Two men sit in large comfortable arm chairs either side of a low coffee table in a darkened office. A light shines softly above the table, the rest of the room is in shadow. There is music pulsing from below. Their conversation stops as the door opens and the music becomes much louder. A large man wearing an immaculate if conservatively cut suit walks through it carrying a tray with two cups, a cafetiere, a jug of milk, a bowl of sugar and a plate with shortbread on it. He half pirouettes as he closes the door with his foot and the music returns to a muffled thump. The man carefully places the tray on the table, delicately pushes on the plunger on the cafetiere until it is fully depressed then carefully pours coffee into both cups. He then adds milk and two lumps of sugar to one cup.
“And you sir, how do you take your coffee?” He asks
Eh, loadsy milk an’ three sugars pal” replies the smaller of the two men. He seems ill at ease. He constantly shifts to find a comfortable position. His name is Joe.
“Certainly sir. Generosity of milk and sugar is bound to add to the flavour of the coffee” The big man pours the milk and drops in three sugars. After giving the cup a gentle stir he places the spoon on the saucer and with a thank you backs into the shadows to sit beside a large desk by the window.
Joe turns to look over his shoulder at the man. The garish blue and red lights on the outside of the building seem to emphasis his complete stillness. He turns quickly back to the man sitting opposite him as he starts talking again
“I was a nobody at school, a bit of a swot really.” He is Alexander Muirfield. He is taller and more relaxed than Joe. He sits confidently in his chair. This is his office after all. “If a swot’s someone who actually sat exams and didn’t deliberately fail them just to show how hard he was? I was the only boy in my year to go to uni…loads of the girls did but I was the only boy.”
He leans forward and stirs his coffee.
“That’s the annoying thing about these crystallized lump things they take too long to dissolve. You have to stir for ages and you coffee ends up cold”
The other man nods “aye, you’re right” He is ignoring his coffee. His sugar will be given plenty of time to dissolve. He knows he would probably spill it, such is his nervousness so it will be left to become cold too. He tries to keep looking at Murfield but he keeps glancing over to the large man in the shadows. The figure remains motionless his face hidden.
Anyway, what happened was…” Muirfield is becoming more animated and enthusiastic, warming to his story. “We went on an outward bound course once in 3rd year, Lochgoilhead I think. You know the type of thing. Kayaking and hillclimbing. The sort of stuff you didn’t do every day in a Glasgow scheme, eh? Even a nice one like mine. It was a few days off school and away from home. One of the things we did was abseiling off a bloody great rock that was sticking out of a hillside. Looked huge to us. Most of the boys in the class were quietly shiteing themselves, most of the girls were loudly shiting it too. I have to admit I was a wee bitty scared too.” He pauses for comic effect.“ Actually I was pure crapping myself. I watched the class hard men either refuse to go or make an arse of themselves going down. Being one of the quiet boys in the class meant I was allowed to listen to the instructors and understand what I should do. No daft acts of bravado for me, no showing how tough I was to the crowd. I followed instructions. Once I stepped off the edge and did what I was told, feeding the rope through and descending smoothly, I loved it. I knew I was perfectly safe. As long as I did what I should do properly I was OK. It couldn’t have been more than 25 or 30 feet but I loved the thrill of it. I’d had my epiphany. Of course I didn’t know that at the time, if you had said epiphany to me then I would have thought it something to do with Catholics. Looking back though it was exactly what I had. It changed my life. If I planned correctly and prepared properly and trusted what happened next I could do anything.
“I realised that I could, if I put my mind to it, do anything I wanted. Anything!” He is animated now, waving his hands and leaning forward to point at Joe. That was when I started to actually think about the future. Up until then I was just an average wee boy in an average wee Glasgow scheme. Didn’t run with the bad boys. Didn’t get into trouble. After my abseiling epiphany I felt brimming with confidence. Brimming I was…”
Muirfield sat back and sighed, shook his head and straightened his jacket. He reaches for his coffee and sips it, smiles and has a little more, then puts the cup down and continues.
“You haven’t touched yours. You sure you don’t a reheat? It’s very nice. The wee shortbread things are great dunked. My PA’s mum makes them. No? OK then. Where was I? Ah, yes. Arseholes. I had always noticed the flash guys on the estate, the ones that seemed to have no job but had expensive cars and plenty of money. My dad always tried to avoid them but if he couldn’t he was carefully polite around them. I thought they were wankers. Just like the arseholes at school who thought it was tough and cool not to learn. Both were on a hiding to nothing. The flash guys would disappear after a while and I would here mentions of the big house. Didn’t know what that meant then.” He snorted a short laugh and gave the other man a steady look.
“You know the guys I’m talking about. Don’t you Joe?”
“Oh, aye. Aye ah do.” The other man says quickly
“None of them made plans. Arseholes!” He says with venom.
“I wanted to be as rich as quickly as I could. It was the beginning of the 80’s after all, everybody did. Like so many others I pretended to be good Glasgow socialists but I fancied Thatcher’s avaricious ethos too. I wanted to be driving a Porsche and wearing a sharp suit as soon as possible (while fighting racism and inequality at the same time. I would protect the rights of the poor by day and dance at Cardinal Follie’s by night)) and I knew wouldn’t get there by being like the arseholes. I passed all my exams and I was ‘The Boy Who Was Going To University!’ The school loved me.
I went to Strathclyde Uni to do marketing. Wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped but I had a good time,” he says with a shrug, “I suppose I learned what I had to. I joined the climbing club. Weekends in the mountains! God, I loved that. Nothing was better, all that risk and exhilaration. I really loved it.
Of course I picked up on some other stuff too. I saw that Level 8, that’s the students union, seemed to be heaving all the time. The rich daddy crew who had just left private school were going mental with the freedom. They had money and I had a pissy little grant that needed topping up. I got involved with the entertainment committee, I thought it could help me get a hold some of the money the rich kids were spending. Soon I was in charge. I booked bands. I arranged parties for the rich kids. I was lucky, as I said it was the 80’s, and Glasgow was hoaching with new bands. I had my pick and soon I was running some seriously popular nights. I was getting some great kickbacks too. I was in the money!” He smiles at the memory “I expanded out of the uni and started running gigs out in the real world. It was then that I noticed that the rich kids had a different approach to drugs. Cocaine and ecstasy were becoming popular and I wanted to make some serious money. No smack and glue for them. I was finding the music scene a bit hard work to be honest but it did have connections to suppliers and one thing led to another and here we are.” He holds out his hands. First he raises the left “Me the respectable music promoter Mr Jeckyll,” then the right, “and me the exclusive and select drug baron Mr Hyde.”
He reaches for his coffee and finishes it, then picks up a piece of shortbread tapping it gently to remove the loose sugar and crumbs and takes a bite.
“It’s awfully good,” he says offering some.” “You sure you don’t want a wee bit? No? Oh well suit yourself.” He puts the plate down and slowly stands up and walks to the dark corner of the room where Joe can see the vague shape of what he thinks is a bag. As Muirfield opens it Joe tenses. Muirfield rummages in it as he continues talking.
“All this upward mobility and money making took up way too much of my time. I have to admit I became a bit obsessed and forgot about what really made me happy, you can understand that can’t you?” He says as he looks up from the bag
Joe nods uneasily.
“Ach, who wasn’t then” Muirfield continues “ But I’ve never lost my love of climbing even though I lost the time to do any. I’ve kept all my gear. See?” He says brightly “…now where is it…ah here it is. It feels good seeing all my stuff again. This one has to be my favourite.” He holds an ice axe up as he walks back into the light, admiring it. He carefully runs his fingers over the serrations on the underside of the blade. Then he hefts it, apreciating the weight and balance. He turns to Joe who is beginning to worry . “Love the feeling that so much rests on each swing. Of course, you should be very aware of that feeling…where’s my fucking money?”
On the far side of the room the big man coughs. Joe turns in a panic to look at him, taking his eye off Muirfield
The axe swings through the light and comes to a halt deep in one of Joe’s kneecaps.
© 2014 Andrew Woodhouse