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Стюарт Макбрайд «All That's Dead»

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Автор Стюарт Макбрайд

<p>Stuart MacBride</p> <p>All That’s Dead</p>

For Grendel (again)

<p>Without Whom</p>

As always I’ve received a lot of help from a lot of people while I was writing this book, so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank: Sergeant Bruce Crawford, star of Skye and screen, who answers far more daft questions than anyone should ever have to, as do Professor Dave Barclay and Professor James Grieve; Sarah Hodgson, Jane Johnson, Julia Wisdom, Jaime Frost (who enables my sushi addiction), Anna Derkacz, Isabel Coburn, Alice Gomer, Charlie Redmayne, Roger Cazalet, Kate Elton, Hannah O’Brien, Sarah Shea, Abbie Salter, Damon Greeney, Finn Cotton, Anne O’Brien, Marie Goldie, the DC Bishopbriggs Naughty Monkey Patrol, and everyone at HarperCollins, for all things publishy; Phil Patterson and the team at Marjacq Scripts, for keeping my numerous cats in cat food; and Allan Guthrie for being an excellent pre-reader.

Like all writers I also owe a huge debt of thanks to all the librarians and booksellers out there who put books in people’s hands and enthuse at them till they go away and read them. Then there’s you, the person reading this book! In a world that seems hell-bent on dumbing down, you’re a magnificent sexy beast of a thing and none of us would be here without you.

I’ve saved the best for last — as always — Fiona and Grendel (with honourable mentions to Onion and Beetroot who didn’t really help, but haven’t interfered too much).

<p>— I want you to pretend —</p> <p>that nothing bad is going to happen to you...</p>

The study cupped itself around him like a hand around a match, guarding the flame until it can ignite the fuse. A dark room, filled with the sounds of Led Zeppelin, lit by a single Anglepoise lamp and the three huge monitors that hung above his ancient wooden desk. Awaiting his next words. Hungry.

Nicholas reached out with two liver-spotted forefingers and fed them: ‘this is what any sensible person can easily diagnose as “Referendum Dementia”.’ He sat back and smiled through the fug of cigarette smoke. Referendum Dementia. Yes, he could work with that. Expand the metaphor to something a bit more—

A curl of ash tumbled down the front of his old Rolling Stones T-shirt and blood-red hoodie.

‘God damn it...’ Brushing at it just smeared the powdery grey deeper into the fabric.

Abigail really wouldn’t approve of that. Bad enough going around dressed like a stroppy teenager, never mind a tramp.

An electronic ding broke through ‘Communication Breakdown’ as a new tweet appeared on the right-hand screen.

Nicholas adjusted his glasses and peered at it. Cleared his throat and read it out loud. ‘“Shut your mouth you upper-class English tit.” Three Exclamation marks. “You can spout your plumby voiced treason all you like, but you know bugger all about it. Sod off and die.” Hashtag, “IndeRef F.T.W.”’

How lovely.

A smile pulled at his cheeks as his two fingers rattled across the keyboard.

‘While I would love to debate constitutional legislation with you, I fear you lack the requisite number of brain cells to appreciate the nuance. And it’s “plummy-voiced” not “plumby”. Hashtag, not enough brain cells. Hashtag, learn to spell. Hashtag, independence from reality... Send.’ A click of the mouse and it was winging its way back to whichever Alt-Nat troglodyte was hiding behind the username ‘@WEALL8THEENGLISH’.

Well, it was important to enjoy the little pleasures life presented from time to time.

Now then, where were we? Ah yes: Referendum Dementia.

His fingers hovered over the keyboard.

Now, what we need, is something—

A small bark crackled out in the hallway, and Stalin hobbled through the study door. Wheezing and whining. Fading brown spots. Legs stiff with arthritis. A clockwork Jack Russell that was slowly winding down.

‘I know, I know. Just let me finish this bit, Stalin.’

Stalin hobbled closer and scratched a paw at Nicholas’s leg, staring up at him with those rheumy eyes. Manipulative little sod that he was.

‘All right, all right.’ Nicholas levered himself out of his chair, stuck one hand in the small of his back as his spine straightened — vertebrae making sounds like crunching gravel. ‘Urgh...’

Stalin wagged his ridiculous little tail, turned, and lumbered off.

‘Nag, nag, nag...’ Nicholas limped after him.

Should probably do something about cleaning the hall. All those bookshelves, crammed with dusty volumes. Thick lines of dark-grey fur on top of the picture frames.

He reached out a hand and ran his fingers along the one of Abigail, feeling the dip where the wood had worn away over the years. Past the stairs. Following Stalin’s white bum in the gloom.

‘Honestly, between your rotten old bladder and mine, it’s amazing I get any work done at all...’

Dark in the kitchen, but at least it hid the dirty dishes, pots, and pans, leaving nothing but vague shapes in their place. More piles of books and newspapers. The lonely remains of a microwave meal-for-one on the kitchen table.

Abigail wouldn’t be pleased at all.

Stalin scrabbled at the kitchen door.

‘I’m doing it! Stop nagging.’ Nicholas turned the key and opened the door, letting Stalin hurple out into the gloom. ‘And don’t be long!’

He clicked on the outside light and a pale orange glow oozed from the plastic fitting. Bloody energy-efficient light bulbs. What was the point of saving the planet if you broke your neck waiting for the damn things to come on?

Wind battered through the trees, making them judder against a vermilion sky, their tips tinged with red and gold as the sun said its final farewell to the land of men. Leaving nothing but the pathetic outside light to illuminate the long weedy grass, thick with dock, nettles, and thistles. The hen run, sagging and rotten in its wire cage.

Pffff... Cheery.

Maybe a glass of wine or three would lighten the mood?

Stalin clockworked his way across the rectangle of pale orange light, growling — hackles up as he disappeared into the undergrowth, heading for the woods.

‘Oh for God’s sake.’ Stupid animal.

Nicholas stepped outside, slippers scuffing through the wind-whipped grass. ‘Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, you get your smelly old rear end back here this instant!’

Which, of course, he didn’t. Because when did a Jack Russell ever do what it’s told?


Still no sign of him.

‘Should’ve got a cat.’ Nicholas sagged, sighed, then zipped his hoodie up. Reached in through the open kitchen door to grab the torch hanging there and his walking stick.

Dog was a bloody menace.

The torch beam played across the windy grass, across the waving spears of thistle, across the boiling mass of nettles, towards the woods.


Wind tugged at his hood, pattering it against his bald spot.

‘Bloody dog.’ He cleared a path into the woods with his walking stick, swinging it like a machete, following the torch beam towards the trees. Their trunks and branches shone like ancient bones in the darkness.

‘STAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-LIN!’ He dropped his voice to a disgruntled mutter. ‘Should’ve buried you when we buried Abigail, you horrible stinky little monster.’


A crack sounded somewhere deeper in the woods and Nicholas froze...

‘If you don’t get your rear over here right now, young man, I’m going inside and you can spend the rest of the night shivering in the dark. Is that what you want? Is it?’

He brought the torch round, sweeping across the skeleton branches and bone trunks.

A pair of eyes glittered back at him — too far away to make out anything but their reflected glow.

He stayed where he was. ‘Stalin? Stalin, that ...

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