The wind howled as the door screeched open. The few heads with enough energy turned to see if it was the empty winds or a decrepit traveller invading their retreat. There were no eyes sharp enough to notice the newcomer and how he differed from the typical visitor. Superficially, he was clad in heavy winter clothing sprinkled in snow like rampant dandruff. He fit right in as he groaned, shut the door with a heave, and made his way to the counter. He ordered a hot meal of potato and meat stew. His Russian was fluent but not in a local accent. He snorted heartily as if clearing his sinus before removing his woolly hat and surveyed the room for the first time. His sharp eyes had already seen all he needed. He made a show of choosing a creaky seat at the opposite end of a table to a silent and unmoving man. The silent man had his head buried in a tin container that emitted the horrid smell of local spirits strong enough to lubricate an engine.
The stranger’s meal arrived, a few coins clanked in return, adding a drink of industrial-grade liquor to the order. The attendant, a harsh-looking man, frowned over his grey bushy moustache and grunted as he took the money. This was a place that still accepted physical cash, but notably, only received hard currency.
The stranger shovelled the stew into his mouth with vigour. The chunk of dried bread clanged against the tray as he soaked up the remainder. Belching with satisfaction, he took a sip of the toxic liquor and sighed.
‘Well,’ he said in Russian, ‘what a shit night we have, eh?’ it was directed at no one in particular, but the man at his table stirred as if on the precipice of speech. ‘I am just passing through. Do you know the area well?’ The stranger said after a moment’s pause. The silent man drew himself up slowly and turned to the stranger. Drawing the hood back, his face was sharp, perceptive, dangerous. The stranger remained silent, knowing full well that such a man moved only at his own pace.
‘Let’s cut the bullshit, shall we?’ The silent man rasped. ‘We found each other; let’s get to business.’
‘Very well,’ the stranger stood and moved warily to sit opposite the silent man. ‘You wish to know what I know? Where is the payment?’
The silent man removed a leather satchel from somewhere within his form and dropped it on the table. It clinked slightly. After a gesture of permission, the stranger opened it and surveyed the few coins and thick roll of notes. ‘Lucky there are still some banks around to accept cash, eh?’ The stranger smirked. ‘This does feel a little light.’
‘You’ll get the rest when we’re done,’ the silent man patted his breast pocket.
‘Very well, I think I would like another drink.’ The silent man stared hard against the stranger for a moment before gesturing to the attendant. Two more vessels appeared accompanied by a bottle of a clear liquid that stank like sickness. No payment was offered. He must have paid the attendant well, the stranger thought.
‘Ok, well, this story begins in the once United Kingdom. I trust you have heard of Edinburgh?’
To be continued…