Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash
Alisdair leaned into the wind and attempted to squeeze his lean six foot three runner’s body behind the umbrella purchased at the airport. The heavy drizzle coming in off of the North Sea quickly soaked his San Francisco Forty Niner’s ball cap and the fleece lined gray hooded sweatshirt that added bulk to his wiry frame. And as hard as he tried the umbrella wouldn’t find a correct angle to buffer the twenty-knot wind driving the drizzle horizontally into his face. At any moment the umbrella would buckle… and that would fit. Just another dreary moment in a life filled with dreary problems. Fatalistic sapphire blue eyes flashed out from a weather-beaten, old too early, leathery unsmiling face, framed by a high and tight haircut long overdue for a trim. The weather felt like one more opportunity for Murphy to kick him in the stomach. Not to mention the cost of the cab ride from Aberdeen Airport to this godforsaken corner of Scotland. “I left this place just for this reason!” Alisdair thought to himself. Standing next to the Foot Dee war memorial, he stared at the drab grey stone building — at the end of a long line of identical drab grey stone Fittie tract homes — where the family Solicitor Henry Drummond had instructed he meet to discuss the particulars of his inheritance.
The driving drizzle made getting bearings difficult, just opening his eyes was painfully difficult. Having done the homework expected of any Recon Marine, Alisdair knew this was a historic district – Fittie or Foot Dee – but, wow this was way out of the way. There behind the monument to the soldiers and sailors of the Allied Forces in World War II flowed the River Dee. Next to the monument was a parking lot for a fancy four-star restaurant half filled with patron’s cars. To the left the restaurant itself and an interesting round tower of a building overlooking the river. The only thing Alisdair couldn’t prepare for was this blasted wind and rain.
The sun was out there somewhere behind the wind, rain, and clouds, but it was quickly giving way to the darkening sky and wet slippery shadows as dusk approached. Even with the rain pelting him and soaking the sweatshirt, Alisdair stood and allowed the ambiance of the moment to settle into his mind. “Always get your bearings, no matter where you are dude!” The voice of Master Gunny Jingo echoed across his thoughts.
Those thoughts were interrupted by the approach of a vehicle moving to park near the monument. The lights of the sedan shimmering on the wet Aberdeen street while the swooshing sound of the tires caused Alisdair to back towards the monument to allow the vehicle into the parking lot. The movement sparked an urgent desire to be out of the rain.
“Best be getting on with this before you get soaked ‘Dair.” Alasdair used the shortened name given him in the Marines and walked across the street to the wrought iron gate just a few feet from the front door of his intended destination. “No lights on…” Alisdair thought, “I hope I got the time correct. Of course, that would be the rule, not the exception. After everything that has happened over the last couple of years, should I expect anything less?” Alisdair stood motionless before the front door and hesitated to knock. Then noticed that the door was open just enough to be noticed. “Not good!” Alisdair froze and the alarms went off, and his body went into adrenaline mode. Sensory feelers from his training went out and muscles tensed. Training is essential to reducing crisis to the smallest components, and this moved Alisdair’s hands and feet as he slowly pushed the door open to allow what light was outside to illuminate what it could of the house. Here in the lee of the wind and rain formed by the house itself, he could hear the water cascading off of the roof and into the small paved yard. Nothing was coming from the inside of the house. It was warm as if someone had been there, but there were no lights, even from the upstairs that rose just off of the front door. Off to the right a living area, nicely appointed with knickknacks and comfortable, lived-in furniture was illuminated by the last light of the approaching dusk.
Alisdair stood silent — allowing his eyes to adjust to the darker interior — and tensed for anything that could materialize out of the darkened home. The silence broken only by the talking and frantic running of those that had just parked only a few dozen meters away and now we’re attempting to get to their destination – and out of the drizzling rain – as quickly as possible.
Finally – gaining a measure of confidence – Alisdair stepped down the hall towards the back of the house making as little noise as a Recon Marine could make. Towards the back of the home, there was the kitchen, small by American standards, but well organized and extremely clean. Except for the kitchen table tipped on its side and the broken wooden kitchen chair strewn about the floor. And, there in the tile floor of the Back Bay window was an open floor safe. And, to the right of the bay window another door. Only this one was wide open with the rain creating a large running puddle inside the house.
Alisdair stepped quickly through the puddle, out the door, and into the small back yard. There were the typical backyard toys. Obviously, there were small children that lived here. A shed was tucked into the northwest side of the yard. And, sticking out of the shed a movement, which looked like a human head rolling back and forth on the rain-soaked ground. Instantly Alisdair ran to the man and found the solicitor Henry Drummond coming out of unconsciousness.
Alisdair sat the man up in the shed – he was soaked and bleeding from a nasty wound on top of his head.
“Mr. Drummond, what happened? I came to our meeting and found your door open….” Alisdair grabbed an old moving blanket off of the small work shelf in the shed to wrap around the shivering unresponsive man. As the blanket settled around Mr. Drummond’s shoulders, he looked up as if finally hearing Alisdair’s voice.
“I – I really don’t know… remember getting your fathers will out of the safe and now here I sit cold and shivery and everything’s spinning around. Is that really you Mr. Robertson? I’d hate to wake up to such a painful reality.” Mr. Drummond lifted his hand to feel the lump on his head and looked up at Alisdair. “Help me into the house. Obviously, I have been robbed. It is time to see what kind of damage has been done.”
A noise came from the back door, and Alisdair looked up to see the horrified look of a wife and two middle school kids standing in the open back door. “Henry!” The wife screamed and ran to the shed followed by the two kids. She stopped just short of the scene and looked at Alisdair with suspicion. “And, who might you be?” The wife demanded, not looking at Mr. Drummond.
“Stop Gwen, this is the Mr. Robertson that I wanted to have for supper. He’s Arthur Robertson’s eldest. The one that left and went to the States. Augh! Help me up off of the shed floor will you, Alisdair? I need a stiff one and some pain killers for this killer of a headache.” Alisdair picked Henry Drummond up off the floor keeping the man wrapped like a burrito in the blanket.
“Henry, that blanket is all full of Sophie’s old hairs from the day we had to put ‘er down. You’ll get them all over the house.” The two kids were slowly backing into the house and now I could see that the lights were on. One of the kids – a boy about thirteen years old – was in a hall closet rummaging in a stack of towels. The other – a girl about eleven – was bent over picking up the remains of the wooden chair used to crack Mr. Drummond over the noggin.
“Wendy” Mr. Drummond started when we were near the kitchen. “Please, dear, put those pieces back where you found them. The police are going to want to examine the kitchen. We can’t disturb things here until they are finished. Gwen, did you call them yet?” Mr. Drummond moved very slowly, with quite a bit of shuffling, blanket hugging determination towards the living room. And, it became evident where the man was heading. There near an extremely comfortable leather recliner stood a liquor cabinet. Mr. Drummond reached into the cabinet and came out with a bottle of single malt scotch.
Turning to Alisdair and Gwen – who was talking on her cell phone – and held out the bottle as if to say, “I’m going to anesthetize my noggin! Anyone care to join me?”
“I’ll have some,” Alisdair replied somewhat curious to see which of the distilleries the bottle came from.
Gwen entered the room and grabbed a tumbler for herself and reached into the cabinet for what looked like a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s whiskey. Then turned to her husband and said, “The police will be here in about twenty minutes.” She turned to Alisdair and remarked. “One of the perks of living out here in the historical Fittie area.” The sarcasm and bitterness causing shivering Mr. Drummond to wince as he handed Alisdair his tumbler.
“I am afraid, Alisdair… can I call you Alisdair… …somehow using formalities at a time like this just seems a bit off kilter. If you catch my drift.” Henry plopped, moving blanket and all into his recliner managing to not spill a drop of his drink. Obviously, a much-practiced move.
“Of course Mr. Drummond.” Alisdair moved to a small sofa opposite the fireplace, and Gwen sat in a small overstuffed chair on the other side of the fireplace. “Except that my friends – and I think this kind of thing makes us friends – call me ‘Dair. It’s a Marine thing. Marines are all about shortening things, jobs, and names, anything that can be shortened actually.”
“I doubt that is a propensity that is unique to the United States Marines ‘Dair. I did my stint in the Royal Navy. And, I am proud to say that short cuts were my specialty. However, they are not all that helpful in the legal trade. There are just no short cuts when it comes to the law I am afraid. And, to get back to what I was about to say when our names got in the way, whoever broke our kitchen chair over my head it seems has made off with what I needed to share with you tonight.” Henry looked at Gwen, “Did you look inside the safe?”
Gwen put her glass down on the small table next to her chair. “No, you told us all to stay out of there Henry. Do you want me to go look…Oh, forget it…I’ll be right back!” Gwen jumped up and quickly headed to the kitchen.
“Yes, they cleaned us out, Henry!” Gwen announced as she returned to the living room. “Who would do such a thing? How would anyone even know about our safe? And, Henry what was in there that anyone would want to steal? You did take my mother’s necklace back to the bank safety box like you said you would, correct?” She asked with an “I’m going to add another lump on top of your noggin if you haven’t” look.
Alisdair was sitting quietly sipping his scotch watching the husband and wife deal with the trauma of the evening when the Police finally showed up and began investigating the scene, and their forensics team was closely dogged by the two children Eric and Wendy. The evening wore on quickly as the Police work and the Scotch seemed to compact time into a disappearing moment. By the time the police left the night was fully fallen and Gwen had had Straw Hat Pizza – from just down the Esplanade – delivered. And, of course, Gwen would take no excuses or put-offs and Alisdair found himself sleeping in Eric’s room while Eric got to sleep on the short couch in the living room. Tomorrow was looking to be an interesting day.