy stare out at the floats. But the two other guys don’t take their eyes off the car. There’s a slap and a yelp. Gypsy lights a joint and takes a long suck as if he’s trying to quench his lust. The muffled cries of Tam shouting at Lydia and the rocking of the car are hard to ignore. Especially when nobody’s mentioning it. When nobody’s talking at all. When nobody’s saying nothing.
Tam comes back doing up his jeans with a grin and hands Gypsy the red knickers. He immediately stuffs them to his face drawing in air. Danny and Timmy are down at the waterside checking rods that don’t need checked.
—Does this happen a lot? Timmy asked.
Danny nodded a quick no and tried not to look at these guys. When he did Tam was tranquil as you like smoking a jay; looking over the water. He caught Danny’s eye and winked.
—Aye, is all he said.
—Fuck sake Danny he’s a psycho, whispered Timmy.
—They’ll probably go away soon.
The other two were in the car now. Shouting obscenities at Lydia. Taking turns fucking her. She started screaming. It first just like she did with Tam but soon loud.
—No. Please no!
Timmy gave Danny a what-will-we-fuckin-do look. She screamed louder and Danny knew what punches sounded like. The heavy thud of flesh against flesh.
—No. Help. Help. Rape!
Danny automatically took a step but Tam put out a hand —Leave it, was all he said. Danny tuned back to Timmy.
—Help, help. Rape!
—Shut it ya wee fuckin hoor!
Another heavy punch. Lydia’s face at the window pleading. They drag her back down. A heavy punch. A scream. Danny goes to move again.
—I said leave it.
—Get back to your Lemon Jifs and mind your own business, Tam said.
And he meant it. Then he stood up and went to the car. Opened the door. All movement stopped. Tam lit a torch and ran it’s beam all over her body. Molesting her with an obscene pool of light.
—Hit her a slap, he said.
—No Tam please, she said.
Tam closed the door and the punching took on a new ferocity. Danny and Timmy moved closer. Danny could hear exactly what Tam was shouting.
—What you doing in here with them ya wee slut?
—They raped me Tam.
—Raped ye? You’re a slut. You took them in here.
—I didn’t Tam honest.
—I didn’t Tam honest
—Right lads, he said like an order.
It was like drums the punching. She screamed.
—Fuck sake Danny, said Timmy.
—Rape! Rape! she was screaming. Banging her fists on the window.
The torch sent a series of lurid silhouettes flashing at Danny and Timmy. Danny was sure her face, caught for a second in the berserk light, was covered in blood. He crept closer. Timmy behind him. Closer they got. Closer. They were all raping her. Her face was bruised and bloody. It was only when they flung her so that her face smeared on the glass that she seen Danny. And she froze long enough for them to react. Tam jumped out.
—What did I tell you?
—What the fuck are yees doing to her?
—What did I tell ye? Tam said as he went to the boot.
—I can’t stand here while youse rape somebody.
—What did I tell ye?
Danny tried to answer but couldn’t.
—To mind your own business.
The boot’s open and there’s this almighty roar. A motorbike coming at them it sounds like.
But that’s not what it is.
It’s a chainsaw. Tam lifts it roaring from the boot. Danny sprints screaming into the darkness, bumping into Timmy as he does. He can hear the deafening roar of the chainsaw inches behind. He crashes into and over a fence. Lands on his back. Gets up and runs. Hears Tam clambering the fence and moving in and out the trees. Between the revs he shouts.
—Come back here ya bastard. I’m goanny cut ye up!
It’s heavy going with them big chest wader on. But Danny keeps moving clump clump. Running through a puddle. But keeps going. He can hear Timmy screaming somewhere and by the cadence knows he’s running too. Danny struggles on. The puddle gets deeper dragging him back. The roar of the chainsaw and Tam’s mad voice closing in. The more the water drags Danny back the more effort he puts into going forwards. The chainsaw diminishes but he’s not stopping. Not for nothing he’s stopping. The water gets up to his thighs. Up to his arse. Up to his chest. But he trudges on. One leg then the other leg. Then he loses grip. Next thing he’s swimming. With the high waders dragging him under. But he swims with the determination of terror. He swims for a long time. And even though it’s early summer the water is freezing. It’s a full half-hour before he feels rocks and gets some kid of purchase. And all the time the sporadic roar of the chainsaw and laughing and shouting.
The water falls to his chest, his arse, his knees. He gets out and does a kind of handstand to empty the waders. Gallons cascading out onto his head. Then he starts running again. Clumping in the direction this big black shape. Maybe it’s a house, maybe it’s a house, maybe it’s a house. But he’s soon on this dark shape. Up he goes steeper and steeper until he’s actually climbing. When he gets so far and so steep that he can’t climb any more he stops. By now the chainsaw has stopped and he thinks he hears cars moving off. But he’s not going back to check. He sat shivering. Praying for light.
And then there’s Timmy.
And then there’s Timmy.
—Oh fuck Timmy.
Danny starts crying. Timmy’s first time outside town and this happens. He pictured Timmy’s body parts floating beside the Jif Lemons. Danny dreaded the coming of light.
He thought he heard something. A sharp intake of breath. A loose stone rattles down the slope. Danny grapples about for a rock. A weapon. Finds a hands sized pebble. And if ever he was capable of murder, that was the night. He can feel somebody listening in the dreadful silence.
Timmy comes scraping down the slope and lands beside him.
—Thank fuck, says Timmy, —I thought you were dead.
—I thought we both were dead.
They hugged each other. Crying for who knows how long.
—Danny, said Timmy after a while
—I don’t want to go fishing again.
All their tension came out in laughter. But they had to stifle it so they giggled like schoolboys till the sun came up. And that’s when Danny seen the puddle he’d run through. It was the loch. And across the other side the neds’ cars were gone.
—Thank fuck, said Danny.
—Danny? says Timmy
—I can see the Jif Lemons from here.
And sure enough away in the distance were these three floats.
They made their way down the mountain. Crept round the edge of the dawn loch. A heron flew through the mist. And there was silence. When they emerged from the trees Timmy spotted the chainsaw drowned in the water.
—Don’t touch it, Danny said, —Evidence.
Danny pulled the rods in one at a time. The Jif Lemons tilted and headed in. Nothing on the hooks but nibbled, bleached worms. He packed everything away and made to the car.
He knew there was something different about it. Everywhere was little crystals of glass. Every window smashed. And something on the roof. Like a branch. No, not a branch. It was a gouge.
When they were right up close they realised what it was. The roof was split open like a tin of beans. The ceiling hung down inside like guts. There was a few gouges on the doors where they’d not been able to cut through. The seats were shredded and the insides had avalanched.
—We have to go to the cops, Danny said.
They shoved the gear in and started up. Bumped that wreck of a car along the dirt track. It was only when they got to the road and the wheels started ringing they realised the tyres had been shredded too. Danny screamed.
The drove into Kinloch Rannoch with sparks coming off the rims. It was pandemonium on wheels that drew up to the cop station. But there was nothing the cops could do. They needed the girl to make a formal complaint. The only good news was, that even though Danny was third party fire and theft the insurance office paid out. It was the best story they’d had in years, they said.
Now, at nights, way up the highlands, far, far into the wilderness where nobody can come, Danny sits watching a lonesome Jif Lemon in the knowledge that guys like that could be anywhere.