Knights – an excerpt

Knights – an excerpt

Edinburgh was beckoning her autumnal wardrobe—shades of grey only granite can produce, speckled with the reds and golds of the trees prepping for winter.  David dodged the cars on the High Street and walked onto the cobbles of Edinburgh’s High Court precinct. He had slept for a solid five hours, ended by his usual violent panic-attack.

Francis, his clerk in the Toriglen Stable of advocates, was standing at the photocopier when he entered the Faculty Services Office.  He looked relieved to see the young lawyer but his voice reflected the impatience of one who has to juggle the affairs of the mercurial. “I’ve been trying to call you. You’ve another request for an opinion, and a civil trial coming up. I need to talk to you about the witness list.”

After explaining, and minimising, the previous evening’s assault where his phone and wallet had been stolen, David said through teeth clenched in pain, “I’m going to shift to a light workload for a couple of days but I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

They walked over to Francis’ desk and stared at the screen, confirming there was no need for David to come to the court buildings for a couple of days.

Having satisfied himself all urgent matters were in hand, David gathered up his briefcase and rain coat, but before leaving, he called Golightly’s, and spoke to Ewan, the Club-Master.

“Did you notice my car’s parked in one of the visitor spots?”

“Yes, Sir, I did.” The use of the term “Sir” indicated Ewan was not alone.

“I left the keys with the reception desk in case parking it becomes a problem.”

“Marianne informed me of this.” Again, starched formality.

“Right, I’ve some errands to run but I should make it in for the end of lunch.”

“Forgive my boldness but might I suggest we get Sudsies to give your car a wash and vacuum while it is parked here.”

“Great idea. Will you put it on my account?”

“But, of course Sir. Heaven forbid cash should change hands on the premises.” Ewan ended the call, no doubt to return to his business with the person responsible for curtailing his conversational freedom.

****

David settled the matter of replacing his stolen bank cards at his branch, and as he left the building, he held the door open for approximately six people to walk through in quick succession. Each failed to acknowledge his courtesy with even a nod of thanks. The last, a girl of about four years, poked out her tongue out at him.  For some reason this latter insult provoked thoughts about Michael Hüd, a man he had known for less than two days and whose moral turpitude was anything but child-like—what resonated, was the child’s expression—an eerily familiar f-you attitude.

With nothing more than bank-employee brusqueness and the rudeness of strangers to sustain him, he walked over the North Bridge and onto Princes Street. In Mobility Plus, he bought a replacement telephone. An hour or more, forever lost as far as David’s productivity went, was taken up with the transfer of information from the Cloud onto his new phone and, negotiating an updated plan. There are many instances when being a lawyer at the top of one’s game is a real advantage, but this isn’t obvious when it comes to fathoming the intricate choices among mobility plans. David understood the skill lay in being able to compare apples to oranges and then to zebras—but who knew how to do that? Not him. Not that day.

It was 1:30 pm when he arrived at Golightly’s. His briefcase and the store’s carrier bag dragged his arm to the ground. Ewan was waiting outside of the dining room, surveying the staff and members with a proprietorial eye.

“Tough morning at the salt mine?” Assessing David’s demeanour and without waiting for an answer he went on, “May I suggest a tray in the music room where you can take it easy for a while. The dining room is virtually empty and I would not want to subject you to the inquisition of the gentlemen lingering over their coffee and crême brulee.”

“Something simple would be great. My stomach’s in no great shape, and I could use a comfy seat. My head’s saying I should take a couple of pain killers.” Then, in part to himself added, “Which reminds me, I need to get an appointment with my doctor. I can do that on my shiny new smart-phone. This puppy can do everything except massage my neck and shoulders.”

Ewan looked down his nose. “Take a seat in the music room and I’ll get someone to bring you some food.”

As David turned to walk away, the doctor who had helped him after the assault came out of the dining room. Ewan held the door and pulled himself up to attention.

The doctor stopped when he reached David’s side. “Are you recovering? Anything nasty show up on the MRI?”

“No, it looked all clear. A bit of concussion seems to be the worst of it. I’ll survive. But I really have to thank you for your help on Saturday.”

The doctor harrumphed a goodbye, ignoring Ewan who stared at the older man’s back as he descended the staircase.

****

Arriving in the music room—comfortable, familiar territory—David momentarily took in the view of Princes Street before strolling over to the record collection, he chose Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain before plugging in his phone to charge and settling himself on a high-backed leather chair.

A drowsiness settled, matching the weather, the music, and the comfort of his surroundings. Within five minutes his head drooped to one side. He was asleep before Ewan entered, accompanied by a young assistant carrying food a tray. They both stopped, noticing David was gently snoring.

“He’s asleep,” said the young man, Paul.

“Well observed.” Despite the glorious opportunity for a thrust of sarcasm, Ewan kept himself in check, even avoiding the temptation to roll his eyes. “I think you should take the soup back to the kitchen and ask Chef to keep a portion aside for later. I’ll reorder when he awakes.”

Paul delayed his exit, taking in the scene: David in the chair, melancholy music playing softly through the speakers, “What’s playing?”

“I believe it’s the Miles Davis rendering of Rodrigo’s Concierto De Aranjuez. Rodrigo wrote this movement after losing a child.” Ewan took a deep breath and listened to the cadence rise and fall before adding, “It’s the sound of a man’s heart breaking.”

Paul only found the single word, “Yeah,” before walking away.

Ewan, ever able to employ the softest presence, placed a tartan blanket over David who slept on.

****

Was he brought round by the feel of waves crashing over his head, or the sound of a clearly remembered shot from a pistol? He wrestled with the blanket. A cold sweat sprang on his brow. Jolting forward, he loosened his tie before putting his head in his hands. He didn’t move until Ewan appeared in his customary ninja-style, at his side.

“Hot soup and a chicken sandwich.” He laid the tray he carried on a nearby table and set a place.

David looked up. “I thought it was against the rules for members to eat meals in here?”

“We make exceptions for functions, and when members are suffering the ill-effects of an assault made against them on club premises.” He held the chair as an invite for David to sit.

“Thanks. This looks great.” David, felt the pain in his head and reached for the small brown envelope in his jacket pocket.

“Might I suggest you eat something before taking one of those, they have a tendency to upset the stomach.”

Ewan busied himself around the music library while David polished off the late lunch. On cue, the door to the room swung open and Paul appeared with a tray containing a single bowl and a carafe of coffee. “Chef sent up a sample of tonight’s desert—kheer—not sure what it is, but it looks like rice-pudding.”

The senior man spotted a teachable moment. “Kheer is indeed, a rice desert.  The essential difference is made by the addition of cardamom.”

Paul made the slightest movement suggesting an intention to sniff the dish. A sharp look from Ewan sent a clear signal about his chances of survival if he did. Instead, he placed the bowl in front of David, and the coffee cup and carafe on the table. With a polite bow he retreated to his other duties.

Ewan remarked when he knew Paul was out of earshot, “I sense he is a good lad, lives on the Pilton Estate. I believe I can pull him into some kind of shape.”

“No doubt,” said David between spoonfulls.

“Ewan mused on, “He is a bit rough around the edges—his language can be a little salty.”

“What’s his record like?”

“Rather like his language, somewhat salty. However, they were all juvenile offences, mostly for fighting among the boys on the street and one foray into the gangster-life by assisting during the robbery of a local store. Nothing as an adult, and to his credit, he was brutally honest with me about his life as a young offender. I would never have given him a chance to step through the door had he not been as forthright.”

Smiling, he continued. “I became really interested when I recognised the limited nature of his talents as a criminal. During the robbery previously mentioned, he helped the store owner to his feet after another boy knocked him over as they were leaving at a trot. This act of kindness, if not outright civility, ensured his arrest, although he subsequently refused to name the lads who were with him.”

Ewan took the bowl from David’s place, putting the temptation to lick the vessel out of reach. He went on, “The most important thing is he understands his coat hangs on a shaky hook here at Golightly’s.”

“No chance he could have bumped me on the head on Saturday?”

“No, none, he was with me at the time and I really do trust the lad. But it is true he needs some positive influences in his life. There is only his mother at home and she needs assistance to point him in some new directions.”

Choosing to leave the thought hanging in the air, Ewan took a small notebook from his jacket pocket. “While you were resting, I took the liberty of making an appointment with your GP but unfortunately could only secure a 2:30 appointment for tomorrow afternoon and even then it is with a locum, a Doctor Sword. I took the further liberty of telephoning the Gayfield Square Police station and let them know you would be free to meet with Detective Chalmers at 1:00 pm. I felt the arrangement would be the most advantageous in consideration of your time and effort. This plan means you have the morning to do other things.” Ewan ventured a further idea, “Perhaps to rest.”

“How did you know my GP’s name?”

“No mystery. Each member has medical and personal contact names on record.”

“Oh, aye. Is my father still my emergency contact person?”

A few beats…

“I believe so. Should we perhaps change the designation to your good friend Eddie?”

“Probably. I don’t suppose it could be you?”

“That would be against club rules.” Ewan continued with a sad inflection, “But I believe I would always be informed.”

“Good, Eddie it is then.”

David filled his coffee cup without Ewan’s assistance, and wandered over to the window to look out at the fading light and the people below. Moments later Ewan joined him and a comfortable silence settled.

David broke into the quiet, “Everything changes in Edinburgh when the Festival crowds leave at the end of August. Our lives get back to normal and we baton down the hatches for autumn in the City.”

He changed the direction of his gaze, “Look at Sir Walter Scott sitting up there in his monument, staring down. Probably perplexed, wondering where all the people went.  He was one of us you know?”

“If you mean an advocate and a member of Golightly’s, certainly.  And, one should add, a writer of fanciful stories of heroes, knights and ladies in distress. I believe today we would refer to him as a renaissance man. Although admittedly, the term usually implies a level of domestic flair, and I assume he had servants for all of that.”

“Aye, I don’t imagine he could produce a kheer like that one.” David nodded fondly in the direction of the empty dish.

“Yes, but what is more pertinent, is he too lived in turbulent times. I often stare at his image and I believe we are as much in need of inspiration as he was in his day. Just remember what we are dealing with right under our noses: a robbery with violence here in the club, a young person at the cusp of manhood and in need of guidance, and the senseless killing of your father.” Ewan coughed self-consciously as he chose those last words.

David refused to pick up on the cue. “I’ve seen a close-up of his statue. He doesn’t look inspired, not even happy.”

“Perhaps, but I prefer to think of him as contemplative as opposed to unhappy.”

David sat down. The calm in the room played a trick, mimicking those few seconds when the sea pulls back, building the energy of a tsunami and the shore becomes eerily silent.

“Ewan, I don’t think I know how to be happy. Not anymore.” He fixed his stare on the carpet.

After glancing around, Ewan crouched down at his side. “You have to choose it, David. You have to choose to be happy.”

David looked up momentarily as if to challenge what had just been said, but Ewan ignored him and went on. “I met your father twice, when you brought him here for visits. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to get to know him well. But, two shining things were evident: both his love, and his admiration for you, his son. I recall his gestures, the way his eyes danced with affection as you spoke to others, and the arm he placed around your shoulders as you left the dining room on the last occasion I saw you together.”

David offered no argument, his eyes still cast down.

Ewan continued, “If I know anything in this world, it would be the man who loved you so well would be suffering if he knew how overwhelmingly despondent you are. I think he would say. Enough! Choose to be happy son. Choose life.”

“How?” was the only fractured word David managed.

“I would start with the music you are listening to. Miles Davis was a spectacular talent who could make his trumpet sound like the cry of a human voice, but he is not the man to lift your spirits. At least lay him aside until you can listen to him with some restored equilibrium. The rest needs to be built by you and with the help of people who care for you.”

Ewan paused, getting to his feet. “Now,” he said theatrically, “Let me introduce you to Jonathon Livingston Seagull.” And with one press of a remote control Neil Diamond’s voice filled the room.

Skybird make your sail

David stood up without a plan. He found he needed to shout as the music, played at high volume, bounced and soared on the back of the eponymous seagull’s flight. “I own that CD!”

An elderly member put his head through the door to find out where the racket was coming from.

Ewan shouted, “My apologies, Mr. Kennedy, I am trying to find the fault. All will return to normal in a few moments.”

The man retreated, face set in annoyance, glasses thrust back onto the bridge of his nose.

“You have this CD?”

“The movie soundtrack was in Dad’s record collection. I meant to bring it in for you.” David was yelling just to be heard.

“I always suspected your father was a man of taste. As you can tell, the disc is not needed here. I would suggest you keep it. The story is allegorical, uplifting. Think about Jonathon and his quest to soar, as a final gift from your dad.”

Sky Bird, Sky Bird

Ewan reduced the volume and the music seamlessly changed to the poignancy of a piano piece David could not have known was called Dear Father. And yet, his face altered. His shoulders began to shake. Ewan placed an arm around them. They were once again staring out at Princes Street. Keeping his arm in place, he handed David a handkerchief. No “there, there,” no admonishment to stop crying—just one man bearing witness to another’s pain. The moment lasted as long as the track. The spell was finally broken by David saying, “I should probably give this hanky a wash before I give it back to you.”

“Why don’t you keep it? A small part of the service.” Ewan removed his arm and stood,  his hands folded behind his back.

A word of thanks from David took them back to staring out of the window. The music had gone. The daylight too was fading. A new calm settled between them.

As David’s eyes cleared, his attention was drawn to the other side of the street. “Isn’t that Hugh? And a new friend?” He was looking at two tall figures, both with silver locks, both wearing raincoats—the dog’s was bright green.

They noticed as Hugh looked up at the window, and Ewan waved discreetly before saying, “Yes on both counts. He said he would meet me at the end of the day. We plan to take the dog for a walk up through the Meadows. Hugh finds he enjoys chasing a Frisbee. And by that I mean the dog, of course.”

David started to recover, warming to the habitual rhythm of their banter. “He certainly looks like he’ll be needing a lot of exercise. And again I mean the dog.”

“I am becoming increasingly aware of this. Hugh and I wanted to hear the patter of tiny feet about the house …”

“And instead you’ve got the clip-clop of tiny hooves?”

“Really.” Ewan feigned outrage. “He is an Irish Wolfhound. Can we please refrain from exaggeration?”

“What’s his name?”

“He has been dubbed, Sir Ivanhoe.”

David turned to check he had heard correctly. “Sir Ivanhoe?”

“Correct. No commonplace name for our boy.”

“So to summarise the afternoon, from what I believe to be your perspective: I am to be inspired by Sir Walter and a seagull called Jonathon; I’m to listen to less Miles Davis and more Neil Diamond—all of which, of course, has nothing do with the fact your partner, Hugh, is a rabid Neil Diamond fan, and the lead singer in Neal and the Diamondeers.”

“And you should eat a great deal more rice pudding.”

David was not about to disagree with the sentiment.

“You, on the other hand will be taking more exercise with the small horse-dog you have called Sir Ivanhoe—Sir Walter’s most famous knight.”

“We call him Ivan at home.”

Both men turned their heads towards Sir Walter’s monument, then to face each other, and their faces collapsed in laughter. Not fully understanding what was so funny.

****

The phone sounded as David was putting away groceries and night was closing in. He looked at the screen—Tom.

“Hi. What can I do for you?”

“It’s not what you can do for me. It’s what I can do for you. I’m just leaving Golightly’s with Ella. I have a gift from Ewan to give you.”

“Great. I’ll see you in fifteen.”

Ella was the first through the door and she clutched David in a fierce embrace. Tom stepped inside before saying, “Careful, he’s in a delicate state.”

“You leave her be,” said David as he returned the hug, “I’m starved for affection.”

“And apparently for food too,” Tom added, placing a container on the hall table. He threw his coat onto a hook at the door and cleaned the lenses of his glasses on the bottom of his sweater before placing them back on his nose.

David released Ella from his grip. He hung her coat next to Tom’s, and then led them through to the kitchen where he  started the process of brewing coffee.

“How’re you doing?” asked Ella.

“Much better thanks. The doctor just said to lay off the high-jinx for a couple of weeks. I’ll be back at work, full speed, in a couple of days.”

Tom went to the table in the hall where he had left the plastic container, the excuse for the visit. “Ewan sent this over,” he said, returning to the kitchen.

“I hope this is what I think it is.” David opened the lid, and smelling the distinct aroma of cardamom, he grabbed a spoon from the cutlery drawer. He was eating straight from the container when he realised the eyes of his guests were on him.

“Sorry, I should have asked if you wanted some.”

“You’re fine, eat up. You need the calories more than we do.”

“This stuff’s like crack. I just hope Ewan doesn’t cut off my supply.”

Ella asked, “Is it rice pudding?”

“Please, not just rice-pudding—it’s kheer. But don’t you start on it. I’ve only had it once before and look at the state I’m in.” David grabbed a piece of paper towel and wiped away a drip from his sweater.

“Go into the sitting room and I’ll bring the coffee through.”

Ella lingered to help carry the mugs and as they entered the room said, “Ready for some good news? We’ve been able to book our engagement party, at last.”

Tom matched Ella’s excitement. “Father phoned me this morning to say he’s able to get away from work later in the month. We’ve booked the music room at Golightly’s for the fifteenth.”

“Fantastic,” David replied, realising his voice was being driven by an energy he hadn’t felt in a while.

“I’m so excited!” Ella’s milk-chocolate skin and blue eyes radiated, and she bounced on the balls of her feet. “Would you boys mind having a chat? And David, can I use your office to work on the guest list? I need to get numbers over to Ewan in the next day or two and there’s invites to send. It’s going to have to be e-vites isn’t it? No time for snail mail?”

Both men agreed and made suitable noises. David put an arm around Ella’s shoulders and showed her to his office. Apologising for the mess, he booted-up the computer.

“Thanks. You two talk. I won’t be able to settle until I’ve done this.” She clapped her hands together like a five-year old.

****

David and Tom had the advantage of a long-standing friendship when it came to relaxing in one another’s company. The pair switched to drinking beer and adopted a familiar seating position—facing each other on the battered leather sofa, each using an arm of the seat to support his back, their legs lying parallel on the cushions—a legacy of their comfortable history.

“How’s work?” David asked.

“I’m up to my neck in charity-fraud. Today, Fraser Quentin asked me to sit in the second chair for the trial. I’ve not done much criminal work, so it’s going to be a stretch, but he needs some depth on the charity-law front.”

“Best man for the job!”

Both men clinked their bottles, and David used this salute to transition to the conversation he really wanted to have with Tom.

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking…”

“Careful, taking time off work can do strange things to you.”

David didn’t take the bait. “I’m being serious. I had a long chat with our mutual friend Eddie when we were coming back from our trip to Glasgow on Sunday. We were talking about our last days at university. Remember when the three of us, you, Eddie and I, felt we were on a  crusade together? I was wondering out loud in the car where that impetus went, and in the end, decided the explanation was really mundane—I just got overwhelmed by the need to establish myself career. Lately, I’ve been feeling like I skipped some kind of right-of-passage that would have carved a sense of purpose, into my core.”

“What’re you talking about? We’ve still got a definite spirit. We’re like brothers.” Tom, perplexed, let David go on.

“Of course I think of you as my brother, but what about the values we wanted to champion: civility, ethical conduct, bravery?” He emphasised the last word.

“And you think that’s gone? Because, I don’t agree, those principles are always there for me, and you’ll never be able to convince me they’re not there for you two. But he instantly recalled the last conversation they had with a despondent Eddie about the work he had taken, defending a financial institution heavily invested in the Canadian tar-sands.

David’s respect for Tom was unassailable—stamped on his soul—tracks laid down by compatriots who spent time in trusted communication. “You know, I think of all of us you’re the one who’s stayed closest to the path. Look at you, defender of the oppressed. How come you managed it?”

Tom squirmed as he thought about his answer. “If I’m being honest, I’d say I was lucky. I had money from an inheritance. I could afford to be choosy when it came to picking cases.”

David shook his head, “Nah. Nah. Lots of people inherit money and do nothing, or worse, they stick it up their noses. You didn’t. Luck’s got nothing to do with it.”

“Still, it was a helluva privileged position to be in. So don’t be so hard on yourself.” Tom’s response, typically self-deprecating, was offered to halo his friend.

David pressed on with his challenge to Tom’s good nature. He didn’t want it to dilute the idea he was trying to drive home. He looked over Tom’s head and his voice took on a cynical air—a tone he had lately become accustomed to, even if only in his head.

“Oh aye, for sure. I’ve worked hard to apply the law. Isn’t that an advocate’s job—our client is really always The Law. We’re the gentlemen-scholars of the profession. So, I get to make sure The Law is followed, and people in the way of building developments are moved out of the way. And I mean out of their homes.” He pushed the hair back from his face. “Then I watch as the new commercial development lies half finished–the money gone, because the developers were caught up in a bank calamity in Europe. And then, with hardly a missed beat, I get the additional pleasure of ensuring the courts rigorously apply The Law to save the arses of people who mismanaged the project in the first place.”

“The St. Anne Shopping Centre?”

“Got it in one.”

David took a drink of his beer. “I didn’t get into the law to deal with that kind of shit. I wanted to protect people. And now I’m thirty five and frightened if I don’t do something to make a change, I’m going to be stuck for life.”

“You’re not thinking about leaving the law?” Tom asked, alarmed.

“No. Hell no! But I need to get back in touch with my better self.”

“Like?”

“Think back, our last university Sports Union Ball. Three slightly drunk, and I must add, championship fencers—would-be knights having stated three principles we wanted to live by.”

“I bet I still have the napkin we wrote on stashed away somewhere: Er…Treat women with chivalry, practice courtly love and be fair and honourable. Did I get it right?”

David nodded. “But it’s not enough.” He sat forward. “I want to add a fourth: overt acts are required to promote greater civility in society. We need to be seen to be on the side of the angels. The trouble is we’re being too discreet.” David slapped his hand on his thigh. “And I believe Eddie and I have found a common enemy, a villain to get to work on—Michael Hüd—known mistreater of women, insulter of our friends, and probably someone who is setting out to trick people out of their savings. So the question is, are you in?”  Without waiting for an answer, David got up and put a CD in the player as he said, “Oh and we’ve a junior member of our group to initiate.”

“Who?”

“Paul, the young guy Ewan’s taken under his wing.

When Ella came into the living room to see what they were up to, they were bouncing around the floor and jumping on the chairs.

“What’s this?” She shouted to be heard.

“It’s Jonathon Livingston Seagull,” the two yelled in unison.

With a smile and the shake of her head, she returned to the office and closed the door. She’d talk to David about his plus-one later.

 

 

The novel Knights is Elizabeth’s current project.

Synopsis

Knights blasts the concept of chivalry into twenty-first century Edinburgh.

After David witnesses the murder of his father he takes stock of his life and wonders, “Is this all there is?” 

David is frail, tetchy, in the grip of posttraumatic stress disorder, and clinging to his friendships by the tips of his fingers. But it is with his companions, all lawyers, and a trusty young sidekick they find along the way, that he embarks on an often humorous caper. They are all connected to an elite club on Princes Street that is managed by a Machiavellian character. He also happens to be their staunchest supporter.

At the start of the caper, they suspect that Michael, a charming but sinister character is up to no good. His family is engaged in the construction of windfarms and does not want court action to put a crimp in their business plan. David believes he might have resorted to inflicting serious harm on the opposing lawyer.  Michael also seems to be operating a con-game. Digging, the crew finds a link between both operations and set out to bring him to justice.

Along the way, they resurrect a passion for justice and chivalry.

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