The Steep Approach to Garbadale

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Authors: Iain Banks
trying to make small talk and remember how people behave when they’re straight, Fielding wakes up with a start and stands staring at Steve with a stunned, terrified expression on his face and is unquestionably just about to start gibbering or screaming or throwing punches or running away or possibly all of the above when Alban throws himself on Steve’s mercy by claiming they’re both suffering mightily from some dodgy prawns consumed a couple of hours ago - the near-hallucinatory effects of which may admittedly have been accentuated by a beer or two - and could do with some help.
    Steve’s hotel is nearby. He takes them there and they straighten out sufficiently in his room while he’s away summoning a doctor to be able to bribe the medic when he arrives so that he accepts and even confirms their story. Fielding wants to score some more drugs off the doc, but that’s just going too far.
    Somehow they’re able to have a couple of beers in the hotel bar with Steve and push down a few morsels of a Vietnamese meal before making their excuses and heading back for the thankfully now remembered hotel and crashing for the next fourteen hours.
     
The reason he’d wanted to get drunk in the first place - being brutally honest - was because he was feeling sorry for himself. The reason he was feeling sorry for himself was he’d been rejected, again, by Sophie. She worked for the family firm, too, in the US sister company. When he’d started working for Wopuld Games Ltd he’d imagined they’d bump into each other all the time, but they almost never did. She’d been there in Singapore at the trade fair, though.
    ‘You’re the love of my life.’ (Despairing; a last, pathetic roll of the dice.)
    ‘Well, gee. I’ll pass on that privilege.’
    She seemed serious. He just stared at her. ‘What have you become?’ he whispered.
    ‘Wiser.’
    ‘Shit, that was close,’ Fielding muttered. There was a beeping noise from somewhere and the big car’s nose dipped as it braked sharply. A speed camera zipped past. Fielding was watching the rear-view mirror intently. He flashed Alban a grin. ‘Made it!’
    Alban had to turn his face away. The exit for Auchterarder and Gleneagles disappeared behind them as the car accelerated again, heading for Glasgow.
     
He’s too young to be there, of course, but he is, all the same. He’s with her as she comes down from her room, down the wide, gleaming staircase under the tall, south-facing window and walks across the creaking parquet of the main hall towards the kitchen, and he’s there as she turns into the short corridor that leads past the gunroom and the inside log store and the drying room to the cloakroom, and he watches as she stops and chooses what to wear to go outside.
    She’s dressed in brown Clark’s shoes, a pair of white socks, jeans - her own, but too big, needing to be secured with a thin black belt - a brown blouse and an old white roll-neck jumper. White M&S underwear. No watch or rings or other jewellery; no cash, chequebook, credit cards or any form of identification or written material.
    He watches her choose the long dark coat with the poacher’s pockets. It’s huge and almost black, its original dark green-brown staining weathered and worn and grimed over decades on the estate to something close to the darkness of the brown-black water in a deep loch. Sometimes he watches her go immediately right up to the coat and hoik it off the wooden peg between all the other coats and jackets, and sometimes he sees her stand there for quite a long time, in the gloom and the pervading smell of wax while rain patters off the glass in the shallow, high-set windows (because it was raining lightly, at the time).
    The coat is too big for her, drowning her; she has to double back the cuffs of the sleeves twice, and the shoulders droop and the hem reaches to within millimetres of the flagstones. She rubs her hands over the waxy rectangles of the flapped external pockets, and looks

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