Scotland Street Volume 17, Chapter 55: At Stan’s Place
Initially, Bob had been indifferent to the phenomenon, but as interest in his case widened, he began to be amused by the fact that he had become something of a living curiosity. Not that he was corrupted by fame: Bob was the most modest of men and would not normally talk about his experience, unless somebody remarked on his Swedish accent. Then he would open up about what had happened, rather enjoying the astonishment that people would express over the very idea of foreign accent syndrome.
Eddie was exceptionally supportive. He felt guilty about his role in the accident, in spite of Bob’s assurance that none of it was his fault.
“Listen, Eddie,” Bob said. “It was nothing to do with you – and I mean nothing. Who got on the machine and then fell off? Me. I did it. It was my fault – end of story.”
Eddie was still concerned. “Your fault? No, Bob, it was mine. You were my client. I should have known that you didn’t know how to use the equipment. It’s the same with the captain of a ship. Remember? We talked about that.”
Bob again tried to reassure Eddie, but it proved impossible.
“I’m giving up,” Eddie told him. “Your accident has shaken me. I don’t think I should be doing this. In fact, I’ve already decided. I’ve told the gym.”
“But what will you do, Eddie?” asked Bob. “Will you go back to oiling the Falkirk Wheel?”
Eddie shook his head. “You have to move on in this life, Bob. If you stay in the same place for too long, then you’ll never get anywhere.”
Bob thought about this and then, eventually, said, “That’s true, I suppose.”
He thought of himself. What had he done with his life? He had made his mark on the Highland Games circuit, but where had that led? In tossing the caber, you were only as good as your last throw – everybody knew that. And there was something rather sad in being a veteran, sitting on the sidelines while younger men in kilts threw telephone poles about. Where was the dignity in any of that?
“So what will you do, Eddie?” asked Bob.
Eddie leaned forward, as if he was about to impart a commercial secret. “I’m not going back into hydraulics,” he said. “Too much pressure. I’m going to build sheds. I’ve always liked working with timber, and I’ve got access to an old building on my brother-in-law’s smallholding near Bathgate. It needs a bit of work, but the roof’s sound enough.”
“And you’ll make the sheds there?”
“That’s the plan,” said Eddie. “I’ll construct the walls and roofs as separate units, you see, and then I’ll erect them on site. I’ve designed four different sorts of shed – so far.” He paused. “You could come out and see the set-up, if you’re interested.”
Bob was, and the following day Eddie picked him up and they drove out to Eddie’s brother-in-law’s place. Introductions were made.
“This is Stan,” said Eddie. “And this is Stan’s place.”
Bob looked about him. They were standing in front of a modern, unassuming bungalow with cracked, discoloured harling. Several rundown-looking vehicles were parked beside the house, and beyond that, behind rickety fencing, growing tunnels stretched out in every direction.
“Stan grows onions,” said Eddie. “And other things too.”
Stan nodded proudly. “Some of the big supermarkets take my stuff,” he said. “In fact, I get more orders than I can fulfil. That’s a healthy sign, I always say.”
“That’s the way to run a business,” said Bob.
Stan looked at his visitor with interest. “You from Sweden?” he asked.
Bob glanced at Eddie, who was looking down at the ground. “I sound Swedish,” he said. “But I’m not.” And then, to divert attention from a potentially awkward subject, he pointed to a shed behind the house. “Is that one of yours, Eddie?”
Stan answered. “No, I had that put up three years ago. Eddie’s sheds will be a cut above that one.”
“That’s where Stan keeps his ferrets,” said Eddie.
“I’ll show you,” said Stan. “You like ferrets, Bob?”
Bob had never touched a ferret and was not sure how one might tell the difference between a ferret and a mink. Then there were pine martens – where did they fit in?
“I’ll let you hold one,” said Stan, as they made their way into the dimness of the shed. He reached forward and extracted a writhing creature from a hatch. “This is Alastair,” he said. “You won’t get a better ferret anywhere in Eastern Scotland. His mother was a champion. In her day, she was the best ferret in Scotland. No argument.”
He held the creature out to Bob, who instinctively drew back. Alastair’s tiny black eyes were watching him. Stan was bemused by Bob’s hesitation.
“What do you use them for?” asked Bob.
“I send them down rabbit holes,” came the reply. “Then they come up with a rabbit, and I take it from them.”
“Sometimes they want to hold on,” said Eddie. “Alastair’s father was a bit like that, wasn’t he, Stan?”
Stan laughed. “That was Edgar. Yes, he knew his rights, that boy. But they always give it up when I give them a nip.”
Bob was open-mouthed. “You bite them?”
“Yes,” said Stan. “It’s the only way to get a ferret to let go. They’re so surprised. They give the rabbit up.”
Bob was silent. He had noticed a small scar on Stan’s right cheek. Sometimes, these things could be clues, he told himself.
“That’s enough ferrets,” said Eddie. “Sheds now.”
They crossed a small field to an old byre, whitewashed and slated – typical of the old agricultural buildings on any number of Scottish farms. Once inside, Eddie showed Bob the large power saws and planers positioned beyond several large stacks of timber.
“You’ve got everything you need here, Eddie,” said Bob. He sniffed the air appreciatively. “I love the smell of worked timber.”
“I do too,” said Eddie. He paused, and then said, “I need to find somebody to work with me, though.”
Bob understood. “Me?”
“This is our chance, Bob,” said Eddie. “And it’s physical work, too. You’ll shed the pounds making sheds. I can pretty much guarantee that.”
© Alexander McCall Smith, 2023. The Stellar Debut of Galactica MacFee, published by Polygon, price £17.99, is on sale now. The author welcomes comments from readers and can be contacted on [email protected]