Thursday, March 23, 2006



It was the eve of a new year, four hours until midnight. London had dark circles beneath her eyes.

"Then there will be bells and sirens and car horns," thought Julian Devine. "Telephones in millions of homes will bleep, lips will be kissed and resolutions made. Silver and gold-necked bottles will be opened with great flourish if little expertise and the good people will be full, awash and delirious with hope."

He clicked off the light and locked up the office before taking his customary walk around the public area to check the troughs. The machines were arranged like strange standing stones in two circles, one inside the other, their consuls facing outwards. When the players were in it was like a prison exercise yard or a mobile ID parade. All the subjects were suspects and all the suspects were guilty.

There was a pound coin in the Oklahoma Showdown; a blue infant's teething ring on top of the Glory Ride Express; the coin slot of the Caribbean Cop Fighter was glued up with chewing gum. On the floor, amidst the cigarette butts and the discarded cash bags, spent matches and candy wrappers, he found a packet. It had been make-shifted from a glossy magazine page.

Four hours. The buzz beginning. In Scotland now they would all be waiting, all the ghosts. And soon the hugging and the kissing and the singing, the Lord Provost's speech in the city square, the pipers and the dancers in their plaids and soft black, silver buckled shoes....


His father woke him and helped him dress in his Christmas cowboy outfit: the waistcoat, the chaps, two silver pistols in holsters, a large handkerchief for a bandana and a warm coat on top. His mother singing along to Johnny Ray on the radio - The Little Cloud That Cried - as she busied herself with secrets. Tenement days. He recalled the cold, and the security of beer on his father's breath.

But it was a magic night. The air was frosty and crisp and the streetlamps glistened amber as they swung softly in the city crosswinds. The sound of clicking heels and excited chatter echoed all around. Outside the bars and cafes men and women were gathering, readying themselves for the procession to the centre. The men wore cardboard hats; their hip pockets bulged. And the women were tipsy and giggling, teetering on stiletto heels, their short dresses displaying lacy underskirts and sometimes a hint of bare thigh.

And then they reached the Square.

A huge Mississippi riverboat, its bridge decorated with coloured lights, had docked in front of the Town Hall. And a Dixieland jazz band played on the Town Hall steps. He had never seen so many people. All dressed fancy as movie vampires, Italian waiters, Hollywood gangsters, riverboat gamblers and gunslingers, plainswomen in Gingham and sunhoods... and everywhere the sound, like a great deafening roar, of HAPPY NEW YEAR.

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