The Unusual Suspects Vol. 1

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Dave Redpath 16/09/04

Our climbing circle has a long tradition of telling tall tales, something that is the very fabric of our pastime. Second to our favourite hero, ourselves, comes the local hero. The man that's out there making it happen, right now.

Early in 2000 a new highland hero broke on Scottish waters when Si O'conor established a half dozen hard new boulder problems on the Polldubh boulders in Glen Nevis. Before promptly disappearing before anyone could ask questions. Emerging again two years later another crop of hard ascents followed on the shores of Skye.

However, the scene had quietly been keeping watch and it wasn't long before heads turned and the sniping began. No one seemed to know the man. Only a handful had claimed to have seen him, or his problems. More importantly, no one had seen him climb one of his problems.

Unusual Suspects.jpg

Widespread condemnation seemed to peak in the spring of 2004 after a project incident. Every cupboard in Scotland had its bones rattled free in short period. What remained was a testament to intrigue that had been created.

Reflections in my own little scene were always good natured. Everyone seemed taken with our new Scottish Champion. Fables began to be spun into what was really going on. Was Si someone we already knew? A split personality? An egomaniac? Or just a genuine guy?

My head was brimming with all the fantasy that was spinning around me. It became apparent to me that I had to write something. What began with a story based around Si, soon integrated everyone around me, with a few twists here and there. The product was a dozen plus pages of complete spoof fiction revolving around hard grading and the Internet.

In full support on Si, we all really lack the commitment to get up north and go climbing with the guy. Its really is just a case of British Justice, guilty till proven innocent. What does a man have to do in this country to be believed? In all Si has done the best thing to stop his cynics. He's kept on climbing doing his thing on his home shores.

I'd like to thank the following people for inspiring this piece of writing: Michael Tweedley for the Usual Suspects Concept. Niall McNair for initial character development of Noir and Rayban. An honouree mention goes to the Intriguing Si O'conor for motivating this piece of writing. And lastly thanks to everyone posting on the ScottishClimbs forums, you have provided insatiable inspiration to write this story.


Scene 1 - The Lonely Caravan

Heavy cloud swept into the Skye Mountains and sheets of rain began to fall across the coire hillside. A gusty wind swept through the heathered hillsides, stiff woody stems fighting the swing of the wind. A bad day to be in the mountains.At the entrance of Coire Lagan sat an Avondale Mk II Caravan. Two individuals approached it sluggishly through the heather from the coire entrance.

The gusting wind rocked the caravan gently and incessantly. He looked around as he sat inside the caravan. This was a far cry from luxury, but it was the minimum a man of his age could accept as temporary dwelling. Three dull knocks came on the door. He looked at his watch, his witness was not to arrive until 10.15am, he was early. He stood up and opened the door to see who it was. "Hello, can we have two coffees and two sausage rolls please", said the man. He looked down to see two hill walkers clothed in matching bright orange gore-tex jackets peering up at him. They could not be serious. He look down at the woman who's wet hair stuck to the side of her jacket, she returned a weary smile. The young man repeated eagerly, "Can we have two...", but was cut off.

"What the feck are you on about. Does this look like a bloody T-van to you son! Take yourself and your dozy wet trollop off of my fecking hillside and piss off!", he slammed the flimsy caravan door shut.

Chief Inspector Taggart returned to his desk and sat down. He took a final swig from his bitter coffee. He cackled to himself, "I wouldn't serve this shite to anyone", he didn't want anymore 'Murdurs' to investigate. In quiet reflection he sighed looking out the small window across the misty coire, this was like no crime scene he had investigated before. The task of his investigation was daunting, he had to probe the mysterious deaths of five people in this very coire only a week ago.

Taggart had enjoyed a lucrative career as a fictional television detective. Becoming tired of the cameras and the fiction he hungered for a real crime scene, a real investigation and finally to make a real difference. Secretly through the latter part of his acting career he had trained to be a real detective. Later the Western Ross Metropolitan Police Force had arrange a new identity, career and death of his old life. His career hidden from the camera had flourished, he had become as fine a detective as his imaginary character. Amongst so many torn faces in the north, no one had ever questioned his resemblance to the fictional character. Moderate facial reconstruction after his termination had helped. No one ever questioned the similarity in name or slight resemblance to former self. He had found that a aggressive stare help break any eye contact thinking, "Is that not... Na it canny be".

The RAF had done a fine job airlifting equipment into the coire, but Taggart had not enjoyed being winched out of the helicopter. His sides still hurt from the harness the winch man had lowered him in. Items lain on the caravans surfaces had a tendency to roll. A slope of ten degrees was the flattest spot the ground crew could find on the valley basin.

He unpacked the items on his inventory, which had been compiled by Highlander Inventory Co. He checked off the list as he removed each item. Three jars of Cafe Noir along with his favourite Burton biscuits and some Walkers Shortbread. Seven tins of Fry Benthos Pies, accompanying cans of baked beans and five bottles of Irn-Bru to wash it all down.

A selection of CD's and DVD's had also been included along with a portable DVD player. Taggart frowned as be acknowledged two of his James Bond favourites Goldfinger and Diamonds are Forever. He scorned the modern selection of Terminator 3, Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Starwars. The CD selection was even worse consisting of Eminen and Tupac. His family were humouring him indeed. He flung the box into the corner of the caravan, its contents strewn on the floor as it landed. He reached into his bag and removed his Celtic Connections CD, at least he would have some solace.

Taking another long sip of his coffee he stared at the Scottish Tourism poster of the Skye Bridge on the wall, complete with a naff rainbow. Reaching over he lifted a bundle of print outs from the website know as ''. Skimming over the text, the information he required had been downloaded from the new route database. Forty-Five newly claimed problems in Skye's Coire Lagan. He noted Five of which were over the grade of Font 8a, established by Kayser Soze, he marked these routes on the print outs with his pen. Apparently, these were known as boulder problems. Taggart jeered that such an insignificant past time existed in such a beautiful place in Scotland, and more so that it had a following. As a lad he had often walked in the Campsie Fells north of Glasgow, unquestionably this was true climbing. Three dull knocks came on the door. He did not bother looking at his watch, he had heard the wheezing outside. Opening the door he looked down upon the head of a small man with a balding circle of hair. The man tilted his head slowly upwards pausing briefly before introducing himself as Dunne, Joab Dunne. Taggart invited the man inside and directed him to sit opposing him at the small table. Re-seating himself he started his interrogation.

"So Mr Dunne, you claim to have been a member of this group of people in the coire last week, of which you appear to be the sole survivor?", Taggart questioned looking over his glasses.

Dunne looked distracted looking at items around the caravan."Yes Inspector", Dunne said distantly.

"That'd be Chief Inspector", Taggart repeated sternly to regain Dunne's attention.

"Yes Chief Inspector." Dunne repeated focusing on Taggart.

"Can you explain to me why this particular group of people became assembled in this coire?"

"We were assembled to complete an assignment.", Dunne stated diminutively.

"What was the assignment?", Taggart enquired.

"Our assignment was that of truth.", Dunne's reply was again short.

Trying to calm his agitation over Dunne's feeble co-operation, Taggart decided to make a more direct attack at Dunne's character. Browsing the character summaries of the dead men again briefly Taggart commented with a raised eyebrow, "Of this group Dunne you appear to be the least 'unbreakable'. Why was it you were recruited?"

Dunne wriggled in his chair, "Our employer understood that each of us would bring particular 'talents' to this assignment". As Dunne continued to talk, Taggart pressed play on his voice recorder.

Scene 2 - The Recruitment

Dunne had reached the location the anonymous caller had left on his answering machine. "Meet on Friday at 10.15am, in the Oak suite of the Burton Hotel. Substantial reward for quick work", a husky voice had said. He had been unemployed for some time now, his skill as illustrator for Topo diagrams was seldom required since the last ensemble of new generation SMC guidebooks had been published. He had put aside the sinister tone of the call as accidental, and proceeded to the stated address.

He entered the Burton Hotel then asked at reception for the location to the Oak suite.

Limping slowly up the stairs, his body bent double, a few of the hotel guests frowned at his unkempt appearance in passing. Entering the Oak Suite he stopped momentarily, his eyes adjusting to the dark room.

"Mr Dunne I assume..., your late!", said a voice from the front of the room.

He noted five others in the room sitting quietly, he approached the free chair and sat down.

The speaker began, "Now that you are all here I will begin. I am Mr Diamond and I have been directed by my employer to assemble this group. You six have been assembled to complete an assignment and the financial reward for each of you will be substantial. The exact details of the assignment are shown on the video I am about to show you."

Diamond dimmed the remaining light, and started the projector...

The screen went black again. The lights in the room increased in intensity. "Are there any questions", said Mr Diamond. All men were silent. Dunne look around the room, he was familiar with all whom were present.

To Dunne's right sat Walker (aka Muscles Munro). He sat in a pair of ripped Ron-Hill trousers wearing a dated '284 Peaks Challenge' T-Shirt under his moth eaten woolly jumper.Walker as his name suggested had a gradual introduction to climbing. Having bagged all 284 Munros by his 10th birthday, he quickly turned to rock climbing. Shunning modern training styles, he took a grass roots style to forwarding Scottish climbing standards by getting out and establishing some new modern rock climbing test pieces. Climbing circles doubted his powers were derived solely from climbing real rock. Many suspect his secret training. One observer claimed to have seen him doing pull ups with giant sacks of potatoes tied to his back along with various other rural items such as trees, giant boulders and the occasionally a ceilidh dance band. Strangely the same observer was later killed by a brutal throw through the ceiling of his local ceilidh hall.

Second to the right of Dunne sat Highlander (aka The Tartan Terminator). He sat kilted with a Highland Tartan embellished over his shoulder and chest. A huge claymore sword sat at his side.Not much was known about the origins of Highlander. Many a silver haired fox stated that we had been around in the glens as long as they could remember. Some mocked his traditional Scottish clothing associating him with a dated culture. Others admired his tradition having never set foot outside his beloved Highlands, guardian of the Glens.His cries from high upon the side of particular misty Scottish mountain can be heard weekly as he attempts his long term project. Some say he must be immortal, as he carries no rock protection to guard the three hundred metre fall from the crux . Other disregard the rumours as myth, no mortal human would attempt such an audacious line.His reputation for dangerously hard repeats was impeccable having repeated Walkers hardest routes such 'This shit is loose!' E11 6c and 'Canny keep faun off' E10 7b onsight solo to name but a few.

To Dunne's left sat Rayban (aka Slim Shady). He sat in a white tracksuit with a gold chain round his neck and a defiant look in his eye, cap on backwards.Rayban was from the hard streets of Ibrox, Glasgow. Having taken to climbing at an early age at the local wall he found his B-Boy Beats and Breaks from the street to be a catalyst for his movement. Climbing when blaring his rhymes gave him increased psyche and flawless pace in the execution of hard climbingsequences. Many came to big up his moves at the local climbing wall. Though not as strong as the other two Rayban boosted a reputation of having never fallen off a climb, ever.

Second to the left of Dunne sat Noir (aka The Dark Destroyer). Noir sat in a uniform of black leather, boots and black cloak. After many years sport climbing at Glen Ogle as a young man Noir had succumbed to the dark side of the force. Taken by him more literally than metaphorically he had embraced his new reputation choosing a spoof facade of Darth Vader to become known as Noir, (Though some thought Thor and his hammer to be a more appropriate). Training in dark recluse of his cellar his powers had increased, giving him greater control over his mind and body. Others speculated that he was part machine.

Third to the left of Dunne in a small chair sat Column (aka The Creature). He sat quietly observing the others, diamond eyed, rubbing his hands. His head occasionally jerking to the left in a mumbled perverse monologue. Long ago he had been a man called Colin who had suddenly crossed from mainstream climbing to bouldering. Colin had been a successful boulderer, making ascents of many hard new problems across Scotland. His output dwindled as his projects refined. Friends had last seen him at the back of a cave on the Nevis Hillside. Years later, the creature came to be known as Column claimed an ascent from the back of the cave which later collapsed. Legend speaks of Colin's obsession with the moves of his precious problem made of a rare rock some suspected was part of an asteroid. When the cave began to collapse Colin had tried to hold the ceiling up. He took the strain for decades, the rare asteroid properties increasing his strength and prolonging his life. After the eventual collapse the asteroid had rocked upward returning into the cosmos. Column then began a quest to find a new precious project. Occasionally holding up collapsing bridges in the community to fund his travel. His now grey scaly skin discussing him well as concrete pillar. The other men in the room were silent. Yawning stretching and scratching various body parts. Mr Diamond. Looked around at the silent men,

"Then I take by your silence none of you have any questions about my employers offer"

"Who is your employer", Noir questioned.

Diamond paused then said, "My employer is he who shall not be named!".

Sensing the building tension between the two Highlander cut back to the point, "So you want us to go to Skye and repeat some hard boulder problems of which the location has not been previously disclosed".

"I believe that was the message of the film you viewed gentlemen", Diamond said.

"I heard something about bouldering on Skye, wasn't it done by Keyser Soze", said Highlander. A couple of the men gasped, all sat upright at the mention of the name. "No one has ever seen him because he can disappear into thin Ayr", said Column rocking in his chair.

Walker started, "Keyser Soze, I can believe were having this conversation. I mean your telling me a criminal mastermind has established more hard climbing in a small area than Klem Loskot, Fred Nicole and Jackie Godoffe. Personally, I don't find that plausible".

Diamond smiled and went on, "Each off you has an envelope in front of you containing all the details you require to find these problems. All you need do is repeat all of the problems listed between you".

The five men opened the envelopes in front of them. Gasps came from around the room. "That's a Font 8c, two 8a+'s and three 8a's", no person has ever established as many hard new problems in Scotland before.", said Walker.

Rayban turned to Dunne, "What are we suppose to do with him, he ain't climbed shit".

"Mr Dunne has not be brought here for his climbing talents but for his artistic", stated Diamond cheerfully. The 5 men looked puzzled.

"Mr Dunne is here to drawn the route Topos of the boulders and will compile the problems for the guide", stated Diamond.

All nodded satisfied in the assignment that had been set.

Diamond stepped to the coat hanger in the corner of the room and put on his jacket. "Then Gentlemen I wish you good luck on your assignment. Payment of fifty thousand pounds will be directed into each of the account numbers you have given me on completion of the assignment within a weeks time." Placing his hat on his head Diamond bid farewell and exited the room.

Scene 3 - Enter the Coire

The group had agreed the assignment could be completed in two days maximum. However an incident crossing the Skye Bridge on Thursday morning had delayed them considerably. On entering a checkpoint all had been arrested immediately, then imprisoned overnight. Their bouldering mats confiscated as suspected explosive devices. Early that morning, they had crossed to the Island by canoe, leaving one remaining day to complete the assignment.

The Skye Mountains were outlined against a crisp dark blue early morning sky. Two ATVs climbed the heathered hillside into the basin of coire Lagan, their floodlights cutting through the early morning darkness. Meandering left and right up he steep hill shadowed men clung onto the vehicles sides.

The group of six were guided into coire Lagan by farmer McGrath, who sat in the front passenger seat of first ATV. Dunne, Highlander and Noir sat in the back listened intermittently to MacGrath as the ATV engine whined and groaned up the hill.

McGrath grumbled, his breath condensing in the early morning air, "There ain't many come to these parts, not like my old home in York Shire. Mainly them walking types just passin by you know. It's not good for me to be up here at this time in the morning. I've been having a lot of trouble with me ewe's this past week doctor says its mee stress over lamin season". Sitting in the back of the second ATV Rayban, Walker and Column surveyed the area.

The two ATVs halted as the hillside became overly steep. McGrath climbed out of the first ATV to direct the others, "Well lads, end of the line for me. Now you want to continue up this here hillside and you'll see the boulder field. Do take care all. Talk is of the coming of the dark lord to these here hillsides this time of year". Highlander turned to look at Noir suspiciously. McGrath continued, "Yearly a dark cloud shrouds the coire basin for a week each spring. People say evil cries can be heard through the clouds", Noir turned to Highlander with a raised eyebrow. Looking at their faces MacGrath let out a laugh, quite evil sounding. Then cleared his throat. "Hem hm, apologies lads Well I bid ee farewell all". Turing to face uphill the six men shouldered their gear for the remaining walk, except Noir who has his small slave boy dressed in a brown suit carry his bags. The 5 looked at Noir then at the boy and shook their head dismissively. Highlander cried, "Lets stomp some bog"! The six set off dispersed toward the scattered boulder field high above them. McGrath watched until the six disappeared before prompting the other ATV to return with him to the farm.

The group arrived at the boulder field. Collapsing in an exhausted pile of bodies and gear. Before them sat a huge boulder field dispensed over the entire coire basin. The six men stood looking at what lay before them, big smiles crossing their faces. "It's going to be a busy day men", announced Walker.

Noir looked down at his slave, who smiled up insistently. He wished he still had his bouldering mat the landings didn't look terribly great. Highlander stated, "Bouldering is the purists' form of climbing, I hope you lads have strong ankles". The men unpacked their bouldering gear and started to warm up in the morning sun.

Scene 4 - Making it Funky

Dunne was directed identify the first 3 problems on the notes they had been given. Print outs from the new routes database. Dunne directed the group to the first problem on the Anvil boulder easily seen at the bottom of the coire basin. Dunne stated, "Skin Groper Font 8a: climb steep face from sit start on obvious crimps into dynamic press flake".

Noir stepped forward making a clenched fist with his one black-gloved hand, "Let me have this problem", he said in a husky voice. Looking at the boulder he could see no holds. "Font 8a, this looks impossible...", choked Noir. In a bounced stoop Column said with pointed finger, "Only impossible in your mind". Noir shouldered his small slave boy and directed him to clean any holds he could find.

After significant cleaning, three holds to an obvious flake were cleaned. Noir sat down, clad his hands in black chalk and took the crimps. Highlander bolstered "Use the force Noir...!". Noir hummed and muttered but was unable to pull on the holds. He repeated the procedure a further three times before the group booed him aside.

Highlander stepped in to try, pulling on the initial holds. This time pulling on before wilting back down to sitting. Noir heckled in a husked voice, "Your powers are weak old man", and the group laughed.

Spurred on Walker took his turn, from the others mistakes he spotted a crucial heel toe and promptly latched the crux crimper. Moving right he inset his toe for the long stretch to the undercut flake. Reaching this he began to wobble as the flake had a hollow feel to it. Determined he pulled through to complete the problem. The group looked on doubting a previous ascent had ever been made.

Rayban stepped forward, "Step aside bitches its time for me to roll ma beats". Rayban placed his beat box under the problem. Flipping his cap on back wards he sat down adjusted his sunglasses, chalked up and pressed play.

As the music began he nodded his head rhythmically in time with the beats, "You better lose yourself in the music, the moment. You own it, you better never let it go. You only get one go to flash it, do not miss your chance to blow. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo". He then cranked latching the crux crimper without the heel toe. The others turned to each other and bug eyed. Paused on the crimper Rayban started again, "Snap back to reality, Oh there goes gravity".

Stretching dynamically he flicked and caught the flake. Wasting no time, he promptly double dyno'd for the lip of the boulder and topped out. Standing atop of the boulder he began "Will the real Keyser Soze please stand up, please stand up, please stand up, were going to have a problem here...", then walked off towards the descent.

Scene 5 - Cave Thang

Noir, Highlander and Column heckled Dunne for the next problem deciding crimps were not in their favour. Using his notes Dunne pointed to the hillside, then turned smiling at Column, This ones called 'The Pits', Font 8a. Column raced up the hillside, tongue hanging out of his mouth. Pulling hard on the lead Walker had put on him earlier, his breathing was occasionally throttled as he tried to leap onto adjacent boulders to the path. Approaching the cave Walker released Columns lead, he briskly made for the caves darkness.

Entering the 'Pit' it took a moment for the groups eyes to adjust to the darkness. Dunne struck his lighter to view the description. "It says here simply, climb out from the back of the pit from a sitting start?". Walker examined the holds on route. Many of them crumbled in his hands. Rayban pocketed his shades and stared at the route, "This shit dont look climbed G". Highlander started poking flakes off with his claymore, one fell and hit Noir square on the head to his surprise. Noir turned in a husky voice, "You will pay for that". His small slave wearing a small miners helmet and light looked up and pulled a face at Highlander.

After thirty minutes cleaning, the problem was ready to be tried. From the back of the cave a short series of pockets lead to a twisted roof flake crack. The crack slowly twisted to vertical and became more flared. Columns eyes glowed from the back as he took the first try. Moving rapidly across the roof was to no avail as his boulderers arms quickly pumped. Reaching the flared section of the crack he tired to lock his shoulder inside, but his skinny white arms could not find a lock. In a muffled cry he dropped off into the rocks.

Highlander looked doubtful, roofs were not his best strength but he would try. He sat at the start of the problem and started. Moving rhythmically across the roof he quickly reached Columns highpoint. Arms wilting he sussed the crack to be big enough for a heel jam. Flipping upside down he pushed his legs into the crack. Unfortunately his kilt tumbled over his head blinding and exposing him. The rest of the group averted their eyes quickly. Highlander dropped off looking flushed. Turning to the group he said, "That's no way for a man to hang". Walker then took his turn. He slowly moved across the roof cutting loose frequently, the burley nature of the climbing suiting his style. Before long he had passed the others highpoint, the crack becoming adversely flared at its end. Remembering Highlanders beta, he cut loose and drove his two feet deep into the roof crack. His leg comfortably jammed in place he released both arms for a rest. Sticking his head over the top of the cave entrance Rayban, shouted "Hey rock jock, there's some bitching finger jugs in ma neighbahood".

Walker sauntered his fingers along incredibly poor holds to reach the lip finger jugs. Rayban heckled, "Go Stallone!". At full stretch Walker released the leg jams and swung them dynamically for a lip heelhook. Rocking over on his right heel he completed the problem. The group whooped his success from within the cave and queued for their next try.

Deep in the shadows sat Column rocking back and forth, his head twitching to the left he muttered in an evil voice, "We cant let them have the precious problems we must kill the hobbits". Twitching back again he muttered, "No, Smeagle good, Smeagle like to try projects with others". Twitching again in a growl he muttered, "No only the precious matters, the others must die!".

Scene 6 - Drive By

As the group continued to try the cave problem Rayban pulled Dunne aside. In a hushed voice he spoke to Dunne, "Ya know steepness ain't my thing homie, how about a head start on some VerTiCal AcTioN". With backs turned to the others Dunne gave Rayban the directions to the third Font 8a on the list. Silently collecting his things Rayban slipped away from the group and headed for the trackside boulder. Arriving at the trackside Rayban lifted his shades and muttered, "No more games, I'm a change what you call rage. Tear this mothafuckin roof off like 2 dogs caged".

The vertical face of the trackside was blank except for a small sloping seam press at mid height. Rayban searched along the bottom of the boulder for starting holds, then remembered Dunne had said it wasn't a sitting start for once.

Suddenly, two motorbikes screamed out from behind the boulder. Tearing to a halt in the heather the riders turned to face Rayban. Not fully appreciating his exposed situation far from the protection of his Ibrox homeboys he stood in open view as the shooting started. The two assailants fired at Rayban, bullets from their fully automatic machine guns tearing holes down the boulder toward Rayban. Reflex came to late for Rayban as his body was pumped full of bullets. He spasmed as each bullet struck.

Hearing gunfire from the cave Highlander and Noir hurried to investigate. Arriving at the trackside boulder the men caught a glance of two motorcycles now in the distance, looking down they saw Rayban lying moaning on the ground. His white tracksuit soaked with blood. In his dying rhyme he muttered, "His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy. There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti. He's chokin, how everybody's jokin now. The clock's run out, time's up over, bloah!".

Walker and Column arrived and looked on in despair, someone had chipped bloodied pockets up the face of the boulder. Walker turned to leave shaking his head in sorrow, "Oh well, no way that's Font 8a with monos that size".

The group had been warned that the secrecy of their assignment was imperative. That any 'incidents' should be contained. With that message Highlander and Noir buried Rayban in a shallow grave under the boulder where he fell. His upturned beat box marking his grave.

Now read the conclusions in The Unusual Suspects Vol. 2

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