Chapter Two

ONCE UPON a time there was a princess whose father the King and whose husband had both passed away. On her brother becoming King, authority was given to her to run many of his affairs. The Princess was much more astute than he, especially in matters of defence and the threat posed by a neighbouring king, who had already conquered many weaker surrounding kingdoms and declared himself Emperor. In league with his many sons he now sought to further his stranglehold even more.

Since her father’s death the Princess had been receiving anonymous letters from someone who professed a deep love for her but who said that he could never make himself known; however, he did vow to watch over her and do all in his power to protect her from behind the scenes. This had been of great comfort to her during times of need and crisis.

There had been a huge fire, in which most of the country’s armaments were destroyed. Despite the suspicious circumstances, and without being able to prove for certain who had perpetrated such an act, there was little the Princess could do about it other than rearm.

She had been contacted via messenger by a mysterious arms dealer offering to act as a broker between the Princess and a supplier in a neighbouring kingdom. This was well timed and the first meeting was quickly arranged.

When the Princess met the Dealer, under armed escort, she constantly had to remind herself of the purpose of their meeting. For he was not at all what she expected. Instead of the mercenary with low morals that she had imagined, standing before her was a striking man of a seemingly noble disposition and whose apparent wisdom and steady demeanour were not at all in keeping with his years.

Over the course of two more clandestine meetings in which she was offered a whole array of state-of-the-art weaponry, the Princess found herself wondering about the Dealer more but dared not ask his name. Although she knew that there was something about him she could not put her finger on, he was unknown to her the youngest son, supposed dead, of the evil Emperor. He was in league with various factions trying to prevent his father from gaining complete control of the land.

It had occurred to the Princess that she would have liked for the Dealer and her guardian admirer to be one in the same, but she attributed this to wishful thinking and resolved to keep her mind on matters of a more practical nature, like preserving her people from harm.

* * *

SITTING at a dinner table with the arms supplier and the Dealer was the Princess. The deal had been done and it was time for a toast. Tongues had begun to loosen and conversation turned to the matter of the Emperor’s family. Speaking of the ‘dead’ son, the Princess recalled being given a flower by the young prince when he was eight years old and said “Ah, yes, he was always such a considerate boy”.

Just then, the notion that the dead prince and the author of the letters could be one and the same entered her mind. In the next moment the Dealer uttered the words ‘first and foremost’, an expression regularly employed in the letters, at which juncture the penny dropped and the Princess recognised the Dealer as both the young not-so-dead prince and her unseen admirer.

Edinburgh, 8 October 2012

ANOTHER mindless temporary office assignment done and the prospect of the week off. Soon I would head to Lochcarron to join Alex in his great Highland adventure. The telly had been off for the last couple of days. If I’d heard Jimmy Saville’s name one more time, I swore I was going to smash the bloody thing.

I had just settled into an afternoon nap, re-running the Chris Hemsworth version of the dinner scene for the umpteenth time. At this late stage of my life, what had even possessed me to allow my character to morph into a princess was beyond me. Now bored with the fantasy in its current form, I resurrected an earlier version, in which Gerard Butler had been the Dealer.

The next question was whether or not to bring Butler back into the starring role. Just to freshen … it … up … The microscopic neural chain reaction was immediately preceded by the word ‘Gerry’, the subsequent head-on collision between the Man on the Stair and Gerard Butler atomic.

Time stood still, a microsecond elasticated into a moment. Then a mushroom cloud of shock, disbelief. ==========================================

=============

Running water …

A mirror …

The Man on the Stair … Dracula … Beowulf … Leonidas … impossible images thrashed in my head …. drowning me or suffocating me, I couldn’t make up my mind which.

Unable to reconcile Gerard Butler with the Man on the Stair, I concluded it had to be a mistake. I checked Butler’s biography again online for fresh insight. The only thing we had in common was that we had both worked for Edinburgh solicitors but the chronologies didn’t match. It just didn’t stack up.

How the fuck could I even have met this guy?

Could it have been when I was a student in Glasgow? Again, the time periods didn’t correspond.

Searching for information that would solve the puzzle exposed me to page after page of photos and articles, many in connection with upcoming movies such as Chasing Mavericks and Playing for Keeps but mostly speculation and gossip. A sleazy self-obsessed man who was ready to jump anything with a pulse. God, this couldn’t get any worse.

Lord, I beg you, please let this be a mistake.

During my three-year crush on Butler, which had begun just before my exodus back to Scotland in 2008 and fizzled out towards the end of 2010, I had not bothered to go beyond the first ten search results, never feeling the urge to dig any deeper. I had left that to the crazies, far too busy and quite content to just sigh over the photo galleries and watch for news of when Burns would start filming. Now I was staggered at the sheer volume of what was written about him, with no way of knowing if any of it was true. His form was bizarre to say the least.

Since seeing Gerry in Timeline as Andre Marek and making him the epicentre of my fantasy world, I had rented Rock ‘n’ Rolla, Beowulf, Law Abiding Citizen, Dear Frankie and Phantom of the Opera, making a conscious choice to avoid PS I Love You. I had looked forward to seeing Coriolanus and Machine Gun Preacher but life and a lack of cash had got in the way. The first movie in which I had ever seen Gerry was Dracula 2000 – Mrs Brown and 300 I had watched with my ex-husband. I had a hazy recollection of having seen Tomb Raider 2 but couldn’t place it. The last Butler movie I had seen was The Bounty Hunter.

* * *

EVEN before I switched the TV back on to find respite from my reeling mind, I knew that I was about to be confronted with a Gerard Butler movie. Which one was it going to be?

Ah, The Ugly Truth …, now there’s a surprise.

I felt no compulsion to watch or avoid it, but there was little choice. If nothing else, it might stir clues …

Nothing. And the day’s earlier events had no bearing on the experience of watching the movie either. I knew in my head that the Man on the Stair must have been the man on the screen, but I didn’t feel it. Right now, every part of my life lay, disconnected from every other, in a pile of imaginary rubble.

Still, the humour and irony of The Ugly Truth helped soften the initial shock. Part of me laughed my ass off.

Oh, Morgan. You could not make this shit up.

9-16 October 2012

IT TOOK two tormented days to construct an accurate sequence and pinpoint when I could have met Gerry.

Autumn Nineteen Ninety Five …

I returned to Butler’s bio and noticed that his near-mythic well-documented departure from Scotland fell within my potential time frame. A memory flitted into focus, a moment of being told he was leaving for London the next day.

God, I was there.

Key words, incoherent shards of animated pub craic reared their heads, before recoiling back into the murky void. Nothing made sense.

* * *

IN AND out of a semi-foetal state, I was unable to eat or sleep for days. New fragments of misplaced memory dropped into place like fallen leaves.

Thrown from one emotional extreme to the other and at times questioning my sanity, I could not understand how I could possibly have forgotten such a thing. For the life of me, how I could not have known that Gerard Butler was Gerry?

How could I have sat through Dracula all those years ago and not recognised him?

As the dishes mounted and the routine I had carefully built over months fell to pieces, I continued to rack my brains. The composting worms I had nurtured as if they were my babies died.

My only respite was that sublime moment just before waking. Then as reality returned, I would finish exactly where I started, fraught and knee-deep in my own shit.

* * *

AND WHAT the fuck are Christmas decorations doing up in the first week of October? …

London …

Victoria shopping mall …….

God …

Now dig …

October …. October …

Keep going …

First week of October …

First weekend of October Nineteen Ninety-five …

Friday night.

Bingo.

From the earliest moment of dawning, when I knew no more than that Gerry was the Man on the Stair ==========================================, it was a whole week before I knew I had only just scratched the surface.

TO BE CONTINUED …

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Foreword

Chapter One

Disclaimer

Copyright © M K MacInnes 2020