We arrived in the hall and Sadie appeared and ushered us into the dining room. Or rather, she ushered Weedgie in and I trailed behind. I was instructed to sit on the far side of the large gate-leg table which was covered in a yellowing tablecloth and set for five. Sadie thumped a chipped plate in front of me and brought Weedgie a china Wedgwood bowl before bustling off back to the kitchen.
Weedgie sniffed the air and the cooking smells which wafted through to us.
“Minging and bowfing? Is that good?”
Weedgie sniffed. “Naw.”
Voices were approaching; a man and a woman. Weedgie looked at me. “Thought there were three folk stayin’ here?”
“One must be out,” I said, bracing myself for the meeting ahead. Perhaps I would know straight away that one of these people was whoever I was supposed to save. The voices got louder and then a man and woman entered the room and stopped short.
“Oh!” The woman was about thirty, with dyed blonde hair piled up on her head and big gold earrings.
“I say, who are you?” The man looked around the same age, with slicked-back brown hair and a thin, bony face.
I took an instant dislike to him.
“I’m Martin Hollis,” I said and Weedgie trotted round the table to meet them. The man curled his lip in disgust and shrank away.
I began to revise my opinion of him.
The woman, however, crouched down and welcomed Weedgie with open arms. “Hello, doggie! Are you the latest lodger, then? What’s your dog’s name?”
“This is Weedgie.” Sadie appeared wearing huge padded oven gloves and carrying a large casserole dish which she plonked down in the centre of the table. “And that’s Malcolm.”
“Marty.” I managed to smile at the woman and she came and sat beside me.
“I’m Patricia Sullivan. Call me Pat. And this is Eric.”
The thin man took a seat opposite. “Eric Clegge at your service.” I looked from one to the other and then at Sadie as she began dishing out stew - giving Weedgie the first portion - and wondered what I should be looking for. No clues were forthcoming. Perhaps the missing person would be the one who‘d need saving.
I asked who occupied the room opposite mine.
“That’s Lorraine,” Pat said, “She went out for a meal with her boyfriend. You’ll meet her later.”
A faint shiver made me wonder if I was sitting in a draught. I looked down at Weedgie who was sniffing suspiciously at his Wedgwood dish and then I turned my attention to the meal.
It was awful. The gravy was floury and lumpy, the meat was the consistency of plywood and probably similar in taste and the accompanying potatoes were cold and hard.
“Jings bangs,” came a mutter from below, “Ah‘ll need tae see a dentist after this lot.”
I nearly laughed, managed to turn it into a cough, and felt obliged to try and force some of the food over. A quick glance round the table told me that Sadie, Pat and Eric must all possess taste buds dulled into submission by eating Sadie’s cooking. They all tucked in with gusto.
“Lovely,” Eric said, between mouthfuls.
“Mmm…really good,” Pat agreed.
I called on my talent for distorting the truth.
At my feet, Weedgie snorted with laughter.
The torture continued. The stew was followed by hard, tinned pears swimming in thin, runny custard. I noticed Sadie had managed some consistency in style; the custard was as lumpy as the gravy.
Pat was keen to know all about Weedgie and asked lots of questions. I was as vague as possible with my responses and steered the conversation back to the house and its occupants as soon as I could.
I learned that Sadie had been a widow for two years, Pat was head typist in an insurance office and Eric was a clerk with an accountants. They’d both lodged with Sadie for a year while Lorraine worked in a shop and had been there six months.
“Jeez-o. A year o’ this mingin’ dross. Ye’d get less time for breakin‘ and enterin‘ and the prison food would be better.” Weedgie tugged at my trouser leg. “Get us a fish supper, eh? Ah want fish and chips.”
Pat looked down at him. “Who does your dog remind me of…?”
This was my cue to exit, using the excuse of walkies. Sadie told me everyone would be in the lounge next door when I got back and be sure to bring Weedgie to join them. I thanked her through gritted teeth and we left.
“C’moan.” Weedgie was off like the clappers as soon as his claws hit the pavement. “Ah can smell fish and chips.”
It was dark and the streetlights were on. I followed him round the corner and then he dived across the road, causing a taxi to swerve and brake. He and the driver exchanged insults and then he trotted on. I smiled to myself. Weedgie had no road sense. How easy it would be for him to be hit by a bus, for instance. Especially if I led him onto the road in front of it.
We passed a small park and Weedgie ran in then emerged a few moments later.
“That’s better,” he said, “Ah needed a good Jimmy.”
“A Jimmy Riddle.”
“A piddle. Ah needed a -”
“Alright, alright, I get the picture.” I gritted my teeth. “Too much information.”
“You’re no very bright, are ye? Ah don’t know how ah’m supposed tae work wi’ a daftie like you.”
I felt my blood pressure rising and a red mist descending. I took several deep breaths before I could speak.
“You do want these fish and chips, don’t you?“ I pointed across the street with a shaking finger. “There’s a café over there. I’ll go in and you wait outside.”
The road was empty, sadly, and we crossed without incident. Weedgie sat down outside the café and I went in and joined the queue. A few moments later a woman parked a pushchair outside the shop and came in behind me. I looked through the window and could see a small arm waving out of the pushchair towards Weedgie. He moved closer to it.
I kept one eye on the pushchair outside as I ordered chips for myself and fish and chips for Weedgie. When I emerged, he was just saying to the toddler sitting in it; “So…ye like Andy Pandy? He looks like a Big Jessie tae me.”
“C’mon.” I ushered him away. “I’ve got the chips.”
“Righto. See ye, hen.” He gave the toddler a kiss and she gurgled something and gave him a hug and wave goodbye.
“Let’s go to that park,” I said and Weedgie fell in beside me.
“See me? Ah love weans,” he said.
“Wayne’s…what? Who’s Wayne?”
“Naw, weans. Kiddies. Wee folk.”
“Children, you mean?”
“Aye, that’s whit ah said. Weans. They give ye kisses and cuddles and a lick o’ their ice cream cone. Weans are brilliant.”
My brain hurt. If I had to listen to much more of this drivel I would throw myself under a bus, never mind him. I counted to ten…and then twenty. We came to the park and found a bench. I ate my chips and Weedgie demolished his fish supper; his eating habits were disgusting but at least it kept him from talking.
As soon as the food was finished, I binned the papers and we set off back to Sadie’s’.
When we arrived we followed the sound of laughter and discovered the lounge, where Bewitched was blaring away on a small black and white television. I joined Eric on a saggy velvet settee and Weedgie leapt onto Sadie’s lap in a nearby armchair. Pat took up half of another settee and clicked knitting needles and pink wool together at ferocious speed.
An hour passed uneventfully. My brain switched itself off and I stopped focussing on the screen. And then the outside door opened.
“Only me!” A young female voice sang out.
I froze. Weedgie looked curiously at me. Then the lounge door opened and something impossible happened.
Lorraine Dickinson, the missing lodger and my first victim - a twenty two year-old woman who had been dead for six months - entered the room.
The next few minutes were a blur. Lorraine was introduced and then ignored me in favour of petting Weedgie and admiring his collar. I found I was sweating and shivering.
“Are you alright?” Eric frowned and moved away along the settee.
“Actually, I feel…er…tired.” I stood on wobbly legs. “I think I’ll have an…early night.”
Everyone except Eric expressed disappointment that Weedgie was leaving to go upstairs with me. He followed me out into the hall.
“Whit’s wrang?” he asked, “Ye look like ye had a shock.”
“I did. I have.” I took the stairs two at a time and he struggled to keep up. When we were in our room I snapped on the lamp, closed the curtains and started to pace up and down.
“Lorraine Dickinson,” I said, my voice flat, “Lorraine Dickinson…”
“Whit? Dae ye fancy her or somethin’?”
I stopped and stared at him then took a deep breath and it all came out in a rush.
“She’s dead. I killed her last September. She’s buried beneath the floor in a cinema on Redway Road beside three other women.”
“Frinkin’ balloobies! Are ye sure?”
“Am I sure I murdered her? Hmmm…let me think…!” Sarcasm oozed from every word. This masked a growing dread that something had gone terribly, horribly wrong.
“Naw, are ye sure it’s the same lassie?”
“Of course I’m sure. It’s her.”
“Well, how can she be here then?” Weedgie jumped onto the settee and looked at me.
“I don’t know!” I hissed at him and he curled his lip. He watched me pace back and forward for a few minutes and then he jumped into his bed and lay down, curled up into a ball with his head resting on his big fluffy tail. He looked like he was asleep but his eyes followed me back and forward, all the time.
After a while, my head started to ache and I just wanted to rest. I undressed, got into bed and switched off the lamp.
“Nightie-night,” Weedgie said.
The night was long and I didn’t get much sleep; partly because of the dark, unsettling thoughts running round my head and partly because half an hour after I’d retired, Weedgie joined me on the bed. He stretched out, put his head on the pillow next to mine and snored like a road drill.
After an age, I managed to nod off but woke suddenly at six ‘o’ clock. The other half of the bed was empty and the door was ajar. Had someone let Weedgie out? I thought back to us appearing in the van and how he’d grabbed the steering wheel and avoided the bus. If he could do that then he could open a door.
I got up and put on the paisley dressing gown then crept out of the room and looked around. The house was silent, no-one was up yet. Then I heard the toilet flush. I peered over the balcony to the floor below just in time to see the bathroom door open and Weedgie emerge.
“What the -?” I reversed back as he trotted up the stairs and we re-entered the room together.
“Did you just…use the bathroom?”
“So…you’re a dog, for crying out loud.”
“And? Would ye rather follow me aroon’ wi’ a pooper-scooper?”
I was horrified. “No, I would not!”
“Well, then.” Weedgie bounced back onto the bed and stretched out. “Stop yer greetin’.”
Once again, I counted to ten. Then I gathered a pair of jeans and the least offensive shirt from the wardrobe and made my way to the bathroom where I avoided the stained bath and had a wash at the sink. I dressed and reappeared in our room. Weedgie was sitting on the settee, waiting for me.
“Ah’ve been thinking…” he said, looking rather guilty, “Aboot the whole murdered lassie thing and her bein’ still alive…”
“Yes?” I was desperate enough to listen to him.
“Well, when that red bampot took me awa’ fae the kennels yesterday he answered a phone in his motor. It was yin o’ they wee things that stick oan the dashboard and ye don’t need to haud them.”
“Aye, whatever. Anyway, he didnae realise ah could talk then, so he yakked awa’ aboot ye and whit was gaun’ tae be happenin’.”
I perked up. This was interesting. “Who was he speaking to?”
“Huvnae a scoobie. Sorry.”
I stared blankly at him so he sighed and translated;
“A scooby-doo. A clue. Ah don’t ken. Ah don’t know.”
“Right. Fine. What did he say?”
Weedgie looked even guiltier. “Somethin’ aboot ye being reprogrammed and then…yer life bein’…rubbed oot.”
“Rubbed…out? Erased? What…like I’ve ceased to exist?” My voice rose several decibels.
“Mebbe? Ah thought he’d tellt ye this. Ah thought ye knew yer auld life would be gone.”
“My past is gone? Is that what you’re saying? I don’t exist now?” My head reeled; I felt as if the swirling blackness outside the motorway café was now inside my skull.
Weedgie frowned. “It would explain why…naebody seems tae take much notice o’ ye. Ah’ve noticed that. They don’t remember much aboot ye. Ye’re like a non-person. Maybe that’s so ye can come and go and save folk and no’ cause too much disruption.”
My legs went weak and I flopped down next to him. He seemed unsure if he should move closer or further away. He chose to edge further away. I seethed quietly for a while, taking this new development in and trying to control my ego. I wanted to rampage around the room smashing everything in my path and screaming at the top of my lungs.
After what seemed like years I composed myself enough to ask, “How did they reprogramme me?”
Weedgie shrugged as best a dog can. “The red bampot did me, when ah started talkin’. Well, when ah started swearin’ at him. He licked yin o’ his fingers and pointed it at me. Next thing ah know, ah cannae frinkin’ swear. Ah’m telling’ ye, it‘s boomby gloobers.”
“I didn’t see him point at me.”
“He probably did it ahint yer back. He’s sneaky that way.”
“But he was okay with you talking…”
“Oh aye, he could understaun’ me. Him and weans. He must have done something to you an a’, so you could hear me right.”
“Children can understand you?” I remembered the toddler in the pushchair. “What about other dogs?”
Weedgie looked at me as if I was mad. “Of course other dugs can undertstaun’ me. Cats and stuff an’ a’. It’s jist folk that canny hear us right. Big folk, that is, no wee yins.”
Well, you learn something every day.
There was movement around the house now; doors opening, footsteps on the stairs, the bathroom taps running, voices carrying back and forward. A radio sprang to life somewhere in the building. Weedgie and I sat in pained silence until seven ‘o’ clock and then we went downstairs