Sneak peek of Chapter 1
“Here they come, here they come!” Ryan Cartwright felt a surge of adrenaline in his guts as he spotted a car coming up the hillside. The lads were over three hours late, but that didn’t matter. They were here now.
This is gonna be legendary. No women. No work. No worries.
Disappointingly, Ryan’s younger brother, Aaron, shrank at the sight of the approaching company, not even bothering to feign excitement. Pasty-skinned and greasy-haired, Aaron looked very little like his brother, and the differences continued behind appearances; Ryan was one of the lads while Aaron was a loner. All the same, Ryan was glad his little brother had come along on this weekend – it meant a lot – although it had taken weeks of hard persuasion to get him to leave his video games for a couple of days.
Kid needs to loosen up. I won’t always be around to hold his hand.
Ryan put an arm around Aaron and gave him a reassuring squeeze. “It’ll be a laugh, I promise.”
Aaron nodded. “Yeah.”
The approaching car was a sleek 4×4, and in the weak Autumnal sunshine, its opulent red paint shone like a thousand rubies. It crunched to a halt on the weedy gravel in front of the cottage, completely out of place against the ancient landscape. The engine grumbled and the vehicle went to sleep. All four of its doors opened.
Ryan met Tom at the driver’s side. His neat blonde hair had grown long, and a fuzzy goatee elongated his already slender face. “Nice motor, mate. What is it?”
Tom grinned proudly, running a hand over the sleek red bonnet. “Alfa Romeo Stelvio. Drove it off the forecourt last week as a treat for having such a great financial year. Handsome, isn’t she? I’m actually considering breaking things off with Amanda so I can spend more time behind the wheel. Would that be incredibly materialistic?”
Ryan chuckled. “I reckon so, yeah, mate. How are things going with Amanda? It’s been six months and you haven’t even introduced us yet.”
“I’m cautiously optimistic that she may be the one. We’ll have to grab dinner together soon.”
“I’d like that.”
Loobey rounded the Stelvio’s bonnet, his belly jiggling beneath his stripy jumper. He was smiling. “She didn’t run a mile when she saw Tom’s tiny knob, so that’s a good sign.”
Tom rolled his eyes, but took the joke as intended. “I wanted to call her, actually, Ryan, to let her know we’ve arrived safely, but I haven’t had a signal since we left the village. Is there a landline here?”
Ryan gave an apologetic frown. “Sorry, mate. We’re completely cut off. No signal. no landline. No wifi. We can head into the village tomorrow morning, though, to make a call, if that’s cool?”
Tom seemed to mull it over, both hands in his chino pockets. He was the only one of them not wearing jeans. “Hmm, I suppose that will have to be okay. Hopefully, she won’t worry too much.”
“Treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen,” said Loobey. “It’ll only make her want you more.”
Ryan gave his best friend a hug. “How you doing, Loobey? I ain’t seen you, man! Where you been hiding?”
“Been proper busy, mate. Old man got a job tarmacking for the council and it’s been a right mad’un.”
“Well, at least you’ve got plenty of work. You look like you’ve lost weight.”
Loobey put his hands on his hips and gyrated. “Ain’t morbidly obese no more, me; just regular obese. Lasses can’t get enough.”
Ryan chuckled. “I’ll bet.”
Loobey definitely looked better for the weight loss, but something about him didn’t seem quite right. It was as if his bones were too big for his body. He’d shaved his head as well, which made his face appear pudgy and round.
Might have to break it to you later, our kid. It’s not a good look.
Sean and Brett moved from the rear of the Stelvio and joined everyone at the front. Sean was twitching like a maniac, as per usual, the human incarnation of ‘mad fer it.’ His green eyes darted left and right as he hopped on the toes of his blood red trainers. “This place is proper mint. You could chop some poor bastard up here and no one would ever find the pieces.”
Next to him, Brett rolled his eyes behind his sensible, black glasses. He was always the most serious of the group, but it only took a few drinks to loosen him up. After that, he was as up for a laugh as anybody else. “It’s the Scottish Highlands, Sean,” he muttered, “not the Nevada Desert.”
“There’re gangsters everywhere, pal. You should know that.”
“Because I’m black?”
“Nah, because you’re a shady bastard.”
“I’m a fully qualified veterinarian.”
“Exactly. What kind of geezer studies eight years to stick his finger up a dog’s arse? Shady, is what that is.”
Ryan chuckled. He was already having the best time he’d had in ages. Just being with the lads made him happy. When was the last time they’d all been together like this?
Too long. I’ve been spending too much time with Sophie.
Loobey went to Aaron, who was still stood on the cottage’s front step. “How’s it going, our kid?”
“You gonna ‘ave a lark with us?”
Loobey didn’t push it. He knew Aaron well enough to recognise his shyness, so he tussled the lad’s greasy brown hair and turned back to the others. “Sean’s right, this place is mint. We’re gonna have a right laugh.”
“Yeah, we are,” said Ryan, looking around and enjoying the scenery with his friends. Living in Manchester, he’d hopped the border into Scotland once or twice, but he’d never gone further than Glasgow. The seven-hour drive it had taken to reach the cottage had been miserable, and at 4 AM this morning when he and Aaron had set off, it seemed like the biggest mistake ever. That changed as soon as the landlord ferried them up from the village and handed over the keys. Ryan had never seen the sky so wide, or the land so vibrantly hued. He had expected mountainous grey rock and featureless glens, but the Highlands were nothing like that. The land was full of life, coloured in a hundred different shades. A multitude of birds filled the sky. Every bush rustled when you passed it, unseen critters hiding within. The drive had been worth it.
This entire weekend will be worth it.
“Where’s your car?” asked Tom, peering around, hands still in his chinos.
Ryan blushed. “I parked up in the village to grab the keys and the landlord pissed himself laughing. Cheeky sod said I wouldn’t make it halfway before I ended up in a ditch. I had to leave my car behind while he drove us up here in his Land Rover. McGregor his name was. Could barely understand a word he said.”
Sean threw his head back and laughed. “I told yer not to buy that poxy Audi, yer daft bastard. You’re a right poser, you are, our kid.”
“Hey, don’t insult the TT. She’s my girl.”
Brett folded his arms and raised an eyebrow; his classic pose, born from an innate disapproval of most things. “I thought Sophie was your girl. Isn’t that why we’re all here? To celebrate your love and impending nuptials?”
“Do one!” said Sean. “We’re here to get ‘angin. Starting now!”
Loobey pulled a face. “Can’t we have a mooch first? Let’s enjoy some of this clean air. There ain’t a kebab shop in sight.”
Sean sneered, orange freckles bunching on his cheeks. “Yer wot? We ain’t here to go sightseeing, yer bell end.”
“I just want to settle in first before the madness starts. It was a long drive and I’m knackered.”
Tom seemed to agree because he was nodding. “The drive was an endurance test, to say the least. It didn’t help that Loobey and Sean were competing in the fart olympics most of the way here.”
Brett grimaced, his glasses rising on the ridge of his scrunched up nose. “Yeah, that was rough.”
Loobey looked away sheepishly. “I couldn’t help it. My guts were acting up.”
“Heaven’s knows why,” said Tom. “You didn’t eat a thing the entire way here. You must be starving.”
“I’ll eat later.”
Ryan was confused. You could usually depend on Loobey to have a good time, but he seemed on a downer. His reluctance to party was disheartening, but Ryan didn’t want to be a dick about it, so he looked at Sean and shrugged. “We’re here all weekend, mate. No need to rush.”
“Sod that!” Sean reached into his jean pocket and produced a baggie filled with white powder. He dipped a finger in and rubbed the contents on his gums. “Ah, that’s banging. Anyone want a taste?”
Everyone declined. While none of them were saints, this was a weekend on the lash, not a reenactment of Trainspotting. Ryan, himself, had never been one for drugs – alcohol gave him enough of a buzz. Sean could keep his gear. They still had jobs to go to on Monday.
Don’t think about work. That’s the last thing I want in my head. I’m here to have a laugh and nothing else. This might be my last chance.
“Okay,” said Ryan, clapping his hands together. “Let me give you the grand tour.” He strolled over to the side of the cottage, beckoning everyone to follow. “Over here, we have a large, mysterious shed, which the landlord informs me is to remain locked at all times.”
“I’m getting in there,” said Sean, “I swear down.”
“Try to behave,” said Tom, smoothing back his blonde hair as it flapped in the wind. “I know it’ll be difficult.”
Ryan glared at Sean playfully. “I had to pay a deposit on this place, mate, so nothing gets broken, okay? It’s not even meant for parties usually, but I found it cheap online and convinced the landlord we’d behave.”
Sean pulled a face. “What you mean it’s not meant for parties?”
“It’s like a spiritual retreat or something.”
“That would explain the spooky-looking cross over there,” said Loobey, pointing to a circle of white stones, within which stood a large wooden cross. The only thing lacking was a sacrificial altar.
“Another thing we’re not supposed to mess with,” said Ryan. “It’s like a hundred years old. The landlord said it would be a crime to damage it.”
“I’m climbing it,” said Sean, pupils already like dinner plates.
Ryan groaned. “Sean, don’t make me regret inviting you, okay?”
“I came here to party. It’s a stag do, ain’t it?”
Ryan rolled his eyes, but ended up laughing. Sean was a live wire, sure, but he’d never been any different. A party with him was a party you remembered – and Ryan wanted this to be a weekend none of them every forgot. “Okay, behind the cottage is a big hill, as you can see. I suggest we don’t try to climb it because the nearest hospital is twenty miles away. In front of the cottage is a valley with a stream. Me and Aaron have been down there already. It’s pretty mint.”
“The water’s crystal clear,” said Aaron meekly. “There are fish in it.”
“Skinny dipping,” said Sean, rubbing his hands together. “Nice!”
Brett pulled a face. “Really, Sean? Just us guys?”
“Ryan’s got strippers, ain’t he?”
Ryan was forced to disappoint. “You really think a stripper would come out here, two miles from the nearest village to entertain a bunch of drunken idiots? No way, mate. Would’ve been a non-starter.”
Tom chuckled and gave Sean a playful shove. His expensive watch glittered in the sunlight. “Yes, that would be a rather unwise career move for a young lady.”
“We’re not rapists,” said Loobey, wounded. “Jesus, you make it sound like we’re dangerous.”
They all looked at Sean.
“One of us has already talked about chopping up bodies,” said Brett.
Sean tutted. “I ain’t gonna kill nobody, am I? I’m just excited.”
“Good to know,” said Ryan. “Okay, let’s go inside.”
“About time!” Loobey clutched himself and shivered. “I’m freezing me nuts off here. You could have booked us a weekend in Ibiza, Ryan.”
Sean pinched his belly fat. “Freezing? With all that insulation?”
“I’m a bit chilly too,” said Aaron, wearing only a light grey jacket. He didn’t own anything thicker because he hardly ever left the house.
Ryan nodded to the front door, a solid slab of wood with a cute diamond-shaped window at the top. “Let’s get in and build a fire. Everyone grab your stuff.”
They grabbed their bags from the car and headed inside. While the exterior was traditional – white-washed stone and a thatched roof – the interior was modern. Manufactured oak planks covered the floor and the bulk of the living space was open plan. A compact kitchen-diner adjoined a large lounge area with a fireplace and television. Solar panels behind the cottage provided electricity along with a diesel generator beside the shed. Even inside, with the door closed, you could hear the motor thrumming away.
Ryan led everyone to the kitchen counter, which he had stacked full of beers, vodka, and bottled water. There were shopping bags full of snacks on the floor and pizzas in the fridge. “Eat regularly and stay hydrated,” he told them, “or you’ll be out of the game.”
“I’ll stick to vodka, me,” said Sean, grabbing a bottle and unscrewing the cap. Before he swigged, he looked at everyone and shrugged. “What? It’s what we’re here for, ain’t it?”
Ryan grabbed a beer. “Let’s get this party started.”
“Because Tom is coming out,” said Sean, elbowing Tom in the ribs.
Tom rolled his eyes. “Moron.”
Next, Ryan showed everyone to their bedrooms. The master was on the ground floor at the rear of the cottage. Ryan and Aaron would share its double bed. Upstairs were three more bedrooms, enough that only Sean and Loobey were forced to share. Luckily, their room had twin beds.
Sean pulled a face. “There’s only one bathroom? I ain’t going in after Loobey’s taken a dump.”
“We’re in the wilderness,” said Aaron. He clutched himself as he spoke, as if he was worried someone might prod him in the chest. “Everywhere’s a toilet if you want it to be.”
Sean nodded. “Good point, our kid. Loobey, you’ll have to drop your keks outside.”
Loobey shoved Sean against the pastel-blue wall. It wasn’t a fair fight when it came to weight divisions, but Sean rubbed his elbow and grinned like a Cheshire cat. “I’ve missed you pillocks. We should do this more often.”
Ryan nodded enthusiastically. “I know, right? What happened to us? We used to go up town every weekend. Now we’re all too busy.”
“We grew up,” said Tom. “We’re not teenagers anymore, Ryan. You’re about to get married. I’m settled down with Amanda. Loobey has a daughter.”
“Brett sticks his fingers up dog’s bum holes,” Sean added.
Brett rolled his eyes. “You’re really on form today, aren’t you? Are you going to be like this all weekend?”
“There’s a strong possibility.”
Ryan sighed, frustrated without really knowing why. “Growing up doesn’t mean our lives have to be over though, does it? We can still have a laugh.”
“Of course we can,” said Loobey. “We’re here now, ain’t we?”
Ryan patted him on the back. “I’m just missing the old days, I guess.”
Sean pointed a finger at Ryan and cackled. “He’s getting cold feet, lads! Is that why you dragged us out here in the middle of nowhere, our kid? You running out on the missus?”
Ryan felt himself blush. “Give over. I’m just glad we’re all together like old times. It means a lot that you all came.”
“Of course we came,” said Tom. “We wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
“Absolutely,” said Loobey, cracking his first actual smile since he’d arrived. “You’re my best mates and always will be.” Sean reached out and grabbed Loobey’s cock, making him shy away. “The hell you doing, Sean?”
“Ah, sorry, our kid. Thought we were gonna start knobbing. Can we go downstairs now and start drinking, you bunch of jessies?”
A smile crept onto Ryan’s face. This was going to be a weekend to remember. “Okay, lads, let’s go make some memories.”