44. Moving Stories
“Is there anything wrong?” asked Nick McNair as he ushered Bruce into his studio the following morning. “Or shouldn’t I ask? A hangover from the party last night?”
Bruce shook his head. “No. It’s not that. And I’ll be all right.”
Nick looked sideways at Bruce. “You look a bit washed out, if I may say so. Not quite yourself.”
Bruce rubbed his face in his hands. “Maybe. It’s just that… Well, the truth is that I broke up with my fianc'ee last night. It was a bit heavy.”
Nick put on an expression of sympathy. “Oh, poor girl! Was it hard for her?”
Bruce nodded. “Yes, it was. Still, it’s probably better to do it at this stage than to do it after the wedding.” He smiled weakly. “Cheaper this way.”
“That’s true,” said Nick. “I split up with Colleen – she’s my ex – about two years ago and, oh my goodness, did we ever fight! This is mine. No, it’s mine. And this is mine too. And so on. We even fought about forwarding mail. She chucked my mail in the bin – wouldn’t even drop it in the post for me.”
“They hate us,” said Bruce. “I don’t know what we do to deserve it, but they hate us.”
Bruce closed his eyes for a moment. He would have to try to forget that morning’s scene, but he felt that it would be difficult. When he had woken up – after a night spent on the less-than-comfortable couch – it was to the sound of knocking on the door. Julia, he learned, had already made a telephone call to her father, and he had arrived on the doorstep with the two bouncers Julia had talked about. They were dressed in the ill-fitting black suits of their calling, with thin, dark-coloured ties. One of them, Tommy, had HATE tattooed on the knuckles of one hand… and HATE on the knuckles of the other. The other, Billy, had a line tattooed across his forehead. Bruce could not help but peer forward to read it: BRAINBOX.
Julia appeared in the doorway of the bedroom and conferred briefly with her father, who then walked over to Bruce. “I’m sorry that it’s come to this, Bruce,” he said. “But I always think that it’s best for incompatibility to be discovered at an early stage. I would have appreciated you as a son-in-law, but it’s not to be. I hope that there’s no ill-feeling.”
“It’s her,” said Bruce. “She’s chucking me out.”
“Well, it must have been something you did. I don’t think I should go into that.”
“Something she did,” snapped Bruce. “She was seeing another man.”
Julia’s father frowned. “I don’t think my daughter would do that,” he said. “We’re not that sort.”
“Well, she did,” Bruce retorted. “Watson Cooke. You know him? Watson Cooke.”
There was a flicker of recognition, and Bruce suddenly realised that Julia’s father looked pleased. “Well, I don’t think we should go into all that,” said the older man. “Julia has asked me to help you move your stuff out. I’ve brought the men. They can pack things up and store it somewhere for you. And if you wouldn’t mind giving me the keys of the Porsche, I’ll take care of that. And as far as the job is concerned, I’ll arrange for the accounts department to send you a couple of months’ salary in lieu.”
Bruce had been sitting on the couch during this conversation. Now he stood up. “Now hold on! Just hold on. You gave me that car.”
Julia’s father looked down at his feet. “Not gave, Bruce. Provided. And the registration documents, I’m afraid, are in the company’s name. So if you wouldn’t mind giving me the key?”
“Actually, I would mind,” said Bruce. “I’d mind a lot.”
Billy now stepped forward. Bruce saw the legend BRAINBOX in close proximity. It was tattooed in Times New Roman, he thought. Or maybe Palatino.
“Youse just gie us the key of the motor,” said Billy. “Right?”
Bruce hesitated, but only briefly. The key for the Porsche was in his jacket pocket and he retrieved it.
“Thank you,” said Julia’s father. “There really need be no unpleasantness. So, if you wouldn’t mind showing the boys what they need to pack, they’ll get it into a couple of suitcases and we can all get on with our lives. So sorry.”
Bruce opened his eyes. The scene was far from expunged, but there was no point in thinking about it now.
“You don’t have any coffee, do you?” he asked Nick.
“Natch. I keep coffee on the go all the time. But I always limit myself to three cups a day. More than that and… zoom!”
Nick went off to a coffee machine at the side of the room and Bruce looked about him. The studio, which occupied a small mews flat behind North West Circus Place, consisted of a largeish room, in which they were now standing, with smaller rooms off that. One of these smaller rooms looked like a darkroom, and another had an array of computer equipment. In the large room there were several open shelves on which various cameras and lenses had been stored, along with tripods and folded reflectors.
“I’m mostly digital these days,” said Nick, returning to Bruce. “But I still like actual film. I love the hands-on feel of it.” He handed him a cup of coffee and Bruce raised the mug to his lips. Even the smell alone was enough to revive his spirits. The face of Scotland! What did it matter if he had been thrown out by that dim blonde; he was going to be the new face of Scotland. That was infinitely more important. Watson Cooke was welcome to her.
“So is she moving out then?” asked Nick.
Bruce shrugged. “I think I’ll let her stay,” he said. “I don’t want to be unkind.”
“That’s good of you,” said Nick. “So where will you go? Have you got another place lined up?”
Bruce took another sip of his coffee. “Actually, I haven’t. And I was wondering, you wouldn’t possibly…”
“Of course,” said Nick. “You can stay at my place down in Leith. I’ve got a couple of spare rooms and I was going to get somebody for one of them anyway. So that will be fine.”
“That’s very kind of you,” said Bruce. And he thought of himself in the infinity pool, looking out over the North Sea. The face of Scotland looking out over Scottish waters.
Oh, Julia Donald, he thought, you don’t know what you’re missing, do you?