‘They know him,’ Nathan announces breathlessly as he joins us. We start to make our way up the hill and I rack my brains as to where we can try next where we might get some useful information but Frej won’t be a red rag to a bam.
‘Know him?’ I repeat. ‘Like, know who he is?’
‘No, but they’ve met him. They met him in church. I never heard of courting in church, but —’
‘Hold on, what church?’
‘Saint Luke’s, they said.’
‘St Lukes and the Winged Ox? That’s a pub. I think it was a church once upon a time.’
Nathan blinks. ‘They turned a house of worship into a drinking establishment?’
‘Originally churches were community meeting centres,’ I shrug. ‘There used to be a market in St Paul’s in London with pigs and chickens and all sorts. I think people gathering socially inside a church is more true to its original intention than it sitting empty gathering dust.’
Nathan frowns, unconvinced. ‘Well anyway, the tall one with the long hair met him about a month ago. She said she knew he was a creep but she had just — something about a ghost and tinder? Maybe her sweetheart died in a fire?’
‘She’d been ghosted by somebody off Tindr?’ I translate into 21st century.
‘So she was feeling vulnerable. He told her he never talked to strange women but he would never forgive himself if he didn’t introduce himself to the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She was going to let him walk her home but her friends thought she had drunk too much, so they intervened.’
‘And saved her life,’ I say. ‘Did he tell her anything that could help identify him? His job or whereabouts he lived or anything?’
Nathan shakes his head. ‘She said he was very prim and proper. They called him Prince Charming, like in the Cinderella story. But we already knew that.’
‘Still though, it’s not a bad start.’
By 3am we’ve made good headway through the social establishments of the city centre. Nathan has met three more groups of women with stories of the lanky ginger, and I overheard a conversation about him in the loo at Firewater.
Maddeningly, we haven’t discovered any new information about him other than the sobering fact that he’s been busy. Something bitter curdles in my tummy as I realise it’s likely that the murders the police know about about are the tip of the iceberg. His hit rate can’t be that low. Some of his victims may have escaped with their lives, but his trail of destruction runs deep. That’s something I can tell Harry, I think grimly.
‘That’s the whole ‘hing about him,’ a lassie with huge eyes that made her look a bit like a doe slurred at me on the spiral staircase at Broadcast a few minutes ago. ‘He never talks about hisssel’. He just asks you loads an’ loads of questions like you’re dead important or, like, famous or something?
‘I was pure ragin’ at my pals no’ letting me go wi’ him. See the way he looks right in your eyes, an’ he touched my arm like this —‘ she demonstrated, trailing her fingers lightly down my forearm. I had to admit it was a good move. ‘He’d be wan o’ they guys that’s pure good at it, you know when they’ve goat a whole routine and they don’t forget you’re there half way through? It’s a pure shame if he’s a bad yin.’
I bluetoothed her a link to a really good vibrator, made her promise to always check with her pals before going home with anybody and headed up the stairs. It’s been a while since I’ve been out this late, I think as I thread my way through the crowd at the door, ducking under armpits and firmly removing the paw of some guy who decided I was in his way.
Nathan and Frej are waiting for me on Sauchiehall Street. Frej, I’m amused to learn, is an adorkably giggly drunk. He’s given several women and a handful of men piggy back rides at various points in the night. It may, I realise now, have been irresponsible to give him his first taste of cane sugar in the form of Smirnoff Ices.
‘Where to next, boss?’ asks Nathan.
I shake my head. ‘There’s nowhere that will be letting folk in at this time, we need to call it a night.’
‘But we didn’t find him.’
‘We found out some stuff worth passing on to Harry,’ I say. Nathan nods, trying and failing to cover his dejection. ‘We were never going to catch him in one night.’
But the thought that the lanky ginger could be right now whispering in the ear of some unsuspecting lassie gnaws at me.
We swerve past a guy flinging a woman around by the waist like you would a toddler. I’m just about to send Frej to frighten the life out of him when I realise she’s laughing her head off. A bald guy with chunky gold earrings and no teeth proclaims Frej a total smasher and instructs him to have a good one, then carries on his way. The crowd spilling out a chip shop are caterwauling something that vaguely resembles moany nineties rock.
I buy us all chips, and Frej seems to accept the existence of both potatoes and grease with aplomb as we sit on a bench near the Buchanan Street end and wire in. I’m far from pished, but I’ve had a couple and the horrors of a pre hangover are starting to creep over me. Exhaustion seeps into my bones and I wonder about the chances of Frej carrying me on his shoulders back to Pollokshields.
I yawn and find myself leaning against Frej’s shoulder. A crowd of women are wolf whistling Frej and yelling at him to show them his pecs. He’s giving them a thumbs up and Nathan is trying to instruct him on how to be cool, but icy shivers are scuttling over me because I see them.
Frej’s gang. Frej’s warband. The dark haired psycho and his merry band of men in cloaks are marching up Sauchiehall Street, or at least the forest of willow trees that once stood here. We’re nowhere near Govan and my history isn’t quite good enough to guess at what they’d be doing this far from the river, but there’s no mistaking them. They stride towards us, presumably after an unfortunate Celtic monk or a, woolly mammoth or something.
Just as I notice that I’m not feeling any vibration, I feel Frej stiffen beside me and he’s on his feet and I’m not seeing Shadows. The Vikings are here. They are now. And so is the axe that glints in the streetlights.