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And you have been there.

You went there five years ago with Andy and the girls you were going out with at the time. Andy knew people in the council and arranged a visit while he was in the city for the opening of The Gadget Shop's Edinburgh branch; just for a laugh, he said.

The place was smaller than you expected and dark and it smelled of damp and the black roof and black walls ran with glistening water. The girl you were with couldn't handle it and just had to go back up the steps to the corridor above where the old caretaker who'd shown you in had gone, and when the lights went out suddenly a few minutes later there was a darkness more complete and final than anything you had ever known before.

The girl with Andy gave a small scream, but Andy just chuckled and produced a torch. He'd set it all up with the caretaker: a joke.

But in those moments of blackness you stood there, as though you yourself were made of stone like the stunted, buried buildings around you, and for all your educated cynicism, for all your late-twentieth-century materialist Western maleness and your fierce despisal of all things superstitious, you felt a touch of true and absolute terror, a consummately feral dread of the dark; a fear rooted back somewhere before your species had truly become human and came to know itself, and in that primaeval mirror of the soul, that shaft of self-conscious understanding which sounded both the depths of your collective history and your own individual being, you glimpsed — during that extended, petrified moment — something that was you and was not you, was a threat and not a threat, an enemy and not an enemy, but possessed of a final, expediently functional indifference more horrifying than evil.

And so you sit on Salisbury Crags, remembering that still-present darkness and looking out over the city, feeling sorry for yourself and cursing your own stupidity and the institutionalised thoughtlessness, the sanctioned legal, lethal greed of the companies, the governments, the shareholders; all of them.

A tennis ball.

They say it's about the size of a tennis ball. You slide your hand inside your coat and jacket and press up under the floating rib on your left side. Pain. You're not sure whether you can feel it, the thing, the growth itself or not; you cough a bit as you press, and the pain gets worse. You stop pressing and the pain eases.

An operation, injections; chemotherapy. Sickness and premature baldness, probably temporary.

You hunch up, rocking back and forward and looking out across the spires and roofs and turrets and chimneys and trees of the city and the parks and lands beyond, towards the two bridges. Looking right, you can see Cramond Isle, Inchcolm, Inchmickery and Inchkeith. Inchmickery looks small and building-cluttered, two towers prominent.

Andy came back up the steps after quarter of an hour, whistling. He asked you what you'd done; you told him you'd rung your doctor. He smiled, told you to keep the phone and asked you to give him an hour's start. Then he put his hand out to you.

You shook your head, not his hand, and looked down. He grinned and shrugged and seemed to understand. He said, "Goodbye," and that was it; he skipped down the steps and away.

Five minutes later, from a circular concrete gun emplacement on the island's east side, surrounded by shit-stains and mobbed by raucous, screeching gulls, you watched the little black inflatable go scudding across the waves, heading for Granton. The city and the hills to the south rose sharp and bright beyond.

You gave him the hour. Twenty minutes after you dialled 999, a couple of police launches came slapping and bouncing across the waves towards the island; more cops arrived later, after one of the boats put back to port to collect them.

They discovered the remainder of Doctor Halziel in one of the ammunition magazines sunk deep into the rock of the island.

You had one last interview with McDunn, telling and retelling everything that happened both on Inchmickery and the day before, on the road back from the funeral — the cops checked your car; Andy had put a little semi-permeable plastic bag full of sugar into your fuel tank while you were all out at the funeral isle.

You told McDunn Andy hid the cellphone in the buildings on the island and it took you an hour to find it. You don't know if he believed you or not. You told him that Andy let you call your doctor — with a gun to your head — to prove the phone was working before he hid it. McDunn nodded wisely, as though it was all fitting into place.

The cops are remaining in your flat for another few days, still vainly hoping Andy will appear there. Meanwhile, Al and his wife seem happy to let you stay with them in Leith.

You tried to rescue Despot a couple of times, but not very hard, and not with any noticeable result. You tried the trick Andy showed you in Xerium and it worked. But you can't be bothered with games just now. This morning a redirected letter arrived from the finance company saying they're going to repossess the lap-top unless you make your payments. You think you'll let them take it.

At the paper they know you're not well, and everybody's been very sympathetic and supportive. They aren't asking too much of you, but Sir Andrew rang Eddie from Antigua and suggested you might like to do a series of articles on your experiences: the definitive word on the whole story. Other papers are interested too; there's no shortage of offers, ways to make money out of the deal.

You can see rain in the air, sweeping abundantly over the city towards you on the turned, westerly wind, obscuring the view of the bridges now and dragging huge curved veils slowly over the islands in the firth. Could be sleet, not rain.

You went down to the Cowgate last night and scored a little coke to cheer yourself up for a while.

You make sure there's nobody else around, then turn and hunch over, back to the wind. You gather your coat around you, take the little tin box out of your jacket pocket and open it. The stuff inside's been razored already, and you lift some out with your car key and sniff it, two tiny white heaps for each nostril, then three and then four when your throat doesn't go quite as numb as it should. That's better.

You put the tin away, sniffing. You tap the other packet in your jacket, then shrug, take it out and open it. You bought these last night, too. What the fuck. Screw the world, bugger reality. Saint Hunter would understand; Uncle Warren wrote a song about it.

You light a cigarette, shake your head as you look out over the grey-enthroned city, and laugh.