Extract from "One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night"
Author(s): Christopher Brookmyre
Copyright holder(s): Christopher Brookmyre
This document contains strong or offensive language
“But it cannae be a fuckin’ oil rig. Naebody’s gaunny go their holidays tae a fuckin’ oil-rig. Be worse than Blackpool.”
“It’s no actually an oil rig, Charlie. It’s aw built on an oil-rig platform.”
“An oil rig is a platform, Eddie. Oil rig, oil platform. Same thing.”
“Aye, but I mean, they’ve stripped it doon tae just the platform, then built everythin’ up again fae there. I read somethin’ aboot it in the paper.”
“But whit’s the point? Buildin’ a hotel or whatever on a big hunk o’ metal? Whit’s wrang wi’ dry land?”
“It’s so it’s exclusive, big man. So’s scrotes like you an’ maself cannae get near the fuckin’ thing. Like wan o’ thae wee islands, whit dae ye cry them? There’s hunners o’ them. The Endives.”
“Maldives, ya fuckin’ eejit. Endives are in salad.”
“So that would be thousands of islands then?”
“Aye, very fuckin’ funny, Eddie.”
“Anyway, in the Maldives, ye’ve tae get a boat oot tae your hotel, an’ your hotel is aw that’s on the island. You’re isolated, away fae it aw. So they’ve used this oil platform affair instead of an island. It’s like buildin’ an island.”
“Be fuckin’ freezin, but, will it no? The Cromarty Firth’s no exactly the South Pacific. Cannae see many folk lyin’ oot in their bikinis in May. Have tae wipe the snaw aff the sunloungers first.”
“Have you been listenin’ tae a word I’ve said? It’s no stayin’ in the Cromarty Firth. That’s just where they’ve been rebuildin’ it. Fittin’ it oot, an’ that. When that’s aw done, they’re towin’ the whole shebang aff tae somewhere it’s warm aw year roon. Coast of Africa, I think.”
“Oh, I get you noo. Wee bit hotter than Rosstown, then. Still, whit’s the point o’ gaun aw that way, tae Africa like, an’ then coupin’ yoursel’ up in this wan wee place the whole time? Seems a bit ay a waste, to me.”
“Well, Charlie, that’s how we’ve no’ made millions oot the tourist business and Gavin Hutchison has. I mean, personally, I think it’s the stupitest fuckin’ idea I’ve ever heard in my life, but that just proves I know fuck-all.”
“It doesnae take an oil-platform holiday-resort to prove you know fuck-all Eddie.”
“Aye, very good.”
“But I take your point. I wouldnae be seen deid in the place if it wasnae aw bein’ laid on.”
“You couldnae afford it if it wasnae aw bein’ laid on.”
“Good shout, aye. But you know what I mean, Eddie. It sounds hellish.”
“Some place for a party, mind you. I think this could be a rerr terr, the night. Nae neighbours tae tell you tae keep it doon, nae polis, free drink.”
“Aye, but if it turns oot it’s shite, it’ll be a cunt tryin’ tae get a taxi hame. Be a good laugh phonin’ for wan, right enough. Givin’ them directions: ‘Aye, you just take a right at the lights, then first left, then hauf a mile across the water. It’s the second oil rig efter the kebab shop.’”
“Aye. ‘Name on the door’s Hutchison.’”
“I have to say, though, Eddie, I still don’t mind o’ the cunt at aw.”
“Aye. Drawin’ a total blank here.”
“Come on, Charlie, fuck’s sake. You must remember him. Mind, the guy that got a knock-back aff Hound Henderson in first year at the Christmas party when everybody was up dancin’ tae the fuckin’ Hucklebuck or some shite.”
“I mind o’ her. Fuckin’ horrible beast, so she was. Christ, I hope she’s no sittin’ two seats in front. Did I say that loud?”
“Naw, you’re awright. But d’you mind him noo?”
“Naw. ’Cause it wasnae him, it was Paddy Grieg that got knocked back aff Hound Henderson that time.”
“Fuck, so it was. Right enough. An’ he cannae be on this bus, cause we’d’ve smelt him by noo. Fuckin’ hell, man. Paddy Grieg. I mean, gettin’ knocked back affa Hound Henderson — it doesnae get any lower than that, does it? Seriously, you’d have tae stick your heid in the oven efter that wan, wouldn’t ye?”
“Aye, Eddie, says you that shagged Linda Clark thon time.”
“That’s different. At least I got a result.”
“Some result. She’d a face like a melted welly.”
“Well, you don’t look at the mantelpiece when you’re pokin’ the fire.”
“Poor, Eddie, poor. And does your Margaret know you shagged Linda Clark?”
“It was afore we were merried. I was eighteen.”
“Aye, but does she know? ’Cause the two o’ them werenae exactly pals, like, were they?”
“Fuck’s sake, keep your voice doon. Margaret’s got ears like fuckin’ radar, even if your Tina’s burnin’ them aff doon the front the noo.”
“You leave ma Tina oot this. Answer the question: does she know?”
“Am I still alive? Is Linda Clark still alive?”
“I’ll take that as a No, then.”
“You, me and Linda are the only folk that know. I’d everybody else that knew professionally murdered a few years back.”
“So, is Linda Clark on the bus?”
“You’re fuckin’ hopeless, Charlie. Linda Clark went tae Auchenlea High. She wasnae at oor school. Heidin’ fitbas must have knackered your memory.”
“Ach, pish. I can mind as much as you. Wait a minute. I know who Gavin Hutchison is noo. Wasnae he the guy that knocked himsel’ oot playin’ tig wance, when he ran intae thon big pillar?”
“Naw. That was me, ya daft cunt.”
“Well, was he the wan that got stung wi’ a deid wasp in the art class, pickin’ it up?”
“Naw. That was me as well. You’re takin’ the piss ya fuckin’ prick.”
“Hing on. I’ve got it. Was he the wan that got a doin’ aff Davie Murdoch?”
“Noo you’re really takin’ the piss. Every cunt got a doin’ aff Davie Murdoch. I ’hink the Pope probably got his baws booted aff Davie when he came tae Bellahouston Park.”
“Well, in that case, as I says, I don’t mind him at aw.”
“Actually, noo I come tae think of it, I’m no sure I mind him masel. I thought that was him wi’ the Hound Henderson cairry-on but it wasnae. An’ I thought mibbe it was him that spewed his ring in RE, mind, like the fuckin’ Exorcist, but that was Ally McQuade. Fuck. Total blank.”
“Tell’t you you were as bad as me.”
“What the fuck, but. Free pairty. We’ll mibbe recognise him when we see him.”
“Either that or we’ll just have tae kid on. ‘Awright Gavin? Howzitgaun? No seen you for dunkey’s. Whit? You don’t remember us? Whit kinna pal are you, ya cunt?’”
“You’ve some brass neck, Charlie my man. You don’t remember anybody. I’m surprised you remember me.”
“Come aff it. I remembered Davie Murdoch, didn’t I?”
“Everybody remembers Davie Murdoch. Same as Matt Black. Hard tae forget when they’re in the newspapers aw the time.”
“D’you reckon it’s aw true aboot aul’ Dilithium, then, Eddie?”
“Aboot him turnin’ ower a new leaf? Renouncin’ violence, becomin’ a painter an’ aw that?”
“Fuck knows. Everybody changes, I suppose. I mean look, there’ Ally McQuade five seats doon, bein’ dead pally wi’ auld Mrs Laurence. He was a cheeky wee shite, used tae make her life a misery.”
“He’s still a cheeky wee shite.”
“Aye, but you know whit I mean. Davie was awright sometimes. I sat next tae him in Geography in second year. We’d a laugh noo and again.”
“Whit are you talkin’ aboot, Eddie? Davie leathered you in Geography in second year. Dished you wi’ that big Atlas.”
“Aye, right enough. But still. He must have reformed or they’d never have let him oot, would they? An’ sure there’s that story aboot when he was released. Deek Paterson’s brother, Panda, attacked him ootside the jile an’ he never fought back. Just stood there an’ took it until the polis pulled Panda aff.”
“Aye, I remember hearin’ aboot that masel, Ed. Still, if Davie turns up tonight, I don’t see anybody puttin’ it tae the test by tryin’ tae settle any scores, do you?”
“Well, I never cried him Dilithium Davie tae his face back then, so I’m no startin’ noo. He might have a flashback. A fuckin’ ‘regression’, know?”
“Naw, I wouldnae worry, Eddie. On the off-chance that he’s actually there, if Davie went mental again, it’s odds-on it’ll be Kenny Collins that got the doin’. His mooth was aye writin’ cheques his arse couldnae cash.”
“Him or Ally McQuade.”
“Naw, at least Ally was funny. Kenny was just ignorant. Horrible wee bastard, so he was. Sneaky as well. No redeemin’ features. Face you could punch aw night.”
“Shoosh. Keep your voice doon or he’ll come back up here again. I thought he was gaunny sit doon beside us earlier. I couldnae have handled him aw the way up the road.”
“Aye, you’re right there, Eddie. My heart sank when I saw him gettin’ on the bus. I suppose that’s whit you’re signin’ up for, though, goin’ tae a thing like this. The drink might be free, but you’re still payin’ a high price puttin’ up wi’ some of the company.”
“Still, it’s gaunny be mental seein’ some o’ thae folk again.”
“That’s if anybody else turns up. The pairty could be just us that’s on this bus, plus this Gavin Hutchison bugger that we cannae remember anyway. I cannae picture Matt Black comin’ back fae America just tae see us arseholes again, eh? An’ Davie Murdoch — he lives in fuckin’ New York or somewhere. He’s no gaunny be there either. And no tae mention aw the wans that are in the jile.”
“Ach, never mind. Free pairty, innit? Overnight stay an’ everythin’.”
“Aye. Overnight stay on an oil-rig.”
“It’ll be fine, big man. It’ll be better than that, in fact. Forget the oil rig: it’s a resort. This guy obviously knows what he’s doin’, knows how tae make folk feel comfortable. That’s how he’s rakin’ in the millions, an’ I’m fittin’ fuckin’ wardrobes.”
… 11:08 … fipr charter coach … five seats doon …
“Good guys get shot in the shoulder,” Ally was explaining. “It’s the first rule of engagement for action movies. Allows that aw-naw-he’s-been-hit fright moment, renders the hero apparently vulnerable, gives everybody a quality wince, but crucially does no real harm. Headshot is obviously oot, as is the chest; leg-wound limits mobility, stomach puts you on a dead-withoot-medical-attention timelock, and forearm is just too wimpy. Thus, the upper-arm-to-shoulder area gets it every time, and doesnae affect either the aiming or punching ability of the aformentioned good guy. Bruce Willis in ‘Die Hard’ — bullet in the shoulder courtsey of Alexander Godunov. Michael Beihn in ‘Terminator’, courtesy of Arnie. Linda Hamilton in ‘T2’.”
“That was a stabbing weapon.”
“True enough, but same difference. Arnie himself in ‘Commando’.”
“Grenade-blast, if I remember correctly,” Mrs Laurence clarified. “But nonetheless, it was the shoulder.”
“Indeed. Then there’s Arnie again in ‘Predator’. Danny Glover in ‘Predator 2’. Danny Glover again in ‘Lethal Weapon’. Carrie Fisher in ‘Return of the Jedi’. The golden era was, of course, your Joel Silver Eighties — I suppose that should be Silver era, shouldn’t it? — but the rules are still bein’ observed today. Nick Cage in ‘Con-Air’, Guy Pearce in ‘LA Confidential’, Robert De Niro in ‘Ronin’.”
“Yes, but it goes back a long way before the Eighties. Before cinema, even. Might I offer Jim Hawkins in ‘Treasure Island’?”
“Of course. Knife through the celluloid sweetspot on the mast of the ‘Hispaniola’. An’ if we’re openin’ it up to books, there’s Frodo Baggins in ‘Lord of the Rings’, with the added discomfort of the blade breakin’ aff an’ giein’ him the Orc equivalent of tetanus for a good two hunner pages. But it’s important to stress that this is a convention we’re talkin’ aboot, not a cliché. Admittedly, there’ an awfy fine line between the two, but good guys gettin’ shot in the shoulder is the right side of it.”
“What would be a cliché, then?”
“Eh, let me think. Aye. Bad guys comin’ back for one last fright. See, your hero gettin’ wounded is part of the mechanics of the story — the baddie comin’ back is just a cheap shock. Fortunately, the ‘Scream’ movies literally put a bullet in the head of that wan.”
Ally was well into his stride. He was feeling buoyed by the experience of having a sensible conversation with Mrs Laurence: it constituted valid, independent confirmation of having achieved grown-up status. Never mind jobs, money, wives or weans: you knew you were a man when you could contradict your former English teacher without her giving you a punishment exercise.
Well, not that sensible a conversation, maybe, but an enjoyable one. Mrs L had surprised him by confessing her devotion to action flicks, unwittingly triggering an onslaught of Ally’s in-depth theses on the genre. This was something that seldom required much provocation, and this time he was really going for it, making the most of that Vader-to-Kenobi moment: “Now I am the master.”
“You know, I never really had you down for a post-structuralist, Alastair,” she said.
Ally laughed, thinking back to all the things Mrs Laurence had called him in his time. That had not been one of them. It seemed he wasn’t the only one pleasantly surprised by their mutual civility.
“Ach, naw,” he told her. “This isnae deconstructionism, it’s pure, anorak-class obsessiveness. Aw the theorisin’ goes right oot the windae when I’m actually watchin’ a film. I want to get carried along for the ride, which is where cliches ruin it, but conventions are part of the structure.”
“Suspension of disbelief.”
“Aye. That kinna thing. I’ll swallow any scenario, as long as the film sticks to its own bullet-deadliness quotient.”
“An action film establishes its own rules of gunplay. In some, every bullet is potentially lethal — even the old shot to the shoulder can look worryingly near to the upper-chest area. But in others, machine guns can seem the least deadly weapon known to man. To illustrate, at one end of the spectrum there’s your Tarantino movies: reputations aside, there’s not that much gunplay, so when somebody lets off a shot, it’s for real, and it’s usually fatal. High bullet-deadliness quotient. At the other end, there’s your John Woo movies: zillions of rounds goin’ off an’ the only thing they ever hit is glass. Low bullet-deadliness quotient. In a high BDQ film, if the baddie draws a bead on somebody, get ready for ketchup. In a low BDQ film, that’s just a bad day for the janitor. And both types are fine by me, as long as the rules are followed consistently.”
“But you can’t establish a high BDQ and then have a low-BDQ showdown at the end, that’s what you’re saying?”
“That’s what I’m saying. And you cannae establish a low BDQ then have the hero take oot the baddie wi’ wan shot while the air round about him fills up wi’ lead.”
“I agree. So, as you’ve got a term for everything else, what do you call it when that happens?”
“I call it a Renny Harlin film, usually. Worst fuckin’ action director — excuse the swearies —”
“Oh please, Alastair. I’m not your teacher anymore.”
“Fair enough. Worst fuckin’ action director in the world. No idea whatsoever. Just blows a few things up and links it together with badly blocked — and always badly lit — dialogue sequences. And the worst of it is he makes money, so they let him go and do it all over again.”
“I’m not so clued up on the names of the directors — who is he?”
“Renny Harlin. Never to be forgiven for ‘Die Hard 2’. A sequel so unworthy, John McTiernan kidded on it had never happened when he made ‘Die Hard With a Vengeance’ — even came up with a title that got around callin’ it ‘Die Hard 3’. Further Harlin crimes include resurrectin’ Stallone’s career with ‘Cliffhanger’, and the absolute mortal sin of wastin’ a script by Shane Black wi’ ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’.”
“Oh come on, I thought that one was funny.”
“Aye, it was — that was down to Shane Black, though. As a thriller it was pish — and that was down to Renny Harlin. I mean, Shane Black, that’s precious material. You don’t give it to just anybody. There should be an approved list of directors for his stuff.”
His tone of indignant reverence had Mrs L highly amused, evidently recalling the level of respect he had previously afforded the written word.
“You know, if I could have got you just a fraction as observant and analytical when you were in my English class, my job would have been a damn sight easier.”
Ally, having seen this one coming, wasn’t for backing down.
“Christ, what did you expect, inflictin’ that Grassic Gibbon damage on us? You’d be up on an abuse charge for that these days. Besides, I needed all my powers of observation and analysis to keep comin’ up wi’ new slaggin’s for my classmates. It was hard work bein’ a smart-arsed wee bastard — you teachers never appreciated that.”
“Oh, believe me, we did. We knew exactly how much effort you put into that — rechannelling it was our impossible ambition.”
“Well, you could have made it easier on yoursels. I know it was the curriculum, but I mean, if it was up to you and you were tryin’ tae get teenagers interested in books, is that what you’d throw at them? Grassic Gibbon? Teuchter farmyard dreichness?”
“Well, no, I must admit …”
“What was wrong with Stevenson, then? Or Tolkien? Bit of hobbit action. Plenty of pyrotechnics to keep the weans interested. Mibbe it was a Catholic thing — it had to be borin’ an’ depressin’ or it wasnae daein’ you any good.”
“That sounds as much a Protestant ethic to me. And before you say it’s a general Scottish philosophy, it was the same down south when I was growing up. The only difference was we got our rural depression from Hardy and Elliot.”
“George Elliot? That’s the one whose husband jumped oot the windae on their weddin’ night. She must have threatened tae read him her new book.”
“Well, I must say, Alastair, I’m impressed at you knowing that.”
“It’s no’ the kinna detail you’re likely to forget. Anyway, I’m the one that’s impressed at your movie knowledge. Never pictured you wi’ a bucket of popcorn an’ a bandana, you know?”
“Oh, James and I were always big on the movies. We went all the time. Must have kept a few picture-houses open between the two of us during the video boom.”
“Aye, I can appreciate that much, but I mean, Arnie and ‘Aliens’ and all that?”
“Oh don’t be so ageist. I was watching ‘The Enforcer’ when you were in short trousers, remember. And I saw ‘A Clockwork Orange’ when you’d have still been in a pushchair. To me, cinema has always been more about spectacle than anything else. I loved reading ‘The English Patient’, but on a Saturday night out, if it was between the film of that and ‘True Lies’, give me guns and explosions every time.”
“Your husband must be awfy keen on that stuff as well, then.”
“He was. He died almost four years ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Now, now, don’t mention it. Before he passed on, James made two requests of me for when he was gone, and one of those was was ‘don’t be a widow’.”
“Sounds like good advice. What was the other?”
She gave him a conspiratorial look then produced a half-bottle of Glenfiddich from by her side. “Grow old disgracefully,” she said with a grin. She took a quick swig and passed the bottle.
“Cheers,” he said.
The choice of seat had been kind of forced upon Ally, not that he was complaining about how it had worked out. When he got on the bus and started moving up the aisle, he’d soon noticed that he was one of only three people not to have brought along his or her significant other.
There was a guy sitting alone about five seats from the back. He had his head down, so Ally couldn’t place him, but then there were lots of spouses in tow who hadn’t had the pleasure of a St Mick’s education. The bloke was probably waiting for one of the gaggle of females currently under the impression that the reunion was taking place outside the coach’s front steps.
Ally had clocked Mrs Laurence on her tod a couple rows behind that. There were still a few empty double seats on offer, most of them in eavesdropping distance of several one-time classmates and their undoubtedly better halves. That was when he glanced out of the window and spotted the instantly recognisable Kenny Collins swaggering alone towards the coach, four-pack of Cally Special Brew swinging from one hand. Sitting alone in a double seat would be an invitation to the alky bastard to plague him for the next five hours, so Ally swiftly opted to forgive and forget ‘Gumble’s Yard’ (she was only obeying orders) and very politely reintroduced himself.
Kenny’s appearance was an unwelcome vindication of Ally’s contention that the offer of free booze would tease all sorts of creatures out of hiding. More surprising, really, was the attendance of others such as himself who would, generally, have better things to do on a Saturday night. Allan Crossland, Mick Thorn, Karen Nelson, Jennifer Finn, all known to have successfully escaped Auchenlea for the world beyond. Maybe Ally wasn’t the only one with a sentimental streak. Either that or Annette was right and they wanted to survey their successes in the context of what they rose above and left behind. Whatever, they’d all be pissed and best pals by midnight. Then after tomorrow they’d never see each other again.
Gossip and rumour filtered back and forth throughout the journey about who else might be showing up later, as well as grim facts about who definitely wasn’t. Janice Brennan, breast cancer, ’95. Markie Roberts, car crash, ’92. Eddie McGinn, heroin OD, the super-strength batch that took out dozens in ’96. Vera Murphy, two ODs proving a warm-up for suicide, ’98. Peter Cullen, shot dead in a Paisley drug-war retaliation hit, ’96. Franny Smith, life, murder. John Donnelly, eight years, armed robbery.
At one point Mrs Laurence inquired as to whether Ally knew anything of what had become of “that lovely girl, Annette Strachan. Very bright. Very pretty.”
Ally barely resisted the temptation to say that the last he’d heard, she was barefoot and pregnant, and opted sensibly to change the subject.
“Do you reckon there’ll be any other former St Mick’s staff at this thing the night?” he asked.
“I doubt it. As far as I’m aware, none were invited.”
“So why were you?”
“I wasn’t. I’m gatecrashing. Oh for God’s sake, stop looking so shocked. You’re like an old woman with that face on, Alastair. I just heard on the grapevine that this reunion was taking place and I thought it sounded rather a hoot, so I decided to invite myself along. It will be fun, don’t you think? All those familiar faces, all grown up. And on this bizarre floating resort place, too.”
“Aye. I have to say, though, I’ve got my reservations about the timing.”
“Well, this floating island affair is almost complete. You hear that crucial word? Almost. Not half-finished, not up-and-runnin’ either, but this close to ready.”
“So, ‘almost-finished’ is the most vulnerable time for disaster. Nakatomi Towers, Jurassic Park, the second Death Star, Deep Core …”
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Extract from "One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night". 2020. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved December 2020, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1003.
"Extract from "One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night"." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2020. Web. December 2020. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1003.
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