“Baaaaaff-ta! Baaaaff-ta!” yodels John, as he executes a sharp right hand turn at the south end of Helen Street in Craigton to join the off-ramp leading to the M8 Motorway.
“You think so, John?” Marion says.
“A tap-in, Marion,” John sings out, swivelling his head to the left, and grinning.
John raises the index and middle fingers of his left hand to the side of his nose and slings the words out the corner of his mouth and back over his shoulder to make sure that both Marion and, more importantly, Robbie hear them: “Two-to-one shot, folks. Odds On, know what I mean?”
A female voice behind me says, “Ohmygod . . . that’s awesome . . . Robbie!”
I look back despite myself. Robbie is silent, with his upper teeth showing in a kind of a grin. He clears his throat loudly. The car goes quiet. I have the impression he is telling John and Marion not to take that subject any farther , although just what the subject – ‘Baaaaaff-ta’ – is, I haven’t a clue
We float along the Motorway heading for the Erskine Bridge, but somehow we stop at a Dobie’s Garden Centre on the way. As I sit smoking a cigarette seated at a wooden table outdoors, the other four enter the shop. Before they go in for coffee Lena turns and hands me a couple of hexagonal, grey coloured pills and a bottle of water. I don’t even ask her what they are. I’m holding the first pill between the fingers of both hands like an as-yet-undetonated explosive device. “Slàinte mhòr, a nighean, Good health, girl,” I say as I pop the pill into my mouth and take a sip of water.
Initially I feel like I have been kicked in the stomach – my attempt at levity is just lying there, dying. Within five minutes I begin to feel like a . . . I search my head, but find nothing – I don’t know what I am feeling.
A little warning signal works its way up through my imminent high. For a fleeting moment it becomes clear that I am riding, three quarters in the bag, in a crossover recreational vehicle on my way to South Uist. I have done this on a couple of occasions earlier in the year – long weekends, five-night sojourns in Marion’s croft in Cill Amhlaigh – and these were not fun times. Why are Belle Allée Productions putting so much pressure on Robbie to get the documentary Tormod in the can? The moment of realization looms up like the bonnet of one of the massive timber lorries, which intermittently pass us going in the opposite direction. The folk in Belle Allée, particularly Karen Smyth, a very able CEO, think I am already in the bosom of Death. They have concluded that unless they resort to self-help, the old brain-waves on the monitor by my bedside in the ‘Sufferin General’ are going to go flat. In their opinion, I haven’t long to go before I meet the bodach, old man, with the scythe.
The conclusion that I am but one step away from Death’s door is startling enough for me to attempt to converse with John. He is talking enthusiastically about some of the scenes he hopes to shoot during the coming week. I watch his lips move but hear only fragments of his excited monologue.
.. . . “yeah, the drowning scene will be epic, Norman. You remember last February in the Skippinish Ceilidh House in Oban when we filmed you with your back to the counter and there were glass shelves on the gantry above your head supporting ranks of liquor bottles lit from below as if they were onstage, remember? . . . yeah, we filmed you knocking back glass after glass of liqueurs in a frenzy, remember?”
“We’ll cut to a scene of you drifting face down in a pool of whisky. It’ll be shot in the Secondary School swimming pool in Benbecula, of course. Brilliant idea, eh?”
Rubbish idea, I think. It’ll take hours to film, and will fill the screen for all of three seconds.