Tatter Jack - Books
Chapter 01 - What Katya did
Let’s get one thing straight right away. I wasn’t born yesterday. So I know there are no wolves in Scotland. Which didn’t really explain why I was hiding behind the only rocks I’d found after running more miles than any sane map should allow. Only why my feet hurt so bad. Oh yes. With a Glock 43 in my hand. Just nothing to point it at.
Being chased by a wolf will do that.
Yes. A wolf. Yes, chasing me. Yes, in Scotland. Where there are no wolves.
I know. I can hear it. ‘Scaredy-cat American writers prone to panic attacks shouldn’t go walking alone on the Scottish moors. Especially ones who can’t tell the wind blowing through a valley from the sound of a wolf howling.’ Which I’d take, sure. Just as soon as whoever was trying to give it to me could explain the blood-sodden scratch on my hand. The one where the ‘howling wind’ tried to bite me when it sprang out of damned-if-I-know where. Which is about when I started running. And I’m damned if I know how far away it was I started, but my feet are telling me I should have let the wolf eat me. It would have hurt less. Now my feet hurt, my hand hurts and I’m hiding in the only hiding place for miles. If ‘hiding place’ is the phrase I’m looking for. But it’s the only clump of rocks on a stretch of heather that looks like it runs clear to New York. I know even the dumbest non-existent Scottish wolf is going to find me in a heartbeat. Find me and – well. And. Make me into a half-pounder with cheese, only without the cheese. Or the bun. Some girls have all the luck. I know I do – it’s just all bad.
So do me a favour. See me there, crouched behind that rock? Let’s leave me there for now. Then I can stop thinking about how my feet hurt and my hand hurts, and whether wolves can give you rabies. Which, let’s face it, isn’t going to be my biggest issue, or at least not for very long. There’s that whole burger-off-a-bun thing. So pull the camera back – waaaaaay back – and let’s start again.
You know that thing they say? ‘You can’t fool me, I wasn’t born yesterday’? Well, I wasn’t. Born yesterday, I mean. I was born fifteen years ago. So why does my birth certificate say I’m thirty two? Mostly because everything runs on forms, and forms tend to have blank spaces for a date of birth. So they had to put something down. When they found me, I mean.
Yes. Found me.
At first they thought it was some mix up. But the doctors and the nurses, they all said the same thing. So they called the police. After all, empty hospital beds are supposed to be just that – empty. Not full of girl. And definitely not full of naked girl. And absolutely not full of naked girl with nearly every inch of skin covered in scars. A naked girl who must be about seventeen – but had already had a child. And no memory of anything before waking up in the hospital bed. They thought I was faking it. But they tried it all. They made me watch pretty lights, and they filled me with drugs. None of it worked. I remembered nothing. But every night, I screamed in my sleep. Oh – and went bat-shit near anything with an edge, a blade. They decided I must be scared. I think it was the screaming. Thing is, I’d scream while I was kicking them, biting them or hitting them with anything I could get my hands on. So they stopped thinking I was scared. It gave them some space for them to be scared. Like, of me.
Do you know how many things in hospitals have sharp edges? I do.
When they asked me to stop, I asked them what I was supposed to stop? I mean, I didn’t do anything. I’d see the blade in someone’s hand and it was like a a red mist would come down over my eyes. And whatever there was of me, it would be gone. The next thing I’d know was more screaming. But not me doing it. Someone else. Mostly because I’d broken bits of them. The hospital wanted to kick me out again. And they would have. But some guy in a suit came by flashing a badge. He didn’t say much, but most of what he did say included things like ‘national security’ and ‘need to know, and you don’t need to’. Then he asked if the hospital wanted to be the ‘last known care agency’ when I was brought in after I’d killed someone. The hospital Director grinned weakly and prescribed me more sedatives.
So Mr Badge did his thing, and he called in some local uniforms. The police kept everything quiet and the hospital filled out its forms. They made my birthday the day they found me – they just guessed a year. And they had a competition to name me. One hat full of crumpled pieces of paper later and a cheap bottle of wine for a prize, there I was. Schae Summers – seventeen, going on new-born and all-the-way fucked up. Not that it was all bad - I managed to skip puberty, at least any memory of it, and high school too. They thought that was going to be a problem, so they made me take a High School Equivalency test. I aced it. Twice. Twice because they didn’t believe me the first time. I wrote all my answers in something nobody could read. They sent it to the local University, and a lady Professor came by and asked where they’d found someone who could write Celtiberian. And Neshite. And something else, and even if she had no idea what it was, she was pretty sure it was a language, and could she talk to the person who wrote it? The hospital said no, and to forget about it if she wanted to get paid. She said to hell with the money, because Science had a right to know. Then she steamed out of the hospital. Which wasn’t smart. Whatever else Science might have a right to know, apparently ‘how to look before crossing the street’ wasn’t on the list. They never did find the driver. So the hospital made me take the test again. In English. I aced it. Again.
Then the nice hospital Director sat me down with a man in a really, really good suit. The nice man in the suit told me the hospital, out of the goodness of its heart, wasn’t going to send me a bill, and I could leave now. But a couple of the police officers had sat down with me already. So I knew the script. I smiled sweetly and said how it was going to be tough on the streets without any money, but maybe I could sell my story to one of the newspapers. The nice Hospital Director stopped smiling, and whispered to the nice man in the nice suit. The nice man in the suit told me how that wouldn’t be a problem, because the hospital would give me a bunch of money to get by with. All I had to do was sign this non-disclosure contract. I said OK, sure. But even with money in the bank, I’d have to get a job. So maybe I’d use the money to put me through Journalism school. And I smiled. Sweetly. So the nice man in the nice suit stopped looking nice, and he whispered to the Director. A bunch of very loud whispering later, the Director gave me a look that would have had daggers in it if he hadn’t known what I was like round blades. He whispered back, and the not-nice man in the nice suit told me about Trust Funds, and how I wouldn’t have to worry about a job. And would I just sign the fucking piece of paper already?
I signed. And smiled. Sweetly. And left the hospital.
But every night I dreamed – and woke screaming. A million dreams, every one different. But all the same. Because they all ended the same way. A woman I knew was me, running, hiding, fighting. And a faceless man and a knife, cutting me. Cutting, and cutting – and killing me. I died every damn night. Then I’d wake, write down my latest dream, pop some more pills and go see my shrink. He’d read what I’d written and give me some shit about how it was just my head trying to rationalise what had happened to me. But he said something else. He said maybe I should try to do something with them, the dreams I wrote down. He said he knew someone who knew someone. So I kept writing down my dreams, and I got born again. Not in any church. But Storm Skyfire’s in twenty of books now, keeping my Agent in new yachts.
But every night, I still died. And woke up screaming. And popped more pills, and sat down at Storm’s keyboard. Then one day I’m out, as usual sitting on my own at a table set for two because my Agent’s late. Also as usual. And you know how it is. You don’t try and listen – but you don’t have much else to do, so the hum of people talking to each other, people who actually managed to turn up at the same place at the same time, which is apparently against the Rules for Agents, isn’t all just hum. Sometimes it’s words as well. And I heard this girl talking about some wedding she went to, and how all the men there were dressed in skirts. Because, in case the guy she was probably with didn’t ‘get’ it, it was, like, a Scottish wedding. But, she told him, not in Scotland. In New York. And I was starting to feel sorry for whoever the poor guy was, because she’s treating him like he’s an idiot studying to be a moron and failing the entrance exam. But then she said it. She said how this guy not in a skirt asked one of the other guys why he was wearing a skirt. And, like, this huge fight broke out. Which, the girl says, was cool, but while the guys in skirts were beating the crap out of the other guy and his friends, the girl, the one I’m carefully not listening to, says what would have been amazing would have been if it had been, like, in old times. And if it wasn’t a guy wearing a skirt, because it was a girl, like, not wearing a skirt. And no, not like that. Like, in men’s clothes. So the guy tells her she should be wearing a skirt, and his friends back him up – and then she kicks the crap out of them. Because she’s, like, some warrior princess type who doesn’t wear a chain mail bikini and can chew nails and spit bullets. Which is when I stopped trying to look like I’m not listening, and grabbed my notepad from my purse. Because whoever the girl was, she was right. It would be cool. And I needed a new idea for my next Storm title, so why not? Like, why not Scotland? Or, at least, some place like Scotland, where guys wear skirts, and Storm could kick their butts when they got all guy-ish? And I started scribbling.
So my Agent finally turned up. He told me how some punk slashed his tires, and he had to wait for someone to come change them. I asked him why he didn’t do it himself? He just pointed to the Armani he was wearing, the one Storm and I paid for, and raises an eyebrow. Which was fair enough. So I showed him the scribbles and I ran the idea by him. He said it was a cool idea, but what did I know about Scotland? And I had to admit I knew nothing about anything Scotch apart from three fingers over ice. So he told me the latest figures on my last Storm, and damn they were good. And he said how I could use a vacation, and one I could write off as tax-deductible ‘author research’ would be even more fun, no? And I said sure, but it wasn’t going to happen. And he asked why not, so I reminded him about – well, about ‘stuff’. Because Kal, he knows my ‘stuff’. And when you’ve spent all the life you know covered in what’s under my clothes, you never forget that somewhere out there is someone – fuck it, some man – with a knife. A knife you’re never going to let near you again. So you don’t go anywhere without insurance. In my case, 9mm insurance in a six round clip. And I knew Scotland had all sorts of unreasonable rules about totally reasonable insurance. So good or bad, the idea was a bust. But it turned out Kal knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy. So Kal made some calls, and Kal got a package in the mail, and he gave me a key to a left luggage locker in Edinburgh train station.
So I got on a plane, and I land at Edinburgh. I went to the station, and the guy who knew a guy who knew a guy who knew Kal had left me a little ‘welcome to Scotland’ present. A Glock 43, a Bianchi Professional holster and a box of insurance. So I thanked my lucky stars for a great Agent, and I went off to look round Edinburgh. Which is, like, cool and all, but I somehow knew it wasn’t what I was looking for, the big city thing. But I was in the National Museum, trying to work out what the fuck I was looking for, when I heard someone giving one of the tour guides an earful. They were stood by some old stone, and talking about some old battle. The tour guide was saying where it happened, and this old lady was saying he how he didn’t know shit, and it was some other place. Which shouldn’t have meant a damn, but the little old lady, she says how Bridei wouldn’t have been seen dead outside his mountains or far from Loch Insh. And I heard the name, ‘Bridei’, and it was like someone had wired my head to the chair in San Quentin. And even if I had no idea what it meant, or why it was important, I knew I’d found it. What I was looking for. So I waited for the tour to go by, and I asked one of the other guides where I could find Loch Insh. Then I hired a car, and I got driving. Two, maybe three hours later I parked in a little village in the back end of who-knows-where. Where I got out and I started walking. To get a ‘feel’ for the hills.
Oh, yes. And get chased by…
“Geology, is it? The rocks, I mean?”
I look up from where I’m hiding behind the rocks. If it had been one of Storm’s books he’d have been tall and ruggedly handsome, with maybe a hint of danger to him. He isn’t. Because it’s you, even if I dodn’t know that yet. Not tall, not short. Black hair blowing in the wind and a scarf tucked into a jacket. Nothing much to look at – until I make the mistake of looking into your eyes. Eyes that should be banned under the Geneva Convention. Eyes of Mass Distraction. Grey, like the clouds scudding across the sky, but with flecks one moment are blue, and another red. Eyes that know how to smile, like they’re doing now, but even when they do, they hold pain – like now. I reach up and grab your arm. “Ssssssh!”
You crouch down. “Er – ssssh?” You wave your arm round heather I know isn’t as empty as it looks. “Because I’ll, um, wake the rocks?”
“Stupid man! No, not the rocks. The wolf!”
“Oh. Right. The – er – wolf.”
“Yes! The wolf! But it’s OK! I have a gun!” I show you my Glock 43.
You crouch down further. “Aye. So I see. Um – I’m fairly sure you’re not supposed to, though. Have a gun, I mean. Not that kind, anyway. Poor Constable McEllan down in the village would have a heart attack. Perhaps you could, er, put it away?”
“No! It’s not safe!”
“Don’t guns like that have a safety thing on them then?”
“Not that kind of safe! Idiot man! There’s a wolf!”
You lean in towards me. “Er – there aren’t any wolves in Scotland.”
“Tell that to the one that’s been chasing me all day!” The wolf call sounds on the wind. “That wolf!”
You grin. I mean, we’re trapped behind the only rocks for miles, besieged by a wolf that shouldn’t exist – and you grin. “There’s a small lake near here – Rannoch…”
The wolf howls. Again. I shake you. “This is hardly the time for a travelogue!”
The wolf howls. I get ready to die. At least I’ve had practice.
“… A big, round hole. They say in the old days, the boy who wanted to be a man had to run up to the hole, and jump through it, and dive into the Tarn. If he lived, he got to ask the girl he had his eye on to dance at the next Clan Gather.” The wolf howls. “And the wind, through that big round hole?” The wolf howls. “It sounds just like that.”
“I have not been running from the fucking wind! Look at this! The damn thing jumped out at me!” I show you the almost-bite.
You take my hand. The wind may be blowing cold, but your hand is warm. Somehow I hope you won’t let go. “I bet it was a fox. It was probably more scared of you than you were…”
“It wasn’t a bloody fox! It was huge!”
You pull on my hand, lifting me up. “Aye. They killed a fox over Aberdeen way a few years back. Near five foot long it was.”
“It wasn’t a fox!” And I know it wasn’t. But it’s getting harder for even me to believe me. “It wasn’t!” But I slip my Glock into the Bianchi.
You shrug. “Well, wolf or fox, it’s not in this heather.” You look up at the sky. “Damn.”
“It’s going to rain. And it’s a bit of a way to my place, and even longer to the village. We’re going to get soaked. Wolves or foxes – they both hate rain. We’d better get going.”
The naked teenage girl stands up from where she’s been lying in the heather and watches the man and woman walk away. She sniffs the wind, and nods. Darek’s going to give her hell for it, but she knows she’s right. This one. The one. She grins. And cute too. Darek better watch out or she’d maybe take a run at her herself. She looks up, and the first drop of rain hits her in the eye. She spits. Darek might be hard headed, but he’s right about one thing at least. She hates rain.
The wind blows, the heather shivers – and the girl is gone.