Andy Gemmel was content, everything was going well, no hitches. He leaned on the bedroom windowsill and looked out, it was a glorious day, God was on his side. He was best man at his best friends wedding, which was due to take place in three hours. He had organised the stag night last night and had ensured Jimmy was returned home safe and sound, they had a boisterous evening with sing songs and a lot of ribald chat. He had ensured Jimmy was not chained to a lamppost or put on a train to Edinburgh, he had been very responsible he thought rather smugly. He had stayed at Jimmy’s house last night, to ensure there were no last minute disasters. He had checked that the taxi’s would arrive on time and phoned Brenda’s house to make sure everything was alright at that end. The bridesmaid informed him Brenda was nervous and rather giggly, but they would ensure everything went like clockwork.
He could hear Jimmy splashing in the bath, singing, he was glad he had insisted that Jimmy was ready early. Andy had already bathed and was wearing his Anderson tartan kilt, together with his lace up shirt. He felt he presented a passing resemblance to Mel Gibson, one of those bridesmaids would be lucky tonight.
He opened the window and leaned out, filling his lungs with large gulps of fresh air, he was content that everything was under control, although he harboured a few reservations about his speech. He reached into his sporran and removed the ring, leaning out of the window he held it up to the sky between his thumb and forefinger. He was trying to read the inscription, turning the ring this way and that for the best view. ‘J.S. loves B.W. 23/4/2004’. Suddenly a shadow followed by a flapping made him stagger back into the room.
“Hell’s bells.” He exclaimed, shaken. He then realised that he no longer held the ring, he dashed back to the window. He saw a magpie flying towards a tree on the other side of the street, something in its beak sparkled as the sun caught it. The magpie alighted in the tree and perched on a branch, it seemed to look across at Andy and moved the ring around its beak to make it sparkle.
“Hell’s bells and buckets o’ blood.” Andy clamped his hand across his forehead.
“Did you speak?” Jimmy called from the bath.
Andy’s mind raced frantically. “No er no, I’ve broken my shoe lace I’ll need to run out and get a pair.”
“I think Mum may have some in the cupboard.” Jimmy called helpfully. Andy was already disappearing through the front door.
Andy ran across the street to the tree where the bird sat perched at the end of a branch, the ring still clenched in its beak. He shook his fist. “Drop that ring you black and white thief, I need it.” He stopped when he realised that his ranting had attracted a crowd, mainly housewives who giggled and pointed at the bird.
“Did it pull it off yer nose, lad?” One worthy called to Andy. This set the rest of the group into fits of laughter.
Andy ignored them, determined to maintain his dignity. He saw a young man approaching, he was obviously a window cleaner. He was carrying a pail with a squeegee and cleaning material, he was also carrying, praise the Lord, a ladder. It was quite a short ladder, he probably only cleaned downstairs windows.
“Can I borrow your ladder, mate?” Andy asked.
The man stopped in front of Andy. “Why?”
“ Because I need to get that ring.” Andy pointed up to the bird, who now seemed fascinated by all the activity below.
The man surveyed the ever growing size of the group. “O.K, mate. Anything to help a fellow human being in his hour of need.” He held the ladder to Andy.
Andy placed the ladder against the tree. “Actually I was hoping you might be willing to climb the tree for me.” He pleaded.
The mans face took on a pained looked. “Sorry mate, I suffer from vertigo.”
Andy gave the man a quizzical look. “A window cleaner who suffers from vertigo – just my luck.”
He started to climb the ladder, very gingerly he was scared of heights too.
“I’ll hold it for you, mate” The man said helpfully.
The ladder did not reach the branch where the bird still sat watching.
“You’ll have to pull yourself up, mate.”
Andy muttered under his breath. He pulled himself up and then lay flat along the branch, still the bird watched. He started to pull himself along the branch.
“C’mon you lovely ladies, you surely want a flutter, a little bet on what is underneath.”
More giggling from the ladies. Andy listened in horror. ‘Good God he ‘s taken bets on what I’m wearing under my kilt.” He tried to wrap his kilt tighter round his legs, and nearly fell.
“I’m offering evens on underpants, two to one on a thong and threes on nothing.”
They surged forward now pulling their purses from shopping bags and aprons, money began changing hands. An elderly lady, with no teeth, had pulled her purse out, while she waited to place her bet. She looked up at Andy, smiled and gave him a wink.”
“Behave yourself, woman, act your age.” He shouted at the old woman. He decided he needed to get the ring as fast as possible and get down and stop this nonsense. He pulled himself further along the branch until the bird was within reach. Suddenly something landed on his bare legs and ran up his back, it was a cat attacking the bird. The bird flew off before the cat could pounce. Andy tried to strike the cat as it perched on his shoulder, causing him to lose his balance. He managed to grab the branch and dangled from it, the cat still perched on his shoulder before leaping back on to the branch and escaping. He looked down, the window cleaner was addressing the group.
“There you are then, ladies, you all witnessed it, the gentleman is wearing a natty pair of tartan underpants. Anyone who chose this bet can have their money back, you can’t say I’m not honest can you?” None of the housewives stepped forward.
“Thank you ladies that concludes our business except to say that if anyone requires their windows washed while I’m in the street I would be happy to oblige.” He picked up his ladder and pail and set off down the street. The group dispersed without as much as a look at Andy, except for the old lady whose smile had now turned to a leer, she gave him one final wink before she too set off with her shopping bag.
Andy dropped to the ground and sat on the pavement, in despair. He had lost the bird, he had no idea where it could be now.
His head jerked up and followed the direction of the call, there it was, as bold as brass, sitting in the gutter of an old factory about thirty yards away. Andy raced to the place, climbed over the fence, ignoring the ‘DO NOT ENTER’ signs. The bird still sat in the gutter, however the ring was now missing. Andy’s spirits plummeted again, he was on an emotional rollercoaster if the bird had dropped it then all hope was gone. The bird now hopped along the gutter and sat down at a downpipe. Andy peered at the bird, he shaded his eyes, yes, it was a nest he could definitely see strands of straw or something. His spirits rose again as he searched for something to enable him to reach the nest. After a short search he found an empty oil drum which he rolled under the downpipe and then stood it upright. He climbed on top and reached up, by standing on tip toe he could just manage to reach the nest. As his fingers groped around inside, his heart pounded when they found something solid, they traced the shape, it was round. He lifted it out, it was a gold ring, he raised both arms in a victory salute.
“Yes, yes.” He kissed the ring. “Oh, yes, fortune favours the brave.” He jumped down from the barrel and after climbing the fence, ran all the way back to Jimmy’s house.
Jimmy stood at the bottom of the stairs in full wedding regalia. “Where the hell have you been?” He was angry. “Look at the state of you.” He pointed to Andy’s shirt covered in dirt, his shoes with scuffed toes and leaves in his hair. “You’re not taking this best man lark seriously, are you?”
“I can explain.” Andy began.
“You don’t have time we will be late, get upstairs and get cleaned up as best you can. We should be at the church by now.”
The ceremony was almost over, the minister gave Andy the signal to hand over the ring. Jimmy took it and placed it at the end of Brenda’s finger.
“Repeat after me” The minister said. “With this ring I thee wed.”
“With this ring.” Jimmy began pushing the ring along Brenda’s finger, it stopped at the first knuckle and would not go further. Brenda scowled at Jimmy, Jimmy gulped before turning slightly and scowling at Andy.
“I thee wed.” Whispered the minister.
“What?” Jimmy had been knocked off his stride.
The minister took a short step forward and muttered into his bible. “Hold the ring on your finger, my dear.” He whispered to Brenda, before turning slightly to Jimmy.
“Continue with the ceremony, say I thee wed.”
“I thee wed .” Said Jimmy
The rest of the ceremony continued without a hitch, except Brenda kept snivelling as though fighting back tears. Jimmy repeated the ministers word with venom as he occasionally looked at Andy.
Andy, on the other hand, could not understand why Jimmy had not tried the ring on her finger beforehand, lack of foresight that’s what it was.
As the happy couple posed for photographs and mingled with guests, Jimmy collared Andy, Brenda by his side.
“ What happened in there? “ He jerked his head towards the church. He spoke with a beaming smile on his face, so as not to alert the other guests that they were angry.
“Don’t blame me if you can’t get the ring to fit that was your responsibility.” Andy replied smugly. I didn’t let it out of my sight.”
Jimmy was about to reply when Brenda stepped forward, she held the wedding ring under Andy’s nose.
“Who is Paula?” Her eyes had narrowed to slits, and she spoke through clenched teeth.
“Don’t know.” Said Andy the first inkling of fear beginning to gnaw at his intestines.
“You don’t know.” Paula’s lip was now curled in a sneer that Elvis Pressley would have cherished.
She pointed to the ring. “Read that inscription.”
Andy took the ring and after a few squints, he read the inscription. “Paula and Dan 19/6/2001”
“She’s one of your floozies isn’t she? You gave me some tarts wedding ring to wear on my wedding day, how could you?
He felt dizzy, he was conscious that the other guests were now looking at them, he suddenly felt quite dizzy. Paula was Welsh and she was now ranting at him in her native tongue which somehow made every word sound like swearing, because of the venom with which it was delivered.
Andy now realised that the nest had contained a collection of bright objects, probably a selection of wedding rings. Brenda’s mother had now joined in his Welsh chastisement, with Jimmy joining in with some good old fashioned Anglo Saxon. The babble of voices became deafening, he wanted to clamp his hands over his ears, then he heard it, he wasn’t sure at first but then it came again, louder this time.