Authors: Margaret Thomson Davis
I dedicate this book with heartfelt thanks to the two Marys – Mary Ferguson who has not only been an excellent home help but a kind and loyal friend, and to Mary Brown who has also been a kind, supportive and loyal friend.
Special thanks to my son, Kenneth Baillie Davis, who, because he took his degree at the Rennie Mackintosh School of Art, was able to help and advise me about the scenes in the art school.
The sexy poetry in the book was supplied by my old friend Michael Malone whose books of poetry are always worth buying.
My gratitude and admiration goes to all the members of the Fire and Rescue Service who helped and advised me while I was writing
Kirsty Price wished her father was dead. She watched Simon Price’s solid, rangy build and bald head silhouetted against the stained-glass window in the front door, before he opened the door and lumbered down the steps on to Botanic Crescent and into his big four-by-four. She hoped, prayed even, as she did every morning, that he would be killed in a car crash on his way to work. She could just imagine how he would be making his students suffer in the Glasgow School of Art, with his exaggerated glances and snide, sarcastic comments. She often felt like killing him and she had no doubt some of them did too.
It was how he had treated her young brother that made her really hate him. He would never let up with his constant nagging and belittling of everything Johnny did. Nothing Johnny did could ever live up to his expectations or please him. She worried about her young brother. He was so vulnerable and unable to cope. Johnny had suffered ill health for most of his twenty-one years. He had been a delicate, premature baby and then, at fifteen, he had developed agonising rheumatic fever. That illness had left him with a heart condition. He had also suffered terrible ulcers in his mouth and had to have all his teeth removed. He had always been acutely embarrassed and ashamed at having to wear dentures at his age.
‘You’re a right idiot, hanging about outside the GOMA with your freaky Goth pals, all dolled up in black and pins and chains, and purple lipstick,’ her father accused.
Her mother would always try to come to Johnny’s defence.
‘Simon, he’s not doing anybody any harm, and he can’t help his health problem. The valves of his heart …’
She never managed to get very far.
‘He’s twenty-one years of age and still a financial burden.’
‘Dad,’ Johnny desperately interrupted. ‘I’ve got a job.’
‘How long’ll this job last, I wonder. Your last effort didn’t last long.’ Simon’s thick moustache jutting aggressively, he turned to his daughter to sneer, ‘We’ll just have to depend on our clever wee dish-washer to make a contribution.’
Kirsty had found a job in the kitchen of the nearby fire station, making breakfast and lunch for the firefighters. Her father was always making a fool of the job and saying she hadn’t enough brains to go to university. But the job meant she could get home in plenty of time to be with her mother and make sure she took the afternoon rest in bed that the doctor had ordered. Her mother had developed angina, which wasn’t surprising, living such a stressful life.
Her mother adored Johnny and suffered agonies every time Simon attacked him. She had always been such a gentle, caring woman.
Johnny took after his mother. He didn’t have a bad or resentful bone in his body. He was tall and thin, with a shock of fair curly hair and large, eager-to-please blue eyes. He’d dyed his hair black but his eyes were just the same as they’d always been.
‘Mummy’s blue-eyed boy,’ Simon always sneered.
Johnny had tried different jobs and had made enough to buy a second-hand Mini, which he hoped to customise. It was a horrible sickly shade of yellow and his father made a terrible fool of it, but it didn’t spoil Johnny’s pride and pleasure in owning it. His last job had been working in a café in town. However, the varying shifts and the fact that the business of the café meant he was continually on his feet and under pressure had caused him yet again to lose his job.
There were a couple of regular customers that he’d become particularly friendly with. They always had a pleasant bit of banter with him, which made his shift go slightly more quickly. He was rather taken with them – with their air of sophistication and poise. He was flattered by their interest in him. Kirsty found the attention they were giving him rather strange. Polite chit-chat and friendly interest were a sign of a good tipping customer, but she began to wonder about their motives. She didn’t like to think that way, but she couldn’t help being suspicious.
They were a glamorous-looking pair called Renee and Paul Henley, and so different from Johnny with his Goth look. Kirsty had voiced her unease to her mother.
‘Och, you’re a right wee worrier, Kirsty. You’re worse than me. Renee and Paul seem very nice, kind people. Johnny thinks the world of them.’
‘I know that, Mum. But why are they taking such an interest in Johnny, I wonder? I mean, they’re so different from him.’
Her mother was contentedly stroking Jingles, the cat, so called because of the tiny bell that dangled from its collar.
‘They think the world of Johnny. And why not? He’s a lovely boy. This Goth thing’s just a stage he’s going through.’
Still, Kirsty kept thinking, Paul and Renee were both very worldly-wise and sophisticated compared with her naive young brother. They both worked as croupiers in the casino. She had met them briefly in Byres Road while she was out shopping with Johnny. He had introduced them excitedly. Kirsty had used the opportunity to quiz them in as casual a tone as possible.
‘Isn’t there a café or a restaurant in the casino?’
‘Oh yes, and I could get free tea and coffee. But it’s good to get out and have a break from the place.’
It was understandable, she supposed. But now they were saying that the job in the café was too much for Johnny. Carrying heavy trays of dishes was bound to be putting a strain on his heart. No doubt that was true. Nevertheless, it seemed odd, to say the least, that Paul and Renee had offered him a job looking after their flat in Byres Road.
‘Johnny tells me you’ve offered him some sort of job. We’re certainly glad he won’t be staying unemployed. It’s very kind of you.’
‘We work such long hours,’ Renee explained, ‘and it worries us that our flat is left empty and unattended so much. There’ve been so many burglaries in and around the West End recently.’
Perhaps that was perfectly reasonable. And yet …
Kirsty tried very hard not to be suspicious and to be pleased for Johnny. He was so delighted.
‘It’s not far from here, only a few minutes’ walk, and I’ll really enjoy keeping an eye on the flat and having a nice meal prepared for Renee and Paul to warm up when they get home.’
The fire station where Kirsty worked was just about as handy as Renee and Paul’s place, only in the opposite direction. At first, Kirsty had been shy and withdrawn in the company of the firefighters, but they very soon put her at her ease. She absolutely loved working in the place and she admired the firefighters beyond words.
The small kitchen upstairs was part of the large day room, with a hatch through which she could serve the meals. The men, muscles bulging under their black trousers and black T-shirts, and the open-necked black shirts they sometimes wore on top, formed a noisy, cheerful queue. When it was time for a mid-morning tea or coffee, they often persuaded her to join them at the long table. The men were always cheery or cheeky, a flirtatious comment given with a grin.
If she wasn’t busy, or even while she was cooking or washing-up, she liked to watch the firefighters work out on the fitness machines that were positioned down one side of the room. It was very necessary to keep fit for such a dangerous and heavy job.
Today, she was watching the men as they worked out, paying special attention to Greg McFarlane as he pumped his arms through a set of bicep curls. His muscles flexed and bulged as he grunted out his final reps. He was framed by two other firefighters performing shoulder presses. She smiled to herself – it was like having her own private performance by the Chippendales. Greg came over to the hatch, rubbing the sweat from his face, neck and hard, muscly arms with a towel.
‘Stop fussing about in there, Kirsty. Come out and relax for a few minutes. Have a coffee with me.’
There were already other firefighters sitting at the table having their morning coffee, and they greeted her with, ‘Hey there, blondie.’
She joined them shyly but gladly. She liked all of them but Greg was her favourite. She put a cup of coffee down in front of him, then sat beside him at the table. Today he was on red watch. There was a continual rota of four watches – red, green, white and blue; two day shifts and two night shifts. The day shifts were from eight in the morning until six at night. The night shift ran from six at night until eight in the morning. Seventeen firefighters belonged to the station, and they were all wonderful men, in her opinion, but none more so than Greg. She was always thankful when he was on day duty.
His policeman friend was at the table with him today, notebook in front of him. Sergeant Jack Campbell from the local police office was writing a history of the fire service in his spare time.
‘Listen,’ Greg was saying to her now, ‘we’re both off duty this evening. If you’re not doing anything else, how about us meeting up and going to the pictures? Or for a meal, or just a drink. Whatever you like.’
She felt flattered and sad at the same time.
‘I’m sorry, Greg. I’d love to but my mother doesn’t keep too well and …’
‘Isn’t there anyone else living at home?’
‘Yes, my father and my brother.’
‘Well then. You deserve some time off to relax and enjoy yourself. Go on, say you’ll come.’
‘Aye, go on,’ Jack Campbell laughed, ‘put him out of his misery.’
Before she could give any more excuses, the bell electrified the air, and Greg and the other men – except for Jack Campbell – made for the door, knocking chairs over in their rush, their boots making a thunderous clatter.
She could see in her mind’s eye how he and the other firefighters rushed along the corridor. Reaching the poles, they swung out, spinning and swooping down to the firm rubber mat below. Some landed on their feet and in one smooth motion raced for the fire engine. Others mistimed their landing in their hurry, landed harshly but immediately rolled over and up with hardly a break in speed. They swung up through the cabin doors as the driver revved the engine. The huge truck was already in motion as the doors slammed closed.
‘Great guys,’ Jack Campbell said, and Kirsty heartily agreed with him. She prayed that they would be safely back before she went off duty. But when the time came for her to go, the shift had still not reappeared. She had to leave in an agony of anxiety. It was always like this now. She couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to Greg.
She determined to spend as much time as she could listening for the sound of the fire engine returning along Queen Margaret Drive and watching from the window for the sight of it. Botanic Crescent, where the family’s terraced house was situated, was just off Queen Margaret Drive and the fire engine would have to pass the end of the Crescent. Unless, of course, the fire had been at the other side of the city.