Dryburgh (Part 4)

  05 Jun '20   |  Posted by: Birlinn

Dryburgh – a novel in parts (read part 3 here)

4. Dark Moon.

21st December, 1944.

A slow, pink dawn crept over the snow-covered landscape, the sort of dawn when few would venture out who did not have to. On the eastern horizon, a sliver of the sun’s disc began to turn the gun-metal grey of the sky a pale blue and the wind beat down from the north, whistling through the stones of the old tower. High on a crag, it was both visible for miles around and could see for miles, south to the dark heads of the Cheviot Hills and behind it, the foothills of the Lammermuirs shelved up to their watershed ridges. The tower also commanded wide views to the east, looking down between the arms of its sheltering hills to the white fields and farms of the great river valley, to my native place, to the valley of the River Tweed.

Believing that all of the bridges would be watched and probably manned by sentries, I decided I had to keep to the north bank. Travelling only at night and resting, not often sleeping, by day I had reached the foot of the tower in four nights and three shivering days, moving slowly in the black darkness along empty country lanes, listening for movement, watching for watchers, imagining shapes in the gaunt, leafless hedges, remembering the dangers of the bocage. I often zigzagged inland but always kept the river on my left. Even though I knew this country well, it would be easy to get lost in the formless fields or stumble into a drain or down the steep banks of an unseen stream and injure myself.

For most of the previous day, I had lain hidden amongst the dense rhodendra at the side of the long driveway up to Floors Castle, near Kelso. An ugly pile, its pepperpot turrets making it look like a square wedding cake, I did not want to get too close but the evergreen shrubs supplied the only cover I could be sure of in a leafless December when the snow made the land graphic and even the smallest movement noticeable. I had only a duffel coat and a thick pullover over my army fatigues to keep out the chill as I curled up on the ground amongst the debris of a dozen dead summers. And keeping still did not mean keeping warm. But the days were short and when gloaming came and I could pull aside the branches and look up the drive to the castle, I watched its lights twinkle but saw no movement outside in the courtyard. Staying in the shadows, I passed by to the north, following the river westwards.

A peel tower built as a refuge from the incessant English raiding of the 15th and 16th centuries, it had long been abandoned in favour of a much more comfortable mansion by the Tweed. But the old fortification had survived the snows, ice and rain of five hundred winters more or less intact, its roof of stone slabs keeping out the weather and the pigeons. Its glowering mass had prompted the father of one of my friends to describe it as ‘sod off in stone”. Having shouldered aside a wooden door tied to the iron bolts in the walls, something to discourage curious sheep but not a cold traveller, I climbed the steep spiral staircase to the roofwalk. It was something I had done often as an adventuresome boy in another world, one that had fled and would never return. Next to the blackened stones of the old chimney stack with a recess above it for a lantern was the watchman’s seat. Slipping my rucksack off my shoulders, I looked out as the day lit the land and sat down to wait.

I had been an unwilling witness to a moment when history shifted. On the way back to their East Anglian bases, the crews of the Lancasters had seen it seconds before Captain Thomson and I watched the mushroom cloud rising many miles into the evening sky. In what we were told was an airburst, there was a gigantic explosion over central London. Through a ring of fire, the white mushroom cloud climbed to a height of perhaps twenty miles while at the same time a circular black cloud formed and in seconds it spread over the city like a tidal wave rolling up everything in its path. Those who were within a mile of the blast zone were burned to carbon in moments, some simply evaporating in the thermal flash. The black shockwave killed even more people, blistering and tearing at their flesh, leaving it to dangle from their skeletons like ragged clothing.

This was what von Klige had known something of. It was an atomic bomb, Gotterdammerung, the Twilight of the Gods, the instant that plunged the world into darkness. Once the borders of the Reich had been breached at Aachen, Hitler had given orders that a rocket carrying what the Germans called a warhead be launched from an airfield near The Hague, not far from Antwerp. According to what we were told, it was the ultimate Vergeltungswaffe, the Weapon of Vengeance.

When Thomson and I climbed down the crane by the dockside and reached Canadian HQ, there was chaos. The Lancaster crews had sent back radio messages and some of their photographer-flight recorders had taken pictures. These were passed to the Allied Commander-in-Chief, General Eisenhower, and his staff scrambled to find information. How bad was it? How many killed? Where was the king, the prime minister? What had happened? What had been dropped on London?

After midnight on October 3rd, 1944, the Germans answered all questions. In a radio broadcast of chilling simplicity and brevity that could be heard all over Britain and by allied forces in Europe, they explained what had happened. The centre of London had been utterly obliterated, half a million people had died and many more would die of burns and wounds. The king and the royal family, the prime minister and his cabinet, all of them had perished instantly in the blast. The broadcast ended with a clear ultimatum. Unless the allies immediately halted their offensive and agreed to an unconditional surrender, the Fuhrer would authorise the launch of more warheads in the coming days to attack British cities. The allied air forces were to remain grounded and all naval ships were to return to port. It seemed that in those hours and days that followed, the stunned world had ceased to turn, history had been turned upside down.

The winter wind soughed around the roofwalk of the tower and I longed for the moment when I could seek the sanctuary of the chamber behind me. The reason I had come there was its high vantage point and that the crag around it was open ground. There were no woods or cover of any kind for at least half a mile on every side. If anyone approached, I would see them long before they saw me. I had asked my friend to meet me an hour after first light, at approximately 0900 and to come on the eastern track. And make sure no-one was following.

Four nights ago, I had become a fugitive, running for my life. If apprehended, I would be summarily shot. When photographs of the destruction of London and leaflets listing the appalling numbers of casualties were dropped all over the western front on October 4th, and the death of King George, his family, Winston Churchill and the entire war cabinet had been confirmed, General Eisenhower issued orders for an immediate ceasefire. In the absence of a civilian government of any sort, the British Commander in Chief, Field Marshall Montgomery acted on his own initiative and sought a parley with Field Marshall Model. His overtures were ignored and almost four thousand miles to the west and sixteen hundred miles to the north-east, actions spoke much louder than words.

As the late autumn sun climbed, clearing the morning mist over the Hudson River and the city of New York began to rumble into life, Captain Horst Schellenberg looked through his periscope. His orders were unequivocal. At 0800 he was to stay submerged and manoeuvre his U-Boat as close as possible to the shores of the Battery on the tip of Manhattan Island and then surface at 0830. Once the conning tower was clear of the water, a red, white and black swastika flag was to be flown so that no-one who saw the U-Boat could be in any doubt.

At the same time a telegram was received at the White House. Having passed through several agencies, it was addressed to Harry Hopkins, for his eyes only. He was a key and trusted aide to President Franklin Roosevelt. The terms were stark. Like London, New York would be incinerated by an atomic explosion unless General Eisenhower was directed to surrender all the allied armies under his command in Europe, and unless the war in the Pacific ceased at once. Hopkins was advised to telephone the office of the mayor of the city to confirm that a U-Boat had surfaced in the Hudson River. In its torpedo tubes, it carried two atomic devices even more powerful than the bomb dropped on London and the submarine was manned by sailors willing to die for the Fatherland. And if the U-Boat was attacked, its captain would immediately detonate the bombs.

Later the same day, another, more detailed communication arrived on Hopkins’ desk. It demanded that a team of government physicists should cease their work at their laboratory and be flown to Europe within forty eight hours. All of their data, all of their research workings and such materials as could be uplifted were to travel with them. And their immediate families would also accompany them – with no exceptions.

Sixteen hundred miles north-east of Antwerp, in the Gulf of Finland, between the island of Kronshadt and the port at Leningrad, another U-Boat waited in the darkness of the deeps for its orders.

It became quickly clear in the following weeks that the precision and coordination of the terrible events of October 3rd and 4th had not been linked to any coherent plan of action. It was as though the Germans were taken as much by surprise as were the allies. Von Klige had talked of the need to fight desperately, fanatically, in order to buy time and it seemed that the use of these devastating weapons had only become a possibility a short time before one of them was unleashed on London. In no condition to convert their retreating and depleted armies into guards able to control hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war, the Germans relied on frequent reminders of the ever-present threat of detonating more atomic bombs to induce compliance. Instead of making any attempt to deal with the impossibly vast logistics of detaining, feeding and supplying hundreds of thousands of captives, their major focus seemed to be to expel allied soldiers from Europe as soon as possible, back to the USA, to Canada and to Britain.

This extraordinary reversal resulted in a stunned silence all along the front. No more guns roared, no more machine guns rattled and nothing moved on the roads. Appalled at the fate of London and the flow of fearful statistics and photographs dropped by the Luftwaffe, almost all units complied as men stared at pictures of incinerated bodies and the rubble of London, only recognisable by the stubborn survival of the southern façade of Westminster Abbey. The Germans insisted on complete disarmament and encouraged all allied soldiers to think that their war was over and they would be home soon. All of the vast supply dumps were commandeered, but any hesitation to cooperate was met with a brutal and instant response. It was later said that when General George Patten refused to hand over his ivory-handled pistols, an SS Colonel shot him in the chest at point-blank range.

The Germans could also call on the loyalty of an army of ghosts. Since D-Day, almost two hundred and fifty thousand of their best front-line soldiers had been held in British prisoner-of-war camps, and on their release, they immediately assumed the role of an occupying army. From Antwerp transport ships began to shuttle between there and Harwich, Felixstowe and Ipswich. British army units were met by motorised military escorts and told they would be marching back to their regimental depots. With little in the way of supplies, no wet weather clothing, only the fatigues they wore at the moment of surrender and bivouacking in the open as the October weather grew colder and damper, the 1st Battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers began a long march. We had to make our way up the length of England to its most northerly town, to our depot at Berwick Upon Tweed. On disembarkation at Harwich, all of our senior officers had been detained. Some of the more cynical reckoned they would not be bashing the roads like us but on their way north by train. But we had no idea where they had been taken, and as we made our way through the flat Suffolk landscapes, I feared that they might have been executed. A leaderless army is half beaten before it begins to fight.

Having not let on that my German comprehension was excellent, I overheard a great deal as we marched north. It became brutally clear that our escort, former prisoners of war from the huge camp at Devizes, thugs rather than soldiers, were bent on vengeance. London’s destruction might have won them the war, but it was not enough to weigh as much in the balance as the terror bombing of Hamburg, the firestorms of Dresden and the repeated pounding of the cities of the Ruhr. More vengeance visited directly on British soldiers was what they wanted. When we at last stopped at the end of a long first day, we were formed up into ranks and addressed by an SS officer who had somewhere acquired a swastika armband. In halting English with few verbs, he reminded us of the discipline of the Roman legions and the practice of decimation, the random selection of every tenth man and their execution in the event of disobedience. In the course of what I began to realise was a hunger march, I heard several comments about stragglers, about shooting them anyway, not waiting for exhausted men to fall behind or drop. And always, push them harder!

More Borderers died in those terrible October days than in the battle for Normandy and France. When we finally came to the southern bank of the Tweed and crossed to Berwick, only about a hundred men had survived the journey. I found that I was the most senior officer. All of the familiar burdens returned, but without any power to ease them. But in desperate circumstances like these, the Borderers needed leadership of some kind, however ineffectual in the face of such inhumanity and gratuitous cruelty.

When we drew ourselves up into ranks on the parade ground between the barracks and the Elizabethan walls, calling on every shred of regimental pride to make our backs straight and keep our eyes front in this, the home place of the KOSB, we came to attention. The officer who had threatened decimation all those weeks ago, and had carried it out more than once for the slightest offence, asked who the senior officer was. I stepped out of the ranks, saluted and identified myself.

Smiling at me, this man said, “You will be responsible for the conduct of your men. Completely responsible.” Perhaps only five foot, six inches but straining to stand as tall as he could, clutching a black swagger stick behind his back, he had to look up at me, and I could see that irked him. He struck me as someone who relished any opportunity to exert dominance, but lacked the height to do it physically. As though he was weighing me up, the officer walked around behind me. I stared straight ahead, standing to attention. At any moment, I sensed he might strike me with the stick but instead he turned to face me and poked it in my chest. “You are now a defeated people, and your survival depends on your loyalty to the Reich and our Fuhrer. Well?”

“Yes, sir” He barked back at me, “Any disobedience or disrespect will mean decimation. You understand?”

“Yes, sir, I do. Thank you, sir” This pleased him and it being late in the evening, we were dismissed. My men were out on their feet, but at least that night we would have a roof over our head, what was once our own roof. Permitted to sleep in our old barracks, not through kindness but in an attempt at incarceration, and supplied with basic rations, we began a life of what turned out to be the daily attrition of slave labour.

The Germans used the small harbour at Berwick to land supplies and equipment from across the North Sea. In the icy winds, without any equipment, we manhandled cargoes onto the quayside beyond the old walls. It was there, witnessing a moment of casual cruelty that made something snap in my head. After a wet tea-box container had slipped out of his hands, one of the Borderers had fallen at the very edge of the quay. But before he could get up, a German guard ran forward and booted him off balance so that he toppled into the freezing waters of the harbour. Unable to swim, thrashing the water, he called frantically for help, but the guards turned their guns on us, daring anyone to move to rescue their comrade.

That night, I passed around the word. If one of us, or a small group tried to escape, they might well succeed, but those left behind would all be shot in reprisal. We needed to mount a mass breakout. All or nothing. Some might be caught but surely some would also get away. There was no future in this death camp. We would all die anyway.

“There is supposed to be a tunnel”, whispered Private Campbell, “That’s the way out”. For reasons of safety, the powder magazine had been built outside the barracks, beside the Elizabethan walls, and Campbell was sure that a tunnel led to it. “It’s barred and bolted from the inside and there is only one door”, he said, “ for safety and security”. But where is the entrance? “Must be the officers’ mess” That was used by the Germans. “What we need is a diversion”, I said.

“Achtung! Achtung! Jetz auf Parade! Schnell! Schnell. Achtung an alle!

Colonel Stauffel’s adjutant has telephoned. He will be here in minutes. Out now! On parade now!”

I stood in the corner shadows of the cobbled parade ground, surrounded on three sides by high barrack blocks that made my voice echo. On the north side of the quadrangle, two sentries were hurriedly fiddling with the padlock and chains on the main gate. Others were clattering downstairs, buckling on their kit, and streaming into the open. I slipped back into the barracks and with all of my men behind me, ran along the corridor and smashed open the door to the officers’ mess. Our impetus overwhelmed two Germans who had been slow to react to my theatricals. A farrier in a previous life, Angus Wilson used his tremendous strength to snap the neck of one and the other was simply overrun and kicked senseless. In seconds, Private Campbell had sounded the wood panelling, found a snubbed catch next to the fireplace and we were in.

And plunged into total darkness. Without any torches or even matches, we stumbled and scrambled down a narrow stair, feeling the damp walls, moving as fast as possible. I had pulled the panelling door shut, hoped it would stay flush and we would not be pursued by guards who did have torches and could see where they were going. After a frantic few minutes punctuated by much swearing and many scraped elbows and knees, Campbell led us up another stair and into the Powder Magazine. At the far end was a massive wooden door. Bolts were felt for and slid. The door  pushed open to reveal an astonishing promise of freedom. The vast and dark horizon of the North Sea greeted us. But no-one hesitated as we dropped down the face of the Elizabethan walls and onto a dangerously open and wide expanse of grassland, what had been a golf course before the war. For our lives, we ran north, trying to put as much distance between us and the guards before they realised that no colonel was about to arrive in his staff car.

“Will you accept the charges?” There was an agonising pause. I looked around the telephone box I had come across in the village but could see no lights on and no-one about. “Please go ahead, you are now connected” “Hello. Katie? It’s me. Yes. David. I need your help. Desperately.”

The wind kept me awake, the long saughs of it around the tower as much as the cold. I could see that some warmth might come, watching the slanting winter sun wash down the flanks of the distant hills, and along the rigs, the ridges of the valley unfolding below, long shadows began to shorten. Although I was very cold, constantly pulling my coat tighter, all of the everyday glories of the great valley touched my heart once more. It had been a long time. Camouflaged against the snow, I watched a flock of ewes moving slowly in the field on the far side of the track. Katie was late. I had an uninterrupted view along the eastern track for about half a mile before it turned behind a crag, but there was no sign. Perhaps she had been stopped, questioned, arrested? All varieties of jeopardy spooled through my imagination, mixed with guilt for asking her, and self-justification. What choice did I have?

There was no-one else I trusted. And there had been no-one else I had loved. Before the chasm of the war opened and swallowed the world we once knew, Katie and I had met as undergraduates at St Andrews University. Bejant and Bejantine in the odd and slightly arch terms for first year students. Both of us Borderers, both of us unsure of ourselves, we fell back on the familiar at first. Just as Katie did, I felt myself in the company of scores of bright people, all cleverer and more confident. But we quickly grew out of that and by the time we boarded a train at Leuchars Station bound for home and Christmas, we could not wait for the following term to resume what neither of us understood had become a love affair.

Something flickered on the edge of my field of vision, like a crow lifting into the air. And then I heard the drone of its engine. Flying low over Brotherstone Hill to the west, the iron cross insignia of the Luftwaffe visible on the underside of its wings, a spotter plane was approaching fast. Clearly, the Germans were scouting the countryside for the Borderers who had broken out of Berwick barracks. I pulled the hood of my duffel coat over my head and to avoid attracting attention, turned very slowly to face the tower wall. I prayed that Katie was not on the road, or if she was, had seen the spotter plane and hidden herself. Once I heard the engine begin to fade, I watched it moving eastwards towards the sea. I imagined they were methodical, quartering the Ordnance Survey grid and would soon turn and come back in this direction.

And then I saw her, as if by magic, appearing from nowhere. Cycling quickly up the track, her body bent low and forward to push down hard on the pedals, she quickly reached the wrought-iron gate at the foot of the crag. I rushed down the spiral staircase to shove open the wooden door – and there she was. There she was.

I could say nothing. I felt my heart surge. I had no words. Katie smiled. Cocked her head to one side, and smiled. Like she always did. I felt tears running down my face, the prickle of warm tears on my cheeks. “Oh, David. There’s nothing of you.” She leaned her bicycle against the doorway and took my arm, gently pushing me inside. “I think we should get all of this and ourselves out of sight. Don’t you?” Still I could say nothing, only smile and shake my head. Katie turned, “Come here”. She held me for a long time in the doorway of that old tower, and the tears would not stop.

After a time, some words came. “I have never forgotten how beautiful you are. But I did forget how your smile could swell my heart.” She took my hand. “I must look a sight”, I apologised. She laughed and I had to gather myself again. “God, your hair!” I apologised again. “Yes, and around you there is an interesting aroma”. I started to laugh, recalling many withering rebukes about my student dishevelment. By contrast, Katie sparkled. Her fair hair kept back off her face with an alice band, her looks were classical, as someone I glared at once said. Classical beauty could be cold, an icy, wintry perfection, but it was the kindness that glowed from her eyes that melted my heart. And the hearts of many others at St Andrews.

We sometimes walked out to the end of the pier, a long, wave-worn finger of stone that reaches into the North Sea. With the ruined cathedral and the university behind us, we found ourselves in our own private world. Sitting as close as we could, folded into each other, it was enough for me to look at Katie, to gaze into her welcoming eyes. No words needed. I could find a peace in that, and sometimes to shut out even more of the outside, I would hold up my hands on each side of our faces to blinker us. Sometimes my gaze disconcerted Katie and she would laugh and shake her head. But she never looked away.

“Aren’t you going to invite me into your castle?” We had been standing at the foot of the spiral staircase for long moments and I did not want to move, to make ordinary time restart. The tears had come, I realised later, because no-one had touched me with any tenderness for a very long time, and no-one had smiled at me with such warmth.

With a gunslip slung over one shoulder, a knapsack over the other and the basket from her bicycle full, I realised that Katie had remembered everything I asked for, and more. “Now, let’s see what we have”. We sat in an embrasure in the tower wall by one of its few windows. I had not eaten anything for three days, only drinking from burns and a horse trough I passed. She lifted a linen napkin off the basket to reveal wonders, the like of which I had not seen for a long time. Katie had baked bread, there was cheese, four boiled eggs and a twist of salt, farm-cured ham, some wrinkled apples, a comb of honey and a half bottle of whisky. “Slowly, now” she said as I tore off a hunk of bread and some cheese. “Your stomach will be the size of a golf ball.”

As I ate, Katie undid the buckles of the gunslip. She had brought from her father’s cabinet an old, beautifully kept Dickson shotgun, its barrels well oiled, the wooden stock polished and the metal action engraved with the maker’s name. A thing of great beauty. There was a box of twenty five twelve bore cartridges, an oiled cloth, and old army bayonet and a  penknife. From her knapsack, she brought out two packets of Player’s Navy Cut, two boxes of matches, a torch, two candles, six pencils held together with a rubber band and the thick, leather-bound notebook I had asked for. “And this is my mother’s cashmere wrap. Light as a feather. Made in Hawick to keep you warm. I shall want it back.”

On some musty, dust-covered old hay I found in the basement store, shaken and taken up to the top chamber, I lay down and slept for the whole day, filled with food and wrapped in cashmere. When Katie came back at gloaming, certain she had not been seen, we opened the whisky and exchanged fiery sips. What would have made the moment even warmer was a fire in the vast old grate, but we were taking enough risks.

“What will you do, David?” “Well, I can’t stay here. And I can’t keep putting you in danger.” At my prompting, Katie explained as much as she understood of what had happened since the detonation of the atomic bomb over London three months before.

The effects had continued. Rumours flew north that spoke of how people who had lived near London were still dying of something called atomic bomb sickness. Much of the south-east of England had been evacuated, people crammed into other cities and London itself had become a wasteland.

The Germans had taken over the BBC and in nightly broadcasts on the Home Service, their plans for Britain had become clear. All non-essential movement was forbidden – but Katie promised me she had been very careful. Her parents’ farm was close, only four miles from the tower. A strict curfew was enforced and rationing had become much more severe. Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Glasgow had been declared hostage-cities, targets that would suffer the same fate as London if there were any attempts at resistance or any aid given to dissidents. This message was repeated every night, said Katie, without fail.

All those MPs who had not been in London on October 3rd had been summoned to Leeds Town Hall where they were invited to support a motion, unanimously, that Sir Oswald Mosley should be appointed Prime Minister by King Edward VIII, recently returned from the Bahama Islands. Aneirin Bevan, a Welsh MP, had attempted to object but was removed, beaten and apparently imprisoned. This rump parliament had then voted itself out of existence, granting Mosley dictatorial powers. “All the Germans wanted”, said Katie, “was someone to sign an armistice. As you know they like paperwork all to be in order. I am perfectly sure Mosley takes his instructions directly from Berlin.”

That was the gist of what she knew, almost all of it from German broadcasts. No newspapers at all had been published. But there was one more thing. “You remember my Aunt Jenny from St Andrews?” Married to a professor of physics, she lived in a wonderful house in Hepburn Gardens and was very convivial. More than once, Katie and I had been invited for drinks and sat in the sheltered garden, Jenny bringing trays of gin cocktails and food through the French windows from the kitchen. Barely out of school, raw undergraduates, we were made to feel like sophisticated adults. “She told my Dad on the phone that odd things were going on in St Andrews. Hundreds of SS soldiers had suddenly arrived in trucks, freed from the prisoner-of-war camp over at Comrie. They immediately began fortifying the town, digging trenches right across the first and eighteenth fairways of the Old Course, for goodness’ sake. Uncomfortable, not knowing who might be listening, my Dad shushed Jenny and changed the subject. But I did think that was odd”.

More warming whisky passed between us in the candlelight and Katie made what she called a cold collation of salty ham, cheese, apples, bread and sticky lumps of honey. We talked of sunlit days as students in St Andrews. Katie lived in a very grand bedsit in North Castle Street, directly opposite the ruins of the bishop’s castle and close to steps that led down to the narrow beach below it. To afford the tickets, I had borrowed money from my father so that we could go to the Union Ball, and to look the part, I had also borrowed his dinner jacket and bow tie. “My God”, Katie had snorted, “You could get two of you in that!” In a red silk ballgown, her mother’s pearls and red, film-star lipstick, Katie looked the part. In fact she looked glorious”. “Close your mouth, you’ll catch flies”.

Before walking along the Scores to the Younger Hall and all the buzz and racket of the ball, I asked if she would come down the steps to the beach with me. “We won’t go onto the sand, promise. Just as far as the bottom step”. We looked out over the North Sea, shivered a little in the evening breeze, and that was when I told her I loved her.

“What’s that!” I stood up. “I can hear something outside”. It could have been sheep snuffling around the wooden door at the foot of the spiral staircase, but it was sharper than that. “Where did you leave your bicycle?” I whispered. “Outside the door, I’m afraid”.

As quietly as possible, I pulled the shotgun out of its slip, flipped the top lever to break it and pushed in two cartridges. Now we could both definitely hear movement, and definitely not sheep. I snuffed out the candle. We heard the scuff of footsteps on the spiral staircase. “Stay behind me, Katie”, I whispered. Clicking the shotgun closed and thumbing off the safety catch, I went down on one knee to present a smaller target and aimed at the dark rectangle of the doorway.


Alistair Moffat was born in Kelso, Scotland in 1950. He is an award winning writer, historian and former Director of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Director of Programmes at Scottish Television. He is the founder of Borders Book Festival and Co-Chairman of The Great Tapestry Of Scotland. You can find more of his books here.

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