Michael and Robbie walked slowly through the heather, the latter, gun half cocked, eyeing his friend from beneath his cap.
‘You can stop her you know’.
‘It’s your decision...but, if I were you...’
‘But you’re not me Robbie’.
‘I know that...but you can....’
‘Let’s just walk huh?’
‘Okay, you’re the boss...’
There was a sudden rustle in the bracken ahead, Robbie secured his gun and raised it to shoot, but a firm hand pushed it back down toward the ground.
‘Leave it, there have been too many casualties lately...’
Robbie watched the tall lonely figure walk on down the hillside into the mist; it was as if Michael had resigned himself to fate and just given up.
‘Is Ms. Mason in?’
The receptionist at Global looked up to see a man with a rough unruly beard and ruddy complexion staring down at her, cap in hand.
‘I’m afraid she’s not here.’
‘Oh, I see. Can you tell me when she will be please?’
‘Sorry. Do you know Ms. Mason?’
‘Not exactly...I met her recently-.’
‘I’m sorry, I can’t help you’.
Robbie was on a mission. He’d made up some excuse to see a Gunsmith in London although Shona knew what he was really up to. He ambled along the streets until he found himself in a market square, the stalls were loaded with tat and bri-a-brac. It was while he was perusing some old hand tools he caught sight of a familiar figure looking through some old books...it was Pippa. He debated whether to approach her or not but something spurred him on, after all, it was her he had come to seek out, he walked over to where she was just about to purchase a selection of garishly coloured scrunchies, he coughed nervously.
‘Still having to tame those unruly locks of yours I see’.
Pippa gave a startled jerk and dropped the scrunchies to the ground, Robbie gallantly picked them up, placing them back into her hands. Pippa said nothing for a moment but replaced the scrunchies back onto the stall, she gave an uncomfortable swallow and started to walk on, he followed.
‘What are you doing here...how did you find me?’
‘By accident...I went to your office,
you weren’t there, so I decided to go for a walk...
here you are, seems I got lucky’.
‘Does Michael know you are here?’
‘Yes...but he thinks I’m at a Gunsmiths’.
‘Clever. You were looking for me?’
‘Well you seem to be elusive at the moment...
they didn’t tell me much’.
‘I’m taking some well-earned leave if you must know...’
‘Oh, I see’.
He didn’t sound convinced.
‘I guess this is the lull before the storm eh?’
‘Sorry, I don’t follow?'
‘It’s right what he says about you,
you always answer everything with a question’.
It was starting to rain and Robbie was gasping for a drink.
‘Look. Is there somewhere quiet we can go?’
Pippa stopped walking and pondered the proposal. She was feeling tired and needed a caffeine fix, she hadn’t been sleeping well at all and cigarettes had been shown the door ages ago, withdrawal symptoms had kicked in.
‘There’s a place round the corner’.
It was small cafe, intimate and quiet, without intrusive canned music. Pippa had at one time mused that it could have been the kind of place Michael had taken Jennifer after they had first met. Robbie ordered two coffees-unusual for him- and he also decided on two large chocolate cookies. Pippa wanted to resist the latter but gave into temptation much to Robbie’s glee...he was making in-roads, or so he thought.
‘Nice...could do with more oats in though,’ he smiled and a tentative one was returned, ‘ah, she smiles at last’, another small victory...
They sipped in silence except for the intervals of munching, life sped on outside their small confinement. At last Pippa plucked up the nerve to speak.
‘Okay Robbie, spill, why are you really here?’
‘You got me’, he held his hands up, still smiling, then brushing the stray crumbs from his beard, ‘honestly...? I haven’t a clue, I just felt that something needed to be said. Michael’s too stubborn, as far as he’s concerned he couldn’t give a grouse’s gizzard about the article, but it’s all a big bluff, I know it is’.
‘What are you trying to say?’
‘What I’m saying is, he seems to be on a self-destruct mission which even I cannot steer him away from, he puts on this huge front of ‘I’m alright Jack’ but deep down inside he’s hurting. David returned after you’d gone...they were closeted away for ages together and I know there were some tears and arguments...they go back a long way those two. David has been like the brother Michael never had...there is close bond between them, but even his old friend couldn’t help him, and as for Vanessa...’ Pippa pushed her plate away, the cookie was half eaten, and Robbie pushed the plate back toward her. ‘Live dangerously, finish your cookie’. She did, and wished she hadn’t. Robbie watched her for a moment then continued, she definitely looked tired. ‘You exorcized some ghosts up there, maybe it was something that needed to happen...I don’t know. It’s like he’s been bottling this all up for years and has never released his grief properly...all I know is that he is not in a healthy place at the moment...hasn’t been from day one. Remember, I’ve seen him at his peak...he was an incredible director, the best, everybody wanted a piece of him, now he’s just disintegrating, he needs to move on, he needs to get his life back and you Ms. Mason...Pippa, are the only person who can make him do that,’ he sat back in the chair ‘there, I’ve said it’.
Pippa couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
‘Me? Where on earth did that come from?
I’m the last person to ask surely’.
‘Okay. Then answer me one thing’.
‘Are you going to print this article?’
A look of realisation swept across Pippa’s face.
‘Ah, now out comes the truth...
the real reason you wanted to see me’.
Pippa looked away; she didn’t want to hear this again.
She turned back to face him...
he had this pleading look all over his face.
‘Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t’.
‘I just have, for goodness sake woman, have you not been listening to me? He’s not right...something like this could tip him over the edge’. Pippa looked through the misted windows and started chewing at her lip. Robbie gave a faint smile.
‘He does that....’
‘Chews his lip and the inside of his cheek
when he’s forced into a corner...’
Pippa turned back to face Robbie, her voice defensive.
‘So, what you are saying is if I don’t run the story,
your boss will take his finger off the self-destruct button?’
‘You don’t sound too sure’.
‘Okay, I am not sodding clairvoyant. Look, I know him,
this thing could wipe him out...it could finish him’.
‘I thought he was finished already, he hasn’t worked for years...’
Pippa immediately regretted saying that,
the look of disdain on Robbie’s face confirmed it.
‘I can’t believe you just said that, you know full well the reason for that’. ‘Look, he’s been in this self-made rut ever since Jennifer died, he can’t get any deeper’.
Robbie’s face creased into a deep frown.
‘I know deep down inside you don’t really mean that’.
He was right of course, she was being her usual defensive self and it was bringing out her nasty side, her 'other' side.
Robbie gave a sigh.
‘Call off the dogs Pippa’.
‘Nothing. I don’t go round making threats to people, especially those I know do have principles but don’t realise it, despite what they are trained to do, however low and despicable’.
‘That’s how you see me, low and despicable?’
‘So prove to me I’m wrong’.
Pippa shuffled her feet beneath the table. Robbie’s piercing gaze was eating into hers, it was all too much.
‘Whatever you may think of me, I am not that low,
it’s a job, my living’. Robbie’s gaze held her,
‘Do you know how hard I’ve had to work to get this far? Single woman going on 40 in a cut throat, stab you in the back business. There are factors in this...I have bills that need to be paid’.
Robbie reached into his inside jacket pocket.
‘How much? Name your price’.
‘What?’ The look on Pippa’s face was incredulous.
‘I don’t believe I’m hearing this’.
‘Believe me, you are. How much?’
A huge lump lodged in Pippa’s throat.
Robbie was getting his cheque book out.
He was sitting there, pen poised.
Pippa got to her feet. People were starting to mutter and stare,
she leaned into his face.
‘I will not be bought!’
She rushed out into the square with Robbie in hot pursuit,
he caught up with her and grabbed her arm, but not roughly.
‘Pippa, I’m sorry, that was stupid of me’.
‘Yes it bloody well was! Who the hell do you think you are?
Is this what you do, how you operate, buying people off?’
‘No, I’ve never done this before, it will be the first and last time,
I promise, it won’t happen again’.
‘You bet your sweet Scottish life it won’t!’
‘Pippa, listen to me, he’s a good man, he’s alone...he needs...’
‘He needs someone to make things right, to make him believe in himself again, to live again, be free of all the bad memories, the demons’.
Pippa tugged her arm free and leant against the wall, she could feel tears building up and the lump in her throat felt unbearable, she wanted to throw up.
‘So, what do you suggest I do, wave a magic wand?’
‘I’ve already told you, no one can wave a magic wand...not me, not David...nobody’.
A stray tear escaped down Pippa’s cheek and Robbie’s face softened, he dug out a clean hanky, dabbing her face gently, she snatched at the tartan square, finishing the job.
‘So, the devil I do the devil I don’t’.
‘Look. I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.
But what I do know is that beneath that so-called tough,
stubborn exterior there is something better, like principles,
integrity and above all, a conscience, hang onto those things Pippa
and don’t let go’.
His deep rich hazel eyes bore into hers just for a few seconds, he gave a short nod and melted into the crowd, that last long look he had given her imprinted on her mind. She tucked the damp tartan hanky in her pocket and turned back towards the office. Her heart was pounding and her head was spinning...what on earth was she going to do now?
© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved