56. A Bit of a Poser
Nick McNair lived in a converted bonded warehouse in Leith. “Very bijou,” remarked Bruce as they walked across the car park at the back of the warehouse. “You forget that Edinburgh’s got places like this. London’s got all those new places along the river. All done up. But we’ve got this.”
Nick fished for the keys of the shared front door. “A word of advice,” he said. “We’re not actually in Edinburgh here. People feel a bit sensitive about it – or some people do. It’s Leith.”
Bruce smiled. “Don’t worry,” he said. ‘I’m good at merging with my surroundings. Leith it is.”
They went into the hallway, which had been cleverly converted, using old whisky barrels as panelling. “This was one of the biggest bonded warehouses in Scotland,” said Nick. “They converted the old bit and added the new, high bit at the end. I’m right at the top – the eighth floor. You’ll like it.”
Bruce threw an appreciative glance around the hall. “Who lives here?” he asked. “I mean, what sort of people?”
“Creative people,” said Nick. “Advertising. Media. And money people. Fund managers. Actuaries. People like that.”
“You must feel at home,” said Bruce. And he felt at home too, instantly. Julia Donald’s flat in Howe Street had been all very well, but it was hardly the epicentre of the New Edinburgh. This was far more like it, although he was not sure about the epicentre of Edinburgh being in Leith.
They got into a lift which was barely large enough for two people. Bruce felt slightly disconcerted to be standing in such close proximity to Nick. And from that distance, from within the photographer’s personal space, he could not help but notice that his new flatmate had not shaved one side of his chin. He noticed the hairs, tiny black eruptions, emerging from the skin like little… like little spikes. And Nick had dandruff too; not very heavy, but small flakes of it on the collar of his jacket. Bruce found his eyes drawn compulsively to these as the lift moved slowly up between floors, and at the fifth floor, with three floors to go, he could no longer control himself, and he reached out to brush the dandruff off Nick’s collar, a friendly gesture, but one which misfired, as the lift lurched slightly and he missed and stroked Nick’s chin instead.
Nick looked at him in astonishment.
“Sorry,” said Bruce, immediately retracting his hand. “I was going to…”
Nick brushed the apology aside. “No, don’t worry,” he said. “It’s just that…”
But he did not finish, as the lift had reached the eighth floor and was opening onto another hall.
“I didn’t mean…” began Bruce, as they moved out. “I didn’t…”
“No, no worries,” said Nick.
“What I meant…”
“I said no worries,” repeated Nick pointedly. “We all have different ways of expressing ourselves.” And then, changing the subject, he pointed to the view from the large plate-glass window at the end of the hall.
“We look all the way over to the Calton Hill on that side,” he said. “And from the infinity pool we look all the way over to Fife.”
They entered the flat. “I’ll show you your room first,” said Nick. “Then I’ll show you the kitchen and where everything is. I’ve got two fridges and so you can keep your food in one and I’ll keep mine in the other.”
“That’s great,” said Bruce. “Did you know that the biggest source of aggro in shared flats is food? People get seriously angry about people eating their food. They even write notes like ‘I’ve licked my cheese’ to put people off.
“And then somebody writes: ‘And so have I.’”
Nick grimaced. “Mind you,” he said. “Eating at home is so…so yesterday. I eat out most nights. I suppose you do too.”
“Always,” said Bruce.
“I thought that we could go and have a bite to eat at the place over the road,” said Nick. “It’s quite a good little bistro. Seafood. And not a bad wine list.”
“Perfect,” said Bruce.
“I was going to meet some of my friends there,” said Nick, glancing at his watch. “But they don’t mind putting another chair round the table. Meantime, take a look round. Make yourself at home. Where are your things, by the way?”
“Her old man is looking after them for me,” said Bruce. “He’s pretty disappointed that Julia and I aren’t a numero any more.”
“Sometimes the parents take it worse than the girl herself,” mused Nick. “They weigh the bloke up and decide that he’s good son-in-law material and then suddenly it’s all over. No more son-in-law. Back to square one.”
“Tough cheese,” said Bruce. “But these things happen.” He paused. “Tell me, what do we do next? Do I get to meet the agency people?”
“Sure,” said Nick. “You can come along tomorrow, if you like. I’ll show them a sheet of shots and they’ll give me their reaction. I can’t imagine that it will be anything other than a big yes. In fact, I know that’s what they’re going to say.”
Nick picked up an envelope from a table and slit it open with a forefinger. “Bills,” he said. “What happens then? Well, for a job this size they’ll involve the owner of the agency. He’s pretty hands-off, as he has lots of other businesses. But when there are hundreds of thousands of spondulicks at stake, then he likes to know what’s going on. He’ll probably want to meet you.”
“That’s fine by me.”
“Good,” said Nick. “He’s actually quite good company. I’ve met him a few times. He owns a couple of wine bars in George Street and places like that. Mister Donald, as everybody calls him. Graeme Donald, I think. Yes, Graeme Donald. Big chap. Funny hairstyle, like Donald Trump’s.”
Bruce stood absolutely still. Julia’s father. If a few words can end a world, they can have no difficulty in ending a career. Although Nick was unaware of it, he had just disclosed the reason why Bruce would never be the face of Scotland. Unless… unless Graeme Donald was a fair-minded man who would not let personal factors influence a business decision. That was always possible.
“I know him,” said Bruce. “I used to work for him.”
“Great,” said Nick. “That means it’s a walkover.”