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Douglas Lindsay

A Plague Of Crows

Prologue

They'd probably have viewed things differently if Detective Inspector Leander had kicked the fuck out of me, rather than the other way round. All right, regardless of the outcome of the manly posturing and handbags that it ultimately came down to, I have to hold my hand up, take responsibility for my own actions, and admit that I was banging his wife.

But surely they would have taken into consideration that he's a workaholic deadbeat loser who had forgotten his wife existed, and that I was only giving her what she deserved… had I not put him in hospital with a fractured jaw, a couple of broken ribs and a punctured lung. And, you know, people make a lot of the punctured lung, but Jesus, lungs get punctured all the time. Guys puncture lungs when they're playing football, and they play on. Break a rib, damned good chance that you'll puncture a lung along with it. God, you've still got another one. How many do you need?

He decided not to sue me, which is something for which I am apparently to be grateful. Well, I wouldn't have had to puncture his lung if he hadn't cracked a bottle of wine over my head. Good thing he hits like a girl.

He had seven weeks off sick. That must have been fun around the house, just the two of them. Maggie running after his every need. They must have had some interesting conversations over the breakfast table.

Under other circumstances I might have felt bad when he confronted me about it. I'm not a completely heartless wanker. I felt some level of guilt about the fact that I was fucking the wife of another guy at the station. But Maggie… if you saw her, you'd know. How could I not? Leander oversnagged. And I mean, seriously oversnagged. I saw a wedding photo of them around the house, and fair enough, on their wedding day they looked kind of natural. Almost like a couple. But over the years he's worked too many hours, suffered too much stress, drunk too much, smoked a few too many God-knows-what, and he's just running to sad middle age; Maggie, on the other hand, is a few years younger, never had kids, works out, doesn't drink, and just keeps getting hotter.

I doubt I'm the only one. Don't care now, didn't care back then. Whatever, I was the one Leander found out about. We were both in the Whale one night, which was stupid, don't know what I was doing in there drinking with all our lot, and getting worse and worse for it. He asks me if I've shagged his wife. I say no, in the drunk kind of way that pretty much says 'Oh yes!' — but I'm thinking, you know anyway, you sad sack, so it doesn't matter — and then he minces off to a corner to sulk for a while, before coming back and beaning me over the napper with the bottle. Chaos and mayhem ensue.

Chaos, the whining Nancy boy, ended up in hospital with a punctured lung, while Mayhem got nicked. They weren't really ever going to charge me with anything, but they suspended me until I got help with my issues.

Fucking issues.

1

August

She hasn't said anything for upwards of ten minutes. I'm the one who's supposed to be talking, although I haven't opened my mouth since I sat down. I've barely looked at her as that just increases the awkwardness. This isn't comfortable for me. I've no idea how she finds it. She's probably used to people clamming up and going all silent movie on her.

Silent movie? What the fuck? Actors in silent movies didn't sit all sullen and miserable. They overacted like all kinds of shit to compensate for the silence. So I'm not sitting here like I'm in a silent movie, I'm just like everyone else who's been told to go somewhere and who doesn't want to play.

I'm looking at a picture on the wall. A painting. The top half is red, the bottom half orange. I keep waiting for her to ask me what I think it represents.

Does she care that I'm not interested in her psycho-drivel, or does she just see it as easy money? She can sit here doing bugger all for an hour and at the end send a bill for four hundred quid to the police.

I start to wonder if I could be a psychiatrist, and how long the training lasts, and if there are any modules from which they'll make you exempt if you're already a certifiable nutjob.

Sadly I haven't even been certified as a nutjob. I think someone just wrote pain in the arse on my file and thought that if they suspended me and made me talk to someone I might become less of a pain in the arse. How was that ever going to happen?

'What do you think it represents?' she says.

Ha!

Every week I mean to bring a Psychiatrist Bingo card with me, rather than just the one in my head. My mother. My father. Childhood trauma. Why do you think that is? What do you think it represents?

Of course, if I was playing actual Psychiatrist Bingo, she'd have to ask me what I was doing, and if I told her then she'd have to ask me what I felt about the fact that I was choosing to do this, and how did I think it impacted on our time together.

Time to go. I stand up. I contemplate walking out without even looking at her, but I can't stop myself glancing her way. It's a warm day and she's just wearing a light blouse on top. Open at the neck. I look at her breasts. Small, enticing.

Oh, God… Stop it. Stop doing that thing. It's not about her breasts.

Enticing, for crying out loud. Get a grip.

We look at each other for a moment. It feels like she can read my every thought. She knows I've been playing Psychiatrist Bingo, she knows I just glanced at her breasts, and she knows I liked them and immediately chastised myself for looking and for thinking about it.

Nevertheless, she's wrong about the most fundamental thing. She thinks my time in Bosnia left me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I like to tell myself that that's the case. I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I don't speak to anyone about it, but if I did, that's what I'd tell them.

Me and my PTSD. That could be the title of my autobiography. My PTSD And Its Part In My Downfall.

But I'm lying to myself. The whole time I'm lying, because I don't have PTSD.

I have guilt. And I have shame.

I leave, closing the door behind me.

*

When I'm in town for the weekly psych sessions, I always go to the gym. I punch a bag for an hour, and take a shower. I'm washing the rest of the week, but this is warm water, rather than a testicle-freezing stream at the bottom of a mountain.

I punch a bag, I have a shower, I have a hot meal, and then I get the train back down to Tarbet and walk off into the mountains.

The guys at the station probably think I'm sitting at home, watching sport all day, getting pished and finding myself as many women as possible. But in fact I'm living in a tent, have barely touched alcohol in four months, and spend most of my time wandering the hills and catching dinner. Yep, catching dinner. I can trap, skin and cook a rabbit. That's some ancient fucking skill-set going on right there. When society breaks down, and the infrastructure of the western world collapses, I'm going to be stoked. Everyone else is going to be queuing up for the last box of

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