“Well,” I said to Alfie who was sitting on my shoulders, contentedly playing with my hair. “Either everyone’s at work, or there’s been a zombie apocalypse. What do you reckon?”

“Zombie, zombie,” he repeated softly, as though turning the word in his wee mouth, trying it on for size. “Zombie Daddy.”

“You’re not far wrong, wee man.” It’s fair to say I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. I eventually dropped off curled up with Alfie on his camp bed. I’ve no idea whether or not Tess slept in our bed, there was no sign of her this morning, though it was late by the time Alfie and I woke. One of us raring to go, the other as stiff as a board and with a heid full o’ mince. I’ll let you guess which was which.

My choices that morning were, sit around and brood, or do… something. So I knocked on every apartment door in the building, in search of this bloody baby. However, as discussed with Alfie, either everyone else was at work, or there’s been a zombie apocalypse and there’s only Alfie and I left on earth. Which would at least get me out of talking to Tess tonight, so that would be something.

I was a bit relieved that I didn’t run into the American woman. I’d feel a bit daft admitting to her that I was searching for a baby she had told me didn’t exist, but evidently she doesn’t know everyone in the building, or maybe someone has a friend with a kid staying. Maybe that would explain why the wee mite is so out of sorts, if it’s out of its normal routine or something.

Either way, she wasn’t around, and if I managed to knock on the door of wherever the baby was, they weren’t answering, so that was a total waste of time.

Except that it had distracted me for the best part of an hour.

I pushed the boat out and made me and Alfie fajitas for our lunch – does everyone else already know about all the recipes that can be found online?! – then put him down for his nap. Just as a dull rock of dread settled in my stomach at the realisation that I had a good hour and a half of solitude during which I was at risk of dangerous stuff like thinking, my phone went and it was Rab.

Rab and I are unlikely best friends. My brothers and I were sent to the local secondary school after the poncy boarding school attended by members of our family since before the second Jacobite Rebellion finally got sick of our parents’ constant failure to pay the fees. My mother wrote to the local newspaper denouncing them for failing to appreciate that educating our family was a privilege, and her letter got picked up by the Daily Record and went viral. If you thought that being thirteen and starting a new school was fun, try it when the entire world is making fun of your mother.

Then as the icing on the cake, bloody Gordon, for reasons best known to himself, sealed our fate by wearing the sodding family tartan on that first day. Taking all that into consideration, I would have judged the other kids had they not responded by beating us all into a pulp, but all the same I was grateful when Rab leapt on Liam MacKenzie’s back just as he was about to kick my head in, and bit his shoulder. Last I heard Liam was a regional manager for a chain of budget supermarkets in Dumfries, and legend has it his shoulder still bears scars from Rab’s teeth.

With his shaved head, broken nose and the massive tattoo of Tweety Bird he swears he doesn’t have a clue how or when or why he got right across his face, Rab isn’t what springs to mind when you think of a knight in shining armour, but beggars can’t be choosers. He stayed my guard dog for most of school, then I got Catriona – she’s a criminal barrister – to represent him a few times until she lost patience after the ice cream truck incident, but I owe him my life several times over.

“How’s the bitch?” he asked suddenly, and for a weird second I thought he knew what happened last night. 

“Don’t call her that,” I replied automatically. Rab shrugged; it wasn’t the first and definitely won’t be the last time we’ve debated Tess’s merits. The two of them detested one another on sight, and that was the high point of their relationship.

I can’t tell him what happened, and only partly because of the slagging I’ll get if I admit I’ve known all along what he tried to tell me and I tried to pretend I didn’t know what he was on about. Not to protect Tess either, I may be a pathetic sap in some respects when it comes to her, but I know fine well that’s she’s more than capable of holding her own with Rab. He’ll ask why I’m not leaving, why I haven’t left a hundred times, and I’ll have no idea what to say.

Instead, I told him about the crying baby even though I know that every time I talk about it, I sound a wee bit more nuts. At least Rab won’t be surprised by that.


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