Sergeant McTavish hurried along the pathway, passing the local shops lining the centre of his small Scottish village. Responding to reports of a public disturbance, he had been dispatched to investigate and to quickly quell the melee. However, upon turning into the open lot of Rico Colombo’s Second Hand-tiques Recycle Centre, he found himself confronted by the almighty cacophony of a dispute between two women arguing over the validity of a sale.
“IT’S MINE AND YOU CAN’T HAVE IT,” shouted the smaller and younger looking of the two women. “I left a deposit with Mr. Colombo.”
The other vocal combatant in this clash, a portly middle-aged woman, wearing what looked like a foxtail neck warmer draped around her shoulders, was curiously clutching a toilet seat, cradled in her arms - like she was expecting it to be yanked from her grasp at any second.
“Well, I paid him in full. It’s Mine,” she argued in an English accent.
“He stuck a reserved-for-me sign on it, ya daft hen,” the younger woman countered.
“I didn’t see a sold sign.”
“That’s because you removed it!”
An out of breath Sergeant McTavish hesitated in breaking up the disagreement. Stopping two men from arguing and fighting was far easier to him than stepping in-between two feuding women. Removing his policeman’s cap, he scratched his head in bewilderment with it, then turned to the man standing to his left, who was holding open the rear passenger door to an old classic Bentley.
“Och, I’ll probably regret this,” he mentioned to the chauffeur. “Last time I interfered with two women arguing, I spent weeks in therapy… It turns oot that I have mother issues… so I have been told.”
Thomas, the chauffeur to Mrs. Emily Wilson, stared impassively into blank space, seemingly unmoved by his employer’s ongoing fracas.
“Madame always gets her way.”
“Aye,” agreed Sergeant McTavish. “We go ways back to the days of her late husband’s dodgy financial and extracurricular activities. I know all aboot how persistent she is, and how she despised the man that left her nothing but broke.”
“Yes,” stirred Thomas’s recollection. “A most distasteful creature well versed in debauchery and buying today what can’t be paid for tomorrow… Not at all missed.”
“Twas strange circumstances that led to his untimely death, was it not?”
“A dubious end indeed,” added the chauffeur. “However, the man lacked any form of moral fibre in his bones.”
“The board of health have still yet to re-license the fishmongers,” McTavish continued. “All their knives, hooks, and ice-making machines must be replaced before that happens. Imagine poor Mr. Dougall opening up a dead shark left on his shop floor and finding one of his customers inside.”
“But how did the shark end up in the fishmonger’s shop? That’s what no-one can explain.”
“Perhaps, a frightened illegal fisherman with a conscience put him there.”
“Or maybe there are darker forces at play.”
McTavish’s imagination began to run wild with possibilities, but his mind was quickly distracted by the indifference of the driver’s opinions. Studying the chauffeur’s crisp uniform and his upright stature, McTavish couldn’t help but admire his devotion to Mrs. Wilson - as he waited patiently, like a soldier on sentry duty hoping that relief would arrive soon.
“You seem very loyal to an employer unable to fulfil your wage requirements…”
“Is this a formal interview, Sergeant?”
“Och, no… You have free room and board. That’s payment in its own right, I suppose… No, I’m just stalling a wee bit before wading into these two…”
“Please, don’t let me or your overimaginative musings keep you from your official duties…”
The abstract thinking-out-loud suddenly lost its momentum when McTavish took note of Mrs. Wilson leaping into action.
“Still,” McTavish chirped. “Mrs. Wilson seems to have recovered her vim; I see.”
Referring to the sight of Emily Wilson seating herself on one of the most ornately decorated commodes seen outside of the Ming Dynasty maker’s homeland, McTavish took advantage of a stubborn lull in the women’s ongoing argument to approach the cessation in hostilities.
“Ladies,” he began in the most dismissive form of language. “What is all this commotion aboot? I cannae have you stirring up a disturbance of the peace…”
Emily Wilson – seated on the rim of the commode, looked up at McTavish with the sweetest of looks warm and welcoming enough to melt the coldest of winter chills.
“Good-day, Sergeant McTavish,” she greeted. “Kindly tell this Sassenach woman that possession is nine-tenths of the law up here, north of the border – and that a deposit in prelude to a sale, constitutes a contractual agreement between the seller and the proposed buyer.”
“I paid cash for this,” the older woman interrupted - with a hint of an educated accent attempting to gain a good-breeding advantage. “A sale is a sale - no matter what side of the border you’re on.”
“Not when it is under false pretences, Lassie,” Mrs. Wilson bit back through clenched teeth. “That’s a crime anywhere.”
Producing a bill of sale from her purse, the English woman thrust it at Sergeant McTavish.
“Here,” she declared. “My receipt.”
McTavish took the piece of paper from her and studied it closely.
“Aye, it’s a receipt, alright. Och, there’s nothing I can do aboot it, Mrs. Wilson. I’m very sorry.”
“Get Mr. Colombo out here, now.” Mrs. Wilson demanded.
Spotting the second-hand yard’s proprietor cowering behind his office window, McTavish signalled for him to join them. Sheepishly, the middle-aged, Italian business owner, shuffled out and stood next to the protective custody of Sergeant McTavish.
“Rico, could you please help us clear up this dispute?”
“Si, Mr. McTavish. How can I-ah help?” The displaced Italian merchant replied.
“You made a sale to this woman, a Mrs…?”
“Mizz,” was the curt interruption.
“Mizz,” repeated the corrected McTavish. “My apologies, Mizz…?”
“Call me Rose,” the exasperated English woman suggested.
“…Just Rose,” she anxiously added.
“Oh, will you get to the wee point, McTavish. I’ve no got all day,” Mrs. Wilson impatiently demanded.
“Si,” Rico answered – pushing the conversation along. “She paid-ah cash… Is a cash business. We accept cash only.”
“Right,” McTavish conceded, while attempting to clear the matter up as quickly as possible. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Wilson but a sale is a sale, I’m afraid.”
As fast as the charm had been turned on, it turned off in an instant, as Emily Wilson – now outraged – jumped to her feet.
“THOMAS!” she shrieked.
“Come here, please.”
Leaving his in-attendant post next to the Bentley, Thomas joined his employer’s side.
“Save ma seat.”
“Of course, Madame.”
Taking his employer’s previously held position, seated on the commode, Thomas’s knees uncomfortably found themselves at the level of his chest, as he squatted on the mid-sized porcelain antique.
“Do not move… and under no circumstance, are you to let her or anyone remove this wee bowl from your possession. Is that clear, Thomas?”
“No, Madame, I mean… yes, Madame.”
Brushing past Sergeant McTavish with purpose, Emily Wilson strode up the small incline toward the road, where a passing traffic warden had taken interest in her car. Leaning over the windscreen, he had begun to apply a parking ticket under the driver-side windscreen wiper, causing Emily Wilson to rousingly confront him.
“What do you think you are doing?” Demanded Mrs. Wilson.
“You’re on a double yellow line,” the young pimply-faced man responded in a thick Scottish brogue.
“We’ll be leaving in a minute.”
“The driver has left the vehicle alone with his door open. That is an infringement of the toon’s parking rules.”
“He’s just over there… Look!” Emily pointed out. “He’ll be along in a wee sec.”
“It’s my job. I cannae ignore it. I’d lose ma job… If you want, you can dispute it at the council offices.”
“What will they do, there? Will they reverse the ticket?”
“…No,” the traffic warden nervously replied. “You’re parked on a double yellow line. That’s another infraction and a straight one hundred fifty poond fine…”
“One hundred and,” gasped Emily. “I dinnae have one hundred and fifty pounds to my name. That Dobber of a man I married left me with a hee-haw bank account and a crumbling, freezing cold mausoleum he liked to call haeme.”
“That’s not my problem…”
“It most certainly is, you ungrateful Bam… You know… you’re exactly like him. Uncaring, cold hearted, and now, out of my hoose…! Give me that…”
Snatching the parking ticket from his grasp, Emily proceeded to methodically rip it up in front of him, before tossing the pieces into the air - triumphantly watching them cascading to the ground, like confetti thrown at a newlywed couple leaving a church.
“See them?” She pointed out. “That’s the closest you’ll ever get to a wedding, you ugly little Bazzer! Be gone by the time I get home…”
As Emily Wilson marched back to her chauffeur’s side, the traffic warden couldn’t help but get in one last sarcastic remark directed toward his vexed mother.
“It noo matters, anyways. I made a copy of the ticket, and it will still be filed!”
“…And you’ll still be homeless, ya little twat!”
She quickly spat out the venomous words, like a Cobra knowing they would find a deep and hurtful place to land. And, as intended, they hit the bullseye. Dejected and verbally battered by his mother, the young traffic warden turned tail and quick-stepped away out of earshot from her incendiary remarks – all the while, mumbling to himself how much he despised her.
Sergeant McTavish silently but restlessly stood awaiting Mrs. Wilson’s return. Overhearing the heated conversation between mother and son, he searchingly looked to Rico for some form of get-out clause. However, if it was an epiphany that he expected, he was deeply disappointed by the shrug of the Italian Man’s shoulders.
“Ay,” the merchant uttered in his best mafioso impression. “…Better be-ah the lucky-ah man than the lucky-ah man’s-ah son, capiche?”
Looking for inspiration, McTavish acknowledged that the emigrant’s grasp of Scottish proverbs sounded slightly askew, but the understood moral was of no solace to a small-town police sergeant eager to return to the warmth of his station for a comforting cup of tea and a biscuit. Resigning himself to dealing with Emily Wilson and her persistence on ownership of an uninteresting pottered relic of days gone by, he went along with the Italian’s interpreted wisdom that luck favoured the deceased.
“Aye, Rico,” McTavish defeatedly agreed. “Ye can’t insult the dead…”
Fuming, Emily Wilson stomped back to her previous position as keeper of the commode – a look of determination intently displaying its fervour for all to see.
“Now, Sergeant McTavish,” she forcefully insisted. “Let us draw a line under this and kindly let me proceed to my car with the commode.”
“That commode is mine,” insisted the offended English woman.
“Nay, lassie. It’s no yours… Mr. Colombo, did I or did I not give you a cash deposit for this bowl?”
“Si, Signora Weel-son.”
“…And did you personally take money from this woman as payment for the bowl?”
“…No,” he matter-of-factly replied.
“Excuse me, Rico,” a confused McTavish cut in. “You’re saying that Mizz… um, Rose here, didn’t buy the porcelain commode from you?”
“Am I the only one not getting this…?”
“She mustta give money to ah my wife, Maria.”
“Oh… Where’s Maria? Can you please ask her to come oot here?”
“Er, she go and feed the Alpacas on our farm.”
“Al…? You have Alpacas?”
“Si, we have plenty grass that needs-ah cutting and leftover hay that is a fire hazard. One-ah alpaca does the job of three sheep… Do you know that they-ah eat about two percent of their body weight each day? They make-ah good pets too, and they don’t-ah run away from you, when-ah you wanna to pet them.”
Distractedly nodding his head in amazement, McTavish found himself surprisingly lost in another daydream – this time of alpacas and open fields and Maria cavorting in long grass while feeding her Andean pets. However, a guttural demonstration of annoyance emanating from a riled Emily Wilson’s throat, brought him crashing back into the here and now.
“Mr. Colombo,” she asked. “Did your lovely Maria know that you took a deposit for the commode?”
“Si, I tell her,” he explained. “But she must of made a mistake.”
“Did you not leave a reserved-for-Mrs. Wilson tag on the seat?”
“Si… si, I wrote it myself and taped it on.”
Slapping his forehead, Rico reacted with the pleasurable awareness of solving the mystery at hand.
“It must of fallen off. Si, si… I look for it…”
“There’s an old Scottish saying,” added Emily. “That goes, Fools look to tomorrow; wise men use tonight… or as in my case, lipstick.”
“Sergeant McTavish, would you please retrieve the toilet seat that Mizz… Rose is clutching onto so very lovingly…”
With the deftness of a trusting dog taking a treat from his master’s lips, Sergeant McTavish excused his encroachment on the English woman’s personal space and took hold of the toilet seat belonging to the antique commode.
“Thank you, Sergeant. Now please flip it over and tell me what is written on the other side.”
Cautiously turning the toilet seat over, McTavish let out a small puff of harrumphed air.
“It says, Reserved, Wilson… Written in what I can only describe as a very red lipstick.”
“In your humble professional opinion, Sergeant McTavish of the widely respected Highland Constabulary. Would you say that it is the same rouge that you see painted before ye on my very own lips?”
“…Och aye,” McTavish commented. “…Sure enough, I would. Tis a striking colour.”
“Furthermore, is there a date written next to ma name?”
“Aye, there is.”
“It’s dated… yesterday.”
“So, in your powers of constabulary deduction, what would be your opinion as to who the legitimate claimant is - of this Far-Eastern manufactured commode?”
McTavish took a few moments to decide his verdict, before addressing Rose.
“Och, I’m sorry, Mizz… Rose. The facts speak for themselves, I’m afraid. I’m sure Mr. Colombo will issue you a full refund… Isn’t that right, Rico?”
“Si, si,” Rico agreed. How much-ah you pay my wife?”
“Thirty pounds,” Rose defeatedly replied.
Thumbing through a wad of cash produced from his trouser pocket, Rico hesitated.
“Mi scusi, Signorina. I ‘ave-ah no tens. Do you ‘appen to ’ave any? I give you forty, you give me ten, si?”
Rifling through her purse, Rose was not quick enough to prevent a labelled tag falling from it, before being speedily retrieved by Mrs. Wilson.
“Och,” Emily happily exclaimed. “It appears that you have found Mr. Colombo’s tag… You sly Sassenach. You knew all along…”
Exchanging cash with Rico, Rose admitted her attempted ruse.
“Well, a girl can but only try, no?”
“Well, try not to let your feet run faster than your shoes on yer way home tonight… Thomas, go get him, please.”
Briskly walking to the Bentley, Thomas retrieved an urn from the back seat, then returned at a brisker pace to hand the urn to his employer. Unscrewing the lid of the urn, Emily emptied its powdery contents into the commode, before handing the empty urn to Rico.
“Here ye are, Mr. Colombo. A donation form me to sell on to your customers.”
“Grazie, Signora Weel-son. I do get enquiries from people wanting these.”
“Extraordinary,” Rose commented. “It wasn’t a happy marriage, I presume.”
“There’s another old Scottish saying, Rose… Marriages are all happy. It’s having breakfast together that causes most of the trouble… In my case, it was sharing it with his latest wild night fling that he drunkenly brought home… But that’s not why he’s now laying in a piss pot. No… you see, he treated everyone like shite, so it only seems a fitting place for him to live out eternity. Thomas, pay Mr. Colombo the balance owed, then bring the bazzer to the car.”
“Hold on, a wee minute, Mrs. Wilson,” commanded the officially sounding Sergeant. “Is tha’ no a health hazard?”
“He’s dead, Sergeant McTavish. Roasted and turned to ash. Now, ye mak a better door than a windae, so kindly move aside.”
Without further argument, McTavish made way for Emily Wilson and her chauffeur, as they headed back to her Bentley. Securely tucked inside, Thomas started the engine, indicated he was re-joining an almost non-existent traffic flow, then moved out. As they neared the end of the high street – before reaching open road, Emily spotted her son walking head bowed, utterly dejected, kicking at any stone on the pavement that he could find. Allowing her motherly instincts to take over, she instructed Thomas to slow then stop just ahead of her son. Cheerfully winding down her window, she beckoned him toward her.
“Och, look at ye, you poor soft haggis… There’ll be a welcoming bowl of soup and buttered bread awaiting ye at home. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off…”
Taking her words as an invitation, he nodded, smiled, then approached the car, hoping to get in.
“Nay, ye don’t, son,” his mother commanded. “Ye can walk, ye little shite. Mummy’s not completely forgiven ye yet… Thomas?”
“With haste Madame. With the utmost of haste…”