The helicopter lurches violently as it swings round the end of ridge and into the head wind coming down the glen.
“Good of you to come,” gasps the Man from the Ministry, as he struggles to get the zip to closed on his white protective suit. “As soon as we read your blog, we knew you’d be the man for the job,” he grins replacing his bifocals on his aquiline nose.
“You’re welcome,” I smile back. He proffers me a similar suit to his and seems perplexed when I brush it away.
“The building in question is just down there by the river,” he says, pointing through the glass.
“Oh yes, I’ve been to this bothy before.”
“An open shelter in wild country. Anyone can use them,” I explain.
“Anyone!” he responds aghast. “But what about security? What about health and safety? Who pays the council tax?”
I shake my head slowly, he rolls his eyes to the heavens. “Bothy, you say. How odd. You can see why it needs controlling,” he pauses seeking a more appropriate word. “Regulating,” he explodes in triumph.
I lean forward and whisper conspiratorially against the roar of the chopper engine, “Stamping out.”
He nods sagely, “Oh yes, quite right. We can’t have this sort of thing you know.”
The Man from the Ministry hesitates outside the door of the low stone building. He fiddles with his clip board for a moment, runs his fingers around the elastic collar of his white suit. Finally he turns to me, “You see the thing is,” he implores, “There’s no procedures for this. It’s terribly irregular. Do you think…”
“Of course, not a problem.” He steps aside with evident relief and I draw back the heavy iron bolt on the door and enter into the gloom. As my eyes adjust to the darkness I make out a familiar scene. A wood lined room, a few rough chairs, a table and an ash filled fire place. I turn to my companion, “They’ve been here all right.” He writes furiously on his note book. I place my hand on the ashes of the fire. They are cool but not cold.
“Last night I’d say,” I declare taking a pinch of ash and holding it to my nose. I know the smell at once.
I offer the sooty finger tips to the Man from the Ministry, he shrinks back in horror. “Do you know what that is?” I ask.
“Ah yes but what kind? He shakes his head mystified.
“This is tobacco ash,” I announce.
“Tobacco!” he exclaims, taking two backward steps towards the door.
“Pipe tobacco!” I take another sniff and this time I am certain, “It’s a special brand. Bothy Bumbler’s Twist. And look here.” I bend and examine the fire ash carefully, closely watched by the bearer of the clip board. “Whoever knocked out this pipe was left handed.”
“You mean they’ve been smoking in here?” he asks incredulously.
“Oh yes, and drinking too,” I hold up an empty can of beer from the corner of the hearth.
“But smoking has been outlawed everywhere. No one is allowed to smoke apart from prisoners on death row. Don’t they know the dangers?” He writes on his clipboard mumbling something indecipherable. Finally he looks up, “Why would they drink alcohol, why don’t they drink sterilised water like everyone else?” I shake my head sadly.
Incensed the Man from the Ministry begins to hunt around the bothy. He stoops and then holds up his biro, dangling from it there is plastic packaging. “Sausages!” he announces, the veins in his neck bulging. “For pity’s sake they’ve been eating sausages! Have they no sense. I’ve eaten only lavender flavoured couscous for the past ten years and look at me!” Now his eyes are standing out of their sockets and sweat is beading on his forehead. “Can you find them?” he demands, his voice almost cracking with panic.
“It won’t be easy,” I let my eyes wander looking for more clues but the bothy is bare. “The Ministry must understand these are desperate men. They cling to a way of life that has been ruled politically incorrect and against the laws of health and safety. These men are forced to lurk in furthest remote corners of the kingdom where they can enjoy their vile pleasures beyond the reach of the Thought Police.”
Now the Man from the Ministry is chewing the corner of his clip board. He looks up and fixes me with a steely stare, “You must find them blogger, the nation is counting on you. Do you know who they are?”
“Yes I’m afraid I do. These…these men are the Kervaig Pipe Club.”
“There’s a club of them?”
“Yes, they travel to remote places, smoke pipes, drink beer and tell each other stories. They even have ceremonial dress…blue dungarees”
“You don’t mean,” stammers the Man from the Ministry unable to form the words, “They actually … enjoy themselves?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“But that was outlawed years ago under the government’s You Can’t be Too Careful initiative. It’s worse than I thought,” he grabs the back of a chair to steady himself. Overcome he announces, “I’ll need to use the bathroom, do you know where it is?” I hand him a spade, he looks puzzled for a moment and then the colour drains from his face.
The Man from the Ministry stabs the air with his biro, recovering his composure,“They must be stopped,”
“I can do it, but you’ll have to leave me here for a few days. I need to conduct a thorough search.” He argues, of course, points out the dangers of being alone in such a remote place but in the end he sees sense and heads back to the chopper. Four days should do it.
I turn towards the fire place and examine the wall above it in great detail. There is a candle holder fixed to the wood lined wall. I count the boards to the left, one, two, three. The fourth board is loose, a moments work and it is free. Behind it is a handle. I turn it, a door in the wall slides open and a few wisps of pipe smoke drift into the room.
A moment later a man in blue dungarees steps through the door. Silently he hands me a lit pipe and a glass of whisky. We stand for a moment by the window watching the Man from the Ministry climb into the helicopter. I take a couple of pulls on the pipe and savour the whisky.
The man in dungarees speaks, “What the hell is couscous?”
There’s a book! I don’t think it was written, more vomited forth.