Holy Loch

Dunoon, Scotland 1984, home to a US submarine base. Eva Berlin, FBI officer non-extraordinaire. When a bag belonging to her childhood friend Leah Ross turns up near where she went missing fifteen years before, Eva goes back to Scotland to face the demons she's been running from ever since.


We were in Eva’s bedroom the first time I heard that song – you know, the one where the guy sings about a magic carpet ride? I loved that song. I remember thinking I’d be on that carpet so fast, even if the guy was a creep for trying to pick up little girls.

We planned where we’d go if he turned up in Juno’s café one day, carpet rolled under his arm. We did a lot of that back then - made up stories based on songs we were into. We also smoked a shitload of weed, which helped the flow. My carpet route whisked me up and out of my street, skimming over the roof of the hospital, past the new school then a dogleg through the golf course. A quick swerve left, past the ferry at Hunter’s Quay, along the shore to Sandbank and then I'd be at the Holy Loch. It'd be night-time, or at least evening when it was dark - because isn’t that when all the best magic happens? The steel frame of the USS Canopus would be lit up, casting weird and wonderful shadows over the dark water. I’d float unseen above the base, over the shuttle boats pulsing back and forth from the pier to the ship like sluggish mayflies, then flip the vee at the white-hatted shore patrol toting their guns below. I can't remember where I planned to end up - only that it was somewhere else.

What's easy to forget about magic carpets though, is that someone had to enchant it in the first place. And if they've gone to all that effort, collecting the ingredients, mixing up the potions, casting the spell, all that stuff – then they're probably going want to control the direction of the weave and the texture of the journey. But when you’re seventeen and bored, and someone comes along and promises you magic, well, you’re not going to refuse – are you? Even if you do live in the most unique town in Scotland.

Especially then.

Chapter 1

Chicago 1984

The therapist was called Angela and she was a smiler. She had two neat little rows of teeth, like the keys on a baby grand and Eva was willing to bet that a significant number of those ivory whites were financed by the FBI.

She'd gone to a normal doctor before, Dr. Müller. An old-fashioned Teutonic maniac, who believed that most problems could be solved with a good dose of exercise in bracing weather, followed by an ice bath. And who was to say he wasn't right? But then he ran off with the wife of one of his patients. So now she was here. With 'Just call me Angela'.

Eva didn’t believe in therapy. She'd been made to go after the 'incident,' or Fuck-up as she preferred to call it. Fuck up being a more appropriate label for a dead girl and a bullet in the ass. She knew people who treated a weekly visit to their therapist like getting a haircut or a manicure. A manicure for the mind. But surely, what went on in the corridors of your psyche was your own damn business? As for talking things through, get a damn cat.

That kind of mushy mind stuff wasn't done where she was from. If you had a problem you swallowed it down, swore at it then smothered it under a blanket of booze and denial. What was wrong with that?

'How do you feel about your part in the incident, Eva?' The 'starter for ten' question Angela asked in their first session. Like one of those stupid, vacuous interviewers on Fox news who ask the weeping relatives of a gun tragedy for a soundbite just as the bodybags are being carried out. The answer was obvious, for fuck's sake. Like shit. She'd wake up gasping for air, jolted wide-eyed from dreams where she was drowning, or chasing unseen women down never-ending flights of stairs. She felt like shit.

'It's part of the job.' She'd said. 'Sometimes things go wrong. You deal with them.'

'Do you blame yourself?'

When Eva had discharged herself from hospital, she'd filled her cat's food and water bowls and asked her neighbour, to check in on him. She drove to a cabin in the middle of nowhere and spent three days communing with nature and a big bag of happy herbs, all washed down with good Polish vodka. Then she came home and got on with the rest of her life, Monika Kubicka's corpse wrapped snuggly around her conscience.

With mine. Nice to have some company.

Go away Leah.

'I did at first,' Eva answered, 'but I'm fine now.'

Angela clearly hadn't believed her, so here she was again.

'Your colleagues and your boss are concerned.' Angela stared at her over the top of her glasses, the tip of her black and silver Mont Blanc pen carefully placed on her lips, then focused her eyes back on the file in front of her. Eva knew it was Mont Blanc - her dad gave her the same one when she joined the Bureau. They weren't cheap.

'Is that right?'

'Your behaviour is erratic, you're often late, you lose your temper easily.' Angela cleared her throat. 'And on more than one occasion, you've arrived at work smelling of alcohol.'

Eva snorted 'Ha. You could say the same about a lot of my colleagues.'

Angela inclined her head, lips pursed like a cat's asshole. 'Perhaps. But you are here and they,' she paused and smiled, 'are not.' She glared at Eva over the rim of her glasses. 'It was a traumatic situation, Eva. It's no surprise that you're having issues. There's no shame in getting help.'

Eva stared at her chipped fingernails. Sighed. Stared at the ceiling. For fuck's sake.

'Why are you so defensive about coming here?' Angela's voice had risen an octave.

'I'm not defensive.' God, she hated this. 'This kind of stuff just isn't me. Everything just … picked over for some deeper meaning. There is no depth here. I'm just … tired. Pissed off. Hardly surprising.'

Angela flicked through her file. Made a Hmmm sound. 'Have you been taking the pills Dr. Müller prescribed you?'

'Yes.' Well, it wasn't a total lie. She'd taken them twice. Now she took them everywhere in her bag. They made her feel as if she was walking through jello. And they gave her more dreams. Worse dreams, walking with Leah beside the reservoir in Scotland, eating popcorn which turned into a million tiny black birds that fluttered away over the dark water, pulling her into the blackness with them.

Sometimes Leah was Monika. Same shit, different girl. It didn't matter.

'And you still aren't sleeping?' Angela's eyebrows stood to attention. 'That's surprising. They're usually very effective.'

Eva shuffled in her seat. 'Maybe I'm a special case.'

Angela sighed. 'Your boss wants you to take some time off. You won't take it of your own accord. So, I'm making it official.'

'Wait a second…' Eva sat forward.

Angela held up a finger. 'Go on a road trip. Or hey, you're Scotch, right? Go see your folks, drink whisky, toss trees - whatever it is that you guys do over there.' She closed over the file, folded her hands on top of it. 'There's enough information here to justify disciplinary proceedings, with the right interpretation. But your boss doesn't want that. You're a good agent. He wants you to sort your shit out. His words.' She stood up, signaling the end of the session. 'So, sort your shit out. And take your damn pills.'

Eva's hands shook as she waited for the elevator. A road trip wasn't a bad idea. Maybe with Kowalski? They could ride to the West coast. Make a real break of it. But there was no fucking way was she going home to Scotland.

You're too scared to go back, you big wuss.

Piss off, Leah. This has nothing to do with you.

Aye, right.

Chapter 2

Chicago 1984

The phone call changed everything.

She’d been on a date with a guy she met at a concert the week before. They'd gone for a drink in a bar where she'd felt totally out of it among the big hair and shoulder pads clinging onto the stockbroker suits. When her date found out what she did (something she'd omitted to tell him as they’d waved their lighters in the air), he asked her did she know Detective Belker from Hill Street. She wasn't entirely convinced it was a joke.

When she told him where her ‘weird accent’ came from, he told her about his great-great-great Granddaddy who was 'Scotch' and came from the 'High-lands'. Things galloped further downhill after she asked him what blend of Scotch he was. He left her at the door of her apartment block with a swagger and a ‘Let’s do this again,’ which she didn't believe for a second. Thank God. Maybe she should just give up on men and stick with Luke Skywalker. Always happy to see her and required no more than a few chin tickles and food twice a day.

Dad had left a message on her machine. She heard it ending as she put her key in the apartment door. 'Phone back Evie, sweetheart - It's really important.' She'd never heard his voice shaking before. She phoned back straight away.

'Three months, if she's lucky.'

'I'm sorry, Dad.'

'I know, Sweetie.'

There was a transatlantic lull as they both tried to think of something else to say.

'I'll come home, Dad,' Eva said eventually, when the silence was taking her to a place too dark to contemplate.

A muted sigh of relief came from the other side.

'That's great, Sweetie. Let me know when. We'll come get you at the airport.'

'Both of you? Will Mom be able to come?'

'Maybe. She has good and bad days. On a good one, she can actually get a lot done.' He laughed, a sad sound that twisted her heart. 'Whether you want her to or not.'

'Well, that's a good sign, isn't it? I mean, could they be wrong?'

'No Evie. It's not gonna happen. They'll keep up the treatment for a little while, but it's a waiting game now. It'll give her a little more time. No more.'

'Ok.' She swallowed.

'See you soon, sweetie.'

'Yeah.' She went to put the phone down. He dad's voice stopped her. 'Evie, wait.'

She lifted the receiver back to her ear. 'Yeah?'

A moment's silence. 'They found a bag. Well, a dog walker found it.'


'At the waterworks. They found a bag.'

She leaned back and slid down the wall onto the floor, legs pulled to her chest. She stared at the skirting board. There was a cracked bubble of paint peeling and shedding onto the carpet.

'Jeez. What is it with the dog owners? If it's not them it's joggers.'

'Yeah.' A strained laugh.

'What did it look like?'

'Black and White. Plastic. I just heard it from one of the guys at the station.'

'Thought you'd retired.'

'I just dropped by for a chat.'

'Do they think…?' she swallowed.

'They don't think anything yet, sweetie. It could just be a lost bag.'

'Yeah, but…'

'Yeah. I know. I'll tell if I hear anything else, Okay?'


'And lemme know about the flight.'

'I will. I'll go tomorrow. First thing. Promise.'

She hung up and after a few minutes’ contemplation pulled herself up from the floor and went into her kitchen. Lukey wound his way in and out of her legs making the funny meeping sounds which were his meows. She fed him something disgusting out of a tin. She'd ask Kevin next door if he'd look after him for a while - again. She knew he would. She'd do it tomorrow. It was too late to start knocking on doors now.

She needed a distraction. She put on the TV and flicked though the channels for something mind-numbing. Letterman was on NBC. That would do. What she really wanted now was a joint, but she was trying to quit. She went to the fridge, pulled out a beer, then put it back. Then took it out again. 'Fuck it,' she said out loud. She wasn't going to work tomorrow anyway. Wasn't going to work for a while. But she'd think about that later. She was going to have a beer, for Christ's sake.

She watched Letterman until it finished then switched off and got ready for bed. She lay staring into the dark, listening to the familiar night sounds of the city from the streets outside.

It could be my bag.

'I know, dammit.' Eva said out loud. '


Lis McDermott Mon, 13/06/2022 - 11:18

Your story drew me in straight away. You've got the style of the 'noir' thriller - with the inner conversations. Great start, setting up the characters and building up the suspense. Can't wait to read more.

Nikki Vallance Thu, 21/07/2022 - 13:05

What a cracking start. Character voice spot on and the use of the ghost voices is so well executed. Great stuff!