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The streets are quiet as I pound my way along the pavement, feeling energy fizz and settle as I start to get into a rhythm. I hear a stramash in the distance and the inevitable sirens wailing their way towards it. The neighbours are hosting cocktails in their garden. Clinky glasses and classical music piped through expensive speakers waft over me as I pass the big house on the corner.
I didn’t plan to, and yet it’s inevitable that I wind my way towards the river and the shipyards. I run down a steep hill and over the railway bridge, under the motorway then zigzag through a maze of warehouses. There’s a crowd of teenagers having a carry on outside a centuries old pub, and a wee drunk couple in cowboy gear line dancing their way to the bus stop from that mad country music bar.
What Nathan said about us having a mission keeps rattling round in my head. It can’t be saving Morag, but what if he is right that it’s something? What if we somehow manage to solve her murder and get zapped back, me to make it in time for her funeral and him to 1946 to swoop Agnes into his arms and…
What will happen to me if he does?
Isn’t that the whole thing with time travel? How if you change one thing there’s a butterfly effect and the next thing you know there’s an orange-haired lunatic in the White House and the world is gripped by a pandemic because somebody ate a bat. Thinking about the last few years, Nathan going back to his own time could only improve things, globally speaking.
But closer to home, would Agnes have taken over her father’s business dealings if she hadn’t thought Nathan abandoned her to life as a single mum? Her father died in the autumn of 1945, of a heart attack, ironically enough for one of the city’s leading hard men. She must have been pregnant then. She could have chosen to let operations die a death alongside their original godfather, allowed henchmen to to scatter into other gangs or lives of disorganised crime. She could have consigned the MacIvar Boys to the history of the no mean city along with the Penny Mobs, the Billy Boys and the Norman Conks. But in those days, girls in trouble were either marched into marriage or sent away to convents to have babies under clouds of shame and fear.
Agnes was never going to put up with that. I can picture her, evil and defiant but also young and frightened, determined that nobody was going to tell her how to live her life. She took over her dad’s position and made it so nobody could control her.
A strange and uncomfortable feeling slithers through me and I realise with horror that I’m feeling a sliver of sympathy for the woman whose shadow has dominated my life. It can’t have been easy for her, left with a broken heart and a baby when Nathan disappeared. I’ve been ghosted many a time, but at least my tragic love life was launched long after contraception became fairly dependable. Not that I’m letting her off the hook, mind. Plenty single mums manage to get through life without kneecapping a soul. But somehow, the appearance of Nathan has put Agnes into a new and unfamiliar context in which she seems almost human.
I slow to a walk as I hit Govan Road, nerves churning in my stomach. The moon is bright and full and glistens on the black water of the river that cuts through the heart of the city. The Clyde is wide and deep the currents lethally strong, a fact Agnes has used to her advantage many a time. To the west it widens into the Irish Sea and the Atlantic beyond, and in the east it gradually dwindles to a trickle in the Clyde Valley. In primary school, we learned that before they built the first bridge over the water, folk would travel back and forth on wee boats. Horses were too heavy for the wee boats, so to cross with a horse you’d need to ride all the way to Lanark or somewhere to where the river becomes narrow enough for the horse to wade through.
‘The Southside’s no’ worth that, Miss,’ one of the boys shouted and we all laughed.
Nathan is a mechanic, I think suddenly.
If my mum had had a mechanic for a Granda, would she have gone out on treacherous Highland roads in a clapped out heap of junk that resulted in me being orphaned at eight? The thought slams into me with palpable force. My knees go wobbly and I hold onto the railing for support.
What if Nathan is right about the mission? What if there is some job we both have to do? A mission that will send him back to fix everything and my parents won’t be dead any more?
For years after I moved in with Agnes and Morag, the only way I could get to sleep was to imagine an alternate version of my life in which my mummy and daddy were still around. I had a whole long running soap opera going in my head, in which the three of us had adventures, and each night when Morag tucked me in and turned out the light, I would pull up the latest episode in my mind and lose myself in it until it was morning and reality was back.
I’d picture Christmases and Hogmanys filled with sing songs and party pieces and endless trays of sausage rolls. A big, messy, noisy family falling out and right back in again as fights disintegrated into shrieking laughter. Guitars materialising as if by magic, uncles playing the intro to Puff the Magic Dragon. Everyone groaning they can’t stand it one more time then joining in for the chorus anyway.
A cold, hard feeling settles over me and I shake it away impatiently. It doesn’t matter what it would be like. Life is what it is. Whatever is happening, whatever Nathan and I have to do, I know in my bones that it won’t change anything. I am who I am.
There’s a wee nip in the air tonight, which is a relief after days of oppressive heat. A breeze ruffles my hair and I shiver. It’s been that dusky, glowing dark of summer for hours, but suddenly a deeper darkness falls. The Riverside Museum, the Partick railway line, the SECC arena fade into the gloom that settles across the river.
I’m supposed to be here right now. I look up, and the black sky is a mass of twinkling stars, brighter than I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s as though the sky itself is alive, celestial winds and galaxies swooping and swirling, promising infinity.
Promising magic.
I hear something, faintly, and I close my eyes, waiting for the drills and hammers and welders’ torches. But it’s voices. A deep, rhythmic chanting that rumbles back and forth as though riding a wave. Vibrating a warning through my bones.
I open my eyes and the Clyde is packed with ships.
Hundreds and hundreds of them stretching back until the river bends out of sight to the west. Wooden ships. Some with a single sail, some without. All with proud, high bows carved and painted with intricate dragons and serpents. Each boat is filled with people. Dark cloaks over leather tunics. Scars and crudely drawn tattoos.
There is a man standing at the head of the largest ship. It’s a little in front of the others, and I can see its gilded sides shimmering in the soft moonlight. His cloak flaps behind him in the wind, and his dark hair tumbles to his shoulders.
I kicked him in the balls.
My breath catches in my throat as recognition slams me like a train. It’s him, the guy with the axe. The head of the Wednesday Morning Murder Club. He’s leading an army to invade Govan and I felt his nose shatter beneath my forehead.
You can’t help, pet. I hear Gran’s voice echo through my mind. Promise me you’ll never try to help them. Close your eyes and think kaboom.
I reach for the fence, clamber through the hole and step onto the weed-covered cobblestones of the old shipyards. The shadows are deep but the moon is bright. After a few moments my eyes adjust and I see him.

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