“So…whit were ye daein’ in 1968...murderin’ folk?” Weedgie sat down on the pavement and stared at me. I found I couldn’t quite meet his too-large brown eyes, and I didn‘t know why.
“Well, I started in September ’67 just after I met my wife and continued until my death in 1970.” I couldn’t help a note of pride appearing in my voice. Nine people in three years; not a bad average really.
“And wha did ye murder?”
“Nine people. My wife. Stepson. Young women. Teenaged girls.”
“Teenage lassies?” Weedgie’s eyebrows rose. “Ye mean, like…schoolgirls?”
“Yes…a few of them.” I shrugged, aiming for nonchalance but not quite pulling it off. Strange. What was wrong with me?
“Jeez-o.” Weedgie shuffled away from me. “You are wan sick puppy.”
I looked at him and caught a flash of disgust in his eyes. I felt suddenly…ashamed. This caught me unawares. Unnerved me. I slumped back against the window and let the bag with Weedgie’s food slide to the ground.
I was a sociopath, a ruthless killer. I’d murdered nine people. I didn’t feel shame or guilt or any of those useless emotions which get in the way of having a good time. This was a fluke; it had to be. It was that damn dog’s fault, staring with those big eyes and judging me.
I glowered at Weedgie and he gave a huge sigh. Then he jumped forward and grabbed the handles of the bag.
“Come oan, numpty,” he said through a mouthful of plastic, “There’s a boarding’ hoose along here.”
He walked off, struggling to carry the heavy bag, and I trailed behind. I ignored the concerned looks of passers by and wondering if two of me could exist at the same time and maybe that was why I felt so odd.
Weedgie stopped a few doors down, where the row of shops petered out and terraced houses began. He dropped the carrier bag on the pavement outside the third house. “We’ll get digs in here.” He nodded to a sign in a downstairs window which said Room To Let.
“Why here? We could get a proper hotel somewhere,” I said. I didn’t want to rent a room in a house; I had a wallet full of money just itching to be spent on something extravagant.
“Naw,” Weedgie said, “We landed in the next street. This is the nearest place. We’re supposed to stay here. Ring the bell.”
I supposed he might be right; if there was any sense to be made out of all this. I sighed and climbed the steps. There was an old-fashioned door-pull and I gave it a tug. A shrill bell rang out but no-one came to the door.
“No-one’s in.” I re-joined Weedgie on the pavement and picked up the bag. “Let’s go bring the van round and wait ’til someone comes home.”
I strode off with Weedgie trotting along beside me. We must have looked like an odd couple and yet…there were plenty of odd-looking people around. We passed two young men, one white with long blond hair and the other black with a large wild afro. Both wore bright coloured jeans and fringed waistcoats and the white guy had a flower painted on his face. On the other side of the street I saw a woman with a nest of bouffant hair with daisies trailing out of it and a man in a tie-dyed shirt with a long grey beard tied in a knot.
I began to feel quite normal.
The blue van was where we’d left it, thankfully. I’d forgotten to take the keys out of the ignition. I managed to retrieve them without Weedgie cottoning on to this fact and went round the back to the rear doors. He followed and watched as I opened them.
The back of the van held a suitcase, an electric guitar and -
“Ya beauty!” Weedgie bounded inside and threw himself onto the huge red furry dog bed which took up most of the space. It was identical to the one in the pet shop window. “Haw, it’s no jist you who gets whit he wants, then.” He sat down in the bed and grinned at me with his big Mick Jagger mouth. I felt queasy and looked away.
I climbed in the back of the van and opened the suitcase. It held jeans, shirts, men’s clothes and underwear, some toiletries. This would be mine, I presumed. I looked at the guitar.
“I can’t play the guitar,” I said, “What’s that here for?”
“There’ll be a reason,” Weedgie said.
Again, I wondered how much he knew…
“Right, let’s get back round there.”
We got in the front again. I drove slowly and carefully round the corner and parked outside the boarding house. We sat there like the Odd Couple and neither of us spoke. The atmosphere grew tense.
I remembered Mr. Scarlet’s threat, and what would happen if I didn’t follow this thing through and succeed. I didn’t doubt that it would play out the way he’d described. To distract myself, I wondered what Weedgie was thinking and chanced a sidelong glance at him.
He was squinting at me.
We both looked quickly away.
The tension increased. I had to do something.
“So…” I said, and Weedgie jumped slightly, “Where did you come from then? Before this. I take it you were in Scotland?”
“Oh, well done, pal.” He sneered. “Ah’m fae Glesca.”
“Glasgow, ya numpty.”
“Oh, right. And did you have a home…an owner?”
There was a moment’s silence, then a sigh.
“Naw. Ah never. Ah wis born in the dug hame and ah lived in a kennel. Folk came to see the dugs and buy them but naebody wanted tae buy me.”
Can’t say I was surprised. What prospective dog owner would be that desperate?
Weedgie looked out of the window. “Then that geezer in the red suit came in this mornin’ and bought me. Tellt me ah was gettin’ an owner at last.”
“Oh yes?” I tried not to smirk as I thought of the poor devil who would end up with this psycho canine. “And who’s that going to be, then?”
I looked at Weedgie.
He turned and stared at me. Raised his eyebrows.
My jaw dropped.
“Aye. Frinkin’ bummer.”
“Oh dear God…” I closed my eyes in horror. Weedgie turned away again. We sat in pained silence until a woman appeared, laden with shopping bags. She climbed the stairs to the house. I jumped out of the van and approached her.
“Excuse me, Madam,” I said in my most polite voice, “Let me help you with those bags.”
She turned and stared at me. “Not likely, hippy. Get lost.”
Not the best start with what looked to be our prospective landlady. I cleared my throat and tried again.
“I was hoping to rent your room…?” I gave her my best smile. She frowned. Behind me, I heard Weedgie jump out of the van.
“Is that your dog?” the woman said.
Oh great, she wouldn’t want pets and now we’d have to go and find somewhere else…not that pet was the ideal word to describe Weedgie. Furry demon would be more apt.
“Yes, he’s mine,” I said.
“Ooh, he’s lovely. Look at his big brown eyes and his smile. He’s got a smashing smile. Haven’t you, poochy-woochy?” She looked adoringly at Weedgie and blew him a kiss. He blew one back.
“C’mon in, the pair of you.” She unlocked the door and entered the hallway. Weedgie bounced in behind her and I followed him. “What’s his name, then?”
Satan. Hell-Hound. Beelzebub.
“He’s called Weedgie.”
She dropped the bags on the floor and spent the next few minutes cooing over Weedgie and rubbing his ears. He snuggled up to her and rubbed his head against her hand. I stood by wondering if I had accidentally discovered the secret of invisibility. What was it that everyone found so appealing about this stupid mutt? He was scruffy and hairy with an Elvis quiff and Mick Jagger’s mouth, for crying out loud. A train-wreck of a dog. He’d never win a rosette at Crufts...unless they introduced a category for Most Hideous Dog.
And I was stuck with him.
I looked at the woman. She was around forty or so, with dyed black hair teased up in a beehive and she wore a beige raincoat and sturdy brown boots. I wasn’t used to being ignored, especially by women. Most people thought I was very attractive; I’d had no trouble luring prospective victims into my car, and I could talk anyone into doing what I wanted.
Until now, it seemed.
Now Weedgie was the star of the show and I was his sidekick. This wouldn’t do.
I resolved to find a solution, and soon. Something awful that could happen to Weedgie and it wouldn’t be my fault. I’d have to make sure it looked like an accident, ’though…
“Room’s five guineas a week, you get breakfast, evening meal and lunch at the weekend. There’s a rota for the bath and you let me know if you’re going away anytime. Two weeks payable in advance.”
I sincerely hoped we wouldn’t be there that long. I fished the money out of my wallet and handed it over.
“I’m Marty,” I said, as it was obvious she wasn’t going to ask.
“Mrs. Chalmers. Widowed. You can call me Sadie.” She carried on fussing over Weedgie as I went back out and fetched the shopping, suitcase and the dog bed. I brought everything into the hall, then, as an afterthought, went back out and brought in the guitar.
“Ooh, I hope you’re not going to be playing that thing all hours. You’re not one of those beatnik groupies or whatever you call them, are you?” Sadie looked horrified.
“No, no.” I hastened to assure her. “I can’t actually play it and you need an amp, anyway. I just want to keep it inside.”
“Well, your room’s upstairs, just let me fetch the key.”
She disappeared through the door of a room to the left and Weedgie and I stood in silence looking around at the scuffed paintwork and dingy linoleum.
“Big hoose,” Weedgie said, “She seems nice.”
I said nothing, just scowled at him. I gathered up our belongings and struggled to hold the guitar and the big furry dog bed.
Then Sadie returned and led us up two flights of stairs to the top floor. There were two rooms up here, which I presumed would have been bedrooms originally, and two on the floor below us. There was a bathroom on the first floor landing.
“I’ve got the ground floor,” Sadie said, “And the other three rooms are rented out.” She glanced at her watch. “It’s nearly five. You’ll meet everyone at dinner time, we usually eat at six thirty. Here you are.”
She flung open a door and Weedgie bounded through and danced around. We were in a large room with a bay window which looked onto the front street. There was a double bed, large dark wooden wardrobe, a tired-looking green settee and a scarred pine coffee table. A small wooden chest of drawers was tucked in beside the bed with a lamp on top and a tray which held an electric kettle and two chipped mugs. The wallpaper had once been pink and gold stripes. I’d no idea what the carpet had once been.
“Right little home from home, eh?” She smiled at Weedgie who grinned back at her.
Home from home? Only if you’d previously lived in a hovel…
“It’s delightful,” I lied, dumping our stuff on the floor and taking the keys she proffered, “We’ll get settled in and join you at half past six.”
“Right you are, then. This key’s for the front door and this one’s for your room. I’ll see you downstairs.”
Once the door had closed behind her, I heaved a sigh of relief. We had somewhere to stay. Now, what would happen?
“Jings bangs, this is brilliant,” Weedgie said, “Put ma bed beside the couch, wid ye?”
I kicked the hideous dog bed over to where he wanted it and he jumped in and sat down. “This is ma first real hame,” he said, “Ah’ve never had a room o’ ma own afore. There was always too mony dugs in the kennels and too much noise. Man, this is braw.”
I flopped onto the settee and tried to pretend he wasn’t there. Ten minutes later, he was up beside me.
“Ah’m hungry,” he said, “And thirsty. Ye’re neglecting yer dug owner duties.”
I counted to ten and then got up and found his new bowls. I took one and trekked downstairs to the bathroom which was cold and damp with a Victorian lavatory pan and a huge bath which had an ominous tide-mark around it. I decided I’d give it a miss and wash at the large white sink the next morning. I filled Weedgie’s bowl with water and carried it back upstairs.
Weedgie fell on the bowl as I put it down and lapped noisily and messily. I picked up one of the cans of dog food and then realised I had nothing to open it with.
“How about you have some of those bones just now and I’ll see abut a tin-opener later?” I opened the box of crunchy bones and put a handful in the other dish.
“Ah’ll come doon wi’ ye and see whit ye’re havin’ fur tea,” Weedgie said, picking a bone out of the dish, “Ah’m no’ too keen on dug food tae be honest.” He started to crunch.
“You’re not keen - ? And yet you let me buy loads of it and struggle to carry it all up here?”
“Aye.” Crunch. Crunch. “Ye needed the exercise.”
A guttural sound of anger escaped me. I swung my foot at him, missed by a mile, overbalanced wildly and landed flat on my back.
“Oof!” The breath was knocked out of me. It mingled with the dust which rose from the carpet.
“Heh. Heh. Heh. Ya numpty.” Crunch. Crunch.
I rose slowly and painfully to my feet and decided to ignore him, unpack the suitcase and put everything away in the wardrobe and chest of drawers. The contents of the case turned out to be toiletries and several more embarrassing items including shirts, a flowery waistcoat, a denim jacket and a paisley patterned dressing gown. This prompted snorts of glee from Weedgie.
“Are ye sure that’s no’ a lassie’s suitcase?”
Two pairs of jeans and another pair of corduroys completed the ensemble. I put the toiletries in the top drawer of the chest, closed the suitcase and shoved it under the bed.
By the time I’d finished it was nearly six. I heard sounds of occupancy in the rooms below. A male voice and a female one. I was surprised; I had assumed Sadie’s tenants would all be male.
“Right, Psycho-Dog,” I said, “Let’s go down and meet everyone.”
“Ma name’s Weedgie. Call me ma right name or ah‘ll bite yer bahookie.”
“Wha…?” I stopped at the door. “I have no idea what you just said. Why can’t you speak English?”
“Ah am, ya numpty. Ah said, ah’ll bite yer bahookie.”
“Bottom. Backside. Yer bum!”
“Right, okay, I get the picture. Good God...” I stormed out of the room with Weedgie at my heels and started down the first set of stairs. “And keep away from my feet or you’ll trip me up.”
“Huh. Don’t gie me ideas.