The Cummings family, now the McDuncans of Castle Duncan, are American expatriates from Tonawanda, New York. Americans tend to be less superstitious than the local highlanders of Strath Glenn, Scotland. But living in a castle that’s older than the United States of America tends to lend credence to the mystic tales of yon. The walls creak, the roof rafters groan and the wind howls through the hollow halls. Owls hoot and almost every morning there’s a sea mist shrouding the hillside. The fog flows over the cliffs like Celtic porridge and evaporates before the sun, if there is any.
The trouble began with Ian McDonald and Robert McLaren - two lowlife criminals who thought they had found the perfect crime. A perfect crime is one thing, but executing it is something else. The devils of Murphy’s Law always conspire to undermine those who fail to put in sufficient thought and human safeguards. After a total failure in the realms of criminality, Robert and Ian sat handcuffed to the police Land Rover near the eastern gate of Castle Duncan and in the pouring rain. The two green dragons glared down at them, with their wings spread and sparkling in the glittering lightning flashes.
Robert had been pushed beyond his mental breaking point. Determination had been exiled by insanity. Broken and beyond recall, he sat in the rain scorched and mud soaked, his mind wandering in the nether regions, where dragons and demons abound. Ian too, had been shaken to the very roots of his existence. Never a great scholar, Ian managed to absorb all that life threw at him. As he sat pondering the reality of life, what he took to be a spirit spoke to him and gave advice as how best to handle his situation.
After the doctor had seen them both, and treated their burns and other injuries, Sergeant McBain of the Inverness Constabulary took them to Inverness, where they were incarcerated in the local jail. In less than a couple of days, Robert was whisked away to Glasgow’s insane asylum. Ian, on the other hand, had to stand trial for assault, break and enter, and home invasion; though no one was charged with diamond theft. Of course all that was a year ago. Now, Ian languishes in his cell, where he awaits his imminent release.
The jail is modern and known locally as the Blue Lamp Hotel. There are two comfortable beds in each … should we say, apartment. Ian’s incarceration partner, Malcolm Macbeth, is short, dark, balding and due for release this coming weekend, a week before Ian.
‘So what’ll ye dee when ye get oot?’ asked Ian in his Scottish fashion.
Malcolm screwed up his ugly face, as this always helped him think.
‘I’ll have tae find work.’
Ian laughed. The thought of work always amused him. Only idiots and civil servants worked; at least that’s what he believed.
‘I widnae have to work,’ he mused dreamily, ‘if it wasnae fer dragons.’
Malcolm swung his legs over the bed and placed them on the floor.
‘Dragons? What de ye mean, dragons?’
‘Ahhh!’ Ian breathed a long and piteous sigh. ‘Dragons are the bane of my existence.’
‘Ye poor fool. There isnae such a beastie.’
‘Oh yeah, and what do you know aboot it?’
Malcolm shook his head. ‘Dragons were exterminated shortly after the birth of Christ. Have ye never heard of St George?’
‘Aye, an’ he was a Sassenach, too. Have ye ever been tae Castle Duncan or Strath Glenn?’
Malcolm shook his head in the negative.
‘Well I have.’ He stopped to think a moment. The thought of Castle Duncan brought goosebumps to his forearms. His last visit had given him terrible nightmares for months. ‘I was a millionaire for a wee while,’ he said with a wistful smile. ‘Noo, the laird of McDuncan owns it all. And would you believe, he’s an American.’
Malcolm chuckled. He knew Ian was a simple soul, but this was the first indication the man was barking mad.
‘Americans cannae be lairds, ye fool.’
‘Well this one is. I suppose it widnae do any harm tellin’ ye the whole story.’
‘Whole story? What whole story?’
Malcolm lay back on his bunk again. His thoughts drifted into the realms of freedom and the lack of enforced discipline.
‘Well,’ Ian said wistfully. ‘It was millions of poonds in diamonds.’
‘Aye,’ Malcolm agreed, not really hearing what was said.
‘It was Robert’s idea, it was. He said we could mak a killin’. Did ye ken that the VanDugan smuggles diamonds on every run she maks?’
The words settled in Malcolm’s ears like the buzzing of angry bees.
‘Did ye say the VanDugan?’ he said, sitting up again.
‘Aye, the VanDugan it was. An’ a stinking night tae boot. I borrowed a car and Robert, he’s a peterman, boarded the ship and took the diamonds.’
Malcolm, never one to miss the opportunity to cash in on anyone else’s fortune, listened eagerly.
‘Gan alang, then. So what happened tae the ice?’
‘Ah!’ Ian nestled back with money signs glistening in his eyes. ‘Millions in beautiful cut diamonds, straight from Amsterdam, ye ken.’ He shook his head sadly. ‘Noo, the bloody laird’s got the lot and he’s an American. They should stay in their own land and leave our diamonds alone.’
‘So where are the diamonds?’
‘Ha, no one actually knows. The stinking dragon took them.’
Malcolm sighed. ‘You ignorant twit; there isnae such a thing as a dragon. What really happened to the ice?’
Ian sat up and faced his companion. ‘Well, Robert took the bag of diamonds and hid them at Castle Duncan while I tried tae shake off the polis. So I got stuck in the mud up on Ben Strath. Dumping the car, I legged it tae Inverness.’
‘What aboot the diamonds?’
‘Ha! Well ye may ask.’
‘I just did.’
‘Robert said he’d hidden them in the heid of a moose.’
Malcolm looked at his companion with quizzical eyes and disbelief in his heart.
‘Ye nitwit; a moose is a animal that lives way up north in Canada. There isnae any mooses in Scotland.’
Ian smiled. ‘This one was dead. Just the heid, you see - and they do have meece in Scotland. Robert put the money and the diamonds in the moose heid.’
‘So what’s the problem?’
‘The heid disappeared. The Gillie swore it was confiscated by an angry dragon.’
‘Ah!’ Malcolm said, beginning to see the light. ‘This is where the dragon comes in?’
‘No. Not until later. We tied the kids up and threatened them if they dinnae cooperate, we’d do ’em in.’
Malcolm frowned. ‘If ye harmed children, ye’ll answer tae me.’
‘No, no, we dinnae harm them; just frightened them a wee bit. Somehow, the boy got loose and the next thing I ken, there’s this huge and royally peed off dragon breathing fire and bellowing. I’ve never been so scared in my life. It breathed all over me. Man, I was singed from heid tae foot. Then with a clap of thunder, it threw me over the parapet.’
For a moment, Malcolm stared blankly at Ian, lost for words, and then he said slowly, ‘So what had ye been drinking?’
‘Nothin’. I was stone-cold sober.’
‘Then how is it ye’re nae among the angels?’
‘I landed in the Duncan Bog and it was raining. When I pulled myself together, I ran as fast as I could away from that evil place. But with a terrible clap of thunder, two more dragons suddenly confronted me. Their wings were spread and I could see they were going tae eat me.’
‘Gees, you were either drunk or ye had been smoking something. Ye half-baked fool; there isnae such a thing as a dragon, let alone three of them. Use ye heid, laddie, How come ye’re still alive?’
‘That’s easy. Daisy’s dragon lets ye go once she knows you’re defeated. Sergeant McBain grabbed me and shackled me tae his Rover. He must have saved me and that’s when the spirit came and advised me.’
‘And they sent the other one of yous to the nuthouse? I think it was a miscarriage of justice. You’re the one who’s barking mad.’
Malcolm lay back and mused at the silly story related by Ian. It’s very hard to know when someone’s pulling your leg. The more he thought about it, the more he began to realize there could be a vestige or two of truth in the story. The bit about the VanDugan could well be true, as he knew someone who used to serve on that ship and they surely do visit Amsterdam a lot. With a twinkle in his eyes he began to hatch a plan, one that could yield him a decent reward. If Ian and his loony friend Robert actually did steal diamonds, then it’s more than likely someone will offer a reward for their return. There may even be a reward just for reporting where they are hidden.
The days dragged on, but at long and final last, Saturday arrived. Why they picked Saturday to release him, Malcolm had no idea. But any day is a good day to get out of jail. The only problem was that he had to report to his probation officer in Glasgow and repeat the meeting every week.
A quick phone call to his friend Bugsy McSearl cinched it. A year ago the VanDugan had been robbed, but no one seemed to know what exactly had been taken.
‘Why d’ye wanna know?’ Bugsy asked.
‘I learned something in the big house,’ Malcolm said. ‘Who would like the stuff back?’
‘Hanged if I know. Why don’t you try Benny O’Shea; he’s always in on the thick of things?’
‘Right on. Thanks, Bugsy. If there’s a penny in it, I’ll see ye right.’