Chapter 7 Harmless bureaucrats

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Chapter 7 Harmless bureaucrats

The man from HM Revenue and Customs was waiting at the corner of Christopher's road the following morning, a Saturday, but as Christopher approached he jumped in the black shiny car and drove off. Coincidence, thought Christopher - or was it? He wasn't going to become paranoid about this. The man must have far bigger fish to fry than Christopher. Whether Amaryllis was a big fish or not was open to question - the only way to find out, presumably, was to reel her in. Since he had no idea how to do this, Christopher decided he wasn't interested in the answer.

He walked on down the hill towards the harbour. The route was a lot less scary in daylight - no dark shapes lurking in even darker shadows, no mysterious thuds down dark side streets. No imagined pursuit by faceless bureaucrats. No sightings of Amaryllis. He hadn't come down here expecting to see her, but for a healthy bracing walk along by the harbour, and a chance to think about things clearly without the constant background noise in the house from Caroline, the television, and Faisal's computer games.

He thought about whether he could cope with the kind of things that seemed to be happening in his life now - the changes to his former routine, the possibility of still more change, the presence of Amaryllis, Steve Paxman and the fair man in grey in his circle of acquaintances. He thought about Amaryllis, the litheness of her stride, the air she had of being ready to spring into action. She was so different from him that until he had met her he might not have thought it possible for her to exist in the same universe as him. Certainly not in the same little local organisation - for Christopher harboured no illusions about the importance of PLIF.

He thought about his older acquaintances, a few of whom had perhaps now qualified as friends, though he wasn't absolutely sure of that; it would depend on how broad your definition of friends was. Jock McLean was probably the most similar to him; then again, he would never share those schoolroom memories and manners with Jock. There was a special quality about those who were or had been teachers: some sort of fatalism, perhaps. In the case of Big Dave, they were on friendly terms but Christopher didn't think Big Dave really needed friends: he could take people or leave them, without turning a hair. Young Dave - Christopher actually paused his steps here to think - he didn't want to stigmatise Young Dave just because of his day job, but as a lawyer he probably only hung out with people he could use and not necessarily with those he liked.

'Hi!' called Young Dave just at that moment from the other side of the road. He was jogging. He waved a friendly hand as he passed. 'See you at the Queen of Scots tonight?' he added as he passed. Was that friendship? Christopher pondered - or was there something particular that Young Dave wanted? It must be very difficult for lawyers to make friends: that was quite likely why they almost always congregated with their own kind, clogging up certain wine bars in the New Town in Edinburgh, annoying people with their uniformity and the way they sucked in wealth like leeches feasting on blood. Some people would have taken the figure of speech further, but Christopher felt it was already quite unfair enough.

A shiny black car drew up a few metres further along the harbour front. Christopher was suddenly on edge again, his contemplative walk ruined. He pictured himself being kidnapped, dragged into the car in broad daylight, watched by the morning dog walkers, joggers, and people fishing along the harbour wall: it had happened before to other innocent men and women, perhaps not in this precise spot but somewhere. He could be taken away and murdered in a field at the back of beyond, his body thrown down an old mine-working or left in undergrowth for a Labrador to sniff out in the distant future, when he could only be identified by dental records and everyone had forgotten what had happened to him. 'What happened to old Christopher?' one of the Daves would say. 'One minute he was there, chairing the PLIF meeting, the next minute he was gone. Never did leave a forwarding address. Must have wanted to get away from Caroline and the kids.'

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