A Novel by Robert Lewis Heron.
A tormented Scottish artist and a ruthless American serial killer form a blood brother bond rocketing them to conflicting ends of global notoriety.
Murder, suicide, and broken hearts are touchstones on their frantic twisting rollercoaster ride of emotions plummeting through the lowest rungs of society before soaring to the glamour-and-glitz of presidential champagne receptions.
The protagonists cross continents, tiptoeing and jack-booting through relationships, in their quest for fame and fortune. From Scotland, via Seattle, Santa Fe, and the idyllic Greek Island of Hydra we follow murder, mayhem and the creation of unforgettable art.
Copyright © 2012 by Robert Lewis Heron. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
I'm Gordon Hamish McGregor—Gordy to the lasses—Scottish artist, whisky aficionado, manic-depressive, and desperately seeking something special. Some call it fame and fortune; I call it grabbing the art world by the throat while fighting for survival, by avoiding thoughts of either slitting my wrists, or straight-lining straight to hell. My Scottish claws are grabbing and holding on. Oh yeah, I’ve been to a deep dark place no virginless twenty something should ever visit. Is there such a word—virginless? Who cares?
We all have a lifetime. Life, yes, but time is an urban legend, a myth. Life is a consequence of traveling from birth to death. Time is an attempt to quantify and catalogue life into neat parcels of whatever. Some leave a snail-trail of congealed slime. Not me. My trail will be bright red, blood red. Time is Einstein's fault. A concocted formula to explain the unexplainable—and they think I'm crazy? Some say your time on earth is limited; it’s a journey, so why not make the journey interesting, unforgettable, and unique? It is what it is: your own twenty four seven reality channel, you’re born you die; end of transmission.
My reality channel started getting interesting one bright Sunday afternoon about nine months ago with the death of a wee Scottish beastie, a calico cat to be precise. My screeching killer Harley had juddered to a skidding halt beside a scenic country pub. Six semi-comatose, beer swilling drunkards sitting under a yellow and green Martini parasol lifted their glazed expressions in my general direction.
"You okay, son?"
It's reassuring when a drunken Scotsman addresses a complete stranger as son.
"Yeah. Fine thanks."
The largest and ruddiest of the hunched bunch slid his tongue across creamy Guinness froth clinging to his upper lip and shouted,
"Bloody shame the wee cat isnae?"
The half dozen, half sozzled, clientèle of the pub snorted. It’s funny how Scotsmen lose their inhibitions when alcohol is involved.
A leisurely Sunday afternoon ride along the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond had resulted in a black twisting vein of smoking rubber and blood, the exclamation mark at the end of both a life and a four year art degree: profound and personal.
Strange, how crazy ideas lead to creativity. From a dead cat under the wheels of my Harley, to the start of an adventure, a complete life change, and an enema for the soul.
Two hours later in my college studio, I recreated the moment of death: dramatic or what? If you have never created anything artistic, sorry, but the whole incident was an inspirational kick up the…well you get what I mean. Squeezing half used paint tubes, black and blood red streaks crisscrossed the canvas. I unwrapped the carcass from oil- stained rags and wiped it across the wet paint: blood and sinew blended with red and black acrylic, and fur, bone, and entrails became one; became art. Red acrylic trickled off my brush mixing with brownish blood and innards and together created Road Kill: a work of art, which was about to change the course of art history and my life, forever.
Chapter 2. Temperance.
Two weeks after submitting my final year artwork, I became the lucky recipient of a crumpled hand-written note, a summons to Mr. McAllister's drab office, the perfect cell for a pathetic and boring art tutor. His small windowless box contained two battleship gray metal filing cabinets, a dark brown wooden table, two white plastic chairs, and was more suited for interrogation than incubating creativity.
The brown-stained walls displayed cliché landscape scenes of Scotland's finest: a misty Loch Lomond, a highland cow (with cute fringe), and a lone floodlit bagpiper standing high on the battlements of Edinburgh Castle. All resembled dried-out bits of meat sticking to the sides of some rancid stewing pot bubbling in the stink of stale sweat and smoke. Atop his coffee stained table sat a half-eaten roll of Polo mints.
"Sir, you want to see me?" I said.
"Good, yir right on time. Sit yirself doon Gordon," he rolled the mints over to me, "and how are your headaches?"
In four years of art education, this was only the second time I had been summoned to his office for a ‘tête-à-tête’. The first time being to hear his apology for spilling coffee on my second year Dada exhibit, and to be honest, the dark splashes of brown muck improved it and got me my one and only top grade.
"Not too bad this week, sir. Thanks for asking."
McAllister resembled a Van Gogh self-portrait. He wore an old tweed sports jacket with leather elbow inserts. The tips of his orange goatee had froth clinging from a half-finished cappuccino. The coffee cup sat on a yellow legal pad marked by several brown circles and half scribbled notes and doodles of what appeared to be an inverted Eiffel Tower.
"It’s good your headaches are better, lad,” said McAllister squiggling a star on what had morphed into a Christmas tree. “Headaches, tell me about them. Oh yes, I’ve had many a self-induced hangover. But not now. Oh no, lad, those days are gone. Temperance is the answer. Temperance. Well maybe a wee sherry and an oatmeal biscuit at New Years, but otherwise, temperance. Always temperance, laddie.”
He knew nothing, the moron. He knew nothing about pain forcing you to curl up in the darkest corner to think about killing yourself; he knew nothing about pain so deep it's beyond crying for help. Trapped, unable to think, unable to escape and almost unable to endure. He knew nothing of a lifetime of excruciating migraine hell—the devil I feared every day. He also knew nothing of my childhood nightmares after losing both parents in a senseless car accident. Thank you land of whisky, Prozac and women, for you are my real friends, my amigos, and my lovers.
His Cheshire cat grin, crossed hairy hands and brown, stained fingers gave the appearance of an Alice in Wonderland tale gone horribly wrong.
"Temperance, lad, that’s the key, temperance. However, that’s not why you’re here. I've got some great news for you, lad."
Even with the mint his breath still stunk, the result of years of oral neglect and continuous consumption of Polo mints. The thin white unbroken circular outline of the mint resulting from one hundred seconds of carefully controlled sucking showcased against brown, stained teeth, and sat proudly displayed on the tip of his extended putrefying, fur- coated tongue. Leaning back in his white vinyl chair, and cradling his thinning greasy hair in entwined nicotine fingers, the point of the meeting had surfaced.
"Your Road Kill painting has been juried into Glasgow's Open Art Competition."
The stench, the putrefying tongue, the approaching headache all vanished in one unbelievable jolt of dizzying adrenaline rush. "You're serious, right?"
A last wiggle of his prized, extremely thin round Polo mint took its final public bow and disappeared, hopefully forever, into his dental trophy cabinet.
"Serious, you bet I’m serious. I can understand your surprise Gordon. I think the Turner Prize win by Damian Hirst's ‘Coo in a Bottle’, or should I stand corrected and say Mother and Child Divided had something to do with it," said McAllister as he sucked mint drool dripping off his lip. “I’m not one to rant, but it’s a bloody waste of good mince. Probably another crazy-ass art fad; butchered animals on display as art. A bloody joke.”
He stood facing the poster of the highland cow (with cute fringe) before reaching for the last few mints, “And anyway, son, you've won. I couldn’t be prouder of one of my students, the Nationals no less."
The National Art show, organized by The Arts for Scotland, heralded itself as a serious contender to the prestigious annual Turner Award held in London. His sneer made his thoughts clear. McAllister could not accept a dead animal on a canvas as art. However, who was he to question the judges' awesome decision to give me my first step towards my goal: world dominance in art.
"And remember, son,” McAllister mumbled sucking his next mint, “you are representing the Art School, so be on your best behavior and no swearing and no bevying. Understand, son? Temperance is the word, temperance."
I contemplated the unimaginable, perhaps some miserable sod truly was his offspring, and why do people enunciate each word, each syllable, when trying to appear authoritative; ‘you are representing’ indeed. I know what you are; you are a plonker and as for representing—I represent yours truly, Gordon Hamish McGregor.
"No problem Mr. McAllister, scouts’ honor. I don't drink or swear, I only straight line."
I left him sitting in the stench of his office like a finnan haddie curing in an Arbroath smokehouse. I sprinted the length of the corridor, the soles of my Nike trainers squeaked on the linoleum, and I jumped and kicked the 'No Running in Corridor' sign. I'd won inclusion in a prestigious show, a possible turning point in my career, the launch pad for my dream of becoming the top artist, Numero Uno, Head Honcho, The Man.
"Fiona," I shouted down the telephone line, "you won't believe this, I’m in."
"In what, exactly?"
"The contest. I'm having my art hung in the Como Gallery for the Scottish National Art show."
"No way Gordy. The cat thing? The dead cat. Are you fooling around?"
"What do you mean by fooling around? It's bloody art," I laughed.
“No way am I going to the show,” said Fiona. “I don’t want to be ridiculed as lover to the Killer of Cats.”
“Are you kidding me? Oh, I get it. Does this have to do with your wee Pepe?”
I heard her breath catch on the other end of the line.
“Okay, I’m sorry about Pepe. But can you get the glad rags on anyway; we're going out to the pub. At least I've something to celebrate."
I remembered McAllister’s comments. Temperance brings order to the concupiscible appetite and thus to the emotions of love, hate and desire. Forget that. I wasn’t going to be held back by any order. I was off and running and heaven help anyone who stood in front of this runaway train. This train had left the station right on time and if Fiona didn’t want to come along, then tough.
Chapter 3. The Jackpot.
Midnight, Glasgow, Scotland.
How best to describe Gloria? A good woman in need of a crisis every minute of her life. Bingo, the jackpot, she dies in nine minutes in a squalid alley behind a life insurance office— ironic or what?
Tonight was like any night in any alley in any city.
"So, sweetheart,” said Gloria, “let's do the business side of things first. Eighty quid and you get anything you want."
"Anything? That could be dangerous."
Client number three turned her on. It’s a bonus getting payment and pleasure. What the heck; a few groans and moans and everybody’s happy.
"I like the way you say dangerous, pet,” she smiled. “We think along the same lines, and anyway, I’ve always loved the Yank accent. Say something.”
Client number three ran his tongue up her neck, nibbled her left earlobe and whispered, "Here’s looking at you kid.”
Gloria smiled. Yes, tonight she would relax and enjoy her work.
Sliding her chipped red pinky nail over his lower lip she said, "That twang is real sexy, Mr. Bogart. Can I call you Bogey?”
Client number three ran his tongue across her forehead, nibbled her right earlobe and murmured, “Call me Bogey or Larry or Curly or Moe or anything you want.”
The dark shadows hid her smile. She was enjoying herself for the first time today.
“Want to know something, sweetheart; you look a bit like that cop called 'Sunny'. You know... from Miami Vice, the white guy."
"Like in Sonny and Crocket."
Four scrunched twenty-pound notes vanish into her black shoulder bag. Payment for services to be rendered toute-suite. The bag clunks into the recess. It’s playtime.
"So Sonny what's your pleasure?" sighed Gloria licking the scar above his left eyebrow. "Mmm I'm feeling hot tonight. I need you bad, real bad."
He lifted her short red leatherette skirt and slid his hand between her thighs.
"Y’all are in luck, sweetheart. I’m one bad ass Yank."
Cheap earrings and cheaper perfume did nothing to accentuate the dark blue and green wings of a tattooed butterfly trapped beneath a black bra strap.
"Turn around, face the door and spread your legs."
"Anything for you, Sonny."
A scene from any cop show played in the darkness.
"Mmm… you going to search me officer?"
His fingers ran over her body from head to hip before pushing her hands against the door.
The first blow of his eight-inch ice pick punctured the base of her skull, the second stabbed down through her shoulder blade, and a third matadorial lunge speared her neck impaling her against the life insurance service door.
"Lost for words, sweetheart? Anything you say will be taken down and used in evidence."
What’s playtime without toys. One ice pick and one rusty screwdriver. His yin and yang played happily together: one sharp and shiny, one dull and dirty. Sighs of pleasure accompanied his fashioning a neat line of bloody puncture wounds across her body. He brushed bloodied clingy hair strands from her shoulder and licked blood off her tattoo butterfly wings.
"You taste fine, real fine. A Chateau Glasgow Red with a twist or two."
Two sporadic twitches and the gurgling stopped. Blood oozed, creating a dark glistening pool seeping into the cracks of the alley. The stream of blood collected a discarded condom on its snaking journey behind a cluster of black tattered, trash bags.
"Nothing to say, bitch?"
Satisfied with his handiwork, he pulled the ice pick from the base of her neck, and taking two steps back, watched her limp body slide to the ground. A bloody slime trail covered the surface of the door. Gloria’s bludgeoned body rested atop her cheap blood-stained shoulder bag; lifeless open eyes gazed at crumpled twenty-pound notes. He wiped his toys along the side of her neck then thrust the money into his jeans.
"Goodbye, sweetheart,” he said in a Bogart accent. “We’ll always have Paris."
A cool crisp breeze stroked his hair. Light from a passing car flashed up the alley causing three feral cats to hiss and scurry for cover, and a pigeon to fly high into the darkness. Blood rippled round his leather cowboy boots and the sound of a faint shutter-click ended the events of the evening.
Chapter 4. The Scottish National Exhibit.
The night of the Como Gallery show opening had the media and city dignitaries in attendance; but Road Kill drew the greatest attention. Guests and members of the press gathered around the canvas. All were unaware of me lurking in the background, jiggling the lemon in my bottle of Corona Light and striking a pretentious artist’s pose. Tonight I was Gordy, head fashionista in torn at the knee designer jeans, white Nike trainers, and a T-shirt emblazoned with the words 'If It’s Not Scottish It’s Crap'. My crowning glory was a clear plastic nametag: Gordon Hamish McGregor: Artist. Cool or what?
A young newspaper reporter approached, camera slung nonchalantly over his shoulder, eyes scanning my nametag ensuring correct spelling for his report later that night. He gave the air of someone wanting to be anywhere but here.
"So Mr. McGregor, did you kill the poor wee creature before you painted it?" asked the Daily Rag reporter in a half-joking, yet condescending, manner, "or did the wee beastie jump up and commit suicide on your canvas?"
He smiled one of those all-knowing smiles that you want to punch. I gulped the air like a newborn. The question smacked me into life, my new life as a professional artist.
"I'm an artist, this is art," I said, "and your question sounds cynical."
"Well I'm sorry if I upset you but I've a deadline to meet."
No point in hanging back. Give him both barrels in the face.
"Don't be afraid of the new. Be enlightened. Think positively, and be open to all ideas."
"I don't need a lecture on art from a cat killer.”
The line had been drawn in the sand. Pointless being negative, I need to think positive. Ignore his derision, be gracious, but then no need to kiss his hoity-toity audaciously self-important ‘I’m a reporter for a National newspaper’ pompous ass.
"How many times have you seen stuffed stag and deer heads mounted on walls of castles? I think the Queen owns a stag or two or three as well as several oil paintings of ‘The Hunt’ with baying foxhounds ripping poor Mr. Fox to shreds. Anyway stuffed critters are displayed in museums around the world."
Wow, I just used the Queen to justify my art. What’s in this Corona Light?
"McGregor. You’re a crazy sonofabitch."
Insults, negativity with tinges of hostility; he’s probably a vegetarian, or worse a vegan. Life is too short, move on. No need to confront this naysayer. Ah what the heck.
"Piss off, pen pusher," I said turning, searching for the nearest supply of free alcohol.
My wail and scream announced entry into the surreal world of celebrity status. ‘C’ list celebrity status, but a list all the same. Branding had started by counter attack, by imbuing knowledge, and by positive Karma on my attackers. Well, maybe the piss off pen pusher was out of order. Let’s be clear on one thing: from now on, no one will ever make me back down. Forward and upwards and always smile.
"Mr. McGregor. The man in the street has the odd chalk 'walli-dug' on the mantle-piece, but not dead animals nailed to the walls of his house, does he?"
"Listen, let me put it this way, you're wearing an expensive Gucci leather jacket.”
“You’re joking right? On my salary?"
"So what's different between wearing a dead animal skin and honoring the life of an animal by creating a fantastic work of art?"
With that, I turned and walked away, leaving him scribbling furiously. I whispered asshole as the telltale throb of an impending migraine settled in. A tray of alcoholic life-preservers floated by.
Drink. I need a drink.
"Merlot on the left and Cabernet Sauvignon on the right, sir."
"You’re a life saver. I need two glasses, so stand still."
The contents of the first glass of red vanished in one continuous backwards neck bend; the second accompanied me to the adjoining gallery, where fate stepped in to change my life forever. I was about to enter my personal twenty-four-seven-reality-channel broadcast of Wheel-Of-Fortune meets The Twilight Zone.