Marshall O'Neil waved down the minibus as it pulled into the quiet car park next to the picturesque little railway station. It was the first vehicle he'd seen since getting off the train ten minutes ago. First people, even. Altnabreac was a real out-of-the-way place. Marshall had been the only passenger left on the train and there was no one else about when he'd stepped out onto the platform and then followed the exit signs to this empty little car park.
"Are you heading up to Garradh-Sionnach?" he asked the driver.
"Och aye," the driver replied. "Are you O'Neil?"
"Yes," Marshall nodded in reply.
"I was told to expect you here," the driver said. "Welcome to bonnie Scotland."
He got out and helped Marshall place his heavy rucksack with the other luggage piled up on the front row of seats. Marshall saw the man was wearing a kilt and a real honest-to-god Tam o'Shanter. It was traditional, Marshall supposed, but it was about as expected as seeing gentlemen walking around London in top hat and tails.
"Don't mind the getup," the driver said with a fox-like grin. "It's for the Yanks. All they know about Scotland is Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons."
Marshall thought the driver meant the cluster of men sitting up in the back of the bus, but then he heard them speak and realised they had to be Londoners from their accents. There were five of them. They were dressed in expensive suits and spoke in loud, braying tones.
There was a sixth man, but he didn't appear to be a member of their party. He was skinny, wore spectacles and his face had a pinched look to it with thin, almost bloodless lips. He was dressed casually, but expensively. He sat on the other side of the bus and looked as though he didn't want to have anything to do with the other men. He was an American, Marshall learned later, an IT Systems Analyst all the way over from Washington State.
"That's the last pickup," the bus driver called out as he climbed back into his seat. "Next stop Garradh-Sionnach."
The men in suits whooped. They sounded glad to be free of the confines of their city jobs. Marshall took the open seat in front of the thin man.
"Have you visited Garradh-Sionnach before?" Marshall asked one of the Londoners, a chubby man with a wide face and thick lips. He looked the eldest of the group.
"Nah, first time," he replied. "You?"
"Nope, first time too," Marshall replied. "I'm Marshall." He offered his hand.
"Tom," the man replied. "Tom Figg. Where you from, Marshall? Manchester?"
"Not far," Marshall replied "Altrincham."
"We all work in the Square Mile," Figg said, nodding back to his companions. They were comparing pictures on iPads and laughing loudly. "So what is it, City or United?" he asked. "Would have to be City. No one within half an hour's drive of Manchester city centre supports the scum."
"Sale Sharks," Marshall said with a smile.
"Oh, a rugger bugger," Figg said. "I played a bit at university. Prop," he added. "Buggered up my shoulder." He rotated his left shoulder and grimaced.
"Lock," Marshall said. "I've lost a bit of weight since then," he added at Figg's surprised expression.
"A bit," Figg laughed. "A winger'd bring you down with a tap now, and they're all girls. What do you do in Altrincham then, Marshall?"
"Firefighter," Marshall replied. "Okay, former firefighter. I sit behind a desk and do the paperwork nowadays. Occasionally they let me out to teach safety classes to the local kids."
"Firefighter," Figg said, his eyes twinkling. "Hey, we've got a proper public servant here."
The other city types gave a loud boozy cheer.
"We're all parasites, if you believe the newspapers and BBC," Figg said with a sour expression. "Bankers," he elaborated.
"Fucking fat filthy-stinking-rich parasites," one of the group said with a laugh.
"They're happy enough to spend our taxes," Figg said. "I don't hear them complain about our money when they're pissing half of it up the wall in the public sector...
"Not you," Figg hastily amended. "You've got a proper job. I don't mind paying out for the boys in the fire service, and the boys in blue, and the boys out in the Middle East, and the doctors and nurses. It's the other bollocks I can't stand. Bereavement councillors for depressed lesbians, million-pound mansions so's fat breeders can have room to pop out another sprog or ten, fuck that shit.
"Not you. You boys are all right by us. Although I am a little worried where my hard-earned cash is going if a public sector bloke can afford to come up to Garradh-Sionnach," Figg chuckled.
"Afford?" Marshall wasn't sure what he meant.
"Garradh-Sionnach isn't cheap," Figg said. "But you must know that."
"No," Marshall said, "my therapist arranged it all. Said it would help me out."
Figg looked stunned. "Therapist? Blimey, he's an open-minded chappie."
"She," Marshall corrected. "And yeah, I know, she has some very strange ideas. Seems to know her stuff though."
"Wait, she arranged for you to come up here to Garradh-Sionnach?"
"Yes," Marshall replied. "I've got some self-confidence problems with my body image. She thought it would do me some good to spend a few days in the company of nudists."
Marshall gripped the bottom of his pullover. All he had to do was lift it up.
He willed his hands to lift up his top and reveal his naked flesh underneath. They didn't move.
Come on. Easy.
His therapist, Ms Inari Kitson, watched him dispassionately. It didn't help she was a fine-looking woman, an absolute fox. She could have been a model back in her youth, still could. She had an elegant, almost aristocratic face with high, finely-defined cheekbones. Long silky-smooth platinum-blonde hair flowed down onto her shoulders. She seemed neither embarrassed nor conceited about her beauty. It just was.
Marshall wished he could be so unconcerned about his appearance.
He took his hands away from the bottom of his pullover and looked down at the floor.
"Oh dear," Inari said. "I see the problem. I think what we need to do is place you in an environment where nakedness is more natural. Mmm, leave it with me."
"Hang about," Figg said. "You do know what Garradh-Sionnach is, right?"
"Yes," Marshall said, puzzled by where the conversation was heading. "It's a nudist resort, located up in a remote part of Scotland."
Figg looked at Marshall with an incredulous expression on his face. His face cracked up. He started to splutter with laughter. The laughter grew louder and louder until it seemed as though the wide man might cough up his own lung.
"Priceless," he spluttered with a smile on his face. "Absolutely priceless. Hey Chris, pass me your iPad." He turned back to Marshall. "I think your therapist is 'aving a laugh, or she needs a therapist herself."
He passed the iPad over to Marshall. The touch screen was displaying a web page. The logo at the top was for Garradh-Sionnach, the pictures appeared to show somewhere located in the wilds of Scotland, and the people in the pictures were not wearing any clothes.
The people in the pictures were not what Marshall expected of a nudist colony. In his dreams maybe, but real life ... no way. They were all tall, busty girls of Russian or East European extraction. They looked to be in their early twenties and were all--without exception--extremely gorgeous. Marshall navigated the site and saw each had their own profile page. He flicked through many many pictures of naked beauties lounging by the pool, leaning against the trees, standing in front of a pristine loch, supping cocktails in a night-time bar.
"Oh my," Marshall said.
"It's a sex resort," Figg said. "They fly the girls, model types, in from Russia, Latvia, Ukraine, those kinds of places. For a couple of grand one of them is yours for the weekend."
Chris, the owner of the iPad, looked over Marshall's shoulder. The browser was currently showing the profile of an amazonian blue-eyed blonde with an incredible pair of large round breasts. Were those even real? Marshall thought as he stared at the pictures. They couldn't be real.
"Ah Vasya, lovely Vasya," Chris said. "You can be mine for the weekend."
"She's not available," the prim man at the back said, revealing an American accent. "She's already booked."
Chris shrugged. "A man that plans ahead. Fair play."
He took the tablet back off Marshall and started leafing through the other profiles.
"I take it your therapist neglected to mention this aspect of Garradh-Sionnach," Figg said.
"I think she might have made a mistake," Marshall said.
"Oh well, you might as well enjoy it," Figg said. "I won't tell your missus if you don't tell mine," he guffawed with a wink.
Marshall sat back in his chair and looked out of the window as the bus trundled up into hills carpeted with dense firs. He was supposed to be going to a nudist camp not an international knocking shop. Inari must have cocked up somewhere. That seemed so unlike her.
The Londoners grew increasingly raucous and boastful as the journey continued. In contrast, the American sat quietly at the back, so pinched and tightly wound it seemed like the slightest knock would cause him to come apart with his body parts spronging in all directions.
The bus came over a slight rise and a breathtaking landscape came into view. A beautiful loch, the waters blue and as placid as a mirror, stretched out before them. Wild, tree-lined slopes ran along each side of the valley. Beneath them the road wound down to a picturesque collection of wooden huts on the shores of the loch.
.... There is more of this story ...