“Good to see you two getting on so well.” Mr. Scarlet appeared beside the table. “If you’d both like to follow me to the swirling blackness then you can be on your way. Any questions?”
Yes. Loads. And all of them ridiculous.
I stood up from my seat and Weedgie jumped down from his.
“Whose life will I be saving?” I fell into step beside Mr. Scarlet as he marched towards the exit. Weedgie’s claws clicked smartly on the linoleum as he trotted behind us.
“I don’t know. It’s difficult to plan exactly, the way human beings change their minds right, left and centre. All we know is wheels have been set in motion and an innocent person is doomed. You’ll know who it is when you meet him or her.”
“That’s it.” He opened a glass door and stood back. “Good luck.”
“Er…thanks.” I stepped forward then stopped and stared out at the swirling blackness. Weedgie came and stood beside me. We both looked at Mr. Scarlet.
“Just step out and you’ll arrive.” He waved a hand out through the door.
Just step out…into swirling blackness. Yeah. Easy.
I took a deep breath and a tentative step. Then Weedgie grabbed a mouthful of my jeans and tugged me forwards.
“Yow!” We were falling, swirling, spinning. All I could see was inky blackness and Weedgie’s grinning face drifting by every few seconds.
“Oof!” I landed on a padded seat.
“Frinkin’ jinkies!” Weedgie landed beside me.
My hands were wrapped around a huge steering wheel and a big red number nine bus was heading straight for us.
“Whit the -” Weedgie bounced onto my knee, wrenched the wheel to the right and we careered past the shaken bus driver and his startled passengers.
“Gerroff!” I wrestled the wheel back before we took out a row of parked cars. We swerved about the road before I found the brakes and slowed us to a shuddering stop by the kerb.
“Would you mind getting off my knee?” I said this as carefully as I could through gritted teeth as I squinted over the top of Weedgie’s head, trying to see where we were.
“Huv you passed a driving test?” Weedgie half-turned and gave me the evil-eye. I noticed he had big, hairy eyebrows like caterpillars. They were raised towards his quiff.
“Ha, ha. That’s so funny. Chased many cars, have you?”
“Oh, oh, ah’m laughing inside, so ah am. Whaur d’ye think we are?” He turned back to the windscreen and I craned my neck and had a look around.
“Big city. Could be London. Could be anywhere. Backstreets, Victorian houses, railings, not that many cars…hmmm…”
“Whit? Whit are ye hummin’ at?”
“The cars…they’re all…” I looked around me then turned and peered through the side windows. We were in a large blue van of some sort. It had a wooden dashboard and loads of round dials. Weedgie moved off my lap onto the long wide seat beside me.
“They’re a’…whit? They jist look like caurs tae me.”
I felt smug and knowledgeable and duty bound to assert my superiority over him.
“Well, that’s where you’re wrong, Weedgie, old pal. These cars -” and here I swept my arm across the view of the street through the windscreen, “- are in the style of the nineteen sixties…some are earlier. Look at the large, bulbous bonnet on that green car over there. Late fifties, early sixties. See the chrome bumpers and the small round wing mirrors on those two black cars across the street…”
“Jings bangs. Ya numpty.”
I was brought up short by the sight of a small man with a moustache, dressed in a grey suit and carrying a briefcase. He was standing on the pavement just beside us, staring at me in some concern. He tapped on the window and I wound it down. I realised I was sitting in a van effectively talking to myself, while gesticulating grandly and pointing for the benefit of a dog.
“Excuse me, young man…are you alright?”
“Naw, he’s no.” Weedgie bounced back onto my knee and stuck his head out the window, causing the man to retreat a step or two.
“Shush!” I grabbed Weedgie. Bad enough being caught talking to myself but being caught with a talking dog…? We’d end up in a circus.
“It’s awright, calm doon, he cannae unnerstaun’ me. He’ll jist think ah’m a normal dug.”
Oh…what I wouldn’t give for a normal dog.
I smiled as best I could.
“I’m fine, thank you. I was, er, practising a speech for…a wedding.”
“Oh, I see.” The man looked relieved, stepped forward again and patted Weedgie on the head. “Thank goodness for that. For a moment I thought you were a bit mad. You know, your dog looks rather familiar…”
“Is there anywhere around here to stay?” I said, “I’m looking for a room. Somewhere that takes pets.”
The man considered this. “There’s a rooming house around the corner, you could try there. Alternatively, there’s a newsagents in the next street if you want to look through the local paper.”
“Thanks.” I wound the window back up, forcing Weedgie to beat a hasty retreat back onto the seat. The man gave a small salute and walked away.
“So I’m the only one who can understand you?” I blew a sigh of relief.
“Aye. Bummer fur me. You‘re the only yin ah‘ve got tae talk tae.”
“This is just…weird. You’re a dog, but you look kind of human.” I stole another look at him. “You’re not Mick Jagger, are you?”
“In the name o’ the wee man. Whit the hinkin’ jaloobies ur ye oan aboot? Ah’m a dug. Right? Mick Jagger? Mick Jagger?”
“Okay, okay.” I was careful not to be observed again. I kept still and spread my hands in a placatory gesture. “I’m just curious. You’re not any recognised breed, are you? You must be a mongrel. Aargh!”
Weedgie was back on my lap, face inches from mine, lips curled. I pressed myself back into the headrest.
“The word is mixed-pedigree.”
“Technically, that’s two words -”
“No’ if ye spell it wi’ a hyphen. Pal.”
“Right. Okay. Mixed-pedigree it is.”
Nutter-psychopath, more like.
Weedgie retreated back across the seat. I tried to relax and breathe normally. Then I looked down at myself and realised I was wearing orange corduroy jeans and brown suede Chelsea boots. These were topped by a cream velvet shirt with a frill down the front.
“Huh…? What…” I yanked the rear-view mirror towards myself and peered into it. I looked about eighteen. My blond hair was longer than usual and shaggy and I had a droopy moustache. “Good grief. What happened to me?”
“Aye, well, ah didnae want tae say…but ye look like a big lassie. Apart fae the ’tache, that is.” Weedgie looked thoughtful for a moment. “Mind you, that last kennel maid ah had…” He shuddered theatrically. “Mair masculine than you…though that widnae be hard.”
“Let’s go outside and explore a bit,” I said. I was way out of any comfort zone I’d previously been in, and I hoped I wouldn’t get beaten up for looking so girly on whatever streets were out there.
I opened my door and Weedgie followed me out onto the pavement. Another big red bus went by, with Piccadilly Circus on its destination board.
“Yes. We’re in London. London’s hip and happening! Less chance of getting beaten up for wearing this shirt…” I hadn’t meant to say all of that out loud.
“But mair chance o’ getting’ bitten by me fur being a Big Jessie.”
“Hoi. There’ll be no biting. Remember who I am.”
“Aye, the Big Jessie in the lassie’s blouse.”
“No. I’m the person who will be feeding you - if you’re lucky.”
“Jings bangs. Ya numpty.”
Oh no, not again.
This time it was two young women with upswept hair, wearing identical red Macintosh coats and white knee-length boots. I turned to where they were standing, barely three feet away.
Weedgie sat down and wagged his long, bushy tail.
“What a cute dog,” the woman on the left said, “Is he yours?”
“No,” I said instinctively and then hesitated, “I mean…yes…I suppose.”
“Jings bangs balloobies,” Weedgie said, “Numpty.”
“He doesn’t have a collar or anything,” the second woman said, “Are you sure he’s yours? You were shouting at him.”
They both crouched down and Weedgie shuffled over to them and let himself be petted and cuddled. He gave me sly looks over his shoulder.
God, I hated that dog.
“I’ve just got him,” I said, trying to sound happy about the fact, “I need to get him a collar and lead.”
“You’re no puttin’ ony lead on me, pal.” Weedgie’s eyebrows came down over his eyes. The two women drew their hands away.
“He’s growling at you,” the first one said, “He doesn’t like you.”
The feeling was mutual, believe you me.
“Maybe we should take him to the police station,” the second woman said, “Hand him in as a stray.”
“Yes,” her friend said, “That’s a good idea.”
I couldn’t believe my luck.
“Well…that might be for the best,” I said, trying to sound regretful and thinking Mr. Scarlet could hardly blame me if someone took Weedgie away. I could say I’d done my best to stop them. He’d never know.
And then Weedgie leapt up, galloped off down the road and disappeared round the corner. The women backed away, shaking their heads.
“Oh…great!” I took off after him, cursing furiously.
I rounded the corner and spotted Weedgie sitting on the pavement halfway down the street. I stalked towards him, fury rising along with my blood pressure.
I’d had enough.
He would never embarrass me again.
There was a large stick lying in the gutter and I picked it up and raised it above my head. I stepped up to Weedgie.
“That…is…it. You…stupid…ugly -”
“Oh, look, Bobby, isn’t that lovely. The nice man loves his little doggie so much, doesn’t he?”
I looked up, startled. A woman in a green coat and hat was standing nearby, holding a small boy by the hand. They both smiled at me.
I looked down.
Weedgie held the stick in his mouth and I was crouched beside him. My arms were around his neck in an embrace.
“It’s so nice to see someone being affectionate to their pet,” the woman said, then lowered her voice, “’Though I’m not sure kissing him is very hygienic.”
I leapt to my feet and wiped a hand across my mouth. Weedgie dropped the stick on my foot.
“Ow!” I hopped away. Bobby giggled.
“Mwah. Mwah.” Weedgie made kissing noises at me.
I took a few deep breaths, counted to ten and then limped back. I looked around. We were beside a row of shops.
“Is there a pet shop near here?” I asked the woman, who laughed and pointed right behind her to Pets Paradise.
Weedgie rolled his eyes.
I stifled a sigh.
“You’re welcome. Going to buy a nice treat for your dog?” Her voice faltered at the expression on my face and she grasped Bobby’s hand tighter and dragged him away. I marched into the shop, closely followed by Weedgie.
“Morning.” A pale-looking man in a beige dustcoat stood behind the counter. He smiled pleasantly.
“Good morning.” I indicated Weedgie. “I’d like a collar and lead -”
“Nae lead. Ah telltye.”
I gritted my teeth.
“I’d like a collar, please.”
“Certainly, sir.” The assistant stepped out from behind the counter and led us down an aisle to a large rack with dozens of collars in all sizes and colours. I picked out a gleaming pink one.
“Ye’ve got tae be kiddin’.”
“Er…he’s a boy-dog, isn’t he?” the assistant said tactfully, “Perhaps blue would be a better choice…?”
“Ah’m no wearin’ that - hoi!”
I bent down and swiftly fastened the collar round Weedgie’s neck. He glowered at me.
“Take this Big Jessie collar aff ma neck.”
“I don’t think he likes it very much, sir…” The assistant backed away slightly.
“Ah’ll bite ye. And I’ll piddle up yer leg ony chance ah get.”
Weedgie and I locked eyes and stared each other out.
I unfastened the collar and hung it back up.
“Gie’s that wan wi’ the spikes.” Weedgie nodded towards the end of the rack and I gingerly approached a thick black leather collar with silver spikes all round it, and took it down.
“Well, that’s certainly a more masculine choice, sir. And the top of our range. Only the best for your dog, I see.” The assistant beamed in delight as I fastened the collar round Weedgie’s neck.
Great. Now he looked even more psychotic.
“Ye’ll need tae buy me food. And bowls. And get me some o’ they wee crunchy bones. Ah like them.”
I plastered a fake smile to my face and wandered the aisles, closely followed by Weedgie. I gathered an armful of dog food, crunchy bones and two gleaming metal bowls. Then I wondered how I was going to pay for everything.
As soon as the thought entered my head I felt something weighing down my back trouser pocket. I put everything I wanted to buy on the counter and groped around inside the pocket, finding a black wallet, stuffed full of notes.
The assistant started ringing everything up on the big metal till. Weedgie seemed transfixed by the kerrching sound it produced, turning his left ear towards it each time it sounded.
I glanced down at him, wondering just how much of this weirdness he understood or had been told about. And then I reminded myself that Weedgie was a talking dog; he was a big part of the weirdness. He looked back up at me and stuck out his tongue. I turned away and noticed a newspaper lying behind the counter.
“Is that today’s paper?” I said, “May I have a look?”
“Certainly, sir, here you are.” The assistant stopped ringing up Weedgie’s food and handed me the Daily Mail. I ignored the headlines - something about the Royal Family - and focussed on the top of the page.
“Thursday the 21st of March…1968,” I read aloud, then frowned.
“Whit?” Weedgie stared at me. “Whit is it?”
“I’ll tell you in a minute,” I muttered.
“I beg your pardon?” The assistant handed me a large carrier bag with my purchases inside and I handed over some notes.
“Jings bangs. Ya numpty.”
I thanked the assistant and ushered Weedgie out of the shop onto the pavement. We stopped beside the window, which held a display of pet beds.
“Here, ye never got me a bed. Ah need a nice, comfy bed.” He gazed wistfully at a large furry red monstrosity which took up most of the space in the window.
“Shut up and listen. This is 1968.”
Weedgie was huffy. “Aye. So?”
“I’m alive in 1968. I mean, I was alive before I died in 1970. I was thirty three in 1968. So…is there two of me now? Could I meet myself?”
“Two o’ ye,” Weedgie said, rolling his eyes, “Frinkin’ balloobies. Is yin no’ bad enough?”