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84. Meet the Archers

Bertie looked at the man who had been shot by the arrow. He looked familiar for some reason, but he could not remember why. Then he remembered: he had seen his picture on a book his father had been reading, and he had asked him who it was. Ian Rankin, Stuart had replied.

Excuse me, Bertie now said. Excuse me, but arent you Mr. Rankin?

Yes, I am. And you are?

Bertie Pollock, sir. Im a member of the First Morningside Cub Scouts and

Tofu interrupted him. And my name is Tofu, he said. Its an Irish name meaning

Vegetable paste, offered Bertie.

Tofu scowled. Chieftain, he said. It means chieftain.

Ian Rankin turned to the third member of the party. And you, young man?

Ranald Braveheart McPherson, came the squeaky voice.

Well then, said Ian Rankin. I suggest that you three help me to solve the mystery of who shot me. Shall we go round to the Archers Hall?

They made their way round the edge of the Meadows. Ian Rankin passed the arrow to Bertie to look after. Evidence, he said. We must keep the evidence.

Will they try to run away again? asked Tofu.

Well see, said Ian Rankin. I dont think they could run very fast most of them. But well see. We must realise that were dealing with some pretty desperate characters here. Earls and people of that sort. You never know what people like that will do.

They continued along Buccleuch Place and then turned the corner at the second-hand bookshop.

Theres one of your books in the window there, Mr. Rankin, Bertie pointed out. Look. And, look, its only one pound.

They turned another corner and began to make their way down a small lane. At the end of the lane was a handsome building, in the eighteenth-century style, the front door of which was surmounted by a large coat of arms executed in stone. The door seemed firmly closed, but there was a light within indicating that the hall was in use.

Ian Rankin knocked firmly on the door and he, and his three uniformed assistants, to all intents and purposes Baker Street Irregulars, waited for a response.

Inside the hall, one of the archers, a brigadier, peered out of a small peep-hole.

Oh no, he muttered to somebody behind him. That chap you shot by mistake. Hes outside with a gang of helpers.

The other archer moved forward and looked through the peep-hole. Oh dear, he said. But at least hes still alive. And, do you know what? I think its that Rankin chap. What are we going to do?

Get the form, said an archer behind him. The usual form. It works every time.

There was a general scurrying among the archers and a piece of paper was produced from a drawer in a bureau at the back of the hall. This was a waiver of liability form, drafted years ago by one of the lawyer members of the company, and it offered membership of the Royal Company of Archers in return for an agreement by the injured party not to pursue the matter.

Its saved an awful lot of trouble in the past, said the brigadier, blowing the dust off the form. Many years ago one of the then governors of the Bank of Scotland hit a city councillor in the leg when he let off an arrow at the Garden Party. Fortunately we had the form, and it did the trick. Theyre thrilled to be invited, you see, and they sign it, in almost every case. Then we tell them what the uniform costs, and they go away. Works every time.

With form in hand, the brigadier opened the door. Yes? he said, quite politely.

Ian Rankin turned to Bertie. Was it him? he asked.

Bertie shook his head. He could see the guilty archer, standing in the shadows, and he pointed to him. It was that man over there, Mr. Rankin, he said.

All right, said the brigadier. Sorry about that. Some of the chaps are a little bit wonky in their shooting. Terribly sorry. But, heres an idea. If you would care to forget about the matter, then well make you a member! We have great fun and, as you see, weve got this marvellous hall! That picture over there is by Allan Ramsay, for example. It shows the Earl of Wemyss in his archers kit.

He thrust the piece of paper into Ian Rankins hands.

You should join, Mr. Rankin, said Tofu. It looks fun.

Ask them how much it costs first, whispered Bertie.

The brigadier glowered at Bertie. Just sign there, he said.

Ian Rankin hesitated. There was no harm in this, he thought, and he was a kind man. He had received his apology and this very generous offer of membership. He signed.

Good, said the brigadier. Now well send you the details of the annual dues and the cost of the uniform. You can get it made up for just under five thousand.

Pounds? said an astonished Ian Rankin.

Yes, said the brigadier. Frightfully expensive. Sorry about that. But there we are. Sorry you wont be joining us after all!

And with that he shut the door. I should have listened to you, Bertie, said Ian Rankin. Thats the way the establishment operates in this city, of course. They assimilate critics. Its an old trick. They walked back to Buccleuch Place.

Wed better get on with our map-reading exercise, said Bertie.

And I should get on with my walk, said Ian Rankin. But I must thank you three young men for being such excellent detectives. I think that we solved that mystery really rather satisfactorily.

They bade farewell to each other, and the three boys made their way back in the direction of the University Library. They were back on course now, and with some good navigation from Bertie, they soon succeeded in completing the task. Twenty minutes or so later, they found themselves reunited with Akela and the other cubs. Everybody was accounted for, except for one or two stragglers, who would probably turn up later on, Akela thought.

83. A Shot in the Park | Unbearable Lightness of Scones | 85. Gangsters, Drugs, Dreams and Dogs