The roads north out of Inverness had steadily narrowed and were starting to wind their way through seemingly endless valleys – the levels of concentration needed to drive safely was giving Andrew a headache. The ambience from the ever changing scenery was just enough to keep him going. In the backseat Micky had settled into a quiet rhythm of polishing the handgun he’d brought with him. He even opened up the box of cartridges to give them a clean. And beside Andrew, Stoicovic had decided they would check into a hotel thirty miles short of where the signal was coming from. He didn’t want to be hanging around somewhere if there were dirty deeds to be done, especially with Micky looking in the mood to do some damage, he thought it much easier and safer to get in and out quickly, not hang around and have themselves be embedded in the memory of any locals.
They pulled up into the car park of a small hotel in Altnaharra, a small hamlet just west of Loch Naver. The Hotel Lairg was a building with white washed walls, steep pitched roof and surrounded by unkept green fields, stripped down trees backdropped by a rugged bleakness of a landscape that lead unevenly to rolling deep brown hills in the distance. Above the hills were a collection of grey clouds that seemed to be lining up to roll over each other. A momentary break in the cloud let a fine beam of sunlight to prod a short lived stab of life onto the east ridge of Ben Klibreck. Stepping out of the car Andrew took in his surroundings, his head immediately swamped by memories of a childhood summer camping holiday in the Lake District with his family overlooking Ullswater.
He remembered an early morning stroll alongside the lake with his father, who was trying to break the news to his fourteen-year-old son of the possibility that his parents were about to be divorced. He remembered how it felt to be told that he was about to be the man of the house, to be told that his mother and sister were going to need him to be patient and understanding. As the sun started to creep round the southern side of Place Fell and light up the deep greens of Patterdale. He also remembered how angry and cheated he felt when his father told him he wouldn’t be seeing so much of him in future, ‘You’re gonna have to look after the girls now,’ he’d said. Andrew had wanted to punch him in the face, to tell him to fuck off and die cos looking after the girls was his job and if he couldn’t be arsed to do it then he may as well go to hell and not return. There was lots of thing he’d wanted to say, but never did. Instead he fought hard against, but in the end couldn’t resist, the tears. He just stood limp and let his father hug him, and tell him, ‘Everything will be fine.’
But things were never the same after that day.
Two years later he was reminded of how his father had hugged him when Andrew held his mother with the same comforting grip and told her ‘Everything will be fine,’ at his father’s funeral. Again, things were never the same after that day. A family wrung out and ripped up by continual hospital visits, biopsies, chemotherapy, the highs of the all-clears, and the lows of ‘three-to-six-months.’ As a family, the Marks’ couldn’t see the way forward. Andrew was soon to be heading to university, his mother secretly hiding vodka bottles around the house, barely holding on to her job, and his younger sister, living in a bag of secrets, who was getting thinner and whiter, and spending ever increasing nights at a ‘friend’s’ house. But whenever Andrew looked out at an untouched scape of land like this Scottish scene, he would let the wind brush through him, and take in a deep breath of the earth in the wind. He’d always been able to close his eyes and feel the gentle touch of his father’s hand on the back of his head, then he could whisper to himself, ‘Everything will be fine.’
Copyright © 2021, Ray Hopkins, All Rights Reserved