Miles Away

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Dacre searches for the cause of his phobias, but the loss of a friend who found it all too much makes him understand the risks he is taking by exploring his subconscious. Shocking family secrets are exhumed, amongst them his own repressed memories of gruesome unsolved murders. Is he a killer?
First 10 Pages

The Perthshire Advertiser

12th June 1970


Girl, 17, Strangled and Dumped

Police too shocked to comment on horror

As we reported on 9th June, Carol Hosie, a shop assistant at McEwens of Perth had last been seen leaving work on Friday 5th. Last night Police swiftly sealed Perth harbour where the shocking discovery of Carol’s body was made. Detective Inspector Malcolm Struth said she had a leather belt tight round her throat but added, ‘Further details of injuries too shocking to reveal are being withheld.’

David MacRitchie of McEwens told me Carol worked in the haberdashery department, and that staff and management wished to send sincere condolences to the family.

A family heirloom might hold a clue to catching the butcher, D.I. Struth told me. A gold ring was not recovered with Carol’s remains. Made by her grandfather, the ring (see picture) is unique, and Carol had worn it since her grandmother died. Carol’s mother is under sedation.

Chapter 1

Late October 1976

“Why are you so fucked up, Dacre?” Spiny grinned and Dacre knew to expect more of his new friend’s searing, engaging wit. “You can’t say your own first name and now you’re not even able to go upstairs on a bus, ya lanky spad.”

They were on the No. 20 to town, and Dacre had taken a seat downstairs. Spiny thought it would be fun to try to make him climb the spiral steps to the upper deck.

It had been David Thom’s idea to head for the Dungeon Bar. Dacre had been there once before and remembered enjoying the six-deep bar, the energising music, sweet smoke and a girl he had watched lustily over his pint glass. He had thought

about her since and convinced himself he had caught her eye.

Occupying the basement, the Dungeon was painted black and lit only by the lights above the long bar. Some of the gig posters had changed, but the music was every bit as loud as he remembered. They had to shout to keep their conversation going. Spiny was in his usual stained suede jacket, Dacre wore denim, and David his old RAF overcoat. The three had gone out drinking together several times and Dacre was comfortable and glad he had made friends.

After a couple of rounds, and with ringing ears, it was Dacre’s turn to shoulder his way through the throng for the next pints. Approaching the heaving bar was not for the fainthearted. He’d learned quickly that if a square inch or two of space opened up between braced shoulders in front, it was crucial to push in quickly. When someone at the front had been served, there was jockeying to be done as two or three pints were held aloft like a prize, and deferentially allowed passage. Spilling beer was a crime. Dacre had honed his skills at the Royal Hotel disco in Auchmoor and took every slight advantage available. His next goal would be to gain the attention of the bar staff.

In front of him, a girl was taking her change from a sweating barman. Under the glaring bar lights, her brown hair was like shining dark chocolate, and he almost lost his concentration for a moment. She turned away from the bar cradling two drinks and Dacre deftly tried to slip his shoulder forward. At the same time though, a long-haired hulk in a black T-shirt pushed for the same space, and the girl was jolted forward. Dacre bumped her hand and tipped brown beer down the front of her top. He had seen the zigzag blouse before, its white bits catching the strobe lights. It was the girl he’d thrown hopeful glances towards on his last visit to the Dungeon, and he froze as his cheeks burned and the loud music was drowned out by the pulsing in his ears.

“Haha! Just as well I have my Friday night top on!”

The girl smiled brightly at Dacre, who barely managed to blabber, “God! I’m sorry!”

“Och, it was fatso’s fault, not yours. Happens every week when I go to the bar. That’s why I only ever carry two drinks at a time!” Dacre now noticed three other drinks stood on the bar. Left unattended for long they would be claimed by someone else, and adrenaline helped him think quickly.

“I’ll carry those for you,” he said, deftly grasping the three glasses.

“You’ll lose your place at the bar—”

But Dacre led the way, clearing a path through the throng triumphant, gallant, and terrified. He turned round to face her and leaned close, shouting over Blue Oyster Cult, “Where are we going with these?” He could smell her hair, and she beamed greenish eyes at him, smiling and taking his breath away. He had forgotten about Spiny and David.

“I’ve no idea, they’re not mine!” she giggled. “I only bought these two, it’s just me and Marie here tonight.”

Horrified, ashamed and excited, Dacre tried to look nonchalant. “These will do me and the boys, then!”

“That’s theft! I’m going to report you.” Her stern face cracked into a wide grin. “Or you could try persuading me not to I suppose.”

“Do you come here—?”

“Often?” she finished for him, almost stumbling with laughter. “You’d better practise chatting up!”

He thought he’d blown his chance but she went on excitedly. “I come here every Friday, the music’s brilliant. I’ll look out for you next week, in case you give me another soaking. See you.” With that, she moved off behind a pillar covered in band posters. Dacre returned to his pals and wished he’d been brave enough to follow her. He hadn’t even asked her name. An hour or so later, when he was sure he’d seen her moving towards the exit, he told Spiny he was going to the toilet. He raced upstairs to the foyer but couldn’t see her amongst the criss-crossing students. He was returning dejectedly down to the Dungeon when he heard her voice coming up the stairs, laughing with her friend. On the landing she almost collided with Dacre, and giggled, “You again! Watch him, Marie, he’ll pour drink over you!”

“I’m sorry.”

“Oh stop it, it’s fine. He’s really shy, Marie, he hasn’t even told me his name.”

“You haven’t told me yours!”

“Come on, Isla, we’ll miss the bus back to Hillhead,” called Marie, already at the top of the stairs.

“You’re in Hillhead?”

“Yes, I’ve seen you around. You’re in Esslemont, aren’t you? Tell me your name and I’ll invite you for a coffee, we can do it formally, ‘Come for a coffee sometime.’” Her sing-song mimicry of the freshers’ ritual ice-breaker made him laugh as he extended his hand.

“I’m Dacre.” He was flattered that she had noticed him.

“Well, formal Mr Dacre, I invite you to Adam Smith House, room T21. Call in some evening, not too late or the porter won’t let you in.”

“Isla! Come on! The bus!”

Dacre had a spring in his step when he crossed the Dungeon floor to rejoin his pals. He was falling behind and guzzled from his pint to catch up.

“We thought you’d gone, got off with someone,” said Spiny.

“Nah, just been to the bogs and stopped to read the band posters,” Dacre replied, coolly. He was elated, but equally sure he had already been forgotten by the girl called Isla with the chocolate hair and the zigzag Friday top.

Chapter 2

Summer 1976

Dacre had drifted towards the science faculty at Aberdeen University in the same way he had drifted towards science subjects at school. His mother had hoped he would do medicine, and he knew she still believed he might be able to transfer to the medicine course later. He knew his dad didn’t care.

It was late July when he had finally disclosed his disappointing exam results. The flapping sole of his left boot had seemed louder as he approached the door but there was no point trying to be quiet. She’d be awake and waiting. It was past midnight again, and he was home after another hot day trailing up and down seed potato fields: roguing. A good way of earning cash, and the pub at lunchtime broke the hard, boring day. This was their second roguing season, four teenagers in a Mini together with wellies, filthy hessian sacks, and waterproofs. The heatwave was continuing, but tonight he was muddy, wet, and cold. Spake had thought it would be fun to push him into a burn.

He had dumped his bag inside the front door, a corner of the mud-smeared brown envelope poking out to taunt him, and kicked off his boots before padding through to the kitchen to find food.

“Gordon, is that you?”

“Who else would it be?” he shouted back up the stairs.

“Why are you so late this time?”

“The farm was in Angus, Brian arranged it. Took us nearly two hours to get back, and we didn’t stop until it was too dark to work.”

“Brian? Who’s that?”

--Jeezusss! She asked me that last night!--

“One of Spake’s brother’s friends, Mum, they’ve got the car.”

“Are you dirty?”

--Fuxake! Is she stupid? Of course I’m fucking dirty! And muddy and cold and stinking.--

“A little, Mum, sorry.”

“Did you open it?”

“Oh Mum!”

“Your dad needs to know about your accommodation. You should be interested. You must want to know!”

--How can I tell her?--

“Mum, I’m only just in the door!”

“I don’t know why you didn’t open it yesterday, and why you had to take it to those filthy fields. We asked you last night. I wish you’d opened it and told us.”

--I did open it; that’s the problem.--

“I was tired, and then I had to leave at seven this morning. I opened it at lunchtime.” He braced himself.

“In a field? Did you get it dirty?”

“Well, in the end rigg. It’s a bit muddy but what does it matter? It’s crap anyway.”

“Gordon! You don’t use that sort of language. You’re going to be a doctor.”

--No I’m bloody not.--

“I didn’t get in.”


--Oh, god.--

After a moment, he heard her sniffing. “Gordon? You mean St Andrews? Edinburgh? You have to go to Glasgow?”

“None of them.”

--That’ll be her for the night. Fuxake, I don’t sleep anyway, but now she’ll be wailing at me.--

The bedsprings and the landing floorboard told him his mum was coming downstairs. His dad was away overnight again, at least.

The next few weeks had been awful, but Elinor Dacre eventually accepted his going to Aberdeen. When his dad was at home he would dutifully respond to her prompts by grumbling his disappointment. By now, Dacre saw little interaction between his parents, and his dad always seemed irritable, his mum edgy.

The question of accommodation was contentious. His parents wanted him to move into a flat with his cousin: his mum to annoy her snobby sister, and his dad to save money. Dacre avoided the subject until Campbell offered his (shared!) room to another jerky law student.

--Thank god! Imagine living with Campbell? Speccy git!--

Dacre preferred the idea of having his own room in a flat shared with a group of strangers, and he accepted a place in a hall of residence. His only worry was about moving away from his ground floor bedroom. It wasn’t the thought of leaving home, but the chance that he might have to face going upstairs again. The university brochure showed Esslemont House to be a modern three-storey block.

Bad dreams became more frequent and disturbing as his move approached. He discussed some of them with Spake in the Auchmoor Arms one night.

“You always fancied James, eh? Always knew you were a poof, Dacre. Dreaming about wee boys!”

“Piss off Spake, this is serious. It’s as if I’m falling into a cellar or something. And James fucking Robb is in it somewhere! It’s hellish. There’s loads of blood. Someone’s fallen, fuck knows who, and there’s loads of blood. I didn’t bleed when I broke my arm, so it wasn’t me. What the fuck’s that all about? And why Robb?”

Spake gulped his Skol and smirked. “You’re just weird, Dacre. You’re needin’ tae see yer Dr Freud again.” Dacre knew, though, that Spake’s ribbing was not unkind. They had been close friends since primary school.

Spake had more important things on his mind. “Did you get enough spondoolies for another round?” They usually both tried to cadge a couple of pounds from their mothers to go to the pub, with empty promises to pay it back at the end of the roguing season. Roguing pay was good but the season was short, and cash didn’t change hands until the seed potato crops had passed official inspection. An evening course at Elmwood college had taught them how to spot ‘rogue’ plants and purify the crop. If a crop failed, farmers didn’t pay.

“I told you I got two quid. Your turn to feed the jukebox.” As usual, he chose the B-side of an Andy Fairweather-Low single, ‘Grease It Up’. After the coin had dropped and the buttons had been pressed, the jukebox whirred and clicked before the needle scratched the 45, and the two pals were ready to play air keyboards to each other as the music started. It had become their track, and they were the only ones who ever put it on. Objections only made them play it more. Their tastes in music were varied, including Dylan, Queen, and John Lennon. After a few lagers or when trying to impress girls in the Royal disco, they had been known to admit that ‘Abba are not bad sometimes’.

Dacre went to the bar, where Mutch, the latest owner of the pub, smirked his usual tired jibe. “Ah! It’s Dacre and Baker! I’ma poet and I didn’t know it!”

--Every bloody time! It’s like he thinks he’s just made it up!--

“Two Skols please, Stuart.” Mutch swiftly fizzed the lager glasses full. “That’s fifty-six pence.” There were four ten-pence coins in the change, more for ‘Grease It Up’. Spake was back at the table trying to look cool, tapping his feet in time.

“You really not sleeping? What’s bugging you? Still wanking about Sheila Henderson?”

“Piss off! I told you I keep dreaming I’m falling; I’m not joking. It’s a nightmare.”

“You been missing wee James since he left school? Dreaming about him! Ya big poofter!”

--I wish he’d take this seriously. These mad dreams are scary. Christ! And Sutton said I’d get over it all!--

Spake was now chatting to a guy at the next table, and Dacre sat brooding. On reflection, sometimes he thought maybe Dr Sutton hadn’t been too bad after all. Sometimes his confidence ran high, and deep down he was proud he’d managed to survive school at all. Although his phobic anxieties were never far below the surface, he had become practised at coping with them. Burying them deeper.

“I’m going for another round.” Spake was on his feet.

“Not for me, I want to catch the Volcano on the way home.”

“Aw, come on, you don’t need chips. Lager!”

“If I eat sometimes I sleep better.”

“Have another pint, ya dobber!”

“It just means I’m up for a pee in the night.”

“Poof! I’ll call you Gordon if you don’t.”

“Piss off.” He relented though, as usual. Spake bought more Skol and returned to the table triumphantly, gulping down a third of his pint in one go.

“We could fit in another after this!”