among the locals and an audience for his stories. He could not bear to sink back to obscurity. His resentment against Randy had been building up. The second evening after the locals had returned to the Lochdubh bar was a stormy one. Gales lashed rain against the steamed-up windows of the bar. The fishing boats would not be going out and so the bar was full.

Randy was bragging about how he had been a champion wrestler, when Geordie, who had drunk more than he was used to, piped up, “I don’t believe a word you say.”

His voice, although reedy, was perfectly clear and precise. Randy stopped in mid-sentence and glared at the retired schoolteacher. “What did you say?” he roared. He was wearing a Stetson, pushed to the back of his head, and he flipped open the slats of his ridiculous glasses.

“I think you’re a phoney,” said Geordie. “That daft story about eating sheep’s eyes. Every phoney who’s been to the Middle East, or who pretends to have been in the Middle East, tells that story. It’s a myth. It was a folk story which got around after a British army prank when some chap was told he had to eat sheep’s eyes. No Arab actually eats them.”

Randy strutted over to Geordie. “Are you calling me a liar?”

“Yes,” said Geordie, frightened but defiant.

“Then,” said Duggan with a nasty grin, “it’s time you cooled your head.”

He picked up Geordie by the scruff of the neck and carried him outside. Geordie kicked and wriggled and shouted for help. Everyone crowded outside the bar as Randy walked to the edge of the harbour and held the shrieking Geordie out over the water.

Hamish Macbeth came running up. “Stop it. Stop it now!” he shouted.

Randy dropped Geordie contemptuously onto the quay and faced Hamish.

“You’re a brave enough man when you’re in uniform,” he sneered. “You wouldn’t dare stand up to me if you weren’t a copper.”

Hamish looked at him with sudden hate. He loathed bullies.

He knew how humiliated little Geordie was. He flared up.

“The day after tomorrow’s my day off. I won’t be in uniform then.”

“Then I’ll meet you here after closing time at half past eleven at night,” said Randy, and sticking his thumbs in his belt, he strolled back into the bar. Hamish was cursing himself before he even reached the police station. Randy would make mincemeat of him. If word of it got back to Strathbane, be might lose his job, lose his cosy billet in the village. But he knew there was no way of getting out of the fight now.


The next day, the village was alive with gossip About the great fight to come and the gossip spread over the surrounding moorland and mountains to other towns and villages. Bets were being laid, and most of them in favour of Duggan.


On the morning of the day of the fight, gloomy Hamish was beginning to wonder if he would still be alive at the end of it. Although he knew he had no feeling left for Priscilla, or so he told himself, he wanted to talk to someone about what a fool he had been, and Priscilla was the only person he could think of.

He found Priscilla in the gift shop. She was looking quite animated as she talked to a customer, a distinguished-lookmg middle-aged man. “Morning, Hamish,” she said when she saw him. “Let me introduce Mr. John Glover to you. He’s a banker from Glasgow who’s staying at the hotel. Mr. Glover, this is our local bobby.”

The two men shook hands. John Glover was tanned and handsome with thick black hair, greying a little at the sides. He was of medium height, impeccably groomed and tailored, making Hamish conscious that his uniform trousers were shiny and that his hair needed cutting. And to Hamish’s dismay, he felt a stab of jealousy. “I want to talk to you about something serious,” said Hamish.

But Priscilla looked reluctant to break off her conversation with John. “Go to my rooms in the castle,” she said, “and wait for me. I won’t be long.”

Hamish slouched out moodily. In Priscilla’s apartment at the top of the castle, he paced nervously up and down, and men, to take his mind off his troubles, he switched on the television set. Priscilla had satellite television. Hamish flicked the buttons on the remote control through pop singers and quiz shows, and then stopped and stared at the set in amazement, Ihinking he was looking at Duggan. It was a wrestling programme. There was the same figure, the same slatted glasses, the same fringed learner clothes and colourful hat. But the announcer was saying, “And here is Randy Savage, the Macho Man, heavyweight wrestling champion.” Hamish leaned forward. Could it be the same man? But no, this one was better shaped, finer built, the only similarity was in the dress. Who, now, thought Hamish, had given Randy Duggan the nickname of the Macho Man? Surely Randy himself. He had said he had been a wrestler in America. Therefore it followed that he had taken the nickname and adopted the dress of one of America’s wrestling heroes. But had he been a wrestler? Was anything he said true? Look how he claimed to be American and yet in his cups his accent thickened into a Scottish one, and a Lowland Scottish one at that. His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of Priscilla. He switched off the set. “Well, Hamish,” she demanded briskly, “what can I do for you?”

She was wearing a black wool dress with a white collar. Her hair was smooth and turned in at the ends. A shaft of sunlight shone on it.

“I’ve done something silly,” said Hamish. “You know that fellow Randy Duggan we were talking about the other night?”

“The Macho Man. Yes, what about him?”

“Well, I’ve said I’ll fight him tonight and I don’t know if I’ll come out of it alive.” He told her about the humiliation of Geordie, finishing with, “It’s a wonder you haven’t heard about the fight. I’m sure everyone from here to Strathbane is paying bets on it.”

Priscilla’s beautiful face hardened. “Hamish, what is this? Policemen don’t hold vulgar brawls with members of the public. Cancel it immediately!”

“I cannae. He would swagger about the village telling everyone what a coward I was.”

“Then on your own head be it. I’m sure that Highland brain of yours will find a way out of it. Fight dirty.”

“I haff my pride.”

“Your pride didn’t stop you from going to bed with an elderly spinster, and a murderess at that!”

Priscilla was referring to a case where a Miss Gunnery had claimed to be in bed with Hamish in order to give hun an alibi when he was a number-one suspect.

“She was only fifty and I didn’t go to bed with her. I told you that.”

“Amazing how you went along with it.”

“I wasted my time coming here,” said Hamish crossly. “I should have known better than to expect a bit o’ womanly sympamy from you.” They glared at each other.

Then Hamish gave a reluctant laugh. “It’s a bit like old times, us quarrelling. Let’s have dinner before the fight and talk about things.”

“I have a dinner date with John Glover.”

“That auld man!”

“Don’t be silly. You’re no spring chicken yourself. He’s very charming.”

“Oh, suit yourself,” shouted Hamish, his face flaming as red as his hair. He strode out and crashed the door behind him.


He spent a miserable day, dreading the night to come. He had been in a few fights but never up against such a brute as Randy. He could already feel the big man’s fists thudding into his face, bone cracking and blood spurting.

The gale had died down, but the rain fell steadily, fat drops running down the windows of the police station. Hamish sat by the stove in the kitchen, arms wrapped across his thin body for comfort, wishing, one way or another, it were all over.

But the clock on the kitchen wall ticked away the minutes and the hours and he could not think of any way of avoiding the fight.

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