Martin used his elbow to ring the doorbell of the Callander B&B and did his best not to bleed on the paintwork.
“Good gracious!” The lady who opened the door blinked up at him like a startled lamb, the resemblance enhanced by her spry little figure and tightly curled white hair. She seemed at a loss for any further words. Martin didn’t blame her. After all, it wasn’t every day strange men turned up on your doorstep with their hands all covered in blood—at least, not in Martin’s experience, although maybe they did things differently in Scotland.
“Mrs. McPherson? We spoke on the phone. Martin Lowrie. I’m booked in for the next three nights? I had a bit of a run-in with the local wildlife,” he added, waving his hands in illustration and wincing as he saw a droplet of blood flying onto the doormat. “Sorry about that.”
The landlady’s eyes widened. “Dear me! Your hands are cut to ribbons. Come in, young man, come in, we’ll get that seen to just now.” She bustled down the narrow hallway in front of him in a waft of lavender. Luckily the hall happened to be tiled, not carpeted, saving Martin the further embarrassment of trampling mud and blood into the Axminster. Or was it just luck? Perhaps they did do things differently in Scotland, after all? Martin grinned to himself at a sudden vision of the sweet, little old lady turning out to be some kind of Scottish Sweeney Todd, murdering one week’s guests and serving them up to the next. Mind you, it’d play hell with the repeat business.
“This way, my dear. Now, let’s get those hands under the tap. Och, that’s some nasty scratches you’ve got there. What on earth have you been doing with yourself?”
Martin held his hands under the cold water as directed. The initial stinging gradually eased to a dull throb and then an icy numbness. “You know, people warned me about the midges here, but….” He laughed, trailing off at her genteelly raised eyebrows. “I found a cat caught in a snare on my way over,” he continued hurriedly. “Not very grateful things, cats, are they?”
The old lady turned off the tap and examined his wounds. “Well, if it was a wildcat, you’ll get no gratitude from one of them, it’s true enough. So you freed the wee creature, did you?” She turned unexpectedly sharp eyes on him, not looking away until he nodded. “Did you no think to call the SSPCA?”
Martin drew in his breath sharply as she wrapped his hands loosely in a tea towel. He’d have felt bad about ruining her linen, but the shortbread recipe and improbably colored picture of the Isle of Skye led him to suspect she wouldn’t be too devastated by its loss. “Well, yes, in hindsight that might have been an idea. I don’t suppose you have any Savlon?”
“Och, no, we’ll get Dr. Brodie to look at those. Alan?” Martin jumped as her soft, high voice suddenly became a bellow. A red-headed boy, all gangly limbs and hands too big for his body, came hurtling down the stairs in a manner so uncoordinated Martin was amazed he didn’t fall headlong.
He shot Martin a deeply suspicious glare. “Gran?”
“Will you go down the way and ask Dr. Brodie to come up? This young man’s in need of some first aid.”
Dr. Brodie turned out to be somewhere between Martin’s age and Mrs. McPherson’s, and appeared to be doing his best to perpetuate single-handedly the stereotype about the dour Scotsman. “Well, you’re lucky you were wearing thick sleeves,” he admitted with an air of disappointment. “It doesn’t look like the creature’s teeth have broken your skin.”
Martin shrugged as well as he could whilst keeping his hands still for the doctor. “Yes, there was a sort of steady, light rain when I was coming over the tops—what do you call it round here? Mizzle? So I had my waterproofs on. Just as well the cat only bit down on my arms, not my hands.” Martin winced involuntarily at Brodie’s none-too-gentle touch on a particularly deep scratch. “I can’t really blame it. The snare was caught around its hindquarters and pulled tight like a corset—it must have been out of its mind with pain.”
Brodie nodded sourly. “Still, you’ll be wanting a tetanus injection for these scratches, lad,” he huffed as he finished dressing Martin’s wounds. “You can come in after surgery tomorrow. Eleven-thirty.”
“Are you sure that’s really necessary?” Martin had intended to walk up to Strathyre tomorrow, and this was going to totally bollocks up his plans.
“Have you ever seen a man with the lockjaw? Not a pretty sight, I can tell you. You’d not be scared of a little needle, now would you?”
“What? No, of course not!” Martin defended himself, annoyed by Alan’s snigger.
“Good. Then I’ll see you tomorrow, lad. Good day to you, Mrs. McPherson.” Brodie rose, and Mrs. McPherson saw him out with a prim smile before heading back into the kitchen.
“Well, now. I’ll be getting supper ready just now, so if you don’t mind…?”
Martin stared at her—then belatedly realized this was her polite way of telling him to stop taking up space in her kitchen. “Oh! Sorry. I’ll, er… right.” Grabbing his rucksack, he escaped into the hall and finally managed to take off his boots.
Young Alan had become a lot more friendly since finding out that Martin had been injured helping a wildcat. It’d been a mixed blessing; he took advantage of his captive audience over supper to have a bloody good rant about farmers who set snares.
“Wildcats can’t be tamed,” Alan told Martin earnestly, the effect slightly marred by the tomato soup moustache he was currently wearing. Martin made a mental note to check in the mirror later to make sure he hadn’t managed something similar. “Even if they’re reared in captivity they keep their wild nature. Bite your hand off soon as look at you, they would. That’s why your one attacked you. It’s their instincts, you see? They don’t trust you not to turn on them again. And they’re not wrong.” His ears reddened as he became more heated. “Wildcats only hunt because they need to eat. I think people who set snares ought to try getting caught in one themselves. See how they like it!”
Martin recoiled inwardly at the violence of the boy’s tone. If Mrs. McPherson was murdering guests, he thought only half-jokingly, young Alan was definitely in on the plot.