My first real job was with a legal publisher in Edinburgh, where I was employed as a legal editor writing law reports for an illustrious law journal (and managed as a result to learn a lot more about Scots law than I ever did at university). Plenty of things stay with me from that time, not least the cast of characters who were employed there – a constant turnover of malcontented law graduates, a lacklustre yet arrogant marketing department who used to produce leaflets littered with spelling mistakes (“an ideal book for practicioners”), and a tyrannical Managing Editor who always smelled faintly of TCP.
Duncan was one of my favourite colleagues because he was so determinedly himself in any situation. He was from the Black Isle, near Inverness, had been a prison officer and consequently played the bagpipes in the Inverness Prison Officers’ Pipe Band, and once uncompromisingly described our Managing Director as “a fat oaf, and a balloon” (you really need sound here to appreciate the full majesty of this remark when pronounced in the inimitable Black Isle accent). His catchphrase was “you can’t go wrong with a brass dog!” – his unerring advice to anyone looking to buy a special gift for someone.
These were the very first days of email and partly because of the novelty of it, Duncan and I used to exchange increasingly sarcastic messages with each other about the third occupant of the editors’ room. A thin, gaunt man, with a passion for Sarah Michelle Gellar, he became known to us as “Bravo Two Zero” or “BTZ” for short, due to his propensity to make up increasingly outlandish stories about himself. BTZ told me that he’d murdered someone once, with precise details of how he’d covered the floor of his bathroom with plastic binbags beforehand, surprised the victim with a chop to the throat, and disposed of the body by chopping it up and dropping small, bloody pieces from his car window a handful at a time as he sped through the Scottish countryside. He told Duncan he’d had to leave the west coast of Scotland (to come and hide in a small legal publishing office in the west end of Edinburgh) because of a Paisley drug deal gone wrong; and he told me that he’d had to flee Glasgow at the dead of night after the execution of Joe “Bananas” Hanlon and Bobby Glover (two notorious gangland figures who were shot in the head and dumped in a car boot in Barlanark) because he’d been involved in the “hit”.
Bravo’s finest hour was falling in love with, and subsequently stalking, a new, pretty editor. As I approached her desk one day I noticed that there was a huge bunch of roses shoved in her bin which she was kicking vengefully. I asked her what was going on and she broke down in tears and spilled the beans about her creepy suitor, who’d been following her home from the pub where she worked and loitering outside her bedroom window late into the night.
I left the company to work in London and Duncan went to Inverness to join the Procurator Fiscal Service. BTZ was discovered to have been running a record sales business from his desk instead of working for the company which was paying his salary. Now if he’d told us that, we certainly wouldn’t have believed it.