Meet Tommy Bruce – he’s washed-up already, marooned in a ramshackle hotel he inherited from his parents in the wilds of North Perthshire. His life is far too off the main tourist trail to be viable - he’s too young to be middle-aged, but too old to be what you could call young. Saddled with debt, grotty premises that are falling down around him, and a crippling loneliness, Tommy’s slowly but determinedly drinking himself and his business out of existence.
Until one evening into the lounge-bar and out of the blue walks Fiona McLean. And before long she’s moved behind the bar, into the hotel, and into Tommy’s bed. Fiona blows into Tommy’s life and through the hotel, and with the light she brings, Tommy’s fortunes might just be turning around; but in her wake has also slipped in darkness – names and faces from the past who mean Tommy no goodwill at all, criminal forces that threaten to ruin him, the hotel, and what little happiness he’s managed, haplessly, to cobble together.
TOMMY THE BRUCE is precise, chilling and all too believable – scored throughout with a genuinely unsettling menace, which is belied by the ease of James Yorkston’s storytelling. It’s a shot of southern Gothic poured out in the Southern Highlands of Scotland. And in Tommy himself we’ve an antihero as unlike his historical namesake as could be imagined – shoulderless, very nearly spineless, and not at all the man to save himself, Fiona and their future. Until you push him too far…
Simon’s down beforehand, meeting me in the kitchen, a few slices of bread into the toaster. He seems nervous, pacing, drumming his fingers. He ejects the bread long before it has toasted, scoops on snails of the hotel butter and eats it, long before the butter has melted. I’m not openly watching, some basic cleaning, refreshing the crisps and such, jobs that require little thought, but with him there, jiggering up and down, there’s plenty to think about.
Mind. Leave us alone. End of.
He winks at me whilst simultaneously making a gun-shot motion – I’m not sure if it’s meant to be friendly or threatening, but certainly if anyone else had done it, I’d’ve thought they were a game show host.
Sure. Just keep it down. Discreet.
A finger in the dam.
I have no idea what they’ll be up to. Maybe he’s just using it as a gang hut? A nervous chuckle at the thought. Maybe it’ll be scuddy mags and cheap cider. Or a book group? Scalextrix? I doubt it, I doubt it…
I make my way through to the room in question and clear the tables, well, wipe any crumbs onto the floor, straighten the chairs. I wonder if he’ll want the fire lit?
I can’t help but peek, when his associates arrive. Some of them I recognise, scruffy wee shites from the area, usual post-school uniform of that cacky-brown tartan and shell-suits. This lot practically fall over themselves to get in, pushing, mounting almost, like bullocks in a pen. And they’re rowdy, once sat, the murmur and squeals coming from the room very audible in the bar itself, as though they’re drunk, at a wedding, a celebration.
Simon though, he’s not even in the room, barely. I spy him popping out, popping back in. There’s one guy with him, a lang guy, wee bit older than me perhaps, completely dressed in denim, jeans, shirt and jacket, which is practically the outfit of an old-man compared to the nylon adorning the cheuks in the snug.
In the main bar, I clatter glasses, gather beer mats, vacuum the carpet, wipe the windows, empty the ash of the fire, lay a new one, polish the pictures, straighten the tables – Jings, my nosiness is giving the bar a face lift, the first proper clean in God knows when. It’s rewarded though, as mebbe half an hour later, a car pulls up, a wee hatchback, not new I’d guess, darkened windows, lowered wheels... A schemey looking guy jumps out of the driver’s seat. I can’t make out who climbs out the other side, but one thing for sure, it’s no’ Auld Jock.
Simon darts out of the snug and looks at me, warning me away, then hops out into the carpark, his denim clad accomplice with him. The snug instantly quietens. Football terrace to library. Filling the silence, the crackle of the infant fire, far, far too loud for me now, as my ears strain to hear what’s going on. Within a minute though, there’s clumping, dragging, doors opening, closing, muttering. I stand to see and – Well, all of the youngsters, the local posse – they’ve been dismissed, herded out into the car park. I watch for a moment as they light cigarettes, puff themselves up, try to work out why they have been dismissed, but before too long at all, certainly less than half of one of those cigarettes, Simon storms out and yells at them – Go on! Fuck off. I’ll be in touch – not even awaiting their replies, almost running back to the snug, shaking his head.
The boys, the kids, the juniors, they silence, stay their ground for a breath, then slowly turn and walk away, visibly cursing, spitting, gesticulating.
And then, quiet. I polish the bar, over and over.
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