Isle Of Second Chances – Episode 24

Grey hillsides, shrouded in cloud, slid past the train’s windows. The half-empty carriage was quiet for once. Nobody was on their mobile phone, trying out ringtones or talking loudly into it, sharing intimate conversations with the world – the new curse of train travel.

Nicola’s eyes felt gritty and she fought against sleep. An hour to go before she reached Inverness and her last appointment of the day, at the Highland Council’s legal offices.

She stifled a yawn. So far, so good. The bank manager had been tough, but she had expected nothing less.

A small rural branch still operated to national rules, working under the eagle eyes of distant superiors.

Putting forward her proposal was a battle which Nicola had enjoyed, with the cut and thrust of figures and cash flow. Back in the City she had fought through far bigger proposals against even tougher financiers. She knew which buttons to press.

She had negotiated the breathing space and the conditional agreement she needed, but everything depended on the results of her next two meetings.

Her proposal would only work if those present were prepared to let the centre stay alive.

Pressure was mounting. Once, she had lived on pressure and on the buzz of rising to the occasion, defying all odds, sensing the idea and the moment which would turn everything round. Now she wasn’t sure.

Nicola closed her eyes. There was one last major effort needed for today; one last gathering of energy and concentration; one last performance.

There was no point in even worrying about tomorrow’s meeting if she failed to win support in 50 minutes’ time.

Until now, she had been fighting on her own territory of finance. But how did you handle a bureaucracy with rules carved deep in stone?

Annie was in the wrong, badly so, in neglecting her payments of council tax.

How could Nicola persuade an official who had heard every excuse ever used by man to listen and see the picture behind the apparent neglect?


*  *  *  *

“Any word?” Donnie asked, shrugging off his rain-soaked jacket as he came into the kitchen.

Shaking off the worst of the water, he closed the door against the grey grumble of the wind and hung up his jacket.

“Wheesht,” Sandy said. “She’s sleeping.”

“She’s not,” Annie called. “She’s resting her eyes.”

“And she was snoring, too,” Sandy added.

“I was not!” Annie was outraged. “It was your dog.”

She pushed the dog from her lap. It slid, dazed, to the floor and closed its eyes again. The noise of heavy breathing built up.

“See?” Annie declared. “It wasn’t me.”

Sandy grinned and reached into his jacket pocket.

“Here, Donnie,” he said. “Maggie gave me this to hand over to you when I was at the store.”

He drew out a white envelope and handed it over.

Donnie glanced at it, frowned, then folded it and stuck it into his rear jeans pocket.

“Nothing important,” he said casually. “I’ll read it when I get home.”

“Oh.” Sandy’s nose had been bothering him all day long.

“Have you had anything to eat?” Annie asked. “There’s some dinner left.”

“I’m not hungry,” Donnie said. “I’ll knock up something at suppertime.”

His blue eyes rose to meet Annie’s grey ones.

“Wonder how she’s got on?” he said. “She’ll have finished with the council by now.”

Annie winced.

“It’s all my fault. I meant to write and ask the council whether what we were doing here amounted to a business, or should I be taxed as an individual instead.

“Then, like everything else, it drifted. And by the time their next letter came there was no money left to pay – not what they were asking, anyway. I have no head for business.”

“Nicola will sort it out,” Sandy said gruffly.

“With what?” Donnie said. “When you’re in arrears, the only thing that talks is money.”

Once again, Annie’s sense of the ridiculous surfaced.

“Do you know, instead of teaching them weaving, Sandy, we should have taught them printing. Then we could have counterfeited all the money we needed to pay our debts!”

“Good idea,” Donnie said. “There’s only one problem.”

Lifting his jacket from the peg, he looked back.

“It would have left us in even worse trouble than we’re in already.”

The door closed behind him.

“I liked the ‘us’,” Annie said quietly.

Sandy patted her shoulder.

“We’re in this together, lass.”

The dog grumbled at his feet.

“Aye, you, too,” he added.



Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!