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Mr Baine looks worried when I tell him about the article. He's a bulky, droopy-faced highlander in a dark suit with a Technicolor tie that makes me glad I'm facing him here in the soft darkness of the warehouse, not outside in the sunlight.

"Well, basically just the facts," I'm saying, grinning at Mr Baine. "That back in the "twenties the Yanks objected to their whisky and brandy going cloudy when they added ice to it, so they told the distillers to fix what they regarded as a problem. The French, being the French, told them what to do with their ice cubes, while the Scots, being British, said, Certainly, here's what we'll do…"

Mr Baine's wounded-spaniel looks take on an extra tier of unhappiness as I tell him all this. I know I shouldn't have taken that micro-lick of powder while we were going through earlier, but I couldn't resist it; there was an irresistibly appealing getting-away-with-it promissory glee about sticking my finger in my mouth, then my pocket, then my mouth again and as Mr Baine talked and I looked interested while my tongue went numb and the chemical taste thickened in my throat and this firingly, chargingly addictive illegal drug did its business while we walked round this perfectly legal, government-financing drug facto

So I'm gibbering but it's good.

"But, Mr Colley —»

"So the distillers brought in chill-filtering, lowering the the temperature of the whisky until the oils that cause the cloudiness come out of solution and then straining the stuff through asbestos to remove the oil; only that removes a lot of the taste as well — which you can't put back — and the colour, which you can put back, using caramel. Isn't that right?"

Mr Baine has a hangdog look. "Ah, well, broadly," he says, clearing his throat and looking out over the ordered sea of barrel-backs disappearing into the gloom. "But, ah, is this going to be, um, a what-do-you-call-it? An expose, Mr Colley? I thought you just wanted —?"

"You thought I just wanted to do yet another article on what a grand, beautiful country we live in and how lucky we are to produce this world-renowned, dollar-earning drink and isn't it life-enhancing used in moderation and just generally great?"

"Well, well… it's up to you what you write, Mr Colley," Mr Baine says (I have raised a smile). "But, ah, I feel you might be misleading people by emphasising things like, well the asbestos, for example; people might think there's asbestos in the product."

I look at Mr Baine. Product? Did I hear him say product?

"But I'm not going to be suggesting that at all, Mr Baine; this will be a straight, factual article."

"Aye, aye, but facts can be misleading out of context."


"You see, I'm not sure about the tone —»

"But, Mr Baine, I thought you were in sympathy with the tone of this article. That's why I'm here today; I was told you're thinking about producing a "real whisky", with no chill-filtering and no colouring; a premium brand, using the cloudiness and the oils that are left in as a selling point, basing the ads on it, even —»

"Well," Mr Baine says, looking uncomfortable, "the marketing people are still looking into that —»

"Mr Baine, come on, we both know the demand's there; the SMWS does a roaring trade, Caddenhead's shop in the Royal Mile —»

"Well, it's not that simple," Mr Baine says, looking even more uncomfortable now. "Look, Mr Colley, can we talk, you know, without you reporting it?"

"You want to talk off the record?"

"Aye; off the record."

"All right." I nod. Mr Baine clasps his hands under his suit-clad belly and nods in a serious manner. "Look, ah, Cameron," he says, dropping his voice, "I'll be honest with you: we have thought about test-marketing this premium brand you're talking about, and using the lack of chill-filtering as a Unique Selling Point, but… You see, Cameron, we couldn't survive on that alone, even if it did work, not for the foreseeable future at any rate; we've got other considerations to take into account. We'll probably always have to sell the vast majority of our product for blending; that's our business, that's our livelihood, and as such we rely on the goodwill of the firms we sell to; firms much, much larger than we are."

"You're saying you've been told not to rock the boat."

"No no no." Mr Baine looks distressed at being imperfectly understood. "But you have to realise that a great deal of the success of whisky has to do with its mystique, the… the image the customer has of it as a unique, high-value product. It's almost mythical, Cameron; it's the uisgebeatha, the water of life, as they say… It's a very strong image, and a very important one for the Scottish export drive and national economy. If we — as, frankly, a very junior player in all this — do anything that conflicts with that image —»

"Such as putting the idea into the public's head that all the other whiskies they can buy are chill-filtered and/or caramel-coloured —»

"Well, yes —»

"— then you'll rock the boat," I say. "So you've been told to shelve the new premium brand or forget about ever selling whisky for blending again, and so going out of business."

"No no no," Mr Baine says again, but as we stand there in the chilly gloom of the spirit-fragrant warehouse, surrounded by enough maturing hootch to float a Trident submarine, I can see that the real answer even off the record is yes yes yes, and I'm thinking, Yay! A conspiracy; a cover-up, arm-twisting, blackmail, corporate pressure on the little guy; this could be an even better story!

You enter through the back door using a crowbar; the door and the lock are both heavy, but the frame has rotted beneath its layers of paint over the years. As soon as you're in you take the Elvis Presley mask from your day-pack and slip it on, then pull the surgeon's gloves from your pocket and snap those on too. The house feels warm from the afternoon; it faces south and has an uninterrupted view out over the links of the golf course towards the estuary, so it catches a lot of sun.

You don't think there's anybody in yet but you aren't sure; there wasn't time to watch the place all day. It feels and somehow sounds empty. You slip from room to room, feeling sweaty beneath the slick latex of the mask. The late evening sun has turned the faint, high clouds over the sea pink and the light falls into every room, filling them with rose and shadows.

The stairs and a lot of the floorboards creak. The rooms look clean but the furniture is old-fashioned and mismatched; cast-off. You satisfy yourself there's nobody in, ending up in the main bedroom of the house.

You're not very happy with the bed; it's a divan. You inspect it, in that reddening gloaming, then heave the mattress off, leaving it propped against the wall. Still no good. You go through to the other front bedroom, which also looks out over the course and the sea; the room smells unlived-in, even slightly damp. This bed is better; this one has an iron frame. You pull the bedding off and start to tear the sheets into strips.

You look out of the window as you do this, watching a couple of military jets over the sea in the distance. To the right, beyond the railway line, you can see the curve of beach leading out to the wooded point, and catch a glimpse of the lighthouse there, rising above the trees.

Then you see Mrs Jamieson coming though the gate from the road and up the garden path and you duck down, walking quickly to the door and the top landing. You listen to the front door opening.

Mrs Jamieson comes in and goes through to the kitchen. You remember the creaking stairs. You hesitate for a second, then walk normally to the stairs and go down them with a fairly quick, heavy tread, whistling. The steps creak.

"Murray?" Mrs Jamieson's voice calls from the kitchen. "Murray, I didn't see the car —»