Cherry or Sheryl or so Valance left the motorway and dropped me off at the Maybury bus stop on Glasgow Road, where I took the 26 line to North Bridge. The plan was to ring up my contact, but he beat me to it.
When I got off the bus, I was astonished how crowded Edinburgh was, crowded and grey and wet and oppressive, with its massive Edwardian houses, as it presented itself to me under the cloud shuttered sky. For a while I stood on that bridge spanning the train station and marvelled at it all: The Scotsman Hotel at one end, and Princes Street at the other, Carlton Hill with its old burial ground yonder, and, when I turned around, beyond the grooved roof of Waverley Station, the park, and looming above on its high, rocky perch, the Castle. Of all cities I’ve been to, I think only Budapest is as immediately awesome.
Finally I decided to walk over to the Princes Street side, around the Balmoral, and then down to the train station. Train stations are fine places to make unobserved phone calls. Way too many CCTV cams, of course, but that’s the point: Who is going to sift that sea of images for something as innocuous as a simple telephone call? Especially given my complex and faintly ridiculous security instructions.
You see, Bryan had made me memorise – but not write down! – a mobile phone number. I was to call it, let it ring twice, hang up, wait 5 minutes, and call again. Someone was supposed to answer then, saying: “Oz here,” to which I was to answer: “It’s Bob.” And then I was to get instructions where to hand over the package.
On my way to the station, on the concrete terraces above the station, leaning against the low walls enclosing the horribly out of place shrubbery, was a bloke of maybe 25, wearing neat blue jeans, tasselled loafers, and a plain navy windbreaker – over an obviously brand new Ozzy Osbourne T-shirt.
He sucked on a fag and then grinned at me insolently.
I halted, hesitated, and asked lamely: “Oz?”
He scrunched up his handsome face, blew out smoke, and said: “Please… call me Charley.” He put the fag back into his mouth and offered me his hand: “Charley Tully.”
“You got it?”
I hesitated again. Charley sighed, got out his mobile and speed-dialled someone.
“It’s me,” he said into the phone. “He’s here. Will you please tell him to cut the secret agent crap?” He handed it to me. It was Bryan, who told me it was okay and thanks for everything. Charley took back his phone and held out his hand.
“Here?” I asked.
Charley made a big show of looking around. Exaggeratedly he pointed at a rozzer standing on the other side of Princess Street, opened his eyes wide, and put his hand over his mouth.
He stage-whispered: “Oh no, what if he sees us?”
I sighed, got the packet out of my satchel – pained and laborious, trying to avoid opening the wound on my arm again – and handed it to him. He didn’t even bother to stow it away or anything, just held it relaxed in his hand.
“Where are you stayin?”
“No idea yet.”
At that he raised an eyebrow.
“Mate, it’s the festival, you know?”
And when my face didn’t register understanding, he explained: “The Edinburgh Festival. All of August. It’s the bloody biggest festival of performing arts in the world. There’s about half a million visitors in town, as many as live here normally.”
Charley turned around and walked away from me. When I didn’t move, he turned around.
“Well, come along.”
“Where are we going?”
“Get you a place to stay. You don’t expect you’ll find a hostel or hotel room at the moment, do you?”
I said: “I suppose not,” and followed him.
“So, what do I call you?”
He gave me a long look.
At that he laughed and we became friends.