Barbara Mercer


I stood in front of Flora’s statue again, pondering her story. Not the story you think you know about a Jacobite sympathiser, she wasn’t. The story of a brave, kind, woman willing to meet Princes on their own terms, whether Stuart or Hanoverian; a woman who spent time in the Tower of London for her part in assisting in a rebellion she didn’t believe in, and who had her lands in North Carolina confiscated for her loyalty to the British in the American War of Independence. That story, that woman, fascinating and hardly known.

I was stood there again, for the third time in a week, it was drizzling but I was putting off my, now almost inevitable, visit to the Castle Tavern. When fine, Inverness is not an unattractive place to get stuck in, but it is the north of Scotland, and so it is just as likely to be rainy. And of course, not just the north of Scotland but these days, the north of the five-year-old Republic of Scotland. Not sure the British Royal family saw that one coming. I mean it wasn’t a surprise that, when once Westminster finally conceded to a new referendum on Scottish independence, the ayes won the vote. After the appalling and dispiriting mess of Brexit and divided approaches to Covid-19, no wonder. But I think the Royals thought they’d be OK; they’d hang on as formal heads of state. Turns out this was not to be. Even in upper class Edinburgh they were keen to sever all ties with the old enemy. So, republicanism won the day in a subsequent referendum; though to avoid other mistakes the President is very much a mere figurehead. Still President Davidson seems to be doing OK having swiftly adapted to the new status quo.

Well, women and politics, naturally, politics affects us all, you don’t have to opt for being politically active. I mean, look at me, all I want is to fly, and keep flying, not to stop, not to be stranded, grounded, in, like I said, Inverness. I know, it’s not Greenland, but still. And it’s not my fault, well I would say that, and yes, I was only doing my job.

Maybe I should have baled out of Business Lease Inc earlier, I have enough money for a couple of small planes, I could have set up on my own with a jet taxi service. I have the business plan all set up. I just kept putting it off, sheer bloody laziness. Now I’m watching the clouds move over the River Ness and listening to a couple of Texans (he’s wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the lone star flag on the front and ‘Proud to be Texan’ on the back, and she’s got a Stetson on) discuss Flora both inaccurately, and at a distressingly high volume. 

The drizzle has stopped, and I walk over to my favourite bench, examining the seat for dampness before risking a seat. I can still hear the Texans, but they won’t hear me calling them tossers under my breath. Not because they’re Texans mind but there’s nothing I hate more than ignorance. Blindly turning your back on sources of knowledge just because there’s an easier simpler story that you’ve already been told. Or blindly ignoring your conscience when it tells you that sooner or later the corporate jet you fly will be leased to a worse than average capitalist. If my conscience was embodied right now it would be standing with its arms crossed and a big smug grin on its face. I can’t say I would blame it either.

I feel my phone vibrate in my jacket pocket. I’ve taken to coming out without a bag, it makes them twitchy if they see me with too much stuff, makes them think I’ll make a break for the border. It’s a long way to the border and I’m not scared enough to think I’ll be here for too much longer, no point in causing trouble for myself. Still, they don’t know that. So, just wallet, hotel key and phone most of the time. Inverness is small enough to get back to the hotel quickly if I want. I take the phone out of my pocket, number withheld, I sigh, I know who that’ll be then. I answer;

‘Maria Donovan’

‘Ah Ms Donovan, it’s Inspector Stewart here, I was wondering, if you have a few minutes, whether you could wander down to the station for a chat?’

It sounds like an invitation I could refuse; it sounds like he’s asking me to afternoon fucking tea. He’s not. I am about to be interrogated, sorry ‘interviewed’. Again.

‘I can do that Inspector; I’ll just contact Jack and be on my way to you.’

By the grumpy sigh I heard just before the call was disconnected the presence of Jack, my Advocate, (that’s a Scottish legal representative) was not what the Inspector had in mind. But both the lease company and my own common-sense told me not to go in without a safety net. I wasn’t guilty of anything, the young Scottish Republic has an admirable human rights record and police and judicial standards are high, but they were after a very high-profile head, or at least the right to permanently freeze every Scottish asset of that high- profile head they could find, and at this point they still weren’t clear whether the jet I piloted was part of those assets or not. Hence the grounding. 

‘Inspector Angus Stewart, Maria Donovan and Advocate Jack McNeil, interview room A, Inverness Police HQ, 30 June 2035.’

 The Inspector’s introduction for the recording sounded like a bored priest intoning a blessing. Perhaps this interview would be more routine than the last couple had been, or perhaps I was reading too much into a few words.

‘So, Ms Donovan, can you repeat for the record what you have previously told me about the ownership of the Cessna Citation Longitude that you landed at Inverness Airport on the 20th June?’

I sighed. Story checking, a basic police technique, get the suspect to tell you the story several times, if it’s consistent, it is probably true (or very well-rehearsed), if it’s inconsistent then there will be holes available in which to prod investigatory fingers. I glanced sideways at Jack who made a humming noise under his breath and then shrugged, I took this to mean I could go ahead.

‘The Citation belongs to Business Lease Inc, I am employed by them to fly the plane, effectively the pilots and steward services come as part of the hire package with the plane.’ 

The Inspector asked the next few questions predictably enough, and hopefully my answers were just as uninteresting, certainly nothing seemed to worry Jack at all until the Inspector asked;

‘At what point were you aware that you would be asked to fly to Scotland?’

Jack sat forward, gone was the laconic slope shouldered half dozing Advocate of the last half hour.

‘What does this have to do with the ownership of the Citation?’

‘We are exploring other potential infractions.’ Responded the Inspector

‘In which case my client and I should be informed and Ms Donovan should be cautioned that she is being questioned about other offences’.

The Inspector paused, obviously he was fishing for something. He sighed, for a moment he just looked weary and a bit rumpled,

‘Not to worry, Ms Donovan doesn’t have to answer the question. It was only a formality.’ 

Jack and I looked at each other, puzzled. 

‘Ms Donovan is free to leave Scotland.’

The Inspector reached into his pocket and took out my Republic of Ireland passport, placing it into my outstretched hand. 

‘And the Citation?’ I asked.

‘It’s staying, we’ll be making a case that for the length of its lease it is an asset of the family. As the family assets are forfeit to the Scottish government, we’ll be keeping the Citation and not returning it to Business Lease Inc until the lease is up.’

I took a deep breath, I was fond of that flying machine, sadly enough I was probably closer to the plane than to most people. I’d been flying it since it was delivered eight years ago. But it wasn’t mine, and it would be down to Jack and his colleagues to appeal any decision in the courts. 

I would guess that Business Lease would be working very hard to break the lease contract with the customer. Scotland was not the only nation to have started freezing assets and issuing commercial and trade embargos against the family and businesses of the ex-President. Social Media daily featured some gif of the ex-POTUS appearing to explode with rage at the seizure of some pet project. Though what he had looked like when he received news that the Scottish Government had nationalised Turnberry is anyone’s guess. 

Jack and I left the police station together and turning into the back roads trudged back into town, I had no car and Jack said he preferred to walk when he could. By common consent we ignored the first pub we came to, and headed for the next, this time of day Hootananny would be pretty quiet. We’d discovered a mutual appreciation of Skye Red over the last month or so, and once we had drinks in hand, we found a corner table.

‘What’ll you do?’ queried Jack, ‘You’ve been flying that plane for years.’

‘Mmmm, I don’t know. Perhaps now’s the time to start my own business, but I’m not sure I really have the entrepreneurial spirit.’

‘Have you thought of flying for a commercial airline?’

‘I was qualified for big jets but would need to get recertified, but I prefer small planes really.’

Jack paused a minute, glass half-way to his mouth, he scratched his head with his other hand.

‘What?’ I prompted.

‘My cousin Janie, she’s high up in Loganair, she was saying to me recently that they are lacking in experienced pilots who are happy with the smaller planes; have you ever flown a Twin Otter?’

‘Well, years ago, they’re a lot of fun but . . .’

‘See, they have all these island routes.’

‘What, like Barra where they land on the beach?’

‘Aye, like that, you’d be out of Glasgow mainly I think.’

I sat back, it was an idea, it was a good idea. Work permits were unlikely to be a problem, the EU had granted Scotland applicant status and the state was keen to be seen as cooperative and helpful. It would be strange to be based in one place, but maybe it was time to start gathering moss.

I raised my glass,

‘Here’s to capitalist criminals having their assets frozen’.

Jack tapped his glass to mine.

‘Ha’, he said, ‘here’s to your new life, courtesy of Trump.’

Barbara Mercer loathes these bio things with a passion, however …. Barbara co produces Flight of the Dragonflies with Darren, who she met whilst studying for the Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Brighton. She’s currently working on a novel.

Flights. Issue Two, September 2021