I don't actually know where I'm going with this story. I have a vague idea of the genre and that is it. The rest is being written on the fly.
Will probably contain the following: violence, bad language, alcohol, drug-taking, sex and pre-slash/slash but I haven't actually decided precisely what exactly is going to be in here so some things listed in the warnings might not be present and there might be things you weren't warned about.
Initially this was going to be a romance. Then I changed my mind and decided it should be a modern day Sherlock-Holmes-style murder/mystery. Then I decided I don't like "good" protagonists and they broke bad so it turned into a bit of a crime/vigilante fiction. Where I'm currently up to with the planning it's taking a distinctly Bond turn of events in regards to a global conspiracy that the protagonists have to take down. That's the joy of the NaNo.
This chapter was written over November 01-02.
One: The café
The first time Ian MacTavish saw the homeless heroin addict living in the alley between his flat building and the corner store was on a cold, windy Sunday in late October in 2012. It was six sixteen in the evening and he was walking back home from the fish and chip shop two blocks away with his dinner and his service dog, Roy.
Roy alerted him to the homeless man's presence by veering off course and into the mouth of the alleyway, where the man was sitting in the shadow, huddled up between an old wooden crate and a skip. When they were out and about the black and tan German Shepherd normally stuck like glue to MacTavish's left side, like he was trained to. It was very strange for him to suddenly ignore ingrained training to enter the alley. He didn't even chase cats or squirrels.
Ian felt distinctly uncomfortable. He tended to avoid the homeless people of London. Roy's lead was very short, just a leather handle that clipped onto his harness. Ian had grown slack over the months spent in Roy's presence, and usually walked without even holding the lead, instead letting his fingers of his left hand brush the fur over the back of Roy's shoulders.
"Roy," he called softly, but the dog was sniffing intently at the man dressed in a ragged brown overcoat. Ian couldn't see the man's face, for it was in the shadows and hidden by softly curling, dark hair. A pale hand lifted to scratch the dog behind the ears and Roy leaned into the petting contentedly.
"Roy," Ian said more firmly, beginning to feel irritation at the dog bubbling up in his chest. He kept the anger out of his voice however and clenched his hands to keep them from shaking.
And then the homeless man spoke. He had a deep, soft, surprisingly cultured voice. "Go on then. Back to your master." And the pale hand pushed the dog away. Roy hesitated once, wagged his tail and trotted back to Ian's side. Ian paused. And then he continued on the way home, limping heavily on his right leg.
That night Ian lay awake on the narrow cot in his shoebox of an flat listening to the mentally ill woman, Elizabeth Thibault, upstairs howling at the Grey Men at three o'clock in the morning. Roy lay awake on the floor beside him, his eyes gleaming in the light of the street lamp that was directly outside their window. The dog occasionally sighed or shifted, but otherwise made not a single noise even as Ian tossed and turned and tried to ignore the racket.
At three twenty-three the recovering alcoholic two floors above bellowed: "Quiet down, bitch! I've got work in the morning!"
The woman was quiet for exactly nine minutes and thirteen seconds before she started up again.
The homeless man was still there when Ian took Roy out for his walk in the morning. It was drizzling that Monday, but the wind had died down. Ian donned his raincoat and fetched his umbrella at precisely seven in the morning. Roy was already sitting by the door to the flat, waiting patiently, and Ian put the dog's working harness on him before they headed out into the poorly lit, dingy hall of the flat building.
Ian and Roy lived on the first floor and only had to take a single flight of stairs to get down to the foyer and out onto the street. Ian was glad of this fact because stairs were his biggest bother and the flat building's elevator was Out of Order and had been for the last three years, according to Michael Whitlock who lived across the hall. He was just lucky that when he applied for a place to stay with the Helping Hand Organisation and they'd found him this one six weeks ago it hadn't been an flat on the sixth floor.
The homeless man was sitting in the mouth of the alleyway this morning, sitting on an old plastic fruit carton and huddling beneath a sheet of sodden cardboard in an attempt to keep the rain off. Ian's grip on Roy's lead tightened, but the dog ignored the homeless man in favour of heading for the small strip of grass beside the sidewalk a street over where the dog typically did his morning toilet. Ian picked up after Roy then headed home. The homeless man was still there, looking wet and cold. As he slowly and excruciatingly climbed the stairs to the first floor, Ian wondered why he didn't go somewhere drier. That alleyway was not particularly sheltered or suitable to human habitation.
MacTavish washed his hands, poured Roy a bowl of dog biscuits and made himself a cup of instant coffee. He stood by the window, sipping at it, and watched the droplets of rain running down the window pane. It was cold and damp in the flat. His ragged, second-hand sofa with the stuffing coming out of one of the cushions was uncomfortable. He had no computer, his television only got three channels, and on his one shelf were six books, all of which he'd read. Five or six times each by now. Ian decided that today was another one of those days that he would spend wandering somewhat aimlessly around London.
"Roy," he called to the German Shepherd, heading for the door, and Roy padded over to join him.
They headed out again. Ian was about to go past the soaking homeless man for the fourth time when he paused. He hadn't spoken to anyone human except the fish and chip shop man and the boy running the counter at the corner store since he last saw his therapist on Wednesday. Certainly he had long conversations with Roy of an evening, but Roy never answered back and it was debatable as to how much the dog really understood. On the spur of the moment he decided to do something quite out-of-character for himself and he turned to the homeless man huddling under the cardboard.
"Hello there," he said, trying to sound as pleasant as he possibly could.
The homeless man didn't seem to be listening. He was dripping wet, from his dark hair to the bottoms of his too-short trousers, which were riding up to show a couple of inches of hairy leg above questionably clean socks. He was staring off to the right, though his dark-eyed gaze was far away and somewhat unfocused, which suggested he must have been deep in thought. He looked even paler than yesterday, if possible, with dark rings beneath his eyes and a certain gauntness about his face. He hadn't shaved in perhaps three or four days.
Ian cleared him throat. "I said, hello there," he said, somewhat louder.
The homeless man snapped back to reality with a start. "You are speaking to me?" he asked, looking around in bafflement.
"There's nobody else hereabouts for me to be talking to," Ian replied. "Ye look cold, and I was wondering whether ye might like to accompany me to Mirabelle's. They do very nice pancakes there, and quite a good cup o' tea, too."
"I don't need charity, thanks," the homeless man replied, looking away.
"Perhaps you don't," Ian said. "But I haven't talked to anyone in four days except Roy and I fancy a decent chat with someone. Roy does not make for a good partner in conversation."
The homeless man glanced at the German Shepherd. "I supposed he doesn't," he conceded. "I find dogs the most interesting of conversational partners, but not everyone understands the subtleties of the canine language."
"See, then? I could do with a bit of charity. Will you come with me to Mirabelle's? You can teach me some of this canine language of yours," Ian said. He really had no idea what he was doing. If he wanted someone to talk to, he really should think about getting in touch with some of his old friends. But he'd lost contact with them all since Freya died, and it seemed so difficult to think about them offering him their sympathies. Absently he ran a finger over the simple gold wedding band on the ring finger on his left hand as he thought about her.
"Very well," the homeless man said, getting slowly and somewhat stiffly to his feet. "Lead on."
And off they went.
Mirabelle Brown, the owner and manager of the little street side café, smiled when Ian limped in through the door with Roy at his side. She hadn't seen Ian, who was one of her favourite customers, in nearly a week. He was an odd man. Medium height, thin, dark blonde hair and greyish eyes. If she admitted it to herself she thought him quite good-looking. And his rolling Scottish brogue… oh! But he had a funny past, or so the people said. Still, he was very polite in a quiet, mannered sort of way. And she absolutely adored his dog.
Her smile turned into a scowl when she caught sight of the homeless man behind him, however.
"Paying customers only," she snapped out. "We don't give out freebies, here."
"That's quite all right, Mira," Ian said in a soft, placating tone. "I'll be paying for the both of us, if that's all right?"
Mirabelle Brown was inclined to say no – she didn't want the homeless man sitting down anywhere in her neat, clean little café – but Ian was paying. What of it if she had to scrub down the chair he sat in afterwards?
"Oh, very well. What will you be having?"
Ian ordered them both pancakes and Earl Grey tea and they took a seat near the back, where they hopefully wouldn't put off any other customers. Here in the closed confines of the café, Ian had to admit that the homeless man didn't smell particularly wonderful. He had the odour of a man with vices who lived on the street, an odour of male sweat, unwashed clothes, cigarettes and stale whisky, but there was another smell present too that Ian couldn't place.
They sat in silence for a minute or two. "So…" Ian said eventually, recalling that he'd asked the man here to have someone to talk to. He may as well get talking, then. "What's yer name, then?"
The homeless man stared at him flatly, his face expressionless and unchanging, and Ian started to wonder for the first time if this was a good idea. Then the man said, somewhat shortly: "Archie."
"Right, then," Ian said, somewhat awkwardly, glancing away from that intense gaze. He realised that Archie may not be this man's real name at all. A lot of the people who lived hereabouts didn't necessarily go around under their real names. "Hello Archie. It's nice to meet ye. I'm Ian MacTavish. Ye've already met Roy."
"He's a service dog," Archie observed, leaning down to scratch the dog on his chest for Roy was sitting patiently beside their table.
"Yes," Ian replied. "An assistance dog."
"Ah," Archie said knowingly, and then said no more on the subject, letting it drop.
Conversation lapsed then, and Ian found himself wondering what to say next. He didn't want to talk about his past, and he had a strong suspicion that Archie didn't fancy speaking about his either. He knew enough about this area and the people living in it to know that it was rude to ask a homeless person how they became homeless on a first meeting.
"You sound educated," Ian said eventually.
"Cambridge, Master's Degree in mathematics," Archie replied, and while he wasn't offended by Ian's observation he appeared bored.
"I see," Ian said. He looked at the table again, searching for another topic of conversation. "I hear it's going to rain for the rest of the week."
"Yes," Archie said. "I looked at the weather report in yesterday's newspaper and continuing precipitation does seem to be indicated."
"How'd ye get a newspaper?" Ian asked, somewhat stupidly, because he was fairly certain that Archie didn't have a subscription.
Archie rolled his eyes and sighed, as if he was speaking to an idiot. "How do you think?"
Ian coloured. "I imagine ye picked one up out of the trash or something. I don't know."
"A recycling bin, actually, but close enough."
At that point in time Mirabelle Brown interrupted them by bringing over two cups of tea and a couple of gingernut biscuits. "They're on the house," she said, and when Ian insisted on paying she added: "They're a bit stale and we can't sell them anymore. I'll just eat them all myself if you don't have them. Pancakes will be here in five, okay?" And then she whisked away to scold the young woman at the coffee machine who was burning the beans in her attempt to roast them as she made a takeaway latte for a stressed looking woman in a red coat.
"Why don't ye move out of that alley?" Ian asked curiously. "There are surely drier and more protected places to have a kip."
"There are," Archie replied. "But I'm not welcome at them." Ian wondered what he'd done to alienate the other street people, but didn't ask for fear of offending him. Ian was just contemplating how to continue the conversation, at least until the pancakes arrived, when Archie did it for him. "Why did you leave Inverness?"
"How'd ye know I was from Inverness?" Ian asked in surprise.
"Your accent," Archie said patiently. "You left though."
And they were straight on to the topic of Ian's past, which he didn't particularly want to talk about.
"I left after my wife died," he said, his voice quiet.
"But that's not the only reason," Archie said. It wasn't a question, it was a statement.
"No, it wasn't the only reason," Ian agreed with him, vaguely.
Mercifully, Archie left it at that and they began talking about the Olympics which had just past. While the games were on Ian had often wandered on down to the local pub and had a beer while he watched sports. His favourite to watch had been tied between the shooting, Taekwondo and equestrian sports, although of course the equestrian had not been a favourite amongst the other people in the pub. Archie hadn't seen any of the Olympics, he'd been on the streets, but he said that his preferred sports to watch were fencing, archery and gymnastics.
Their pancakes came, along with a small jug of maple syrup, crispy fried bacon and fried banana. Both men tucked into their food and fell silent. Ian ate all of his with the exception of the bacon, which he slipped surreptitiously under the table to Roy – even though Roy was his own dog and he could feed him what he liked. Archie caught him at it and Ian felt somewhat sheepish.
"I shouldn't feed him scraps from the table," he said by way of explanation. "It'll teach him bad manners and it's bad for his health." He glanced around the café to make certain no one else was watching their table, but they weren't, before slipping another piece of bacon to the dog.
Curiously, Archie didn't finish his meal. He ate with enthusiasm for a minute or so, and then slowed down until he was pushing the remainder of his breakfast, which was most of it, around on the plate. Ian was somewhat puzzled by this, because most homeless people would eat until the food was gone. "Aren't you hungry?" he asked.
"Not any longer," Archie replied. "Thank you for paying for the meal. I apologise for not eating it all."
"Not at all," Ian said. He glanced at his watch. Twelve minutes past nine. "Right. I guess I'd better be getting on my way then. I'll just finish my tea."
"All right," Archie said. He stirred a spoonful of sugar into his own cup before sipping it.
They walked back to the flat building together, Ian and Roy beneath Ian's umbrella and Archie ambling along off to the side, the rain soaking his hair. When they reached the alleyway between the corner store and Ian's flat building they stopped. Archie sat back down on the plastic fruit crate and was going about picking up his sodden piece of cardboard when Ian suddenly thrust his umbrella at him.
"Here," Ian said. "Use this."
Archie looked confused. "You're giving your umbrella to me?"
"Well, I was going to let you just borrow it and you could return it to me when the weather cleared up," Ian said. "But I've got bad memories with that umbrella. It's the same one I took to my wife's funeral. You can have it, if you like."
Archie considered him seriously for a long moment, his dark eyes searching. Then he took the umbrella. "I'll return it to you when the weather clears," he said decisively.
Ian pulled up his hood and limped as quickly as he could toward the door to the flat building.