Saturday, 13 October 2018
WHERE LUCIFER LINGERS by Ron Lindsay
This is the best version to date of Ron's song, It is sung by Pauline Alexander
I'm here at this place of memories past
A place where the hands of time have turned so fast
Still black is the night and dim is the day
For those left behind with trouble of mind are hidden away
This is a place where lucifer lingers
Where many have gone and still so many remain
Though I am no longer here I am bound by history's fear And my heart is heavy and sad from memories past.
Shaped by the hands of fathers before
They coloured the landscape of life that my mother bore
I'm here at this place where Lucifer lingers
A place where the soul takes flight and sun doesn't shine
So for those who must remain in the house of Lucifer's pain
Their hearts so heavy and sad from memories
And still to remain forsaken and bound to memories past
KISSES IN SATURN'S
by Thomas H.Leonard
CHAPTER 2: DEATH IN THE GREENSIDE VALLEY
Early the following morning, a half-blind fregan wandering along Greenside Row at the foot of Calton Hill discovered a very frazzled torso in the hedgerow with a still glowing Celtic Raven copper bracelet congealed into its right wrist.
It didn't take Detective Chief Inspector Daisy McCracken and her colleagues long to identify the body. The victim was David Pickles, the proprietor of the nearby Saturn's bar; his white suit and bright red underwear were discovered neatly stacked outside the Fausta Steam Room just inside his the back of the vast, descending premises, and within fifty yards of where his seriously mutilated body had been left to rot.
The brilliant young Scottish-Colombian statistician Dr. Eugenia Slotsky-Pereira arrived in her neat and tidy office in the School of Mathematics in the King's Buildings late that morning, wearing her favourite, tight-fitting light blue trouser suit, only to receive a phone-call from her kindly co-author, the highly regarded Regius Professor of Forensic Science, who asked her to deputise for him in the Pickles murder case. The ever dynamic professor said that he was due to give important testimony during a big criminal case in the Edinburgh Crown Court.
Half an hour later, Eugenia duly arrived at Saturn's in a cab with her desktop computer, which was connected by remote femto-fi to the mainframes in the School of Mathematics and the Department of Forensic Science and hence to masses of continuously updated information and statistical data pertinent to the current murder case.
As a statistician who'd acquired considerable related expertise in forensics, medicine, and psychology, Eugenia was disturbed, though not particularly surprised, by the apparent coincidence. Events of small probability happen quite naturally all the time, as she would repeatedly emphasise to her students. However, here she was helping to investigate a murder in the establishment where she had so thoroughly enjoyed herself the night immediately before! Little did she know that the leader of the Saltire Cell of MI6 had persuaded her colleague in Forensic Science to ask her to substitute for him, for reasons best known to MI6, so that it was in actual fact no coincidence.
After talking with the white-coated forensic technicians in the basement, Detective Chief Inspector McCracken ascended three floors in the silver elevator to meet with thirty or so colleagues from Gayfield Police, in Phoebe's bar on the edge of the Rings of Saturn dance floor. Eugenia was present, and her desktop was fully operational. She wished that she could switch to her male persona and call herself Eugen, but realised that she was not suitably dressed.
“Cause of death, Dr. Pereira?” inquired the chief inspector, after brief introductions.
Eugenia consulted the output from the University computers that appeared on her desktop screen. “At approximately 3pm last night, the furnace in the basement went into overdrive, causing the temperature in the Fausta Steam Room to rise to over 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The victim died, with approximately 95% statistical confidence, between 3.05 am and 3.12 am, presumably from the excess heat in the Steam Room, since that's where his clothes were discovered. The humidity dial and thermostat on the furnace had been smashed with an axe, and it is therefore very likely that the victim was murdered. A carving knife and various residual remains of rope were discovered in the Steam Room, suggesting that the victim may have been tied up and left to die. His genitals were seriously mutilated with a chisel after death, apparently close to the spot where the body was discovered. A full autopsy is currently under-way in the mortuary.”
The prim and proper chief inspector pursed her lips. “Thank you, dear. Any further clues, guys?”
“I discovered a used condom in the Sling Room, Ma'am,” ventured Police Cadet Paulo Enrique, scratching his fluffy moustache, “and we've sent specimens to the Forensic Lab to be tested against the victim's DNA. Maybe the murderer's DNA is traceable to the very same condom.”
“What a valuable insight, Paulo!” exclaimed the chief inspector, with a chuckle. “It will be interesting to see what turns up.”
The detective sergeant on duty, a vole-like man, smiled condescendingly at the sturdy new recruit. “And the carving knife is of an unusual, Swedish brand sold in Knut's Ironmongery on Leith Walk. Knut recalls selling two such knives last Thursday to an emaciated lady wearing a veil and a shawl, who was accompanied by a docile enough black and mahogany Rottweiler. She took the knives away in her shopping trolley. I did wonder a bit about Knut's sense of imagination, but I do believe his curious account to be completely reliable.”
“The chisel was purchased last Friday in Handy Andy's on Commercial St., together with a spanner, a large metal mallet, and a pair of pliers,” declared a fiery-eyed constable, dusting down her slightly torn uniform. “They were sold to an individual with a shrill voice, who was totally disguised as a chicken.”
The detective sergeant gave the woman constable a derisory look. “A chicken?” he expostulated. “Randy Andy must have been taking the piss, stupid.”
“That's enough of that, Sergeant!” interjected Daisy McCracken, with a severe frown. “My thanks to all three of you for your prompt and timely investigations. Now then! Prime suspects, anyone?”
“A string of ex-boyfriends,” began an austere detective constable, with her hair in a bun, “some more reputable than others. They include a Tory Town Councillor, an unrepentant police murderer out of Addiewell, a senior credit scorer with the Royal Bank of Scotland, a defrocked C of S minister from Penicuik who was later refrocked in St. Andrews East, and three assorted smart Alecs from the high rises in Wester Hailes.”
“There were eight members of staff on the premises after midnight, together with over a hundred customers,” added the detective sergeant, noisily clearing his nostrils. “The Sling, Steam, and Hex Mirror rooms in the basement were reportedly all moderately busy, but it will take numerous eye witness accounts to ascertain precisely who was there. I understand that there was an eight-way in the Sling Room at approximately 1.30 am, and two more guys climbing the poles. Clucky the Chicken was half-asleep in the corner, and says that it was too dark to recognise the participants' facial features. He, or she as the case may be, nevertheless came up with several valuable suggestions.”
“Clucky lives with her totally insane bedfellow in one of the eight flats between here and the basement.” explained a uniformed inspector with two vertical scars on his cheeks. “The flats are accessible via the stairwells and also through an outer door in the side of the building, just by the back of the Theatre Royal. Much of it is sheltered housing, and we'll be questioning the residents this afternoon.”
Police Cadet Paulo Enrique wiped his fuzzy beard and flicked his sun-scorched eyelashes. “The victim's business associates include the cocaine baron in Aberdeen who not only owns the building but every lock, stock, and barrel in it, the CEO of Macduff's Breweries, who runs a protection racket along Leith Walk, and a couple of lady-like bikers on Annandale Street who're into sophisticated forms of money laundering with fake companies in Kazakhstan.”
The vole-faced detective sergeant rubbed Paulo's remarkably square shoulders, not that endearingly, and added, “But the main suspects would appear to be a gang of vigilantes who frequent the main bar upstairs every day with two large labradors. Most of them survive on benefits and they seem to be willing to do anything for the next round of drinks. Their leader is a half torn bizzom known as Winnie the Mince and...”
“Perhaps Agent Hamish McLeod would like to tell us more about them,” interrupted Inspector McCracken, as discourteously as she could get away with. “This investigation is being conducted jointly with the Edinburgh-based Saltire Cell of MI6, since very important personages could be involved.”
Eugenia Slotsky-Pereira observed a suave gentlemen wearing a neatly pressed green jacket, a colourfully chequered kilt, a white shirt and a University of Edinburgh tie stealthily entering Phoebe's bar and ensconcing himself on a leather stool near her desk. To her shock and surprise, she realised that he was none other than the scruffy Hamish she'd seduced big-time the night before, while visiting Ben Hopkins' flat on Huntingdon Place. And that had been a novel merry-go-round!
Not another coincidence! agonised Eugenia. And it was a coincidence me being here in the first place. The probabilities are now getting infinitesimally small. But wait! They're getting so small that there must be some hidden explanation for this bizarre sequence of events. I can't for the life of me think what this explanation could be, but maybe the reality of the situation will become more evident as the criminal case progresses.
Hamish opened a bright maroon folder embossed with the silver letters SALTGEMS, and studied its contents with extreme care.
“Thank you, Chief Inspector,” he replied, with due courtesy, “and congratulations on your recent O.B.E. You'll be interested to hear that Winnie's Vigilantes are much more active than one might imagine. Compared with them, Crime Resisters and Noddy Swatters are chickenfeed. Winnie's gang of inebriates are concerned with all the corruption and illegal goings-on within and surrounding Edinburgh's notorious Magic Circle of judges, lawyers, and politicians. Some of these wise guys are even into whips and chains with 'barely legal' lads who've been enticed by the local pimps and Walter Mittys with secret agendas into prostitution.”
“Indeed so,” responded the chief inspector, tilting her oval head. “This sort of crap has, for example, persisted among the élite lawyers known as 'Writers of the Signet' ever since the appallingly broad Judge Cheapdeath scandal of the 1990s, and that's largely because of the dismissive attitudes expressed by Lothian and Borders Police during that archaic period. Even politicians as eminent as Matthew Shiftwind were under suspicion.”
“Too true,” sympathised Hamish, straightening his green and blue sporran.
“Let's see...Yup!...While Winnie's vigilantes receive thousands a year for their endeavours from an anonymous Swiss bank account., they are, to our misfortune, required to play a duplicitous role. Top dogs in the Magic Circle who are regarded as important enough are ruthlessly and toxically protected, but less prominent members of the circle, or hangers on, whose misbehaviours are likely to unduly embarrass the Establishment are regarded as either undesirable or expendable. They are sometimes locked or suicided in their flats or sent for a swim in the Union Canal or the Water of Leith.”
Daisy McCracken smiled in appreciation. “Thank you for that valuable summary, Agent McLeod. Let's see now...On another tack, Dr. Pereira, I wonder if you could confirm that the Department of Forensic Science will be able to provide us with all the statistics we need to evaluate the potential guilt of our suspects?”
“Yes indeed,” replied Eugenia, calmly. “I will be helping the forensic scientists to calculate a the measure of the evidence against each suspect. Such measures are known as 'Bayes factors' and they can be updated in numerical terms whenever an extra piece of evidence comes to light.”
“What the Rabbie Burns is a Bayes factor, darling?” inquired Hamish, with a smirk.
“The Reverend Thomas Bayes matriculated in Divinity at Edinburgh in 1723, and he's received huge amounts of credit for zilch ever since,” replied Eugenia, with a yawn. “Neither he nor his posthumous co-author even knew about the much vaunted Bayes' Theorem for conditional probability. Then one of Alan Turing's colleagues mischievously named Bayes factors after him while they were solving the Nazi Codes at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.”
“Anyway. our very own Emeritus Professor C.G.G.G.G.Aitken has recently published his sixth immense volume on the implications of so-called Bayes factors in forensics. While the more recent volumes are a bit repetitive, Aitken and Good (1946) is an absolute classic.”
“I'd simply love to help you calculate your Bayes factors, Eugenia,” exclaimed Hamish, with a smirk. “and maybe we could go for dinner tonight in Taste of Italy? The tortellini carbonara is as succulent as they come.”
That got Eugenia's dander up.
“Sure, dearest,” she replied, rising to her feet in her tightly fitting trouser suit. “But please call me Eugen.”
All the officers grinned at that, and the uniformed sergeant tried to tease Cadet Paulo Enrique by poking him between his shoulder blades. By sheer happenstance, Paulo stepped backwards and trod on the scar-faced sergeant's big toe.
That evening, the main floor of Saturn's was open for business as usual, with the brassy bar manager Deborah, a slender, wiry lady with years of expertise as the Madame in the Daffodil Sauna on Rose St., in firm control.
Ben Hopkins hobbled over from Huntingdon Place with his dominoes set safely secured in his bright blue walker's leather pouch. This wasn't a common or garden dominoes set, but a superior one with large white pieces specially designed for the local leagues. Ben had bought it in Borlands for £12.50, at the suggestion of an early retired roofer from Craigentinny who travelled to the bar in a stylish motorised wheelchair.
After playing several closely contested games with the highly skilled gentleman, Ben had been invited to spend his Tuesday evenings playing for the Limelite team in various pubs around Leith and North Edinburgh. He'd gladly accepted the invitation, in preference to playing for the Bank of Scotland chess team, if only so that he could spend time with different people in alternative environments.
Ben was removing the 28 dominoes pieces from their wooden box, in preparation for the arrival of his kindly acquaintance from Craigentinny, when in stumbled none other than Malky McLachlan, Ben's apparent 'trick' of the night before.
“What a diabolical murder!” exclaimed the clumsy, bumbling postgraduate in Statistics, for all and sundry to hear. “It must have happened soon after we all left the Hex Mirror room and exited through the back door. But your chum Ken hobbled back inside to search for his lost mobile. I wonder what happened to him?”
“Maybe he got tied up in the Sling Room,” replied Ben, with a chuckle.
“This is no joking matter, Sir,” interrupted Police Cadet Paulo Enrique, who was languishing in t-shirt and jeans by the bar. “The unfortunate victim may well have met the murderer in flagranti on the sling before he was scorched to death by the vile creature in the Steam Room.”
A huge, frothy-lipped woman with a prominent jaw took a gulp from her pint of Belhaven.
“Serves the bleeder right!” she howled. “Davie Pickles did no good for anyone. Dung-heaps of bad there were, and he was often evil itself.”
Paulo ignored that outburst, and pulled his official Gayfield Police ID from his back pocket.
“When were you last in the Hex Mirror Room, Sir?” he inquired.
“Between about eleven-thirty and one-thirty last night, on and off,” Ben respectfully replied. “I was with Malky here, and Malky's companion Eugenia. Not to forget bristly, gnome-like Ken who has a very similar walker to mine, and who I met for the first time earlier in the evening.
Paulo stood transfixed. He'd met a Eugenia several hours previously, a very important Eugenia.
“Eugenia? That's an extremely unusual name. I find it hard to believe you, Sir. You're pulling my leg.”
“I don't understand. Dr. Eugenia Slotsky-Pereira is Malky's Ph.D. supervisor at the university.”
Paulo blinked in consternation. “In that case, Sir, I would be grateful if you would come downstairs to make a detailed statement to my sergeant. Malky too... Try not to trip over your feet, stupid!”
When Ben and Malky re-emerged from the silver elevator, Ben's dominoes buddy was waiting for a game or two over a pint of ale. Ben sat down with him in a booth while Malky wandered down the bar planning to flirt with a group of trans people who were exchanging insults with a bunch of hard-nosed and totally uncompromising TERFs.
During the first 'chalk', Ben decided to delay playing the double six until he'd disposed of the remainder of his sixes, a dubious ploy. He was continuously distracted by snippets from off left of an intense conversation between Winnie the Mince and her spouse, the split-brained neo-fascist Lib Dem Socio-Economic advisor Eric McVie.
The snippets included 'the vigilantes will forever be blamed…', 'the Empress Fausta was a traitor too', 'the mutilation may have been symbolic', 'the creep was always letting off steam', and 'there were funny goings-on near the deep freeze'.
Ben only wished that he was close enough to assimilate the whole conversation, but he took pains to remember the bit concerning the deep freeze.
Ben's opponent 'chapped' with two plays remaining, and Ben was also unable to play and chapped too. He was left with the double six and double zero. However, his opponent was left with an even higher points count of 14. Ben breathed a sigh of relief; he'd won the first chalk despite his highly unusual strategy.
The retired electrical engineer was playing the ninth and deciding chalk of his dominoes game against his much more experienced opponent, when Dr. Eugenia Slotsky-Pereira stalked up in an unprecedented rage.
“You told the police I was in the Hex Mirror room with you and my student Malky last night.” she fumed, “and that's completely and utterly compromised me in professional terms.”
“Why?” Ben curtly inquired, playing the double zero much too early.
“Really! Among other things, I'm the official Forensic Science expert in this very murder case.”
“What a coincidence! How the Dickens did that happen?”
“I dunno,” replied Eugenia, getting totally flustered. “...Yes!...It may have something to do with your God-dammed flatmate!”
“You're making me as confused as you so obviously are yourself. Hamish seemed to have a special agenda, though, the way he hit on you in my flat last night.”
“Damn him and damn his agendas! I'm meeting him shortly for supper. I'll poison his tortellini, that I will.”
“Good on you! And I still don't understand why those wires were dangling from his waist when I saw him running to the shower.”
“That's because Hamish is an MI6 agent, you moron!” howled Eugenia, completely losing it. “He wires himself to his surveillance equipment.”
“Chap!” mumbled Ben's dominoes opponent, looking surprisingly smug.
“I'm chapping too,” replied Ben, in relief, “and I only have the double one left.”
“Good,” came the response. “I win!”
"You must have pulled that dom out of your feckin ear!” shrieked Ben, in dismay.
Ben was wondering whether to leave when Malky McLachlan wobbled up, doubtlessly feeling the effects of the proverbial 'four and a half pints of lager'.
“Can I come home with you tonight, darling?” inquired Malky, with an intense look.
“But I'm still recovering from last night, ducky,” replied Ben, as gently as possible.
“But this time I want to be put down like a pig!” protested Malky.
Ben was still formulating his reply when a plump woman police officer strutted by, heading for the elevator.
“Excuse me, Missus Plod,” called Ben, himself the worse for drink, “but you might wish to check the deep freeze when you're downstairs. There could be a dead chicken, or something, in it.”
“Could be a frozen pig,” snorted Malky.
The officer turned, glared, and continued, pink with anger, on her way.
Ben was heading for the door, clutching Malky, when Police Cadet Paulo Enrique rushed up, with two stroppy fellow officers, and quite incongruously grabbed him by the throat.
“We're taking you to Cold Storage, jackass,” snarled the officer with a curved beak for a nose.
When they entered the Cold Storage room in the basement, Paulo slid the glass lid off a freezer to the left. Ben was expecting to see a joint of roast beef, or maybe a turkey or even a few chicken. But instead a frozen, bristly, gnome-like face loomed into view.
“Who's that?” inquired the officer with jagged teeth, hitting Ben in his ribs.
“K-Ken,” spluttered Ben. “Ken Reid, I think.”
Wednesday, 10 October 2018
THE CHICKEN AND THE RAVEN
The chicken with the shrill voice
Danced with the crazy man from Hell;
They moved like a puppet toy
And the feelings emerged from their little shell.
“Who are you inside?” he inquired,
You make me feel utterly wired.”
Clapping its wings the chicken would reply,
“I cannot tell you as we are all trying to find ourselves. That’s why."
‘There’s a raven inside me trying to get out,” shrieked the madman.
“Until she does, I can’t love nowt.”
“Love is over-rated,” clucked the chicken, ‘but I will let you know
that what you’ll find in me is a very manly crow.”
by Edi Duarte and Tom Leonard
There is a million people out there for us to meet
Sailing like a fleet and freezing in the sleet
All together, all alone, when the bird has flown
Some live in poverty and die alone
Some are wealthy, but they have the same outcome
In the hereafter, they beat the same drum.
Monica always knew better, she told me the world is cruel
And never to forget my sweater
And Monica taught me compassion, to all as well as the few
But few know all that well about what that means
They show it to their ego and not to the spectrum
Believing themselves to be selfless
But in the myriad of minds it takes all kinds
Before the mystery of life in self unwinds.
And Monica and Toby now in an orchard live
Where others come to give.
By Edi Duarte and Tom Leonard
Tuesday, 9 October 2018
Thursday, 4 October 2018
A GLIMPSE, through an interstice caught,
Or a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room,around
the stove, late of a winter
unremark'd seated in a corner;
Of a youth who loves me, and whom I love, silently
approaching, and seating himself near,
may hold me by the hand;
A long while, amid the noises of coming and going--of
drinking and oath and smutty
There we two, content, happy in being together,speaking
little, perhaps not a word.
Wednesday, 3 October 2018
KISSES IN SATURN'S
by Thomas Hoskyns Leonard
CHAPTER 1: RETURN TO THE SCENE
After the bizarre accident outside the mosque that crippled his leg, and bereft of the blood relatives who'd left him in the hospital without e'er a phone call, the retired electrical engineer Ben Hopkins needed to take regular walks to stop his arthritic knee from creating ever more anguish. But he never did like walking the streets and his impudent, perfectly straight flatmate from Ratho couldn't be arsked to take him anywhere.
During a particularly sultry evening in August 2018, Ben was preparing to leave his spacious ground floor flat on Edinburgh's Huntingdon Place with his bright blue N.H.S. walker, when the brawny twenty-eight-year-old emerged from the tiny back bedroom (the one without the hyperactive four thousand quid bed from Healthy Sleep and the large, haunted wardrobe with glass mirrors for doors) and sprayed the hallway with air freshener.
“I need to take a shower 'cos my girlfriend's arriving in ten minutes,” explained the flat-mate, with a sideways sniff. “We'll probably be eating in the Brass Monkey, though she may feel too worn out to wanna go anywhere.”
“Good timing,” replied Ben, while deciding to lie through his slightly stained incisors. “I'm off to the Windsor to down a dram or two with my pals from Stockbridge, and we may end up slumming it in the Cask and Barrel.”
“The cesspit under Destination Hell, more likely, you smelly old troll!”
Ben suddenly recalled the evocative view of the Fowey from his childhood home in Lostwithiel in faraway Cornwall and groaned incoherently, an aggravating habit.
“You're losing it again,” yelped his flat-mate, a touch abrasively.
What are those wires dangling around Hamish's waist? wondered Ben. It could be some sort of fetish, I suppose, but who knows?
“Sorry,” grunted the slovenly seventy-year-old. “I must have been lost in a fog, what with my diabetes, chronic lymphodema, and whatever.”
The sturdy young man leapt into the power shower, like a hairy bear fit to puke.
“You're almost as bad as my grumpy supervisor at McCrawley's,” he complained, as the fountain of water hit his chest. “That crazy hen's completely full of shit.”
Why is Hamish is always flush with funds even though he only works part-time on minimum wage? deliberated Ben, as he stumbled out of his front door. Maybe he makes his money gambling in the Casino on George St. I should double his rent! And the noises from the video games he plays in the living room are getting really irritating. His 'Saltire Cell Rejuvenates' game is sounding so authentic that it's turning my mind.
Ben cut a gaunt, thin figure as he stumbled across Annandale St., manhandling his shining metal walker at arm's length in front of him, his straggly white hair contrasting with his swarthy, angular face, the hereditary handsomeness of his youth (he was descended from the Hopkins-LeFevres of Helmsley, no less) fast fading into the oblivion of mediocrity.
When he reached Leith Walk, Ben turned right towards John Lewis, and the intrusive backdrop of builders' cranes hovering behind the pagan-esque Catholic Cathedral (the compendium of which seemed to Ben to be ever ready to improve the lot of Edinburgh's rich, without giving a jot about the long-marginalized poor).
As Ben passed Gayfield Square, two women officers rode out on their horses from the vicinity of the police station. The surly officer seemed to recognize Ben from the past, and gave him a terse nod. When one of the horses neighed, Ben almost tripped over a crooked paving stone, but squeezed his walker's handles tightly and recovered his balance.
When Ben reached Khushi's Indian Restaurant, he contemplated the courteous though reticent trio of hunky waiters inside, and wondered whether to return for a late-evening prawn biryani with the pickle tray and two chapati.
But before Ben could develop that fantasy further, the well-groomed, gushing waiter with the baggy trousers bounced out of the Turkish Restaurant next door, flaunting his wares.
“Would you care for a sumptuous bowl of Lentil Corba tonight followed by your usual Fatma's seafood delight?” inquired the impetuous fellow, with a luscious grin.
For some eccentric reason, Ben recalled Laurence Olivier's oblique discussion of oysters and snails in Spartacus, when he was playing the imperious Crassus opposite Tony Curtis's squirming Antoninus.
“No thanks,” replied Ben, with a sardonic glance towards the gay bars opposite. “I far prefer the squashed snails in L'Escargot Bleu, though they're even more tasty over there on Greenside Place.”
The waiter flushed deep beetroot. “Can I tag along?”
“No chance, Antoninus!”
Ben waited cautiously at the temporary crossing over Leith Walk since he was confused by the complicated roadworks. When the light finally turned green, he signalled an over-eager cyclist to stop, and advanced warily to the central reservation while negotiating the pock marks in the road surface. As he did so, a sullen-faced, though colourfully dressed, youth came hurtling out of the notoriously seedy Café Chaps on the ground floor of the Players Theatre to the right, banged Ben's walker's front wheel with his foot, and sped off in disarray towards the relative safety of the high chairs in The Street on Picardy Place.
Undeterred, Ben hurried to the pavement opposite as the light turned red, even though a No.25 bus was fast approaching.
And there on Greenside Place, and wedged between the Theatre Royal bar and C.C. Blooms, appeared the mauve façade and well-varnished quarter-pane windows of Saturn's bar, the macabre portrait of that dissolute Roman God still adorning the sign that swung above the double-arched entrance-way.
Davie Pickles, a brash, manipulative gentlemen, was, in nominal terms, the proprietor of Saturn's, one of the several gay bars in Edinburgh’s Pink Triangle, but he paid his dues to a notorious Glasgow cocaine baron who owned the property. Davie took frequent instructions by voice-mail from Glasgow, which sometimes even overruled the resident DJ's choice of music. This made Davie a touch paranoid, reportedly all the more so because of his chequered past and his propensity for money laundering while working as a high-profile youth for Save the Poor and Vulnerable.
Now in his late twenties, Davie was still popular as a 'top' around the saunas, particularly among the pasty-faced Freemason crowd who'd roamed the basement of the New Town Bar on Dublin St. before its sadly predictable demise. When on duty in Saturn's, Davie wore red pointed shoes and a sleek white suit, and his hair was combed straight and dyed Persil-white to conceal its natural colour. However, he was easily recognisable by his rambling gait, his narrow jaw-bones, and the red fur on his wrists.
Ben struggled with his walker up the ancient stone ramp into Saturn's Rings, only to find the place completely empty. But moments later, Davie Pickles emerged from the silver elevator which rose imposingly from the centre of the dance floor, having descended from the nether regions way above cheek by jowl with a spotty-faced barman with legs like a grasshopper's.
“Speak of the Devil!” exclaimed Davie, with a deft twitch. “It's Benjamin Disraeli! I haven't seen you in a gay bar for fully ten years now, you old miser. What's brought you back to the land of the living dead?”
“I need to exercise my leg,” stuttered Ben. “I used to go to the New Town though, sometimes after relaxing in Sanctum.”
“Yes,” purred Davie, “and I certainly remember the first time you bumped into me in Sanctum.”
“Me too,” replied Ben, with a chuckle, “and you've risen to such great heights since!”
“Suppose,” responded Davie, somewhat nostalgically. “But why did you vanish from the rest of scene all those years ago?”
“That was in 2008,” replied Ben, reticently. “It had something to do, I suppose, with the way they 'disappeared' a much too sanctimonious Czech law student for complaining so vehemently about all the 'bad bad' things they were doing.”
“That was the ubiquitous Kvido, presumably. He danced like Michael Jackson.”
“Sure. He was from Ostrava.”
“And 'they' were up to bad bad things, eh? I understand entirely. But who were 'they'?”
“I d-dunno,” stammered Ben, “but their response to my inquiry wasn't exactly gentlemanly.”
“It sounds like a scene out of a spy-thriller. Hey pretty pretty! Pour Ben a large one. The first is on the house.”
Ben gave the down-trodden barman a slinky look. “Merci beaucoup. I'll take a single house gin and slim-line in a snifter, please.”
The barman pouted, and poured Ben a double Gordon's and soda in a wine glass.
“And here's our esteemed Lib Dem Socio-Economic advisor, no less!”declared Davie, as a
wafer-thin, bald-headed man with a wispy blond beard stalked into the bar. “Hi there, Eric! I hope you're still giving the weak-kneed morons a hearty neo-fascist makeover.”
Eric McVie twisted his untrimmed moustache around his Grecian nose, and spoke with a delightful, Doric brogue. “My experience in the Orange Order is serving me much too well, folk. By next week the pompous twits will be edging to the right of Labour. Then SNP, here we come!”
“Alas,” exclaimed Ben, in amusement. “Maybe the wretched SNP lass's days as MP for Edinburgh North and Leith are finally numbered.”
“In the meantime, our income from Winnie's Vigilantes is keeping us well fed,” announced a bird-like woman with a slightly twisted neck, giving McVie an affectionate stroke. “Last week, St. Leonard's Police sent us on a very delicate mission, and we captured six of the Hibs Casuals while they were attempting to dissect a God-fearing Hearts supporter. The victim survived relatively unscathed.”
Davie licked the tough lady's right ear and gave her a sumptuous kiss. “Good on you! They don't call you Winnie the Mince for nothing.”
Winnie took a peck at Davie's right cheek. “Eric and I can't heat and eat on our PIP, darling. This way we keep all of our chums well-supplied.”
Davie gave the barman a very naughty kiss. “You certainly do, Winnie. You and your sassy mates down at least fifty pints a night, not to forget the White Russians.”
“We are the Knights and Dames of the Sacred Orb,” pronounced Eric McVie, flourishing his hairy hands, “and we are only answerable to Gott in Himmel, his very self.”
“What does your organization do?” inquired Ben, timidly.
McVie wobbled his dark green eyes. “You're not a member of the club,” he retorted.“Yet.”
“Snap!” exclaimed a homely twenty-five year old with crooked teeth, hobbling on his two injured legs towards the bar. “I'm Ken and my lovely new blue walker is identical to yours. Aren't they cute?”
Ben felt a strange fascination for bristly, dark-haired Ken, the likes of whom he'd never met before in his life. “Maybe they should dance the Phoebe ring together. Would you care for a drink?”
“I'd like a vodka and lemonade, s'il vous plait, but I pay my own way. I'm not a pharmaceutical trainee for nothing!”
“Good for you. I was a director of Ferranti before I retired. I was into micro-radar and nuke stuff, but I've changed my political attitudes since.”
Ken collected his drink from the now very busy barman, and took a gulp. “You must have a Ph.D. or something intellectual, darling.”
“From Imperial College, in 1976. More recently, I've developed a liking for the mad-cap philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.”
“Not that pervo! He was a sadist when he was young, before he escaped from Austria.”
“So was his contemporary Freud. He was cruel to women.”
“You shouldn't believe everything you see on social media! But why don't we descend to Purgatory together, and chill out?”
Ben and Ken brooded together in the Meditation Room in Purgatory, before taking their walkers for a spin around the dazzling Rings of Saturn to the tune of Flashdance. When they grew weary, they cuddled together in the Fluffy Toy Room, and hugged a couple of exceedingly polite Bears (big hairy men out for a laugh) from Dalkeith. But when they ascended the silver elevator back to the bar they were greeted by two undefinable individuals collecting for Oxfam, one dressed as a chicken, and the mad-faced, aggressive one wrapped in the Stars and Stripes.
“I remember you both from ten years ago,” howled Ben, “and you're still on the brew.”
“But we gotta eat,” moaned the chicken.
“It's mine, all mine!” shrieked the mad-faced one, clutching his collection bag. “You can't take it away from me.”
At that, Ben seized both bags of money and hurled them over the bar, whereupon the proprietor Davie Pickles picked them up and grinned.
The Lib Dem Socio-Economic advisor Eric McVie and his house-mate Winnie the Mince were drinking and making risqué jokes around a circular table, with a bunch of assorted characters who Ben took to be their vigilante gang. Wishing to avoid the two large friendly dogs, Ben and Ken ensconced themselves on tall stools at the end of the bar, while holding on to their walkers to keep themselves steady.
After a few minutes, a tall, fluffy-haired, studious-looking man in his early twenties staggered up. He was accompanied by a slightly older woman with cropped hair and a slightly cotton dress, in a similar state of inebriation. Ben licked his lips. He thought that she looked like a bit of a tomboy.
“H-hiya folk,” stammered the straight-backed gentleman, slurping his beer. “I saw the black looks you were giving that m-motley crew from the far right, and I th-thought you'd like to know that we're not all T-Trumpists in this bar. Indeed some of us are gr-grass roots activists.”
“How refreshing!” declared Ben, with a dubious sniff. “Does that mean you're to the left or right of centre?”
“W-way to the left,” came the reply. “We're Sl-slotskyists!”
“What the Daffy Duck are they?” inquired Ken, making an almost imperceptible move in a barely legal manner.
“Ouch! We even fight the fascists on the streets. Wow!”
“Perhaps I should explain further,” enjoined the young woman, pulling herself together. “My great grandfather Evgeny Slotsky and his followers left Russia in 1919 when they were disowned by the Trotskyites for behaving too compassionately. They moved to Colombia where they were active in political terms for several decades. Then in 1995, several of their descendants emigrated to Dunfermline where they created the Peaceful Socialist Party of Scotland. All of our PSP members are nowadays referred to as Slotskyists, though we're no longer that peaceful.”
“The Trotskyists here are in SWAMP,” added the other, scatty Slotskyist. “That’s the Scottish Workers and Marxist Party. They’re a pain in the neck.”
“We get on much better with the Anarchists and pro-trans feminists in that centre on Brunswick Street,” added his companion, with an effervescent smile.
An entertaining discussion ensued, after which Ben and Ken invited the stimulating couple to accompany them down three gradually descending escalators to the Hex Mirror Room, where a lively and very comical time was enjoyed by one and all. They all did a shimmy into the Fausta Steam Room, but found it to be too hot to handle. When they left, it was through a tiny back door to Greenside Row, which runs along a valley at the foot of Calton Hill.
The following morning, Ben awoke, with a start, in his luxurious double bed when a heavy human weight plonked itself onto his chest. When he looked up, he saw a sweaty male life-form swaying to and fro, and a somewhat familiar, grinning face.
“Who're you?” asked Ben, reaching for his Lynx.
“I'm Malky, Malky McLachlan,” came the reply. “I'm the taller of the two Slotskyists you met last night.”
“I sort of remember your crass reflection in a mirror. What happened to my buddy Ken?”
“He scarpered. Would you fancy a visit to the Thirsty Pallet for breakfast?”
But Ben was hearing familiar creaking sounds coming through the wall. Not Hamish again! he fumed. He and his girlfriend never know when to stop.
“Let's take a shower,” blurted Ben. “There are some clean towels on that rack.”
However, when they emerged into the hallway, Ben's flatmate Hamish was standing there droopy-kneed with his arm entwined not around his usual girlfriend, but around Malky's tomboy companion of the night before.
“ My name, if you're at all interested, is Dr. Eugenia Slotsky-Pereira,” said the tomboy. “You've been laying my student, no doubt.”
“Eugenia is my new..er.. girlfriend,” announced Hamish. “She's so wonderfully different.”
“Maybe that's because I'm of the third gender,” declared Eugenia, with a smirk. “I sometimes prefer to be called Eugen.”
Malky tilted his slightly oversize head.“Over 1% of humankind are intersex. They’ve been with us since the beginning of time.”
“You must be a statistician,” joked Hamish, “and we all know what Twain and Disraeli said about that damned twaddle.”
“I certainly am. I'm studying for my Ph.D. in Statistics at Edinburgh Uni.”