At first glance, Brian’s cottage; a sprawling property situated, appropriately in Carter’s opinion, the same distance from the main road as it was from the point where the soft incline of hilly moorland commenced, seemed far from ideal for his purposes. To say that it was untidy though, to the point where it looked like someone had spilt it there rather than built it, was probably quite unfair on Carter’s uncle, as the place was totally exposed to the elements. There was not a wild tree or rock or even tumuli in sight. They did of course occur further out onto the moors, but there was never once a clear enough day to see far. This absence of obstacles meant that the weather, in all its visceral fury, could pound the stone walls, the small allotment and the adjoining garden; an event Carter would later experience for himself. Frankly, it was a miracle the place was still standing.
Brian explained to Carter as they pulled up an improvised shingle drive in his Land Rover that the house itself had been built fifty years before by a group of three escaped convicts who, according to legend, had the nerve to hire a local building contractor and his team to help them throw together what they claimed would just be a holiday home, but what would in fact become a hideout; somewhere the authorities would never think to look for them. When he had asked what had happened to the convicts, Brian had chuckled mirthlessly. He went on to explain how one morning, a milkman had chanced to pass the ‘holiday-home’ and was shocked to find it in ruins. Half of the house had collapsed, spewing grey stone and debris into the road. Brian had claimed that only one of the convicts had survived the night; a night punctuated by what he called the hurricane of ’87, and that the other two had been crushed by falling masonry.
“So it was the shoddy building-work then, that killed them?” Carter had asked, eyeing the house nervously through the muddy windscreen. Brian had laughed hugely.
“So they say, laddie, so they say. ’Cept for one little detail, yeah. That hurricane only hit the southerners. All we Scots got were a fine breeze and one beauty of a night-sky. Yer wanna know what else the milkman found?”
“Story for later, lad, let’s get your bags…”
Later, inside the arms of the modernised and thankfully reinforced cottage, that Brian had helped his father Michael rebuild in his youth, and had later been left in his father’s will, Carter had sat alongside his uncle in front of a stove that Brian had rigorously beaten the shit out of until a good degree of heat blasted from it, and waited for his uncle to finish telling him about the house’s previous owners. Something about the way that Brian told tales; the Scottish quilt of an accent, the movement of his dark beard as he talked, the silvery glint of eyes beneath his bushy brow, made his storytelling infectious, and once you heard the start, you would have to nag and nag until he told the end, even if, as Carter suspected, the end to this particular story was a complete fiction.
“Well, after he found the ruin of the cottage,” Brian recommenced, holding a steaming mug to his chest, “Larry, that’s the milkman, I met him later in the pub. Told a few of us summat he might-a failed to mention to the cop he hailed.” He paused again, causing Carter to smile, “Tells us the convict who survived, think he’s dead now, bless ’im, he tell us this injured, stunned, shell-shocked fella chucks summat at ’im as he gets out ’is milk-float. S’what Larry does, Larry leans down; he’s still reeling by the way, from finding the place in ruins, picks up this object.” Brian leant closer to the mug at this point, and Carter reckoned he could just imagine the milkman Larry doing very much the same thing with his mug of ale in the pub as he told Brian what he himself was about to hear, “It was a kind of cap, or pin, Larry told us. Now, thing you ought-a know ’bout Larry, he’s as experienced a campaigner as youse likely to find in these parts. 2nd Glencoe brass, Larry. So he recognises this pin, doesn’t he? Swears on his ma’s grave, it’s the pin from an ’and-grenade.” Carter’s eyes had widened, and Brian had laughed once more, happy that his climax had had its desired impact on the listener.
“Now, some say that the grenade likely belonged to them. I mean, they’re criminals, yeah. Might tend to carry that kind of thing, yeah. But surely, right, if youse were any kind of clever convict, you’d ditch all tha’ shite before goin’ into hiding. Weapons an’ all. Know what I think; I think their crimes caught up with ’em. A rival gang, or maybe even the authorities, blew ’em apart, in the dead of night…”
Upon hearing that he, Carter, would soon be starting the Classics course at Edinburgh University that he himself studied, his cousin and Brian’s son, Oliver, with whom Carter had shared a good relationship when they had chanced to meet in the past, had insisted that he stay with Brian, and experience what he called the true nature of Scotland. Besides, the place was only an hour or so in a car from the main campus, where he would tend to spend most of his time. Carter had only met Brian once previously, in his hometown of Greenbury Park at his parent’s retaking of their vows, and had immediately liked him, despite being in a deep depression at the time. For someone so eccentric and quintessentially rural, Brian had never taken himself too seriously. He was one of those men who could drink from dawn till dusk, and all the while find something interesting and worthwhile to talk about. Carter had found he got on just as well with Andrew, who was Brian’s brother, and an influential don at the university, which in a way was just as well, as the man would be responsible for his greatest desire since leaving Harvard; to harness the literary child inside himself. At this moment in time, there was nothing in the world Carter wanted to be more than a writer, to have people read what he wrote, and for them to think about it.
Oliver, who lived in a nearby village with his partner, had promised to accompany Carter to his first course induction, which was in two days time. It would give him a chance to settle, to get to know his uncle a little better, and get used to these stark new surroundings. That he would grow to love the cottage, the course, the literature, a local girl and the local people in general, Carter did not realise at this stage. It was, after all, only the first day of the rest of his life.