New 44 Scotland Street Chapter 41: Behold Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson, property surveyor; alumnus of Morrison’s Academy, Crieff; aficionado of a particular brand of clove-scented hair gel (no longer widely available); owner of a well-appointed flat in Abercromby Place (south-facing); breaker of hearts; narcissist … There were so many ways of describing Bruce, just as there are so many ways of describing virtually any of us, although in Bruce’s case, each description concealed a hinterland of complications.

Monday, 5th October 2020, 7:30 am
44 Scotland Street
44 Scotland Street

Yet at the end of the day, a pithy description might be as apposite as any: very good-looking – and knows it. Now here was Bruce coming into the café of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery where his eye fell on Stuart, whom he knew, of course, from the Cumberland Bar. And then he saw who Stuart was with – noting, with interest, that it was not Irene, that unspeakable woman, as Bruce described her – but some rather attractive – no, very attractive – young woman who could hardly have anything to do with Stuart, of all people, who was such a thoroughly hauden doun husband.

The Scots expression, Bruce thought, said it perfectly, as Scots expressions so often did: hauden doun caught the nature of oppression under which Stuart had for many years laboured: held down, in English, which somehow made the subjugation seem less vivid and hopeless – and Stuart’s life under Irene had been just that, thought Bruce. I would never have put up with that woman, he said to himself, although she would never have tried it with me. Women didn’t, of course, he went on to think, because I have them in my thrall. They don’t try that sort of thing with me because I can make them go weak at the knees just like that – and here Bruce imagined himself clicking his fingers – that’s all – and Irene, or any other woman for that matter, going weak at the knees and gazing at him with that look that he so effortlessly evinced in women – that indefinable but unmistakable look that said, ‘I’m yours.’ Hah! thought Bruce, and then Hah! again: biology, phenomes, whatever – the trump card. Of course, it was all the more pronounced if he wore his kilt, he reminded himself; that sent them wild. Funny that, but it just did.

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Now Bruce ignored the very strong convention – one that is written down nowhere, but that most people intuitively understand and observe: that if you go into a café or bar, or even more so, any restaurant, and you see somebody you know already seated, you do not go up to them and simply seat yourself at their table without first asking. What you do is that you approach and then say, “Do you mind if I join you?” It is as simple as that. Or you might say, if the person already seated is alone, “Are you waiting for somebody?” And then if – and only if – the person whom you know says, “Please do”, or words to that effect, do you sit down.

Of course, if the person who you know is already with somebody, you are hesitant about approaching in the first place. People go to such places to talk, and may not want to involve others in their conversation. If you feel that, then you say, “Don’t let me interrupt”, and you then read the response. “No, you’re not interrupting – please join us” is usually enough to make it clear that you are welcome to join, whereas a silence, even slight, will send the opposite message. Bruce ignored all this, and drew up one of the two spare seats at the table and sat down.

“Crowded,” he said. “This place is popular, isn’t it?”

Stuart bit his lip.

“So,” Bruce continued, “are you going to introduce us, Stuart?”

Stuart looked down at the table. He did not like Bruce; he never had. How was it possible, he had wondered, to be so pleased with yourself? What did it feel like to think there was no room for any possible improvement?

“This is Katie,” he said. And then, “Katie, this is Bruce Anderson. He …” He stopped. What could be say about Bruce? “He lives in Abercromby Place.” It was lame, but it was true, and better than uttering the word that had come to mind: Lothario.

Katie looked at Bruce. She smiled at him. “But I think we’ve met before, haven’t we?”

Bruce shrugged. “Yes, maybe …”

Katie remembered. “You weren’t at Morrison’s, were you? Crieff?”

Bruce’s face broke into a smile. “Morrison’s? As a matter of fact, I was. And you?”

She did not let him finish. Now she remembered. “You were two years ahead of me. You were the Bruce Anderson who used to live on the road that goes round to the Hydro. In that house near the golf course.”

“Yup,” said Bruce. “That’s me.” He paused. “Grown up now – as you may have noticed.” He laughed. “And you know what? I think I remember you too. Yes, I think I do.”

“And you were friendly with that guy who became a helicopter pilot, weren’t you?”

Bruce’s smile broadened. “Bobby Macleod? Yes, I was. We were great mates.” He turned to Stuart. “Did you ever meet Bobby Macleod, Stuart? He played rugby. Winger. Boy, he could run.”

Stuart shook his head. This conversation was beginning to irritate him. It was not Bobby Macleod’s fault, of course, he may well have been a distinguished rugby player and a good helicopter pilot too, for that matter, but Stuart did not want to go into any of that. He wanted to continue talking to Katie about poetry and art; they had only just started their conversation and then Bruce had turned up, and …

“I knew Bobby’s sister,” said Katie. “Jean – remember her?”

“Yes,” said Bruce. Jean had been in love with him, of course, but they all had been. She was a few years younger than him and had been beneath his notice, but there had been little doubt about it. When you were Bruce, you recognised the look. It was unmistakable.

Bruce looked at his watch. “You know, I was going to have coffee here, but look at the time. How about lunch? Have you got any plans?”

Katie did not hesitate. “No,” she said.

Stuart had been staring glumly at the portrait on the wall above their table, at Ian Rankin, who was staring back at him. They did have a plan – they were going to walk along Queen Street to have lunch at The Chaumer. He looked back sharply. “Actually …”

He did not complete the sentence, as Bruce now said, “Good, well let’s go to that place in the corner of Dublin Street, the Magnum. Know it? They do lunch.”

And Katie had said, “That’s a great idea.” And then turned to Stuart and said, “Stuart? Is that all right by you?”

Stuart took a moment to reply. Then he said, “I’ve forgotten. I have to be back to look after the kids. You go.”

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